A school culture where community is cultivated, individualism is valued, and children are treated with love, dignity and respect creates a high quality early childhood educational environment. Experienced and educated teachers share their knowledge and their love for teaching in order to help children to become life-long, independent learners. Educators gently guide children through their learning and help children to see themselves and others as positive, contributing members to their learning, their environment, and their community.
“Children that truly are concerned for others, are understanding, caring, and emotionally knowledgeable will have the most success” in life. Maxwell, B (2010). "Empathy and social-emotional learning: pitfalls and touchstones for school-based programs.". New directions for child and adolescent development (1520-3247), 2010 (129), p. 33
A strong educational background in Early Childhood enables teachers to teach with intention and developmentally appropriate practice. It allows teachers to identify their student’s individual needs and address them in the classroom. Knowledge about literacy, cognitive, social/emotional, self help, gross and fine motor benchmarks help teachers to scaffold their students to greater understanding and ability.
Vygotsky theorized about a child’s abilities and explained them through a term he called “the zone of proximal development” (ZPD). The zone of proximal development is the distance between what a child knows, and what she is capable of learning at that time. The “development of a behavior occurs on two levels which form the boundaries of the ZPD” (Bodrova, Leong, p.35). The beginning level of a child’s zone of proximal development begins with the child’s “independent performance” (Bodrova, Leong, p.35) ability. The top most boundary in a child’s zone of proximal development is “the maximum level a child can reach with help”, otherwise known as “assisted performance”. (Bodrova, Leong, p.35) Assisted performance can take place at all different degrees and levels. A child’s zone of proximal development is fluid over time as the child continues to develop and learn.
Teachers, parents and older peers can often help the child reach a new understanding through the use of scaffolding. Scaffolding is a teaching technique that allows the child to move upward in her zone of proximal development. “What the learner does is made easier with assistance” from a more knowledgeable peer or teacher. (Bodrova, Leong, p.35) With each level of achievement “the child becomes capable of learning more and more complex concepts and skills.” (Bodrova, Leong, p.37) For example, in a tools of the mind classroom often children will draw up a plan about how to make use of their play time. A teacher will then sit with the child to help the child write down what he plans to do based on his drawing. This assistance takes place at all different levels as the child’s literacy skills develop and helps the child reach a new level in his zone of proximal development. If a child is beginning to learn letter sounds but has not advanced to reading full words a teacher will help the child sound out the first letter of each word. As time goes on the child will eventually be able to sound out an entire word. Bodrova, E., Leong, D. J. (1996). Tools of the mind: The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
The more time a teacher spends in the classroom the more she or he learns about children and their cognitive, physical and social development. While education provides the tools and foundations for success in the classroom active teaching allows knowledge and theory to be put into practice. Only so much can be learned through books the rest develops over time as a teacher works together with her or his students to create learning experiences.
Teachers are resources to their students, their student’s families, and the community as a whole. Parents are the most important and influential teachers to their children. Teachers form relationships with many different children, we understand typical behavior and are able to help parents understand what to expect and what is developmentally appropriate. As teachers we have access to community information though our personal connections to our families and our professional connections.
To be successful as a teacher, love is the key ingredient that makes it all come together. Love for your job, love for your students and love for the community you serve. We help children develop a lifelong love of learning through our love of teaching.
As an early childhood professional it is important to endeavor to advocate for the early childhood education profession, the children, and the families that we all serve. Connections to community schools, resources, town events and workshops provide opportunities for students, teachers and parents to expand their circle of learning and engagement. Affiliations with local and regional early childhood organizations provide parents, students and teachers with additional knowledge, opportunity and information.
The Reggio Emilia approach to education allows teachers to actively follow the interests of their students while advancing their academic abilities. The Reggio Emilia approach comes from the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy. The town of Reggio Emilia prioritizes children and treats each child as an active and contributing member of the community. In Reggio Emilia, “privileged attention is given to the children, observation and documentation of learning processes, exchanging ideas and discussion” are incorporated in the town culture and the early childhood community. (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. (2008)) “Other distinctive traits (and values of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education) include: collegial and relation-based organization of work, the importance accredited to environments and spaces, intense co-participation in school management by families, relationships with culture in the city” and “valuing children’s creativity.” (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. (2008)
As active members of the community each child is an integral and contributing member of the community. Children learn to work with one another and the adult members of their community to create it’s culture and values. Through this experience they are able to see their accomplishments through the eyes of the community as a whole. In Reggio Emilia the “resourceful child generates changes in the systems in which he or she is involved and becomes a "producer of culture, values, and rights (Rinaldi, 2001a, p. 51). Teachers seek to hold before them this powerful image as they support children in exploring and investigating.” (Edwards 2002)
Children learn to communicate through many different methods. The Reggio Emilia Approach acknowledges and respects all of those methods of communication. “Children grow in competence to symbolically represent ideas and feelings through any of their "hundreds of languages" (expressive, communicative, and cognitive)—words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, music, to name a few—that they systemically explore and combine.” (Edwards 2002) By allowing children to combine their communication methods and use them in creative ways we enable them to to become active learners that can build on their skills and make gigantic leaps in their learning.
There is much educational wisdom to be gained and used by taking a look at all early childhood philosophies. Each philosophy strives to meet the needs of children and nurture each student. The Waldorf philosophy adds magic to their student’s lives. Waldorf teachers help their students achieve life skills and connect to the earth. Montessori teachers take into account each child’s interests and abilities. Bronfenbrenner offers teachers a chance to look at the whole child and the environmental connections and influences on each individual student through his ecological theory. The contemplative approach to education allows teachers to relax and be in the moment with their students. The educational philosophies behind “Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia represent an explicit idealism and turn away from violence, toward peace and reconstruction. They are built on coherent visions of how to improve human society by helping children realize their full potential as intelligent, creative, whole persons.” (Edwards 2002) Through extensive study of each of these philosophies, there are many similarities between them because there are certain “truths” that are a part of each philosophy: (Please see handbook for more information)
Providing a culturally enriching environment not only teaches respect for others beliefs and values, it also expands each child’s education and prepares her/him for the amazing complexity of our world. A community culture can be established in the classroom, the school, and the community by finding commonalities and celebrating common values, beliefs and goals. Respecting differences and striving to understand and accept diverging viewpoints adds enrichment. The culture of a school community should be flexible, inclusive, and work toward a mission and vision that all members can share.
Honoring the interests of our children allows us to teach with meaning and integrity. Children take pride in their creations and learn through exploration and with ambition. The value of learning through experience and being able to test out your own theories, internalizes learning in a way that cannot be done through basic drills and standardized lessons. Every child deserves to have an environment that they can take part in owning and creating. An open environment and curriculum provide endless opportunities to children. An evolving curriculum based on the interests of the students provides their teachers with endless opportunities to learn and grow.
Parents and teachers have a responsibility to raise children with a global perspective. Children that learn to respect other cultures and gain an appreciation and understanding of cultural differences grow into socially responsible adults. A global citizen not only has an awareness of belonging to their individual community but to a planet with common goals. As global community members we share a culture which strives toward empathy, understanding, and love. We value the richness of life, the knowledge that comes from each way of life, and the desire to provide for the basic needs that each living being needs to succeed and thrive.
Maxwell, B (2010). "Empathy and social-emotional learning: pitfalls and touchstones for school-based programs.". New directions for child and adolescent development (1520-3247), 2010 (129), p. 33 Bodrova, E., Leong, D. J. (1996). Tools of the mind: The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. (2008). North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. Infant-Toddler Centers and Preschools - Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from: http://www.reggioalliance.org/reggio_emilia_italy/infant-toddler_centers_and_preschools.php Edwards C. (2002) Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research and Practice. (Vol. 4 Number 1) Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/edwards.html (Citing: Rinaldi, Carlina. (2001a). Reggio Emilia: The image of the child and the child's environment as a fundamental principle. In Lella Gandini & Carolyn Edwards (Eds.), Bambini: The Italian approach to infant-toddler care (pp. 49-54). New York: Teachers College Press. ED 448 859.) Dewey J (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books Weissberg, Roger P (2003). "Creating Caring Schools - Evaluating Social and Emotional Learning Programs - CASEL describes and assesses comprehensive, long-term approaches to social and emotional learning.". Educational leadership (0013-1784), 60 (6), p. 46