My #TeacherCrush Blog Series Vol | 01

 

Once in a while, you meet a teacher {online or in-person} who absolutely blows you away with what they are doing in their practice. I call these my "teacher-crushes." Folks who educate, inspire, uplift, enlighten, and even entertain us with their amazing work in the field.

As I keep my circle of Insta-teacher-influencers small {limited to those who share a Reggio/Arts/and Play-oriented philosophy}, I get to meet a truly inspiring educator every now and again. These teachers model best practices, are role models for their students and a true inspiration in the field.

I thought I would start a "spotlight series" to share the work of these inspiring educators, and unpack their biggest challenges and struggles. 

We all face similar obstacles: whether we are practicing teachers, homeschoolers, or mothers providing enrichment for our kids.

The feelings of overwhelm, lack of time and resources, and meeting the needs of varying ages and abilities are commonplace issues.

But these challenges don't get these teachers down. Read on!

The first teacher I want you to meet is Michelle Van Heugten. I first "met" this fellow Canadian teacher on Instagram, a vibrant feed, fuelled with all things nature, Reggio and arts-integrated learning. Michelle owns an Etsy store along with Colleague Susan Wright, called Languages of Learning. It is a curated collection of loose-parts inspired play things.

This past fall, I attended one of Michelle and Susan's online trainings, Documentation: Thinking and Learning made visible. Their wealth of knowledge, and generous spirit of sharing brought educators from all over the world to explore this important conversation.

Without further ado, I introduce you to Michelle!

Please share a bit about your education: your school, major/minor(s) and graduation year, as well as any other credentials you've earned along the way.

Michelle: I attended the University of Windsor, studying Visual Arts with a major in painting and a minor in photography. I earned an honours degree in Fine Arts. (BFA) 1994 The following year I obtained my B.Ed. with primary/junior qualifications and graduated from teachers college in 1995. After being hired in 1996 I took Visual Arts Part 1 as an AQ course through the Ministry of Education and this summer I completed Kindergarten Part 1.

What grade are you teaching? What do you love most about this age?

Michelle: have been teaching Kindergarten since 1996. What I love most about this age group is their curiosity to learn and joy of life. The children in Kindergarten are so full of wonder. As they explore of the world around them, asking questions and seeking answers they continue to inspire me everyday.

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher? Were there any influences (people or experiences) that led you down this path?

Michelle: I loved school as a child. I always wanted to help the teacher and often stayed in during recess to do so. I thought if I could learn everyday for the rest of my life that would be pure joy. So I guess I always knew teaching was a strong possibility. However, I had other interests such as the creative arts and I loved geography too. At one point I wanted to be a fashion designer, interior decorator or save the environment as a career. My art experience in high school was amazing. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to explore painting, printmaking, and pottery. My teachers were inspirational and encouraged me to continue studying art at the post secondary level. When I was accepted into the art program at the University of Windsor I was thrilled. After completing my degree I knew that I wanted to go into teaching. So I applied to teachers college and fell in love with Kindergarten after my very first placement was in an early years classroom.

In a paragraph, describe your teaching philosophy. What does teaching and learning mean to you?

My teaching philosophy centres around the child. Childhood is a very special time that should be honoured and supported through learning experiences that are rich, deep and varied. I believe that children are to be treated with respect and dignity as we honour their rights as partners in learning.

The learning environment is also an important element of my teaching philosophy. For me this includes not only the design of physical space but also the relationships between child, educator and materials. I believe that children deserve an environment that supports their potential and supports their learning through their many languages and ways of being.

Learning means inquiring with wonder, questioning, sharing theories and researching right alongside the children. The relationship between child and teacher is one of collaboration as we guide and support them during the learning process.

Lastly, I cannot speak about my teaching philosophy without emphasizing the importance of the creative arts. Allowing children to express their thinking and ideas through the arts informs my teaching practice daily. It is a joy to share my own passion of the arts with the Kindergarten children within the classroom.

Let's talk about lifelong learning. What are some of your professional learning goals?

Michelle: I continue to research and learn about early years education through dialogue, workshops, reading and reflecting with others that are passionate about the education of children. One of my goals is to continue to share my joy and passion for early years learning as it relates to supporting creative thinking. I share early years learning through my blog: Inquiry Spaces and Wondering Places .

I am also deeply interested in connecting children to the natural environment. I continue to explore ways and opportunities to engage children in becoming stewards of this amazing planet we call home.

 What brings you the most JOY in your practice?

Michelle: It is the interaction with the children, supporting their wonders through creative offerings within the classroom that brings me the most joy in my practice. Seeing the amazing competencies in children as they share ideas, test theories, explore and create is a privilege each and every day.

List the biggest challenges or obstacles you've struggled with in your practice. 

Michelle: One of the biggest challenges I have encountered is having enough time. It is safe to say I would work 24 hours a day. I have always been this way, it is part of my nature. But recognizing it and learning that slowing down is O.K. continues to be something I need reminders for. I am learning that it is important to allow yourself this precious time within the busy life of being a teacher.

What are some ways you've overcome these struggles?

Michelle: I set aside specific time for my interests within the week. I am also a true perfectionist and allowing myself the ability to say it doesn't have to be perfect has really helped. I am always working at slowing down and really enjoying the moment.

How has the Reggio-Inspired approach to teaching and learning influenced your practice? What have been the biggest shifts for you?

Michelle: The Reggio approach has been instrumental in my current teaching practice. The influence of the atelier and the writings within the Hundred Languages of Children The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation book have brought the joy of learning to the forefront. As I explore the relationship between the learning environment and children I am fascinated by all of the possibilities that live in this space. The Reggio educators and the beauty of their proposals to children within the learning environment continue to influence my thinking as we consider the materials that children are to engage with on a daily basis. I am also influenced by the progettazione work in Reggio Emilia Italy as I support the children through inquiry and wonder within our play-based Kindergarten program here in Ontario. Therefore the biggest shift for me has been a return to the value of my visual art roots and the role of the atelier in early learning environments. The Reggio-Inspired approach has connected for me the relationship between the creative arts and authentic learning experiences. It offers children many possibilities through the "100 languages" and celebrates their capabilities as contributing members to the larger community. It is this community of learners that continues to influence my practice as we are all valued as co-learners, researchers and collaborators with the children within our care. Lastly, the role of documentation and how it makes visible the children's thinking and learning continues to be an influence from the educators in Reggio. As we share with families the children's documented experiences this has proved to be a deeply moving and powerful piece within our learning space. I look forward to deepening my understanding of the Reggio-Inspired approach and hope to visit this amazing city and the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre one day soon.

 

Know an inspiring teacher in the field? If YOU or someone you know would like to be featured in My #TeacherCrush blog series, please email me at [email protected].

 

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