What happens when the teacher becomes the student—and has the world as her classroom?
Educare Chicago teacher Kisha Floyd experienced this when she traveled to New Zealand for a tour of early childhood centers in and around Auckland earlier this year. She discovered that the early learning programs were worlds apart but still familiar.
“Children are children,” she said. “Many of the kids were doing the same things that our kids do. Kids are going to be kids.”
The Inspire Professional Learning for Teachers’ Early Childhood Tour engages participants in conversations and self-reflection, as well as helps them gain unique insight by seeing early education programs in a different context and culture.
Kisha was one of a group of 30 early learning teachers, coaches, university faculty and program directors from across the US and Canada—and only one of two representatives from Illinois on the trip.
Experiencing early learning in a different culture
The week-long tour was an intense experience with two to three site visits a day, which allowed Kisha to see the work from a different perspective.
“This professional development experience differs from most because of the level of immersion participants experience,” said Barbara Abel, Educare Chicago curriculum manager, who recommended Kisha for the opportunity.
One difference Kisha saw was that a lot of the teaching and learning was done outside. “The children do a lot of exploring of the outdoors,” she said. “And lot of the children were self-learning—interacting and engaging with activities alone.”
She saw children climbing and being encouraged to explore, take risks and challenge themselves. Some programs even had both preschoolers and younger children in the same classroom.
“One of the things that I took away was that the teachers had a way of working with children in intimate, relational ways,” Kisha said. “They were doing things unrushed, which let them be engaged with the overall child.”
One of her favorite parts of the trip was meeting the other professionals and building lasting relationships.
“We’re still to this day unpacking all of the knowledge that we gained,” Kisha said.
For one, she says that she plans to be more aware as a teacher to take time and “allow things to just flow.”
“We have the children for two years, so it’s important to remember that we don’t have to cram everything in,” she said. “And [we can] do things in an unrushed, peaceful, tranquil way, and focus on interacting and keeping children engaged in their overall learning.”
Kisha and Barbara are working on sharing takeaways from the trip with the other teachers at the school so they can all benefit from Kisha’s experience.
“This is not so much focused on what to do as a teacher or how to train teachers, as much as it helps teachers and teacher leaders think about ‘the what’ and ‘the why’ of their own teaching practices, so that they can guide and coach others in doing the same,” Barbara said.