About Me

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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Strengthening Relationships: A Mini Intro of Me

For week five of the #kinderblog2012 challenge we were asked to create a photo post showing five things from our homes, describing them in 140 characters or less, that provides the community with a glimpse into who we are perhaps outside of the education realm. This was surprisingly more difficult than I thought, but I thought I would give it ago and simply use the cropping tool to hide the scattered mess that my little basement apartment tends to be!

Two things I do completely for myself and where I find balance and growth, but that tend to branch out to my work.

My love of scrabble, turned into a drive to create, inspired by the ways I try to live life.

This shelf is my metaphor; a mix of grad student, professional, avid reader, eclectic.

A bit random, a bit off center, full of potential. Chaos that works within structure. The way I work and live.

World's meanest cat. (Don't let her small size fool you.) Rejected by 6 families, my weakness for the outcast gave her a home.

Perhaps this tiny glance into my world outside of play and learning adds a little insight into what I tweet and post. Or perhaps it has confirmed the fact that I'm a bit off the wall!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mama Mia! A Teacher's Hidden Dream.

After a bit of serious and reflective posts, I thought it was time for a bit of levity and question four for the #kinderchat2012 blog challenge provides just that opportunity.  This question asks, if you were not teaching, what would you be doing?"

This is an interesting question because upon first reading this most of my thoughts flowed towards things that I'm in the position to pursue and/or very likely will do in the future.  For one, I am currently in the midst of a teaching hiatus as I embrace grad school and new opportunities.  This, however, doesn't quite count as something new as I'm attending a graduate school in child development and will be completing an internship in which I will be working with teachers.  So though I'm not a classroom teacher, I still consider myself a teacher at heart.  I also thought that I would write about how I would open a yoga studio for children and families and spend my days helping children learn healthy habits and how to use yoga to calm anxiety.  Well, that's still education related and a dream that I will pursue when finished with grad school, so that doesn't count for thinking outside of the box either.  Okay, I've got it, were I not teaching or in grad school I would join the peace corp.  Nope, this doesn't quite stretch the imagination either as this is still a path I could very likely take after school (and will probably involve teaching, so no dice!)

Are you ready?  My secret fantasy, the one that sometimes surfaces in my dreams at night, is that I am a Broadway musical star.  Never mind that I have the worst sense of rhythm that even country line dancing provides challenging for me.  Forget the fact that when I sing in guitar class I do so so quietly because I know that I'm off tone.  It doesn't matter that though I sing all day long when with children I know that I don't stay in any kind of a lovely tune.  Let's not even forget that I'm still quite nervous and shaky speaking in front of large crowds.  Regardless, I think that being a star on Broadway would quite possibly be the best job on the planet.

I have seen RENT from the front row every single time it has come into town (waiting in line for hours to get the $20 rush tickets), I cry at the end of Wicked every time I see it-heck, every time I hear Defying Gravity, I watch the DVD versions of my favorite musicals over and over since I can't watch them at the theatre every night.  I love musical theater.  And despite the fact that in high school I spent my drama club days frolicking in the background as a wicked stepsister in Roger and Hamerstein's Cinderella or as a green leotard (I'm not kidding, it was horrendous) clad guardian of the gates in 'Oz while my friends belted out the leads as Cinderella and Dorothy, I had a blast.  And there is a little part of me that wishes I had the talent to be on stage.

But then I wake up and I remember my passion for children and education and social justice and I'm quite content that my closest brush with the Broadway stage was when we bought onstage tickets for Xanadu and I sat next to the daughters of Zeus waving my little glow stick proudly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The City as a Playground

This summer I decided to take on the monumental task of throughly reading "The 100 Languages of Children", first the advanced reflections version and next the newest version in which the educators discuss how their thinking has changed throughout the years in Reggio Emilia.

As I concluded a chapter on the spaces in which children learn I was struck by this particular quote, "the many ways in which the familiar space of the city can become the stage for and subject of activities and constructive explorations" (Reggio Children, S.r.l, 1987,1996). I began to reflect on how underused our own city, and outdoors in general, has become. Yes, Chicago has many amazing museums that our children should off course have the opportunity to visit. But our city is more than the museums, and in fact the museums are very disconnected from the daily life of the children. In a city like Chicago where there are dozens of neighborhoods with their own flavor and vibrancy, shouldn't our children have the opportunity to explore their familiar surroundings in a deeper manner? Think of the learning that can be constructed right outside the schools, daycares, and homes!

Shadows are such a fascinating phenomena and are of particular interest to young children. Consider the different shapes and designs that familiar, city objects make on the ground. What an opportunity to play with light and the child's own initiative right outside our doors.

Children enjoy the exploration of interesting shaped places and, when given the time and space to do so, will peer through the cracks in fences, gates, bridges, buildings in order to see things in a different manner.

Children will look at every day landmarks in a new way. These landmarks will cause them to imagine what it's like to be a different character; they can become lions or live among giants.

The city is waiting for the children to embrace it and make it their own. Step outside of the classroom and allow the children to construct meaning in their city. They are after all our youngest citizens.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Me, Cute is a 4 Letter Word and Other Random Annoyances

The third question in the #kinderblog2012 challenge is to tell the group about your pet peeves. While I tend to have many (I'm looking at you people who refuse to move away from the eL doors when there is an abundance of room inside the cars), for this particular reflection I'll stick to some topics that have recently been bothering me in terms of education and schooling.

I have a huge problem with the word "cute". Not only do I find it disrespectful when used to describe a child, I also think that it's quite unhelpful in terms of feedback. By telling a child that they themselves are cute they are hearing that their physical attributes are something they should focus on. By telling a child that their work is cute they are hearing that all of their effort, dedication, problem solving was not important and that what matters in the end is a pleasing product. I also take issue with the way the word "cute" is thrown around when planning activities for children. When I ask a teacher that I am working with why they chose to have the children complete a particular activity (most often these end up being the cookie cutter art projects that end up looking the same for every child and match a holiday) and they tell me it's because the activity is cute I seriously question the validity of the activity. Choosing to do an activity because it is cute is not developmentally appropriate and focuses too much attention on the end product and not the process of getting there.

Along the same lines, I also am bothered by the abundance of false and meaningless praise. All too often I hear well meaning adults telling children "good job", "you're so smart", "that picture is beautiful" and it tends to grate on my nerves. "Good job" does not provide the child with any feedback on what skills they are using are actually successful or what it is about their work that was done in the correct manner. Telling a student "you're so smart" or "you're so artistic" treads on the dangerous territory of focusing on what may be perceived as innate traits rather than on the effort and determination used to reach a goal. As I have written in my posts about the mindsets of education, this can be quite detrimental to a child's willingness to try new things. Finally, praise such as "that picture is beautiful" not only draws attention away from the process of the child, but can also end up being counterproductive. Children are smart. They know when they have created something that is not necessarily beautiful and they are okay with that (in fact I've met children who use art as expression and quite purposely create art that is "ugly" or "angry" because that is how they are feeling, they most certainly don't want to hear that their picture is beautiful". Hearing an adult tell them that it is beautiful when it's not tells them that the adult isn't really looking at their product.

I hate flashcards and worksheets. This is probably abundantly clear to anyone who reads this blog or my tweets.

This one may cause a bit of discontent among my readers, but I'm going to list it anyway because as members of a professional learning community I feel that it's healthy and productive to disagree from time to time. I cannot stand factory created signs, borders, decorations, etc inside of classrooms. A classroom should reflect the community that resides in it and store bought decorations do not promote this. They are also too busy and primary colored for my educational beliefs. I want the children's learning space to be natural, encouraging curiosity, and representative of who we are. As such, the only things I believe belong on the classroom walls are the children's work, expectations that the children and teacher have come up with together, class and project work (for example chart papers with the recordings of a meeting discussion that the children and teachers refer to), a visual schedule created by the teacher using student's photos, and photos of the children and their families. I'm all for signs informing the parents and visitors about the learning taking place in each center, but signs created by the teachers.

I've recently began to hate the terms "academic preschool" or "academic kindergarten". To me, these terms not only devalue the other classrooms or programs without those titles by inferring that they are not as rigorous, but they also strongly disrespect play. Play is the academics of early childhood and we should defend that and shout it from the rooftops. Play is valuable and does not need to be minimized by saying that one room is academic and one room is play-based. In early childhood these are one and the same and the less time we spend trying to hide play and more time highlighting play the better.

Finally, I've lately been struggling with teachers who are anti-collaboration and have the "my room is my island" mentality and with teachers who have an unwillingness to try new methods or materials. As someone who is a teacher, a student, and a teacher mentor, these two things are very frustrating. But, as these are also two qualities that I know I will have to learn to work around and inspire change, I also know that I will have to not let them annoy me, but rather allow them to push me to be better and to share by example the wonders of collaboration and risk taking in learning among adults.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Growth Mindset and the Opportunity to Play

As I've written earlier I've recently read Carol Dweck's "Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success" and was struck with the implications it has on education. In particular I began to reflect on the growth mindset and the opportunity to play.
Play is the integral learning of children. It is both enjoyable and frustrating. It is fun yet difficult. Play defines how children learn to process their selves, their emotions, their world. It is through play that children learn to negotiate among other people, to solve problems, to persist. When Dweck talks about the growth mindset she talks about people who believe that through effort they can change their intellect, abilities, and skills and that within the growth mindset there is the thought of learning and creating. What she is describing are all attributes that are developed through high quality play. Through spontaneous play and play that occurs in quality learning environments children are teaching themselves and each other how to have a growth mindset.

Through play children are learning what it means to take turns, how to deal with both winning and losing in a manner in which they still feel good about themselves, and how to ask for help.

Through play children are learning how to cooperate, how to help each other, how to try something new.

Through play children are learning the courage to investigate something new, to dig a little deeper when they don't understand.

Through play children are learning to take a chance, how to let their curiosity lead them to new learning.

Through play children are able to feel safe in creating and looking at objects in a new way.

Through play children learn that they can keep trying if they fail the first time.

Through play children are creating a growth mindset. Let's defend the children's right to play and with it their right to grow their mindset so that we are teaching a generation of people who are free to take risks and challenges, who are excited to learn and create, who know that if they fail it is only the start of a process not the definition of who they are.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mindsets and Education: The Learning of Students and Teachers

(Just a brief little note, these are my reflections after reading Dweck, C. Mindsets: The psychology of success. 2006. Random House. New York, NY. The concept of the mindsets belongs to Dweck, I'm simply reflecting on them in terms of my experience with education. Thanks!

I have recently read "Mindsets: The Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck and much of what she wrote struck a chord with me, especially in how teachers view students, how students view themselves, and how teachers view themselves. I'm not usually one to buy books that have words such as "psychology of success" in their titles. However, when attending a conference last summer one of the presenters mentioned this book and I thought it would be interesting so I downloaded it to the Kindle. And then it sat there for a year. Finally this summer I decided to revisit the book because I was intrigued about the way mindsets can become helpful or hindrances in learning.

Carol Dweck describes two distinct mindsets that contribute to how people handle success, setbacks, and life. First there is the fixed mindset. In this mindset people believe that a person's qualities, intellect, and abilities are set in stone. They believe that you either can or can't and there is no changing that. On the other hand, there is the growth mindset. In this mindset people believe that your abilities, intellect, and qualities can and should change. They believe that a person can change and grow through experiences and practice. A big defining line in terms of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset is in regards to effort. Those with the fixed mindset believe that by putting forth effort you are showing that you are not smart enough, not good enough; that in order to do something you should already be good at it and not have to put in effort. Those with the growth mindset believe that effort is growth and through effort you can improve. To them, effort is something to be valued not something to be scorned at.

In thinking about how teachers view students, the idea of the fixed and growth mindsets is of extreme importance. A teacher with a fixed mindset who views their students as unchanging is to me a huge contradiction. If a teacher has a fixed mindset then they will rely on tests as the only markers of a child's worth in school. Think about it. If you believe that a person either can or can't and that there is no changing that, why would you place any effort into educating students who initially, or at some point, perform low on a test? You wouldn't. You would believe that that child is just not able and would stop expecting things from them. These are the teachers (and administrators) who believe in grouping students into fixed groups at the beginning of the year and not adjusting their groups as children progressed. For a student who has a teacher in the fixed mindset they are stuck because their teacher will be unable to see their potential. By the way, this fixed mindset is why I believe those in charge of education are keeping a tight grasp on standardized tests. With their fixed mindset, they see these tests as the end all in terms of a child's ability rather than as a marker in time, which is what a test really is.

On the other hand, think of a teacher with a growth mindset (the type of mindset we should hope all teachers have!). These teachers will see the potential in all of their students and understand that as a teacher it is their role to help each child grow and change. A teacher should not stand for stagnation, but should instead insist on growth. This doesn't mean that a teacher with a growth mindset will think that all of her students will develop into super geniuses, just that they will believe that all children can grow. And what's more, these are the teachers who will be able to see that growth in all children and will be able to document this growth, showing that even in the case of a student who may not read at grade level at the end of the year, that the student did make progress, that his progress is just on a different path than those of his peers. The growth mindset allows teachers to see the individuality and potential in every student.

Carol Dweck really says it best when she says that the difference between a teacher with a fixed mindset and one with a growth mindset is the difference between the thought of "can they learn" to "how can they learn best" in terms of their students.

After reflecting on how the mindsets affect how a teacher views children, I was struck again by how a particular mindset can cause children to view themselves. To me, it is important to understand the mindsets so that when teaching you can recognize the mindsets in children. In this way you may be able to better understand why a child acts out (perhaps they have a fixed mindset and are frustrated because they feel as though they won't get it anyway) and hopefully recognize the fixed mindset and help the child learn to change their mindset so that they can embrace the joy of learning. At one point in our lives as educators, we have all come across those students who seem to deflate after a mistake, are too afraid of failing to venture a guess, who feel that they are smart already and don't need to work. Those are the students who have a fixed mindset and their way of though prevents them from growing. As teachers, rather than scold, embarrass, or fail these students, it is my belief that we need to teach them the skills had by their growth mindset peers. These growth minded peers believe that they can learn and even when they fail they start again and keep on trying rather than slumping over and quitting. These are the students who come up to you after an exam and ask you what they need to do to do better next time, who keep trying to build that block tower that just won't stay up, who courageously enter the art area even if they think that their painting isn't the best in the class.

As educators, I would venture that one of our main jobs is to facilitate learning so that all of our students have this ability to grow and to think that they can grow. It is important to model an attitude of perseverance and to be cautious in the ways in which we speak to children. In this era of a fear of making children feel low self esteem, there is an effort to combat this through an excessive amount of praise. Build up the child so that they don't fall. I've always thought this was a huge mistake, how will a child learn to get back up if they don't fall? Dweck specifically writes about the dangers of praise in a way that really took hold of me as an educator. She wrote that by praising a child's skill or intellect you are sending a message to the child that they are not worthy unless they are able to maintain that level of competence. And then when they are not, they feel like a failure. Rather, she said it is important to praise the effort behind a child's task and in this manner they will learn to understand that they may make mistakes or they may have successes, but that it is their effort and time and process that is what is relevant. As a child development specialist, I know this to be true. Isn't it what we teach all teachers of young children, to comment on the process of a child's work and play rather than their final product? After reading "Mindsets", I have pledged to be even more careful in the ways in which I praise a child. I want the children I meet and work with to have a faith in themselves and their processes and their ability to fail and get right back up.

Finally, Dweck's book had me considering a teacher's mindset in how they view themselves. Though similar to how they view children, there is a subtle difference in how the mindsets play out in their own professional development. Teachers with a fixed mindset are those who dread going to conferences and workshops because they feel as though they already know what they need to know to teach. These are the teachers who when a new technology is introduced run away saying they "don't do tech". Their fixed mindset prevents them from trying a new approach or integrating a new material into their classrooms. I've seen firsthand teachers with this fixed mindset and it can be quite frustrating to work with them. However, just as teachers don't get a choice about which students they teach, nor do I get a choice in which teachers I work with. After reflecting on this book, I feel at least more prepared to recognize teachers who hold a fixed mindset and rather than getting frustrated when I hit a brick wall in their development, I will now know that before I can attempt to get them on board to try a new method or technology that I will first have to listen and help them at least become open to the idea of a growth mindset.

I would love to have all growth mindset teachers, those who ask questions and crave professional development and are eager to try a new method or to do research within their own classrooms. But that's not reality. Instead I will hope to use the growth minded teachers to inspire and help change the mindset of their fixed mindset peers.

I have to have the hope that those with a fixed mindset can change, otherwise I will have found myself trapped in the fixed mindset as well!

Spaces and Places: Learning Through the Environment

Alright, here's the second question in the #kinderchat blog challenge. This one really had me reflecting on whether or not my teaching environments honestly reflect what I believe.

"Tell us about one (or two, or a few) of the classrooms you have had over the years. Not the kids, the ROOMS. What have you loved? What have you hated? How did you FEEL in the space? What did you DO with the space that, looking back, seems ridiculous? Or brilliant? We all spend so much time in our classrooms, we really do develop a relationship with the physical space. Tell us about that (those) relationship(s)."

Looking back, I'm rather embarrassed about the physical environment of my first classroom. Fresh from undergrad with a brand new teaching certificate in hand I rolled into a Chicago Public School determined to get it right. I had spent the semester before student teaching in a kindergarden classroom in rural Michigan and couldn't have walked into an environment more different than that if I had tried. My cooperating teacher was a great teacher who happened to love calendar time, borders, and "cute" bulletin boards and so this is what I assumed to be appropriate for an early childhood classroom. When I met the other first grade teachers at my new school, the year was half over and their rooms were cluttered and also full of calendar time routines, borders, and those "cute" bulletin boards.

Walking into my brick wall, windows facing a street full of abandoned lots and broken windows, empty save for 15 desks and boxes of text books I felt as though I had better hurry up and fix up my classroom before the children transitioned to my room in the next 2 days. So what did I do? Up went materials for a drawn out calendar time, a word wall, and oh so many borders on the bulletin boards. This room now looked like any other early childhood room in the school and quite frankly I hated it, but at the time didn't have the knowledge as to why I hated it. I stayed in this room for two years keeping it pretty much the same and wondering why I was so frustrated every day. Once I left this school and settled into my preschool classroom, it hit me. I disliked this classroom so whole heartedly because it was generic and not responsive to the students. I set this classroom up in a manner that I was taught, but not in a manner that I believed in.

As I moved into my preschool room, again a brand new class with no previous teacher, I knew that I would do things differently. How could I not with the pure fact that it was a full day preschool classroom and needed to be arranged into centers for the children to play. My first year in this room was better than in the first grade room, but still too generic and modeled after the other classrooms in the center. I listened to the Head Start rep who said that all my centers must be labeled and all my materials must be labeled and there must be clear cut boundaries between my centers. Okay, so now here's this preschool classroom that appears as a classroom should, but it still didn't feel right. The children were rowdy, they didn't care about the hundreds of word labels I had around the room, and to my annoyance (and slight fear of the Head Start rep and director) they kept moving materials from one center and into an other!

And then summer rolled around and with a lower attendance I was able to attend the North American Reggio Alliance conference in Chicago. My whole world changed after attending this conference. I realized that my classrooms were not child centric no matter how much I protested to myself that they were. This preschool classroom was just as cluttered and full of un necessary junk as the first classroom. This was the summer that I became a rebel for children. I went into my classroom and took off the tacky labels (so what if that was the one piece I got knocked off for in my ELCO ratings) in favor for a true print rich environment that included a child made word and picture wall, children sign in books, books made by the children, documentation showing the children's work, process, and words, signs made by the children protecting their work or asking each other questions, and clipboards full of children's notes in every corner. Away went the borders and bright colored butcher paper in favor of black paper only to highlight the children's work and learning process. The classroom received a big overhaul in collaboration with the children, the parents, and our teaching team. Now our centers were still arranged so that it was evident to a stranger (i.e. a monitor or director) that there were in fact all the necessary centers, but now they flowed in a manner that suited the children and there was no more nonsense about not bringing materials from one area to the other. Away went the miniature sized plastic dishes in the dramatic play and in came real sized ceramic dishes. Live flowers were placed around the room, the art area became alive with the everyday availability of paints, charcoal, pastels, crayons, and sharpies. The library was used in appropriate manners with the addition of baskets for the books rather than an overwhelming bookshelf and pillows, and a tent.

Finally I allowed myself the opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of the environment as the third teacher and for once I felt at home in my classroom. And what's more important, so did the children. Never again will I go back to borders and anything considered "cute" in a classroom I teach in. Gone forever is the ridiculous and time consuming and makes no sense calendar routine and materials replaced with authentic work from the children. Bring on the curtains and real dishes and vases and authentic materials and animals and plants.

And you know what? Along with the physical change made to the preschool classroom came an unexpected change in transitions. As in I stopped having so many and allowed the day to flow in a more smooth manner (who says all the children must eat snack, go to the bathroom, or even go outside all at once?). And along with a better environment and better(less) transitions came happier and more productive children.

You live and learn. And I for one will never go back to having a classroom that is cluttered with teacher junk and instead is neatly saturated with children's possessions and ideas.

(Wishing I had pictures to share, am very unsure where they went!)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Learning Curve

Needing some blogging motivation, I have decided to participate in the #kinderchat summer blog challenge.  Here is question number one:

What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn't have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?

As I stepped out of the classroom this year to better focus on grad school, I stepped into the role of full time in home teacher to a (now) 4 year old and a (now) 18 month old.  I had expected this to be a less challenging year than a year of teaching.  Thankfully, I was utterly wrong.  This was a challenging year which means that it was a growing year.  These two boys and their parents have taught me invaluable lessons in regards to where I am headed professionally to how I react personally.

I met my two boys last summer and spent the summer teaching them how to become explorers and artists and builders and adventures and loving every minute of it.  I grew to learn their idiosyncrasies, how they communicated nonverbally, what phenomena fascinated them, how to encourage them; in short, how to see each child for the individual they are.  By the end of our year together I have come to completely know who these boys are and who they are constantly evolving in to.  This was pretty powerful for me.  I have always claimed that I knew how to see children, to see them for who they are as individuals and what their individuality brings to a classroom or daycare setting.  In reality, I did my best and had good intentions, but always let the group setting prevail and in that failed to see and notice a lot of what made each child unique.  I missed out on using their uniqueness to really create the classroom community I had been preaching and claiming to have.  After spending an intense amount of one on one time with these boys, I have learned what it is to really see.  I have discovered how to look and listen to a child in a way that transcends observation notes.  In spending this time with these children, I have learned what makes true documentation, the learning and the child made visible.  Made visible to everyone, including me.  I'm grateful for this lesson and it's my hope to carry this ability to really see the person into my work with teachers.  Both allowing me to really see and listen to the teachers, and to assist in seeing and hearing the children in their care. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was the parent perspective.  This was a lesson that hit me hard and was completely unexpected.  I'll admit, prior to my learning at Erikson, I worked in environments that preached parent involvement, but never lived up to their words and I was fine to just go along with the flow rather than advocate for parents.  This will never again be me.  I'm so fortunate to go to a grad school that forces you to reflect on how you work with parents and families.  As I stepped out of the classroom last year, I vowed to do better by parents inspired by my instructors and classmates.  As I stepped into the boys' home, I quickly learned that I had better practice what I believed.  I started the year with the promise to myself and to their parents that we would be a team in raising and educating they boys.  This is what made this year more work than being in a classroom to me.  There were no portfolios mandated (though I did keep them, I just love documenting), no conferences required, no lesson plans due (to anyone but the boys).  The work was in establishing a powerful relationship with the parents.  I was in their house, this was their world, not the world of my classroom, and I needed to acclimate to this world.  As the year progressed the parents and I butted heads over many issues from what to eat to my distaste for flash cards.  The difference was that I listened, truly listened, to the parents and attempted to understand them before I spoke.  It didn't matter what I knew about child development, it was more important that we worked together to come to an agreement.  I found that this listening led to the parents' trust and the parents' trust led to me being able to offer my opinions and research on ways to help the boys.  And you know what?  They were more receptive than any parents I've yet to have in my classroom.  

In the same manner, since I was the person dropping the older boy off and picking him up from preschool, I was able to experience schooling from the other side of the wall, from the parents' side.  And I didn't like what I saw!  I was met with a wall of resistance from the older boy's teachers when I attempted to have conversations about why he was getting trouble in his (30 minute) circle time or why his outdoor time was being taken away because he was not sleeping at nap time.  As a parent de facto, I was shut out by the teachers and I was not pleased.  (The same was done to the parents.)  A month into the school year, we got a note saying that the teachers and principal were requesting that no parents or caregivers drop their children off in the classroom, they were to drop them at the main door and pick them up outside.  They wrote that this was to promote independence (which is not at all true in terms of development), but the fact was that it alienated parents.  It put parents on one side of an unbreakable wall.  There was no way to promote the parents as members of the class community.  And it made me livid.  I had come to be very attached and concerned about the boys (that's what 10 hours a day/5 days a week will do to you!) and how dare a teacher exclude me from his school life.  This outcry that I felt was the beginning of a long period of reflection (you can see how this played out on this post) on how teachers purposefully or not purposefully treat parents.  It shed light on the type of inclusive teacher I want to be and the type of inclusiveness I want to help teachers become.  Had I not had the opportunity to work with a family in their home, I never would have had such a powerful teaching on how a parent can come to feel as their child starts school.  It was as though I really was "walking a mile in their shoes".  Being on the other side of a classroom door has forever changed the way I will speak to and work with parents for the better.  

This year also taught me a lot about how I handle stress and frustration.  Working so intimately with a family provides a lot of opportunities for upset feelings and long days and times when you want to scream.  Throughout the course of the year I learned that I needed to make time for myself and I turned to yoga for stress relief and found that I was a better teacher, a kinder caregiver, and a better listener when I forced myself to stop and breath and to take care of myself.  It was quite the lesson as I had transitioned from a job where I felt as though I had to go above and beyond to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion just to stay afloat in the shark tank I worked in.  Never again will I allow a job to take my life so completely that I stop breathing and stop acting in ways that I believe are right and instead allow myself to be bullied into behaving contrary.  

Finally, this year brought about the first "thank you" I have ever gotten from an employer.  I'll admit, when I stepped out teaching for grad school, I was broken from a toxic environment and had began to doubt my path in early childhood.  The simple grateful act of a thank you invigorated me to keep going, to do the work that I have passion and commitment to.  I don't know if the family will ever know how much they have taught me, healed me, and pushed me this year.  But I am grateful.