We are excited to introduce you to ITEF’s next Spotlight Innovators:

spotlightsamjodiMr. Sam Pitlyk & Mrs. Jodi Bergmann

Jodi and Sam are teachers at Hudson Elementary in the Webster Groves School District. Jodi is a special education teacher, and Sam teaches 5th grade.

These two dynamic educators have joined together to promote a democratic learning space where all students lead their own learning. Sam and Jodi facilitate the learning with a keen eye on incorporating state standards via process as opposed to content, while the students learn through experiences and passions that inspire and excite them.

When incorporating innovative learning opportunities, it is important to modify instruction as well as the learning space to make sure it is flexible. Students and teachers worked together to transform the classroom to provide spaces that support and amplify student learning.

 A Conversation with Jodi and Sam:  

Q:  How do you define innovation?

Jodi:  Making change to better oneself, students, community and the world through different strategies, teachings and methods that might not be traditional but provide a different way of thinking about “something”. Innovation is RISK taking, allowing something or someone to fail to find their GRIT and own way of thinking.

Sam:  Putting new ideas, material, and concepts into our classroom. It’s making changes to how we have done it in the past in order to make it better for the future.

Q:  Who is your tech role model? OR What is your favorite tech toy right now?

Jodi: My students are my tech role model at this point in my life. They amaze me all of the time with their knowledge using a variety of technology devices and are able to discover new apps, websites, etc. My favorite tech toy right now would have to be the class Virtual Reality Viewers. It is unbelievable that you can go around the world and be right upfront to enjoy a variety of different experiences.

Sam: Twitter Community. I see things every day I want to download or buy and have my students play with. We have some great tech support people in our district who are always on top of the game. Right now my students have me working with photoshop apps and I’m super excited about our Bloxels that should be arriving any day.

Q:  If you had the time and money, what issue/solution would you work on?

Jodi: If I had the time and money, I would want to assist the Missouri Government in creating a more personalized “assessment” to show the growth that our students are truly making. This would not include standardized assessments, pencil paper or computerized testing.

Sam: Making sure every kid at every school has resources and opportunities that give them the chance to play, engage, and succeed.

Q:  What’s your favorite App or website?

Jodi: Pinterest

Sam: My students got me hooked on Slither.io and it currently takes up a good amount of my time. Education wise, Twitter.

Q:  What are you currently reading?

Jodi:  Mathematical Mindsets by Joe Boaler Unleashing Students POTENTIAL through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching

Q:  What innovative thinker/educator/ambassador would like to bring to STL to spend time with educators?  

Jodi: Kid President- He would be amazing for the students to hear live as well as teachers.  Sam Pitlyk introduced me to this young man on YouTube.  He is just a little ball of joy and inspiration for students as well as adults.

Sam: Merlene Gilb, she introduced me to democracy in the classroom and challenged me to make it work.

Q:  What are some of your favorite quotes?


  • “Just Breathe”
  • “Never stop doing your best just because someone doesn’t give you credit”
  • “Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.”  -BUDDHA


  • “Teamwork makes the dream work”
  • “Be Awesome” – Kid President
  • “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” – Sir Ken Robinson
Q:  What impact has democracy, choice, and passion had on your class and how does it benefit all learners?

Jodi:   I was able to Co-Teach (Push-in model for Special Education Services) so our students were not pulled for any services. With traditional past models it has been having students stay for whole group instruction and then independent work time they were to leave their class and come to the Resource room. With transitioning from class to my class we wasted so much time getting settled and working on our class work. We could of been engaged in the activity if they just stayed in their classroom. The benefit of this Push-in model as well as the democratic/choice/passion based learning space has given our kids with specific needs a chance to be with their peers to discover what they really enjoy learning about as well as having the assistance from two teachers as well as their classmates. I was surprised at how much our students were engaged and no longer “opting out” of learning because they had missed something or just did not have the confidence to advocate for help. The confidence of our students has increased and they have a voice in our classroom. They are freely able to speak and share their ideas on a topic or question. The knowledge of our students after this year of having this type of learning space was exciting because they have learned how to persevere, show GRIT, display enthusiasm about learning as well as understanding how they learn best.

Sam: I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a classroom that is not passion and choice based. Once you give yourself permission to take a step back and allow kids to guide their learning it’s amazing to see what they are capable of doing and how much they enjoy learning.

Q:  How did you design and create your current learning space?

Sam: We didn’t just redecorate our space, we (teachers and students) designed a democratic space that would engage learners and create opportunities to support kids. We received a generous grant from the Webster Groves Alumni Foundation and created the most responsive space possible. Bigger than the space was the need to modify our teaching ways. We teach the same standards as every other 5th grade in the state, the difference is how we get to them.

Jodi:  It was not just the room arrangements and cool chairs that we had in our learning space that changed. It was the way we changed as teachers, to let go of control, and to give the students a voice and choice. Gaining each other’s respect is key to this type of environment as well as “letting go” of the Teacher Model schooling and giving it over the students. We as teachers are facilitators and it is the best feeling to watch and guide students grow to become well rounded citizens of the school and community.

Want to hear what students think about the learning in the space? Here you go!

spotlightroom“This room was a lot different than the other rooms because everyone is not doing the same thing all at once so it makes it more fun. This year we could learn what we want to learn which was awesome and it made school fun.”

“I realized that school doesn’t have to be that bad if the teachers make learning fun but we still have to learn it is just really fun in here…. This year is really fun because it was one of the years I learned most about life and attributes rather than just subjects and that is really going to help me in the future.”

spotlightwall“One of my favorite memories in this classroom is when Mr. Pitlyk broke the 3d printer and couldn’t fix it and then I did some research and fixed it….One of the things I don’t like is getting put out of my comfort zone, but being out of my comfort zone pushes me to do more.”

The “Wonder Wall” is a space for learners to write ideas and questions they are interested in exploring.