One of the key things that makes PKS such a special place are our teachers. They are warm, caring, and love to learn alongside their students. PKS supports our teachers and encourages them to attend conferences and seminars that will help them grow as educators. We are also proud that, even while we maintain a growth mindset and continue learning, our teachers have tremendous expertise and are well-regarded by educators from the progressive early childhood education field.
Last weekend PKS, together with Yu Ming, Shu Ren, CAIS, and ISTP, hosted the second annual Early Childhood Chinese Immersion Forum (ECCIF) which brought together over 100 educators from Chinese immersion preschool and kindergarten programs from the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Southern California. On one hand, it was a great way for us to continue our professional learning - the keynote speaker was Shuhan Wang, a foremost expert in immersion education. Dr. Wang spoke on how children learn through PLAYfulness (P: Peers and Relationships; L: Languages and Literacies; A: Actions and Activities; and Y: “Yes, I Can!”) and how educators can accompany and guide children with purpose and intentionality every step of the way.
On the other hand, this was also an opportunity for our teachers to shine and share their knowledge and expertise. Serena Laoshi and Elaine Laoshi gave a presentation on designing and implementing an inquiry-based curriculum, with Elaine Laoshi laying out the general theory and structure of an inquiry-based project and Serena Laoshi illustrating this methodology with a project developed with her 3-to 4-year-old students based on their interest in animals, crocodiles in particular. Daisy Laoshi and Shuying Laoshi presented on something slightly different. They looked at developing early literacy and social responsibility, sharing a project done with 4-to 5-year-old students, focused on our local Bay Area environment and protecting sea life.
One question we hear a lot at these conferences is, “how long does it take to implement a full project?” For us, the answer is always, however long it takes. Some of our projects span 6 months to several years, based on our students’ interests. For us, it’s about exploring concepts patiently and deeply, which is a key component of any progressive educational philosophy.
Both PKS presentations focused on innovation, inquiry-based learning, and cultivating a spirit of agency and curiosity in our students, and both were extremely well received and well attended, sparking robust pedagogical conversations and exchanges.
A particularly interesting and invigorating discussion focused on academic outcomes versus language output - in an inquiry based language immersion program, do you have to sacrifice one or the other because students don’t have the language mastery to express academic concepts in the immersion language? While many differing opinions were voiced and discussed, our approach at PKS is nuanced and always informed by the teacher’s observations - there is often more than one correct path and approach to achieving the same high-level outcomes. Throughout the project/inquiry based approach, there are times when a teacher will need to emphasize language acquisition, and times when a teacher will want to focus on developing particular academic concepts - each discrete activity will necessitate a different focus, but the project overall will include advanced outcomes in both language and academic development. The important conclusion for us, which we shared with the other participants, is that through this process, the teachers’ attitude is essential. Teachers must have an overall vision of the project outcomes, but remain flexible, making sure children experience authentic joy of learning and offering multiple ways for students to access knowledge and express their learning.
In a few weeks, PKS will be hosting a Reggio Emilia Conference with the Innovative Teachers Project. Our preschool faculty and staff will be responsible for developing the event program and experience for our visiting scholars, through leading classroom presentations, creating hands-on, collaborative activities, and facilitating pedagogical reflections and conversations. We are very excited to invite these early education scholars to our campus, share the amazing work our teachers are already doing in the classroom, and work collaboratively with other Reggio Emilia-inspired educators to better respond to and promote our children’s growth as competent, strong, inventive, and potential filled human beings and citizens.