At the end of February, I had the chance to travel with two of Compositive Primary’s lead teachers, Amira Ababio and Meaghan Fitzgerarld, to Philadelphia to present at and attend the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference. Afterwards, I asked them to share their experiences. Here they reflect on the conference – how it has shaped their teaching both in general and in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reflections on Developing Agency in Children in the Age of Pandemic
by Meaghan Fitzgerald and Amira Ababio
Will the pandemic cause us to rethink what matters most in education?
At the end of February, Heather, Amira, and I had the privilege of presenting at and attending the NAIS annual conference in Philadelphia. Each year, school leaders and teachers from independent schools all over the country gather together to teach, inspire, and share their unique stories.
What a lifetime ago that seems now! While we knew that COVID-19 had already arrived in the US, and there was talk of schools closing and digital learning, it all seemed very distant. Now, as this has become our reality, I’ve come to see how the messages from the conference speakers, as well as the workshop we led, are more relevant than ever.
Whole child education, building on the unique strengths of individuals, is what our children need. From renowned speakers to innovative high schools, the message was clear. If we want to prepare students for the rapidly changing and complex world of 2030 and beyond, we need to emphasize agility, social emotional skills, and creative problem solving over rote memorization.
This conference inspired me and reaffirmed what we do everyday at Compositive. Now, in the heart of a pandemic, the world has realized we don’t need to prepare our children to be part of an agile workforce in a decade or two. We need to be that agile workforce now. In a matter of days, we’ve all had to creatively rework our work and family life.
As I write this blog post, I’m sitting at my patio table, trying to entertain my three children in the sunny, snowy weather of a Colorado spring, while listening to Josh Gad belt out “When I’m Older” from Frozen 2. This final week of “spring break,” I’ll have a Zoom meeting with Clare, our Director of Inquiry, and my teaching team to plan our 4th inquiry arc. As I try to think about what learning should look like at home, for my kindergartners as well as my own children, I reflect on the workshop that Heather, Amira, and I led at NAIS: Developing Agency and Purpose in Children.
This unique time may be the perfect opportunity to build more agency in our children. Children are natural learners – playing, building, negotiating with peers, conducting experiments, and asking never-ending why questions. As teachers at Compositive, we carefully observe what our students are playing and document the questions they are asking. Then we plan our inquiry arcs around what is meaningful to them. The result is learning that is organic and deep.
So during this time at home, think about what excites your child and follow their lead. I’ve already been so inspired by our Compositive students as families share videos and photos from home. Students are writing books, constructing buildings out of cardboard, researching volcanoes, going on walks with clipboards, leading mindfulness sessions, and having FaceTime playdates with classmates. Their curiosity, creativity, and agency is shining through in how they have seamlessly transitioned their learning to home. During this strange and challenging time, we look forward to continuing to build our strong community and co-creating this new educational experience with our families.
Meaghan Fitzgerald is the Kindergarten Lead Teacher at Compositive Primary.
What happens when we believe in the capability of our youngest learners?
Developing Agency and Purpose in Children was not just the title of our workshop at the NAIS annual conference, it was, and still is part of my many goals as an early childhood educator. Standing in front of a group of educators and being the only early childhood educator in the room spoke volumes. After the presentation was over, I thought to myself, do they understand where we are coming from? Do they really truly believe that the most critical stage of child development is the early years? Or do they simply take in the information and move on? These questions, among others, always flow through my mind whenever I discuss child development. And as we sit amidst this pandemic, I wonder, do they take early childhood educators more seriously now?
I had the privilege of listening to one of the keynote speakers, Angie Thomas, author of New York Times bestseller, The Hate U Give. Thomas talked about growing up with adversity in Jackson, Mississippi and using her adversity as power to overcome statistics. Thomas touched on several events throughout her journey, and one event that stuck with me was when she talked about the teachers in her life. She attended a private, predominantly white Christian university and graduated as the first African American teenager in creative writing. Though Thomas did not fit the “box” and faced racism and adversity, with the leaders in her corner, she succeeded.
Often in early childhood, we hear from our colleagues and peers that the teacher is part of the environment, and if the environment cannot adjust to the child’s growth, then their journey may be filled with more obstacles than needed. I think of Angie’s story when I think of this idea; we are all capable of success. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word capable as “having the ability, fitness and quality necessary to achieve a specified thing.” All children, no matter what age, race, ethnicity, adversity, etc. are capable. I believe that we thrive off connection and support. For our youngest ones, it is extremely important that they not only see this support, but they feel it. We know that they are all capable; now how can we do our due diligence to make sure they feel our support?
Amira Ababio is the 3/4s Lead Teacher in the Hollyhock Class at Compositive Primary.