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K centers

Examples of center activities

At the beginning of my teaching career, I worked as the 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a K-8 parochial school. Once a month, my students would pair up with the kindergarten students to complete a creative project: paper maché globes, paper kites, Q & A interviews. On those afternoons, my noisy and awkward adolescents longingly stared at various learning stations: art centers, counting blocks, easels,finger paints, and beanbag chairs circled around picture books. It was evident that my 8th graders wanted to go back to kindergarten.
And why wouldn’t they want to go back? Even back then, kindergarten combined the elements of fun and learning through a structured day of collaborative and independent activities. In today’s kindergarten classes, the morning meeting is a cooperative exercise where students are oriented for the day’s activities. Language arts centers develop reading and writing skills and include collaborative guided reading or read alouds. Math centers provide materials for independent practice in developing math skills. Structured play activities build social interaction, while recess, especially outdoor recess, allows students to practice unstructured play. “Specials” expose students to the arts and/or other disciplines. The entire kindergarten day day is structured to provide students with multiple opportunities to collaborate or to be independent.

In an article titled Ready for Kindergarten? In Parent Child Magazine (Scholastic publication), five kindergarten teachers discussed what attributes they believe children should have to be successful in kindergarten.

Their recommendations for the top five readiness skills students should have, in no particular order, are:

  • Ability to play well with others
  • Ability to listen
  • Solid oral-language skills
  • Desire to be independent
  • Enthusiasm toward learning

What is interesting is comparing these skills that kindergarten teachers look for in students to the skills that recruiters look for in hiring once students have exited a school system. A recent survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) a non-profit group that links colleges with recruiters, asked hiring managers what top skills they believe to be the most important in recruiting employees. The top skills for recruiters look for are:

  1. Ability to work in a team structure
  2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
  3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information

The elements of collaboration and independence that started in the structures and strategies from kindergarten are evident in both lists. The ability to communicate is critical whether a student is entering as a five year old or exiting with five years of graduate school.

In addition to this information, consider the first-hand individual employee accounts from those who work at Fortune 500 companies that have been designated as “The Best Places to Work.” Included on this list are predictable choices (Google #1) where the  activities of a Google Employee (highly edited) might look something like this:

Google Workspace or Center

Google Workspace or Center

  • 9:00 AM: Morning meeting
  • 11:00 AM: Call with the team to plan
  • 2:00 PM: Brainstorming with my team.
  • 4:00 PM: Submit ideas; Spend ten minutes trying to convince others.

The skills of communicating and collaboration in this abridged account mirror the qualities required by the five kindergarten teachers. And those reviews by employees from various Fortune 500 companies included statements about additional learning, “They really know how to push you” (McKinsey#9) and “Given great opportunities to expand my knowledge about the field” (Chevron #6). The desire to participate or be “pushed” was a connecting thread for all the top rated companies, and that desire for additional learning could be the spark that is ignited in kindergarten.

An example of a Kindergarten workspace

An example of a Kindergarten workspace

I am not suggesting that the focus of kindergarten should be career readiness as has been expressed by some education reformers, but it is surprising how many of the kindergarten-like structures and strategies are embedded in the more successful companies. Perhaps it is no wonder these companies receive such enviable reviews from their employees.

A little creative liberty in rewording one of the reviews from Forbes given by an employee from the top rated company Acuity, illustrates how these structures and strategies in employee satisfaction might sound like the ideal kindergarten experience [my additions]:

One Millennial commented, “I have never worked for a company that has an upper management team [OF TEACHERS] that is so forthcoming and approachable. They are always praising us and you can tell we actually are making a difference in the organization [SCHOOL]. I love coming to work and doing my job [OF LEARNING]. It’s just an added bonus that we often get special treats like food and gifts as well as parties to celebrate our success as a company [CLASS].”

Yup. Let’s not forget that “special treats like food and gifts as well as parties,” are also part kindergarten experience, and just one more way that kindergarten may be preparing employees for those Fortune’s Top 500 companies.

forbesFobes recently published a feature article/photo spread, 30 Educators under 30:The Millennials Overhauling Education And Leaving No Child (Or Teacher) Behind by Meghan Casserly, 12/7/2012. The lead in for the article read:

The 30 Gen-Yers on our list are innovators, advocates, thought-leaders and reformers. Through outreach initiatives and engineering they’re committed, like my mom, to giving kids everywhere the best chance at success. They’re committed to making the lives of teachers like her just a little bit easier, whether through technology that saves them precious minutes communicating with parents or helps them use data analytics to track performance more efficiently than traditional paper grade books ever could.

A series of slick, glossy photos of well-dressed, smiling bright-eyed entrepreneurs and CEOs followed. Readers were advised to, “Click through the gallery for the 30 men and women who are disrupting education from top to bottom.” Disrupting? Is that what needs to happen to education? To disrupt? To disrupt means:

1. To throw into confusion or disorder;
2. To interrupt or impede the progress, movement, or procedure of;
3. To break or burst; rupture.

Disrupting is a perplexing choice if the purpose of the article is to praise the contributions these individuals are making to the business of education. When students disrupt a class, they are given detentions. The choice of the verb is contradictory because in the next sentence readers are encouraged “to visit their websites and reach out to congratulate them, to give them well-deserved credit for their hard work.” Are we being asked to congratulate disruption?

I did visit some of the websites mentioned in the photospread, and I do want to express my thanks to the CEOs who provide free and well-designed software programs. Specifically, I noted the photos of  Nic Borg, 26, Cofounder and CEO, Edmodo; Sam Chaudhary, 26, and Liam Don, 26, Co-founders of ClassDojo; and Andrew Sutherland, 23, Founder, Quizlet.  I will agree that these products contribute positively to my classroom environment. None of their products are “disruptive”.

The photos of these four product founders and their 26 smiling cohorts confirmed that all were vibrantly under 30, so I concede the “30 under 30” part of the headline. And yes, all 30 individuals are associated with the business of education, but they are not educators. These 30 individuals are educreators. The difference? Educators are in classrooms….Educreators are not.

Educators are in the classroom designing lessons, developing assessments, grading papers, contacting parents, posting bulletin boards, collecting data, analyzing data, meeting with teachers, collaborating with special education teachers, organizing supplies, selecting resources, and adjusting plans every minute of ever school day, and in most cases, for hours before or after school. In short, educators teach.

All Edu-creators have been in classrooms…as students. One edu-creator featured in the article spent three years in a classroom for Teach for America, one year more than the required two years of service. Each of the edu-creators has a product to improve education, but that does not make them educators. They are not in the classroom teaching; many are marketing a product for the classroom.

There has been an explosion of educreations that parallels the expansion of technology in the classroom. Many of these educreations from educreators are offered free or in “lite” versions. Ultimately, these products will make money for their founders and CEOs; there will be subscriptions or advertisements that generate revenue for these ’30 under 30″, and that is how capitalism works. A good product will sell, and many of these are good products. However, these products are tools for educators to use, not replacements for educators themselves.

Other members of the “30 under 30” are contributing to education policy by serving on boards, writing books, or being advocates for non-profits. These roles are also important, but again, these educreators have little practical experience to anticipate the problems that even the smallest changes in policy can have in the classroom. For example, a change in a state endorsed teacher evaluation system can result in thousands of hours for training evaluators and teachers  to meet new requirements, and those new requirements will be modified numerous times until an evaluation system proves effective. The effect of policy on the individual teacher or classroom is rarely witnessed; instead, policymakers are focused on the collection of “data”, not the hundreds of personal stories policy creates.

Comments under the article decry the lack of teachers. As Becky D succinctly  states:

I think it an egregious oversight that this list doesn’t include a single practicing educator.

Meghan Casserly’s response?

Educators obviously impact hundreds if not thousands of students over the course of their careers–and I looked for ways to weigh that against some of the other people on this list. Particularly for teachers under 30, it was extremely difficult to compare them in any apples-to-apples way. That said, there were some amazing teachers nominated who I was sure fit the bill—only to find out they were already 30!

So, are we to take from this comment that there are no real educators under 30 who are overhauling education and leaving no child behind? Perhaps there are no “amazing teachers” under 30 immediately visible to Casserly because they are so busy designing lessons, developing assessments, grading papers, contacting parents, posting bulletin boards, collecting data, analyzing data, meeting with teachers, collaborating with special education teachers, organizing supplies, selecting resources, and adjusting plans every minute of every school day that they simply do not have the time to create new educational software programs, run advocacy groups, or write educational policy. They are teachers, and they are real educators. They will not be featured in a Forbes magazine article about overhauling education because they are engaged in the time-consuming and productive activity of building skills and improving understanding for students of all ages.

What did Casserly get right with this article? She suggests that if the reader does get to meet one of the featured “30 under 30”, that the reader should ask, “…what teacher they have to thank for helping them land on our pages.” I agree;  their educators would be proud of the success of their former students, their own educreations.