Not All Kindergarten Teachers are Ready for Kindergarten.
Imagine this-you walk into your first classroom and find that the students are on the floor, playing behind cubbies, under the table, talking/laughing with each other. You state ‘class-it is time to sit at our tables and get to work’….and no one moves. Almost like you are speaking in another language. By the end of the day you have spend more time tying shoes, comforting students missing their parents and opening milk cartons than any ‘learning’ you thought you would accomplish. Well, welcome to kindergarten.
Current preparation programs for Elementary Education don’t always clearly lay out committed, extended time for elementary education students to be immersed in the preK/K setting to get a stronger handle on what quality early learning environments look like throughout a school day. Also for practicing teachers who primarily teach in the upper grades and have an opportunity to move into a primary grade the shock of what and how teaching and learning occurs can be a challenge. If teachers rely on their own experiences (average of 16-20 years prior) they would be in shock as to how much early learning has changed since ½ day programing…naps not included.
The education of teachers New to Kindergarten relies heavily on the leadership of the school. Now imagine you are the principal and you yourself are in a similar boat-you taught at the secondary level or maybe even upper elementary. How do you prepare your teachers when your background experiences differ as well?
Seek out supports. Ensuring New to Kindergarten teachers are matched up with mentors well versed in appropriate learning environments is critical. These mentors meet with teachers prior to school starting and offer hands on experiences setting up conferences, classrooms and preparing for the first 5 days of school. During the year our mentors informally check in on teachers and as the leader I will email the mentors for ‘heads up’ opportunities to check in with their mentee. Front loading as much as possible in a small group setting really helped to build confidence in new teacher’s. For example mentors would meet and discuss assessment schedules and delivery of assessments prior to the staff meeting that we reviewed testing calendars and validity checks. That way we reduced the ‘deer in headlight’ moments and created more background knowledge for new teachers so they could become more immersed in the whole staff conversations.
Providing building resources to teachers well before school starts. Ensuring that all resources are in a shared space and New to Kindergarten teachers can access these prior to school starting gives them a head start to how your building works. For example we created a OneNote Notebook that has EVERYTHING in it and is organized in the following ways: Months at a Glance, PBIS, Instructional Coaching, Curriculum Maps, Assessment Calendars, Schedules, Technology and Friday Focus. That way teachers can see documents relative to seasonal activities (we honestly have over 10 documents on the Holiday Program alone…and a few social stories for the first fire drill). Letting staff new to the building have access to this over the summer helps them familiarize themselves with how to locate materials and also gives them the necessary tools and resources had their fingertips-no need to go out and search for supports elsewhere.
Sharing a culture of trust and commitment to each other. At our school after teachers are hired we initially send them ‘Welcome to Woodson’ notes from teachers/paraprofessionals either from the interview team or the team in which they will be working on for the following school year. After that initial contact we give them resources over the summer that will help prepare them for the ‘nuts and bolts’ of teaching. During the summer we also make sure New to Kindergarten are included in any summer mailings and/or summer trainings that might be relevant to their new positions.
Creating opportunities to see kindergarten (and kindergartners) in action. Woodson Kindergarten Center offers families two calendars to choose from-one starts in August, the other in September. Having dual calendars in our building gives New to Kindergarten teachers a chance to experience the first day of school as an observer and helper in classrooms before they are on their own. We strongly encourage new hires to attend the first day of the Modified Calendar to see the following routines: Arrival to School, Transitions, Setting Up Routines, Review of PBIS expectations in natural environments, and Classroom Culture Building activities. Since starting this optional induction opportunity new teachers have expressed relief being able to observe a First Day of K-before they have to lead one themselves. When possible we invite newly hired teachers to our Kindergarten Roundup in the spring. This gives them a chance to meet the incoming families and hear the same message parents are receiving prior to their first day at school. Other opportunities for observation include having them come in May or June for a day or so to observe in their future mentor’s classroom.
Create opportunities for collaboration. Seek out ways for your teachers to connect with each other-and with other teachers outside of the district. Face to face observations with teachers who exemplify key strategies allow New to Kindergarten teachers a chance to see theory in practice and ask questions. These observations also allow master teachers a chance to intentional reflect on their own practice and share resources with others. Guiding teachers to connection via Twitter/Instagram and blogs of other early learning educators provide them real-life examples of classroom daily practice and less searching on Pinterest and other sites that sell materials-now they can see activities in practice.
- As a leader what can you do most often-be visible. I have created ways in which I can ‘check’ on new teachers informally and ensure I am giving them far more positive affirmations then critiques year one. Helping out during literacy rotations, greeting classes everyday, or just stopping in after school and commenting on something new they tried-builds a layer of trust and commitment that I value them and want to invest time in the work they are doing.
Kindergarten can really be the toughest job you will ever love….so as leaders we need to take the same level of commitment in mentoring New to Kindergarten teachers.
Keep Dreaming Big for our Littlest Learners!
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