This week, it was a couple of seemingly unrelated experiences that helped give me a new perspective. Let me explain.
It started when I was away at a meeting one afternoon, and a supply teacher came in for me. In the past, I’ve heard similar words from supplies as I heard after this day.
- “I feel so useless.”
- “I don’t know what to do.”
- “So they’re just going to play all day long?”
Yes, we run a play-based Kindergarten program. Our students play for most of the day. This is when and how learning happens, and it’s through our questions, mini-lessons, and extensions, that we also work on targeting areas of need. I can imagine how overwhelming this may seem to a supply teacher. It’s so contrary to how I’ve taught in the past, and it’s so hard to detail this approach through written plans (no matter how hard I may try).
Fast forward to a few days later, and another experience. On Thursday morning, we were lucky enough to have Dr. Jean Clinton visit the Kindergarten classrooms at our school. I’ve admired Dr. Clinton for years, and heard her speak multiple times in the past. I was so excited to have her visit. She arrived just a few minutes before the bell, and she joined us outside as we met the students. What I noticed about her right away was that she immediately connected with kids.
- She got down to their level.
- She answered their questions.
- She showed interest in what they had to say.
- She shared some of her own experiences, while also respecting students’ ideas and theories.
Even when she was talking to us, she realized the importance of our connection with kids, and let us step away, interact with others, and then come back to the conversation. There are many things that are incredibly special about Dr. Clinton, but the ability to build relationships — quickly and meaningfully — I think is definitely one of them. Within minutes of saying “hello” to Dr. Clinton, one child looked at me and said, “I like her. She’s funny!” In fact, he liked her so much that he took it upon himself to go into the classroom and get her, and invite her out to the forest to play. I love how two kindergarteners walked her out to this space, and took her to our nature swing to start the morning exploration.
I share these Dr. Clinton anecdotes because it was actually watching her in action and thinking about how my teaching partner, Paula, interacts with students that I had an aha moment: my supply plans have been wrong all along. For years, in addition to my other instructions, I’ve suggested to supplies that they rotate/circulate around the room. But what I should have said was this:
Find a group, sit down, and talk to, listen to, and play with kids! Then later on, go and find another. Repeat.
When you just circulate all day, you don’t connect with anyone. You don’t form relationships and you don’t find out more about children. It’s then easy to feel lost, useless, and unsure of the value in play. But when you get closer, and make these connections with kids, you start to see the magic that we get to see every day!
Hear the measurement and thinking in this vine swinging. pic.twitter.com/eqmyK7Z3gU
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) June 16, 2017
Consider the math and science learning that comes from this kind of experimentation.
From now on, my supply plans will change. I wonder if this will change how some educators feel about teaching Kindergarten. Imagine if we all left supply plans that first emphasized the need to build relationships with children. Would the supply horror stories that we all hear far too often stop altogether? I think about my supply days from 17 years ago, and realize how little I connected with kids. I know that I would change that now. What about you?