Director’s Column: Silver Lining of the Pandemic Year
By Jennifer Winters, Director
After significant events, there comes a time when the dust settles, and you can pause and reflect on what you have just experienced and accomplished. The end of this past school year was just such a milestone at Bing.
It seems like an eternity ago that we reopened Bing in September 2020 after the very sudden and unexpected closure six months earlier. Not only were we navigating an entirely new territory of a global COVID-19 pandemic, but our local skies were full of smoke from raging forest fires. Things were very different and unfamiliar. Getting our school open again and serving children and families under these circumstances had seemed anything but certain.
It was a year of great uncertainty and challenge, adapting and rising to those challenges and, most significantly, focusing on what is most important. Our teachers and staff worked tirelessly together to provide a safe, nurturing learning environment for young children. In the end, despite all the obstacles, it was a magical year unlike any other.
It was a year of teachers creating en.chanting classroom environments that spoke not of pandemics but of play. Wooden blocks, rich palettes of paint, truckloads of freshly delivered sand, and grassy hills to push wagons up and then roll down, all bringing back the familiar and reassuring hum of child.hood. Staff, teachers and parents had adapted to new ways of doing things. It was that rare opportunity where children, parents, teachers and staff simultaneously recognized that they had not only been part of something special but had also made it all happen.
The last day of school was filled with emotion as we’ve never seen. Parents, children and teachers all waved good.bye with boundless joy and celebration. Joy in having returned to school and a semblance of normalcy that at times had seemed nearly impossible. Celebration in safely welcoming children back to play, learn, explore and make friends during such an important time in their development.
Some parents shared their reflections on their children’s 2020–2021 school experience during this year. Among them: “The school’s COVID protocols gave us full confidence in sending our children each day, and despite masks and other measures put in place to keep our children safe, the magic of Bing was very much alive. Bing has been a source of so much happiness, stability and familiarity to our fam.ly in these uncertain times.” Another parent said, “It was a blessing to have Bing during this time. It gave our son a sense of normalcy in a world that was quickly changing all around him.” “The joy with which Zoe came to Bing and returned from Bing every day was all that we needed as parents. Even with the mask, we could see the smile in her eyes as she came out of the room to share with us stories of the day, teachers she had spent time with, or things she had made. She grew—socially, emotionally and across all domains,” said a third parent.
The flood of emotions and memories pouring out on the last day of school presented an ideal opportunity to capture what we had learned during this novel pandemic year. While collectively, our teachers and staff had all been working together to.ward the same goal throughout the year, individually they each had different experiences and learning.
With memories of the year still fresh in the minds of our teachers and staff, I asked them to reflect upon their experiences. I was touched by the breadth and depth of their insights and want to share some of them with you.
What have you learned about yourself as a teacher?
- “That we can adapt our program to extreme circumstances … even if it seems impossible. We were able to offer a rich program with many opportunities for learning and socialization while still following COVID protocols and keeping children safe.”
- “First and foremost, I was reminded that the relationship with children and parents is the absolute most important part of this job. Making strong connections with children allows them to feel safe and then to learn. Making strong connections with parents allows them to trust me so that we can have a dynamic two-way relationship.”
- “I have been embracing uncertainty and constantly reflecting on my teaching methods and as my role as a co-worker. There are countless timesI asked myself, ‘How can I make this better?’ I have put into practice my ability to adapt to ongoing change and really allowing my flexibility as a teacher/colleague to shine.”
- “A common feeling among the teachers is that they were more resilient and flexible than they thought they would be. And, the relationships they develop with the children and families are incredibly important.”
- “As an educator, this pandemic has made me practice more compassion and empathy towards parents/families, children and teachers.”
- “Adaptability is key in a dynamic environment. Being able to think flexibly in regard to how classrooms are setup and how our values are integrated can be vital in a constantly changing environment. I was able to reflect more about my experiences with outdoor learning and how to integrate what’s given in our environment to supplement our students’ learnings.”
- “I observed how lessening the materials in the indoor area allowed children to be more social with one another and to problem-solve. I found that the less there was, the more it opened social exchanges. In the block area, I listened to children engage in making plans to share blocks and take turns with a limited number of blocks.”
- “I found out that I can adapt very fast.I believe that the circumstances made me become even more observing of how everything around me was set up and other teachers’ practices, and I found out that I was able to implement what I learned or the changes that were necessary in a fast and effective way. I also learned that I am a lot more flexible than I thought.”
- “I’ve learned the importance of practicing more grace for children, families, colleagues and myself. During times when tensions have periodically run high, it’s become crystal clear to me that we’re all doing our best, and that by exercising a compassionate response, especially during challenging situations, we ultimately yield better outcomes for everyone.”
- “One of the first things I became aware of is how much I rely on lip-reading to understand children who tend to be quiet, are learning English or have challenges with verbal communication. I also realized how closely I usually watch children’s facial expressions to gauge how they are feeling. It is still possible to tell a lot about a child’s emotional state by just seeing their eyes and body posture, but you must be in very close proximity to them in order to do so. Before I knew the children well, it was often challenging to quickly discern whether they were comfortable with a particular situation.”
- “This past year I have learned that I am more patient, resilient and flexible.”
- “I have learned that I have a greater capacity for flexibility than I had imagined. I have learned more about how to triage what is important/not so much: Is this a little thing or a big thing?”
- “I also learned that I must be rooted in my teaching practices and know what I am hoping to achieve in every interaction and every curriculum created, whether planned ahead, or adjusting at the spur of the moment.”
What have you learned (or had highlighted to you) about children?
- “Children are strong, resilient and adaptable.”
- “I was reminded how much children communicate through their play.”
- “Children are stronger and braver than most of the world understands or appreciates. To see how quickly and easily they adapted to our masking policy, our physically distant snack tables and our adult visitor restriction (to name only a few of the many changes!) takes my breath away. Our successes this year were in part due to our outstanding teachers but were also directly related to the competence of our children.”
- “PLAY remains to be the most important and natural activity that children engage in. Children need time to play. They need to have social play experiences with their peers. We noticed that some children who hadn’t had play opportunities with other children needed more help and support.”
- “This year wasn’t what anyone expected, but when we added children into the classroom, it was just as magical and productive, and maybe even more relationship-based and driven than ever before. Children worked seamlessly with what we were able to give them. They took some time to assimilate to the new ‘way of the world’ but played their way through the tricky transitions.”
- “Children are incredibly resilient and flexible. There are few things that interrupt their love and desire for play and learning, and a mask is certainly not one of those things. We have had to make several adjustments this year, some minuscule and others quite large, but the children have arguably adapted better than most adults. I have also recognized the stillness that children bring to our world. It seems that the gift of time has remained at Bing and is still a very precious commodity at our school. I have physical.ly experienced time slow down in ways that have emotionally moved me as a teacher. I watch as the children slow their pace, I get down to their level, and we sit together in awe of the wonders of this world. This is a gift the children have given to me and will re.main an imprint on me for a lifetime.”
- “Though I knew and appreciated this before, this year at Bing I’ve been able to truly experience the ingenuity and determination of children able to work on projects of their own choosing. I hadn’t previously had the joy of spending such uninterrupted amounts of open-ended time with children in prior teaching contexts. Instead of needing to jump from one thing to an.other, I’m able to sit with children as they remain intently focused on their play. While the children have this time, I’m able to refine my practice of ask.ing furthering questions and helping them solve problems that might arise.”
- “Children are so RESILIENT! Children exist in the present and really seize the opportunity to explore their surroundings, reconnect with other children and teachers and immerse themselves in their PLAY! Their innate dedication to play, despite the limitations and changes, has been so evident in their eagerness to come to Bing and engage during the session. Children normalize their current reality quite quickly (faster than adults!) and accept new experiences with ease and appreciation.”
- “Children are visibly competent, independent and resilient. They are adaptable and took to the new changes more easily than most adults. I remember thinking about how I would recognize the children with their masks on. The children were quick to recognize their friends and teachers even before I did.”
- “Children are extremely adaptable and resilient.I didn’t fully appreciate what that meant until teaching in a pandemic. The competency of children really came out. They were able to be responsible for wearing a mask for an entire afternoon without needing reminders. They adhered to new routines, such as constant hand washing, separation and parentless story time. I’ve seen how freedom of movement across such a large span of area with choices so vast and interesting regulates them.”
- “Teaching in COVID times has reinforced for me that children are above all else resilient, competent and capable. They were able to respond much easier and quicker to the new protocols and parameters put in place than some of the adults. We can all learn a lot from children’s unique perspectives and approaches to life!”
- “Despite wearing masks, social distancing, and changes in programming (due to concerns for the pandemic), children prospered inside the classroom. In the fall, they successfully and quickly transitioned back into school after being home for an extended period.”
- “I thought children would have amore difficult time transitioning to school routines because parents were not allowed to accompany them to the classroom. However, this was not the case. Children came into the classroom with high confidence and self-esteem.”
- “During my first days I was curious about the children’s relationship with their masks. Seeing most children wearing their masks at all times and how they put them back on right after snack without teacher’s reminders—and how they sometimes remind themselves about it—surprised me. I was also surprised about how aware most of them are about the reasons behind the mask and behind all different practices that were happening this year due to COVID. But it also makes me wonder what the long-term impact of having to socialize with masks will be for these children.”
It is in looking back that the most valuable lessons are learned. From this relatively small representation of observations and insights documented by our teachers, you can see that a great deal of wisdom about early childhood education, children and families has been both learned and reinforced during this pandemic year.
The children at Bing are at such a critical time in their development across all do.mains—cognitive, social, emotional and physical. It is a window of developmental opportunity that cannot be missed or short-changed. So it was incredibly reassuring, particularly under such novel pandemic circumstances, to see children return after our six-month closure to instinctively embrace play. It was gratifying to see them be so resilient, adaptive, flexible, in.dependent, capable and competent; to see them so easily deal with things we thought might be obstacles, like masks, no parents beyond the gates, and new ways of doing things; and most of all to see them flourish.
All these observations could not have better validated our philosophy that a play-based, child-centered program provides the best opportunity for young children to develop across all domains, and the importance of our core principles of treating children as honored guests, giving them freedom of movement and the gift of time to explore, to interact with each other and to learn.
When I think back on the six months that we were closed, from March until September of last year, I’m reminded of the duck on the pond, below the surface paddling furiously. We must acknowledge and thank those whose “furious paddling”—the long hours of tireless dedication, navigating the ever-changing guidelines for bringing children back to class and creating the new health and safety protocols—kept everyone safe throughout the year.
These include our teachers and staff, whom I often refer to as our “secret sauce,” and some very special current and former Bing family members on the local and national front lines of fighting the pandemic. Our deepest thanks and eternal gratitude go to Dr. Paul Mohabir, Dr. Robert Luo and Dr. Yvonne Maldonado. Their medical expertise and support were invaluable in establishing our safety protocols, communicating them to concerned families, maintaining our confidence and morale throughout the year and ensuring zero cases of COVID transmitted at Bing.
I must also express our deepest thanks to the entire Bing community of parents, alumni and friends for their very generous and immediate support of the Bing Emergency Fund, which was created to bridge the gap in our operating budget resulting from the unexpected loss of tuition revenue when the school suddenly closed. The response was immediate and overwhelming. And I must specifically call out several key members of the Bing community who jump-start.ed the campaign with their unstinting support and tireless outreach efforts on our behalf. These include Marissa Mayer and Mubarik Imam, who stepped up to spearhead the fund. The fund is what kept us going, allowed us to retain all our teachers and staff, enabled us to re.open in September 2020 and sustained us throughout the past year of significantly reduced student and tuition lev.els. Without such a swift and generous response, we would not be where we are today. We are humbled by the unwavering support of the Bing community and their belief in what we do. That support has made it possible for us to focus on safely and smoothly expanding our enrollment to pre-COVID levels.
Unquestionably, this past year was one of great uncertainty, many changes and major challenges for everyone. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of all our teachers, staff and parents, the good news for the young children at Bing is that they experienced an incredible year of growth and development at a significant time in their life, an opportunity that so often looked anything but certain. This magical year for young children, delivered under the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic and with complete safety, is truly something to celebrate. This will forever be the silver lining to our pandemic year.