Reflection, and a Look Forward

Well, it is that time of year again – the time when everyone looks back on the year behind them and plans (or resolves) what they will do in the year ahead of them. I believe that it should be no different for me on a professional level. So here we go:

2010 was an awesome year, in that I learned more about what it is that I do than I had in the past three years combined. The past three months has been a huge period of growth and maturity for myself as a teacher, but I would still describe myself as being in the “young-adult” years of my teaching career, in that I am trying to fine-tune my teaching philosophy and implement all of the wonderful things that I have learned. I will look back on 2010 as being a time where I soaked up so much knowledge so quickly that, even though I was mentally exhausted at times, I still kept pressing on, impressed by all of the amazing things that I was learning. I read some very informative books, a lot of which I will keep around so that I can dive back into them for some inspiration when I feel the need to.

2010 was not just a year of amazing knowledge-building. 2010 was the year that I changed the mood of my classroom. I still have a LOT of work to do, but I am proud to say that I am on the road to building my classroom into a community of children, families, and teachers, rather than feeling as if I am walking into a gauntlet made up of students every day. Because of this, I am enjoying my job much more than I did at the beginning of 2010. I do have a lot to do to keep building this feeling of community, and that brings us to:

My Goals for 2011

My first goal for 2011 is to continue to expand my knowledge about progressive and Reggio-Emilia inspired teaching practices. I am well on my way to achieving this goal already, since I received some wonderful resources for Christmas that will help me attain this goal.

My second goal for 2011 is to continue to implement the things I have learned and make them felt in tangible ways. This includes:

  • Developing a system by which I will offer the children in my class real and tangible things to experiment with and discover. I will find ways to display these items in ways that will inspire the children to experiment and create with the items that I offer the children.
  • Develop a better documentation system that will not only better inform the parents as to what their children are learning and accomplishing in the classroom, but will inspire the children to continue to revisit, experiment, and discover more about the projects that we undertake.
  • Make the families of the children in my care more a part of the classroom than they are now. Make them feel like they are welcome and included in the classroom environment. Find a way not just to inspire more parental involvement, but to make the parents and the children feel more like the daycare is an extension of their home rather than an entirely separate place that the children go to for a huge block of their day.
  • Make the day less regimented than it is now, which will make transition times less of a stressful time, not just for myself but for the children as well. Give them more options, and make the things that they like doing (such as painting) more accessible to them so that they can do it whenever they want to.

There are others, I’m sure, but these are the main ones. I would like to see more parental involvement and more knowledge given to the parents of what we are actually accomplishing in the classroom. I would also like to see the children given more opportunities to explore and experiment, and more items to do that with. I know that with the ideas that I am trying to implement, 2011 will be a great year as well, perhaps even greater than 2010.

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Do We Take “Safety” Too Far?

During my research this morning, I ran across this article by Deb Curtis, an author of the book I am reading currently, “Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments.” There were three things that struck me while reading the article that I wanted to discuss here.

The main thing that struck me was the way that the director mentioned involved the entire staff in discussions of safety. I can relate to the reasons that are given for this collaboration, and this article motivates me to try to encourage this type of collaboration in my own place of work.

The second point that struck me was the idea that children will only try things that they are capable of doing. This doesn’t mean that they may fail while doing it, but it does mean that, as teachers, we should give children a little more freedom to experiment, experience, and discover. The important thing to remember, as a teacher, is that sometimes this experimentation does require supervision, but there is a huge difference between supervision and simply telling a child “no” because of your fears.

The third point that struck me was the level of involvement of the parents, and it makes me realize on a whole new level how important parental involvement in a childcare setting is. The more informed and involved parents are, the less likely it is that there will be contention over certain points.

I love that I am learning all of this (especially the parental involvement part) because it resolves a lot of questions that I have had regarding issues that directors can face when it comes to liability. When parents and staff are on the same page as far as safety concerns go, that can go a long way in establishing a foundation in which to offer the most to the children that you can.

The Importance of Mutual Respect

Since establishing a new classroom management system recently, I have become a lot more sensitive to how I treat the children in my care. In short, I try to treat them with as much respect as I can, realizing that they are people with feelings just like adults. It doesn’t take a lot to hurt or damage a child’s feelings,  especially since they haven’t learned how to handle their feelings yet.

That being said, I continuously witness people talking to and treating children with little or no respect, and the more I see it, the more it bothers me. The reason it bothers me so much is because I know that children who feel disrespected act out because they have learned no other way to handle what they are feeling at that time. I have seen massive, real changes in my classroom just in the last two months from implementing the simplest steps in how I interact with the kids in every situation, and it has made all the difference in the world as far as the behavior of the children in the class.

Disrespect to a child can come in many forms and for many reasons, but it really shouldn’t happen at all. I look at the situations that I see around me where disrespect is involved, and I think, “Would I want to be treated like that?” The answer, of course, is no.

One of the biggest areas where I see disrespect to children is in the area of punishment.  I no longer use punishment in my classroom because I feel that it is the height of disrespect when it comes to children. I have also found that I don’t need to use punishment because I am constantly educating the children in my classroom in how to handle their emotions, how to treat the people around them, and how to treat all of the items in the classroom. I have found that when the children misuse something in the classroom, it is usually because I haven’t told them how it should be used. Either that, or the temptation to misuse a particular item is very strong. I mean, when you are on a diet, it is very hard to stay away from every slice of chocolate cake, right? Children have a natural tendency to use the items around them in accordance with their imagination, and anything can go. The job for the teacher or parent is to establish if what the child is doing is safe. If it is, let it happen! The child is probably enjoying using that item more for that purpose than any purpose that you could have come up with! But if the child is not being safe, it is time to step in and educate (not punish) the child on why their actions are not safe. If you punish the child instead of educating them, they have learned nothing from the experience and the unsafe behavior is actually more likely to happen again!

Have you ever witnessed a situation where a child was disrespected? What do you think the child was thinking at the time? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section!