As we document the experiences of our teachers and children this summer, I will also share my reflections as the leader of a new program and an educator transitioning from K12 leadership to early childhood education (ECE). I hope you will gain some insight into what makes Kaleidoscope unique as we shape our school for the future.
Throughout the first week of our summer program, I’m reminded that there are far more similarities than differences between K12 leadership and the world of ECE. I began the summer thinking that ECE would require less maintenance than K12 schools. However, I quickly learned that the components that make for schools: strong leadership, cohesive staff & student culture, professional development, parental communication & involvement, etc… are the same for any age group.
The idea that early childhood centers are “just daycares” is a misnomer. In reality, the job of ECE teachers is often more nuanced than their K12 counterparts. At Kaleidoscope, there is virtually no “sit and get” instruction because we know that young children learn best through play and having experiences for themselves. During every moment of the day, a child is learning multiple things for the very first time: how to be away from home, how to clearly express his/or her needs with words, how to operate on a new schedule, how to build a tower that won’t fall over, how to share with a friend… The list goes on and on. Our learning centers include materials for children to explore social skills, fine & gross motor skills, drama & imagination, art, literacy, and early STEM. A skilled ECE teacher must balance how to help children effectively navigate these variables while also helping them to build a sense of independence from adults.
Effective professional development for teachers is a critical component of any school. As a long time high school leader, I started this venture sometimes feeling like an impostor, often remaining deferential to anyone who had more experience in ECE. Just one day of our full program flipped my thinking. (I’m also incredibly grateful to have talented and knowledge advisers to guide on matters specific to young children.) Many best practices in K12 hold true in ECE. For example: Questioning. Asking open-ended questions for any age, from adult professional development, to high school students, to preschool age children, engages people in discussion and therefore increases learning. The content may be different: “What makes a good lesson plan?” vs. “What makes US expansionism moral or immoral?” vs. “What makes something spooky?” But the idea is the same.
In the overview of our first week, our teachers reflections are likely familiar to ECE and K12 educators alike: building shared rules and expectations, discussions in Community Circle, and navigating peer conflict as we get to know our new friends.