- Stanley British Primary School
- Living British Primary Blog
Degrees and Certifications:
Joanna Hambidge, Head of British Primary Professional Development
Joanna's role is an outcome of realizing one of the pillars of our strategic plan is to ensure our long-term commitment to the British Primary educational philosophy. She is working with faculty and staff on regular professional development, collaborating with faculty to articulate the key tenets of our philosophy and working on a multi-year project to craft a book. Stanley is devoted to nurturing British Primary teaching and learning, and Joanna's work is key to its ongoing application in our classrooms and beyond.
Living British Primary Blog
The Privilege of Seeing PossibilityPosted by Stanley Communications on 11/10/2022 3:15:00 PMIn our TK and K-1-2 classes, the dramatic play area is a dynamic place. One week a child might be a shopkeeper, the next week, a veterinarian. Children pretend, imagine, and envision what’s possible. At Stanley, teachers know the power of seeing possibilities.At Stanley, we provide opportunities for students to explore who they are and who they can become. We choose to use a lens of abundant possibility, one where we see each child as made up of many sides, endless paths and unlimited potential. For K-1-2 teacher Emily Sprayregan, seeing possibility in a learner means, “seeing where they are, appreciating where they are, while also recognizing all they’ve yet to acquire.”Stanley teachers believe in each student and have bold expectations for our classrooms. Laura Gibson explains, “I think it’s the job of the teacher to be the visionary and to really believe in the vision. To be able to say ‘this is possible.’ The way we get there is going to be different because each kid is unique and what they need is different. But the possibility is there. To have that strength and assertiveness and vision and experience is the teacher’s role.” At times this means that as teachers we must help students create a new vision for themselves. As Grace Reilly knows, “Kids are so quick to put themselves in boxes: ‘Oh I don’t do musicals.’ ‘I’m not a math person and I’ll never be a math person.’ Seeing possibility is helping to see that one can grow out of those boxes and that they’re not actually inhibiting the path forward.”Sometimes helping students take ownership of their own potential simply takes “spotting it, catching them in the act or drawing connections, really being present to notice,” as Randy Jones, Middle School Teaching Fellow, describes. We know that having curiosity as teachers allows possibility because we are open to what our students bring to us, who they are and how they are thinking. As Laura explains, “Seeing possibility starts with just seeing in general. Really trying to see a person and reflect back to them what you see. I think possibility comes out of that, if you’re really observant and present and able to say, ‘I see you.’” At Stanley, teachers know that at times, seeing possibility is trusting what is, and allowing it to unfold without judgment of what it could be.At Stanley, teachers focus on what we say, how we say it, when we say it and our body language – the subtleties of language that create shifts in our students. The ways we communicate create our students’ own ability to see possibility in themselves and in others. Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander in The Art of Possibility share, “Speaking in possibility springs from the appreciation that what we say creates a reality; how we define things sets a framework for life to unfold.”At Stanley, we focus on the learner being an active agent of their growth, taking responsibility for their impact on materials, on people, on the world. With this comes a need to support kids as they venture outside of their comfort zone and take risks in their learning. Kiayan Reuter, K-1-2 Teaching Fellow, shares, “I think the important part is getting kids comfortable being uncomfortable, where there is that potential or possibility that they never thought of. It doesn’t always look the same for every child but when you’re asset-based you find the tools or the language to give them the courage or bravery to take the step that they didn’t anticipate.”Emily shares, “I think if a child sees that you see possibility in them, they will see it in themselves very naturally.” Ultimately, our goal is to create students that see possibility in themselves and take responsibility for their own learning and contributions to their communities. We know the powerful impact we can have as teachers who see possibility in our students - the power to create responsible learners and leaders and doers in their world.Seeing possibility is optimistic, hopeful, encouraging, supportive, it’s our ultimate belief that a learner can learn and become more. Carol Ann Tomlinson in her book So Each May Soar: The Principles and Practices of Learner-Centered Classrooms beautifully states, “Still, we are better teachers as we become more and more able to say about every learner in our care, ‘there is so much potential in this young person that no one has yet seen. I am privileged to work with this child, first to help her realize whole new ceilings of possibility and then to help her push beyond those ceilings as well.’”Many of you have had the opportunity to meet with your child’s teachers for our Fall conferences. During these conversations throughout the year, you will hear the many ways that we see possibility in your child. And, the privilege is ours.
We Prepare TeachersPosted by Stanley Communications on 10/6/2022 3:15:00 PMThroughout its 50 year history, Stanley British Primary School has had a deep commitment to teacher preparation. The second sentence of our school’s mission statement reads: We prepare teachers to implement our vision, mission and values and we share our educational approach with the larger community. Over 500 teachers have spent a year at Stanley learning to teach in the British Primary Way. Today, a remarkable 40% of our 90 current faculty and staff have been trained at Stanley!After two years of Covid taking a toll on the field of teaching and as schools nationwide are experiencing shortages causing some states to drop requirements for being a teacher, the importance of supporting teaching at Stanley and the field of education at large has never been greater.Over the years, teacher preparation has undergone a few iterations and today, those interested in learning to teach at the Stanley British Primary School currently have two options: The Stanley Fellows Program or The Public Education and Business Coalition Teacher Residency Program.A year and a half ago, we (Joanna and Sumant) began interviewing countless faculty and staff who went through teacher training at Stanley as well as speaking with teacher training programs around the country. The feedback and lessons learned helped refresh the Stanley Fellows Program in an exciting and mission aligned way. Overseen by the Director of British Primary Teaching and Learning, the Fellows program has placed a greater emphasis on the British Primary philosophy, provides an avenue for master British Primary teachers to be leaders and teach coursework to fellows, and aims to attract individuals who have been historically underrepresented in the field of education.This year, Fellows work four and a half days in the classroom alongside a mentor teacher, and meet regularly with their mentor and advisor to discuss their classroom experience and the next steps in their development as a teacher. The time in the classroom is augmented by engaging in a professional learning community (PLC) every Tuesday afternoon from 12:15-2:45p.m. with other Fellows, the Head of British Primary Professional Learning, and other master British Primary teachers. During these PLC times, Fellows reflect upon and discuss the time in the classroom and focus on key British Primary concepts such community, diversity and agency. The foundation and lens for the BP Fellows is the mission, vision and values of Stanley. Fellows are also given two hours each week to observe in different classrooms and engage with short meaningful assignments for the next week's PLC gathering. Fellows are supported to feel successful in their first year teaching at Stanley, and then to take what they have learned to continue their teaching career at Stanley or at other schools across the globe.The second pathway of teacher training at Stanley is to be a resident inThe Public Education and Business Coalition Teacher Residency Program. Residents work in the classroom four days a week and have a Stanley mentor teacher. They engage in coursework with the Public Education and Business Coalition one day a week and complete several assignments, such as a child study and a unit plan. They have a PEBC advisor and at the end of the year receive their Colorado Teaching License. If accepted into the PEBC program, residents have the opportunity to use their coursework to get credit towards several different Masters Programs.
This year, we have four wonderful fellows/residents who are profiled in the Bulldog. Randy Jones ‘01, Sam Pfeifer ‘13, and Caitie Chicester are a part of this fellow program while Kiayan Reuter is a part of the teacher resident program. And we are grateful to the advisors and mentors for each of them who have helped make this experience so meaningful and impactful!If you know someone who might be interested in this type of program or if you’re interested in finding ways to support teacher training at Stanley please reach out to Sumant or Joanna!
Creating the Rhythm of Routines and RitualsPosted by Stanley Communications on 9/8/2022 3:15:00 PMWhen walking through our campus and classrooms in the middle of the year, one might notice students knowingly forming a circle on the rug after coming in from recess to be ready for mindfulness, one student organizing the art shelves at the end of the day and another watering the plants. British Primary teachers know that time invested at the start of the year creating routines and rituals is necessary to create a strong culture and foundation for learning the rest of the year.
In your child’s first weeks of school, they have been immersed in lessons and activities to create, practice and reflect on classroom and schoolwide rituals and routines. In the beginning of the year we are learning to live and work together. Teachers and older students in the class share and model the routines and rituals, and then we fine tune and practice some more! Your child may have voted on the song that will remind them it is time to transition. They might have illustrated posters titled “Classroom Promises.” They will begin to remind each other that they can sit on the spinning disc on the playground rather than stand.
As Paula Denton and Roxann Kriete share in The First Six Weeks of School, “Students must know how to leave the room without interrupting the teacher or other students… They must know how loud ‘indoor voices’ can be...They must know something of their classmates’ strengths and fragilities. They must know how to ask each other for help. They must know how to get into groups quickly and efficiently with the materials they will need. They must know how to put the special drawing pencils back in the art cans so that they will be there for the next student who needs them.”
When learners know expectations, routines, and rituals, they feel safe to take risks. When children feel safe and know what to expect, they can focus on learning. Children rely on the simple, the predictable, the consistent parts of our days and weeks. These rituals and routines create a rhythm for coming together and moving apart throughout the day. They are comforting to us when things feel complicated; they ground us when we are ready to tackle more complex and creative challenges. There is something sacred in these repeated actions that mark the beginnings and ends of our days, the ways we move throughout our classroom, the words we speak and communicate with each other.Ralph Peterson in Life in a Crowded Place: Making a Learning Community, explains, “Ritual has a centering effect…I do not search for the right words to say or worry about what to do next. My body knows what to do… Ritual allows teachers to use one of humankind’s most prized forms of expressing meaning and creating order.”Most likely as your family has transitioned back to school, you too are finding grounding in the routines that help smooth the busyness of the earlier mornings and full afternoons and evenings. Your children bring their rituals of home with them to share with us at school, and perhaps you are beginning to hear about those that they are creating at school. Together, these simple, predictable, and repeated actions of our days create meaning in our lives and allow us to say as a Stanley community, “This is who we are, and this is the way we do things here.”
The Wisdom of ReflectionPosted by Stanley Communications on 5/19/2022 3:00:00 PM
Whether your child ends the year exploring fractions, building bridges, performing The Phantom Tollbooth, or writing poetry, their learning doesn’t end once they finish the show, the coffeehouse, or the test. Here at Stanley, after the culminating event of a unit, it is time to reflect on what they have learned. As the 2021-22 school year comes to an end, it feels fitting to share a few thoughts on the British Primary value of reflection.
At Stanley, reflection happens throughout your child’s day, but especially at the end of a unit, at the end of trimester, and at the end of a school year. As Stanley BPS teachers, we invite students to reflect on what they learned from the unit, not only the content, but also on the process they experienced. We support them to reflect on what they learned about themselves as a learner, and what they will take with them into future learning experiences. We provide opportunities for students to think about where they started and where they ended up, and to remember and review the steps and strategies that helped form new understandings, growth and learning. We believe that even reflection on their false starts or dead-ends is valuable. Reflection helps reinforce habits of mind and dispositions as learners.
An interesting question we might ask our students to reflect on is, “How does this connect with other parts of your life, or other things you’re learning or thinking about?” As Nan Munger, Middle School art teacher describes, “I do final critiques with the eighth grade and reflection forms with all my students. They consider questions like, which of the school’s seven goals for learners have I built most and how? What was I most proud of? What do I want to build going forward? What will be helpful for next year?” We create opportunities for reflection that show the interconnectivity of our world.
A natural reflection question is “What am I still pondering about this topic? What am I still curious about?” We emphasize with our students that life-long learning means pursuing one topic at various points throughout their lives for many years! As Nan Munger says, “With final projects where it’s open-ended, I’ll push learners to consider things like, ‘What are some things I’ve enjoyed most in this block? What are some things I wish I would have gotten to?’ And that’s often how they figure out what they’re going to do for their final synthesis project.”
While learners might first translate “What did you learn?” into concrete facts, Stanley teachers know that there’s more to learning than facts. Perhaps that’s where questions like, “What does this mean for who I want to be in this world?” come in. As Carolyn Hambidge, founder of Stanley BPS, shares, “Reflecting is important because you get to know yourself more. Each child gets to know themselves. Until they really have a knowledge of who they are and finding out what they love to do and what they are passionate about, that's how wisdom grows. You can’t have wisdom without knowing yourself a bit, and reflecting helps you. So often people do what they’re told in school but don’t reflect. I love how the children here are allowed to reflect on what they’ve done.”
As Carolyn so beautifully captures, reflection grows wisdom. We can have a lot of life experiences, but until we slow down and reflect, we don’t necessarily develop wisdom. These last days of school will be filled with reflection for your children, many moments for wisdom to grow! They’ll reflect about their learning, about their growth as learners, about themselves as an important part of a community, and about how what they have learned connects to their lives and the world around them. We hope that you, too, will pause and reflect on your child’s and your growth this year.
We wish you a beautiful summer, full of learning, growth, and joy. We wish you many moments to stop and reflect before we all return in the Fall well-rested and wiser.
The Joy of Knowing! - Communicating our LearningPosted by Stanley Communications on 4/14/2022 3:00:00 PM
At the end of a poetry unit, K-1-2 students carefully choose, revise and publish several poems in a class book, and then joyfully create a class coffee house to share them with an audience. At the end of a physical science unit focused on simple machines, 3-4-5 students demonstrate novel devices featuring levers, pulleys and inclined planes to visitors at an Invention Convention. In 6th grade, students immerse themselves in the language and stories of Shakespeare in a unit that culminates in a stage performance of one of his most well-known plays. At Stanley, learners are constantly sharing their learning and understanding with their community of peers, teachers, and parents. We know and value that there is great joy in knowing, and in sharing that knowledge with others!
After a rich investigation process led by inquiry, learners feel a strong desire to express what they know. When students create a demonstration of their learning, they synthesize and problem-solve. They show that they can use what they have learned in an original and real way. They are motivated to teach others about their new discoveries.
Stanley teachers support learners to figure out what they have learned, to organize their thinking, and to envision how they are going to communicate what's essential. As Stanley teachers, we help learners frame their learning and figure out how to communicate it. We ask questions:
- What have you learned?
- How could you communicate about what you have learned?
- What conclusions have you reached? Why?
- What information can you use to support your conclusion?
- What’s most important?
- What information helped the most to answer your question?
- How could you show your understanding of…?
As Stanley teachers, we carefully choose a culminating project that best represents our study or investigation, or better yet, let the learners figure out the best way to express what they have learned. We aim for culmination projects that will involve deep thinking just as the investigation process did. Alongside the students, we figure out the best way to communicate – pictures, graphs, displays, music, dance, sculpture and/or writing. How can students show their thinking and learning – not just the final product, but snapshots into the beautifully messy process they just journeyed? We aim for authenticity. It is important for learners to communicate in a way that is meaningful for them and engaging for those with whom they will be sharing.
Culminating projects and share times are a celebration of the learning journey. Learners gain confidence by sharing their discoveries. We develop our identities as experts, as people who know, as people who know how to “do.” As learners, when we communicate our understanding with others, our voices grow stronger, developing agency.
Our interactions with our audience provide room for collaboration of ideas and new wonders. Sometimes sharing shows us what we don’t know and inspires even more questions and deeper thinking! Sharing can be the beginning of an ongoing conversation, and we initiate a special connection with the person with whom we share. To be the receiver of knowledge is a sacred space.
Here’s a poem of Stanley teachers’ words about the importance of these end of unit demonstrations and sharing times:
The joy of knowing
Connection with others
Trail of our thinking
-The Stanley Teachers
As our school year comes to an end and we welcome parents back into our classrooms, we hope that you enjoy and learn from your children’s end-of-year demonstrations. We hope that you feel the special connection made in these moments, and that you embrace the sacred space you provide for your children as they invite you to share in their joy of knowing.
Love is at the Heart of StanleyPosted by Stanley Communications on 3/10/2022 3:00:00 PM
Love is at the Heart of Stanley
When I visited Julie Colthup and Emily Sprayregen’s K-1-2 class in February, they were writing about Love. Here are the children’s words:
Love is calm and safe
Love is peaceful and playful
Love is happy and kind
Love is mindful
Love is easy
Love is caring
Love is sharing
Love is including people in the play
Love is being with your friends and looking out for them
Love is good sportsmanship and helping someone up
Love makes other people happy and hopeful and loved
Love is being you
Love is when you have a very tight connection with someone because no matter what happens in either of your lives you stick together.
Love is integrity and respect
Love is friendship and nice
Love is family and friends
Love is warmth inside
How to spread love is: giving hugs
Giving stuff that you really want to someone else
Being nice and kind when playing with others
Love feels good
Love Is You.
Love is being respectful to the Earth and people.
Love is joy and spreading our love to the world
Love Is Love.
Love is not typically talked about in the context of a school setting; and yet, it is a driving force for parents, teachers, and students. There are many kinds of love, the love you have for your children, the love you have for your parents, the love you have for your extended family, the love you have for friends, the love you have for your dog, the love teachers have for students. Many languages have more than one word to describe love; the Greek language has seven!
Stanley teachers show their love many times every day in small ways like following up on something the student said or did, bending down to have a conversation at eye level, providing a resource about a passion or interest, supporting at a challenging moment, or sharing a new perspective. Stanley teachers listen deeply everyday. Educator, Parker Palmer, explains the value of listening, “Behind their fearful silence, our students want to find their voices, speak their voices, have their voices heard. A good teacher is one who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken-so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence.”
He goes on to list what it means to listen to a voice before it is spoken. “It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other. It means not rushing to fill our students’ silences with fearful speech of our own and not trying to coerce them into saying the things we want to hear. It means entering empathically into the student’s world so that he or she perceives you as someone who has the promise of being able to hear another person’s truth.” Each of these ways of listening is love in action. As Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and current teacher coach, says, “Small things can make a huge difference and our teachers fill their classrooms with love through small actions every day.”
As witnessed in our K-1-2 classrooms in February, our youngest Stanley students understand the power of love. As Regie Routman, says in Read, Write, Lead, "It’s always all about relationships, in school and in life. When those relationships are genuine, caring, and trusting, all things are possible.”
May we all remember and experience the power of love in our lives.
Meeting Learners Where They ArePosted by Stanley Communications on 2/17/2022 3:00:00 PMFor middle school humanities teacher Kathy Mueller, teaching seventh graders to write feels like she’s on a journey with each of her students. One student struggles with the beginning and sits with her to get over the hurdle of idea creation. Another has a million ideas and needs help to rein them in. One student needs help with supporting details. Each middle schooler’s journey is so distinctly different in the writing process. Some students need more help and assistance on that journey and some are sprinting and need to be slowed down.
“I’m always exhausted when I’m done with a writing session because I’ve walked on these fifty-one writing journeys. And, at conferences, we recall that journey with them. Here’s the part where you were amazing, and here’s the part that was really hard for you. I always think, I’m walking with you on this journey. Stanley teachers are on a journey with students and when we’re meeting them where they are we’re actually standing next to them, walking next to them on that journey,” Kathy explains.
What does it mean when Stanley teachers say, “We meet learners where they are?"As Aya Schickel, K-5 Spanish teacher, says, “Meeting a learner where they are - that’s teaching. That’s the definition of teaching to me -- seeing where a child is and then taking them to the next step, then the next. Finding what it is that they need, and helping them to take that step, that’s what teaching is.”
As Stanley teachers, we draw from what we know and understand about a learner’s needs and interests, the learner’s way of being, and where the learner is in his or her growth. We meet each student where he or she is – providing for a continuity of learning, creating a combination of the known and the new, building upon and appreciating what has already been learned, activating prior knowledge and using it for the current area of focus.
As Stanley teachers, we recognize the cusp or brink of where the learner is in their growth and then open possibilities for development. There is not one curriculum that fits every learner. We personalize the educational experience. In her book So Each May Soar: The Principles and Practices of Learner-Centered Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson describes this journey as a bridge. “In a student-focused classroom, the teacher works to develop a sense of who the learner is now as well as who the learner may become. The work of teaching, then, becomes collaborating with the young person to construct a reliable bridge between ‘now’ and ‘then,’” Tomlinson says.
Having someone meet us where we are is a powerful experience. What does it feel like, sound like, look like for someone to meet us where we are?I hear your words of encouragement each step of the wayI feel your faith in me that I will be able to do it, that I can figure it outDoing it alongside me, guiding me, showing me howSupport without taking overTrusting me so I learn to trust myselfNever taking away my autonomy, you make space for my voiceWhere every question is okayWhen you speak, you give me just the information I need.Feeling with me: my frustration, my determination, my triumph, my prideby Stanley BPS Teachers
How do we meet learners where they are?
We see and honor each child.
We know our students as individuals and as a community.
We listen and observe; we are curious and ask questions.
We build trust and a relationship.
We assess constantly.
We put the learner in the center of our planning and teaching.
We make the curriculum relevant and meaningful to our learners.
We make curriculum appropriately challenging for a learner and have knowledge of the developmental stages of children.
We extend what they know and understand, and provide possible next steps.
Why is it important to meet learners where they are?When we meet a learner where they are, a learner feels fully seen and connected. It’s when learning happens, and learning becomes deep and meaningful. When we meet learners where they are, it emphasizes the process is important -- the connections and understandings we build along the way. And, it is an honor to teach our students in this way. As Carolyn wisely knows, “You’re sharing their joy and their excitement and you’re very fortunate to be part of it.”
"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here."- Jon J. Muth, The Three Questions
Where is and who is your child right now? How might you meet them where they are?We wish you many moments to stand in the here and now with your child. As Katie Russell advises, “Sense when to lead, when to follow, when to listen, when to speak.”
WonderPosted by Stanley Communications on 1/20/2022 3:00:00 PMWe shared shark’s teeth, butterfly wings, the sound of grass growing, sunrises on the Lowry Dam…
During the January 3rd Professional Development Day, our faculty and staff started the new year exploring the concept of Wonder in our lives and in our classrooms. Here is what a group of 345 teachers wrote when thinking about what wonder is and how it feels:
Wonder starts with a pausethe doorwaythe leap-off pointTo new explorationsnew totallyor new to meTakes us to a different level of thinkingBegins with trying to reasontrying to connect the things that seemto not be connectedThe blend of two things: curiosity and amazementYour skin tinglesYour heart beatsWonder makes you feel alivepart of the human conditionthe inherent need to understand, connect,and appreciate beautyWith a great sense of gratitude
Together, the faculty and staff constructed a list of how we create Wonder in our classrooms. How do we inspire learners to want to learn about something? Here are some of the ideas:
Create a safe place
Share your own wonder
Find what brings your students wonder
Be open to learner’s wonders, be flexible
Weave wonder into the curriculum
Design first-hand intriguing experiences
Provide open-ended materials
Create opportunities for play and discovery
Take children into nature and include nature in the classroom
Start lessons and units with wonder
Be aware of aesthetic experiences and aesthetics in the classroom
Take the time for wonder
Author William Martin writes, “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives…Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
May 2022 be full of moments of wonder for you and your child.
Have a wonder-ful year!
The Importance of Play in our Lives and in our ClassroomsPosted by Stanley Communications on 11/17/2021 1:20:00 PM
During a “Choice Time” in a K-1-2 classroom, Carolyn Hambidge noticed two first grade boys being superheroes in cloaks. One said to the other, “Let’s say that we start as flowers with cloaks over our heads and someone waters us with yucky water and we turn into superheroes.” This imaginary, fantasy play repeated itself many times. Carolyn remarked, “When children preface a play situation with, ‘Let’s say…’ it gives them such power to imagine anything!”
Friedrich Froebel writes, “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul…Play is the work of childhood.” At Stanley, this belief is felt and expressed wholeheartedly in everything we do. Julie Miles, K-1-2 teacher, says, “For a child, play means their time to do all they’re meant to be doing. It’s their everything. It’s where they explore the world on their own terms. They make sense of the world through play. When I think of play, it’s when everything is how it should be for a child. With play there are earnest, joyful connections. Play is children doing life.”
At Stanley we recognize the importance of play in our lives.
We see that play inspires creativity and imagination.
With play, the possibilities are endless and time disappears. As Emily Sprayregen, K-1-2 teacher, describes, “When we play, there is no boundary to where our mind can go using our imagination.” We make connections with materials, with others, and in our mind. For children, play is hard work but it’s hard work that is joyfully hard.
Through play we think, we learn and we come to understand.
As Stuart Brown, in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, writes,“The genius of play is that, in playing, we create new imaginative cognitive combinations...Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks...The abilities to make new patterns, find the unusual among the common, and spark curiosity and alert observation are all fostered by being in a state of play.” And as Albert Einstein says, “Play is the highest form of research.”
Play promotes the development of the whole person.
Play fosters positive habits of mind and heart, such as flexibility, curiosity, connection, engagement, stamina, and rigor. Children learn to take risks, make mistakes and problem solve. They learn to get along with others. They practice negotiating and compromising, taking turns, resolving conflicts, and listening to others.They learn the value of compassion and sensitivity. They learn to regulate their emotions. As Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write in The Yes Brain, “They try out roles and conquer fears and feelings of helplessness. They build emotional balance and resilience, and they develop the ability to tolerate frustration when they don’t get their way. All because they are allowed to play.” Play is active, rather than passive, and builds healthy minds and bodies. It all happens in play!
In play learners figure out who they are and what they value.
Play gives children the freedom to pursue their own strong agendas and to actively engage in the process of defining themselves. They decide what they want to do, and just as importantly, what they don’t want to do. Children are given many opportunities to make decisions and think for themselves. It is through freedom and responsibility that children develop a strong sense of who they are, what they care about and where they find joy. In classrooms where students play, trust is built. Students know that their teacher believes in their ability to choose a meaningful path of learning and sees them as agents of their own learning.
We are alive when we play
Play engages us, enlivens us, and perhaps it is when we are most alive! In play we can be fully human. Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and teacher coach, says, “Play just lights up our lives.” And, play allows us to transition into other parts of our lives stronger. As Carolyn Hambidge says, “When children have had the time to play, then they are much more willing and amenable to engage in more teacher directed learning.”
Here are a few ways Stanley teachers encourage play:
We prioritize time for the magic of play.
In our K-1-2 classrooms, children engage in Choice Time every day. As Julie Miles shares, “I love that at Stanley we say Choice because learners are choosing their play. Students are choosing what they want to engage in. I love hearing the children talk about Choice and they unanimously say we get to choose what we want to do. When children are choosing what they want to play and are learning social, emotional and academic skills at the same time, it truly is magical.”
We also understand the importance of play for all ages and in all curriculum areas. As Katie Russell describes, “We can get lost in playing with language and words or delight in a story or become intrigued with solving a math problem or finding flow during writing - all those things seem like play to me - the joy of going deep for an extended period of time. Aiming for that feeling of play and joy seems very British Primary to me.” Play occurs as teachers provide the space for freedom of individual and joyful expression in all subjects.
We provide engaging materials and allow freedom within the safe parameters created.
In planning for play we create a child’s world full of interesting materials readily accessible and attractively displayed: marbles, blocks, scales, water tables, clay, paint, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes, writing utensils, graph paper, pipe cleaners, scraps of material...even plants and animals – lizards, fish, guinea pigs, hermit crabs. We create dramatic play areas that encourage imagination and socialization (and math and writing skills), and that change as interests change. Hat shops become grocery stores; post offices become the family kitchen. We choose materials that are purposefully open-ended and that can be used in a variety of ways, as our goal is for children to think for themselves and to expand their minds and senses. Engaged in “open-ended” inquiry, our learners become truly invested in what they are doing because it comes from within.
To honor the importance of play in our learners’ development and well-being, we allow for independence and space within these safe parameters we have created. We let children explore, ask questions and act, and then, as Julie Miles shares, “We trust. We get out of the way!”
We set the environment and create the tone for play to ignite and evolve.
Katie Russell shares, “I want the students to be intrigued, excited and sometimes awed as well as feeling comfortable with how to begin. Often, I begin with, ‘Today we’re going to be scientists and observe…’ or ‘Today we can be artists and create…’ I usually demonstrate a few ways to use the materials. If time allows during the demonstration, I ask, ‘Now what are you wondering?’” As Katie Boston, 3-4-5 teacher, describes, “Often we tell stories that help build a world that they’re going to play in. That’s our role as a teacher. Not necessarily to know where they’re going or what they’re going to do, but help create opportunities and ask questions to see where they’re going to take it. Our job is to build that space for them whether it’s with resources or with our words.”
We facilitate play by observing and asking questions.
As children play, Stanley teachers absorb the scope and pulse of the classroom and move about the room. We observe children following their interests, initiating their own learning, interacting with others, and making decisions. In doing so, we come to better understand each child. We thoughtfully respond and provide for each child’s needs and extend each child’s learning when “the time is right.” As Carolyn Hambidge says, “We strive to spend time with individual students. We listen more and the student talks more. It is wonderful observing each child, how they think and how they function. It’s always new. Each child is different. That is why you can’t have a prescribed education. It’s not a methodology. It’s a philosophy – of caring and making sure each child is honored and supported.”
As Stanley teachers, we use non-judgemental, open-ended language, and ask questions. As Julie Miles shares, “My most powerful language in the classroom is, ‘Well, what do you think?’ I feel like that opens up so much for learners. All of a sudden they’re talking and talking. They’ve got so much to say.” In play, a frequent question asked by students and teachers is, "What if...?" As Katie Boston shares, “When I think about play, I think about when I was playing, I was able to take healthy risks and try things like, ‘I wonder what will happen if I do this. I wonder if I hang this rope here, will it hold my weight? I wonder if we go over to this space, will it work for a fort?’ When I think back to playing there were a lot of ‘what ifs’ and being able to try things in a safe way.” As Stanley teachers, we are responsive to the questions that the students have, listening carefully and facilitating their investigations whenever possible. We leave room for where student questions might go, and often one child’s interest spreads to those around them!
We are playful ourselves.
There’s a playful way Stanley teachers interact with children and each other. In classrooms filled with play, there is a willingness not to take ourselves too seriously. Katie Boston, 3-4-5 teacher, shares, “I think playing ourselves and sharing our experiences and being authentic with the children allows them to feel that if you’re being vulnerable and you’re trying, then they’re going to do the same.”
During a “Choice Time” in a kindergarten, first, and second grade classroom, Carolyn Hambidge paused for a moment and noticed all that was going on around her: “Three girls made a magic fairyland using fabrics and popsicle sticks and other materials. They built a barbecue table and bench, and even a fruit bowl with bananas and raspberries. The girls were writing a book about their fairyland. A group was building in many dimensions using toothpicks and marshmallows to create geometric and mathematical models. Three boys and two girls decided to combine their creations and continue to build together. Some children added up numbers, with calculators or in their heads, from an alphabet code for their names. Some children set up their own special work area with chairs, clip boards, and a basket of markers in the meeting area and proceeded to write and draw. Two boys were looking at dinosaur books. A teacher had set up an experiment with mirrors, water and flashlights to make rainbows. After listening to some children read, I joined the group working with flashlights and mirrors. We had no success until we worked out the angle we needed for the mirrors. We tried the sun outside instead of flashlights. Everyone was thrilled when we eventually caught rainbows!”
May you see and honor the importance of your child’s play.
May you find moments to play yourself and honor the importance of that play.
May you discover rainbows.
Observing a ChildPosted by Stanley Communications on 10/21/2021 3:00:00 PM“Didn’t you know I was saving these for elves and leprechauns?” said a kindergartener, holding up two plastic containers that she had pulled out of the recycling box in the classroom. By listening to what a child says, Stanley teachers gain insights into a child’s thinking and understanding. We see where they are in their development. We observe who they are and what they value.As Stanley teachers, we not only listen to what a learner says, we watch the smiles, the stillness, the energy, the gestures, the tilt of the head and the facial expressions. The nuanced ways children’s bodies move communicate so much! As Deb Curtis and Margie Carter write in their book The Art of Awareness, “When you take even their smallest actions seriously you will be astounded at children’s deep engagement with the simple wonders around them. You will notice they are studying and speculating, engrossed in each moment.”Listening and observing in these moments are the primary ways in which we gain more information and insight into a learner. Yet these simple actions take time, patience and a willingness to become students ourselves, allowing the learners to teach us who they are. As Alex Meallet, K-1-2 teacher resident, shares, “You learn more the longer you watch the child. It’s not like you can watch a child for five minutes and you have a real understanding of their complete identity. First you see the surface level of their actions and interactions and maybe some of the motivations behind those decisions they’re making. But the longer you watch them, the more slowly they reveal themselves over time. It’s a different way of knowing the child without actually interacting with them, but taking a step back and actually observing them.”As Stanley teachers, we observe the learner alone and with others, both other children and adults. We observe the learner with a variety of materials and in a variety of environments. As Simone Brackett, Head of K-1-2, says, “One of the biggest things is that students, when you observe them, show you how they identify and how they name themselves and who they think they are in different spaces. You look at them in Choice Time and they are in the block area and they say, “I’m a builder”; or if they let another child come up with the blueprints and they say, “Yeah! What part should I do?”. Then, as you observe them, further and further, you might see some of those things shift. Are they the person who asks to play? Are they the person who joins something already going or are they the person who stands back and watches and then they join in? I think of the beauty of children being able to name themselves, and watching them progress through the different names and different identities that they find depending on what they’re working on and what resonates with them.” Nan Munger, 6-7-8 Art Teaching Fellow, adds, “Observing makes you realize what aspects of a student’s identity are getting brought to what spaces. You can then think about whether the learners are feeling like there’s room for their whole identities in certain contexts, why that is, and in what ways we can create room for more of students’ identities in our classrooms by welcoming different kinds of identity.”As Stanley teachers, we observe the social, the emotional, the creative and the physical, as well as the academic. We value observing across classes and subjects. Different children are focused and engaged in different areas and seeing them across the curriculum, one comes to understand them better as a whole person. There’s also the importance of observing in the in-between spaces of learning – the transition times too can be so rich and full. And, we continually share our observations with each other as a team of teachers who seek to understand our students.As Stanley teachers, we observe to discover what matters to each learner. As Carolyn Hambidge, founder of our school, says, “What are they doing that’s important to them?” As Stanley teachers, we work hard to understand the learner’s interests, joys, culture, way of being and seeing. We observe and listen as they explore open-ended experiences and answer open-ended questions. As Angie Martyn, former K-8 dance teacher, says, “I think about Choice Time and observing children through that experience and how much you can learn from that. Over time. Not just one Choice Time. Over time seeing where they gravitate. How long they are doing something, how they do something.”As Stanley teachers, we listen with open eyes and ears, as well as an open mind and an open heart. As Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and teacher coach, shares, “Observing takes a lot of self awareness and restraint to be aware of what we bring to the situation – our wants, biases, beliefs, etc. and a willingness to remain clear and open and not to jump to conclusions.” Alex Meallet shares, “We need to have awareness of the lens we have as well as our individual identities and how that affects how we perceive our individual students. Checking those assumptions at the door and seeing just how open you can be and just seeing the child for who they are, taking away what you are bringing.” We realize and appreciate that the learner’s way of seeing and being may be different from our own.Stanley teachers continually gather evidence of each learner’s style, strengths and challenges, and where learners are in their development. We look for patterns and figure out how a learner learns best and where they are in their development, in all aspects of development. When we listen, when we observe, we are mindful to distinguish between observations and judgments, making sure that we do not jump too quickly to conclusions. As Nan Munger shares, “It’s important to tease apart the difference between what I see and what I think I know. Instead of looking at a learner and saying, “They’re doing this because of this,” I think, “They’re doing this and maybe it’s because of this or maybe it’s not.”As Stanley teachers, we begin with seeing a child’s strengths and what they bring to any given situation. We notice the details that help us evolve in our interpretations and to see the dynamic beauty of each learner. At times if we want to dig deeper or tease out our interpretations, we choose a lens for observing. As Katie Russell shares, “We can go into observing children in a very open way, attempting to capture all we can about a child. We can also enter an observation with a focus or question in mind like watching body language or questioning or language or how they enter tasks, interact with peers, interact with adults, how they approach problems, physical play, resilience.”We further understand a learner’s identity by having conversations with other people in their lives who also observe and know parts of them. We look at their work – writing samples, math samples, visual representations -- their creations. We observe the process and the product. We recognize the learning is what happens in the experience and to the students, not just the end resulting project, paper, or score. During learning, we confer with learners asking them questions about their thinking and feelings. At times we utilize anecdotal records, rubrics and checklists to provide a structure and to keep track of learning. At times, we layer in nationally normed benchmark assessments and when necessary progress monitoring; we view these assessments in light of the child’s work and interactions in the classroom as a whole. We believe that nationally normed assessments may capture progress on the basics of reading, writing, and math, but these assessments do not shed insights into cooperation, compassion, curiosity, and creative thinking.As Friedrich Froebel wrote, “Watch the child; he’ll show you what to do. Educational experiences should only be judged as a result of unending observation of what the learner is doing; only through the detailed observation of persons can the teacher reflect, evaluate and take appropriate action.” Observing is how we at Stanley teach children authentically. To know a child is to watch a child and the most authentic way to teach is to see who the child is, what they need to learn and how they need to learn it. The coming together of everything that we know about a child – what they need, how they learn, who they are – with the curriculum that is being uncovered at that moment is the heart of Stanley teaching.As Stanley teachers, there is magic in allowing our students to bring their own unique qualities to every situation and show us not only who they are, but who they are becoming. Each learner is unique and deserving of appreciation and understanding. By listening deeply and observing openly, we honor each learner as somebody who matters. And, we build trust with the child as they feel seen and they feel known. Through observing children we witness the joy and value of childhood and remind ourselves why we are teaching. We can learn from children to be open, to be observant, to be curious, and to engage with the world around us. We experience first hand what Deb Curtis writes in The Art of Awareness, “Becoming a careful observer of children reminds us that what might seem ordinary at a superficial glance is actually quite extraordinary.”During the upcoming conferences, the Stanley teachers look forward to hearing your observations and stories about your child and to sharing what we have noticed and are learning about your child. Conferences will also be a time to hear your child’s self-reflections on who they are and who they are becoming as a learner and a person.