Friday, November 29, 2013

What do you have to do?

Happy Thanksgiving!!

It is kind of funny to me that my last blogpost was all about calmness, mindfulness, being present...and this writing was followed by some of the most hectic, jam-packed teaching days that I have had in awhile. Ironic? Or did I feel it in my bones? That post was "the calm before the storm." The ten days before Thanksgiving break were absolutely wild for me...too much to do, get done, make happen.

Now it is a Thanksgiving weekend, and I am thankful to immerse myself in writing again.

Writing is a real priority for me - and yet I haven't written a blog post in two and a half weeks. How does that happen?

This is one of those periods of time when I wasn't in charge of creating or following my priorities,
but, instead, school/teaching priorities "ruled." Let me share -

Our first trimester was coming to an end and we had our evening "Learning Showcase," where all the students come back to school with their families, to see and learn about everything we've been doing for the first many weeks of school. A lot of prep goes into this event...making sure that every student has their work represented in the classroom, creating both wall and table displays, writing the documentation of the children's learning. [I shared the children's beautiful found object artwork, their special stories, plus their self-portraits.] It is a big, exciting event - especially for preschoolers.   Imagine - coming to school two times in a day! Coming to the classroom with family! Coming to the classroom when it is dark outside! The preschoolers were beside themselves with excitement, both in anticipation of the event and in the classroom that evening, during the event. I looked around the room and saw so many beaming faces...such a full many children, so many adults. Everyone lingering, reading the displays, watching the slide show, studying the artwork. We took time for families to re-introduce themselves to one another, connecting as a community. It was a very special evening. A lot of work, but very special.

Simultaneously - the same week as our Learning Showcase - the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference was in D.C.  About once every four or five years, this conference is here, in my hometown.  It is an extraordinary conference, a "must do" for early childhood educators - four days of non-stop workshops and training sessions on every imaginable early childhood topic - guidance and discipline, curriculum, advocacy, special education, on and on. I "devour" this conference, loving to hear the latest research and theories about teaching, loving to see and hear the strong, inspirational voices of early childhood. But, this year, NAEYC was a very different experience for me. This was my first time attending NAEYC as part of an elementary school. In previous years, I was working at an early childhood center, where the school calendar respects these days as days off for all staff. (There was one year when my Director flew all of us to Chicago to attend the conference, that's how essential this conference was considered to be!) Now, I'm at a preschool that is part of an elementary school, and school wasn't closed. Six of us (preschool through kindergarten, master teachers) were given the privilege of attending this conference. There was insufficient coverage of substitutes, making it impossible for all six of us to be at every day of the conference.  Here I was, only two metro stops away from the conference but unable to spend every minute there. Instead, I spent the four days stretched between school and conference, juggling plans for subs, readying for the Learning Showcase, reading the conference program and highlighting the "must sees," searching for windows of opportunity to slip out, rushing out during nap times, starting my day with teaching, racing to the conference in the afternoon. Yes, it was a little nutty, to say the least. This year, for me, NAEYC was a  bizarre combination of utter exhaustion and delightful motivation.

Of course, Learning Showcase and NAEYC were not the only two priorities of the past many days of teaching. Report Cards were also due at this time. If there's a Learning Showcase, then, the trimester must be ending...and trimester means writing each child's report. So, in and around my teaching, in and around the Learning Showcase, in and around the NAEYC Conference, I had to think about report cards. At preschool, these are anecdotal. There are no grades to offer or test results to share...we write brief synopses of how the child is doing in our school, highlighting our four "I's" -   Intellect, Imagination, Inquiry, and Integrity. Three years into our school, our format for these reports continues to change - we were told to write one paragraph, only four or five sentences long; this past Monday, there was a revision to this edict - "one paragraph for each student, approximately 200 words long," due the next day, by end of the day. Oh my, back to writing, Maureen! (But, forget about writing a Tuesday Slice of Life blogpost!)  Write, write, write. Share about each child's social-emotional, literacy, math, and cognitive learning, share what I see them working on, share what I see them engaged by...share what I love about each of these sweet preschoolers. Families will receive the report card in time for our December family conference; these paragraphs will set the stage for our discussion together. It is a lot of work to create these individual reports, but hopefully very meaningful for families.

Let's not forget my teaching . . . This past Monday and Tuesday, throughout the whole school we celebrated "Changemaker Days" - two days of service learning, where we work with the students to identify problems they'd like to solve and then to work on creating positive change. What an interesting concept for preschoolers to grapple with . . .

At Gathering, we discussed What is a changemaker? What does it mean to change things?  The children first focused on the word "change" - 
"you have to stop playing and do something else, like go on a walk"
[It was not lost on me that this is the profound and difficult work of preschoolers - transitioning from one activity to the next, especially when directed to do so rather than deciding to do so on your own!]
"when you change to rainboots because it is raining outside"
"when you change your pants in the bathroom"
They definitely had great examples of what change means.

I redirected - 
How might we change things for the better? What can we do that helps other people? How might we help one another in the classroom? What helps our school?
Out came a torrent of ideas.
"not making messes"
"when you clean up"
"sharing toys"
"you have to be nice"
"you do not hit your friend"
"put paper towels in the trash can in the bathroom"
"firefighters - because they help people"
Yes, they were getting to the essence of being a changemaker...preschool perspective. I was impressed.

My intention during our centers time was to get the preschoolers cleaning - wiping down the railings of the school stairs, scrubbing tables with shaving cream, taking care of our school. We also planned a fun process art Teaching Assistant, Ms. Casstevens, is visiting a teacher friend in Nepal over winter break; the preschoolers began work on a beautiful painted mural for her to take to this classroom.


We also decided spontaneously to build a firetruck in the block corner - what better way to practice being a changemaker?  We used every block in the classroom, plus several of our chairs. We pretended to have many emergencies - sitting in the firetruck, sounding the pretend alarm, driving quickly to the emergency, spraying pretend hoses on the fire, returning to the firehouse, and then rushing to the next emergency... over and over.

It was clear to me that the children wanted to be with me, close at hand - the crazed demands of the past many days had taken me from them mentally, if not physically. When I was in the room, I was preoccupied with "What conference panel is next and can I make it?" or "Did I print out the stories for the Learning Showcase?" or "I must remember to write about that on [John's] report card." Yes, it was time to be present, to play with the children.
I gave myself permission to do so.
It is what I had to do!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday SOL When are we present?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


I've introduced several mindfulness practices into my preschool curriculum this year, drawing heavily from a couple of books suggested by my friend Amy:

The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland
A Handful of Quiet by Thich Nhat Hanh
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community

One activity that fascinates me is "Following the Leader," where you - the adult - follow the child's lead, playing along with whatever interests him/her...following, not controlling, not organizing, not deciding...

therefore you are... 

...staring out the window,
...turning over a leaf in your hand,
...stopping frequently on a walk, just to look at the ants,
...humming to yourself,
...coloring haphazardly on paper, over and over, the same color, the same stroke.

When do adults ever do this with children? 
What would it feel like? 

It seems all too rare.

A happy memory...
several months ago,
my husband and I,
visiting a preschooler,
our grand niece,
taking her out for an early morning muffin in downtown Chicago,
so that newborn baby sister and parents could rest,
so that the house would be quiet...

She was dressed as a princess.

We walked a few steps together and 
she unexpectedly called out, 
as if we had rehearsed it,
my husband and I froze mid-step.
Her delight was extraordinary.

Over and over, we did this,
she and us,
walking together,
she calling out "Freeze,"
the two of us stopping,
followed by her heartfelt laughter,
then, marching on,
us joining her,
until the next command of "Freeze."

For a brief morning,
we were at her beck and command,
following her lead,
delighting in what delighted her,
and it was 
an amazing gift.

An incredibly special time.

This is a gift that seems beyond my grasp in the classroom,
with so many competing needs, desires, and demands,
too many children to follow,
curriculum plans to pursue,
data to acquire,
administrative concerns to consider,
professional development,
the daily schedule,
busy, full days of time management.

This is a gift that seems beyond parents,
with so many competing needs, desires, and demands,
readying children for daily routines,
get up, get dressed, prepare, gather, hurry, make food, clean, put away, settle down,
work responsibilities and burdens to shoulder,
household necessities and concerns, things to buy, fix, organize,
busy, full days of time management.

What of the child who must adhere to these incessant demands, schedules, expectations?

What future are we preparing the child for,
if this is all he/she ever experiences?

How can we change our lives so that following the child's lead becomes less rare?

How might we indulge in this gift more regularly,
this gift that delights 
both adult and child?

Mindfulness...allowing ourselves to be present.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday SOL Do you see what I see?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

In this month of gratitude, 
I am thankful for preschoolers 
who remind me 
of the joy of play. 

I placed a basket of safety goggles in the science corner recently, with no particular goal in mind - simply because I had them.

The children were delighted! Although we had many "real" activities planned, all they wanted to do was wear those goggles and create their own special fun. 

Everything is more fun with safety goggles on.

Safety goggles are essential for most table top activities!

Here, a loud, rambunctious game of underwater shark is improvised! Who knew that safety goggles were a dramatic play prop?

You see the world differently through safety goggles.  
I'm thankful for children who remind me of this, each and every day.