Welcome back, Natural Pod™ LIVE Episode Five is available to watch!
This was a really uplifting episode; full of discussions of what’s possible when you think big and aim big while leaving lots of room for trying out new things and seeing what happens. This week Bridgitte had the joy of speaking with Alana Gelnick, the Associate Principal at SAR Academy’s Early Learning Center in New York, and Shari Kanovsky, one of the early years educators; plus two special guests, Rosie and Goldie, both early learning students at SAR Academy.
As the the Associate Principal, Alana has been instrumental in creating an exceptional team of educators that work together in providing experiential open ended learning environments – and by engaging with those environments and constantly trying new things they’re able to create unique learning experiences.
Alana began the conversation by explaining that they are a constructivist preschool, with the philosophy that educators are just facilitators, and although they learn from many different teaching models such as Reggio Emilia and Montessori, their main belief lies in’ learning by doing’.
“…we’re a progressive preschool that beliefs in learning by doing, that play is the work of children, and that is how they learn.” – Alana
Alana continued that how that translates for her each and every day – is to remember to ‘think big’, and not get caught up in the details. With 250 students and 18 classrooms it would be easy to get swamped in to-do’s, so she intentionally reminds herself and her educators to never lose sight of their mission and vision. Alana also made clear that this is only possible because all the educators are collaborators together, it’s not a top down organization in the traditional sense. And as one of those educators, Sheri added how this collaborative way of being relates to the students…
“…listen, listen, listen to the students, they show you how they learn, and if you follow their ideas you move forward, and that way you can also sneak in curriculum as well, but through the way the children want to learn.” – Shari
Next to the importance of listening is asking questions Alana added. She shared that you can build in curriculum by offering the children different invitations. If the environment is primed like a blank canvas and not cluttered it sets the stage for invitations or provocations; such as adding screwed up tissue paper one day and turning a table over another. This way you can let the learners imaginations fly and then ask “tell me more,” those invitations guide the children, so you can choose where you want to lead them with the result that the students ‘learn by doing’.
This practise of educators being collaborators together in play and learning is somewhat unusual, so when Bridgitte asked about how that came about, Alana and Shari both explained that it’s possible because of the ongoing cultural of of empowerment. Collectively they generate empowerment between educators, parents, and students to try new things and keep trying new things. As an example, they shared one of the ways the educators were empowered was when the school was exploring fitting out their learning spaces, Alana went class by class asking each and every educator what they needed from their space. And that is actually how Natural Pod meet Alana in the first place, because she loved the idea Bridgitte shared of ‘everything could be anything!’ which fed directly back to the idea of ‘learning by doing’. Although Alana acknowledged that to build such a cohesive team “doesn’t happen overnight, and so the small things matter over time and by noticing and acknowledging the small things they move forward together.”
Interestingly the talk of appreciating the small things led to learning about some of the silver lining that have come out of the pandemic. Alana talked about how “this year we spent lots of time in the nearby woods which was new, we’ve never spent time in the woods before.” She continued that the students and educators grew and learned so much, and the play led easily to learning as the children wanted to learn more about the things they discovered outdoors. Another great success brought about from the pandemic was the ability to bring all kinds of different members of society into the learning environment via Zoom.
“…the children responded so well, as they can tell you what they’re interested in and how they want to learn. Zoom kind of opened up our world. The challenges around covid has created a different feeling, it’s actually brought us more together like a family!” And Alana spoke beautifully about what has come up for her is joy! “Joy is not measurable but you can feel it, you can feel the engagement and energy, and how one can feel joy and extend joy and how it’s energizing to do so, and with that energy you can change the world and give children opportunities because of it.” – Alana
About Alana Gelnick, Associate Principal, SAR Academy’s Early Learning Center
Alana Gelnick is the Associate Principal of the Early Learning Center at SAR Academy. Alana has been instrumental in creating an exceptional team of educators that work together in providing experiential learning environments that utilize every aspect of the physical environment in order to foster confidence, creativity and curiosity among their young learners. SAR Academy is a Modern Orthodox co-educational day school dedicated to the belief that every child possesses a divine spark, has unique worth as an individual and should be encouraged to achieve according to their ability. The Early Learning Center (ELC) creates a loving and nurturing Jewish environment where students learn through play, song, dance, art, and other experiences in which they can engage with the world about them with a focus on understanding and relationship-building.
About Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod
Bridgitte Alomes is a thought leader dedicated to better environments for play, learning and collaboration using sustainable furniture. In her work with Natural Pod, she has helped create over 15,000 learning environments throughout the world. She’s engaged over 40,000 educators through her workshops and presentations and has been dedicated to creating play-based pedagogy and sharing the importance of the learning environment design. Bridgitte also serves as President on the board of the Green Schools National Network, creating broad-based initiatives and successful strategies aimed at fostering healthy, sustainable K-12 schools across the United States.
About Natural Pod™ LIVE
Natural Pod™ LIVE has been created for, and by, our incredible community of educators, students, architects and anyone with a stake in creating better learning spaces and experiences. It’s an online streaming talk show where we interview education leaders who share their personal stories behind the challenges and opportunities of creating exceptional learning environments. Join us as we explore the new approaches for what’s possible in the future of education with the people who are making it happen. This is your opportunity to learn directly from them about the challenges and successes and how they are approaching this work.