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Juggling Act: 'Active Educator' in Romeo blends learning and movement

Maureen Feighan   | The Detroit News

In a matter of days, teacher Andriana Zarovska and her students will have their fourth “first” day of the school year.

Working through a school year unlike any we’ve ever seen before, they’ve tackled virtual learning, a hybrid and somewhere in between. In early March, Zarovska, who teaches kindergarten in Romeo Community Schools, will return to the classroom for five full days of in-person learning.

“It’s back to the drawing board each time we make a change,” said Zarovska. “These are things we’ve never done before.”

But as hard as the last 12 months have been, for Zarovska, who outside the classroom also has a large following on Instagram as the Active Educator (@the_active_educator), there have been some silver linings. Teachers have had to think outside the box with lessons and learn to be flexible, she said.

And one group that continues to adjust and show incredible resilience is kids, she said. Zarovska has seen it firsthand in her class at Amanda Moore Elementary. And one of the keys to Zarovska’s success, she believes, is movement.

Throughout her lessons, Zarovska, now in her seventh year in the classroom, doesn’t just teach. She incorporates movements, songs and gestures into nearly everything. Even during virtual lessons, movements are woven in. And it helps keep her students more engaged. 

On Zarovska’s Instagram account, she shares her approach to movement-based learning and what she calls heart-centered classroom management. She has more than 52,000 followers.

“I’ve very passionate about movement-based learning,” said Zarovska. And “when you move them online, it becomes even more important...I can read the room when they’re in front of me and see who is zoning out and who needs a little more. But when you put them all online it’s more challenging because you can’t see them all. There’s just a lot more that is out of your control. But that movement becomes so much important because they’re sitting in front of a screen.”

Movement doesn’t mean running in place or doing jumping jacks. It could be as simple as clapping at certain times or "callbacks" to specific phrases. But it’s also about gauging emotional health, says Zarovska.

“It’s to keep them engaged but it’s also connected to their social and emotional well-being,” she said. “A lot of those songs require them to do to a check-in socially and emotionally to build themselves up.” 

And that social emotional learning is important because it’s about setting students up for success down the road, said Zavorska.

“It teaches them to build positive relationships with each other and themselves,” she said. 

Zavorska knows what a difference movement can make. She struggled with body image issues in her teens and early 20s so she started running and doing CrossFit. It really helped.

“Over the years it became so much more of a form of therapy for me and mental and emotional release,” she said.

So it was a “no brainer” that she’d incorporate movement into her classroom.

“I noticed quickly how it was hitting everything I wanted it to,” she said. “It was engaging. They wanted to participate. I was able to take concepts and make it easier with the movement piece.”

She started posting some of her teaching videos on Instagram and soon other teachers were asking her for guidance. She eventually launched her heart-centered classroom management last year.

Now, more than halfway through a school year like no other, many teachers are struggling, Zarovska says, but kids are learning big lessons about empathy and grace. And that’s a good thing.

“If we really listen to this phrase — giving ourselves grace — I think empathy is the key word here,” said Zarovska, who may take a break from teaching next year to focus on her Active Educator business. “That’s something I teach my students.”