Full employment in kindergarten classroom

Southside teachers embrace development model

Full employment promotes classroom community and student development

By Cynthia R. Savo and Catherine Romaine Henderson

(Editor's note: One of the challenges of implementing the Comer School Development Process (SDP) is learning how to apply the principles of child development to school and classroom practices and parenting.

The Comer SDP faculty provides professional development that teaches educators and parents how to integrate child development knowledge and principles into classroom practice and parenting. Rather than prescribing how educators and parents successfully integrate development and learning, the Comer SDP encourages participants to work together using creativity to identify possible solutions that make sense in a local context.

This article appears in the Feb. 2014 issued of The Hartsville Comer Connection, and highlights best practices of applied pathway knowledge and developmentally supportive practices in Hartsville's Comer classrooms.)

Background

The idea for full employment in the classroom was an outcome of Comer 102 professional development. That training included a session called, A Day in the Life of a Developmentally Supportive Classroom. Core teams from each of the schools looked at every activity that takes place inside and outside a classroom during a typical school day—taking attendance, passing in homework, working in centers, greeting visitors, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, assemblies, using the restroom and more. (Download the chart outlining daily activities listed starting with a child entering a classroom, their departure at the end of the school day and everything in between.) One question guided the discussions: How could each activity support children’s development along the six pathways?

Nancy Williamson and Lana Faile’s 5K classroom at Southside

At Southside Early Childhood Center, kindergarten teacher Nancy Williamson and assistant Lana Faile developed a list of 24 jobs based on the previous workshop's discussion about classroom activities. With one for each child, the jobs included energy conservationist, concierge, domestic engineers, computer tech, a meteorologist, meal time coordinator, equipment handler, guest relations assistant, and others. Each child would have a job with specific duties for a week. Then they would rotate so by the end of the year, each child would have performed every job on the list. Part of the responsibility includes wearing a colorful laminated badge with the job title.

The excitement about the jobs is palpable in the classroom. Visitors are treated to presentations, where the children identify their jobs and duties. For example, the meteorologist explains that his job is to look out the window every morning and give a weather report to the class. The computer tech is responsible for turning on classroom computers each morning and turning them off at the end of the day. The meal time coordinator counts how many lunches are needed and reports the total to the cafeteria manager.

Mrs. Williamson says the children take their jobs seriously. “They wear their badges proudly around school,” she says. In the rare case when someone is fired for not performing job duties appropriately, they try to do better next time.

“The most coveted job is the kindergarten cop,” says Mrs. Williamson. Other favorites include domestic engineers who keep the tables clean, and the energy conservationist, who turns the lights on and off.

Classroom jobs support children’s development

The brilliance of the classroom job strategy is apparent. Children are developing along the social and ethical pathways, learning how to get along in a community, and understanding that every job supports the classroom in some way. The language pathway is also a focus, as children are learning words like meteorology, conservation, and concierge. They are also learning about self-esteem, worth and confidence, characteristics of the psychological pathway.

In January, during a visit to Hartsville, Dr. James P. Comer spent time in Mrs. Williamson and Mrs. Faile’s 5K classroom. The children were visibly excited to meet Dr. Comer and eager to explain their jobs and responsibilities to him. He confirmed that a job for every child provides a concrete way to contribute to classroom community, and creates a feeling of belonging and cohesion. It also supports brain development.

“Executive functioning must be developed, and you begin to develop it in early childhood,” Dr. Comer explains. “Providing children with jobs helps them gain executive functioning capacity. Kids from mainstream families get it because their parents have jobs and requirements that lead to and promote executive functioning. For kids whose families are not part of the economic mainstream, it's even more important.

“Executive functioning—the ability to plan, organize, and carry out tasks—may be as important, and perhaps more important, than academic achievement,” Dr. Comer says. “That’s what our children need to be successful in school, at work, and in life.”