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.

Photo 2017-06-23, 9 32 34 AMPhoto 2017-06-23, 10 46 48 AM

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

types of teachers, schools, and students

I feel that in the Faculty of Education at University of Regina, the main approach used to teach pre-service teachers is “Teacher as a Researcher,” though I see connections to the other methods as well (“Teacher as a Learned Practitioner” and “Teacher as a Professional”). The researcher role uses continual self reflection as a means for learning, which I have already experienced in the program. It is strange to think that we have so much internal knowledge when we have been brought up in school systems that inherently tell us that textbooks have the answers. This approach also centres on problems and questions that teachers face in real-life situations, which are on almost all pre-service teachers’ minds, I think. Rather than drilling the ‘how’ of teaching into our heads, we focus on the “why.”

Speaking of the “why,”, alternative schools often ask how different methods and school environments may benefit certain students more than an average public school would. I chose to look a little deeper into the Prairie Sky School (in Regina) and this is the page of jot notes that I came up with:

Image

In this day and age of materialism and consumerism, I find it refreshing to have schools that promote harmony with the great outdoors and Mother Nature. I can see many links between Indigenous ways of knowing and Prairie Sky School’s approach to education. Children have many opportunities for artistic expression and physical activity, which are often the neglected areas in schools today.

Do alternative schools really promote “better” students, though? What is our definition of a “good student?” Why is it this way?

race, history, and change

Reading just a few sentences of F. V. N. Painter’s History of Education (1886) tells you that things were very different at that time. Here were a few things that sounded off alarm bells in my head:

  • the use of “manhood” instead of “adulthood”
  • “the end of education is complete human development”
  • “education is not creative”
  • “Asia is the birthplace of the human race”
  • great problems will receive their solution in Europe and North America
  • uncivilized peoples’ education is too primitive to even be of note in this book
  • other countries’ approaches to education are viewed as “very defective” and inferior to those of the Western world

Seeing these statements in a book that is over 100 years old isn’t surprising, but it definitely makes me wonder how ludicrous everything we base our world views on today will sound in a century or two. It actually reminded me a lot of this picture:Image

The term ‘race’ in the book is confusing and incorrect. Painter uses ‘race’ to refer to the human race as a whole, but also specific ethnicities/nationalities (ex. “the Mongolian race”). First of all, the term ‘race’ is completely removed from being scientifically correct. There are NO human races, just one species who happen to have differing physical characteristics as a result of adaptations to the climate in the part of the world in which they live. Granted, I’m not sure Painter was aware of this, as he lived in the era of race being used as a way to legitimize slavery (because certain ‘races’ were superior to others and could, therefore, claim them as property, not actual human beings).

When I learned that this particular textbook was used in teacher education programs, it made me realize why it takes so long to change our ways of thinking in regards to social justice issues, such as race. Our society puts so much trust in teachers to portray the correct information to students, and if teachers are taught falsified ideas, these ideas will become perpetuated in an entire generation of society. Personally, I find it quite admirable that our society has made such strides towards equality when these things were being taught in schools for so long.

Educators teach who they are and what they believe in, and I find this to be a wonderful, yet very scary, thought. How does society continue to trust that their teachers are fostering ideas of equality in their students? How can those in charge of recruiting new teachers ensure that they are hiring someone who can portray these important notions? And if the teachers fail to do this, how can the damage be undone?

-KKF

lots of ideas stemming from STEM education

I just finished reading another issue of Instructor magazine and, not surprisingly, came rushing to my computer to get all of my thoughts down! My favourite article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) was about the up-and-coming topic of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEAM (the A is for Arts) Education.

The article provided multiple, simple ways to integrate a STEM-based approach in the classroom without previous experience, such as building boats out of clay in order to understand how items that normally sink in water can be made to float.

The biggest reaction I had to these ideas was ‘ugh.’ I always found the ‘engineering’ type of lessons to be frustrating and a waste of time. As a ruthless memorizer, I found school much more rewarding and personally successful when I could learn a formula, keep it stored away and use it forever after. Now that I am in the Education program, however, I understand that being a memorizer only can be a huge disadvantage for a student. And that is why I am so glad that I see the future curricula reflecting a hands-on, inquiry approach to learning. I hope that the educational system puts a stop to making children believe that they cannot be successful in their academic career unless they can remember tables and formulae. Learning through personal discovery and question posing is much more beneficial because it is realistic.

So while I may have found my Grade 10 Physics project of self-designed, balloon-propelled cars the most difficult and useless thing in my high school career, I now look back as a future educator, and applaud my teacher for incorporating (and still continuing to incorporate – much to my younger sister’s chagrin, I guess her opinion on the assignment was similar to mine) this lesson in his introductory Physics unit because it allows the students to fiddle with their cars and notice what improves or impedes their cars’ success.

Personally, I found this project so angering because there was no right answer or steps to follow in order to get to the desired outcome, something that school taught me would, 99% of the time, work! It went against my learning style, which, so far, has allowed me to achieve lots of success as a student! However, I am constantly wishing that I were a tinkerer and an iron-willed problem solver who won’t stop until a solution has been discovered. Unfortunately, though, I just got frustrated with the project and eventually gave up (I know, not a good example to be putting out there, but I figure honesty is the best policy). As a future educator, though, I hope to put an end to a generation of young thinkers who can succeed by merely memorizing (which, admittedly, in some cases and subjects, is required). I want my students to learn through their own mistakes. As the article so eloquently puts it,

Introducing kids to the engineering process – having them start again and fix the mistakes – at that age is much easier because they haven’t yet developed a fear of failure.

-Monica Foss, Instructor, Spring 2013, “STEM: Everyday

Engineering,” Page 41

This really rang true for me because, as a student, I would always dread to give the wrong answer when a teacher called on me. Students are so afraid of getting the wrong answer that they are losing the opportunity to learn through their failed attempts! I hope to foster an environment where mistakes are okay, and even encouraged, in order to work towards the right answer!

In closing, I hope to use lots of these hands-on, engineering/building activities with my students in order to give them a chance to learn real-world principles on a smaller scale. I know that using the arts in my classroom will be easy to do, because I have a connection with them, but I also want my classroom to be a nurturing environment for the world’s future engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technological gurus!

year 1 done & summer goals

I CANNOT believe that I am finished my first year of university! It was a whirlwind year of learning new things, meeting new people and having great new experiences! I am definitely excited to go back in the fall and continue to work towards my degree (and I am also very excited because my roommate got accepted into the Education program after a ton of hard work!), but I am also happy to have a break for a few months!

Although I have summer holidays (although here in Saskatchewan it doesn’t even feel like spring yet, as the ground is still mostly white from the snow!), I want to keep my teacher mind sharp so have a few goals for myself just to keep fresh with the education world.

1. Read all of the Indigenous Education articles that my classmates in ECS 110 read and my professor posted a list of.

2. Keep reading my Instructor magazines that I get and post and reflections or ideas that spring up from them.

3. Tutor my “summer student” for the third summer in a row! Note to self: Go talk to his homeroom teacher for possible materials and suggestions of what to focus on!

4. Use Twitter and Pinterest as ways to stay connected and get great new ideas.

5. Update my portfolio.

I have always been an avid goal setter and I think that summer holidays are a great time to re-evaluate your goals! I will let you know how I do on accomplishing these (and don’t worry, I still hope to post frequently during the summer!).

Wishing university students a great four month break and teachers, elementary and high school students a happy summer holiday once it comes!

real beauty

I don’t know if anyone has seen the new Dove campaign ad going around about ‘real beauty sketches’ but when I first saw it, I really liked it! I thought it was so true that women are their own worst enemies and see themselves as less beautiful than others do.

Here’s the video:

While I really liked most of the messages in this video, one of my Facebook friends just posted a link to a tumblr page that had another idea. I encourage you to check it out. I think this person may be a teacher because this is some great critical thinking! It links to so many topics that my ECS classes have touched on and that’s why it really connected with me and made me go “whoa…”

http://jazzylittledrops.tumblr.com/post/48118645174/why-doves-real-beauty-sketches-video-makes-me

What are your thoughts on Dove’s video?