Shortly after the kindergartners arrived, the teacher noticed a worried look on one of the small faces. She approached the child and asked, “Are you okay?” The child’s body tightened up and she replied, “I don’t know anyone here.” At first the teacher was surprised by the response, but following reflection understood the place where the little one was coming from.
The year had begun remotely and the eighteen kindergartners zoomed for classes four days a week. After five weeks, the children entered a hybrid phase where the class was split. Nine children at a time attended the class live two days a week while the other nine had remote engagement. Then a third change happened. All the children returned to school for the first time with all eighteen of them present.
The adults themselves were aware of the toll the whirlwind changes had taken on them and were also aware that the children themselves would likely experience wobbliness. It was at that moment that this particular early childhood educator saw and felt the degree to which the children in her care were being affected.
She thought back on the efforts she had made to bring the group together, to provide them with opportunities to get to know each other and to be known. She was quite sure at this point she had fallen short.
Although the district had stressed that building community and tending to the social and emotional needs of the children were of the highest priority, in reflection, she realized she could have done more. Her desire to move the kids with their reading and math skills had at times consumed her efforts.
“Now what?” she asked. “How do I right this ship?” “What systems, structures, and devices do I already have in place that I could lean on?” She met with her team and they made a list.
They began with planning. The Kindergarten colleagues had routinely met to plan. They collaboratively had always used what they believed to be a solid and flexible platform with which to plan. They made the decision as a team to lead their plans with a social or emotional skill. They chose content that had a social and or emotional flavor. They pulled in the academic content and skills. This was a reversal. Previously, the team had begun all their planning with the academic content and skills to be learned at the front.
They looked at the times of the day when social and emotional learning already had the lead. The structure of the morning meeting and closing meeting had already been built. They committed to bolstering these times with a greater stress on getting to know and being known.
They incorporated a drawing segment to each day that followed a read aloud. Children were given the time and space to express themselves through this medium. The teachers used this time to systematically one-on-one children the best they could in an effort to better know them and for the children to get to know their teacher live in the flesh. They also systematically selected three children a day to share their drawings with their peers.
Three weeks have passed since the collaborative effort to lead with social and emotional skills was consciously made, the bolstering of morning and closing meetings, and the implementation of drawing. They have noticed more squinty eyes and suspected smiles under the masks of the kindergartners. An ease in the children has been observed.
A lot learned to say the least. And this particular team is going to need all that the experience has taught them as they have been informed this past Friday that starting tomorrow, all children will be learning remotely. Undoubtedly, they will take with them their emphasis on social and emotional learning. The upcoming attempt at distance learning will likely have a greater power than their first. Let’s hope that when the children return, a child announces, “I know everyone here!”