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The First Six Weeks of School

June 17, 2020 | Emily Ford Sytsma

As I walk through the classrooms in these early days of school, I am so impressed with our staff and the careful attention they give to the children and the work of the day. This is the season for going slow and establishing the routines and procedures that will allow the children to go fast later on.

I hear teachers introducing each classroom job carefully and giving children a chance to practice. I see them modeling safe and strong use of all materials and taking time to reteach when children rush or forget. I see children proud of their ability to function independently after they know the right ways to do things.

Many of these ideas about slow introductions over the first six weeks of school are from Responsive Classroom. Responsive Classroom is a set of practices teachers can utilize to increase engagement with academics and to build a positive and supportive community. Responsive Classroom has influenced Mustard Seed School culture and teaching since its early years. It is part of our mindset of caring.

Using these Responsive Classroom strategies, the teachers are helping students discover the best ways to be together at school. The messages embedded in these practices will establish a foundation for the learning they will do all year. Here are a few of the messages embedded in this work:

We care about the materials we use. Every material is important. Because we have important work to do. It is not just about keeping things clean. We are teaching the children to care about how things look because there is an expectation for high-quality work, for striving, for excellence. For thinking carefully about the work we do.

We care about both the outcome and the process. In all of their work, we want for the children to have as much autonomy as possible. So they see excellent outcomes modeled. But they also learn how to make a good plan. In this way, every child learns how to work toward a goal. How to self-evaluate and how to try again with a new plan. We can all learn new things and grow stronger in every area if we pay attention to our work in the process. Again, this work is careful. Every step matters.

We care about each other. Our work will be better when we collaborate well. Teachers and students. Students with peers. Each child will meet challenges at school that prompt them to take risks and extend themselves beyond what has been comfortable. In order to be ready to do this, the children need to learn how to take care of each other. They need to know each other well enough to have a compassionate response when a classmate struggles. They need to know words of encouragement and grace. They need to practice failing and making mistakes. They need to practice offering and accepting help. They practice trying again. Most importantly, they work together to discover how they, as a unique group of unique individuals will create a place where all of this can happen.

So, if you are wondering if the children are working at school yet, please know that they are working quite hard. They are learning to care about their work, their space, their tools, and each other.

If you would like more information about the first six weeks of school in The Nest and Responsive Classroom strategies, here is a short article.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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