A birthday is important business where I work, whether it’s a student’s or a staff member’s. We have a coworker who makes us handcrafted cards and ensures that everyone in the building sends a small word of good wishes for the coming year. “You are our sunshine,” was written on a card I received this year. (Preschool Malaysia)
I work hard as a clinical social worker in a state-funded preschool to provide sunshine to our youngsters. My coworkers share this sentiment, therefore I make it a point to tell them that they are a bright spot for our pupils. Each of us has a part in making our school community a happy and nurturing place to study.
Working during the pandemic, though, has left my coworkers weary and wondering, “Why do I stay?” As more teachers approach me with this topic, I give solutions to help them rediscover the meaning and joy of teaching our youngest students.
REFRAME YOUR IMAGINATION OF WHAT LEARNING SHOULD BE LIKE.
Teachers might feel better about what they accomplish with pupils if we reframe our thoughts and expectations about what learning should look like in early childhood settings. I asked my son’s pre-K teacher if there was anything I could do at home to help him learn. “Preschool Malaysia is about socialising,” she explained. This could only happen at school. Our teachers can replace the pressure to prepare children for kindergarten with purpose and joy if they reframe the vital work of preschool—playing, making friends, becoming more independent with self-care skills, problem-solving, and self-regulating.
I urge teachers to keep in mind what young children require in order to mature into well-adjusted individuals. While executive functioning and social and emotional abilities are not the same as reciting the alphabet or holding a pencil with a tripod grip, they are important skills to learn. Their students get those skills as a result of the intentional and planned work they conduct.
We enrolled a student who struggled with classroom management a few months earlier. The student’s frequent screams and tantrums irritated her teachers. They were concerned that if they did not act, her classmates would accept her behaviour as normal. They informed me, “She can’t be doing this here.”
“That’s what you’re telling her when you help her relax,” I said. By sitting with her in a quiet spot and encouraging her to use coping skills, you’re teaching her to regulate and problem-solve so she can return to the group efficiently. You’re also teaching her about classroom expectations, which the other kids see you do.
Before they left my office to return to their classroom, I encouraged them, “Hang in there, you’re achieving more than you realise.”
My irritated coworkers eventually warmed up to the idea of redefining what learning looks like in their classroom. They filled their quiet room with various fidgets, calm-down jars, and other soothing objects. Also, they integrated body-based coping practises into their daily circle, such as butterfly embraces or animal walks, and posted pictures throughout the room with various problem-solving strategies. They also posted a class commitment detailing expectations, which their students signed with their handprints.
Because of this shift, I’m only summoned to this classroom on rare occasions, and when I do hear a student suffering, my colleagues wave me away, saying, “We’ve got this.”
APPRECIATE SMALL SUCCESSES
I recently worked with a dysregulated student who needed help managing his emotions. When I intervened in his running down the corridor, he usually struck and kicked me. He came to a halt in front of the barred gate that restricted access to the stairwell. I didn’t know it until later in the day that this was a minor win for both of us. Because I saw that what I was doing with him was working, I stopped feeling like I wasn’t helping him. It didn’t matter whether the work took a long time. The fact that it worked was all that mattered. Recognizing that was enough to provide me joy as well as a fresh feeling of purpose in my work.
Two of my colleagues were thrilled to tell me that their apprehensive and introverted new pupil had finally made eye contact and smiled. During her break, another colleague came sprinting into my office, exclaiming, “It worked!” after she put duct tape on her classroom floor to create a space for a student who needed to move his body regularly but frequently hit his classmates while doing so. He started using the space on his own once she showed him where to go. Small victories should be celebrated.
Both students and teachers will feel as if they haven’t accomplished anything if we don’t celebrate the tiny victories as kids strive toward competency. Is it true that a student used the restroom for the first time? Yes! Is it true that a toddler was able to relax in the quiet area? They and you both deserve a high five. With only two reminders instead of three, your group was able to transition from motor play to tabletop activities? Something is working, and I’m willing to wager that it’s you.
Early childhood instructors will constantly wonder why they do what they do, therefore we must find significance and joy in our work. By honouring the job in early childhood settings, rethinking what learning needs to look like, and celebrating the little triumphs that happen every day, teachers will rediscover the joy and purpose of teaching, find their why, and bring back their sunshine.
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Learn more: Preschool Malaysia
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