Clayton Early Learning

What About the Children?

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?

Geri Mendoza

About Geri Mendoza

Geri Mendoza has 30 years of experience in the field of early childhood education and programming for children birth through five. She has been a preschool teacher, education coordinator, and administrator in a variety of early education settings, including Head Start. In her current role, she provides day to day management of projects within the Clayton Early Learning professional development department. She has a special focus on quality improvement and evidence-based professional development. Geri has a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development, Child Studies concentration from Colorado State University and a Masters Degree in Education with an emphasis on educational leadership from Regis University, School of Professional Studies.
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