So much can happen in a year. Since August, Ryan joined our community of talented teachers as a member of the Primary Unit team, developed deep bonds with her students and their families, and embarked on a year-long journey with her 1st graders that has been the source of boundless enthusiasm, joyful learning, and growth. In just one year, she has imprinted on her classroom a sense of what it is to be a lifelong learner, a passionate advocate, and a thoughtful friend, and it is a year that her students will certainly never forget. In this interview, Ryan shares reflections on the triumphs, developments, and inspirations that have most stood out to her as the school year approaches its close.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What strides have your students made during this school year—academically, emotionally, socially?
Planning and planting our 1st grade Fairy Garden this spring has been a joyful celebration of how many strides 1st graders have made this year in every measurable area. From the very beginning stages, 1st graders devoted their hearts and souls to identifying, digging up, tracking, and pulling every single root to every single weed in our garden plot. Students found a horizontal root with a one-inch diameter that stretched across half the garden plot and worked tirelessly as a team to defeat it. There were multiple student-led strategy sessions, tool consultations, carefully planned digging shifts, and tireless pulling efforts. First graders cheered each other on, offered kind words of support, and reminded each other to take breaks and drink water. While describing the roots in the garden plot, students spontaneously used words they had learned this year in math, including perpendicular, intersecting, and parallel, and they used their understanding of both standard and nonstandard measurement to estimate how long the roots would reveal themselves to be when finally unearthed. Students used their strong reading and writing skills to research the plants in our garden, write about them, and make signs.
What have you learned from your students this year, and how will those lessons learned carry over into your work with future cohorts?
The most unexpected lesson I have learned from my 1st graders this year has been how to take better care of myself and be more tuned into my own needs. I have been making an effort to model having a mindful presence in the classroom and be fully immersed in every experience we have together. I have learned that the best way to promote healthy practices in a community of learners has been to fully participate in the practices myself. I want my students to see that I also value the practices I am promoting and leading. Instead of reminding students to drink water throughout the day, we have water drinking challenges and remind each other to take frequent sips. Participating in our daily stretching, exercise, and mindfulness practices has helped me regulate my own energy levels and has helped me to be a calmer and more grounded teacher. Taking the time to read my own book during our daily ten minutes of quiet reading has allowed my students to see that I also value reading in my own life. Instead of rushing around at snack and lunch times, I have been sitting down with my students and eating. Instead of tidying up the room during independent academic work time, I have been taking the time to count my breaths and be fully available and receptive to student questions. My 1st graders have taught me to be more in tune with them, our environment, and myself, and I plan to continue these practices in my future work with students.
In what ways have your students inspired you this year?
My students have inspired me with the high level of kindness, compassion, understanding, and empathy they have shown for one another. They have demonstrated a remarkable ability to know exactly how and when to lift each other up, when to give each other space, and when to be a good listener. They allow each other the space and respect to experience the full spectrum of emotions and are there for each other to check-in when needed. They have taken the time to get to know each other on such a deep level that, when crafting surprises for each other out of paper, popsicle sticks, and tape, everyone knows who in the class would prefer a ninja star, a paper jet, a penguin, or a garden of paper flowers. This year, we have gone through so much as a community of 1st graders. Students have mourned the loss of beloved family members and pets, adopted new pets, moved houses, learned how to ride bikes, and lost and found (and lost and found again) our favorite stuffed animals. Students have bravely made themselves vulnerable to each other, shared their fears, frustrations, and sources of stress, as well as their joy, excitement, and pride. ❖
Interview conducted by Talia Fishbine. Originally published in Lower School Quarterly Vol. III No. IV in May 2021.