graduation vs celebration

Pre-K gradAlong with the end of the school year, June also marks graduation season. I have seen posts and photos of Pre-Kindergarten/preschool and Kindergarten grads all over social media the last week or so, and it prompted me to examine my beliefs and views on graduation ceremonies in ECE.

First, I felt guilty for not having a formal graduation ceremony for my Pre-K class, especially because the two preschool programs in the community had beautiful and elaborate decorations and programs for their students and family members. Many of my friends and colleagues are also involved in early learning and they, too, were busy planning songs to perform, power points to show, and speeches to share. Was I cheating my students and their loved ones out of an important milestone and experience?

My viewpoint then shifted, in order to defend my lack of a Pre-K grad. I was ready with an arsenal of justifications for opting out. I thought things like…

  • my students are already students within the school, only moving one classroom down within the same building (while the preschool programs’ students will be new to the school, so their graduation ceremony is marking the end of their time at their EY establishment)
  • the Pre-K teacher before me didn’t have a grad ceremony, and neither does the K teacher at the school
  • my cooperating teacher in internship (who taught Kindergarten) didn’t have a graduation ceremony
  • I have some students who are moving to Kindergarten next year, and some who will be returning for a 2nd year of Pre-K

From there, I began to question and reflect on what exactly a ‘graduation’ meant to me. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that, to me, a graduation is intended to mark the end of a significant portion of one’s life in education; it is a finale.

Based on that definition, here is where I have some qualms with a Pre-K or Kindergarten graduation:

  • I view Pre-K and K as the pivotal introduction to formal education in a child’s life; it is the beginning of their journey as a learner in our school system. It seems counterintuitive to have a ceremony that marks the end, when it is really only the start of their adventure in education. Donning the cap and gown in Grade 12 or the final year of university signifies the end of a student’s time in that establishment; it simply doesn’t make sense for Pre-K and K students to wear the same outfit when they are not leaving us quite yet.
  • I assume that Pre-K and K graduations originally came about because these two programs are viewed in a different light than the ‘traditional’ school set up, especially because Pre-K and K were not originally part of the school system, an entity all their own. I think it is problematic if finishing Pre-K or K is viewed as entering the ‘real’ years of schooling. Certainly, Pre-K and K are, in and of themselves, set up and run much differently than the numbered grades beyond. However, this mindset minimizes the importance of early learning and the strategically designed environments and learning that takes place there.
  • I can still remember one of my favourite university professors telling an anecdote of visiting a local elementary school in March and seeing bulletin boards covered in (you guessed it!) leprechauns. She went on to explain how disappointed she was in this, because the leprechaun creations had no meaningful tie into learning. They were created as merely a craft to fill time. That story has stuck with me ever since, and I vowed to avoid ‘crafts-for-craft’s-sake’ or ‘time-fillers’ at all costs in my practice. In the same vein, I see Pre-K/K grads to be an event for the sake of having an event to some extent. Similar to how teachers feel obligated have their students create Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day trinkets simply because it is EXPECTED, early years teachers see posts of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” themed decorations, toddler-sized caps and gowns, and adorable graduation songs and feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses [Exhibit A: the second paragraph in this blog post]. While I wholeheartedly believe that the early years are a time of utmost importance and growth in a child’s life, and they should be documented in order to be remembered later on down the road, I feel that the commercialized, cookie cutter Pre-K/K graduations can be merely a photo opp to put into a picture frame with no authentic connections for the child and their loved ones.

Now, if you are a proponent of early years graduations, I’m surprised you’ve made it this far, because you surely have a few choice words, points of view, or arguments to share after I singlehandedly shredded EY grads to pieces. But stick with me just a little longer, because this is all coming to a culminating point, I promise.

My biggest takeaway from my inner reflection on this topic is that we have to, ultimately, ask ourselves:

Why am I REALLY having this ceremony/event? What is the purpose?

We have to take a critical look at if the ceremony we are planning authentically celebrates students and their learning, or if it is simply an opportunity to tout the cuteness of 3-5 year olds in caps and gowns (which I cannot argue IS, indeed, cute).

And so, here is my suggestion of a substitute to a “graduation” ceremony:

Celebrations of Learning

Hosting a ‘celebration of learning’ event ensures that the most important factor of ECE – the students and their journeys as learners – is sitting centre stage.  This format also allows for so much flexibility and personal tailoring to truly fit the needs of your ‘clientele.’ In its most basic form, a celebration of learning is a time for students and their loved ones to come together to share pride in the learning that has taken place over the course of the year.

While I didn’t host a year-end “Celebration of Learning” this year (because this idea is brand-spankin’-new), we did have a final Family Day, where students and their family members hopped onto the school bus and drove 15 minutes to Ruby Lake, the local regional park. We enjoyed a day of exploring the playground and shoreline, eating fire-roasted hot dogs, and each other’s company.

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I did make an impromptu thank you speech to the families for their support and involvement in their child’s learning in Pre-K and sent home a book of “Learning Stories” I had collected for each student over the course of the year, but I am already crafting plans for what I would like my ‘Celebration of Learning’ to look like next year…

Rather than sugar plum fairies, I have visions of a Memory Walk dancing in my head. While it would certainly require a lot of paper, ink, planning, and work, I would LOVE to print pictures from each month of the school year and then hang them up in chronological order on the walls of the school hallways (along with quotes, observations, student artwork, etc.) for students and their parents to walk through. Think self-guided tour/art installation/giant documentation panel! It’s a literal walk down memory lane!

Check in with me in a year’s time when, hopefully, I will post about what kind of “Celebration of Learning” actually transpires.

  • What are your thoughts on graduation ceremonies for early years students?

Until then,

-KKF

steamroller

Here I sit, underneath the covers of my bed (where I had planned to veg out all evening). However, after a text from a colleague asking for some technological Twitter help, I got sucked into the Twitterverse and my dormant teacher brain quickly booted up again.

This text ended up being the catalyst to a suddenly productive evening. Buckle up for this (time-stamped) retelling…

7:52 p.m. – receive text from colleague

A staff member at my school had a question about using our new school hashtag (which you should check out at #HBCSpride). I quickly checked Twitter to investigate the problem.

7:55 p.m. – reply to text from colleague 

After finding the solution to the problem, I replied to my colleague’s query. However, this was only the beginning of my foray with Twitter for the night.

7:55 p.m. – 8:18 p.m. – scrolling through Twitter 

While I love Twitter as a way to connect with other educators, I am still working on finding time to actually scroll through it. Since I was already on the app, I decided to sift through some of the latest tweets in my main feed, on #HBCSpride and #saskedchat. I had previously been toying with the idea of moderating a summer Twitter chat (thanks to a gentle suggestion from @kwhobbes) and came across the sign up sheet.

8:19 p.m. – take the plunge and sign up to moderate my first Twitter chat 

8:21 p.m. – document this occasion in 21st century fashion by tweeting about it

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Now I was past the point of No Return. I was in full-fledged teacher summer PD planning mode. Somewhere in the next 10 minutes, I ended up thinking, “Hey, if I’m going to host a Twitter chat, I might as well sign up for a summer SPDU event, too, right?”

8:31 p.m. – 8:55 p.m. – look up options for SPDU events offered over the summer, choose one I’m interested in, decide to ‘go for it’ and register

Everything was going lickity split, tickity boo, smooth sailing so far! This was easy! But the next part of my journey almost made me give up…

8:55 p.m. – 9:15 p.m. – battling with MySTF to change my password

Yes, you read that correctly. 20 minutes of attempting to change my password. I would compare these gruelling 20 minutes to the Trials of Hercules:

Labor 1: Find the heinously complicated password STF set up for me in the fall written on a note (You know the ones that are a random mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols that you don’t even know how to find on your keyboard? Yeah. It was one of those).

Labor 2: Correctly type in the heinously complicated password STF set up for me.

Labor 3: Realize that the heinously complicated password STF set up for me is only a temporary password and now I must come up with my own heinously complicated password.

Labor 4: “Error: Password must not be a word from the dictionary.”

Labor 5: “Error: Password must contain one uppercase letter.”

Labor 6: “Error: Password and password confirmation do not match.”

Labor 7: “Error: Password must contain your mother’s maiden name, one hieroglyph, the first concert you attended, one Chinese character, the name of your first pet, and one Wingding.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.13.56 PM

9:19 p.m. – Successfully sign up for “Playful Experiences for Early Literacy and Much More” 

9:20 p.m. – 9:31 p.m. – decide to sign up for the #saskedchat Summer Blogging Exposé

Changing a password isn’t a pre-requisite skill to blog, right?

9:31 p.m. – relay the damage of my teacher brain rampage to my ever-supportive mom

Me (and I quote): “I tell ya, once I’m on a roll, I’m on a steamroll.”

Mom: “When you’re productive, you’re productive :)”

[subtext: “When you’re lazy, you’re REALLY lazy!”]

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.31 PM

9:31 p.m. – 10:31 p.m. – write up my first Blogging Exposé piece/the epic tale of my evening

Now, I apologize to those of you who are following the Blogging Exposé, because you’re probably wondering, “At what point in this post does she actually address this week’s topic?” (which is Summer Reads, by the way). Well, you’ve made it, to this completely underwhelming blip on the radar that is the actual topic of this week’s Blogging Exposé.

What I Plan on Reading This Summer

Long story short, one of our division’s Coordinators of Learning (and also head of the ECE programs in the division – check her out here) very kindly lent me an entire stack of resources focused on early learning, the project approach, inquiry, Reggio Emilia, etc. to peruse for the summer. I apologize, because I have left all of them at my summer home (not my school year home) and can’t name them all for you now. But I will try my very best to give you some updates when I get around to reading them (amidst all of the other teacher-geared activities I have managed to plan for myself in one night – haha! Don’t worry though, I pencilled in plenty of time for relaxing, recharging, and recuperating as well.).

Stay tuned to continue to follow me on my journey as a teacher in the summer months.

Until then, keep steamrollin’!

-KKF

TL;DR – Even when I plan to take a night off, I don’t. I have some exciting PD opportunities coming up this summer.

 

 

goal setting and forward thinking

One thing I have found surprising in this, my first year of teaching, is how early teachers start thinking about the next school year. Once January rolled around, staff at the school were asking me if I planned to stay at HBCS another year. By the time April hit, schedules and time tables were being created — heck, I even heard talk of a teacher photocopying and prepping handouts for the fall!

Now that I think about it more, however, it doesn’t seem as surprising for a couple of reasons:

  1. Teachers are very organized. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that they are looking ahead and planning in advance. We do it all the time; it’s a force of habit.
  2. Doing some planning ahead before the school year is over means less planning to do over summer – and more hours to spend soaking up the sun.
  3. [Without getting too terribly psychobabbly here…] Perhaps this is also the beginning of teachers starting to mentally and emotionally let go of the students that they currently have. After spending an entire year with the same faces, you get attached! To make this bittersweet ‘end of an era’ easier, maybe thinking ahead to the new students you’ll have next year helps to ease the change?

I also think that this concept of ‘forward-thinking’ seems so strange to me is because I am still a first year teacher taking things, in most cases, day-by-day. I am so focused on slogging through each day and caught up in planning what I am doing next week (or, let’s be honest, tomorrow) that my forward gaze cannot possibly be too occupied with something FOUR MONTHS from now! My guess is that after a few years of teaching under my belt, I, too, will become caught up in this phenomenon.

One thing that I have been accumulating for next year is goals! One of the most exciting parts of being a teacher is the opportunity for constant re-invention and self-improvement. While I am certainly proud of what I have accomplished (and survived – haha!) in my first year of teaching, I certainly don’t expect to have this mind-bogglingly complex vocation down to a science yet (although I do have to remind myself of this once in a while!). Heck, I hope that I still feel that this way 30 years in! If I ever have feelings of comfortability and mastery, I think it’s time to switch some things up and try some new strategies.

innovation

So, yes, I already have a list of things that I would like to change/tweak/scrap/try next year!

Last week, the students had a day off of school, but the staff was busy at work during our SIP (School Improvement Planning) Day. I always find these days a confusing mix of frustration over battling seemingly insurmountable obstacles and indescribable inspiration to improve my practice. Luckily, being an optimist, I always try to latch on to the latter feelings. I felt especially inspired after our last SIP Day, where I presented a technology tool to the entire staff that they may be interested in using in their classroom (if you’re interested, it’s called Plickers – click to check it out!). I was flattered when I heard from several teachers in the following days, thanking me for introducing them to the website/app and sharing that they were going to try it with their own classes! As a new teacher, it is easy to feel like you are always the one asking for help and soaking up others’ expertise. It was comforting to know that I have a lot to share with my colleagues, even as a ‘green’ member to the staff.

I left school that day energized and forward-thinking. As a student in elementary, high, and post-secondary school, I always strived for excellence and, due to the way our education system is currently run, it was easy to determine if I had, indeed, achieved said “excellence.”  However, becoming a teacher (while I am still very much a learner and a student of this career and its intricacies) begs the question: “How do I know if I am achieving excellence?” 

Obviously, I don’t receive letter grades, percentages, or marks for my work (and from an assessment-minded perspective, one doesn’t require these trivial things to understand if they are doing well or not, anyways). So I made some goals that I want to achieve in order to attain my personal standard of excellence:

  1. I want to continue to evolve and strengthen my teaching practice (This one is fairly generic and simple, but my recent involvement in #saskedchat has gotten me thinking a lot about parts of my practice that I would like to focus on in the future)
  2. I want to receive an award for being an excellent teacher at some point in my career (This is certainly a much bigger goal, but even if I never actually achieve it, simply working towards it will make me a better teacher, which I am definitely content with as an alternative. But, hey, a girl can dream, right?)
  3. I want to obtain my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education (This one shocked me, too! Going through university, I always said “I don’t want to go back to school. I want to be a classroom teacher; all I need for that is a Bachelor’s Degree, so once I have that, I am done.” However, getting my position in Pre-K has sparked a new sub-passion that I truly want to explore and extend. In true Kara fashion, I have already extensively looked into this, and my current plan is to start taking an online Master’s of Education in Early Childhood Education through UBC in the fall of 2018 – if all goes according to plan! Yes, folks, you heard it here first! I am truly a student at heart; I am already thrilled at the prospect of returning to the university atmosphere and mindset of learning voraciously, pursuing avenues of passion, and sharing these passions with likeminded people.)

No matter what the future of my career holds, I know that it is going to be an exciting ride! And I hope you look forward to me continuing to share my journey of “Learning to Teach” here, in my little corner of the internet. I truly appreciate anyone and everyone who has ever given this little blog a slice of their time and attention. After all, what good is going on a journey if you don’t have people to share the story with?

journey

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations and thank you! I realize that I was particularly wordy and “fluffy” today – sorry about that [more “sorry, not sorry” actually; this is my only outlet for writing nowadays – gotta flex those vocabulary muscles somewhere!]

Until next time,

-KKF

how i spend my sunday

There are few things I enjoy more than rearranging my classroom furniture and centres/invitations. It makes things feel fresh and exciting. Plus I love watching my students react to new materials I have set out. 

Check out my new setup! 

My natural materials area! Filled with real birds’ nests and real grass for the frogs to frolic in.

We are going to be learning about birds, nests, and eggs in the coming weeks.


Art studio area, complete with many new supplies the students haven’t seen before. I think they’ll LOVE the mini canvases. I’m excited to display their artwork on the easels.


Dramatic play/kitchen area. To the left of the photo is the large sensory table, which currently has water beads in it.


Our brand new light table is going to be a hit, I can already tell! I have quite a few different translucent materials to explore.


My small sensory bin is featuring rice, magnetic letters, copies of the students’ names, and a magnetic board. I hope they’ll enjoy this letter hunt invitation.


We are also EXTREMELY lucky to be getting an abundance of new equipment, toys, and furniture for our outdoor playground that you can see right out of the classroom window. I will post pictures and an update once all of it is installed. We at HBCS Pre-K are sure spoiled and blessed with all of the amazing learning materials we have at our fingertips. 

This week, I was reminded just how important play is to children beyond Pre-K and K age. My grade 6 social studies class went on a scavenger hunt this week, and one of the stations was in my classroom. I was surprised to find some of them playing in the water bead sensory table while I was circulating. The students made remarks such as, “this classroom is so fun!” and “can we come in here more often?” It was enthralling to see 11 and 12 year olds engaging in the rich sensory experiences that we are required to provide for our youngest learners. This discovery solidified my belief in the power and importance of play, and the incorporation of hands-on and explorative tasks in the older grades’ curricula. It definitely sparked my motivation to include engaging and “fun” tasks with my prep classes I teach in the afternoon. Perhaps we will even have to invite the grade 6 students in during our free play time soon…

Until then, 

Keep playing! 

-KKF

spring has sprung

And spring has brought with it some new adventures. 

1. I have been feeling a lot more motivated and energetic with the warm, sunny weather. This has led to getting up earlier, being productive, and even going for walks after school! 😊

2. Seed planting in Pre-K. We planted some mystery seeds on Monday. Hopefully I can keep them alive until they sprout into grass. The students all made guesses on what the seeds would turn into and my favourite answer was: “A chomper plant!” We are checking in on the seeds every morning to see if there is any change, and I am hoping that something will happen quickly so they don’t lose interest.

3. Puddles. Giant puddles. Our whole Pre-K playground is basically a puddle, thanks to a lovely little valley between two trees in the middle of the yard. Thankfully, it has dried up a lot this week. At first, I was fairly adamant that students could not play in it when it was topped with ice, as it was slippery and could result in someone falling through the ice and getting soaked. However, the sunshine has worn me down and I now allow the students to explore the water to a point. Unfortunately, a wagon mishap today led to 2 students taking an unexpected swim. Yikes!!!! That was a teacher panic moment when I heard terrified shrieks and turned around to see the wagon sinking and 2 students half-submerged in water. The joys of spring. 😳 Check me for grey hair, please. 

4. I have received my timetable for next year. I am teaching all of the same things, and am picking up Health and Music for Grade 4. If our class numbers stay the same, I will be teaching approximately 140 students next year! That is more than 1/3 of the school population. It is sure to be another busy year full of some learning curves, but I am excited for the new adventures and learning. If you’re curious, that brings my teaching assignment to:

-Pre-Kindergarten (mornings) 

-Grade 6 Social Studies 

-Grade 5 Health and Music 

-Grade 4 Health and Music 

-Kindergarten Dance, Drama, and Music 

5. I am still keeping up with weekly blogging!!! (Again, all credit to the weather)

With Easter break right around the corner, I find it hard to believe that there are less than 3 months of school left now! 

That’s all I have for now. Until next time, 

-KKF

taking the night off

I’m ba-aaaccckk! Two weeks in a row of blogging – and I’m excited that, even after several years on this blog, this post will mark a new first: the first time writing a post from my phone rather than the computer.

Tonight, I spent the entire evening curled up in blankets on my couch. And it was glorious. Once I got home from cross country skiing, I ate supper and flopped on the couch, never to get up or be productive again. And I lived happily ever after. The end.

And that’s what I wanted to quickly chat about tonight: the ability to take a night off GUILT FREE. Because, believe me, I am fairly skilled at taking the night off when the situation calls for it, but being able to do it without feeling bad for not accomplishing something school related is still a struggle for me.

Being a planner/organizer type, I am in constant “get-ahead” mode. If I have a free moment, my brain is urging me to use it to plan for school. However, the tricky thing about teaching is that there is always something more to do. Which means I could spend every spare moment doing something school related and still have a to-do list.

Also, if I continued down the path of using every spare moment to accomplish school work, I would be burnt out in my first year of teaching.

Now that I have gotten a feel for the daily hustle and bustle of the profession, though, I can realize and appreciate that simply being able to take the night off is a planning/organizing success. There is nothing so dire or imminent that it needs doing today, because I already have a plan for tomorrow. (Of course, the planner/organizer in me also says, “Now that you have a plan for tomorrow, work on the plan for the next two weeks!” but that is something I am learning to let go and give myself some leeway with, as I am teaching everything for the first time, and much of it from scratch).

I have had times when I am planning a lesson the night before (or early morning of!) I have to teach it, and I have had (precious few) times where I don’t have to do any planning all week. I obviously prefer the times when I am further ahead, but I have also learned to let go of a lot of things for my own sanity and well being too. Also, I think these experiences are, in a way, the “badges of honor” of a first year teacher. It would be pretty sad if I could say I have mastered my profession of lifelong growing, changing, and learning in the first year.

That is truly an exciting part of being a teacher – constantly reinventing, tweaking, and transforming your practice as you (and pardon the shameless and cheesy self-advertising here) “learn to teach”. It has reached the point in the year where I am looking ahead to next year and already starting a list of goals that I would like to tackle in Year 2.

I may not have found that perfect balance or routine yet, but that is simply a goal for my next years of teaching. 🙂

Finally, I suppose the whole point of this post can be summed up in this haiku:

Please don’t feel guilty.

Go ahead, take the night off.

You deserve it, teach.

Until next time,

-KKF

hanging head in shame

4 months!!!! That is how long (exactly to the day) it has been since I have written anything on my poor, neglected blog.

I feel like I am not the same teacher or person I was when I last wrote in November of 2016 (a different year, even!). The past four months have been bursting full of struggles and successes. In some aspects, I feel I have ‘figured things out’ and in others, I still feel lost in the rough. Teaching in a nutshell, my friends.

In order to attempt more frequent posting, I hope to give quick little updates such as this post will be – perhaps I can make it a weekly habit and just give the highlights. I know, I have made this goal before and failed miserably but teaching is an optimistic profession and I am, fittingly, optimistic that I can stick to this if I make it a priority! So here are a few brief highlights of the past FOUR MONTHS (from what I can remember with a fried teacher brain).

  1. Autograph books in Pre-K (I had heard of Pre-K teachers having a ‘sign in’ sheet for their students to write their names each day, and wanted to try my own spin on this; the autograph book was born!) Students sign their name every day when entering the classroom. This has been a helpful way for me to informally assess students’ knowledge of their own name and the letters in it, as well as fine motor skills.
  2. Puberty in Grade 5 Health. Yes, part of the curriculum in Grade 5 includes the dreaded topic of Puberty (which my students had been anxiously asking when we’d be covering since the beginning of the school year). I have to say, however, that it has been one of my favourite units to teach this year! Once they get past the initial awkwardness, students are genuinely interested in learning about the upcoming changes they will experience as they go through this ‘rite of passage.’ Knowledge is power!
  3. Classroom rearranging and creativity in Pre-K. Oh, how I love rearranging my classroom furniture and switching up the invitations in my Pre-K classroom! It is one of my favourite parts of the Pre-K position. I have tried several different configurations this year, and enjoy the freshness of changing things up periodically. I love that my classroom never looks exactly the same! It has definitely got me thinking about using invitations and hands-on, explorative learning in grades past Pre-K and K.  I have a new career goal of testing out this style of learning with these students. After all, there is so much research that backs students having free play learning until an older age than our education system grants them.
  4. Passion for early childhood education reaffirmed. I cannot gush enough about how I love the Pre-K program and its holistic style of addressing student learning! I feel that I have truly found my area of passion, my place, my niche. In the future, I would definitely love to teach early years full time, as that is where I find my true joy and affirmation of teaching.
  5. Being asked if I’m staying in Hudson Bay. As soon as January hit, I noticed that everyone started to ask me if I planned on staying at HBCS next year. I always answered with a confident, “Yes.” I truly do love the community, the school, the staff and students. I am excited to get the chance to continue learning as a professional education within the walls of HBCS.
  6. Change in education and what the future holds. It is definitely an interesting time to be starting a career in education with all of the uncertainty and worry that clouds the future of education in our province. At the end of the day, however, I know that the passion in teachers’ hearts will continue to fuel them no matter what the road ahead may look like. I suppose that is the other thing that I have learned in this first year of teaching: there is truly no way that I could have gotten through if I did not love teaching and children as much as I do. You can hear this over and over again in university, but it doesn’t ring as true until you are really in the thick of the profession, good and bad aspects both.

 

I suppose this post ended up being a bit longer than the “quick little update” that I intended, but I have never been known to be short winded in my blog posts and I did have a lot to catch you up on (this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, of course).

Hopefully, next week will see me on this little slice of the internet again to share my teaching anecdotes. Until then,

-KKF