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

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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

i am getting paid to do this?!

I think I can say that school is now in full swing – although due to Labor Day holiday and PD days, I have yet to spend five full days in a row with students!

I am happy to announce that I now know all of my 90 students’ names! I teach half of the students in the elementary division of the school, which was a lot to get to know at first, but is definitely a wonderful way to get to know as many students as possible, since I am new to town. You can definitely see connections between siblings this way as well!

I am absolutely LOVING Pre-Kindergarten! I feel like I have truly found my place in the world; a precious gift has truly been dropped into my lap by fate and I am so grateful. My EA is also fantastic and I feel so lucky to have her! She is new to Pre-K as well, but I think we make a great team, and we are learning together (she attended an Intro to Pre-K PD Conference with me last week even!).

I am getting to know all of my (currently) 15 students a lot better, but they continue to surprise me! I don’t expect these surprises to ever stop coming, either!

Here are just a few pictures of what we have been up to lately…

You can see:

-a teddy bear picnic

-a student showing her pre-writing skills (she made pages and pages of her ‘writing’)

-fine motor practice using large beads and shoelaces

-construction and building skills

-making the letter S out of homemade smelly play dough (cinnamon and vanilla – yum!)

-a young artist creating one of her many, many masterpieces

-outdoor block play and cooperation

All through PLAY! 🙂

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I just took this one (above) today to document our first time in the gymnasium. I think this picture is absolutely priceless. It’s definitely worth several thousand words, so I will let it speak for itself.

It’s crazy to reflect how my ideal grade level has changed since I began my university degree. I started out thinking I would like to teach Grade 1 in my first years of university. In my third year, I did my pre-internship in Grade 3 and loved it! Then I was placed out of my comfort zone in Kindergarten for my internship, which I also fell in love with and still adore today (I get to teach K Art at the end of every day, which is a great way to end the day). Now, here I am teaching Pre-Kindergarten and I honestly feel like this is what I was meant to do. I would not trade these littles for anything!

Not to mention, I am also teaching Grade 5 and 6, higher than I ever pictured myself teaching, and DEFINITELY out of my comfort zone and area of expertise. I can’t lie, these older grades have definitely taken some getting used to, and are still my biggest struggle and steepest learning curve. But I will admit that I enjoy these students too, although they are VERY different from what I am used to and what I feel my personality is most suited to.

Plus, being the prep teacher who just comes in for a small portion of the day can be a struggle at times because you don’t know the ins and outs of the classroom like their regular teacher. All I can hope for is to make a small difference in these students’ lives! I don’t think I’m totally failing, as there are certain ones in each grade that at least seem excited to see me every day – haha!

In closing, it’s still sinking in that I am going to ‘work’ every day, and for the first few weeks of school, I couldn’t really believe that this was my job I was getting paid for (although this first long-awaited pay cheque sure helped to give a dose of reality – haha!). All I can say is that I am blessed to do the job I do because today I read books, watered plants, made cookies out of play dough, danced with scarves, played with hula hoops, sang and danced, laughed and smiled, ate popcorn, and used puppets to become a chef, astronaut, lizard, and monkey, and THIS IS MY CAREER! Pinch me!

More updates soon! Keep calm and teach on!

-Ms. F. (or as one of my K’s calls me – Miss Penelope! Don’t know where that one came from, but we are rolling with it!)

pre-k FINALLY started!!!

Well, my friends, after the first two days of Pre-K, I can finally say that I feel the school year (and my career) has begun!

Was it messy? Yes.

Was it completely chaotic at times? YES.

Did I almost lose my voice after the first morning? Yes.

Did we have a few tears? Yes (but way fewer than I mentally prepared myself for).

Did I have to run after a wandering student several times? Yes.

Did I tie shoes, zip zippers, and pull sweaters over heads? Yes. About 100 times. And we are going to start working on independence with these tasks ASAP – haha.

Did I absolutely love it? Yes!

 

Having my mornings filled with Pre-K now makes my day go a lot faster! The time really flies when you spend your time with 15 three and four year olds. And boy, do they keep you on your toes! Never a dull moment.

I would say that the first two days were a major success! We are working on learning basic routines and procedures at school, and I think this next full week coming up will help solidify these expectations.

I even got all of my students sitting in small groups doing table work on the SECOND DAY!!! Sure, it may have only lasted a few minutes, but I call that a victory!

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I think this picture perfectly sums up Pre-K. It looks chaotic and messy. But all of the students are engaged and learning in their own way. That is what I think our entire education system should strive towards. 

As I looked back through pictures of the two morning we spent together, my heart soared. I was overwhelmed with pride and love for these amazing little people I get to call my students. It truly is amazing that I am getting paid to spend my day with these lovely, blossoming little learners and be a part of their lives. I promise I won’t take it for granted.

-Ms. F