Meet the Teacher: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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TNCS Hosts Education Conference for Teachers from China!

Last week, The New Century School hosted some very special guests: nine kindergarten and preschool educators from China (plus one of the teacher’s 5-year-old daughter, Kitty).  They came to the United States for some training sessions as part of a conference titled “Innovation in Education,” the brainchild of TNCS Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner in partnership with representative Alex Xu from Each Future Cultural Network, a company dedicated to fostering cultural exchanges between China and the United States. Although this was not the first time TNCS and EFCN have jointly hosted Chinese guests (see International Camp at TNCS), this session was unique in being devoted to teacher training for adults.  
Explaining how the conference came to be and its mission, Ms. Faux says:
We were approached by a group in China interested in learning more about U.S. education styles. TNCS partnered with Loyola and Johns Hopkins University to present talks and sessions on a variety of topics. Our mission was to expose Chinese teacher to progressive styles of learning, especially at the preschool and early elementary ages. Many progressive schools approach education based on a model of human development (Montessori). This encompasses two main principles: 1) Children engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments, and 2) preschool children have an innate path of psychological development. Children who are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared environment act spontaneously for optimal development. This is a critical time for children, which has a long-term impact on future learning and development. This is a very new concept to Chinese education and culture.
The group arrived on Sunday, April 24th and began attending conference seminars first thing the next morning. As Ms. Faux said above, the concepts presented were mostly unfamiliar to the group, but this did not lessen the appeal of listening to presentations and engaging in question-and-answer sessions afterward. Of the nine, three spoke English and were able to help Mr. Xu with the task of translating the presentations by speakers into Mandarin as well as the responses by the group into English to facilitate smooth communication. The itinerary was as follows.

Day 1

On Monday, the group stuck pretty close to home base, starting with a welcome tour of TNCS and an overview of the week’s workshops. After being treated to breakfast by Chef Emma Novashinski, they observed the primary and K/1st classrooms during the morning, then had lunch with the upper elementary students followed by gelato at Pitango in Fell’s Point. Back at headquarters, they enjoyed their first formal presentation by TNCS K/1st teacher Adriana Duprau on classroom management in a non-traditional classroom, where students enjoy considerably more freedom than in traditional classrooms.
This may well have been the most challenging concept of the week for them to embrace, given that there is little leeway in the typical Chinese classroom, and students are expected to conduct themselves according to a strict standard of behavior. In a classroom that averages 30 or more students, such behavioral expectations make sense—no one would be learning anything amidst the mayhem that would otherwise likely result. Instead, the model Chinese student pays attention to the instructor, sits still (in some cases even sitting on his or hands to avoid the temptation to fidget), and speaks only when called on (see TNCS Visits Schools in China).
 

A very thoughtful discussion followed the talk, with the group inquiring about TNCS’s approach to standardized test taking and arguing that every student needs high scores. In Chinese schools, excelling is a must.

Day 2

On Tuesday, the group traveled to Columbia to visit the Washington Montessori Institute of Loyola. Speaker Jennifer Shields, Director of Primary Training, presented the basics of the Montessori approach and how it not only accommodates how children develop but also optimizes that development. As part of the presentation, the group sang a “Good Morning” song, toured classrooms, and watched video footage of a primary classroom in glorious, productive action.

After the morning session, the group returned to TNCS for lunch, followed by a talk from Head of School Alicia Danyali on bilingual education. Once again, the subsequent Q&A focused on the differences between the organic approach to language acquisition that TNCS adopts with the Chinese way, which is often includes using tutors for extra practice.

Day 3

On Wednesday, escorted by JHU School of Education Assistant Dean for Community Schools Dr. Annette Anderson, the group first toured the relatively new Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, also known as Henderson-Hopkins, an early childhood center as well as K–8 school. According to their mission, this public school:

. . . will pursue the most contemporary, effective approaches to meeting the needs of students, their families, and the community. The school will take a holistic approach to developing the potential of each student, one that focuses on the behavioral, cognitive and physical health of the child. It will emphasize individualized learning, and family and community involvement supported by wrap-around services.

The creation of an early childhood center is key to assuring early success for students and their families and will help each student reach his or her full potential. By placing an emphasis on physical and social development as well as academic achievement, Henderson-Hopkins is fully committed to making sure that all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and that they will be fully prepared to enter their high school of choice and eventually college.

After lunch at nearby Atwater’s, the group headed to the JHU campus School of Education building, where Assistant Professor Dr. Carolyn Parker gave a presentation on STEM Education. Her talk centered on JHU’s National Science Foundation STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) grant. “The SABES grant is a 7.4 million dollar award that leverages the skills and resources of the schools, community, and businesses in three high-minority, low-resource Baltimore city neighborhoods. The goal is to integrate science into a child’s world as opposed to bringing a student into the world of scientists.”

After this full day, the group was ready for some rest but not before one of them made the very incisive point that China seems to invest its educational resources in the top achievers, whereas the United States seems to be focusing on raising up the underperformers.

Day 4

Thursday started with a very special treat—handmade smoothies courtesy of Chef Emma followed by the first-ever TNCS talent show! Students from all levels performed songs in Mandarin, and the upper elementary also sang in Spanish for good measure. The Chinese group was enthralled, and TNCS faculty nearly burst with pride.

From there, the group attended a talk on Mindfulness in Education by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish at Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus. See TNCS Teachers Get Mindful! for a similar discussion. Much of this talk involved regulating emotions and how children respond to stressors, which is an also area of expertise of one of the group members, Hui Huang, who goes by “Rowena” in the States.

Lastly that day, the group toured the Baltimore School for the Arts under the guidance of TWIGS (afterschool program) Director and Musical Theatre Instructor Becky Mossing. Here the group saw choir, orchestra, dance, sculpture, and theatre students engaged in their respective arts and also got a peek inside the rigorous academic classrooms.

Day 5

Friday began with a tour of the Washington International School and a presentation on WSI’s international program that challenges students in preschool through 12th grade “to become responsible and effective world citizens.” This was followed by a talk by presenter Alice Zhang on teacher training at the Center for Chinese Language Teacher Development and Training at the University of Maryland College Park.

The final activity was a farewell party back at TNCS, where the group received certification for having completed the training and relaxed with some refreshments. They also provided verbal and written feedback about their experience to help shape future conferences. Said one of the attendees, Xiang Xueying, who goes by “Gloria” in the states, “I really enjoyed my stay here very much.” Gloria was especially impressed with the Western habit of reading to young children nightly before bed and wants to encourage Chinese parents to adopt this practice.

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All in all, according to TNCS Lead Mandarin Instructor Wei Li, they were all quite satisfied with the training program. From their reports, she gleaned the following:

They found the arrangements of this training reasonable and colorful. They have visited different levels and different kinds of school here, from pre-primary to university, from private to public school. Also, they were exposed to different areas of education, like language, math, art, psychology, etc. Several things impressed them a lot. First, they appreciated the warm and thoughtful hospitality from TNCS. Second, they enjoyed the advanced Montessori teaching theory and the “practical life” Montessori classroom environment. Last but not least, they were impressed with TNCS students’ multilingual ability, especially their Chinese proficiency.

Mr. Xu also felt that the program was a success and that it was well organized. His one suggestion for future such programs is to tailor the round of talks more to the given audience’s specific background, such as preschool-oriented topics for this last group. It’s a good suggestion because, as Ms. Faux has confirmed, another conference is in the works and may be becoming an ongoing TNCS endeavor!

TNCS Parent Workshop: Making the Transition from Pre-Primary to Primary

This week’s Immersed post is a very special one, brought to you by TNCS Primary Teachers Maria Mosby (main author, photographer) and Lisa Reynolds (main photographer), with additional contributions from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali and Pre-Primary Teacher Yu Lin.

Their topic? The New Century School‘s Pre-Primary Parent Workshop held January 21, 2016, which was in itself something a little different, focusing on how to make the transition from the pre-primary classroom to the primary classroom a smooth one for our 3-year-old friends. It’s quite a big step for such small children, and many parents experience considerable anxiety about how their child will handle it—a baby in diapers in spring, to a self-possessed student of a multilingual Montessori classroom come fall? Impossible! Yet this is exactly what occurs each year, to the amazement of parents, the delight of the kids themselves, and with knowing smiles by the teachers. And so without further ado, here’s how they do it, as written by Ms. Mosby as well as an excerpt from Lin Laoshi!

The purpose of the Parent Workshop was to give parents an overview of what their child’s experience would be like once they move up to the primary classroom, as well as answer any questions, and perhaps help alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. It began with Lin Laoshi talking about the difference between the pre-primary and primary classrooms, with the focus being more on independence in primary:

The TNCS pre-primary program is a language immersion program, focusing on foreign language enrichment. Children are exposed to the language 100% of school time. They learn languages through singing fun songs, playing games, doing hands-on activities, and attending cultural presentations. The classroom setting relies mainly on group work with the guidance of the program teacher.

The TNCS primary program is a mixed-age Montessori program, which encourages students to be independent, explore freedom within limits, and learn to establish a sense of order. They are encouraged to choose any activity from within a prescribed range of options and do their work independently most of their school time.

In order to bridge the gap between the two programs, students in the pre-primary program are gradually encouraged to do more things by themselves to enhance their abilities of self-awareness and self-control.”

Mrs. Danyali then gave the parents insight into the placement process and an overview of the primary program, while I walked them through a typical day. From there, it became more of an open discussion and question-and-answer session.

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A quiet, cozy moment with a friend in the peace corner goes a long way to making children feel comfortable and at ease.

What particular challenges the children will face was a big part of the discussion. Separation tends to be the biggest issue in my experience. Even though these students have been to school before, they are entering a different environment with new teachers, new friends, and new routines. That’s a lot for a young child at once. We try to make the transition as gentle as possible, and make them feel at home.

Another difficult aspect for the new children can be understanding that not all of the Montessori materials are available for them to use just yet. Everything is so new and enticing—in fact, the Montessori materials are specifically designed to call to the children. However, a new 3-year-old, though very excited by the movable alphabet or bead cabinet, is most likely not quite ready to use these materials. That’s why it’s so important to go over preliminary lessons, or the “ground rules” of the classroom, several times in group and individual situations to kindly but firmly give reminders to all.

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This group Spanish lesson on rainforest animals shows that little kids really can focus . . . even it means keeping their hands otherwise occupied!

Another point to remember is that we make sure each individual child is ready for this transition. Our administrators are very skilled at making sure that children who move up are both physically and emotionally ready. In the rare cases in which a child has shown signs of not being comfortable in the new environment, we worked with the parents to help the child become more independent and develop the skills he or she needed to feel secure in the primary classroom. Consistency and partnership between home and school is, thus, vitally important, as is respect for the child and his or her individual needs.

The photos below (picturing kids who just moved up to primary this school year) erase any doubt that young children are eager to embark on journeys of independence and self-exploration. They learn by doing at this age, and allowing them this opportunity does wonders for their self-esteem, let alone their physical and cognitive development.

The take-away message is, parents should be reassured that this transition needn’t be a scary experience, and there isn’t much special preparation* necessary. We are set up to welcome all children as they are, and the primary classroom is the next step in the work that they’ve already been working so hard at in pre-primary—developing self-help skills, socialization, motor skills, and working within a community.

*Here are some practical tips for parents to familiarize themselves and their children with the exciting changes to come.

  1. It’s great for parents to prepare their children for the transition by talking about it in a positive way, perhaps choosing new items together for the new school year.
  2. Talk about it—but not too much too soon. Constantly discussing the transition, especially when it might be months away, may create anxiety for your child.
  3. Slowly begin introducing more opportunities for independence (allowing your child to dress himself with support, help to pack lunch, etc.). However, I don’t advise rushing toileting or to cause children think there is a “deadline” for them to be ready. This may have the opposite of the desired effect.
  4. Visit the primary classrooms and read up on Montessori theory. A great introduction is A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom, by Aline Wolf. It’s a quick read and gives an overview of philosophy and materials. Lin Laoshi also recommended the book, Mindful Discipline, by Shauna Shapiro, PhD. Additionally, Mrs. Danyali provided a Reading List that includes these and other very helpful titles.
  5. Come to the “Back-to-School Meet and Greet” with your child at the beginning of the school year. It’s a great opportunity for your child to meet his teachers, new friends (and likely some old friends!), and become acclimated to the new environment.
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This sweet smile kind of says it all.