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Solution Seeker Spotlight: Katie Schmidtke, Horizons Elementary

Each month we feature staff members dedicated to being Solution Seekers in their schools. 

Katie Schmidtke works 1 on 1 with a kindergarten studentKatie Schmidtke, kindergarten teacher at Horizons, has known she wanted to be a teacher since age five! She encourages her students to be solution seekers by being curious, courageous, and unafraid to fail.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Highly Supported Kindergarten (HSK) teacher at Horizons Elementary, and have worked in NTPS for 22 years.

I remember being asked what I want to be when I grow up and saying, "a teacher." My mom was a school librarian, and my dad was an assistant superintendent, so I thought the only job you could have was working for the schools! Even at the age of five, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. School was not easy for me - I was shy and struggled academically. When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher suggested that I should be held back. My mom knew that repeating the grade would crush me, and she decided the best option was to take me to school with her. The teachers, staff, and parents who watched me from 3rd-5th grade said I was a different child - making eye contact, talking to people, and smiling. Changing schools ended up being a fantastic opportunity to build my confidence and support my learning. While school was still a challenge, I worked toward my goal of becoming a teacher and attended Washington State University (GO COUGS!).

I began my career as a Washington Reading Corps tutor at Seven Oaks, and then was hired to teach kindergarten at Seven Oaks, Pleasant Glade, and now, Horizons. I have been teaching in our district for 22 years, and most days are filled with joy, laughter, hugs, and a few tears.

I have now come full circle and bring my own child, Hudson, to school with me. He was struggling with reading, and I knew the teachers at Horizons could help him succeed - they are Solution Seekers! Our teachers and reading support team are always using best practices, data, and collaboration to best support our students. Hudson comes to school each day with a smile and loves his teachers.

What do you like best about your job? 

I love watching students build confidence in what they know and can do. It has been my experience that kindergarteners love to learn and are eager to please their teachers - especially when they feel like their teacher cares about and respects them. I let my students know every day how much I care about them and how proud I am of them. This helps them get excited about learning, motivates them to work hard, and feel proud when they've accomplished a task. It warms my heart to see their smiling faces as they hold up a finished project. I love supporting kids in their learning journey and giving them the confidence to try hard things. We might not always get it right, but that is part of the journey.  

Why is being a Solution Seeker important to you? 

Katie Schmidtke leads a class lesson

Being a solution seeker is an important skill to teach all kids - and the earlier you start, the better. Every day in my class, we have a math activity called "which one doesn't belong." Every answer is correct as long as you can explain your thinking. Once kids learn that there isn't one right answer, they love to share!

I think being a solution seeker is not being afraid to fail. You will not always have the right answer, but what did you learn? We want kids to ask questions, learn from our experiences, and try new approaches to solve a problem. This courage in learning is so important to instill in our students.

I know I am making a difference in the lives of my kindergartners, and I try to give them experiences that will have a lasting impact on their lives.

Can you share a story where you experienced problem-solving in action? 

I have a student that I was struggling to keep in class. I talked with his case manager, and he quickly set up a meeting to help problem-solve solutions to help support me with this student. We had the district Special Education directors, school principal, assistant principal, SLP, OT, and myself. We worked as a team to develop solutions to best help and support this student in the general education classroom. Our school has a few extra challenges because of our building layout. When students leave the classroom to go to the bathroom, it is sometimes difficult for them to get back to class. Now the entire class looks for the blue tape to find their way back to class. It really does take a village, and I am so glad to have such a supportive, patient, and understanding team that I work with at Horizons.