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May 28, 2014

Do You See What I See?

Contributed by Christina Fecio, Director of Education10010821_10152164847111220_1366878865526922197_o

Often, after I visit a classroom – or even if teachers see me through the window – I hear hushed tones of hurried phone calls asking, “Was everything okay?” or “Was anything wrong?”

At first, I second guessed myself. Was I putting off a ‘she’s looking for something wrong’ vibe or did I seem like I was not friendly? Over time and after much discussion with colleagues who also visit classroom sand complete observations, I’ve come to realize that these questions aren’t really a concern that I’ve noticed someone “doing something wrong,” but more of a curiosity about the impression that a classroom makes to an interested observer. In truth, team members are really asking, “What are you looking for?”

Since coming to that realization, I’ve tried harder to provide immediate, positive feedback. A genuine ‘thank you,’ a thoughtful pat on the arm, or even just a warm smile and a wave are all intended to send the message that I see you and appreciate the work that you are doing. However, I do understand that the message of appreciation and respect can get lost in the have you tried…you need to…it’s important to…that sometimes accompanies it, particularly in this culture of continuous change for continuous improvement.

980238_10152110363696220_2457123155475106659_oWith that in mind, I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to answer the question, “What are you looking for?”

1. A ‘Safety First’ mentality requires me to look first for a safe, secure environment:

  • Is the classroom in ratio? Are adults attentive and alert?
  • Is there evidence that safety procedures are known and are being followed? At minimum, this includes alert cards, counting & recounting, allergy awareness, proximity  supervision, cleanliness and sanitation, handwashing, and good communication between adults in all classrooms, including asking for ID.
  • In infant rooms, there’s attention to important details like evacuation cribs, labeling bottles, safe sleep, and proper diapering.

2. Next, I’m looking at the learning environment, asking myself if this is an age-appropriate, appealing place to learn through play. Specifically, I’m looking for evidence that the environment is sending the following messages:

  • Message 1 – “Welcome! Feel at home in our classroom!” A warm welcome to a clean, attractive, and clutter-free classroom tells children and families that you take pride in your classroom. Organized, well-prepared environments are evidence of a thoughtful teacher who wants to create the optimal climate for learning.
  • Message 2 – “We value play.” When multiple learning centers/interest areas are organized, labeled, and accessible to children, and those learning centers appropriately reflect the curriculum, the classroom invites children to learn through play. Thoughtful teachers provide ample time to explore, with a focus on process rather than product, extending the invitation to play all day long.
  • Message 3 – “We deliver what we promise.” We promise families a clearly defined curriculum. A daily routine that aligns with the lesson plans and reflects children’s interests and needs shows that teachers take the promise seriously.1601400_10152105517161220_2064021100642831839_n

3. Last, but certainly not least, I’m paying attention to the interactions between children and adults, looking for evidence of responsive caregiving, developmentally appropriate expectations, and genuine affection.

  • Do children and adults seem genuinely happy to be at school? Evidence of this includes smiles, warm tones of voice, age-appropriate physical affection (hugs, high fives, pats on the shoulder, etc.) and lots of laughter; where there is laughter, there is learning.
  • Do children and adults ‘connect’ with one another in a comfortable, respectful way, reflecting that they have (or are building) an important relationship? Evidence of this can be as simple as greeting preschool children by name, at their eye level, or welcoming an infant from his parent’s arms into yours.
  • Are children’s feelings respected and validated? When a hungry baby hears “I hear you. I’ll be right there.” or a crying toddler hears, “You are sad because you’re missing your mom.” rather than “You are okay”, it is obvious that teachers clearly understand the importance of responsive caregiving.

1797342_10152159451751220_1300499644021683719_nWhile there are certainly dozes of additional details that fall into each of these categories, these three ‘big ideas’ are the heart of every classroom visit. So when you see me peek in your window, or see a “Classroom Observation Form” in someones hand, know that you already have the answer to “What are you looking for?” – and as an opportunity for reflection, please ask yourself, do you see what I see?

Thank you for all you do. The doodle community is a better place because you CARE.