I have a rant.
But before I rant, let me tell you a story.
A little after my daughter’s first birthday, she was playing with a small, elephant pull toy. She would try to push it, but it would get stuck on the attached string. After that happened a few times, she tried to bunch the string up and put it on top of the elephant. That didn’t work, so then she tried putting the bunch of string in the hole on the elephant. That failed too. Finally, she decided to put the string over her shoulder while she pushed. The string stayed and she was able to push the elephant, unencumbered.
I tell this story neither to brag about my daughter (although of course I think she is fabulous!), nor to talk about how I tried to implement CLASS-based interactions during this moment (a little parallel talk here, a “what else might you do?” there). I tell it because it demonstrates something about children’s cognitive capabilities: at 13 months, my daughter was problem solving.
So here is my rant …
I think we underestimate children’s cognitive abilities. There are lots of reasons we do this, many of which are completely valid. We are afraid of pushing our children too hard. We want to allow for children’s varying development. We don’t want to lose focus on important social and emotional development.
There is one reason, though, that I think we can change: our definition of “academic” skills.
Often, we confuse academic skills with facts or the amount of knowledge a child has. He can count to 20. She knows the letters in her name. He knows all of his shapes and colors. While these are important pieces of content knowledge for children to have, I wouldn’t define them as academic skills.
But when you look at the definition of academic (or academy), several words stand out.
All of these phrases show that academic knowledge is more about critical thinking, problem solving, creating new ideas, analyzing, evaluating, comparing, expressing curiosity, engaging in inquiry—I could go on.
When we think about academics in terms of specific pieces of knowledge, we get stuck in teaching through rote methods and never give children the chance to amaze us with what they can know and do.
So, I propose that we redefine the term “academic.” Instead of thinking about facts, let’s think about children’s emerging cognitive abilities (watch here and read more here). Let’s give them opportunities to question, explore, and problem solve. Let’s give them words for their thoughts and encourage them to express what is going on in those precious, little brains. Let’s stop underestimating children and start letting them astound us.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
How have the children you work with amazed you with their cognitive abilities? How might you redefine “academic” skills? What impact would that make on your work with children?
Whether you are writing your transition plan, preparing to return, or have already returned to in-person learning, you, like many other educational leaders, are likely facing many challenges and unknowns.
As you continue to craft and refine your plans, reflecting on the considerations below can help you more effectively build a blueprint for a successful reopening.
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
I recognize and admit to having a chip on my shoulder about the field of early childhood education - and, at times, disbelief that others may not see that period of time as the power-packed years in our developmental timeline which can lay the groundwork and set the course for much of the rest of our lives.
Since the coronavirus has disrupted many of our in-person plans, you might be trying to figure out how you can transition in-person coaching to online coaching. Online coaching can open a number of doors for coaches and teachers that might not be an option in face-to-face work.