Third-grade teacher in Naperville trains confident students with unique techniques

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You’ll often find Naper Elementary School teacher Ryan Carrizales with at least one of his two Golden Retrievers visiting a local football or basketball court to watch his third graders play a game.

It’s that kind of dedication – with or without the dogs – that his students appreciate.

“Just having those moments and building that social credibility,” he said, “eventually they’ll know you’ll be there and support them. I really believe social connection drives academics.”


Ryan Carrizales, third grade teacher at Naper Elementary School, helps Owen Urban, middle, and Will Prueter, right, with a classroom assignment.
-Mark Welsh | Staff photographer

Ten years after starting his teaching career, Carrizales has worked hard to create the perfect recipe for developing confident and successful students. In his third year at Naper Elementary in Naperville, Carrizales begins to develop mutual trust from day one of the school year.

Once the confidence is there, Carrizales thinks the sky is the limit for his 24 students.

“There are a lot of personal relationships where we’re really trying to dig deep into to understand who the kids are,” he said. “We want to build a culture and a climate where everyone feels comfortable.”

Naper Elementary Principal Tracy Dvorchak recognizes the impact Carrizales, 39, has on her students. She believes that the atmosphere of trust allows children to tackle each day with confidence.

“Ryan creates a truly remarkable class climate,” said Dvorchak. “He knows that a school community needs to feel safe and promote risk-taking.

It is not easy to reach a diverse group of students every year. Many Carrizales activities involve teamwork and working together on frustrations.

Its students are attached to academics, but there is a concerted effort to get them to move with the “community builders”. Carrizales has a past high school and college experience with after-school camps, and he learned a bunch of useful activities along the way.


Naper Elementary School third grade teacher Ryan Carrizales finds unique ways for his students to express themselves, like when playing Riverbank in the classroom.

Naper Elementary School third grade teacher Ryan Carrizales finds unique ways for his students to express themselves, like when playing Riverbank in the classroom.
-Mark Welsh | Staff photographer

He alternates between 10 and 15 activities to keep them fresh, and Carrizales makes sure they’re as fun to watch as they are to participate in to keep everyone involved. Some of the favorites are a four-cornered version of Rock, Paper, Scissors and Riverbank, a game where students jump in different directions depending on what the leader is yelling.

After each activity, the class debriefs to give compliments, talk about sportsmanship, recognize students who have played well and focus on the rules and fair play.

Then it’s time to get back to the work of reading, writing, and arithmetic. With the attraction of more activities, Carrizales has no trouble refocusing his students.

“Their mindset is ‘I’m happy. I enjoy this,'” Carrizales said. “We can do this in between all the heavy chores of learning how to solve an area and developing our paragraph writing for our non-fiction article.

“The academic progress that we have made over the past two years, all of this is secondary to the social and emotional climate and the culture we are building in the classroom,” he said. “These community builders are always deserved by positive interaction and mutual support. They have to work to experience them. “



Allowing movement in his classroom is a common way for Ryan Carrizales, a third-grade teacher at Naper Elementary School, to keep students focused on their homework.

Allowing movement in his classroom is a common way for Ryan Carrizales, a third-grade teacher at Naper Elementary School, to keep students focused on their homework.
-Mark Welsh | Staff photographer

Carrizales, who lives in Plainfield with his wife Michelle, grew up in Michigan and received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Michigan State University. He also obtained a master’s degree in teaching from National Louis University.

He spent the first seven years of his teaching career at the Fuller School of Excellence in Chicago. Carrizales met his wife, who is also a teacher in Naperville Unit 203 district, while they were both teaching at Fuller, hence the name of their first dog, Fuller.

Even though he’s only been in school for a few years, he has definitely found a home at Naper Elementary School.

“We keep things here tirelessly positive,” he said. “We want to have an environment in which the children want to run and don’t want to leave it.”

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Curriculum vitae: Ryan Carrizales

Age: 39

Residence: Plainfield

Occupation: Third year as a third year teacher at Naper Elementary School in Naperville

Education: Saline High School in Michigan; Bachelor of Arts in English, Michigan State University; Master of Arts in Teaching from the National Louis University

Past Experience: Seven years as a fifth year teacher at the Fuller School of Excellence in Chicago

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Tips from the best teacher Ryan Carrizales

• Take the time to explain the “why”. I have found this particularly important in non-academic situations. It is often not what you say, but how you say it. And that goes for the adults as well as for the students in the class.

• More is not better. Conceptually discussing the process rather than focusing on the response is where we found our deepest breakthroughs.

• Building bonds with parents is essential. I communicate with them weekly, both with a newsletter and by texting individual photos of their children in our classroom.

• Use positive storytelling to help cultivate a purposeful but positive climate and culture in your classroom. This allows teachers to balance the ratio of positive / negative corrections.

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