Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with Education Consultants. Covering a range of topics, our educators share their expertise as well as experience and provide advice on how to best nurture and support your child’s learning.
Our guest educator this week is Cassandra Pouge. Cassandra has been involved in education for the last 20 years. Starting as an Elementary teacher in the United States of America, she moved into international teaching, administration and Government School Education Transformation in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. She is passionate about children’s learning and is the author of the children’s book, My Sunday Mornings.
In this interview, Cassandra shares her creative and holistic approach to teaching elementary school children and talks about how parents can incorporate and nurture this style of leaning at home.
NP: What inspired you to go into teaching?
CP: Actually, I didn’t want to be a teacher. I remember my 5th grade classmate telling me, “Cassandra, you’re going to be a teacher.” I remember the disappointment and (unfortunately) anger I felt at that moment in Mrs. Toney’s English class. I always wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I held on to the idea of being a mechanical engineer for many years. Then I entered a program called Teacher Cadet. This program prepared high school seniors to become teachers. I decided to give it a try and I was hooked. I LOVE IT! Teaching was definitely my “calling”…my purpose in life!
NP: How would you describe your approach to teaching during those years?
CP: Initially, my approach to teaching was “by the book.” I tried to “follow the rules.” I quickly learned, I am not a teacher that will follow the rules. My activities were perceived by other teachers as “over the top” “too much” “unnecessary”… and the list goes on, but it was ME; my approach wasn’t designed to fit in a particular mold. I was interested in a holistic, creative, constructivist approach. Education should be about the students, not politics, not test scores, etc.
NP: What kind of activities did you do that were different to most classrooms?
CP: Nearly every activity was different from most classrooms. Our class was called “FAMILY.” The FAMILY did everything that was different from:
Math Court: I took my students to “court” to prove they were not prepared for Unit testing or exams. The students created the environment and we focused skills and concepts studied in previous lessons.
Business meetings: To introduce skills, we often held business meetings to guage students’ prior knowledge about a particular topic and developed a plan for skills they struggled with. Students took turns leading the meeting, taking notes, etc. We reconvened for updates, unless the students came up with other ideas. (You never knew what would happen in Miss Pouge’s Class!)
Self-reflection/affirmations: A full length mirror was placed in the back of the classroom. Students had to go to the mirror and speak positive affirmations about themselves and their goals. This activity was independent. At first, students were a bit shy, but eventually everyone took advantage of the opportunity to encourage themselves. I actually received letters from former students explaining the value of this activity. (Tears)
No shoes: My students walked around the classroom in socks until one dreadful day when my principal told me it was considered a fire hazard. I came close to buying socks for everyone to put over their shoes, but unfortunately, some things I had no control over. 🙁
Mailbox: We partnered with upper grades to implement a PenPal program. We wrote letters to practice writing skills. The students put letters in the (real metal) mailbox outside our door. We even partnered with a school in a foreign country; communicating through emails.
Groceries Galore: The “FAMILY” turned our classroom into a grocery store called GG (Groceries Galore). We practiced several skills in many subjects. Students planned the store and its operations, shopping, purchasing, budgeting, etc. They also created or followed recipes using items bought.
Interactive display boards: I made display boards that students could manipulate: answer questions, add information, etc.
Student-led activities: I ALWAYS asked my students to tell me what they thought about an activity, a topic…How can we make it better? What do you want to do to reach this goal? Let’s make a plan! What do you think? I taught at an Inquiry School, but the practices didn’t reflect the concept. However, I did the best I could with my students and I know that STUDENTS should be our focus as educators.
NP: Do you think these approaches/activities built the children’s self-confidence and give them a sense of independence?
CP: I feel that my students’ confidence soared as a result of this approach. My confidence increased as well because I was not in control. I had to trust my students to lead the learning. I needed to facilitate and guide, not DO EVERYTHING! One particular school year, both of my parents died. When I returned to school, the vice principal told me that my students knew all the routines and were able to lead their own learning. (Tears)
During my first year as a teacher, I was given a child that no one wanted. They later discovered he had Aspergers Syndrome. However, I didn’t care what he had or didn’t have, he needed to be educated and we (my students and I) created a plan to help little Philip. My students suggested the Buddy System and other solutions. We tried a few things and it worked. His mother thanked us and expressed sincere gratitude, because for the first time in years, she was not worried about her child. She even lost 70 pounds (stressed related weight).
Another student suffered a traumatic experience and didn’t speak for years. When she came to my class, after a few sessions, she talked to everyone and engaged in all activities.
Is my approach PERFECT? Maybe not, but it worked for my students and it allowed me to flourish as a teacher.
NP: You mention that you called your class, the ‘Family’. Why was that and how did the children feel about it?
CP: My students and I had a discussion about a class name. We didn’t want an animal name, flowers, etc. We felt that it was important to choose something that provided a reflection of our character and goals. We wanted to work together and we needed each other to do it. We also realized, like all families, we would disagree, there would be many differences, but there would also be many similarities and common goals. Hence our name ‘Family.’
NP: It’s a great name and the approaches you’ve talked about sound valuable to any elementary school child. Some parents however, may worry that their child will fall behind if they’re not receiving mostly formal/traditional teaching. What would you say to allay these parents fears?
CP: Parents are a child’s first teacher…I am not sure how it worked in other households, but in our house, my parents didn’t teach me anything while sitting at a desk and reading from a textbook. We learn by doing, engaging, interacting, asking questions, making mistakes, brainstorming solutions, etc. I remember concepts taught in classes with similar techniques. I even remember the teachers, but traditional lessons aren’t as vivid.
NP: For parents who would like to use creative methods to support their child’s learning at home, what tips and advice would you offer to them?
CP: Parents should first know the standards and skills for their child’s level. As a teacher, I gave parents a list of standards and skills we were going to cover for the year. I also gave ideas for books to read and sample activities to complete at home, in the car, in the store, etc.
Always ask your children questions and avoid repeating the same questions, such as: “how was your day?, What did you do today?” Instead ask them, “Who did you talk to today? What made you laugh at school? Why? Ask your child to share what they learned and try to find a way to practice and enhance that skill. For example, if they learned following directions or sequencing, have them follow the steps to a recipe…or better, create a recipe and make a dish. Discuss the results.
- Find online education games.
- Read signs
- Ask your child to give you directions to a particular location. Then you all get in the car and follow the directions.
There are so many things a parent can do that are FUN and interactive at home. Parents can also be creative; find ways to incorporate learning while completing your errands. Let’s face it, there isn’t always enough time to get everything done; one must work ‘smart’. For example, you must go shopping for groceries, have your child practice addition by adding the items, counting money, etc…or give them a grocery list and a certain amount of money and allow them to shop as well.
NP: The number one concern for many parents is that their child is happy at school. If you could offer some advice to parents in one or two sentences, what would it be?
CP: If you want your child to be happy at school, I feel parents should:
- develop a strong relationship with the child’s teacher,
- know their child’s learning style,
- create a safe environment for sharing ideas and asking questions, and
- remain an ACTIVE supporter of teaching and learning (celebrate successes and challenges).
Cassandra Pouge. Education Consultant and author.
Over to you….
I hope you found this interviewing informative, interesting and helpful. Is there something in the interview that you would like to know more about? Would you like to share your experiences as a parent? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.