Why Teaching Two Year Olds is a Whole Lot Like Teaching Anyone: A Foundations Highlight

I have a theory that we as humans need tribes.  As much as we all subscribe to the great unifying collectivity of our species, the notion of “we’re all in this together” can simply be too big for our small selves to contain.  We need groups the size of “I can hold you in my head all at once”, shared identities that warm us with familiarity, a sense of “these people are mine” and “this place is home.” I think, to a certain degree, our grade-level, departmental, or divisional affiliations can serve as our work families.  I think this is natural.  I think this is human. 

In this current job role of mine, I have the strange position of belonging to no single divisional or even campus tribe.  I float-drive across I-55 from south to north and north to south countless times each week, sometimes more than once each day.  On a given Tuesday, I might play-learn in centers with some three year olds, pop in an eighth grade level meeting, visit a senior-level English class, and engage in a classroom debrief with a second grade teacher.  It is the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of this job, this “every division is my home” which can sometimes feel a bit like “no division is my home.”

 But one magical side effect of this nomad-like existence is that I can see, with vivid veracity, the patterns, the themes, the stories that surface and repeat again and again across our very-different, very-same everyday classroom realities. It’s probably slightly annoying to have a classroom visit debrief with me these days, so eager I am to connect the dots, to say “we are also seeing _____ in _____ context!”  These are all my clumsy efforts to shout the same refrain: “You are not alone in your struggles . . . they are entirely legitimate!” Or, as the kids say nowadays: “SAME!”

But this blog is not about my clumsy efforts.  This blog is about highlighting Foundations, since our regular and fabulous Foundations blogger (Maggie Secrest) is out nurturing a familial tribe of her own right now.   See, I think we as faculty at St. Andrew’s, whether we teach two year olds or fifteen year olds, have a lot more in common than we think.  And part of our goal with these monthly blog blasts is to connect some of those dots that tend to exist on separate islands within the same school network.  

 So, without further ado, here are four ways that teaching two year olds is a whole lot like teaching whatever grade you teach, brought to you by images I snapped one rainy early Mid-November morning while observing Sandra Flores and Maggie Secrest work their magic. I hope you experience a little beat of resonance, a moment of synchronization, a vibe of “oh yeah I do that too”  in what you see.  And I hope that this helps expand all of our conceptualizations of what constitutes our work-tribe here at SA.

  1.  We are all giving students performance tasks that naturally adjust to, showcase, and accommodate their skill level and interests: Whether students are working with pottery in upper school art, crafting an essay in eighth grade English, or putting rubber-bands on a pumpkinit’s all the same thing.  We as faculty are all about seeing what kids can do with the challenge at hand, and while we rarely have a single “right” product in mind we often have ideas about  how to bump up student performance to the next level.  
  1.  We believe that we learn best in community, that collective meaning-making may get messy but can push us all to greater heights that individual pursuits: When kids are actually helping pour the sand into the center, when ninth graders are sitting around a Harkness table and going deep into historical analysis, it may take extra time and extra clean-up after the fact . . . but the learning gained is worth the mess.
Children in the “young twos” class work together pouring sand into a bin for a center to play with later.
The older twos were WAY into this game of shape review. The hard part was being silent when it wasn’t your turn and you knew the answer.
  1.  We know that part of the schooling game is learning how to be better humans.: This year more than any year it is clear that we teach academic content and skills to navigate the world together.  The two buckets are not in opposition to each other; they, in fact, prop each other up.  And play is one powerful anchor for both pursuits.
  1.  We love to plan and prepare, but are also open to adapt and adjust when our students surprise us with how they take up a task or material: Whether you are a math teacher celebrating how a student found a new way to approach a problem solve or a Foundations teacher allowing kids to flip over the coloring sheet to draw their own shapes, the same spirit of humility, openness, and celebration undergirds our response to the surprises at hand.
This kid was totally into this halloween pumpkin sticker that he wanted to show me again and again. It was starting to lose its “stickiness” but, no matter. It was still his favorite and most treasured thing.

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