Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So there I was, sitting on the couch surfing Facebook and reading comments left on my page regarding my blog. A dear friend made a comment about reading her journal and noticing the heavy mention of “the journey” after reading my post about valuing the journey (January 3, 2011).

Cue the epiphany!

When it comes to the journey of a teacher (anyone in education really), we need to focus on the process of the journey, not the product. So much like the way I ask teachers to focus on how the children are experiencing materials and forming relationships and understanding with them, I need to stop and observe the relationship teachers are forming with material and theory. I’m embarrassed to say that I have instead been focusing on the end product of where I’d like the teachers to be rather than appreciating where they are and celebrating the journey with them. It’s an interesting thought and I am eager to further develop it and to share it with others.

Now back to Facebook!

My teachers are the best!

As you may have noticed from checking out my profile, I work, live, and play in the city of Chicago.  This being said, my agency is only one of many delegate agencies funded by the city's Head Start grant.  Today I had an opportunity to explore Teaching Strategies GOLD reports with my colleagues from other agencies and I had the brightest, most beautiful "AH HA!" moment while participating in a conversation.  My teachers are the best!  Overall, I have some of the most amazing teachers who are willing to do anything for the children we serve and although we have some weak spots, we are something to brag about!  I was very proud & can't wait to get back to the office tomorrow to smother my teachers with some much needed love!  To all the teachers out there, thank you for all of your efforts.  They do not go unnoticed!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Problem Sovling by Ooey Gooey's Lisa Murphy

An article like this is too good not to share with the education world!

Teaching Problem Solving to Young Children

Teaching Problem Solving to young children
We have all witnessed it… the children who, at the ripe old age of six, or maybe even four, can spell their names, count up to 100, recite their phone number, play a musical instrument, dance for grandma, and maybe can even write a few words, but! when on the playground with peers, and someone takes their shovel, bike, truck or jump-rope what happens?

So how do you teach problem solving to young children? My off-the-cuff answer (although very honest and true) is SLOWLY, PATIENTLY and CONSISTENTLY!

Nothing happens over night, if you get a new group of children each year it might be best to spend the first few weeks observing who has a handle on problem solving and who might need some assistance. I have had two-year olds who could get shovels back and six-year olds who still throw tantrums!
First things first: lets take a look at the surroundings and make some assessments through observation… is the fighting and arguing between children stemming from possible environmental issues? i.e.: Is there only ONE of the favorite objects? Too few for the large number of children? Might I need to acquire more? Is the arguing happening right before rest time? Lunch time? Just back in from outside playing? Are they extra tired and hungry? Is it always on Mondays after the weekend?

I had a group of children one year who always fought, bickered and pestered each other on Thursdays…. after some detective work I found out there was a TV show that most of them were watching on Wednesday night! The show was keeping these young children up too late for their 6:00 am arrivals to before-school care. Dealing with the environmental factors that might be causing the headaches might often be all that is needed to restore the peace.

However, when a child has something and another child wants it (turn on the bike, swing on the swings, the yellow truck)… I will show/teach/model to the child HOW to ask for it through words such as:

“Tell him that you’d like a turn when he is finished.”
“Ask for a turn when she’s done.”
“See if he wants to trade.”
“What would you like to do while you are waiting?”
I had a two-year old that would bring the cars he would “trade” over to the other two-year old who HAD what he wanted… “Trade?” he’d say..offering his bounty… most of the time this worked for them. Sometimes it didn’t, then you use one of the above “ask for a turn when he’s done” scenarios.

Sometimes children will throw a fit, take, or grab. If I witness this I will calmly say, “give it back and ask for a turn when he is finished.” Sometimes the child will literally sit and wait – watching until the other child is “done” with it. Often this then turns into a power struggle and enters a whole different realm that has nothing to do with sharing or getting shovels back. This is a time when I would observe if this is a current hot item that we might need multiples of, or if a simple lesson in patience is in order… “What would you like to do while you are waiting for Noah to be done?” might be an appropriate action.

CHILD #1: I want to swing! She has been on the swings since we got out here!
TEACHER: Tell her you would like a turn when she is finished.
CHILD #1: I did and she said she’s not done!
TEACHER: What would you like to do while you are waiting?

SIDEBAR: Oftentimes the minute the child ON the swings (pushing the truck, riding the bike) realizes that you (as the grownup) are not going to MAKE him/her get off the swings (give up the truck, get off the bike) just so little Beth can have a turn, will often jump off the swing on her own accord, “share” the truck or hop off the bike…BUT! That will happen only if this is the problem-solving pattern that happens ALL THE TIME – not just when you are feeling extra patient and are in a good mood! Consistency is key!
The real secret is focusing on the child who “wants it” and teaching methods of problem solving: waiting, requesting, and/or finding something else to do.

In a nutshell:
When conflict happens, grabbing, taking, screaming, whining over an object or an item, take their hands and sit with them. Do not HOVER over them three feet taller making the children LOOK UP at you. Get down – facilitate a dialogue between them. Preschool teachers are planting the seeds of problem solving when they do this; elementary teachers are keeping the skills alive and cultivating a deeper understanding. Please note that if you work with school aged children you cannot assume that they know what to do just because they are older… Resist the urge to simply say, “Go use your words!” I know some of the words a three, four, seven or ten year old will use!! So do you! It’s not pretty. We must take responsibility for teaching them the words we expect them to use as both members of a school environment and the community at large as well. Problem solving skills and learning how to get your shovel back are skills that will last a lifetime, long after the art as been thrown away, cubby tags have faded and report cards have been forgotten.

If children do not learn how to get their shovels back when they are little they will grow into adults who don’t know how to get them back either; playground antics, stolen shovels and grabbed away trucks turn into stolen staplers, borrowed scissors, lost computer discs and missed parking lot spaces. Grown ups who get fired from their jobs do not get fired because they cannot do their work, they get fired because they do not know how to deal with people! They do not know how to communicate! They do not have problem solving skills! Translate this to our preschool, kindergarten and primary classrooms – do children get kicked out of school if they can’t tie their shoes? If they get a “D” on a report card? If they cannot turn on the computer? No. But they will get kicked out if they bite…hit… kick… all which are manifestations of a lack of PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS!

CHILD #1: He took my shovel!
TEACHER: Tell him, “I want my shovel back please”
CHILD#1: “I want my shovel back please”
CHILD #2: But I had it first and then he grabbed it away from me….

SIDEBAR: You know the drill… this bantering could go on for hours! See how it becomes a power struggle instead of problem solving?? This is when the teacher/parent/adult needs to MODEL problem solving skills, not be the boss and take the shovel and give to one child -or take it away or make them find something different to do. These methods are the easy way out and teach only that the ADULT is in charge… no one is learning anything for himself or herself!
TEACHER: Where might you find more shovels? (Now you are also modeling THINKING THROUGH and finding ANOTHER OPTION i.e.: problem solving)
CHILD #2: The bucket by the sandbox has shovels in it.
TEACHER: Let’s go see…

Walk over to bucket together and go from there.

Again, see how an ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE could be stemming the whole debate? If there are only 10 shovels for 120 kids that is not enough! I worked in a school once that had 108 children in it and they only had four bikes on the playground. What were being dealt with, as BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS were really what? You are correct – ENVIRONMENTAL ones!

The secret to creating an environment that has minimal behavior problems is learning how to control the environment instead of the little people in it. Our goal is for the adult(s) to be involved and acting as a facilitator, assisting and guiding as the children learn these skills for themselves. Playing judge, jury and referee doesn’t teach anything. Facilitating independence and problem solving does NOT mean that we toss them back into the play lot with a strong “Go use your words” as we turn our backs and resume our discussion about last night’s party with our co-teachers. That is being disengaged, disconnected and is not teaching important skills that will last a lifetime.

We start out super involved, super connected, who needs what from us and how are we going to make sure they get it. Then slowly we back away, watching, observing… asking ourselves, “Is it working?” Anna Quindlen says, “each day we move a little closer to the sidelines of their lives which is where we belong if we do our job right.”

©2002 Ooey Gooey, Inc.
Lisa Murphy

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Admit it

There's some scent in your life that stops you dead in your tracks & takes you to another place, time, or emotion.  If you said no, you're lying. 

Delicious, no?

I had a flashback to preschool twice this month.  Once while frequenting the South Loop Target as I tend to do (too frequently) and another while sitting in a preschool classroom with children.  Different scents, same place in time.  The first was "Elmer's Paste" and the other was a box of new Crayola crayons (the 48 pack, which, consequently, I was never allowed to get for school because 'the list says 24').  Immediately flashed to my kindergarten classroom (circa 1990) and the teacher freaking out because Tommy (how fitting was that name!?) was under his table eating paste.  The crayons reminded me of kindergarten because for my birthday (September) I always got school supplies. And it made me the happiest child on the planet.  There's a home video of me at my 5th birthday party opening a box filled with nothing but school supplies. 

What are the fragrances of your life, preschool and beyond?  Are there times you literally stop what you're doing and inhale deeply to reflect on that time?  I know you do, just asking...

Calm in the midst of chaos

Such a valid question in the early childhood education sector along with every other!  We all feel stress and chaos, but this question was targeted at teachers of children birth thru 5.  What do we do when start to feel overwhelmed?  This applies in the classroom, as a baby's cries can sometimes be like nails on a chalkboard, but also to the climate of the profession as a whole.

As a Wisconsinite turned Chicagoan, I can't express enough how heartbreaking it is to see how chaotic life has become in Wisconsin.  My teacher friends are fearing for their jobs while still being expected to put on a happy face for their students!  Could you do it?  I'm not sure if I could. 

Stand tall and proud my fellow ECE professionals, some day we will be respected as much as doctors and lawyers (I can say that because my brother is in law school and my mom says we're both important people).  We just have to continue to make our voices heard.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Little victories!

Ladies & gentlemen...
Today marks the first day in the history of my career as an education coordinator, I have approved lesson plans from all 16 classrooms for the current week!  Next step, getting all 16 of them in, edited, and approved before Monday!  Hey, a start is a start and I am proclaiming this to be a win for me!

Lesson plans:  0

Have a great day!

What makes a good teacher?

Each month, I like to post a question for the teachers at one of our sites to ponder over and leave a quick response to; I realize this is one of those things that I should be doing with all of our sites and plan to as soon as I can find a safe place to post such an activity!  I love their responses!

What do you think makes a good teacher?  What's the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mondays are hard

I'm not sure what it is about Mondays, but they sure are not easy.  I spent the weekend doing a whole lot of nothing and with daylight savings, I feel pretty out of my realm today.  I need this feeling to pass quickly though as I have a lot to accomplish this week! 

One of my biggest goals for this week is to observe in classrooms to ensure teachers are implementing their lesson plans.  I feel like they write such amazing plans, I approve them, and that's the last thought they're given until the next week's cycle starts up the process again.  So this week?  I'm hunting for evidence of lesson plan implementation; not sure what it will look like yet and am aware it may look different in each classroom.  Our children deserve our best, even when we don't feel our best. 

Teaching without a plan is like going on a road trip without a map.I'm not saying you have to follow it exactly, but without that notion of "where are we going?" how can we get anywhere productive?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life Skill 101: Organization

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

In the life of an educator (or let's face it anyone trying to juggle 8 balls at once), there is little as important as organizational skills.  When we allow things to pile up over time, it can be like trying to dig out after an avalanche.  This desk space (meant to be for the children mind you) is sending such a strong message yet I'm wondering if the teacher is even aware of this message.  What is this workspace saying to you?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flannel board love

I am a HUGE fan of flannel board activities as an additive literacy activity for preschool-aged bambinos.  And?  I make my own, saving myself a bundle!  Last night I created a set of 6 flannel board activities that include critical thinking prompts (riddles) and cute pictures to accompany!  The set includes:  Transportation, What Shape Am I?, Who's Hatching, On the Playground, Mystery Colors, and 5 Little Monkeys (fingerplay).  I made them all in about an hour!  I used the patterns found here.

Not too shabby!  I used milk filters (I'm from a small town in Wisconsin) and love love love them because you can trace ANYTHING onto them with a Sharpie and then color w/ crayons and the colors are super vibrant!

 I am kind of in love with flannel board activities so if you're looking for ideas or have a few of your own to share, please do!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Found: Inspiration

So I was lurking on Facebook and found this photo in a friend's album and all I could think was Huh.  Which
quickly turned into Duh.  It seems so easy!  I know that I cannot rely on others to inspire me or tell me the path that I need to be on... they can encourage (and nudge) but I have to be the one to take the first step.  Likewise, my teachers need to take the first towards change and I can encourage and support them as much as they will allow. 

Just a thought.

All things considered

I've been waiting my whole life to figure out what I want to be "when I grow up."  From the age of 4 all I wanted to be was a teacher.  A second grade teacher just like my Auntie Jean.  I went through all of the hoops (thanks Wisconsin, you had quite a few) and graduated with my BS in Education for Birth- Age 11 in 2007.  However, my love had shifted.  I was no longer looking to be a second grade teacher like my aunt, I was focused on the littlest of learners... preschool!  I had done some student teaching in a kindergarten classroom and loved every moment of it.  It was painfully obvious, however, which children had not attended a 4K program before entering 5K.  I spent a year teaching at a Head Start in Wisconsin and then quickly realized (after a glance or two at my checkbook) that I couldn't stay.  I couldn't support myself that way.

In 2008, I applied to a center in Chicago and within an hour, had an interview scheduled.  I am still with that agency today but am now operating in a very different role.  After arriving in Chicago, I felt empty.  Bored even, which is not what one desires when working with such an exciting group of people!  I decided I needed to go back to school and earned my masters in Curriculum & Instruction (emphasis in ESL) in 2010... 6 days before I got married.  So the chaos of it all is behind me now and I'm wondering how to use what I have to support the teachers. 

As their Education Coordinator it is my responsibility to make sure the teachers feel loved and supported as they strive to meet and exceed the many different standards in ECE (NAEYC, Head Start Performance Standards, Teaching Strategies GOLD, etc.) and do it with a smile.  The smile, oddly enough, isn't the hard part!  I feel very fortunate to have a strong bond with most of the teachers and I think their trust in me comes from my experience in the classroom as well as my experience with the agency (I worked my way up from Lead Teacher to Ed Coord).  Thus far, my focus has been on organizaiton of paperwork and time management, a skill most were struggling with (and one of my strong points).

Now that their paperwork is coming together, I am digging into their environments and trying ever so patiently to help them understand why the decisions they make are so important.  Why the placement of one piece of furniture can change the entire "vibe" of the classroom.

Environments have long been a favorite area of education for me and I am trying to make them as exciting and engaging as possible for the teachers as well so that they can share that joy and excitement with their tiny humans.  I spend a lot of time watching HGTV and love to reorganize my home on a regular basis!  I enjoy going to Goodwill and finding amazing deals on items for home and school.  Perhaps some good will of my own will come into play as I attempt to "makeover" one of the neediest classrooms within our agency... afterall, I don't have my own classroom anymore!

All things considered?  I'm doin' alright.  Just need to get everyone as excited about it as I am...
We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just Do It With Love

A common expression, especially in my experience as an Education Coordinator.  The things we do in our classrooms reflect the love we have for the children within them.  This week I've spent a large amount of time at one of our sites and have some concerns about the environment and the messages being sent to the children.

Science Area:  Spring 2011

I worry because although there are labels, they don't reflect the actual items present on the shelf.  Additionally, the materials seem to have just been thrown onto the shelves without much thought.  The materials have been the same since I began observing the room in the fall.  Now's the time to change!  With spring approaching (well teasing us really), I plan to intervene in the most supportive ways possible to help this teacher support her children through acts of love!

What constructive feedback would you share with this classroom teacher?

Spread the love!