Through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime, my teaching partner, Paula, and I continue to talk a lot each day. A recent conversation around relationships led to us discussing a possible “guest blog post.” This is Paula’s guest post.
I’m so glad that she did start typing, and shared her story. Our story. What’s yours? I’m hoping that this will not be end of her blogging experiences.
My teaching partner, Aviva, and I have had the privilege to work together for the past four years with numerous families, children, and educator teams to co-create the most beautiful kindergarten communities. Each year our students grow, and with them, so does our environment. Our practice is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the children, families, and the communities we service. We are passionate about our craft. We spend hours and hours chatting about our kids. We reflect daily on our observations, documentation, environment, and program goals. But always in the forefront are the children – Are their needs being met? What’s working? What else can we do? What do we need to change?
We work hard to develop an environment that is respectful of all those individuals who are a part of it and everyone who enters it. Our main goal is to cultivate a community of independent learners who are constantly contributing in an environment that they can navigate independently. A place where everyone can be trusted and everyone is heard. We want our students to know that we believe they are competent and capable of anything! We want them to OWN it. Each of them, in their own way, and at their own pace.
It’s messy (really messy in so many ways), loud (a constant hum of conversation, dramatic interpretation, heated negotiations, and sometimes high-pitched responses), emotions run high, and it is always filled with beautiful creations and projects of all shapes and sizes, covering every inch of the classroom. It’s not easy, and far from perfect. Every day is different, nothing ever seems to go as planned, and you really need your supportive teaching team – they are your life line.
Oh how I miss every second of it!
Our current reality has presented the biggest challenge to date… How do we do what we do without our classroom? Without our children there with us? Is it even possible?
Our little utopia doesn’t come easy. It takes months and months of support to create independence. Constant reflection and incredible flexibility in practice is paramount to ensure all developmental needs and domains are being met. How do we get there?
Relationships. We work to build strong, personal relationships with our students. We make connections. We share stories about ourselves. We listen, we inquire, we try to relate, be present (interested), and if we can’t listen, we make a point of coming back to hear about “it” — whatever that “it” might be. We join conversations. We acknowledge when we are wrong or unknowing. We are honest about our own needs and our own feelings. We respect each other.
We play! This is where we teach – where we reflect and extend, notice and name, enhance skills, introduce new vocabulary, suggest new materials, inquire, and redirect learning. All through and during play. Almost everything we do is based on what children do and how we can support and extend the learning.
We set the stage. We plan based on play. Most of our provocations come from our students. Their needs, their likes, their interests. We provide the materials and the inspiration. Very little is random. Our experiences are set-up prior to class and are based on our knowledge of child development, the Ontario Kindergarten Program Document, Growing Success, and the ELECT Document. We consider self-regulation and social dynamics. We limit transitions and support the ones we have with clear expectations, encouraging students to take the lead. We consider space and how we can all learn together successfully within it. We are constantly thinking about Stuart Shanker’s questions: Why this child? Why now?
We give time. We try to give everything and everyone time. We provide large blocks of play.
How on earth do we build all of this in an online environment?
How can we be present for our students? How do we connect, and continue to build relationships? How do we be there for our students when we can’t actually be there?
I know we are not alone with these thoughts. These are ongoing questions that so many educators are faced with around the globe. It is wild to think about the millions and millions of people affected.
The amazing Aviva has taught me so many things. What stands out most to me right now is her constant (sometimes annoying) reminder that everyone, everything has an entry point. With this in mind, I think about my role as an online Early Childhood Educator. What is my entry point? How do I adapt my practice to meet my new online reality? What is most important right now? I hear Aviva asking me, “what CAN you do?”
Here’s what I can do.
Record videos of myself and post them on the blog.
This is where we started. Aviva and I each recorded a two minute video right after the March Break. We highlighted what we have been doing and how much we missed everyone. That’s all. One parent shared that her child watched these videos over and over again. He was so excited just to see us. (Oh my heart!)
Provide learning provocations through video messages.
I try to get a little personal here. My first video was of a quiet space for just me. A calm space perfect for working. A place for kids to imagine me as well as hopefully inspire them. I shared photographs of my kids working. I documented my daughter following a recipe submitted by a student.
Provide a consistent live learning classroom.
Aviva and I created an online classroom in Google Meet at the beginning of distance learning three weeks ago (has it really been that long?!). It is at 10 am every school day. It is completely optional. Some children join daily and others when they can. We play the same song as we did to start our gathering at school. It is incredible the comfort this song brings, even to those who didn’t participate at school. While our delivery and provocations change, the setting remains the same … always.
Give it time.
This can be so hard. We instinctively want to fix things that don’t work, but time almost always takes you to the best places. These online classrooms need a different kind of patience than the classroom. There is background noise. Only one to two people can speak at a time or no one is heard. Aviva and I speak often about wait time in the classroom and online. Recently at the end of our classroom sessions (we invite kids who have something more to share to stay and chat), a child shared a LONG story about a piece of artwork. Sometimes, online especially, children don’t always pick up on cues to move onto the next thing. It can be a challenge not to cut a speaker off. In this case we listened, and at the end of the story, she shared the complete life cycle of the butterfly!! What?! We were able to introduce some new vocabulary and make some suggestions that this child used in an oral presentation the following day!!! And to think we almost didn’t give her the time.
Increase my online presence.
A classroom with multiple educators has the gift of a variety of perspectives. In our classroom, Aviva shares our voice. Most of what we share to families and communities as a whole is written and presented by Aviva, from both of us. I rarely personally comment on anything. Up until now, I strongly believed that one consistent voice was enough: it is the strength that bonds us as a united team. I wonder though, with our new reality, do the children/families need to hear more from me? Should I start commenting on the work submitted? Is it okay to comment on some and not all? Putting myself out there professionally on a digital forum is a little scary!
We are fortunate to have an amazing parent group who have embraced our transparent learning community since the beginning of the school year. They are so supportive. We share everything online. Our learning was documented through video clips and photographs daily. I am used to being seen online. I am actually quite famous on our classroom blog. 🙂 My voice is heard, my presence strong. It is my normal. It has become my way of evaluating my own practice. Although it was difficult at first to watch myself in the classroom, I now believe it makes me a WAY better educator.
Thinking back to Aviva’s thoughts on entry points I remember that everyone is at a different place that can change from day to day. Students, parents, and educators alike. When things get overwhelming and I question the relevance of an online Kindergarten Program and my role within it, I remember this interaction with one of our four-year-old students last week.
T – “Mrs.Crockett, Mrs.Crockett can you see my shirt?”
Me – “Yes I see it! It is a beautiful pink.”
T – “Yes but, Mrs.Crockett, do you love it?”
Me – “Oh yes T., I love it!”
And her mic goes off. She goes back to drawing quietly, listening to the rest of the class. With actual tears, every single time, I remember that showing up, being present, and keeping that connection going, are enough.