Sunday, October 30, 2011

Divine Dissatisfaction

I had my first formal observation this past week. This unscheduled, surprise visit left me awash in reflection...things I would have like to have done differently.

Actually, each day when I drive home, I'm thinking about how I could have changed things, how I might improve my teaching tomorrow.

I flashed on this past summer's professional development with Inspired Teaching, which encouraged us teachers to practice "divine dissatisfaction" -

I'm really excited about xyz that I am doing...
but, I wonder, how can it be better?

This concept of "divine dissatisfaction" was originally said by Martha Graham, American modern dancer and choreographer, to her friend Agnes de Milles' comment:

"I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be..."

Martha Graham responded:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Aleta Margolis, Executive Director at the Center for Inspired Teaching, notes how the word "might" is perhaps her favorite word to inject in reflections...

How might I have done this differently?
How might the children have responded if I had...?
How might the environment affect...?

Teaching is art.

Recognizing this, I will embrace my divine dissatisfaction - try to make peace with my unrest.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What do children do with their fears?

This past week, sadly, someone tried to break into our school. When staff arrived, we found the front glass door shattered, by a thrown brick. The police were called and we had to delay the start of school by an hour and a half, so that they could check the scene, collect fingerprints and evidence, etc.

We staff rallied to create some normalcy for children and families. We sent out a mass email to families, but, even so, many families did not get advance word of the situation.

Like staff, many children arrived at the shattered door...only to find themselves ushered to another school entrance. I was put on "sign-in" duty, whereas many of my colleagues were supervising the early /non-notified arrivals. We set up several classrooms to host these children.

Imagine - three year olds,
so dependent on routine and predictability,
arriving to find a shattered door,
having to say goodbye to families,
finding themselves in an all new classroom,
with lots of children from other classes, and
without their regular teacher.

By the time I got to my little guys, it was nearly 10 a.m.

I knew we were off to a wild day.

I put on some soft jazz music and opened up centers.
I gave every child an individual hug - "Oh, I missed you!," I exclaimed.

Our favorite place these past couple of weeks has been our cardboard bus, where we take all sorts of trips all over town. (Singing, "Wheels on the Bus," of course!) This day, on the cardboard bus, I overheard some dramatic discussion about:

"There's a robbery on the bus!"
"Quick, let's get the police!"

On the playground, the police play continued.
"Oh, thanks for keeping me safe, police!," I declared as the children police ran by me.

This is how young children process stressful situations - out loud.
I think we adults have a lot to learn from children in these situations - they are so honest and up front about what they are feeling.

For our part, as adults with children,
on rough and stressful days,
dare to do a little less, and
hug a little more.

Read children their favorite stories, sing favorite songs.
And reassure them - they are safe, they are safe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How do you get them to sleep?


I have long been in awe of the nap ritual at all day programs.

I have taught since 2000, but have always taught in part-time, half-day programs, where this ritual of the daily nap was left up to families and home caregivers.

This past year, I mentored several teachers who taught in all day PreK programs and one important part of every day was having the children nap. Visiting their classrooms, I was fascinated by the expectation that all children would nap, that the teacher would get them to sleep.

One school had an open classroom concept - some 60 three and four year olds would nap every day together! I was amazed when I watched this unfold. This large open classroom had one of the softest, most inviting routines for children to nap:

Throughout the open space, some soft melodic music played.
All teachers' voices became near whispers.
Teachers and assistants helped children get out their special mat and placed it on the floor -
somewhere in the classroom, throughout the classroom,
wherever there was space to be somewhat alone.


Nap time is no longer a spectator sport for me.

I am teaching in a full day program.
Every day, my twenty-three preschoolers are expected to take a nap.

This past summer, I got the melodic music ready. I heard Ken Kolodner playing beautiful instrumentals with hammered dulcimer, dulcimer-mbira, and fiddle, and I thought to myself - This is it! What lovely music to play at nap time, to softly signal our time to relax, to rest, to sleep.... I purchased his CD "Out of the Wood" and I was very hopeful about this new ritual in my teaching....

[If you'd like to hear a sample of his music, check this out.]

I just knew I could do it!

I looked forward to the nap time expectantly. This two-hour block is also the closest thing to a break that I is my opportunity to plan with my Resident, to enter data into Teaching Strategies Gold, to eat my lunch, to reflect.

That is, once I get these twenty-three three year olds asleep.

I'm ashamed to admit, nap time in my classroom has more in common with Whac a Mole than with sleeping.

What are you supposed to do with the non-sleepers?
What are you supposed to do with the loud ones?
Is it realistic to set up napping cots throughout a preschool classroom and expect children to sleep?
Doesn't it look more like a slumber party?
Doesn't it beg for dancing on one's cot and talking to your neighbor?

As it turns out, several families told me that their three year olds do not ever nap at home. Several more rarely nap at home. Still others sleep in a room of their own.

Of the wide-awake ones, at least five have only one volume to their voice - loud. And they can't stop talking.

So, here's what nap time looks like in my classroom:

there we three adults are,
moving constantly through a sea of preschooler cots,
whispering calming words,
patting and rubbing backs,
reminding them about quiet,
pulling up blankies,
finding a special lovey to hold,
around and around and around the room,
over and over and over again.

It is the most exhausting part of my day.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How does your story begin?

Let me share another wonderful Bev Bos idea that I am running with this year in my preschool class....

How does your story begin?

This summer, in my visit to her Roseville Community School, Bev shared her delight with collecting children's responses to this open-ended question. Each day, she tries to ask each child this question. She writes down their responses verbatim. She makes a photocopy of the story response and then gives the original to the family, keeping the photocopy in the child's file. At the end of the year, each family receives a small book of these story treasures authored by their little one.

I love storytelling with children. This idea of Bev's was right down my alley.
I decided I, too, would pursue these "How does your story begin?" treasures. As she suggested, I asked one of my most talkative students first...and she readily volunteered an enchanting story about her dog. At the end of the day, at our closing gathering, I read her story aloud to the class.

Magical things happened. Immediately, everyone wanted to share their story with me!

It is true, everyone has a story.

Weeks have gone by now and the magic continues. I have a far simpler storytelling goal than Bev's - I strive for one new story each day, being sure to rotate through each of my students. I look for opportunities when I can have a one-on-one chat with the child, when I can cozy up to them with my clipboard and hear their words. Many days I will get four or five new stories from children, but my goal is to get just one.

Amusingly, I realized right away that my handwriting was so illegible, I couldn't easily pass these treasures on to the families. I take the time to type their stories into my computer. I now have a treasure trove of stories by little ones.

This simple gesture - transferring their words onto the computer - unexpectedly charmed the children. One day early on, as I read a child's story aloud, another asked - "Do you have my story from yesterday?" and I said, "Actually, I do - I typed it onto my computer last night. Let's look it up. He couldn't believe that I had his words on my computer! What a message of value and respect I had unexpectedly conveyed. Seeing their words appear on my computer, there has been literally no end to the stories children want to share with me.

At day's end, it has become a lovely ritual for all the children to hear their classmates' stories. Bev advised us not to insist that children listen to the stories (believing that they are egomaniacs at this young age and they are only interested in their own stories), and I do not insist that anyone listen. But, I am happy to report, everyone is listening, everyone enjoys this daily ritual. It is a soft and welcomed part of our day.

"How does your story begin?" began simply as a curiosity on my part, to see what the children would say. But, it has proven to be so much more.

I have discovered what is on their minds.
I am expanding my curriculum and books, based on their interests, fears, happy memories.
I am learning about them academically - their vocabulary, their recall, their logic and cognition.
I have discovered a way to meld our community - to link the children together, for them to get to know each other better...through their stories.