What Game are We Playing?

The past few weeks we’ve had a lot of conversations with coaches across the country trying very hard to support teachers through this “new world” of teaching virtually, and especially, fears of what the next school year will look like. As we hear of changes to classroom environments, teacher resources changing, and the ever-so-present discussion of quality standards, I’ve developed the following analogy to describe where I think we’re heading…

It’s like we’re asking teachers to play CHESS, and letting them know they will be assessed on how well they play, the moves they make, the quality of their game. BUT, we’re giving them a BACKGAMMON board to play on. And, we’re giving them a partial set of CHINESE CHECKERS to play with.

The education of young children is very much like a chess game. Teachers need to think 3-4 moves ahead, strategically plan their moves, be aware of all game pieces and how they interact, and use these interactions for an optimal outcome. But, just as you can’t play chess on a backgammon board, you can’t create a high quality early learning environment if you are separating all children by 6 feet, covering their faces and yours with a mask, and not allowing them to play with each other. This isolated environment is not supportive of a young child’s social-emotional development, not to mention most of the other areas of development! You add to this the limitation of materials, the partial set of Chinese Checkers. Without the rich variety of materials, the learning opportunities are limited. Fewer moves can be made.

To be clear, I’m not saying let’s forget CDC guidelines and go back to how they were. But, I am saying let’s get some people on the CDC board that know what the inside of a quality early childhood classroom looks like. To see how it’s hard enough for a 2 year old to build a new relationship with a teacher without the teacher’s face being hidden behind a mask. To see how impossible it would be to raise a generation of children who will share and work together with others as adults if they never experienced it in their early years. To see how much less creativity our future doctors and researchers have to fight pandemics because we never allowed them to explore and manipulate a variety of materials when they were young. We need to remember what a quality education looks like when writing these rules and guidelines. Children deserve no less than for the adults to figure this out – not dump it on them. At a time when adults are walking around without masks, filling up bars, beaches and restaurants, and stores, it seems to me that we are dumping the restrictions in the laps of children, instead of doing what we can to create a safe world for them to move freely in.

My concerns go to the teachers, who love these children, who WANT to provide high quality care and education. Who will be ASSESSED and JUDGED by administrators using quality standards that are impossible to meet without the supporting environment and materials. We are setting teachers up for failure, setting children up for failure. And what’s sad is, we had just started to figure out how to succeed.

It’s time to get the game, the game board, and the game pieces from the same box.

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