The Past is the Way to the Future

Early childhood educators change positions multiple times during our working career. Including all jobs in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average worker between the ages of 18-48 years old will switch jobs at least eleven times. With younger workers the average is higher, as people are looking for better opportunities and wages. In early childhood education the turnover is even higher. Our field experiences an average turnover of 40% every year.

In addition to turnover, many more educators move between programs. A large percentage of the field finds themselves in new classrooms or new schools each year. All the transitions to new classrooms/schools require early childhood educators to establish new classroom cultures and/or discover their place. How can early childhood educators successfully adapt into the culture of a new school?

The trend for most people is to stay with what we recognize. Remaining in our lane and utilizing our existing skills is true in all fields---early childhood is no different. Educators bring to their new program a background that includes education, experience, beliefs and dreams for the future. The qualities educators bring to a new position are great resources to draw from in the building of new classroom cultures. Our experiences are the foundation for our future learning.

In the book Experiential Learning, Learning as the Source of learning and Development D.A. Kolb defined learning as a human adaption process stating learning, “Is a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” As an early childhood educator there are steps that can be utilized to enhance our adaptation to a new school and help us establish our classroom cultures. The following six actions will help in the transition.

1) Being involved in the teaching process by “doing” is more effective than “thinking”. The everyday process of working with the children creates understanding of what shapes your particular group of children and quickly provides you with valuable clues of the next steps that are required for continued growth of the learning community

2) Observation is a key. Taking the time to employ all of our senses and observe what is materializing in the classroom can answer many questions for the new educator. Observation tells us what is functioning well and what needs improvement. By slowing down and looking closely we can employ our past experience to our new position, learn how it benefits the children, and move forward.

3) Reflection represents the opportunity all educators have to look inward and fully experience what is materializing in the classroom. Reflection compares our dreams and goals to the actual outcomes of our work. Reflection is accomplished through a short consistent journaling process at the beginning or end of the day. Writing down what happened in the program and our feelings about the experience creates new pathways for adaptation and growth.

4) Utilizing a growth mindset invites us to be open and employ new ideas we discover though our practice. Experience has many benefits, but one drawback of experience is educators may become too comfortable in how we practice in the classroom. When new ideas and observational clues reveal moving in another direction could be beneficial for the children, working with a growth mindset will assist us with adapting to a new school environment and culture.

5) Having patience in the process is a key element of change. All educators’ lead busy lives and our natural tendency is to want the process of professional growth to develop quickly. Growth in our field or a new classroom moves at a slower pace because the adaption and acquisition of new knowledge and methods involves other educators, children, and parents. The process of adapting to a new environment makes the rate of progression can feel glacial at times. Trust in yourself and the process as your classroom growth proceeds in a steady and positive way.

6) Finally, continuing education and professional development represents a great resource to expand our thinking and generate new ideas for adapting our practice to our changing environments. Take advantage of online training, workshops, online forums and networking with fellow educators. Then embrace the past, adapt new ideas, and reflect on the results as you travel forward in building a better educator and enhance the classroom experience.

What past experiences influence your work today?