Jess Pablo is an early childhood coach and grade level chair at The Primary School, a non-profit school in East Palo Alto, California, that serves children aged pre-K through grade 3, bringing together education, health, and family support services to support children’s holistic growth. Below are some of the ideas, concerns, and suggestions she shared as her program resumes this year in a mostly virtual learning environment.
For our ECE families, we offered several choices.
We’re also offering a pilot class for children whose parents are unable to stay home with them during the day. We have three teachers working with five students in the ECE program, as well as a few older students. The teachers help the older children set up their iPads and log in to their work, and then monitor them throughout the day.
Each of our virtual classrooms has roughly 16 students with two teachers, so often the head teacher will take ten children and the associate will take the other six.
Last year was the first year we had the whole school using CLASS, so we all received coaching and training on how to support children and strengthen interactions in each dimension. Prior to that, only half the school used CLASS. Adopting CLASS gave us all something to focus on and grow into. We’re proud that one of our strengths as a school is our teacher-child interactions.
It was really helpful to have time over the summer to plan ahead, so that now we can provide children and families with consistent expectations. This year, everyone is logging on to school at nine o'clock. We have more uniform expectations for families as well.
We also supply home kits. When we started, we asked our families what would be most helpful, and they asked for packets. So we’ve sent home some packets, as well as gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and literacy activities. Each day, children can complete one page in the packet and do one activity in the home kit.
It’s good to plan for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction. Teachers should set up a time to meet with each child at least once a week, even if the meeting is virtual. If a teacher notices that a child needs a little more support, they should have this meeting twice a week instead.
Every family in the program is assigned a family coach. The coach helps them access resources and work through whatever challenges they may have going on in their lives, from needing food or shelter to just needing someone to talk to when they feel like there’s too much going on. That way, it's not just the children receiving services, but also the families. The family coach can model adult-child interactions for families, answering questions like “How do I talk to my child? How do I sing to them? How do I read to them?”
If a child isn’t engaging in learning, the family coach will also be able to provide support. They’ll be able to ask, “What do you need, Mom and Dad, so that your child can come to school?”
We’ve also offered online office hours. Parents often log on during these office hours to share what's working well and bounce ideas off each other.
We’ve always been big on not only our classroom families, but also our school family. Before COVID-19, we would often have school assemblies and explore places like the office and the kitchen, to show the students that we’re all in this together. This is our community. So our returning students already had an understanding of what it meant to be a part of this community. For our new students, starting the year off on the playground has allowed us also to introduce the school, the staff, and the teachers, and to begin building that sense of community.
We're remote, and it's hard. It's so hard! But I think we all have that same passion. So we’ve just channeled it into remote learning and making the best of what we have. And we lean on each other, too.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
Every state, every district, every school, every teacher faced decisions that they had never anticipated in the last academic year. As the end of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, it’s time to reflect on those decisions, learn from others, and prepare for the fall ahead.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.