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What we love most about our work are the people we work with. We’re very proud of our natural play community here at Natural Pod and to celebrate some of the people in our community, we’ve started a short series we’re calling our Natural Play Community People Profiles. Short interviews with some of the great people leading the work of using natural play to inspire creativity, learning and compassion in our early learning, kindergarten, preschool and daycare communities.

Our featured Natural Play Community People Profile of the week is: Sandra-Lynn Shortall from the West Vancouver School District

What inspired you to be an educator?

I grew up on the east coast of Canada in St. John’s, Newfoundland and spent my childhood playing outside, whether it was rainy, foggy, sunny or blowing a gale it didn’t matter there was always someone in my neighbourhood ready for an adventure! During the summer months, time was spent at my grandparents beloved ‘cabin’ located at Nine Island Pond, where pond side exploration fueled the imaginations of my cousins, sister, brother and I. Sticks, rocks, gravel, mud and icy cold water were the tools of our imaginations! On those rare days when the play moved ‘indoors’ my fondest childhood memories are grounded in school. Ironically these memories weren’t those of my time as a student in the classroom context but they lie in the adventures I had as I followed my father to school on the weekends. As a school principal, my Dad would dedicate time every weekend to catching up in the office and I would always eagerly follow him, spending hours exploring the classrooms and the library always imagining that I was the teacher. These foundational experiences are my inspiration in the classroom – creating and exploring opportunities to ignite the imaginations of our children, teachers and parents, always guided by the respectful, caring relationships that we create with each other and our natural environment.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

Working with our dedicated preschool teachers, classroom teachers, school vice principals and principals rethinking child development through the lens of ‘life long’ human development trajectories with a heart-mind focus has been incredibly rewarding and exciting. These opportunities to deepen our pedagogy, understand the complexities of the early years and to explore news ways of teaching and learning in our community have been transforming what happens in our early learning environments in West Vancouver. The transformation is rooted in fascinating new research, community partnerships and provincial networks. Self-Regulation and the Heart-Mind connection are two guiding lights in our work, both of which illuminate the importance of the relationships we build with one another and emphasize the privilege we are entrusted with daily as parents in our community send their children to our schools. It is an exciting time in British Columbia to be working in public education, our new provincial curriculum drafts are shifting our conversations in education and allowing us exciting, creative opportunities to think differently about instructional practices, educational planning and communicating student learning.

What best describes the unique aspects of the program that you offer?

A one word answer is easy here – PEOPLE. Our early learning programs in West Vancouver are people centered and people driven. The individuals leading and creating these responsive learning environments are the unique aspects to our programs. The creative spirit, the innovative zest and the compassionate hearts of our educators ensure that our focus remains grounded in teaching, learning, imagining and celebrating the possibilities that come with each new day.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change in your learning environment?

If I had a magic wand, I would a make ‘magic clock’ that could slow down the swift passage of time and remind us to savour each precious moment we have with our children. As a parent of two precious little girls and as a District Principal, I understand the ‘busy-ness’ of life today. There are always things to be done, emails to catch up on, laundry to folded, meetings to attend and so on. Sometimes the gift of time or the friendly reminder to slow down and smell the proverbial roses is invaluable. In our classrooms through our work on embedding Self-Regulation practices and by focusing on the Heart-Mind connection our ability to create this ‘magic clock’ and to be truly be present is possible. As we generate responsive, stimulating, natural learning spaces our capacity to be inspired and engaged is immense. There will always be deadlines and tasks to be done but this immediate moment won’t be here for long, so taking stock and creating joyous, inviting learning environments where we consciously attend matters deeply.