Follow the Children's Lead
A Path to Being a Passionate Educator
By Maura Rice
An article by VAIS in the VAIS VISION, December 2016 Issue.
Click here to view the online publication.
"Can we do that project again, Ms. Rice?"
That is the question that tells me that something is going right in my classroom. That is the enthusiasm my students have when something interests them, sparks their curiosity, and engages their whole selves. In a classroom of four and five-year-old learners, it is crucial for an educator to be passionate about what he or she is teaching. Finding ways to channel your own positive energy and excitement about specific topics, concepts, and content into authentic learning experiences is also key. How can I relate the concept of patterning to their favorite read-aloud story to make it more fun, relevant and meaningful? Can we use our campus as a classroom and experience our learning in a hands-on way as an alternative to sitting inside for a lesson today? "Yes!" I often think to myself. "That will be so much fun, let's do it!" When I show my excitement for learning, that excitement is returned to me tenfold by my students.
However, and this is perhaps more important, I have found that my true passion, and theirs, comes out when I take a moment to really listen to what it is my students want to learn about. When these young students take the lead in their learning and have a sense of ownership about what they are doing, their excitement and passion seem limitless-and then so does their learning potential. Recently, during our unit about Fall, we took a closer look at pumpkins. Of course we carved them, examined them inside and out, used the pulp and seeds for sensory exploration, and had a marvelous time turning the pumpkins into a spooky jack-o'-lanterns. The children loved their pumpkin science time, and made personal connections and comparisons to how they used their own pumpkins at home with their families. When our week of pumpkin science ended, one of my children asked, "What are we going to do with our pumpkins now? Can we still use them even though Halloween is over?" This child's sentiment was echoed by the rest of the class. Their interest had been sparked! So I listened and made it a goal to turn their passion for pumpkins into purposeful, intentional, and exciting learning experiences.
More than three weeks later, we are still visiting our pumpkins (or what is left of them!) which we put in planters outside in our outdoor learning space. The children ask to see the pumpkins every day, and we have been recording our observations in a classroom science journal. The children have loved watching the pumpkins in different stages of decomposition, and it has inspired lessons about mold, life cycles, and seasonal changes. We have had more discussions about "how" and "why" than ever before! It struck me as we marched from our classroom to our outdoor space one morning that the children's passion had influenced the way I was teaching. I was excited, ready to discover and explore right along with them.
Did I plan to spend more than a month on pumpkins? No! It was the pure passion of the children that affected me, and when I stopped to listen to what their smiles, curiosity and squeals of joy told me, I became just as passionate as they were. I followed their lead, and it led us down a path of discovery, authentic learning, and unbridled excitement!
To be a passionate educator is to embrace learning, in all of its whimsy, its twists and turns, its pure adventure. It means being able to be flexible and foster the children's intellectual curiosity, even if it comes from something unexpected. It means going outside to visit three-week-old pumpkins, just because the children cannot wait to see how they have changed. The children, all of our students, are the catalyst for passion within educators. To truly sustain enthusiastic teaching and learning, the path is clear: follow the children.
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