Then What?

Yesterday morning when I was out shopping, I happened to run into a former parent that is also a Kindergarten teacher (in a different Board). We were catching up, and I asked her about teaching Kindergarten. She mentioned that her plan is to remain in this grade, as she only has _____ number of years left until retirement. As we spoke more, this teacher shared with me her concerns about the shift to the FDK model. Her thoughts were,

  • I’m a very traditional Kindergarten teacher. I still do a letter of the week and use Jolly Phonics. I believe in this.
  • I have very colourful bins, bulletin boards, and borders. If I changed to the new model, I’d need to buy all new materials.
  • I work with a teacher that is exploring the Reggio approach. Her kids are doing some neat things, but then in a couple of days, the interest is over.
  • I don’t just ask my students what they want to learn about, but when I read a book on “penguins” for example, the students were interested, and then they started learning about penguins.
  • My teaching partner asked the students what they wanted to turn the dramatic play centre into, and they said a “spooky house.” They worked so hard at doing so, and then nobody went there. Then what?
  • My students still play. They create, build, explore, and try new things. Why do I need to change?

Change is hard, and I get that! And maybe change becomes even more difficult when we see value in what we’re doing. Do we need to give up everything that we’re doing? Not necessarily. But should we be open to the idea of making changes if there’s good reasons to do so? I think yes.

The truth is that my current beliefs are almost the exact opposite of what this teacher expressed. I’ve seen the incredible things that a group of Reggio-inspired Kindergarten teachers have done (thanks to Twitter), and I’ve even applied many of their ideas in my Grade 5 class. I’ve seen the benefits of doing so as well: students are thinking deeply and critically about their learning, and taking more ownership over their own learning. All of this being said, as I stood there talking to this teacher, I had to make a choice: do I agree with her, disagree with her, or choose an in between option? I decided on the latter.

Here is what I said,

I understand your concerns. I had some reservations about FDK as well. That’s why I decided to move out of Kindergarten before we became full day. I must admit though that I’ve seen some incredible things that other Kindergarten teachers have done (from different Boards as well as our own). They inspired me to give inquiry a try. 

I then mentioned about our Big Body Bonanza. Her reply was, “But inquiry would be so much easier with older students. They’re ready for this!”

Okay, now how do I respond? I went with,

Well it’s definitely easier that all of the students can read and access the information, but it certainly took time to have the children and parents adjust to this new approach. Many of them were used to textbooks, tests, and direct instruction from the teacher. Inquiry has been a shift, and a good one, but it’s taken time. With younger students, you’re at the entry point of their learning. They haven’t been trained differently yet. That willingness to wonder, question, and explore may be easier, even though finding appropriate resources may be harder.

She agreed! But then came the question about the lack of sustained interest, and students not really knowing what they want to learn about. And so I said,

What about provocations? We can help guide the inquiry with our use of various provocations — kind of like what you did with your penguin unit. (She liked this.) As for sustained interest, I wonder what would happen if we started to add additional resources to these areas when students lose interest. For example, you mentioned that in your teaching partner’s class, the children loved building with boxes. They made all kinds of structures with the boxes, but then after a couple of days, their interest faded. Well, what if she put different kinds of tape at this centre the next day? What if she put out some paint, construction paper, scissors, and glue? Would students become more interested? Would they try something different?

And this spiked her interest again. She asked me if I knew of any online resources with ideas. I mentioned that I read many Kindergarten teacher blogs that I love, so she said that she’d email me for the links. I hope that she does.

You see: I understand these concerns because I had all of them myself. Five years ago, I wanted to move out of Kindergarten for these very reasons. But what I didn’t do five years ago — that I really wish now that I did — is to look beyond my concerns and start to think about what I could do differently. I didn’t read enough to find out more. I didn’t talk to other Kindergarten teachers about their perspectives or their planned approaches. I didn’t look to Twitter (I wasn’t even tweeting at the time) or find blog posts to help give me a different perspective. I used my concerns as reasons to change, and while I’ve enjoyed all of my years of change, I wonder what would have happened if I approached things differently at the time. What would you have done in this same situation? How would you have handled this conversation yesterday? What would you hope to accomplish from it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


9 thoughts on “Then What?

  1. Aviva, this is just beautiful – no “talking down”, but a genuine conversation, rooted in empathy, that still helped to nourish a change of view or a re-think. Unfortunately, those kind of dialogues only occur in my head hours after I had the real chat and I’m thinking to myself “I should have said …”. Recently, I talked with a great kindergarten teacher who was worried she wasn’t “doing inquiry right” because she still taught some phonics and other traditional methods, as part of her teaching day. However, I pointed out all the things she WAS trying in order to integrate inquiry in her program. I applauded her efforts to consider a different approach and when I asked her if she was happy with this melange, she said she was. She got excited to see her students ask and answer questions they initiated but she also got excited to see her students decode books and signs independently. Who am I to say that she must abandon tactics that she has found successful in her career? I’m pleased to see that despite this internal tug-o-war she’s having, she is still attending inquiry workshops and trying things out. What would you have said if you were in my shoes, Aviva?

    • Thanks for the comment, Diana! I don’t always manage to say things as I did yesterday. Sometimes I get very passionate, and I forget to think before I speak. I’ve had some great discussions this year with educators and administrators that I really admire though that have helped me see the power in thinking carefully about what I want to say, seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and bringing about change slowly. I’ve noticed some great results with this other approach. Maybe it’s not about one person being right and another person being wrong, but instead, the willingness to critically explore our own practices to do what’s best for kids!

      I love the example that you shared here, and I think/hope that I would have said and done exactly what you did. You helped her see the positives in the changes that she has made. And there can definitely be value to what she has kept. She’ll know the best based on what’s she’s seeing in her students.

      Thank you for sharing here!

  2. Just a quick comment that I also agree the new FDK approaches excite me-precisely because, as you said, they are at the entry point of their learning.

    Why does it matter to me? Well, for years I’ve had to train kids out of seeing math as a test driven subject, and into seeing it as the vibrant and creative subject it is. Ignite those sparks of wonder, basically!

    Now imagine if they were all taught to be more questioning from FDK? That would work for me!

    Last thought: folks like the Peel #ReggioPLC are doing the purest form of inquiry. Why? Because it begins from a place beyond literacy…with glowing sparks of wonder.

    That said-there’s lots that sounds great in the other teacher’s class. What’s tradition, anyway? We can all learn from each other!

    • Thanks for the comment, Matthew! I absolutely agree with you, and can totally see the benefits of this approach when it comes to math. Even though I’m not with the Peel Board, I love following along with all of the hashtags, and listening and learning from others that are experimenting with many of the same things that I am too.

      And you’re right, Matthew. This teacher mentioned a number of wonderful things that she is doing in her classroom, and that may actually be more inquiry-based than she thought. Even when trying something new, we don’t necessarily have to give up on all of our old practices. I just think that we need to be willing to critically think about why we’re holding onto these practices and if they’re what’s best for kids. This, to me, is the hardest thing to do!


  3. Aviva,
    You handled it beautifully. We are now implementing co-constructing criteria and there are those that can’t see the reason. What we have to remember is there are those of use who are always looking to better our practice and remain open and those that feel their practice suits them so why change? Their practice is part of who they are and when we suggest or bring up change we shake them to their core. They live in their own isolated world because that’s the way it’s always been and it works for them. Trust me, at sixty-three I should be there too but I’m not. I think a lot of it is I think like a seven year old so I’m still in my exploration stage. Maybe one day I’ll grow up but not in the near future 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, JoAnn! Even though I like to think that I’m open and willing to change, I can understand the concerns that some people may have. Hey, I had many of these same concerns five years ago. I wonder how we can help others see the benefits of these changes. Maybe this needs to be done slowly.

      I must say that I love your willingness to change, and I feel especially lucky that I get to learn from the many changes you make through Twitter. Thanks for always being so willing to share!


  4. Aviva, I love the way you handled this situation, with such diplomacy, honesty, and thoughtfulness. It is difficult to be questioned about something you are so passionate about and which has made such qualitative change in your teaching/learning relationships, without coming across too preachy.

    Like you, I disagree that older students are “ready for inquiry” as opposed to younger students. My experience is the opposite. My son has never had such freedom of choice, time, subject matter to follow, and next year heading to high school frankly finds the idea frightening. My daughter, who is in grade 1, loves to visit my classroom and can’t believe how few rules I have (I know this makes me sound unstructured or hands-off, but that’s not it at all!) or how some projects go on for months at a time. Students early on need to have the space and freedom to choose their partners in learning and the subjects they want to explore before real in-depth inquiry is possible at older grades, otherwise they have so much “learning about learning” to do before they can delve in and do the hard work.

    That said, I think you handled it perfectly. I was a loner at my previous school, developing a thick skin as my AQ and PD learning pushed me further and further from what I knew and what my team did as a rule. I loved my new learning as it aligned so well with my own beliefs and experience as an “attachment” parent. It became rather lonely. So when I first read your opening ” What do you do…” I thought you meant: “How do you survive?” 🙂 I was going to say: PLN! Find your tribe, support them, they will uplift you.

    Re: some of her concerns, these are my first thoughts.
    “I’m a very traditional Kindergarten teacher. I still do a letter of the week and use Jolly Phonics. I believe in this”.
    Okay, but I might ask: why do you believe? Simple question, wouldn’t ask everyone that one, but if someone was honestly asking from a place of wondering, I’d ask. Then I’d describe the “repeat, rethink, remove” process of self-evaluation that was so helpful for me so e years ago.

    “I have very colourful bins, bulletin boards, and borders. If I changed to the new model, I’d need to buy all new materials”.
    I’d say: it’s not the bins, it’s the space. What goes up on the bulletins: pre-cut tree with students each making a leaf? Or possibly photos or quotes from students at work, tackling a particular wonder or problem? New model isn’t something you buy. It’s you sharing your space, learning from it along with your students: what happens here? Where does the light go over the day? Where do hiding marble wind up? What can grow indoors? Where does the best fort-building occur? Etc.

    “I work with a teacher that is exploring the Reggio approach. Her kids are doing some neat things, but then in a couple of days, the interest is over”.
    Without knowing that teacher, I’d say it’s true, some explorations start with a bang and then just fizzle out. Really good ones can start like a slow burn (I’m thinking beyblades now) and never, ever burn out all the way. True listening to your students is required, and it takes some practice! I’m getting better after several years… and now know it’s a combination of understanding what has lasting appeal (eg connects to ideas shared or questions that arise again and again) and what may be a momentary spark – and also knowing that we do t leave students to their own devices! We nurture the learning with questions, documentation, more questions, good listening and feedback, and by adding provocations to extend the learning. She can’t fault her friend for not getting it all right at once – we learn by doing as teachers too!

    “I don’t just ask my students what they want to learn about, but when I read a book on “penguins” for example, the students were interested, and then they started learning about penguins”.
    I see no problem with this. A good book makes for a wonderful provocation.
    Now the flip side, one I don’t always bring up but will here: thoughtful choices go I to reading materials and provocations. A theme can interest some, but maybe not all, for the whole time dedicated to it. An inquiry burns bright for those involved. It can end when interests change. It can evolve to include others, and there is no “done”.

    “My teaching partner asked the students what they wanted to turn the dramatic play centre into, and they said a “spooky house.” They worked so hard at doing so, and then nobody went there. Then what?”
    Well, I can’t know what happened there, but as I said above, teaching emergent curriculum requires deep listening, and good questioning. It can be tempting to run with the first idea mentioned and then create something, but deeper connections happen when the students have to convince you its a good idea, and come up with a plan, materials, signage, rules… Perhaps they weren’t invested because it didn’t come out the way they hoped. Serge Pascucci’s blog post about tackling student disappointment in a project sticks with me… Teach kids to look critically, and make a plan to change it. In a word: ownership.

    “My students still play. They create, build, explore, and try new things. Why do I need to change?”
    Wonderful! Do you need to change? Maybe not. Do you play with them? Do you see growth and evidence of learning in their play? If not, maybe that’s where to start, not the room or the plans. Get down and try a few things out: make a castle, a marble run, a batch of play dough. Document the ideas your students have. Start there. Have fun!

    That’s my far-too-much-to-say on the matter.
    Thank you for your constant inspiration – you are a real inquiry learner!


    • Thanks for the comment, Laurel! I love the ideas that you shared here (and how you responded to each of her comments). I think that your comment deserves to be a blog post of its own. You could help so many people as they try to figure out the ins and outs of the FDK model (whether in FDK or not).


  5. Pingback: The Power of the Unexpected | Joyful Latin Learning -- Tres Columnae

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *