One Sunflower

professional learning community

I am fortunate to live in a community with active support for those of us who work with young children.  With a state university, community college and tech school in town, there are numerous professionals teaching classes and offering workshops.  But there is nothing like a professional learning community made up of members that work together. 

PLC’s are not new to the K-12 world of educators but they are rare for early childhood teachers.  Most early childhood teachers work alone in sites with only 2-3 staff members.  They might attend workshops or conferences but don’t have real opportunities to confer with colleagues on a regular basis.  Our PLC, made up of teachers in Early Head Start, Head Start and teachers from our child care partners, come together once a month for a 4 hour session of learning.  It is an incredible opportunity for real learning and work to happen but it takes effort on several fronts to make it happen – and be a worthwhile enterprise.

Today was a great example of good work.  This is the second year of embedding an early childhood class into the session so those of us who need credits can get them.  The class this year is Language and Literacy Development led by a community college instructor who is also a local kindergarten teacher.  Not only is the class material aligned closely with the work that our agency is doing with David Matteson, but the sessions are also designed to support the work we do across age groups and with families. 

Figuring out how to do this has not been without growing pains.  This group of early childhood teachers includes people with and without college educations, people who have been in the field for a quarter of a century and those who are brand new graduates.  Some work closely with families through home visits, some are in daycare centers and others are in preschool classroom settings.  For some, this format of being in a “class” instead of a “training,” is new; they are not used to seeing themselves as  “community of learners” and often need encouragement to connect to the content and make it relevant to their work.

I can identify some key points that have been helpful in making these sessions more successful:  

#1 The administrators have worked hard to identify key teaching points for each session. 

#2 These administrators have also taken on the risk of being transparent about their own learning this year, i.e. at one session, an administrator spoke about how she was taking a class and what it felt like to be learning new things;  at another session, an administrator modeled how she was practicing drawing stories for children.

#3 The session incorporates different ways of grouping the participants.  Sometimes we are in “expert groups:”  teachers are mixed up by what age they teach, where they work, etc.  At other sessions, participants are grouped with their “home groups:”  the team of teachers they work with.  There are also break out groups for those who work with the 0-3 year olds. 

#4 Reflection, reflection, reflection!  This is done through pair-share experiences, written responses, quick post-it notes reflections.  The team that coordinates these sessions uses these to guide their planning for the next sessions.

A four-hour class is a long session to participate in.  I like to have time to connect with other teachers as well as clear expectations for how I am to participate and what the goals are for my learning.  It helps me to have an agenda and reflection sheets that I have to turn in so that I stay focused on the issues at hand and process the material that is being presented.  All of those were in place today, so even though I am tired, I feel like it was all worth while.

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they are thinking like writers!

I’m often sitting next to my little boys at meal times and I hear all kinds of stories about comic strip characters. The only ones I can identify are Batman, Spiderman and the Hulk – but there are at least 5 others that these children often sport pictures of on their clothing.  Thier stories are full of all the violence and hero supremacy that you would expect.  I understand why these characters are attractive to these children but I get tired of the stories.

I combat this frustration by trying to involve my little boys in stories I tell about myself and my family.   I brought in pictures of my family early in the year so the children have all seen what my husband, daughter, son-in-law and son look like.  They like the stories about my son the best – that boy to boy connection.  I’ve told stories about adventures he had as a child and I told them when he went in for surgery a month ago.    They wanted to see a picture with blood.  When he ended up having to stay there for many weeks, I drew a story featuring a big, square, multi-windowed hospital building with a small figure peering out with a sad face.  A few of the boys redrew that story in their journal. 

I didn’t really know the impact of my accounting of these daily events until a day last week when I sat down at the breakfast table and said, “I bumped my head this morning when I was cleaning the cupboard.”  One of the boys piped up, “Are you going to write a story about it?”  Thinking like a writer wouldn’t you say!

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convergence zone


I headed home on Friday in the midst of a storm; the sky was purple-black, there was thunder and lightning, and mothball sized hail falling with pings on my car.  I took it slow because my car is like a soda-pop can on wheels.  Slow driving means more think-time.  I reflected on the past two weeks – some of the worst I’ve had teaching.  But the changes I had made over the past week had created a better environment in my classroom and I was feeling good on that slow, slushy drive.

I don’t think I am dissimilar from other teachers who are so vested in their work that a crummy day becomes a total assault on my psyche.  Robyn Jackson, in her book, Never Work Harder Than Your Students, suggests that teachers have metaphors they use about teaching and that we should pay attention to these metaphors because they are indicators of the role we see for ourselves.  I know I’ve used gardening metaphors when I’ve written about my role as a teacher but I’m not sure I really see the children as little plants that I nurture with tender care.  I know that my students need more than just a great environment and loving care to thrive. 

I feel my classroom is a place where there are forces of nature at work.  Some of those forces are the students themselves – whether they be stormy little hurricanes or sweet summer breezes, they move about the classroom with impact.  The force that I am in the classroom is sometimes as gradual as water over rocks, changes I will never be able to account for.   At other times the students and staff come together in a climate of wind, water, and waves – creating new frontiers.

It can be exciting to be a storm chaser.  But sometimes it is overwhelming and I’d like to be able to turn it all over to the weather channel!  

It is a new frontier to have preschoolers in an elementary school.  Their needs are somewhat like our most involved special ed students in that preschoolers don’t have all the behaviors we expect of school age children.  We can model and explain the expectations but they aren’t always developmentally appropriate for 3-5 year olds and a preschooler may need special supports.  The teacher in the preschool classroom is that number one support. 

So I guess that explains why I often feel it is all up to me but I am getting better at looking to all the resources available to me.   There are other early childhood educators, paraprofessionals, my principal, the parents of my students, traditional resources in books and on the internet.  Thank goodness I’ve developed the tenacity to try to get to the bottom of issues when they crop up. That is part of my own personal nature.

(Painting by Shanti Marie — check out her art!)

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