25 years of BP Teachers of Excellence: Kris Hinrichsen
BP is celebrating a quarter-century of honoring Alaska's educators through its Teachers of Excellence awards. KTVA is partnering with BP to check in with past honorees and see the impact they continue to have on our community.
Kris Hinrichsen was named the 2018 BP Teacher of the Year. Known as "Mr. Kris" to his first- and second-grade students at Chinook Elementary School, Hinrichsen is now in his tenth year of teaching in Anchorage.
When students enter Hinrichsen's classroom each day, they're greeted with a handshake and sunny disposition. The classroom itself engages all the senses with bright colors, letters and projects situated around the room.
Also noticeable are posters with life advice that could apply to an elementary school student or adult. These messages are the foundation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), a curriculum focused on interpersonal skills.
"There's that social awareness piece of like, 'How do I interact with my friends? How do I manage my emotions when I'm with other friends?" Hinrichsen explained. "Then you have the self-management piece of like, 'how do I control myself when I'm having those emotions and feelings?'"
He credits his experience as a substitute teacher as his introduction to SEL and educating younger children.
"I didn't know I was going to be in kindergarten. So I'm in a tie, I got my suit jacket on," Hinrichsen said. "I get to kindergarten and it is a disaster of a day — a kid pees his pants, a kid loses his shoes. In my opinion, an awful day. And at the end of the day, the kids walk up and they're giving me a hug like, 'we love you Mr. Kris, this day was awesome!' I was like, after one day that I thought was horrible, what could you do with a year?"
Now, Hinrichsen gets two years to work with children. He teaches as part of Chinook's optional program that he says accounts for 180 of the school's 500 students. He says his main joy stems from watching his students develop their skills.
"I selfishly teach first and second grade because the magic that happens from a kid going from learning their letter sounds in kindergarten, to like sight words where they're just starting to read," he said. "And then by second grade, they're reading for themselves to gain information."
Hinrichsen is now considered an authority on SEL, having been published in Amy Cranston's book "Creating Social and Emotional Learning Environments". Recently, he was invited to be a speaker on the subject at the National Commission for Social, Emotional and Academic Learning Conference.
"There were a lot of states like New York and Nevada that were coming to me, like 'Alaska! You are on our map for what you're doing for social-emotional learning,' and that was really surprising to be like, 'Wow I'm in a district that's a leading national figure," he said.
The pride in Hinrichsen's voice swells when talking about his school district and even more for the students in it. His focus is all about preparing his students for what's next, teaching them to understand conflict resolution problems, how to handle their emotions when they feel upset and how to overcome challenges.
"That perseverance in their education is such toolset they can bring to third grade," he said.
The skills Kris Hinrichsen instills in students serve them well in the third grade but also throughout their lives.
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