Irene King 5th grade teacher encourages students to work as a team, have ‘SWAG’

Arlisa Edom wants her class to have a ‘sense of ownership’ over their learning

romeoville, education, thank you teachers

Walk into Arlisa Edom’s 5th grade classroom at Irene King Elementary School in Romeoville, and you’ll notice how much her students operate like a team.

Much like a coach, Edom encourages her students to cheer for one another when they get the right answer to the math equation they’re working on. And for those who don’t get the answer right away, Edom asks their classmates to help out.

“Let’s give each other a little bit more support,” she told them during a recent class. “Let’s do it as a team.”

Even her method of getting their attention elicited a response in unison from her eager pupils.

“Class, class, class,” Edom said and her students responded, “Yes, yes, yes?”

That collaborative mentality, akin to a sports team, is a dynamic Edom said she aims to instill in her students.

It’s a tactic she learned from her previous career as a caseworker for people with disabilities. She eventually became a teacher’s aide in the Valley View School District. She said she loved the process of creating a curriculum and connecting with students.

Edom said that whether it was with her clients as a caseworker or her students, she liked “to see the changes I can make in those individuals.”

An administrator at the school Edom was working at suggested she would be a good teacher and persuaded her to get a master’s degree in education. Edom did and made her way back to Valley View as a teacher about eight years ago.

During her first year, Edom said, she wanted to apply some of the principles of her previous career to her classroom at Irene King. She wanted to foster that team feel among her students.

So she decided to give her class a name: SWAG Nation.

Edom said SWAG stands for “success, willpower, attitude and goals.”

“That’s what our class is going to be,” she recalled thinking.

Edom said she also wanted the moniker to come with responsibilities and expectations for her students. She said students have to earn the right to be a part of SWAG Nation.

As a sports fan, she also encourages healthy competition, even dividing up her students into groups named after Big Ten colleges like the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin.

“I’m trying to get them to learn how to work together in groups,” she said.

But ultimately, Edom emphasizes a positive dynamic and described her goal of having a “nonjudging, supportive environment.”

Edom’s methods have made an impact, and her colleagues see it.

“She’s fantastic,” Irene King Assistant Principal Mike Aguilar said.

SWAG Nation’s reputation also helps when younger students prepare to join Edom’s fifth grade class. She said some of her students have younger siblings who learn about what it takes to be a part of SWAG Nation.

“It helps me a lot when younger grades hear it, they’re ready to see the expectations,” she said.

As always, Edom aims to instill those expectations with the positive encouragement of a good coach.

“I tell my kids, ‘You know what? You’re going to be the best fifth grade class to ever walk through these doors,’” she said. “‘When you walk down the hall, your head better be held up high. You better be the best. You have to represent.’”