The Journey to Flexibility

Bonnie Williams
The Journey to Flexibility
Written by: Bonnie Williams, Director of the Little School

It is August. We are teachers. Fresh from reading article upon article about innovative
preschool teaching strategies, we find ourselves setting up our perfectly planned preschool classroom. We have the alphabet prominently posted, well thought-out and themed centers, carefully chosen books on the bookshelf, so many satisfying sensory activities to mold the young minds that will be coming in a matter of days. We are ready. We are ready to be loving, gentle, yet stern. Just like a modern day Mary Poppins. When these students go to Kindergarten next year they will remember how preschool inspired their love of learning.
Then September comes. The first day is always exciting and exhausting. We are figuring out what makes these tiny human beings tick. What excites them? What does not? Who works well together? Who is the natural leader that is either going to use their powers for good or evil. Then you notice it, these tiny humans do not like to sit still. They are 3, 4 and 5 years old. They want to move.
What do you do in these types of situations? You have a class of eager students waiting to thrive and absorb information like sponges. You have kids that are still into play, because, let's face it, it’s preschool and we’re OK with that. Then you have the children that seemingly want to turn the world upside down. There are those who are so emotional that sometimes just giving them the wrong classroom job that week can set them in a downward spiral. It can be an up and down roller coaster of emotions, needs, and feelings all packaged into 12 tiny human beings.

For us, we had to (in the words of Disney’s coldest princess, Elsa) just “Let it Go.” We had to let go of all of our expectations, let go of our careful and tedious lesson plans. I even let go of (breathe in) Pinterest, because let’s face it, Pinterest isn’t going to teach us what we need… how to be flexible.

By opening our minds to change our set schedule, it helped us creating more choice-based activities. What appeals to some, does not appeal to all. At one point, we even eliminated circle time (gasp!) and inserted small groups. If it wasn’t working, we had to move on and get out of our comfort zone.

This also opened us up to being a little more tuned in to their physical and emotional needs. We started to gain access into the inner workings of their fascinating, yet complicated, brains.

I’d like to say this epiphany hit us very naturally. Like Mary Poppins, we just had a spoonful of sugar and it made the medicine, that was a seemingly difficult year, go down. Not so much the case, however, we were offered much more.

We have a very close knit and family-like community at our school. Lots of support and sage advice from fellow teachers, administrators ready to provide what we need or at least lend an ear. Most excitingly, we have amazing professional development. Not your usual mundane afternoons where you get excited about your job and then forget everything you learned. We are offered a year long exploration of learning and research through the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL). We meet with the founders, discuss challenges, discuss victories and talk about the brain several times throughout the year, which means, the information is always fresh, exciting and sticks. We actually read and discussed Neuroteach, written by the founders of CTTL Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher, and have referred back to it.

The process of this professional development, what we’ve been learning and putting into practice, and the dynamic of this year have magically been woven together. By understanding various methods of learning, the different ways information is processed, and what makes learning click for students, has been invaluable. It’s not easy, it takes practice but every day we get a little better.
Even though we threw away some old teaching hacks and our comfort zones this year, it was a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to really dive into what we’ve learned and what we’ve researched.

It is OK if every day is not the image of teaching perfection. We have fun. We are all learning together, playing together, discovering together. We are preparing preschool minds for a lifetime love of learning and most of all a love of school. I’m confident that when these tiny children attend college one day, they’ll thank their preschool teachers for their dedication and hard work, or at least a girl can dream.