by, Sarah Sivright
I’ve been struck recently by the quality of this community as learners and teachers. As powerful as this school’s three-fold mission of intergenerational programming and nature and art education is, what keeps this place satisfying, nurturing and exciting is the electric eagerness to learn.
A teacher I was mentoring once told me, “Know me and appreciate me—and challenge me.” That’s pretty much it—for adults and children. We all need this from our environment and the people around us.
A framework of respect and trust is at the heart of my own formation as a learner and a teacher. At the beginning of my teaching career, I had the privilege of working with Vivian Paley, master teacher and author, now retired. She was brilliant and funny, and was attuned to young children in a way I have never seen. She was also fearless, ready to try anything to support her young learners. In the afternoons after the children had left, she and I would talk about the day–what had gone well and what hadn’t. She actually relished revisiting the tough parts of the day. To paraphrase; “Give me a tough day anytime. I learn from those in a way I don’t when everything goes right.” We would strategize ways to rearrange “the doll corner,” as it was called back then, or new approaches to children who were struggling. The following morning she would come in, saying, “No, that won’t work. Let’s do this instead.” I learned that it was the teacher’s job to keep trying new ways to understand and support the children, not throw up our hands in frustration over the children’s behavior. Vivian treated me with the same patience and respect. When I told her at the end of our three years as a teaching team, that she had never once criticized or corrected me, she was shocked and said I must be mistaken. But she knew me as a learner, knew that I was self-critical and sensitive, and that I would learn best through kindness and faith in my own discernment.
The children walk in the door eager to learn and be loved. They live in a constant state of trying to figure out how the world works. That process can be frustrating and overwhelming, since they have had so little experience with school, teachers, friends, schedules—life outside home. But teachers and parents are here to be their guides, and help create emotionally and physically safe spaces for discovery.
All Seasons staff has a particular focus of study each year and our monthly meetings and professional development days address related topics. This year we are learning about early childhood mental health issues. The increase in the identification of increased anxiety, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder and even depression in young children prompted our study. We’ve been reading relevant articles and books and listening to experts in the field. All Seasons parents of special needs children continue to be crucial resources. This fall we attended a related staff development workshop presented by Tina Feigal, noted parent coach. This week’s parent forum’s topic is “Mental Health and Building Resilience.” We’ll learn from parent Joe Robertson, an Inver Grove Heights police office experienced in community mental health, as well as hear about the latest research on the topic.
All Seasons parents are no different. Our parent-teacher conferences and conversations on the fly have made it clear to us that you are all eager to discover what All Seasons has to offer. You ask: What is my daughter or son like as a school child? Do you know my child? What happens outside? In the studio? Upstairs with the grandmas and grandpas? As a school philosophy, how do you handle misbehavior/anger/sadness/fears/friendship issues? Some of you have asked about specific issues around parenting, pretend play, death and loss. We have offered resources that have been helpful to us or other parents. A mutual respect and trust is established as we learn together, just like what happens with the children.
Lucky us, we’ve all landed at All Seasons, where the learning and teaching never ends.