How to Prepare, or, How to Wait

I'm so excited to be getting back into the classroom this fall.  There is only one month until I am there with children, and that does not feel like quite enough time to prepare.  But can we really prepare?

There is so much excitement surrounding the beginning of the school year.  For me, that energy stems from two places.  First, my past experiences, both positive and negative, influence the choices that I make for the start of the year.  Reflecting on what worked and what did not work is important to a teaching practice.  It is easy to obsess what we might do differently with the "do-over" of a new school year.  Second, the wealth of information we can gather about best practices in early childhood can inform the choices we make.  From online forums to colleagues to books, I am always thinking about what wonderful ideas others have, and how I might implement something similar in my new classroom.

The beginning of the school year is a bit of a trap, though.  We see it as a fresh start, we think we know exactly what to do for things to be just right.  We'll get the order and the organization down to a science, and introduce children to the perfect environment.  Right?

My answer this year:  not really.  The most important factor in a classroom is the people.  People are not so much a factor as a variable.  Children learn from all kinds of materials in all kinds of climates sitting in all kinds of chairs.  There is no magical material or arrangement that makes it click.  Connecting the learners and teachers and the learning environment - that is something that works.  And my attitude this time around is that there is no secret formula.  Like so many other teachers, I love seeing beautiful learning environments, and I am inspired by them.  But ten years in, I'm less interested in a photograph of a perfect learning space than I am in children's engagement.  I do not know the children who will be in my class, but I do know that they will drive the work we do all year long.  Following them means thinking long and hard about the decisions I make.  How many should I make on my own?  When should we include children's voices?  Can children be involved in more decision making?  How?

One powerful aspect of emergent curriculum is bringing ideas to the table and seeing what sticks.  Children have many ideas to share, and we can follow a thread that emerges from children's interests.  We, as teachers, can also make suggestions, as long as we do not fall into the trap that is set when we do that.  Bringing in our own ideas and suggestions is a way to begin a dialogue with children.  They may be interested, they may not be.  We cannot take disinterest personally and press on, regardless of the children.  Interested or not, both routes send a message to the teacher, if we are listening and watching.  We might see something online that another teacher has used in their classroom, and decide to recreate it as a prompt or invitation with our own students.  It is important to be conscious of our expectations when we introduce ideas to children - what are we expecting to come next?  Do we have 3 weeks planned out, or 3 hours?  Are we putting a priority on pursuing our own interests (or someone else's successful idea) with children?

Sitting at my dining room table in July, I have all the time in the world to "get ready" for the school year.  But the reality is that I have to wait for the children.  I can reflect, I can read, I can connect with other educators.  I can add articles and notes to my growing binder with five years of ideas (and counting).  Otherwise, I'll wait.  This time, I'm trying to make fewer decisions without children.

Children engaging with teacher prompt of map + markers

Children engaging with teacher prompt of map + markers