Teachers have known for many years what multiple studies have confirmed: the more connected that parents are to their child’s learning, the better that child does in school. And at no time in a child’s education is that link more critical to establish than it is in a child’s first year of school. For Ridgeview Kindergarten teachers Christy Campbell and Andrea Daudlin, making that connection early, often and consistently is every bit as important as the day-to-day teaching they do in their classrooms.
Now in their 11th year teaching Kindergarten at Ridgeview, each teacher has a class of 20 for the full day. But their friendship and professional collaboration goes back a long way, and the work they are doing together to communicate better with families and model self-regulation is now available online as part of a weekly blog – and reaching audiences they never knew might benefit.
The pair met at Chartwell in 1994, and when they found themselves working together at Ridgeview in September 2003, they began to job share — at first as Grade 1 teachers, and then with Kindergarten students enrolled in two half-day classes from 2006-2011. When the district adopted full day Kindergarten, each teacher enrolled her own class, but their work together continued, with weekly monthly and annual planning. Today, the parents of students enrolled in either classroom know that their child is getting exactly the same instruction within a few days of the other class.
“Since the half-day program, we had been thinking about and planning for a Kindergarten handbook for parents, something that could hold all the vital information for parents new to Kindergarten or new to Ridgeview. We were also finding that we had more to share with parents than what the weekly, handwritten newsletters could accommodate,” explain Christy and Andrea. This became even more imperative with the arrival of the full day program.
Over the years, several people in the district had encouraged Andrea and Christy to take their approach online, but the impetus for change really took place when current principal, Val Brady, moved from Hollyburn, where Self-Regulation was part of the school culture, to Ridgeview. Self-Regulation became part of the school’s growth plan, as the initiative expanded across the district. In the spring of 2014, District Innovation Support Teacher (Elementary) Cari Wilson, who also teaches Grade 7 at the school, stepped in to help them select a website theme and platform, learn to organize, post and blog content and harness the power of digital tools like the app Remind. This was the beginning of their Kindergarten website theselfregulatedteacher.com and their username, the KinderTeam.
Together, the KinderTeam worked with Cari throughout 2014, and were thrilled to launch their site in December, 2014, which includes a weekly newsletter and archives, a parent Kindergarten handbook, book lists and other resources.
“When we want to explore a topic in a more in-depth way we blog about what the children are learning, what books we’re reading and themes such as self-regulation, curriculum and Kindergarten basics including play, healthy eating and classroom routines and expectations. We want parents to use that information so that they can talk to their kids about it,” says Andrea.” A child’s education requires a partnership between teachers and parents, and we’re working together to help them support their children at home.”
Parents are not the only ones regularly checking in for updates. Many educators, both near and far, now have access to valuable information from experienced early learning experts at their fingertips, and the pair are seeing regular and increasing traffic on the site from teachers learning and working with young children.
“The Self-Regulated Teacher has generated a great following,” says West Vancouver Schools Superintendent Chris Kennedy. “I have heard from new teachers who access the blog for ideas, and I often reference it when I speak as a great example of a teacher blog – with a mix of topics of interest to parents, colleagues and the larger community. Andrea and Christy are master teachers, and their blog is a great resource for others.”
Of course, a child’s first teacher plays a very special role in a child’s life, and while children take cues from their teachers at every grade level, the younger a child is, the more tuned in they are to the emotions and mood of the adults that surround them. Inspired by Stuart Shankar, they realized that their own Self-Regulation must serve as a model for kids and parents who are totally new to the concept, which led to the name of the blog, the Self-Regulated Teacher.
“The children are a reflection of what teacher is feeling,” says Andrea. “Valerie talks a lot about making the learning explicit – letting the children know how we’re feeling and why, and to explain what we’re doing to keep ourselves calm and regulated.”
One of the differences between teaching now and teaching a decade or more ago is that English is new for some parents. Andrea describes parents taking photos of classroom information posted on the parent bulletin board, knowing that they were then taking them away for translation. The site, which is full of photographs and basic information that Kindergarten parents need when they first enter the system, helps these parents stay connected more conveniently.
“Language barriers are increasing, but this approach helps new Canadian parents better than what we’ve done before, and with the emphasis on photos, they can see what’s taking place in class, even if you don’t have full command of the language,” says Christy. “We are parents too, so we know that sometimes the information coming from all sides can be somewhat overwhelming, but the site allows us to provide information in smaller bits,” adds Andrea.
Christy, who did her practicum at Ridgeview in 1993 and earned her degree at SFU, with a specialization in Early Childhood Education, later completed her diploma in English Language Learning. She has always known that she was destined to teach.
“I was a daycamp worker, the hostess running the parties at McDonald’s, the swim instructor – basically, my path was set by the time I was in Grade 10.”
Andrea, whose first teaching assignment was on Vancouver Island in 1987, earned her Bachelor of Education at UVIC and then followed up with a Master’s degree at UBC in Adult Education. She joined West Vancouver’s teaching staff in 1989, where she taught at Chartwell for nine years, and Hollyburn for five years before starting at Ridgeview..
“I purposely chose to study Adult Education, so that I could see the full scope of education – it closed a circle for me to understand the learner from birth to adulthood,” says Andrea. “This blog and website gives us an opportunity to provide not only classroom information, but some education for our classroom parents. The number of parents working has really increased since I started teaching, so this mode of communication is better for them, because they can access it from anywhere, and everyone gets the same information at the same time.”
The KinderTeam says they owe much of their success and joy in teaching to those they have been privileged to work with along the way.
“In this district, there is a culture that pushes you to better yourself all the time, through innovation grants, speakers at events and other connections; it constantly challenges you to become a better educator,” says Christy. “There is this great combination of being true to the foundation of education, but with an eye to the future so that we’re always willing to embrace innovation and what’s best for kids.”
“We have had some amazing, iconic principals and worked with many people who are now leaders all over the district,” says Andrea.
Research on early learning is constantly evolving, and both teachers stress that while academic readiness is important, best practice focuses much more now on the social emotional foundation that underpins student achievement. The pair strives to stay abreast of important research in early learning, and to apply it to meet the needs of every learner. That goal and their deep commitment to making sure every child acquires the skills and foundation to be a successful learner, can be challenging.
“I think as teachers we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to help, and to feel that you’ve done your best for your students,” says Andrea. “I am absolutely bereft when they move on – there is no grade where attachment to the family is greater than it is in Kindergarten, and the bonds we form with the children and their families really endures.”
Christy agrees and says that every minute counts in a Kindergarten class.
“There is increasing diversity in every class, and meeting all the needs of so many different learners, who are at different levels, you have to have a lot of flexibility,” says Christy. “But when you see these little independent Kinders following routines, starting to read, showing empathy, you never want to see them leave.”
Andrea and Christy both say that being part of a small community, where administrators know you and support a high standard of professional excellence also makes it easier to succeed. Christy elaborates on what she thinks makes the district so special.
“At Ridgeview, we feel like we’re part of a family – we have many longtime Ridgeview staff and everyone works so hard, whether they’re into athletics, the arts, coaching, music – people here are doing the things they love not because ‘I have to do this’, but because ‘I want to do this’.”
Kindergarten offers many teachable moments, but Andrea says one of the funniest moments that she can recall was when one of her students offered her mother some self-regulation advice, telling her that she was in the red zone and she couldn’t talk to her until she’d done some deep breathing.
Both Christy and Andrea have families of their own. Andrea, who is married to WVSS Vice Principal Brad Daudlin, has two children, a daughter at UBC and a son graduating from Grade 12 at WVSS. Christy is also married and has two daughters in Grade 9 and Grade 12 at Windsor Secondary in North Vancouver.
Ridgeview colleagues and staff all over the district, both current and past, are proud of the KinderTeam’s work. We are so fortunate that they found one another and developed such a close and successful working relationship and took their work online to develop deeper connections with students, families and others in education.
Connect with the KinderTeam on Twitter: @selfregteacher