Tag Archives: teaching

Remembering Mrs. Bean

The other day I was in an early childhood classroom. Not unusual, it’s a place where I have been frequently, in one role or another, for over 40 years – as a student, volunteer, teacher, director, coach, assessor, parent and grandparent.

My first-ever early childhood classroom experience was Mrs. Bean’s Nursery School and Kindergarten. I was almost four. From time to time I’ll think back to that first experience (what I can remember of it) comparing/contrasting the “now” and “then.” And the “now” is ever-changing as time marches on–for the most part.

For example, I don’t remember dittos and worksheets. I’m not saying specifically we didn’t have them, but I certainly don’t remember them. What do I still remember? For one thing, I remember that cotton comes from a plant, wool comes from a sheep and–this was the real mind-blower–silk comes from a worm! Wow! (I’ll also admit these were simpler times before synthetic fibers.) What made it so memorable? We could see, touch and feel! Well, there were only photos of the animals, but we saw them, and could handle the cotton boll and the plant, the “just shorn” wool, and the silk thread and fabric. We could put our hands on them. We could share them and talk about them. We could relate it to our own experience. (Sewing was big in our household.)

Since best practices in early childhood education were first collectively addressed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in their Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) adopted in 1986, the landscape of the field has changed significantly. What we used to believe was good practice was based mainly on tradition and instinct. With the help of science and long-range studies we now have data on which to base our practice. To adapt to and accommodate these changes DAP has been revised three times, most recently in 2009, though the principles of child-centered learning have remained at the heart of DAP. Mrs. Bean had the right idea all along!

Today it’s wonderful to see early childhood on the radar of funders and legislators, but with that come standards of performance and accountability for all of us–children, teachers, parents and the funders and legislators. As we strive to meet standards and be accountable, it is essential to base our decisions and practices on what that science and research tells us. Children learn best in child-centered environments with individually- and age-appropriate, meaningful, hands-on learning.

Not every activity and experience we provide in our classrooms will pass the “Mrs. Bean test,” but I hope some of mine have. And, it’s a vital thought to have in our minds as we plan our curriculum. What’s really going to be significant and make an impact?

Oh, and thank you, Mrs. Bean. You had good instincts.

Oktoberfest in Preschool?

In a response to a recent local news story, many radio stations and media outlets this weekend hotly debated whether or not it is appropriate for preschoolers to drink out of miniature plastic beer steins. As I listened to the extremes of children becoming alcoholics to parents sucking all of the fun out of life, I continued to question the study of Germany in a 4-year-old preschool classroom at all!

My understanding of a 4-year-old’s brain tells me that since children at this age are still just at the very literal and egocentric stage of development, they have a hard time thinking about anyone besides themselves. Let alone thinking about the country of Germany, 4000 miles away!  Many 4-year-olds I observe do not think about the child 4 feet away from them let alone people they cannot develop a personal relationship with.

I know that we live in a city with a rich German cultural heritage, and I know that children are exposed to many family traditions (some age-appropriate and some not). But without a firsthand relationship with these traditions, preschoolers have a difficult time constructing knowledge of an abstract place and culture.

I support including opportunities for cultures to be explored as long as there is some relevance to the child’s world. Listening to an accordion player play a German tune is age-appropriate and an opportunity for children to share in an experience where they can construct and share knowledge about their world. An accordion player who is someone’s grandparent would provide even more meaningful connections to the children’s own experiences.

In preschool, “social studies” is all about children’s knowledge of every day events and builds on the development of their social skills. Preschool should be about building the foundation of democracy by participating in group decision making, establishing rules and consequences, expressing opinions and respecting the rights of others. Many social studies concepts such as map reading and recognizing events in their historical context are just too abstract for this stage of brain development.

After many years of teaching in a classroom, I know that preparing the curriculum and the environment for children is very time consuming, so make every moment count! Reflect on how much time it takes to purchase materials, like plastic beer steins, and to prepare the day’s lesson on a country you may know very little about. Ask yourself what you hope children will take away from the lesson. If it’s not about meeting some of these age-appropriate milestones, I encourage you to revisit your lesson plan.

What We Learn When We Disagree

I love being a professional in the field of Early Childhood Education. One of the best things about my position at 4C for Children is that I always have the opportunity to learn. There are conferences and newsletters, blogs and instructors with knowledge to share. I truly enjoy the chance to sit down and listen to a new speaker, participate in a conference or read a newsletter or a blog by another professional in the field of early childhood.

However, I have on a few occasions met an instructor or read a blog that I simply didn’t agree with. I have also seen speakers present me with ideas that are different than what I had I anticipated. The question then becomes, “What do I do about it?” Like everything in life, we have a choice when facing ideas or people whose information doesn’t settle well or is different than what we currently know.

As a professional, it is my responsibility to sift through new information and make my own informed decisions about what I am being presented with. When I come across that information, I ask myself a few questions:

  1. Does the information make sense?
  2. Is there research that supports the information that I’m being presented with?
  3. Does it fit in with my personal/professional philosophy about working with children and families?

Professionalism doesn’t begin just because people register for classes, read a blog or attend a conference. Professionalism begins when people take time to reflect on the information they are presented with and make an informed decision about what they have learned.  My wish for all professionals in this field is that you take the time to reflect on the classes you take, the blogs and articles you read and decide if application of the information is appropriate.  My hope is that you will learn and grow, and that you all love being a professional in this field as much as I do!

Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Changing

Continuing the three-part series on “Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Teaching, Ever Learning, Ever Changing,” 4C’s Janine Rigg gives us “Ever Changing”:

Change can be scary, and it can be intimidating. Change may require diving head-first into the abyss of the unknown, trying to get back to the surface as quickly as possible. But change can also be an adventure, and it can be beneficial to you as the teacher and your present and future students. Change may instead require jumping cannon ball-style into a flood of new approaches and seeing just how many waves we make. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “the only constant is change.”

The easiest way to change is voluntarily. Maybe you realized that the activity you thought the children were going to love was actually a disaster. Maybe you’re getting the urge to try something new. Maybe you see a new idea or framework working beautifully for your coworkers and you want to try it in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be a big change to make a big difference. It could be as simple as switching center time to after nap rather than trying to go directly into teacher-led instruction with groggy children. Make sure that the changes you make will work for your classroom dynamic and will make it better.

In the article How Teachers Change, Virginia Richardson from the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) quotes research from Smylie & Conyers (1991) which states that “over the course of this century, our concept of teaching has shifted from an industrial model[,] teachers replicating a specific set of instructional tasks[,] to a ‘complex, dynamic, interactive intellectual activity.’” She then contends that “we therefore need teachers who approach their work with a change orientation: an orientation that suggests that constant reflection, evaluation, and experimentation are integral elements of the teaching role.” If our teaching methods were the same as a century ago, with rote instruction and recitation, then tried-and-true routines could suffice. With the Ever Changing world that is early childhood, however, we will be left behind if we don’t change with it and our students will be left behind as well. There should be a focus on what will be most beneficial for the children, and isn’t that really the bottom line?

Each of the three parts to the theme “Ever Teaching, Ever Learning, Ever Changing” is crucial. If teachers are teaching and learning but not putting what they learn into practice, they stagnate. If teachers are teaching and changing, but have no sound educational basis for the changes they make, they are doing a disservice to the children. It is a continuum as well as a cycle. Evaluation of your teaching, learning how to strengthen your practices and changing based upon what has been learned should then be reflected upon. I marvel at how much I have changed as a professional since I started in the field, and a good portion of it was unconsciously! Even within the last year, I can identify areas in which I have improved my methods. I, and the people I train and the staff I work with, reap the benefits of my dedication to this practice.

I would love to hear success stories of how you have been “Ever Changing!” Please share them in the comments.

Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Teaching

While on the my university’s website retrieving my college transcripts, I stopped in on the page for the education department, my old stomping ground. In two separate places on the page their theme is proudly displayed: “Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Teaching, Ever Learning, Ever Changing.” These principles meant little to me when I was in school, but seeing them again as a professional was powerful. I realized just how important each of them is in being a successful teacher. In my next three blogs I will be exploring these three tenets in-depth as they related to early childhood professionals.

I had to stop and think about what “Ever Teaching” really meant to me. I decided it meant two things. The first is taking advantage of teachable moments. Not all learning that takes place was written on the lesson plan or posted on the schedule. Teachable moments present themselves at any time and can be more meaningful learning experiences for the children. They are the nuggets of learning for which we are constantly mining! Do we want the children to learn only while sitting at circle time as the teacher reviews the day’s weather or do we want them to learn by experiencing the weather for the day? What does the wind feel like? How does the position of the sun change our shadows? Why do some snowflakes stick together and other snowflakes fall through our fingers? These are the things that children can discover on their own.

Imagine that it starts raining smack in the middle of calendar time and half of the children are now more interested in the tracks the raindrops are making on the window. We can return them to the lesson already in progress, or we can utilize their curiosity and their excitement to investigate how the raindrops form into streaks, to discuss what it sounds like as it hits the glass or even experiment with water droplets on wax paper.

What else does “Ever Teaching” mean to me? The fact that no matter how old your students get or how long they have been out of your classroom, you will always be their teacher. They may see you at the library, in the movie theater or returning with their own child to your classroom. Your status as “teacher” doesn’t change like your Facebook status does.

Being “Miss Janine” forever has meant encounters with students when I least expected them. Once when I was doing some evening grocery shopping in a t-shirt and messy jeans (that one pair everyone has with paint smudges, ragged cuffs or missing a belt loop), I ran into a student and his mom. We had a nice casual conversation; it didn’t matter what I was wearing or that I was off the clock, I was still “Miss Janine.” I’ve also been on the other end of the student-teacher encounters. I was at a group interview for my teaching position and recognized my fourth grade teacher as the coordinator of the event. It was surreal for me, and I’m sure for Mrs. Johnson as well, to be in a situation where we were peers. However, to me, she will always be “Mrs. Johnson” instead of “Anna.”

Ever Teaching: the return that we receive on our investment in children is measured in hugs and smiles and chance reunions years later. What does “Ever Teaching” mean to you?

What Makes a Good Teacher?

What is it about a person that makes them good for working with children? Is it their education?  Is it their experience? Or is it just a natural understanding of children and a true desire to want to expand on their curiosity?

The best thing would be a combination of all of the above, but I do believe that a person has to start with the right attitude for working with children. Almost anyone can get a job in the early childhood field (that’s not necessarily a good thing) and almost anyone can get a degree in early childhood or take courses in child development. Without the right perspective on how children grow and learn, however, it doesn’t do the person or the children much good.

In visiting classrooms throughout the state, I have seen teachers with degrees in early childhood who may be “book smart” about activities to do with children but lack that natural ability to expand on the child’s own interest. I’m not sure if it’s because they didn’t notice, didn’t care or just didn’t know how. I have also seen many experienced teachers with such high expectations (everyone sitting in a circle going over every letter, number, month, day, etc. in English and Spanish) that the children become bored and frustrated and aren’t learning anything at all. It makes me wonder if they have been to any early childhood training since they first started or if they are just going by what they have always done. If we want children to grow and learn, shouldn’t we try to do the same?

I personally think most teachers want to do a good job and truly care about the children. I’m definitely not saying that education and experience don’t matter, but you really need to start with what a teacher is like on the inside first. Do they appreciate the children just as they are? Are they willing and eager to learn? Do they respect and value the children and their families? Are they open-minded to suggestions and work well as a team?

Give me a person that delights in children, shows personal responsibility and celebrates the diversity in the world and with some education and experience, I’ll show you a great teacher!