Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Fannon

Elizabeth graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2014. She now works In Fort Collins, Colorado as Assistant Director and Coordinator of Student Learning at the Colorado State University Early Childhood Center, and Instructor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department. Since this unique role spans both early childhood education and postsecondary higher education, she is able to develop and apply a rather unique lens on learning to her work, which you can read more about below.

Where has your journey taken you since graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

I stepped out of the BJS TEP into an Assistant Director position at a nonprofit preschool in Boulder. There I helped foster a partnership with Boulder Journey School to become a practicum placement site. A year later I joined the CSU Early Childhood Center’s Administrative team to begin the next chapter in my life, working with adults and children in a Reggio-inspired laboratory school.

How did your education in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program help prepare you for your current professional role?

I moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Boulder in 2013, after being accepted to the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. I had a long history of experience in St. Louis, working in a constructivist environment with other educators inspired by the work coming out of Reggio Emilia, Italy. For me, the BJS TEP demonstrated a great balance of theory and practice, and how to marry the two. I continually use the thinking I built around this marriage when working with the CSU intern students who teach at the Early Childhood Center.

What is your favorite memory from your time in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

Besides the trip to Reggio?! One of my fondest memories is working with BJS Technology Specialist Sam and one of my co-teachers Leslie to explore what technological tools could foster sound exploration with toddlers. We experimented with the Makey Makey tool and spent a couple of afternoons playing with the different possibilities. We played with how to offer these materials in developmentally appropriate and creative ways to children. Based on this exploration, we ultimately installed large panels of foil on the wall in the classroom, and attached metal spoons to serve as conductors between the foil and the Makey Makey tool on the laptop. It was a learning experience for us all and a true test of the importance of “messing about” as adults.

(left) Elizabeth and her colleague Leslie embarking on their personal cultural study after their visit to the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. (right) Elizabeth and her colleague Sam playing with the Makey Makey.

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

It’s pretty much a dream job! I really love that the ECC serves as a learning lab for adults and children. The reciprocal learning between the two cannot be ignored, and I get a lot of joy in supporting that process. The ECC is relatively new to the Reggio approach, so it’s energizing to study and reflect alongside the teachers and other administrators on what that means in our unique context. I also love working with the undergraduates in my “Creative Experiences with Children” course. Each semester I get the opportunity to facilitate thinking and questioning on the topics of teaching, learning, creativity, and the rights of children.

Elizabeth working with children at the ECC

What professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

In Saint Louis I was able to do some educational coaching/consulting at a United Way school in a pretty vulnerable area of the city. Working in collaboration with other colleagues and the teachers at that school, we were able to study the fundamentals of the Reggio philosophy together and embed some practices and ways of being into the classrooms. It was powerful to see the changes happen and the strong sense of self-efficacy develop within the teachers who previously had a much different view of what they and the children could do.

I’m very proud of bringing the ideas around professional learning communities to the last two school systems in which I worked. At my previous school, as well as here at the ECC, there has been tremendous growth in teachers’ practice. These experiences fostered new energy around classroom practice that came directly out of the research that teachers and administrators undertook together.

Successfully teaching and several semesters of an undergraduate class at CSU is a big, and unexpected, accomplishment. I hadn’t considered working in higher education before this role, and it was a big undertaking, but I’m super proud of how things are going!

Currently I’m co-authoring a manuscript for the next Innovations Peer Reviewed publication. I’m super pumped for that to come out in 2018!

Adult learning experiences Elizabeth helped design through the Creative Experiences with Children course she teaches (pictured left) and through Professional Learning Communities at the ECC (pictured right)

In terms of your professional life, what are you most passionate about right now?

That’s a tough one. I feel compelled by many things at the moment! I think if I had to narrow it down it would be promoting the work of the teachers and children at the ECC and making it more visible in the community (Fort Collins and beyond). Through this work, we are advocating for the rights of children by engaging in conversation with others about their view of children and childhood.

We are taking more steps to do so in a variety of ways. We continue to partner with more departments at CSU, which brings different professionals and students majoring in things other than education into our spaces. I also like inviting ECC teachers to be guest lecturers at my Creative Experiences class, so students hear perspectives and realities other than mine about the value of a constructivist environment. We have started hanging documentation of children’s experiences on campus and in businesses around town too. This is something I would like to develop more momentum around. I’ve been talking with Sam Hall as well, and it looks like we have an opportunity to screen the Voices of Children Documentary at the school!

More internally, I think we are taking great leaps in making visible to our families the learning long term investigations with children offer. For example, this fall semester our older toddler children and teachers embarked on a journey, focusing on children’s photography and perspective taking. They collaborated with families, documented children’s photography preferences, invited the toddlers to document their peers’ experiences, and are curating a gallery open to the entire ECC community in one of our school’s common spaces.

On a larger scale, several teachers have published articles, sharing stories from their classroom, and I hope with the publication of our manuscript in Innovations, the amazing work coming out of the ECC will be even more visible. Eventually, I’d like the ECC to host the Hawkins Centers of Learning Exhibit, Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child, and develop professional development opportunities for other educators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alumni Spotlight: Linda Miron

Linda graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2014. She now owns a consulting business, Collaborative Learning Consulting Services, through which she plans and conducts professional development trainings and provides coaching and support to schools and organizations in Boulder County, Colorado. When she enrolled in the BJS TEP, she had already work for about thirty years as an early childhood teacher and director. However, she approached her journey in the program with curiosity and openness. This was not only beneficial to her own learning, it was also beneficial to the learning of the colleagues in her cohort, as well as to the Instructors! We invite you to check out her unique perspectives below.

Where has your journey taken you since graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

When I graduated from the BJS TEP, I resumed a full time director role at the school I had been working at previously. In 2016, however, I began a new chapter. I wanted to support teachers, directors, and children in a new way, so I stepped down from my director position, and I began my consulting business. Almost immediately, I began to be offered contracts, working with early education professionals in different capacities. I started teaching and coaching for the Expanding Quality for Infants and Toddlers initiative (EQIT), and I started coaching for other initiatives through the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County. I was able to work with programs who were some of the first in Boulder County to go through the Colorado Shines System. I was able to work with centers and family child care homes with really diverse family populations. I was able to help schools build more family engagement. I was able to lead various large group professional development trainings. The contracts just kept coming, and very quickly I went from thinking this would be a part time business to feeling like I would soon need to hire an employee. It’s been really exciting to build a business from the ground up!

How did your education in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program help prepare you for your current professional role?

When I enrolled in the program, I had been a Director for 25 years, and I had lost a little bit of what it really meant to be a teacher. In that way, the practicum was really challenging and humbling. I absolutely did not realize how much information I didn’t know. The different classes I completed through the program helped me discover such important information, and I find myself really utilizing all of that now in my role as a consultant.

Another piece that I thought was really cool about the program was experiencing personalized learning first hand. I’m not a traditional learner, and it stopped me from pursuing my education for a lot of years. I really wanted to pursue a Master’s Degree, but I was terrified. The more I talked to BJS TEP Administrators, and heard from people who had completed the program before me, I realized that it’s not a traditional way of learning. It’s customized, so that each person can learn through their own style. That has really made an impression on me as I do my work now. Because I was immersed in that style and was able to see all the different ways that my fellow colleagues were learning throughout the BJS TEP, I can now apply that in the ways in which I work with clients.

What is your favorite memory from your time in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

I was an Infant teacher in my practicum at Boulder Journey School. It was not an experience I thought I was going to do well with. In fact, I was terrified. I had never worked directly with infants before. As soon as I began in the infant room, I realized that it was an incredible learning opportunity. Just being on the floor with the children and noticing all the subtleties of their communication and behavior was powerful.

The course EDHD 5260: Child Study and Observation for me was probably my most important piece out of the whole program, because it really showed me how you could delve into the life of a child and apply that knowledge to working with other children. Now I’ve come full circle. I’ve been able to do a bit of consulting for Boulder Journey School, and I get to spend time with the group of children I had as infants who are about to graduate from PreKindergarten. Logan was my child study, and it took him just a couple of times of seeing me again, and talking a little bit with him, for him to remember me. Just the other day I was spending time in his classroom with a small group and sharing stories about when they were little. We were laughing, and Logan was sitting on my lap. He put his arm on my shoulder, and I just thought, “Wow! This is the best ever!” So I would say my favorite memory is just building that connection with the infants and getting to feel how meaningful it was for both them and me.

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

Last night is a perfect example. I went to a site that, a year ago, was ready to shut down. I worked there for a couple of months last year, and they made some changes that the whole staff seems really excited about. They’re going to go through the Colorado Shines process, and so I was able to meet with each of the three teaching teams last night. These were teachers who previously felt like they had to be doing things in pretty traditional ways. I met with each team for just 25 minutes and spent the time diving into learning through play. We talked, and we played with materials. I tried to help them see the things they were good at and use those strengths as inspiration to set goals. By the end of the evening, I saw so many flickers of excitement. It was beautiful. I got to spark that interest for them, get them excited about it. Now I get to go back and support them through the process. I was driving home last night and just had this thought, “Oh, yes! This is why I do what I do!”

What professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

I think I’m most proud of the fact that I’m capable of conducting trainings. I wasn’t very confident in front of groups for a long time. I have always had trouble with auditory processing, so sometimes, when I say things, my words get all jumbled, and it takes me a little bit to recover. As I’ve been doing more trainings, I find that I can kind of incorporate my challenges and be honest about them. This brings some laughter to the group, but it’s also a platform to talk about the experience of young children when they are first learning to communicate. I realize that the things that I was most fearful about and embarrassed by are things that have been helping me build my confidence, and I love it.

 

In terms of your professional life, what are you most passionate about right now?

I am most passionate about interactions and relationships. Whether it’s teachers interacting with the children, or directors, or parents, I just love getting to support meaningful interaction and see social and emotional development at all different levels. I also want to leave readers with the words “anything is possible!”. Whatever you think you want to do or be a part of, don’t let anybody talk you out of it. Go for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Spotlight: Tiana Ibarra

Tiana graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2015. She is now the Right Start Program Manager at Early Childhood Options in Dillon, Colorado, which taps into her passion for professionalizing the early childhood education field. In addition to reading her perspectives below, we encourage you to check out other innovative programs in Colorado mountain communities that are using public funding to support early childhood education.

 

Where has your journey taken you since graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

I spent two lovely years teaching 3-5 year olds at Silverthorne Elementary School, part of Summit School District. I became a mother to my little boy, Sage, on May 8, 2017. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with him for four months. Upon returning to work, I accepted a position working for Early Childhood Options. The program I manage, Right Start, is a voter-approved, tax-funded initiative, designed to improve quality, availability, and affordability of early care and learning for Summit County families. Through this initiative, I get to work on issues of recruitment and retention of quality early childhood educators and family child care providers. After completing my Master’s Degree and Teaching Certificate through the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program, it is exciting for me now to get to support other educators in Summit County who are interested in advancing their educations.

How did your education in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program help prepare you for your current professional role?

My current role requires me to look at a great deal of data, which has not always been my strong suit. However, the BJS TEP taught me to think outside of the box, think on a grand scale, and think like an advocate. In my short time as Program Manager, I have brought in new systems and ideas. I have also begun finding new ways of marketing the Right Start Project, and I think I built my capacity for this type of thinking during my time in the program.

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

I love that I get to be part of helping teachers feel appreciated and helping them stay in the field they love. I also enjoy that I have a great deal of flexibility in my job, as the folks I work with are very open-minded. I can bring new ideas to the table, and they are always welcomed and encouraged, which helps keep me energized and dedicated.

What is your favorite memory from your time in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

By far, I’d say my favorite memory was the trip to study in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It was the first time I travelled overseas, which was thrilling, and it was also incredible to see the schools in action. Leading up to the trip, we learned about many aspects of the Reggio Approach, and experimented with translating those ideas into our various practicum settings. The trip to Reggio Emilia provided us with the opportunity to see how the educators there implemented what we had been learning about. This truly empowered and inspired me!

Tiana and her colleague Amie enjoying Lake Como, Italy, during their personal cultural study days after visiting Reggio Emilia.

What professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

I am definitely most proud of graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. That was the most challenging and rewarding year of my life, and sometimes I look back and cannot believe I did it. I completed the program while employed at a school in Breckenridge, which required a lot of traveling on my part. I had to stay organized, extremely focused, and take the experience one day at a time, but the program administrators and instructors were really supportive. It was crazy at times, but I feel so proud that I did it.

(left) While enrolled in the program, Tiana and her class of toddlers regularly went on excursions to explore the Breckenridge community, as shown in this photo. (right) Tiana, pictured with her husband, Justin, on her graduation day.

In terms of your professional life, what are you most passionate about right now?

I love that I get to be part of an organization like Early Childhood Options because they are so incredibly dedicated to the community. Through this job, I feel like I’m truly making an impact on the educators, families, and children in Summit County. I also have a dream of opening my own early education center someday, and I am learning new skills every day that I believe will help me make my dream a reality. I feel like no matter my next steps, I will be better prepared because of my time with this wonderful organization.

 

Different Aspects of Nature: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course

Graduate students, enrolled in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) are assigned readings and discussion topics to influence their daily classroom work. They use these readings and discussions to influence the experiences they offer in the classroom, outdoors, and in the community, then submit reflections that integrate their practical and academic research. Graduate students’ reflections are read, and feedback is offered by course instructors and classroom mentors. In this way, graduate students are offered space for theory to inform practice and practice to inform theory.

For the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum (DAC) course, graduate students,, observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester. To read an in-depth description of this course, refer to this blog post: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course. Part IV of the DAC course asks graduate students to examine ways to extend the curriculum outdoors and into the community.

The following post is taken from a paper written by Meghna Gopal, graduate student in the 2017-2018 cohort, for the DAC course, Part IV.


In a world where violence appears to be on the rise, and media outlets are casting a negative outlook on the future, fear has begun to control the actions of society. In many cases, it seems that people are so focused on the negativity existing in the cultural environment, they are unable to enjoy themselves and take advantage of all the good life still has to offer. Unfortunately, this type of mentality is especially impactful on our youngest citizens. Parents seem hesitant to allow their children to play outside for extended periods of time or to wander too far out of their sight. Thus, many children are now spending more waking hours inside of their homes, as opposed to exploring the outdoors.

In addition, the rapid growth of technology and emphasis on standardized testing in schools have played a role in limiting children’s contact with nature. It is common to see young children staring at a digital screen for hours on end or having their recess compromised for more instructional time in the classroom to prepare for state testing. Given this, it is no wonder that a large percentage of children are suffering from sensory-related issues. Spending time outdoors gives children opportunities to freely release their energy, foster creativity, and enhance self-control. (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012). For this reason, it is crucial for both educators and parents to provide opportunities for young children to actively connect with and learn more about the natural world.

In my own classroom, I was considering ways I could create a palpable experience for the children to further discover the different aspects of nature. How could I bring the learning that was happening indoors into the outside environment? Over the past couple of months, the children have been extremely interested in the exploration of clay. My mentor teacher and I have designed various provocations involving clay, paired with other materials that could be incorporated into the experience. On one occasion the children explored natural materials, including pine cones, wood, shells, and rocks, with the clay. While the children seemed to enjoy deepening their understanding of the versatility of clay, they also actively engaged with the natural materials, pressing the materials into the clay to make imprints. Given their attraction to the natural materials during that particular experience, I decided to recreate the same provocation, but in an outdoor setting. I thought that the learning could be more meaningful if the children engaged with the natural materials while in a natural setting.

I chose to set up the provocation on a table located in the garden. The children often view this outdoor space as a peaceful escape from the action of the other outdoor classrooms. I felt that the calm atmosphere would offer them the chance to focus and fully participate in extending their learning.

To prepare for the provocation, I laid out clay boards on the table. I cut slabs of clay and placed one on each board. I also gathered a variety of natural materials, including pine cones, rocks, fall leaves, and sticks, that could be found in the garden. I placed the materials in the center of the table, as well as on the clay boards. I was curious to see how the children would interact with the materials in an outdoor environment, and whether or not they would draw inspiration from the previous provocation.

On a Friday morning, four children were invited to explore the materials that had been arranged in the garden. Almost immediately, they each picked up a stick and began poking the clay to create holes. One child also used the stick to create lines in the clay. The children made imprints with the rocks and pine cones, as they had done in the earlier experience.

Maya discovered that the pine cone could also be rolled back and forth on the clay to produce a pattern.

Moving the pine cone in this manner inspired her to explore rolling the clay itself. She folded her clay slab in half and began rolling it back and forth across the board. Two of the other children took notice of what she was doing, prompting them to also experiment with moving their clay in a back-and-forth motion. It is noted that toddlers tend to mimic the actions of their fellow peers, as well as adults (Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines, n.d.).

Perhaps, the highlight of the provocation was the creation of clay birthday cakes. Maya positioned a pine cone and a stick on her clay piece and started singing “Happy Birthday” to herself. Once she had finished singing, she pretended to blow out the candle, which she had represented with the stick. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the other children also wanting to construct cakes. They started shaping their clay and gathering the natural materials they wanted to use in bringing their creation to life. After the cakes had been made, they took turns singing “Happy Birthday” and pretending to blow out the candles. They each sang “Happy Birthday” to Maya, and not to themselves as she had done. Perhaps, this was their way of acknowledging that Maya was the one who had inspired them to create their own cakes. Or maybe they were following her lead and singing for her as she had done. Either way, it seemed as though Maya was able to celebrate her birthday a few months early with clay cakes.

It was certainly interesting to see how different each child’s representation of a cake was. While Maya’s cake was fairly simple, with just a stick and pine cone, Anna wrapped her clay around a pine cone and added leaves on top, possibly as decoration. Both Anders and Eli used a single pine cone for their piece of decoration. Eli had lines on his cake that he had drawn earlier with a stick, adding a little more intricacy to his creation.

Juniper, an older sibling who joined the experience, neatly arranged each material on her clay piece. She placed a big and small pine cone toward the center of the clay and added rocks and leaves in the spaces around the pine cones.

According to the Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines (n.d.), toddlers “use abstract things to represent other things in pretend play” (p.78). In this experience, the children were using their imaginations to depict the clay as cake. They also most likely used the natural materials to signify decorations, using the sticks for candles.

Looking back on this provocation, I was impressed by the children’s creative utilization of the natural materials presented to them. They were able to guide the exploration of these materials in ways that gave purpose and meaning to their learning. When the children were using the pine cones, rocks, and sticks to produce clay imprints, it is possible that they were connecting to a previous experience in which they also made patterns in the clay with similar materials. When Maya rolled the pine cone back and forth in the clay, she broadened her awareness of how the pine cone can be used with the clay.

I noticed that the children were far more engaged with the natural materials than they have been in the past. While they had explored the imprints that could be made with the various materials in a prior experience, they seemed more interested in the versatility of the clay itself. Their actions primarily consisted of squishing, flattening, and rolling the clay into the desired object. Thus, I concluded the natural materials simply did not yield as many possibilities as the clay. The hard surfaces of materials like pine cones and rocks prevented them from being easily manipulated into different shapes or objects. However, after observing how the children interacted with these same materials out in the garden, I have been reconsidering this earlier assumption. What was it about the experience that made the natural materials more attractive to the children? Did the outdoor setting play a role? Perhaps, the children were inspired by their surroundings.. In the movie, Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, it is mentioned that nature has positive effects on a child’s creativity. The large spaces give children more freedom and opportunities to express themselves (Richter & Molomot, 2013). For this reason, being outside could have helped the children be more creative in their use of the natural materials, incorporating them into the making of the clay birthday cakes. The environment is often referred to as the third teacher and often greatly influences the learning that occurs during a particular experience.

In planning for future provocations, I want to continue integrating the outdoors . Given that nature plays such a big role in ensuring the healthy development of a young child (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012), it is important for children to have plenty of opportunities to fully understand and appreciate what it has to offer. Perhaps, I could present the same provocation to a different group of children or even in a whole group setting. Would the children be as interested in the natural materials as the first group was? How does a large group differ from a small group in terms of how the children interact with the materials?

In addition, I could offer the same provocation, but in a different outdoor space. How would materials in that space contribute to the children’s explorations? Natural materials could also be used with forms of media other than clay. For instance, a painting provocation in the garden could offer the children the experience of exploring how paint and natural materials interact, as well as the possibility of expanding their own interpretations of them on paper.

Additionally, I could take the children on a nature walk through the school neighborhood. We could collect various objects that we find along the way and add them to our classroom to produce a more natural look. Seeing these objects on a daily basis may also provoke the children to talk about their experiences on the walk.

Moreover, I would like to find a way to involve parents in the children’s learning. Maybe, we could organize an event at a local park where families could explore different classroom provocations in a community setting. Materials of interest to the children, such as clay, paper, and drawing utensils could be set up with more natural ones found in the park. How might the children extend their learning beyond the school environment? How might their families learn alongside them? Bringing the learning into this type of space would offer the children the opportunity to make connections between their experiences at school and in the community, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the world in which they live.

I feel it is imperative to expose young children to the outdoors. Nature allows children to process thinking and learning in ways that the inside classroom simply cannot. As mentioned earlier, the children in my class were able to more readily connect with the natural materials and use them to enhance their clay experience, something they had not quite done when engaging with the same materials inside. For this reason, I think educators and parents need to take into consideration the many benefits of nature to a child’s learning and development, and spend more time exploring the outdoors with children. In today’s society, it is becoming easier for our youngest citizens to lose touch with the natural world. Rather than let that happen, we should help them in cultivating a respect and love for the beauty and wonder that is nature, which will hopefully be passed onto future generations of children.

References

Colorado Early Learning & Development Guidelines (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/early/eldgs

Natural Learning Initiative (2012). Benefits of connecting children with nature: Why naturalize outdoor environments. Retrieved from https://naturalearning.org/sites/default/files/Benefits%20of%20Connecting%20Children%20with%20Nature_InfoSheet.pdf

Richter, R. (Producer), & Molomot, L. (Director). (2013). School’s out: Lessons from a forest kindergarten (Motion Picture). United States: Bullfrog Films