I work in the land of little people when it comes to education. Moving from a middle school principal down to the elementary level was a huge shock adjusting to not only the fact that I could see over all the students but that I had multiple preschools in my building. Yes, preschool. Now, I hate to admit it but I didn’t take any early childhood education classes in my teacher prep program. The majority of my studies were focused on intermediate and secondary grades. As many of you may guess, it wasn’t more than two days into the new school year that I was second-guessing my skills and abilities working with these little people. There were many times that I wished I could go back in time and take those early childhood classes.
I know that I am not alone in this experience. The importance of pre-k education is becoming more and more important. Out of this imperative need comes the development of new Pre-K programs, typically housed in elementary school settings, and many administrators have steep learning curves adjusting to this new age range. Discipline, curriculum, and the term developmentally appropriate takes on an entirely new look when you start to talk about preschool. Three years into working with preschool kiddos with three different types of preschool programs in five classes and I am still learning and being pushed every day with my thinking. In an effort to help others that might be in a similar boat, here are my top five things that I have learned when it comes pre-k.
It’s All About the Kids and the Families
In everything that you do, you have to remember it is for the kids and the families that you serve. While this is true for all students that we serve in education, I believe it is especially true with our Pre-K kiddos. Of the families that we serve in our five preschool classrooms, many of them are near the poverty level or have special needs kids. These are the families that truly need support and are often ones that come to use with negative perceptions of school. During the time they are in our preschool programs, our job is to focus on the family and student relationships. We feel that maintaining that focus allows us to serve our families and students in the best possible manner.
Be humble and ask questions
Yes, vertical alignment with kindergarten down to preschool is huge but it is not as easy as it sounds. Especially when you are working with a large population of students that have experienced trauma or extreme poverty. This is where our assumptions can be damaging. Often we assume a preschool experience should look just like a kindergarten room only scaffolded down a hair. I admit, that was me during my first year. Wow, I had a lot of room to grow. My best advice to folks is to slow down and don’t assume. Instead, ask questions and acknowledge that you aren’t the expert in this area. Trust me, it will really help the process out once you get to this point.
Read, Read, and Then Read More
Remember how I mentioned I didn’t take any early childhood classes in college? Well, I quickly realized that needed to be addressed early within that first year. I was thankful that I had a supportive group of Head Start staff working around me at the local Educational Service District. They were able to point me in the direction of resources and books that could help me get up to speed on the specific needs of Pre-K students. My two favorite books have been No Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child. To this, I was incredibly thankful for and appreciative.
Seek Advice and Support
Being an elementary principal can be an isolating job, especially if you don’t have a solid professional learning network or other administrators in the building. One can imagine that being the only elementary school in the district with preschool programs within their building that they lead can make it even more of an isolating job if you let it. Therefore, I would highly encourage folks to seek advice, support, and guidance from folks around them that are knowledgeable about preschool or to seek it out via Twitter. The stronger support system you have and more advice you seek in your learning, the stronger you will become in helping support your programs and staff.
Focus on quality not quantity
It’s not about the number of spots you have, it’s about the quality of the program. Folks get caught up in seat numbers and how many students they can have. Instead focus on creating a solid program that serve kids socially, emotionally, and academically while strengthening the transition to kindergarten. We develop Pre-K settings to serve kids through a quality program so they are more prepared and are provided the supports they need to get a jump start on their entry into the K-12 setting.
Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School” as recognized by the State of Oregon. George specializes in curriculum development and instructional improvement as well as working with at-risk students and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.