By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.
After going into lockdown a few days after facilitating my last face to face workshop in March I have pivoted to online professional learning as webinars have become the new normal. This is unprecedented as we are now required to maintain physical distance but be socially connected. During these uncertain times I want to support those who work in the early years sector as I, like so many others recognize them as essential and indispensable. Since May I have facilitated close to 50 webinars. In each and every one, no matter what the topic, I make sure I address the pandemic in the room. While it is easy to use or even overuse the words and phrases that have become associated with COVID-19 as I have just demonstrated, I genuinely want to express my deepest admiration for those working in the early years during this global crisis. Every day, I am grateful for friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as they offer me a glimpse into their extraordinary new reality. When I see early childhood educators clad in full protective gear, I am not surprised by their resilience and enduring spirit that demonstrates their service to others. When I sit with my grandson, Griffen while he attends virtual kindergarten, I am inspired by all the early years educators who have risen to the challenges of online learning for our youngest learners. This shouldn’t be Griff’s junior kindergarten experience. It is not what we had envisioned for him. Yet, he still looks forward to joining his class online and enjoys the interactive learning experiences.
For most of us, we are now adjusting to our new normal. We are experiencing experiences that we could have never imagined would be part of our lives. How we tell the stories of our lives during these times will make a difference. We have narrative choices. As people who are driven to contribute to society and to future generations, early childhood educators should be according to psychologist Dan McAdams, more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives, or stories that transition from bad to good. Many of the webinars that I have had the honour to facilitate during these last months have focused on rethinking and reimagining. To rethink is to profoundly reconsider. To reimagine is imaginatively rethink. I have had to rethink and reimagine my work and my life. I believe this is a gift much like the experiences that I have had with my grandson. I dusted off my long unused early childhood education skills and side by side with Griffen we learn about so many things like bullrushes and bullfrogs, planets and dinosaurs, gratitude and kindness.
For years now, I have been introducing place-based education to early childhood educators. In doing so I always ask them to think back to a time in their childhood when they felt the most alive, the most powerful and free. Then I ask them to tell me where they were. Inevitably they describe a place that is different from a space because there is an emotional connection. It is a place that a child visits often. Griffen comes to me twice a week. After virtual kindergarten we try to fit in a walk to the pond. This is my COVID gift to Griff. As we notice the seasonal changes, we are grateful for our time in nature and thankful for our experiences with nature.
I do miss seeing friends and going out to dinner. I wish I could spend more time with my mother. I miss traveling whether it be for work or for pleasure. I long for the time when I can once again do a face to face workshop and feel the energy in the room as we learn and play together. I choose not to focus on the negative. I know that my negative mind can make me see things as darker than they really are. Instead I choose to look for the gifts of COVID.
For the readers of this blog, I invite you to share your COVID gifts whether they be personal or professional or a combination of both! By commenting below we can create a collective redemptive narrative that amplifies the voices of those working in the early years sector. We can do it! We are doing it! We got this!
The students and I have discussed the smile behind the mask. I greet them at the door and we learned to look at each other’s eyes. When our eyes lock, we find the hidden smile. The trees that mark the 6-foot distancing needed for the hallways are now “the forest”. We have one outside, but the indoors forest became a game, in which we look for our trees when we have to wait for each other. The Kindergartners were in different stations, as required (it still breaks my heart) but they found a way to plan a party for the kitties. So each student in a different way, contributed. They discussed their plans across the room. Someone was baking, someone was setting up the dance floor using connecting blocks, someone else was building… and they were together.
Diane, I needed this kick in the pants today. Thank you.
We can tell our story to each other, but it will be a never-ending story. It is a learning story that describes how we continue to build a sense of belonging through participation and although things have happened very quickly, the crisis is also an opportunity. We can be grateful for the gifts that flower when we keep motivated, and keep the hope that we will emerge from this challenge stronger and more inter-connected. Care for each other reveals our inter-dependence, and we are care-workers, not just educators or pedagogues. We are these incredible people who care enough.
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