Alumni Spotlight: Kyle Mckay

Kyle graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2013. After a bit of time spent on the east coast, he moved back to Colorado, and now we are very proud to call him one of our Mentor Teachers at Boulder Journey School in Boulder, Colorado. Kyle brings energy, laughter, and passion to the school’s faculty. We invite you to check out his unique perspectives below.

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

After graduating I moved to Durham, North Carolina to teach at a small private school. There I found the opportunity to grow as an educator, but the experience also gave me a much larger perspective on where my professional career should lead. The leadership style of the school I worked for did not fit well with my personal philosophy, which was very eye-opening for me. Keeping my professional goals in mind, as well as my love for the outdoors and rock climbing, I returned to Colorado, where I was hired as a Mentor Teacher at Boulder Journey School. I jumped in with both feet to work in a toddler classroom (an age much younger than my comfort level). In the fall of 2017, I began my third year with the same group of children as a Prekindergarten Teacher. The opportunity to stay with the same group of children and families for three years has been breathtakingly amazing, to say the least. Together we have built a foundation of love, trust, and development that I am positive will have a long lasting effect on both them and me. This past year, I also jumped into a new role at Boulder Journey School as the Outdoor Specialist for the entire school. This role, while new and developing, allows me to work with individual classrooms across the school to expand our collective thinking about outdoor education.

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

Before I entered the Teacher Education Program, I was a classroom teacher for six years. During those six years I certainly held a high regard for the child, their development, and being a responsive teacher, but I was only scratching the surface. While in the program, and in the years since, I have developed a much deeper understanding of early education. The lens through which I approach my teaching is now focused on observation, documentation, and continued scaffolding. Being a part of the Teacher Education Program surrounded me with philosophical conversations, rich in practice and theory, that ultimately shaped who I am as an educator today. I am slower in my practice, allow for a healthy partnership with our school’s teaching teams. I navigate my days with intention and purpose. Realizing where I was before the program and reflecting on my growth as an educator, it is obvious that the Teacher Educator Program played an integral role in my development.

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

I am sure that a lot of people who go through the program will say that their favorite part was the trip to Italy. It was rich in beauty and educational dialogue, and of course had plenty of tasty meals along the way. While Italy was amazing, my favorite memory was participating in the Boulder Journey School Summer Conference. Before the conference, I was feeling mentally drained, stressed about my graduate school work, and had slumped into a sense that everything we were doing at Boulder Journey School was normal. At the conference, I was quickly reminded that what we do here is absolutely special. Hearing from my colleagues, exploring the environments of each classroom, and talking with the conference participants was simply amazing. It was as if I awoke with a new breath of energy, at exactly the time that I needed it the most!

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

Each morning I have the right to come to work and be a part of an amazing profession. I get to be present when natural developments occur, laugh and smile about silly jokes and comments, and continue to expand my own mindset about what appropriate care and education truly is. Working in my current role is also a process of trial and error, through partnering with the children in what they think, do, and say. Because of this, my own thinking simply isn’t able to become stagnant, and this really brings me the most joy of all!

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

I am proudest of my own personal growth. The way that I approached working with children after receiving my undergraduate degree to now is totally different. In my professional career I have rarely said “no” to an opportunity that would bring me growth, and it has been an amazing journey. It has allowed me to teach all over this country, and most recently, I got to present the work of my classroom at the World Forum on Early Care and Education in New Zealand. I hope that my accomplishments are always growing, adapting, and flowing.

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

I am most passionate about outdoor education. I have always been a person who is the most comfortable outdoors, so I am so excited and thrilled to move my professional focus in this direction. I have loved learning and understanding how beautiful environments can be the third teacher while indoors. Now, in my role as Outdoor Specialist, I get to bring that understanding outdoors. Through this work, I hope to contribute to the research on why the outdoors are vitally important in early education. Also, moving in this direction has rejuvenated my energy and focus in my role as Mentor Teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alumni Spotlight: Sorrell Redford

Sorrell graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2016. She is now the Pre-K/Early Childhood Director at Estes Park Elementary School, part of Estes Park School District R-3. This rural Colorado public school has an extremely diverse population, and Sorrell has used this as an opportunity to create really interesting and innovative learning experiences that involve the entire community. In addition to her perspectives, offered below, we encourage you to follow her journey via Instagram @reggio_love_colorado

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

Since graduating from the BJS TEP I have been on a journey to find a career that I love! During my time at Boulder Journey School I realized that I wanted to work with children in my own community. My husband and I live in the mountains outside Estes Park, and I wanted to work with children that I saw in my everyday life and children to whom I felt connected. There is only one public elementary school in Estes Park, so I set my sights on getting hired there. I went through 5 grueling interviews and was finally told that I would not be offered a job as a teacher until I gained special education experience. However, the school hired me as a special education paraprofessional, which was indeed a beneficial experience because I had not previously worked with children with special needs. Three months after I started work as a Paraprofessional, the preschool teacher quit unexpectedly, which opened the door for me to be hired for the job that I initially applied for.

I began as the Preschool Director just three months after being hired as a Paraprofessional. This is the position I am currently in, and I absolutely love it! I have a morning and afternoon class with 13 students in each, 4 days a week, with Mondays for planning. It is a public preschool program, so there is a lot to know, but I am navigating my way through Licensing, Teaching Strategies Gold and the Colorado Preschool Program. I have a huge amount of freedom. I have implemented the Reggio approach into our daily lives, and I am having so much fun with it. I re-designed the environment and am seeing the results. The children are thriving! Our program is play based and our classroom environment plays an important role in the children’s learning.

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

My education in the BJS TEP prepared me for my current role in ways I could never have foreseen. I learned that my power as an educator lies in my strengths, which I have identified as creativity and advocacy. I use these strengths every day in my career, and these were traits I did not know I possessed until my time at Boulder Journey School.

During the BJS TEP, I was encouraged to take professional risks, which helped me discover my teaching style. Advocacy is something I had not considered to be part of a teaching role until the Teacher Education Program. Learning about advocating for students, for preschool, and for yourself as a professional was very powerful. Being an advocate includes being professional and treating other teachers as professionals. Creating mutual respect between all educators is really important if you want to raise up the profession and make positive changes in education.

The BJS TEP also taught me how to bring creativity into every aspect of my career. There are many ways to view creativity. It is easy for me to be creative in the classroom, whether I am setting up provocations, designing art projects or putting up documentation, but it can be difficult for me to be creative in other, less obvious ways. For example, being able to think of creative ways to communicate and engage parents is essential, as is thinking of creative ways to reach special education students and communicate with the various specialists with whom I work. It is difficult as a teacher to take on so many responsibilities, and I feel like creativity is essential for problem solving, which is a large part of my job.

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

My favorite memory from the Boulder Journey School program are from the course ECED: Introduction to Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum. During this course and at the end of a long day, I was trying to think of an engaging provocation. I decided to fill a plastic container with water, leaves, and rocks. The next morning, the children found it and turned it into a pond. The children played in the pond every day for several weeks, and I studied engagement as part of my DAC. It was incredible how the pond grew and changed. It started in a tiny container, and then grew into a larger container. The children filled it with all different materials. Some days it looked like a real pond with turtles, frogs, and leaves. Other days, they added sand and dinosaurs, and it looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. I learned so much from observing the children’s play in the pond. It was a sensory experience, it encouraged empathy, it encouraged social play, it created opportunities for imagination, it provoked sharing, and through this play children built friendships.

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

The children bring me so much joy! Every day there are special moments where my heart feels full, and I don’t think I would feel this way in any other profession. Last week I watched a 5 year old girl cleaning the face of one of the 3 year old special education students. It was such a gentle and kind exchange, and it made me remember why children are so amazing. They don’t judge each other or label each other. My students remind me to be a kind person, and I think working with children makes me a better person, more reflective and less judgmental. The children also make me laugh, even when I am feeling frustrated, sad, or exhausted, which is pretty wonderful!

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

I am extremely proud of completing my Master’s Degree and then pursuing a career in early education. I use what I learned through my Master’s everyday, and that is a really great feeling. I am especially proud of how professional I am when communicating with families. I have to interview every family who applies for a preschool space at my school to make sure they are eligible for public preschool. I have to ask difficult some questions. I have had conversations about why families moved from Mexico to Estes Park, I have had conversations with parents who use drugs, and I have had conversations with openly racist families. However, I am proud of how the BJS TEP prepared me for this, and I am constantly thinking back to all I learned in the course EDFN 5010: Social Foundations and Cultural Diversity in Urban Education. I also think back to the 100 Languages of Children and how this relates to parents, not just children. It helps me look at situations from parents’ points of view and try to understand their situation, which can be very challenging, but also very rewarding.

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

I am currently working on transforming our playground into a natural outdoor classroom, which I am very excited about. Our playground is currently an old plastic structure which has been vandalized. I believe the children deserve a higher quality environment, so I met with my Principal and the Head of Maintenance to present my ideas. I was very nervous, and to prepare, I researched playground safety, maintenance, and cost. I successfully persuaded them that a fully natural playground was the direction to go, and they gave me the go-ahead to have the old playground torn out and to begin working on creating a new one made of wood and stone. I have applied for two very large grants, and I should hear about them very soon. I am also involving students in the design of the new playground, and the company who will hopefully be installing and helping design the new playground is the Natural Playgrounds Company. They are amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

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