Jenny Hughes has been called a “Miracle Worker” by her peers who have observed her as she teaches three and four year olds at the Robertson County Head Start Center in Springfield, TN. In Jenny’s classroom, students learn social and emotional development skills that will take them far throughout life. “Jenny has taken some of the most challenging children in our agency and built such a special relationship with them that it turned their behavior around to where they were fully functioning in the classroom with very little support, “explained Head Start Staff Development Coordinator, Katie Vaughn.
Jenny focuses upon creating a true classroom community, where children feel safe, learn to respect and love each other, and hold each other accountable. They begin the day by greeting each other with, “Good Morning, Classroom Family!” According to Jenny, if they cannot be a friend, they will never succeed in life. Some adapt the concept quickly, while others take time. She teaches them how to be a friend to each other and even acts out what it means to be a good friend. When a child’s feelings are hurt, she puts a Band-Aid on his/her heart. She leads them to talk about how they will not break a friend’s heart and even has “Feel Good Cream” to make worries go away.
Jenny uses a “Buddy Bench” to teach children how to solve problems and resolve conflict. If two children argue over the same toy, she sends them there to find a solution. They discuss the issue and resolve their conflict on their own. This process teaches children conflict resolution and independence and helps maintain a healthy classroom environment.
Children learn responsibility in Jenny’s classroom, too. Each child has a job and is expected to do it well. Jenny employs morning greeters, someone to take attendance, door holders, cheerleaders who encourage students when someone is down, messengers, and even a star rule helper to recite the classroom rules. Everyone works to make the classroom operate efficiently. As a result, the classroom runs itself as children learn to function in routine.
If a child does not cooperate in Jenny’s classroom, he/she goes to the “Cozy Corner,” where there are activities to do while he/she sits. Jenny often sits with a child in “Cozy Corner” to try to calm the child or get to the bottom of the behavioral issue. She might give the child a back-rub or practice the “Hot Water, Cold Water” technique to calm the child. In this technique, the child makes a fist with each hand, naming one “Hot Water” and the other “Cold Water.” They drain the water by opening their fists to release anger.
As expected, Jenny has had a multitude of success stories with children throughout her career. She recalled one little boy who laid on the ground out of frustration. The children stopped, addressed him by name, and said, “We love you. We know you’ve got this. You can do it!” The little boy clapped as he got back up, and his attitude completely changed. The parent later told Jenny, “My son says his teachers love him. He knows he is loved in your classroom!” She recalled another child who was screaming, hitting, and punching. She went to him and said, “Give me your anger.” The child cried as he gently wiped her hand.
Jenny knows she has made a real difference in a child’s life when she sees one who is making good choices, solving problems, gaining independence, and using the strategies she has taught. The toughest part of her job occurs when she cannot determine the source of misbehavior because the child will not respond to her or her classroom appropriately. She advises brand new teachers to have it together the first day and be ready to present what you want them to know. Be consistent, and model good behavior.
Although Jenny has worked at the Robertson County Head Start Center for 21 years, she believes a successful teacher should always be learning and trying new things. She has a Bachelor of Science in Early Education with a minor in Social Work from Tennessee Tech University. She relies heavily upon Conscious Discipline, an educational program implemented by Head Start, and uses various resources for new ideas and teaching techniques.
Perhaps, the most amazing and surprising fact about Jenny Hughes is that she has no children of her own. She developed breast cancer at an early age, and chemo sent her into menopause. While she has never given birth, she has given a better life to more than 500 children by teaching them vital social and emotional skills. As a result, she was named, “Godmother,” to one former student and still keeps in touch with many more. She enjoys watching her students grow up to be successful, independent adults who have learned the value of being a friend.