It was late fall of 2017 when my superintendent came to me and asked, “What are we going to do about the state of our kindergarten classrooms?” It was not news that the climate of our classrooms had becoming increasingly challenging and teachers were exhausting themselves trying to meet the diverse needs of our students, but how we responded to this challenge mattered. It mattered for the welfare of our students, but it also mattered for the welfare of our teachers. So, this is where the journey began.
Not long after meeting with the superintendent, a team of administrators and teacher leaders were put together to spend some time in Bend, Oregon observing another team of teachers that were using a newly written instructional framework referred to as Growing Early Mindsets: GEM®. We toured a number of classrooms, watching as children engaged in conversations about neurons connecting, chose activities for Pre-frontal Cortex Time, celebrated mistakes, and committed to taking on a new set of challenges when they came back the next day. We couldn’t be sure this Bend team had found all the answers, but it felt good in those classrooms. Good like your favorite dessert or a warm hug, the kind of good we wanted a piece of.
Fast forward, we are now in Spring of 2019 and although we still don’t have all the answers, we do believe we have found the right track. Through the use of GEM, we are finding ways to not just teach our students about how their brain works, but we as teachers are on the journey WITH our students and that has proven powerful! In this journey with GEM, teachers have given themselves grace to slow down, meet students where they are, and grow as learners together.
Our team of teachers has carved out time to explicitly teach the GEM lessons in their day, but more importantly they are using the framework throughout their daily instruction. Whether students are arguing over a pencil, crying over feelings being hurt, or frustrated during a lesson, the opportunities in a kindergarten day to teach Social and Emotional Competencies and a Growth Mindset are infinite. GEM has provided the means to engage in rich discussions about emotions, problem-solving, challenges, choices, mistakes, and so much more. Furthermore, it has given teachers the freedom to be more transparent regarding their own mistakes, feelings, and challenges.
From the onset it has been a priority to our team that we are able to communicate the importance of the immeasurable outcomes that we experience on this journey. We understand the need for raw numbers and data that supports our work, which we are of course collecting. However, the real evidence, the evidence that doesn’t show up in data collection or formative assessments, is often immeasurable. How do we measure the self efficacy of our teachers? How do we measure the moment when a 5 year old engages in a conversation around realizing their mistake just led to a new understanding? How do we measure the empathy a 5 year old shows when they discover their friend has to suddenly move away? How do we measure the desire of a 5 year old to question, “What does our brain do if we are missing a sense, like our sight?” How do we measure the shift from getting our students “ready” for the world by getting ourselves “ready” for our students? These immeasurables are what has made GEM and our journey so special.
For the first time in a long time we are no longer growing apart from our students; we are growing with our students and it has been magic. As we look to the future we are developing plans to include and align with our preschools, kindergartens, and even some first grades. The journey we are on is an exciting one and our Roseburg team is ready for more passengers.
Tatum Stedman has worked for 15 years in the Roseburg School District. Tatum is both a veteran kindergarten teacher as well as the Roseburg School’s Early Learning Facilitator. Her role is to support the early learning efforts district wide with regard to preschool, school readiness, and P-3 alignment. Tatum is passionate about the importance of building relationships and making connections with students and families. When not in a classroom she can be found with her own family chasing her boys around from one sport to the next. Tatum has learned that life is short and she believes in living it to the fullest each day!