Henrico County VA

Top Teachers: Janet Givens

Echo Lake E.S., first grade
Officially, Janet Givens teaches first grade at Echo Lake Elementary School. Unofficially, she teaches creativity.

Givens’ classroom is a wonderland of ingenuity, a place where students learn the same lessons in a multitude of different ways. Students often lead their peers in lessons on her classroom Promethean board or create scrapbooks from field trip experiences. Mind-bender games challenge their knowledge.

During a popular lesson about the solar system, Givens takes her students outside to draw a 15-foot sun in chalk on the pavement, then uses a golf ball to represent the size of Earth.

“The visual perception of the concept will forever be embedded in my son’s head,” wrote one woman who nominated Givens.

Givens – who gave up a career in interior design and retail merchandising to become a teacher 15 years ago – traces the roots of her own creativity to her great aunt, an art teacher who instilled much of it in her at a young age.

“I like thinking of news ways to do things, or unusual ways – ways the kids relate to,” she said. “I just really try to be me in my classroom, and part of me is, a lot of times, doing things a little bit differently.”

Givens earned National Board Certified Teacher status in 2004 – an involved process that requires teachers to develop an extensive portfolio and complete several assessment exercises. She has taught first grade at Echo Lake since the school opened in 1999. She works to develop a personal connection with each student, believing that in turn they’ll open up to her and be more eager to learn.

“I like to try to find that one little special thing that makes a child unique or challenging or special,” she said.

Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed among parents.

“She recognizes the wide ability range of children in her class and manages to incorporate the advanced essentials of curriculum yet still meet the needs of those requiring a ‘second helping,’ one nominator wrote.

Givens is a regular participant in recess – “I’m usually the pitcher for kickball,” she admitted – and considers one of her most meaningful teaching moments to be one that came outside the classroom. A student had earned the reward of running a mile with her after school, but he had difficulty convincing himself he could finish.

“That whole time I kept telling him, ‘One foot in front of the other, you can do this – we’re not going to stop, you can do this’ – and he did,” he recalled. “It was the best mile I ever ran with him. It’s something that I carry with me.”
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