Learner, Teacher, Leader, Family Member Interview #1: With Me!
I'm going to be starting a short series of interviews with some awesome learners, teachers, leaders, and family members in my life and, as a teacher, I often told my students I wouldn't ask them to do something I didn't want to do (this is a GREAT way to avoid assigning too much homework or random worksheets :), so I'm going to start out with something kind of silly, answering my own interview questions. These will be changed from person to person to keep things relevant and so interviewees can share their unique perspectives and expertise!
Tell readers a little bit about yourself! Who are you? What do you do? What excites you about the upcoming year? I don't want to bore you too much with this since you can read a lot about it in The Basics tab. I'm Mallory Foster, MEd, RYT-200, a lover of all things learning. I know I learn best when I figure out how to teach it, which has led me to subbing for dance classes, teaching group fitness, leading kayaking trips, teaching high school science, and working with new teachers. Currently, I get to spend a lot of time with my little one as a Tinkergarten leader and family yoga instructor! This year, I'm excited about settling in to new things (Tinkergarten leader, more time instructing yoga, opening an Etsy shop...). But, I'm project obsessed, so who knows what else I'll cook up next... I'm super excited that I'm now an aunt! AND, I'll have another nephew later in the spring!!!!
What is the most helpful thing you learned? Where did you learn it? How did you learn it? I think the most helpful thing I've learned is to accept ambiguity. This was one of our catchphrases back in Governors' School in 2007, and it is still something I struggle with. In teaching, there's a rewritten quote I love (originally Joseph Campbell), "We must be willing to let go of the students we've imagined to accept the students in front of us". You can replace the word students with life, kids, jobs, etc. It is lovely to imagine the perfect classroom, the dream job, the lovely home you'll have, but, often, that's not reality. As a classroom teacher, I spent HOURS on each lesson plan, often so that I could throw it out and follow what my students needed. I'm a proponent for lots of proper prior planning in everything, with the understanding that life is a lot more chaotic, exciting, and wonderful than can often be prepared for :). This is still a work in progress and still makes me a bit anxious at times. Reflection helps! For example, Wednesday night as a finished loading up my Tinkergarten supplies, I grabbed some extra twine pieces from the week before to be worms when we pretended to be woodpeckers the next day. I had my perfect lesson plan printed out. A stinky diaper, LOTS of pecking, some worm tossing, and sandcastle building later, I had some VERY happy explorers who had learned not only about woodpeckers, but also what they ate, where worms lived, and what a sandpiper is. More importantly, they and their caregivers had a lovely time playing and learning together! Thinking back on the lesson, I know the explorers I work with work hard to finish a task, so inviting play to unfold in whatever way excites the explorers (in this case, throwing worm strings around and then burying them and pecking the sand) helps them get lost in the play and allows them to slow down and take in something new, rather than trying to finish what they're doing. Learning to let go of my plans and accept what's happening has taught me so much, and helped me calm my own busy-ness.
What is a ritual or tradition that your family had that you loved? My family did silly little things at breakfast each day for a long time. You can see some of these in this month's Month in Moments calendar. I loved sculpting with aluminum foil and trying to squeeze my own orange juice. One year, we also had a really cool jar of facts (like the distance a pencil writes) and we'd read one each morning. AND READING. My mom read to us almost every night for at least the first 12 years of my life. We're now sharing traditions of read-alouds from both families with our little one :).
What are your daily musts and why? As a teacher in a school that was part of North Carolina New Schools (now shutdown) I worked to ensure that every student read, wrote, thought, and spoke in each of my classes. This led me to create some fun low-risk tasks that let everyone feel comfortable with these tasks, even in my science classes. As a mom, my daily musts for my little one and I are that we read and write (doodle/scribble), go outside, solve a problem, and make a mess and clean it up. By reading and writing, HG is exposed to more words, sees how books are held, may start to notice words vs letters and sound-letter matches, and can view herself as writer. Going outside is essential for wellness and sparks curiosity and exploration that will lead to science and math learning. HG is learning size as she realizes she can slide down the slide at the playground, but not the slide that came with her dollhouse. Solving problems helps me slow down and let HG do things herself. Learning (and life) is tough. We need to be resilient and able to work through frustrations if we want to succeed. Making a mess and cleaning up means that I give HG opportunities to engage in things with all her senses (soooo sometimes we paint ourselves with the end of the bowl of lentil soup...). Messy play can lead to flexible, creative thinking - like when the worms got thrown all around in Tinkergarten - kiddos re-imagined the string as something they wouldn't really want thrown on them :). Additionally, making messes means we have ample chances to learn to clean up! I like the emphasis on grace and courtesy in Montessori approaches to early childhood learning, and real chances to clean up real messes teaches HG cooperation, shows her that she can do meaningful tasks in the house, and gives her the chance to see how different tools (like a broom or sponge) work. My hope is that one day she'll get sick of cleaning up the dog's water bowl after dumping it, so this daily must also might lead to more self-regulation...but the dog's bowl still gets dumped... As an adult, my daily musts for me are to exercise, to make time to talk to another adult (and Will), and to clean something. Exercise, whether it's a run, 15 minutes of yoga with HG, lifting weights, or walking all over chasing HG, keeps me grounded and helps me slow down enough to be present with HG and the kiddos and families I work with. Talking to other adults reminds me that I'm more than mommy :). My lesson plans are organized, but my space tends to be chaos, hence the clean something. (See the daily musts in action above!)
If you could change one thing about teaching and learning, what would it be and why? That's like a whole series of posts I don't think I want to write. I think I'd start intro education classes and parents' first doctors appointments when pregnant with emphasizing that kids are already ready. They hear us in utero. They have had many experiences by the time they come to early childcare centers or school. It is our job to let what they know unfold and grow and to add to it by creating meaningful experiences. Our job is to respect the amazing capabilities of each child, to slow down and be present with them - a challenging, humbling, and awe-inspiring task for parents, caregivers, and teachers.
What are the daily musts in your classroom or family? Share them in the comments or using social media and #watchwonderbloom!