Clayton Early Learning
21Mar/11Off

Come and Play – Sesame Street Learning

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

“Come and play. Everything's A-Ok……Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street…

Children using the SMARTBoard in DeShawn's classroom

When I was a kid, this tune signaled the start of a fun and silly experience for my siblings and me. It was amusing to watch Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the other lovable cast of humans, monsters and puppets make learning fun. Well, have you seen the “Street” lately? Go online and check out the interactive website, a wealth of incredible resources for parents and educators. According to Sesame Workshop CEO, Gary E. Knell, “For over 40 years, Sesame Workshop has helped children reach their highest potential by creating media which have engaged and educated millions of children in America and around the world. Through careful research which guides our work, Sesame Workshop has been able to address critical needs using television, books and interactive media which appeal to our nation’s young children and their parents.” And let me tell you, there are exciting plans on the part of Sesame Workshop to develop content-rich segments that go deeper, and impact children’s learning beyond “B-b-b banana”, as Clayton Early Learning teacher DeShawn Burks discovered on a recent trip to Manhattan. His participation was round one of an intensive phase of research and development in which Sesame Street has engaged early learning professionals and other partner leaders to design, build, examine, and explore the Sesame Street Learning program.

Children using the SMARTTable in DeShawn's classroom

Following his trip, DeShawn came back to school and shared the Sesame Workshop information. He has big plans to develop innovative and engaging educational content using what he heard from the workshop. Taking advantage of digital media, Deshawn is on the same page or rather the same SMARTBoard page as Sesame Workshop.

DeShawn was chosen to attend the Sesame workshop based on his use of technology curriculum with preschool children. He is one of six Technology Fellows at Clayton Early Learning.   He started with a SMART Table in his classroom (see the pictures in this blog) and has graduated to the SMARTBoard, mounted on a wall in his classroom. Through inviting age-appropriate materials, young children in DeShawn’s classroom become active participants in solving problems using observation and investigation and are introduced to vocabulary and concepts that are the foundation for later school success. DeShawn has plans to incorporate a variety of developmentally appropriate learning activities for the current classroom study of fruit that will:

  • facilitate understanding of a concept- DeShawn uses "how" and "why" questions to talk with the children about where fruit comes from and they are able to "investigate" their hypothesis using the SMARTBoard.
  • encourage analysis and reasoning- DeShawn has created opportunities for children to create graphs to document the types of apples they have tasted and explored.
  • allow children to predict, experiment and think about their work-DeShawn is able to chart what the children want to learn about fruit using a web diagram, asking questions that focus the children on the topic (fruit), uncovering what they know about the topic and helping chart what they want to know.
  • apply concepts to the real world-DeShawn uses pictures of the children doing their work and pictures from recent field trips to anchor the children's understanding of their study of fruit.

Come and play because, everything is A-OK, DeShawn is giving children the power of learning at Clayton Early Learning.

10Nov/10Off

Being Superman – Saving Children from a Failed Education

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

Education reform continues to stay in the news. In my last post, I noted that improving education is on the minds of many--school principals, teachers, parents, politicians, and most recently, movie makers. Currently taking center stage is the documentary Waiting for Superman, yet another portrayal of our failing education system. Didn’t we hear this same message when The Cartel, and The Lottery were released? The message: there is a huge achievement gap in this country and we have a broken public school system that needs fixing. That’s not a good thing for our preschool children who march off to public school each fall. Despite my feelings about the underpinnings of the documentaries and my view of the political motivations of the directors, I am urging you to join me in being outraged and depressed enough to want to put more energy into figuring out what to do so that all children have the benefit of a good education. To quote a line from the November issue of Educational Leadership (p.21), “No one has the right to waste a day in the life of a child.” And for those of us in early education, there are only 1,825 days between the day a child is born and the day she goes to kindergarten. As early educators we lay the foundation for children to have success in later life, so the opportunity for intervention is now. So let’s get on it.

One intervention solution that has promising transferrable practices for early education settings comes from Karin Chenowith (2010). In her article, “Leaving Nothing to Chance”, Chenowith interviewed principals from high-performing, and high-poverty schools to come up with the following insights for school success:

• It’s everyone’s job to run the school.
• Inspect what you expect-- and expect that all students will meet or exceed standards.
• Be relentlessly respectful and respectfully relentless.
• Use student achievement data to evaluate decisions.
• Do whatever it takes to make sure students learn.

And so, my dear colleagues, We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. What could this look like in your programs? Can we use the insights from K-12 principals and apply it to our work? PS, I would also welcome your thoughts on the movies mentioned above.

5Oct/10Off

What About the Children?

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

You can’t open a newspaper or visit a blog that doesn’t have something to do with educational reform in our country. President Obama has asked that schools show that they are improving outcomes for all students, closing achievement gaps, and boosting high school graduation and college enrollment rates. I am on board with all of that, who wouldn’t be? Where the debate may lie is how do we do this and what budget is there to support it. Right now there is a national wrangling contest to see who we can blame because the achievement gap is not closing. These discussions come to light because our national test scores don’t measure up to those of other countries and some of our schools are failing. Unfortunately, in my view the first person faulted is the classroom teacher. So here we are, heading into the second month of a new school year. This should be a time where the teacher is excited to be setting up optimal learning environments, developing relationships with the children and their families, and planning opportunities to impart new knowledge. Instead, my fear is that well intentioned task force committees designed to assess the education situation only end up creating more accountability systems for the classroom. Well, the pressure is on, Teacher.  There is a lot at stake and your job may be on the line, nothing new I know. If teachers are being asked to learn new skills and teach with new strategies (administering tests, using assessments, engaging with families, learning new technology), how will we help them keep the focus on the children?

According to Ellen Galinsky , commenting on Education Nation, a recent nationally broadcast, in-depth conversation about improving education in America, we should make it our business to put children as our first priority. Here are three recommendations from Galinsky:

1) Plan for child engagement. There will be a need for creative and innovative ideas to jumpstart learning for children and to keep them motivated to learn. Even in high performing schools, children have lost their love of learning. Galinsky points out that our classrooms models for education were based in the agricultural and industrial age. Our children are more connected to technology.  Perhaps we need to find systems of measurement and support for classroom teachers to motivate students using a variety of techniques that expose children to technology.

2) Start early. Include early childhood teachers and parents at the table when discussing what works. I would offer that we tap into the Head Start Centers of Excellence, where early education programs are implementing comprehensive, innovative and targeted approaches to learning, and producing positive, measurable outcomes for children. And then share the information with our local public school system.

3) Develop 21st century thinkers with a focus on literacy, science and math, but give thought to how we teach our children to self regulate and maintain focus, be critical thinkers and problem-solvers so they can apply their new knowledge to change the world. I believe we want children to be literate in higher level thinking, but we want to make sure that they have a strong sense of self in order to be successful.

In my opinion, our work as instructional leaders is to create environments that build individual capacity as a parallel process for teachers and children. Instead of the deficit lens in which we view what’s wrong with our classrooms, perhaps strengthening what is going right and telling that story might work. We could create learning environments where teachers share expertise, while questioning and engaging in critical reflection for the shared purpose of the best learning for children. What a great model for children who are engaged in the same questioning and critical reflection dialogue with their peers and teachers. Perhaps the panel of experts involved in the debate need to participate in the classroom, viewing learning through the eyes of the child. What do you think?

27Aug/10Off

Educating ELL’s

Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

I just read the weekly blast from Colorin Colorado, a weekly newsletter featuring articles about teaching English Language Learners. Two pieces caught my eye: one from the New York Times about NYC parents preferring to hire nannies who speak another language; and the second from NPR, highlighting Daniel Pinkwater’s latest children's book about Yetta, the Yiddish-speaking chicken and her encounters with a colony of Spanish-speaking parrots. Newsworthy, in my opinion, in that both pieces promote the upside of learning a second language. Current trends and a shift in the make-up of our communities has made it necessary to redefine the melting pot of America, and our views toward language acquisition. Consequently, creating a positive school climate as well as an academic experience for all children has become a more pressing issue for the current education system. Schools have yet to define how to best meet the needs of children who speak a language other than English. The process of learning a second language and maintaining home language can be cognitively and socially challenging for young children. Additionally, becoming proficient in the second language takes time. However, with the help of parents and their teachers it is possible for children to become bi-lingual. So, how do we support young English Language Learners (ELLs)? In early education there is a unique opportunity to create programming that will include partnership with parents and community to serve the needs of the whole child as they grow and develop.

We have been all over the map in our approach. English-only, or English immersion programming has not been effective, this according to Dr. Linda Espinosa, author of Getting It Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds. She concludes that there is evidence that challenges our common beliefs about the development of young English Language Learners (ELLs). For example:   learning two languages at an early age will confuse children and could cause delays. MYTH. Or, total immersion in English, post preschool is the best way for children to learn English. MYTH. Research done by Dr. Espinosa and others suggests approaches that promote English acquisition for young children, while preserving home language, can actually support the development of the second language. Dr. Espinosa recommends teachers use effective instructional strategies as a foundation for promoting learning for all children, but provide differentiation or accommodations to support ELL children. Effective strategies include the following:

• Active engagement
• Connections to existing knowledge
• Opportunities to practice and apply new information
• Frequent review and practice
• Direct instruction on certain aspects of literacy
• Attention to English vocabulary and English oral language development
• Instructional accommodations tohelp children keep pace with their native-English speaking peers (p.95)

On a recent visit to the Clayton Early Learning campus Dr. Linda Espinosa gave me (and a room full of early childhood educators) an opportunity to engage in dialogue on how to provide successful education for dual language learners. Here’s a brief video excerpt from that discussion on Bracketing.

Creating bi-lingual learning communities for young children is dependent on the attitude of the educators who teach them and is fundamental to academic success or failure. (Note: Yetta, the Yiddish-speaking chicken did quite well among her parrot friends and learned a little Spanish too.)  What strategies are you using to promote second language acquisition?

21Jul/10Off

Learning to Lead, Part III

Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

Leaders and leadership are popular topics for discussion, especially in the corporate world. Just Google the word leadership and see how many websites appear on your computer screen. And of those websites, note how many include research studies and theories about what people in leadership positions should be like. However, in a blog titled lead:ology, What is Leadership, the author suggests that a focus on the what of leadership is so much simpler than defining the how of leadership. His article states that leadership “begins with an intention to influence others, and no study of leadership should be considered if it does not reflect the rich variety of leadership potential in the organization”. His conclusion, leadership is intentional influence.   And so, if this is true, then leadership isn’t necessarily associated with a job title, and budding leaders live in all positions in an organization. This view supports the notion that not all good leaders have to make their mark by being the CEO of a large organization, or the principal of an elementary school. There are good leaders who lead from where they are and are pretty content to do so.

Here’s an example of building leader potential in the community. One of my colleagues is getting ready to embark on her journey of learning to lead. She has been selected to participate in a unique academic opportunity with nineteen other early education professionals to get their “lead” on. The program I am referring to is the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program (BECLP), a graduate level academic certificate with a concentration in Educational Administration. Funded by the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, this collaborative project of the University of Denver, Morgridge College of Education and Clayton Early Learning, has as its goal to identify, nurture, and build leadership capacity in existing and future early childhood education leaders in Colorado. One exercise used with the Fellows as part of their orientation to the BECLP is viewing the video, The Art of Possibility. We have used the video and book in our work at Clayton Early Learning to guide and/or reflect on our practice, but I was particularly in awe of a recent discussion with the soon-to-be-BECLP colleague. She commented on one particular chapter in the book, Leading From Any Chair. Her realization gave her pause to recognize that she didn’t need to aspire to change her job in early childhood now that she was in the BECLP, (because she really likes what she is doing and is very good at it), she could lead from her position, have influence on others, while impacting the daily practice of teachers working with children and families.

My earlier statement that leadership is intentional influence holds true for the other Fellows, too. Their time has been well spent in improving their effectiveness at influencing their workplace and the children and families they serve by acquiring and applying new knowledge, and leaving the BECLP with a stronger ability to lead from any position they choose to hold. This week the 2010/2011 BECLP Fellows begin their journey. I wish them good luck. And should the BECLP alumni wish to comment on their leader skill building experience, I welcome their thoughts.

1Jul/10Off

Learning to Lead, Part II

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

Leadership is an art.  It comes in many forms and lives in many places.  Given the state of early education, and our economy, there is a need for doing more work, and stretching limited resources and energy to support good outcomes for staff, children and their families.  And so, leaders in education will have to hone their craft to guide others to keep the focus and accomplish good things for their organizations to accomplish the work.  I have mentioned in a previous blog that I was in search of defining leadership and the necessary characteristics to lead, and suggested my ideal of having a community approach.  I still hold this value, but have since learned that defining leadership only scratches the surface of what it takes to be a leader, it’s how the leading is exhibited, and how those skills can be developed that require our attention. 

Take the following scenario as an example.  Recently, a colleague and I facilitated a meeting to support leadership skill building with a group of lead teachers.  We asked them to think of the qualities they admired in a leader/supervisor from a past or current relationship, and also asked that they describe what that leader/supervisor did to display those qualities.  The group listed words like accountable, just, supportive, consistent, flexible, organized, informative, truthful, communication, understanding, reliable, considerate, team player, and knowledgeable—all good leader qualities.  The teachers’ descriptors were broad and vague for some of the words, specific and detailed for the others.  In the next step of this exercise, the teachers were asked to consider themselves as leaders and to rate each word using a three point scale, 1) “This is me”, 2) “I could use some work” and 3)”I don’t have this quality”.  The discussion following was very reflective as teachers talked about their own abilities as teacher leaders and their successes and struggles in supporting the assistant teachers.  Interestingly, knowledgeable and informative were scored with the highest amount of 3’s.  As my colleague and I later reviewed the exercise, our immediate reaction was one of surprise.  How could the teachers not think they were knowledgeable and informative? 

Months later, I think I understand.   I wondered if the teachers in the group were feeling that in order to be a good lead teacher you had to know everything about the classroom, the organization, and the universe to get the work done, and consequently, these assumptions of being a good lead teacher indicated a belief that the people being led didn’t know anything, or at least that the leader has to be an expert in everything to be worthy of the title.  How exhausting for any of us in lead positions if that were the case.  In my own experience, I don’t want to be the only one who knows how to do the work.  I want others to learn so that once they do, they won’t need me (as much), and our organization will have the benefit of all the expertise that lies in our team.  So how do we begin to develop that skill in others?  Any ideas?  Here’s one hint:  check out Multipliers.

5May/10Off

Born to Boss, But Learning to Lead

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza

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Geri Mendoza

I was born an Aries; the natural boss of the zodiac.  That fits me well as I prefer to be in the title role of something.   Does that mean I am a leader?  My resume will tell you that I have held the following titles in early education settings and the like:  lead teacher, assistant director, director, area coordinator, director of education, regional coordinator, program manager, as well as, oldest daughter.   Well, you get the picture, I have been in charge.   Does being in charge mean I possess the qualities to lead? Not necessarily.  Most of my work life, I’ve held positions with job-attached permission to be the boss, but really, what are the necessary qualities needed to be a successful leader in an educational organization, the person others would want to follow?  Early in my career, I had no idea.  Today I know better.  I’m still, however, learning to expand my effectiveness in a diverse world.

The ideas and practices needed to lead others in current times require a brand of innovation and creativity not present in many leadership preparation programs.  We are a more complicated workforce, as we suffer from a loss of community and interconnectedness.   That’s the bad news.  The good news:  we do have more resources that can guide us in our practice.  One of my favorites, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit by Juana Bordas , offers a more creative approach, outlining  why we must look at our leadership practices with different eyes, and principles we can draw from other cultural models.  Traditional leadership models follow a hierarchical vein, one leader, and many followers.  This implies that leadership lives only at the top of the organization.  For Bordas, an effective leader plants the seeds of community and nurtures the heart and spirit of the relationships within an organization, thereby nurturing an attitude of outreach, to tap into the strengths of all staff.  I buy that, but what a balancing act that can be!

Early on, I was all knowing and well equipped with my own goals for program success.  I quickly learned that good intentions for leading might bump up against others’ values and philosophies.  I wasn’t going to get followers just by holding a job title of “the boss”.  Now I could have charged full speed ahead with what I wanted.  After all, my authoritarian Aries attitude and passion (intensity) was going to move mountains.  Wrong.  I wasn’t going to get very far with only my vision of a good early education setting.  I would also need to include the lens of my staff doing the work and the families with whom we worked.  And so, I discovered that a community approach would best serve my leadership role by offering new ideas, more energy, and a broader perspective.  I embraced the tenets Bordas mentions in her book that working with diverse communities means putting people first and promoting people’s best interest.  Therefore, I offer the following principles on leadership: 

  • When people come together in a work setting, there can be a communal creativity in the work toward a shared vision.
  •  There will be discourse that influences leading.
  • There is learning that goes with collaborating for the good of the whole.
  • Leading by action will have a greater impact.
  • Untapped strengths and capabilities will emerge when leading is distributed among the collective.   

So far, these principles have served me well, and I’m still learning.  Leadership is a complex task.  What insight have you gained in effective leadership practice?  Please share your leadership stories!