Green teaching queen
B’Nai Emunah Preschool teacher Toni Willis brings green activities to life in her classroom.
A room of squealing 4-year-olds is a tough crowd for most, but for preschool teacher Toni Willis, it’s a joy.
After working at B’nai Emunah Preschool for just over a year, Willis has already taken teaching to a new level. In her classroom she emphasizes “going green” and makes recycling a focus for her students during the school day.
“I recycle and compost at home, and we have made (recycled pieces) a feature of our classroom,” Willis says.
The room features a box of repurposed items for students to make their own art projects such as jet packs, and a paper recycling bin encouraging reuse for writing, painting and drawing. Willis also teaches her students to search for the recycle symbol on their items, a lesson many of them take home.
“We have had a number of reports from the parents of our students telling us that their child will point out that symbol and say, ‘We don’t throw this away, we can recycle it!’” Willis says.
She commutes to work by bicycle and uses her energy-saving mode of transportation to demonstrate how the forces of motion and friction can impact her and her bike.
“This was a big hit for the kids, and later I observed a couple of my students showing their friends on the playground a similar experiment by using a tricycle,” she recalls.
A Tulsan for the past 13 years, Willis is taking classes at Tulsa Community College and hopes to finish her degree in early childhood education through the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa.
Outside of teaching, she loves to cook and has done some comedy improvisation, which she says has made her “a few dozen dollars.”
During the summer, she works with teachers to create projects in their classrooms inspired by children’s authors. This summer’s project focuses on Lois Ehlert and involves many natural, found and upcycled materials. Willis and her husband Matthew, a drummer and founding member of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, also are working on a children’s story and music performance project.
Willis says being a teacher allows her to see the world differently.
“Children teach me to see the smaller details that often go missed in the world due to ‘being too busy,’” she says. “When I stop and really check out a bug and make that my whole focus, my busy world slows down and brings a true sense of calm.”