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Reflecting Back on a Remarkable Journey

As we close out another school year, one quite like no other, I would like to celebrate our amazingly dedicated community of educators and directors who have weathered this pandemic with strength, creativity, and grace. The staffs at each of our schools have worked so hard to continually adapt and adjust to the ever-changing landscape of protocols, rules, and regulations while simultaneously meeting the needs of the children and their families as everyone navigated the emotions that accompany a worldwide pandemic. Our Jewish lens of Masa/Journey teaches us the value of reflecting upon and learning from our journeys and that we are elevated through seeing each step as a moment of learning. As this school year comes to a close, I’ve been looking through this lens and reflecting on the past 12 months.

We’ve all experienced a year in “COVID-time” where each month felt like a year’s worth of changes in thinking and understanding of COVID and its’ impact on school policy as well as the mental health of our children, families, and ourselves. It was undeniably exhausting, and yet, I’ve also seen evidence of the remarkable resilience of our early educators who, creatively adapted their practice of teaching and learning with our youngest children, first to a virtual school format, and then adapting to new realities that accompanied a return to in-person teaching. They have been on the front lines throughout and continually provided stimulating and responsive places for learning, always exploring ways in which they could support young children in understanding and adapting to their ever-changing world. When children returned to school last summer, educators wrote social stories to support children around changes in procedures and mask-wearing, such as Phillips ECC at the Boulder JCC educator, Caroline Saliman’s  A Mask is a Mitzvah, and Foster ECC at Temple Emanuel’s Coming Back to School: A Guide for Kids (and Parents too). Throughout the school year educators and directors continually rose to the challenges that COVID presented and often made lemonade out of the lemons they were given – more examples of this will follow in future blogs.

Our Jewish Lens of Tikkun Olam reminds us of our responsibility to do our part in fixing our broken world, and a year ago when George Floyd’s death resulted in massive social unrest related to racial injustice in our country, we as early educators considered our role and responsibility to do our part. As a result, our community of schools has engaged in deep learning related to the practice of Anti-Bias Education from the earliest ages. A group of educators from across our schools participated in a Community of Practice (CoP) facilitated by Efshar Project Coach/Consultant Natalie Boscoe. Together they read and began to unpack Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks, Julie Olson Edwards, and Catherine Goins, and reflected on and grew their practice in this area. A team of educators from across the schools helped to re-imagine our annual conference in a virtual format due to the pandemic. The focus was on Anti-Bias Education and speakers from across the country and as far away as the UK “Zoomed” in to lead our 200 educators in learning on the topic. I’ve seen a number of the schools dedicate themselves to ongoing thinking and learning around the goals of anti-bias education, equity, and inclusion, and  I continue to add resources to our Anti-Bias Resource Folder that evolved from the conference as change in this area is an ongoing process that requires continual learning, thinking, and reflecting together. While juggling the demands of this year, cohorts of educators dedicated themselves to ongoing learning offered through the Efshar Project in other areas as well including early emotional development and mental health in our Foundations of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health series and our First 36 Fellowship and Reggio-inspired practice in a study group facilitated by Pedagogista and host of “Awakened to Reggio” podcast, Sandy Lanes.

My final reflection is on the work of our schools to engage families during this challenging year. Social distancing, masks, and protocols that resulted in families being unable to enter our buildings resulted in a myriad of challenges around connecting families to the school and to each other. Each school has worked tirelessly to address these challenges, oftentimes partnering with families to seek creative solutions and make the best of the current reality. How exciting that end-of-year continuation celebrations and final Shabbat gatherings have begun a return to being physically together with families.

So, what have I learned from this past year? Here are my top three take-a-ways:

  • This year has confirmed my belief that early childhood educators are the most dedicated, hard-working, creative, and resilient professionals out there.
  • When we think collaboratively, creative solutions to challenges always evolve.
  • Though we are resilient, we are more than ready for summer and the small steps toward a more normal existence that are beginning to become visible.

Mazel tov to all our children, families, and educators on making it through this challenging school year!