Leading with Empathy

“Leading with Empathy” is a new two hour training that April’s Teaching Tree is excited to offer. Dates are still being confirmed for Fall 2019, but it will be offered on Oct. 24th, 2019 as part of the VtAEYC Fall Conference.  See the full conference brochure here – http://vaeyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/FINAL-VAEYC-ONLINE-BROCHURE-1.pdf

This training is for you if you’ve been asking yourself these questions:

“How do can I find the courage to stand up for what I believe? Can a teacher also be a leader? How can I be both caring and an effective leader? How can I lead with compassion and kindness without burning out?”

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. ” ~Oprah Winfrey 

 

Course description:

Growing into leadership roles requires us to go outside of our comfort zones, and to examine both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Learn how to use active listening, observation, and empathetic response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children, families, and coworkers.

Leading with empathy helps us to explore the concepts of courage, compassion, and connection as we explore how to create the most supportive learning environment for all children.

Participants will looks at specific ways to create an environment that is built on trust, inclusion, and conveys a sense of belonging to all.

Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

Participants will create a “Self Care Action Plan” as a way to prioritize self-care since
leaders must learn how to care for themselves so theycan effectively lead their teams.

Learning Objectives:

1) Participants will learn about Active Listening & Observation & Empathetic Response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children and families.

2) Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

3) Participants will create a Self Care Action Plan as a way to prevent overwhelm and burn out.

S.T.E.A.M. Materials & Tool List

This week I led a STEAM workshop for the regional Head Start teachers. S.T.E.A.M. activities can be offered throughout the classroom. Often we think of just the block, math, or science center but the focus of this training was STEAM at the Writing Center or Art Center. Our objective was explore how to stock the classroom writing center & art center for deep engaged play. I thought I would share here on the blog the list of materials and tools that we felt could foster STEAM learning for preschoolers!

STEAM ~ why add the A to STEM?

  • Art – putting creativity back into the curriculum for ALL children
  • Art = process oriented, not product focused (limit craft projects)
  • Open ended, child-led, no specific goal in mind
  • Self-expression and Communication are both fostered when children get to tinker and explore with materials
  • Tools build fine motor skills, children gain confidence, and become more independent when they learn how to use tools

Consider printing these lists out and keeping them on a clipboard in your storage area. Write notes about the materials that work best in your classroom, and consider which materials to add to rotation to get more buy in…especially for the students who might not often go to the Writing Center or Art Center.

 

Materials – Recycled:

Remember to ask for donation from parents / staff / community

  • Bottle caps (might be sharp?)
  • Boxes
  • Brown paper
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cardboard cereal and cracker boxes (cut out alphabet letters and use at writing center)
  • Cards, envelopes, mail, letterhead
  • CDs and cases
  • CLEAR STORAGE BINS – shoe box sized or sweater box (important you can see into storage bins, and the bin limits the amount you will store)
  • corrugated cardboard cut into shapes – add slits so you can build with them
  • Dryer lint
  • Egg cartons
  • Envelopes – find a card store willing to donate?
  • Fabric swatches
  • Floor scraps
  • Food containers with lids – well cleaned
  • Milk cartons – well washed
  • Milk jug lids
  • Newspaper
  • Packing materials
  • Packing materials – biodegradable packing peanuts
  • Paint sticks
  • Paint swatches
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Picture frames
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Scrap paper
  • Shoe boxes
  • Smaller pieces of fabric
  • Spools from thread
  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Wool (the colored kind used for felting)
  • Yarn – small balls are often given away by those who knit
  • Yarn in a Box – shoe box, put small yarn balls inside, string the yarn through hole
  • Yogurt containers, lids

  

Materials – Nature Art:

  • Acorns
  • Tree bark
  • Rocks
  • Leaves
  • Sticks and twigs
  • Pine cones
  • Tree cookies
  • Bark

 Materials – Purchased:

Traditional Writing Center Materials – general materials to start the year with:

Wooden tape dispenser with colorful tape = Top Pick!

Colored masking tape or painters tape

Clear Scotch tape on a dispenser

Paper of various sizes and colors – keep it organized and tidy

Pre-folded blank cards (made from card stock or construction paper)

Mini books – made by folding paper and stapling like a book

Envelopes that fit the size of cards available

Hole Punch

Kid scissors

Markers or crayons

Glue stick

White glue

Name cards (on index cards write the names of family and friends for the children to copy)

Stickers – themed or alphabet or high interest topics

Googly eyes

Eye ball stickers – Discount School Supply – Top Pick! J

Word wall (write down holiday words that children might like to copy: Merry Christmas/ To:  From:  / Love)

 

Writing tools – keep rotating your offerings to keep it interesting!

  • Crayons – large fat crayons peeled for doing rubbings
  • Crayola – worth the investment to get the best, try offering different kinds of crayons to keep it interested – various sizes, shapes, sparkly, neon, etc.
  • Used crayons – save up the scraps and melt to make crayon cakes
  • Markers – Crayola washable in both thin and thick, short
  • Permanent Sharpie Markers (adult supervision and clear directions)
  • Pencils – thick to begin, then traditional. Avoid cheap pencils with plastic wrap that jams pencil sharpener
  • Colored pencils
  • Twistable crayons

 

Materials or tools to add to keep the Writing Center interesting:

 Card Stock – heavy weight paper that is more durable for collage and book making, I don’t leave this out at the writing center but offer it for certain projects

Collage Materials

Colored copy paper or construction paper – in seasonal colors

Craft sticks – show how to make stick puppets, picture frames

Curling ribbon

Cutting tray – cut paper strips from easel paper for kids to snip, then save for inexpensive collage filler

Decorative paper punches

Decorative scissors (“Crazy Scissors” is what my students call them)

Do-a-Dot markers (careful since these can stain)

Foam shapes (to glue on)

Gel pens on black paper

Gem stickers – Discount School Supply – adds bling to ornaments, cards

Gift tag stickers or Paper gift tags and string

Glitter (if you’re brave)

Glitter glue

Holiday scrap booking paper or wrapping paper

Holiday stickers

Paper lunch bags – make puppets, make ‘gift bags’

Photographs

Recycled cards from last year – cut out interesting pictures and collage

Recycled cards with hole punches on the edges & yarn to lace

Ribbon

Rubber stamps and ink pads

Stamp markers

Tissue paper (pre-cut into squares for younger children)

White crayons on dark blue or black paper

Materials for Art Center, Maker Space, Creation Station, etc.

  • Aleene’s or similar thick glue
  • Beads
  • beads that are connected together in lengths
  • Buttons
  • clean socks (for sock puppets)
  • decorative chain
  • fabric
  • fake flowers
  • fake fur
  • feathers
  • felt
  • foamies
  • Fuzzy stickes, formally called pipe cleaners – great for 3D creations in ECERS
  • gimp
  • glitter glue (or loose glitter for those brave teachers)
  • googly eyes
  • multi pack foam colored sponges (not scrubber sponges)
  • Multi temp glue sticks (large or mini) and glue guns {Adult use}
  • permanent markers
  • pom poms
  • popsicle sticks in various sizes – mini, regular, tongue depressor sized
  • rhinestones
  • ribbon/trim
  • sequins
  • sticky notes
  • Upholstery foam
  • upholstery foam
  • water based markers
  • wooden craft dowels, chop sticks, round rods
  • wooden pieces

 

Tools to foster STEAM:

  • Trays
  • Drying rack
  • Storage bin – like chip and dip container with lid
  • Scissors – kid safety, loop scissors, decorative design scrapbook type
  • Stapler (with supervision)
  • Tweezers
  • Stencils- store bought, made from large yogurt lids, cookie cutters for tracing
  • Cookie cutters – play dough, tracing, dip into paint and stamp
  • Rulers – get with easy to read numbers, inches only
  • Paper punches – check scrapbook section of Joann’s or Michael’s for deals
  • Hole punches
  • Rubber stamps and stamp pads
  • Sponges
  • Yarn in a Box (see above description)
  • Mirrors
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Magnets
  • Pippettes, turkey baster
  • Spin Art – salad spinner
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint scrapers of various styles

 

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P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

 

photography of tree
Photo by gypsyugal on Pexels.com

 

I wanted to share a description of a program that I am creating this summer. I feel called to begin to host women’s groups that help us reclaim our power. Beginning in August 2019 I will be hosting this as an outdoor women’s group in the Saint Johnsbury, Vermont area. I am also developing this into an online e-course as well!

Workshop Title:  P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

Workshop Description: As women it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. During this workshop we will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in our lives need added focus and attention. We will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize that align with our core values. We will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships as a way to build support one another. Throughout the workshop participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to reclaiming their inner power.

If you’d like to join one of my groups or to create your own private group with your friends I will begin scheduling in August 2019! Email April for more details ~~~   aprilzajko@gmail.com 

 

“But what do you do?”

“But what do you do?” ~ when I hear the question I have to quickly decide if I give the full speech, a one minute version of the speech, or just a few words.

Most people within my professional circle know me as a “preschool teacher”. A kind, warm and fuzzy teacher who ties shoes, wipes off messy faces, sings songs and teaches about manners, nature, art, and social-emotional skills. My last eight years in the classroom were spent in preschool, and I came to realize the power and fundamental role that early childhood has on both the academic success in school and lifelong impact for children who have access to high quality early childhood programs.

When I took on a new role of entrepreneur and creating a business as an educational consultant, my friends didn’t quite know how the presumably soft skills of preschool teacher would translate into a business model. Surprisingly, learning how to take care of young children prepared me well for working with a wide range of groups because nearly all people find it refreshing to work with someone who is both kind and a go-getter!

Back to the question…”But what do you do?”

In a few words ~ I am an educational consultant.

One minute speech ~ I am an Early Childhood Educator and I work with schools, child care centers, businesses and organizations to develop programs that support a ‘holistic view of childhood”. With my almost twenty years of working with families and children I know the silos and obstacles that exist within our system and I can help facilitate ways to improve our programs to have a greater impact on children.

And for those who really want to dive into more of the details….I typed up an even longer description!

April Zajko, M.Ed. is the owner of April’s Teaching Tree, an educational consulting business with a mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. April has been leading professional development in education since 2003 and is licensed in Vermont as both as an Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. April has built a solid reputation for providing relevant, engaging, and motivating programs that take theory and put it into actionable steps to improve outcomes for children.  Over the last school year, April has led professional development in Vermont for child care centers, regional Head Start teams, Starting Points networks, and private programs. April has partnered with several nonprofit organizations who are working toward improving educational programs for young children, including the Vermont Community Engagement Lab and the STEM Lab at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Over the last eight years, April has led trainings at the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children fall conference and developed master level trainings in science. Since 2016, April has taught early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont in Saint Johnsbury, and has helped many new professionals get started on their career path in early childhood education.

April is committed to workforce development and knows that as we empower early care providers we strengthen our system and practices of care for ALL families.

April is passionate about advocating for nature-based learning and puts creativity and PLAY at the center of the curriculum.

April believes that ALL children thrive when we design inclusive programs that offer supportive and warm environments that cultivate nurturing  and responsive relationships.

April’s Teaching Tree gives voice to the vision and mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. To read my weekly blog post subscribe at http://www.aprilsteachingtree.com

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If your program or organization wants to create custom professional development or partner on projects for the next school year, please email April directly at aprilzajko@gmail.com

If you are an individual and want to sign up for a course of program led by April Zajko, visit this link which will be updated as programs or classes are added ~ https://aprilsteachingtree.com/upcoming-trainings/

If you would like to be part of April’s ongoing women’s leadership group called P.O.W.E.R.~Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationship ~ send an email to get more information ~ aprilzajko@gmail.com

“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” ~Gandhi

“Ready to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education?”

 

art artistic bright color
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Ready to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education?”

Led by April Zajko, M.Ed.

Tuesday, June 11th  5:00-6:00 p.m.

Location: Community College of Vermont in Saint Johnsbury – 3rd floor

Description: Are you getting started in the field of child care and want to learn more? Join us for this one hour interactive conversation about the Vermont Early Childhood Career Ladder. This tool can help  you plan and track your professional growth by organizing coursework, credentials, degrees, and licensure. Learn how each level of the Career Ladder combines education and experience, and how you can continue to grow and learn in this exciting field. Bring your questions and we can help you on your path to a rewarding career! This is open to the public and anyone can attend! FREE! No pre-registration required.

Objective: Participants will learn how to navigate the Vermont Early Childhood Career Ladder.

“Spacecraft Design 101″

“Spacecraft Design 101”

at the Davies Memorial Library in Waterford, Vermont 

July 19, 2019 ~ 9:30 -11:30 a.m.

 

Every young astronaut dreams of designing & creating their own cardboard space travel machine. April Zajko will lead this hand-on workshop where every child will be encourage to let their creativity shine. Afterwards participants will be ready to blast off home with their own rocket or spaceship.

Kindly pre-register by calling the library (802- 748-4609) so we will have enough materials on hand!

Though April has not traveled to space herself, she has inspired children for almost two decades to reach for the stars! As a licensed Early Childhood Educator, she believes that children (of all ages) learn through play and that the universe of knowledge and joy awaits children in the books they read!

 

Educational Journey ~ First Job in Education

 

Sharing our story and our journey of how we got to where we are is a powerful way of connecting to each other. When we look at our resume we know which of the jobs had the greatest impact on the direction of our lives. Often it’s the first jobs that we have that have the greatest impact.

My very first job in education was at Minnick Education Center in Roanoke, Virginia. It was private day school for students who were not meeting with success in traditional public schools. The program that I worked in was alternative high school program with a small group of mostly African American young men who were at risk of dropping out of school or going into juvenile detention centers. The commonality between the group were a diagnosis of Emotionally Disturbed, disruptive behaviors, and extremely low literacy levels. There was no option for these young men to return to their home schools because of their previous behaviors, and therefore there was pressure to make sure they met with success with us so they could either graduate with an alternate diploma or earn their G.E.D.

By far, it was the hardest teaching position that I have had in my career but I was committed to those young men. I was determined for them to meet with success. Each student had a three inch binder that contained “their story” and it was shocking and heartbreaking to read.  How could these young men only read on an early elementary level? How had they fallen through the school system and not have received effective interventions earlier? How had they made it this far despite the obstacles they faced? Could someone have prevented their behaviors from escalating to the point that they were expelled? What could have changed their trajectory so that learning differently didn’t mean failing school? And most importantly, how could we help set them on a path to a vocation that could become independent and productive citizens?

That first year was also my last year in that type of educational setting because it was too overwhelming for me. As a compassionate and empathetic educator the experience of working with a group of teens who were in the midst of trauma was too much for me. I remember telling my principal how I was feeling at mid-year; he nodded, asked me to finish out the year, and said this field has a high turnover rate because most educators want to fix problems that they can’t.

That first teaching position helped me realize that my strengths were in working with younger children. I wanted to be an early childhood teacher that help start children’s trajectory in a different way. I wanted to learn how to teach ALL children to read and to honor that different ways of learning could be supported in a traditional school.

Luckily near the conclusion of that school year, I was accepted into a program with the Western Virginia Public Education Consortium that was offering a ‘career switcher’ Teacher Preparation Program. The Virginia Department of Education recognized that people like me who already had a Bachelor’s degree and a fiery desire to make a difference in children’s lives needed a pathway to teacher licensure. This was a godsend because going back for an education degree was not financially possible for me at the time, and the career switcher program was fully paid for by the Virginia DOE.

For one month in July 2001, I was able to live on campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and take part in an intensive training to become a provisionally licensed elementary teacher. Later that summer I was hired as a first grade teacher in a public school, was assigned a mentor teacher, and received support throughout my first year from the Consortium to ensure that I was able to effectively teach younger children. My first year in public school I began to take graduate level classes in order to become a reading specialist and was determined to ensure that every child I work with finds reading to be a joyful experience. One of my foundational beliefs is that when a child knows how to read an entire universe opens up in front of them, and that there is freedom and knowledge awaiting us all when we read.

I often think back to Minnick and the lessons I learned from that group of young men. I don’t know where life took them, but I carry with me a piece of their story. Each of those young men’s stories are important, and each of the children and adult students that I work with have important stories to share. When we share our stories, whether written or orally, we create connections and foster an environment built on respect.

I know when I look at my resume that the one year at Minnick had the greatest impact on my career. As educators, we have the power to influence the trajectory of our student’s lives when we don’t let any of them slip through the cracks. As early childhood educators, we truly set the foundation and groundwork for the rest of their academic lives so it is both and honor and responsibility that we advocate for what children need.