Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday SOL When to walk away?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

One particular child has been giving my Teaching Resident a "run for her money." This little friend has decided that he will not participate in our daily ritual clean up of the classroom. When Sweet Honey in the Rock sings their delightful cue for everyone to stop playing and instead put things away, this preschooler makes a tighter grip on the toys in his hand and scoots under one of our classroom tables to hide. 

If you weren't responsible for all these preschoolers, if you weren't hoping to get the room cleared so that the day could continue with lunch and nap, maybe if you were simply there as a spectator to observe children's different approaches to clean up, I suppose you might find his antics pretty hilarious. However, the Teaching Resident does feel responsible for all these preschoolers. She has been openly wondering, How can I motivate him? What motivates him? What is so difficult about clean up? Shouldn't preschoolers be expected to help clean up their own things? Isn't following through on routine an important skill? 

As soon as the music starts, he hides under the table. The Teaching Resident has tried so many different tactics - 
taking him aside at the outset of the day and calmly stating expectations for clean up [he assures her that 'no, he will not clean']; 
taking him out from under the table and trying to guide him through the clean up, with teacher as his partner [he cries throughout the process]; 
giving him a partner to clean with [he folds his arm and continues to refuse - once, the partner joined him under the table to hide!]; 
giving him a heads up for the clean up, a gentle warning, so that he might complete his playing before cleaning [this just made him go under the table earlier]; and, of course, 
talking to his family about this recalcitrance [as the baby of the family, cleaning up one's things isn't a big expectation at home].

This little preschooler is the Teaching Resident's best teacher. He is "Exhibit A," illustrating the art of teaching - there is no one script to follow in guiding students, nothing you teach will ever go 'perfectly,' and it is essential to build good connections with each student. 

When the Teaching Resident asked for my advice about this little stinker, she shared how she finds herself thinking about him in the evenings, frustrated at her inability to figure this out. I think it is really terrific that she wrestles with this. I complimented her on how many different tactics she has tried. She has taken time to reflect, to look at it from different perspectives. He is telling us that he really, really, really doesn't want to do something. 

I believe - when we go head-to-head with a child, I think we have already lost. For whatever reason, he has dug his heels in about this expectation. Digging one's heels is the most power a preschooler ever has. I suggested a moratorium on the expectation of clean up for this one child. Yes. What if we simply ignore the challenging behavior and work on building a strong connection with him? What would happen if we let go of this specific expectation (wordlessly, without any fanfare) and engaged with him in more positive ways, for example working and playing beside him, asking questions, having conversation, being joyful? Dare to let it go. 

What will we notice? 

Reminds me of Kenny Rogers' song "The Gambler,"

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What do you see in the cup?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Observational drawing by Jada

It's spring and we have a cup of caterpillars in our preschool classroom! Just this past weekend, they formed chrysalises and the preschoolers are in awe. I've tried to slow down the thinking, having the preschoolers make observational drawings of what they see. (I will share a few of these here, in this blogpost.) I knew this was the perfect lesson for the "See Think Wonder" thinking routine, which I had learned from Project Zero training last summer. As they drew, I asked What do you see? I tried to keep the children focused on simply what was visible in the jar:

I see four chrysalises. I call 'em caterpillars. And the jar. And spider webs.
I see cobwebs, 'cause they make cobwebs, and cocoons.
I see cocoons.
I see this one and it has a black part.
I see cocoons playing.
Observational drawing by Misha
There is dirt on the bottom.
I see the bodies on the circle.
The caterpillars made cocoons and they are hanging up.
I see caterpillars walking and eating food. 
Caterpillars make cocoons.
Four cocoons.
Caterpillars have pointy things.
Cocoons hang from the sky. They are shaking.
I see a spiderweb.
Cocoons. They are shaking. Caterpillars make it.
I see cocoons.

Try as I liked to have them simply focus on what they saw - what they actually observed - the preschoolers couldn't help thinking and imagining. They shared thoughts aloud that were clearly not visible. I tried to return them to observation mode with a quick, What did you see that makes you think so? However, their musings multiplied and I let them answer - What do you think?

I think there was an egg.
I think caterpillars walk around and they sleep.
The cocoon is for the caterpillar
That might be food. They eat leaves.
Observational drawing by Audrey
Something's in it - maybe a butterfly.
They come from eggs, they turn into caterpillars, and then they turn into butterflies.
And push out into a butterfly!
It looks like fish; it is the same color. It looks like a Daddy Long Legs with its leg stuck in the web.
The caterpillars will turn into butterflies and then will fly.

I never even had to ask, What do you wonder? The preschoolers were mesmerized by the disappearance of crawling caterpillars and the arrival of four chrysalises hanging from the top of the jar. Their questions poured forth - 

Observational drawing by Henry
What are the webs for?
Are the caterpillars shaking the cocoons inside?
What let's it hang?
What is the gakky [sic] thing on the bottom?
Did the cocoon on the bottom die?
What do caterpillars eat? I wonder if they eat dirt?
Is it a spider web.
Are there new baby eggs in the jar?
What are the black fuzzy things on the bottom? Is it part of a caterpillar?
Why shouldn't we touch it?
Is the cocoon on the bottom eating the food?
Would the caterpillars be scared?

Observational drawing by Gabrielle
The most frequent wonder revolved around the movement of the chrysalises - these definitely appeared to be shaking, wiggling, moving. I loved this exchange between four students -
What is making them shake?
- Because they are shaking a lot of days.
- Caterpillars are playing in their house.
- Because they are trying to spread out their wings.

It is amazing how much language and thinking comes forth when preschoolers can watch this metamorphosis right up close!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday SOL: Why do we miss the essentialness of play?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Today, I feel a little bit like I am on a rant...talking about the same old, same old. Many years ago, when serving on a ‘Minister Search Committee’ for my church, I heard it said that every preacher has basically five good sermons – essential messages to which they keep coming back. I wonder the same thing about this early childhood blog – what are the top five things I keep saying over and over, even if packaging it or introducing it in different ways? What’s at my core? I have to believe that I write about more than five things, but I keep coming back to certain beliefs:

  1. Let children play - let them choose their own fun, make their own learning.
  2. Be present while they play - notice, converse, extend.
  3. Make the preschool classroom a laboratory, filled with tinkering, exploring, creating, wondering, discovering.
  4. Help novice teachers see the richness and importance of all of the above.
  5. Advocate for all of the above.
Yes, here I am today with more of the same. I worry so about our young children. What is happening to their childhood? I worry about how much we are preoccupied when we are around them, I worry about the strict routines to which we hold them, I worry about the academics we are spoon-feeding them rather than letting them choose their own adventures. I think about how much the world has changed for the average three year old over the past quarter century - getting dressed and out the door first thing each morning, being confined with many peers of the exact same age for eight to ten hours a day, following teacher's instructions, coming home and eating and going to bed, to repeat the same thing the next day. 

I worry about how my perspective is perceived by many as 'cute', 'quaint', 'old-fashioned.'

Just this past week, we had family conferences and I found myself 'preaching'...one dear family with an academically-able child asked if she should skip pre-k 4 and advance directly to kindergarten next year. I teach three year olds. No, no, no, no, no! Please, why? Why are we rushing childhood? Why do we think we should push children? The learning that happens when they play with their peers is priceless: problem-solving, persevering, becoming socially competent.

Thankfully, my perspective isn't seen as 'out of touch' by all - one family shared how their child loves coming to preschool each day. This Mom suggested that the classroom was like a laboratory, and added "I feel that my child needs to do, needs to make, needs to feel satisfied." She thanked me for providing a classroom that allowed her child daily adventure, a place where she can make something new happen each day. These are words I live by!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What about critique?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I feel a lot of compassion for novice teachers.
I know they must wonder -
At what point is teaching done? 
At what point have I done everything perfectly?

It is May and my Teaching Resident is leading the classroom. The more she leads, the more feedback she receives. I know she is at that uncomfortable place of trying to please everyone - master teacher (me!), mentor, colleagues, principal, graduate school, on and on...and let's not forget the students.

Let's just be real - you can critique E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

How might you speed up the pace?
How might you slow it down?
Why didn't the children have more voice?
(Or conversely - the children are talking too much - How might you teach children to listen?)
What behavior management challenges are you having?
How might you change your approach with that student?
What was the teaching objective?
How do you know the students achieved this? 
What might be a more developmentally appropriate approach?
How might you make transitions more efficient?
What else is happening in the classroom while you are in small group?
Was everyone engaged? Why or why not?
How might you engage all the children?
Why did you include that?
Did you notice such-and-such?

Everyone has questions, everyone has commentary, everyone has their perspective on how things should be. Often, these ideas are contradictory. Who is right?

I don't believe you ever reach perfection in teaching. There is always room for change, modification, improvement.

Perhaps the very best student teaching experience 
helps you grow into that place where 
you seek advice from others 
while simultaneously
listening to yourself, 
trusting your instincts, 
being aware of and working on your deficits, 
daring to teach as you feel is right, and
humbling yourself for a do over.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday SOL: Is it already past?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

A beautiful spring at the Franciscan Monastery.
My spring break was last week. For the first time in years, we stayed home. My husband is recuperating from minor surgery and therefore unable to walk long distances; it was not the time to be sightseeing and touring in some new locale.

We managed to have the most delightful week, all the same. Of course, I live in the Washington, D.C. area, so there were many things to see and do very close to home. I'll share a few photos. My brother Ralph and his family visited for a couple of days at Easter, and I slipped down to tour some of the monuments with them and to paddle boats on the Tidal Basin. I visited the Franciscan Monastery for the first time, enjoying its tranquil, meditative grounds. On one perfect, irresistible spring day, Tony was feeling well enough to visit our local park (Wheaton Regional Brookside Gardens), and I walked the grounds while he rested on a bench. Our special week at home together ended with a powerful, surprise hail storm followed by a double rainbow. I'm sure there is some meaning to this finale!

I realized, there's a surprising amount of relaxation and respite that comes with a "staycation." Simple walks around my neighborhood in the middle of the day seemed so peaceful and dear. Digging weeds out of my garden beds seemed both long overdue and low-pressured. Reading, journaling, and napping were three essential daily activities.
Gorgeous day at Wheaton Regional Park

How to describe the lazy pace of a week at home, without any school pressures? Things moved slowly, slowly, slowly...in the best possible sense! Example number one - I sorted through my clothes, moving winter things into the hope chest and freshly folding and hanging spring and summer clothes. (This is the seasonal reality of an old house with small closets.)

Another example - I cleaned my classroom betta fish's aquarium...a task I had put off for so very long. When would I have found this hour, without a lot of down time all around it?

Perhaps my most vivid example of the delightfully slow pace of a week at home - I often went on not one but two walks a day in my neighborhood.  I had so many noticings...the quiet all around, the bright colored azaleas, the beautiful dogwoods, the dappled light under trees, the unexpected breezes. Is it possible that I hadn't done this since my children were little? When I returned home, I reflected in my journal...which, of course, resulted in this blogpost.

Does it get any better than this, this delight of slow, found time?

Yes, it was a fabulous week - and leisure was the rule.

Here it is Tuesday, a mere 48 hours later. Is it already past?

Wheaton Regional Park...you'll have to look very closely to find Tony on a bench!

I loved the reflections of the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin.

Tony and I headed out to a movie in downtown Silver Spring, and caught a double rainbow!
This teacher couldn't resist the ABC's of Life at the Franciscan Monastery.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What could be more fun?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I am delighted to be on spring break and, thus, I will keep this slice short and sweet! 

Last week, our school celebrated "intersession," where our students work in mixed-age small groups on different topics over several days. My small group was comprised of nine students, a mix of preschoolers through kindergarteners, and we built forts outdoors. 

Our supplies were simple: old sheets and cloths, one water-resistant tarp for our floor, sticks, twine, clothespins, rubber bands, and a couple of really cool clamps. Each day, we built a big fort in a different location around our school and then sat inside, reading books and eating snacks. What could be more fun? Here are the highlights: 

  • Hearing and seeing children's imagination run free - they created 'campfires' out of sticks and imagined a warm fire, they fought off invisible monsters, and they spontaneously shared stories about escaping, hiding, surviving...what if no one could see us? what would it be like to stay out all night? what if we lived here for real? It was so fun to hear their imaginative ideas. 

  • Seeing the mixed-ages play together seamlessly, kindergarteners helping younger ones (reading books aloud! that was very exciting!), preschoolers playing along and keeping up with the older children, working hard to be 'equals.' 

  • One day, we had a light rain - but we sat protected under our roof of sheets, all cozied in together, enjoying books and telling stories. 

It was a very special few days of fun times outdoors, creating together. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday SOL - Have you noticed me?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I stepped out of a workshop called "Building a Trauma-Informed Classroom," and into the metro underground. My head and heart were filled with information. 

They had just stepped through the metro turnstiles, coming towards me. She appeared to be a young mother, certainly no more than 20 or 21. He was running alongside her, scampering in that unpredictable way that a two year old does. I started to smile at his sweet look. She yelled to him, "You better  #$@&%*! -ing stop! I am sick of you! What the #$@&%*! you think you're doing?" I averted my eyes. 

One "ACE." At least.

Adverse Childhood Experiences - ACEs

ACEs are those stressful, perhaps even traumatic factors that children are just born into, through no fault of their own, that will trouble them all their life: parents or caregivers who abuse drugs or alcohol, have a bitter divorce, become incarcerated, suffer acute health issues, become incarcerated, practice emotional or physical abuse, live in acute poverty, suffer unemployment or homelessness...there are innumerable ACEs. 

According to the workshop leader, Dr. Megan McCormick-King of Insite Solutions, 37% of D.C. kids have at least one ACE; 11% of D.C. kids have four or more ACEs. The risk of developmental delays is more acute in children with four or more ACEs. Further, the risk of early death is more likely with four or more ACEs.

Although these statistics are depressing, the workshop was also hopeful. It heartened me to hear that children become resilient with consistent and responsive relationships, overcoming much of the harm from these adverse childhood experiences. The importance of my work as a preschool teacher was clear - to create a safe, happy early childhood classroom, where teachers are focused and mindful about each of their students. Every young child deserves "unconditional positive regard" - and such interaction feeds the growing brain in amazing, restorative ways. Here are just a couple tidbits that I hope to weave into my teaching in the days and years to come:

  • Create opportunities for "Serve and Return" - the simple back and forth between a child and caregiver, allowing the child to 'serve' an idea and, allow me - the caregiver - to meet the child right there at that idea, and converse about it, play along...let the child lead.
  • When I see those challenging behaviors - consider for a minute, what 'Serve and Return' behaviors are not being met? Is the child acknowledged/noticed/seen on the most basic level?
  • Be sure to acknowledge children, to send the consistent message - "I see you, I hear you." 
  • Help children build strategies for waiting and soothing, such as deep breathing, taking a break, having a safe space.
  • For those truly challenging children, build a relationship with special emphasis on 'non-contingency' time - time when you let the child direct the play. Dare to give the child five minutes of time when everything he does is noticed and acknowledged, but not questioned or critiqued. (There is a whole training for this technique - Teacher Child Interactive Training (TCIT), which I will most certainly look into.) 
It was a fabulous workshop...this one small slice hardly does it justice. 

Let me circle back to the young mother in the metro, yelling at her small child. I averted my eyes, speechless, stunned, feeling raw from the workshop. Right behind me was a young man, all of about 14 - and he spoke up. He yelled "Stop speaking to your child like that!" She quickly retorted, "Shut up!," and kept walking the other direction, but I wonder if he planted a seed. 

This left me hopeful, too. It takes everyone of us, paying attention to our young children.