Weekend retreat teaches teacher, students, colleagues to collaborate and support their work
“Teaching is more than just up to the teacher,” affirms Abigail Bonner, a preschool teacher at the Smithfield School. “With the help of students, the teacher is able to make a huge impact.”
If you had the opportunity to join your student-teacher as you participated in an intense, and rewarding, weekend retreat this spring, you would likely find that Bonner’s experience rings true, too.
The vision for the event was one of fun, learning, and of challenging one another to improve teaching as a team. Bonner and her fellow teachers came from schools in Amherst, Boston, New York, and San Francisco. They were invited to the New England Summit in North Palm Beach, Florida, in April 2016 by the Early Learning Roundtable and Guiding Schools Leadership to discuss ways to effectively and measurably align their curricula with early learning.
The primary goal of this program was to identify opportunities for further collaboration and improve teaching. Program members chose areas of expertise to focus on, choosing topics such as early literacy. Working with other teachers who shared similar interests provided an additional avenue for support and improvement.
Students used a structured way to test their teachers’ abilities and skills in different areas, from evidence-based approaches for children with additional needs to authentic research-based practices for students who struggle in one area or group of a curriculum.
“We are happy to work with colleagues who have reached out to help identify strategies for our classroom and to really support students in their learning,” says Jessica Greenhill, a first grade teacher at Trinity Prep and a program member. “Many of the ideas we have formulated for our classroom and will implement in the fall are already in the works with other teachers in our school.”
The program’s goal was to examine which practices would actually yield the most impact in a small group of high-achieving students and in their home school community.
“Students learn by trying, making mistakes, failing, but still learning,” says Bonner. “The more of those experiences we offer, the more they feel engaged in the classroom. I learned so much about literacy, including the power of problem solving and listening to and responding to children’s needs.”
“Each lesson has a theme,” says Sally Benson, the Smithfield School president. “These themes come from teacher-customized processes that emphasize the relation between what a teacher does and what a child does.”
A focus on evidence-based approaches for children with additional needs is particularly important, says Bonner. Research shows that the belief that a child is capable of learning in an area of uncertainty may help encourage children to perform better in that area, and creativity can be an essential part of those strategies. “We have a number of educators who are already great at this, but we’re trying to have a greater number of them prove that it works for their students,” explains Benson.
First grade teacher Sennet Brar, who has worked with Smithfield School’s pre-K and kindergarten programs, agrees. “Students adapt to any classroom they’re placed in, so it’s important to allow them to make mistakes, to fail in different settings, and to feel safe in their classroom,” she says. “Often, kids are already learning a lot because they’re trying in their home school.”
Despite a wide variety of outcomes at home schools, a common perception in schools, explains Brar, is that children generally perform better in a larger and more academically challenging environment. “We need to look at what gets kids excited and motivated in those classes and give them opportunity to use that in their classroom.”
Lesson Flow and Working Together
During the weekend retreat, program members connected with professional peers to discuss ideas and share challenges, though many of the teachers had varied backgrounds. “There were many gaps in our experience in a lot of areas,” says Brar. “But by communicating through a series of activities, we came together as a team to see what worked well and what needs improvement.”
Such a variety of experiences can foster the appreciation that all teachers have for one another, and that their work together benefits the students in their classrooms. By modeling important work skills and listening to students’ feedback, we can all realize the power of effective collaboration among those who work closely with young children.
Learn more about the ELCE Early Learning Roundtable.
By Charlotte Jones