Podcast: Julia in Ellicott City, Maryland, for Teachers in America

Picture: Noelle Morris (right), podcast host, with Kindergarten teacher Ms. Julia Allan.

On the HMH Learning Moments podcast today, we have the second episode of our second season of the Teachers in America series, featuring Kindergarten teacher Julia Allan! Julia teaches at Northfield Elementary School, part of the Howard County Public School System. When she was 30, Julia decided to leave her job in the hospitality industry and follow her heart—to become a teacher in the same county where she grew up. She talks to Noelle about her path to education, the stress of bus time, the tooth fairy's inflation rates, the magic of seeing her students grow together, and much more.

A full transcript of the episode is below.

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Meet Julia Allan!

Onalee Smith: Welcome to HMH Learning Moments, a production of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I'm Onalee Smith and I work at HMH. Today's episode is a new installment of our Teachers in America series hosted by HMH’s director of content and programming, Noelle Morris. Noelle talks about social-emotional learning, changing careers, and more in today's conversation with Julia Allan in Maryland. Now here's Noelle.

Noelle Morris: Hey everyone. This is Noelle Morris coming to you again for Learning Moments: Teachers in America podcast where I get the pleasure of continuing conversations with my favorite profession and part of education, my fellow teachers. Last episode, we talked with LaQuisha Hall who teaches in Baltimore City Public Schools and learned that she was originally from North Carolina but had found her home in Baltimore 17 years ago when she was offered a teaching position in the district. Today, we’ve traveled 45 minutes outside of Baltimore to the suburbs of Ellicott City, Maryland, in Howard County Public Schools to talk with Julia Allan. While LaQuisha had found her home through teaching, Julia had always known she wanted to live in Howard County where she had grown up. So after turning 30, she realized, “Hey, I want to be a teacher.” And so she just quit her job in the hospitality industry and decided in her heart she was going to make that decision and become a teacher. But not just become a teacher anywhere, she was going to become a teacher in the same county where she grew up. And now, you’re not going to believe this, but she is a Kindergarten teacher in the same classroom where she was a kindergartener at Northfield Elementary. How often does that happen? 

Ms. Julia Allan, Kindergarten teacher at Northfield Elementary School.

Noelle: So Julia, tell me a little bit about one, what it's like teaching in Howard County Public Schools, why you became a kindergarten teacher, and then we'll dig a little bit deeper into what it's like to teach in the classroom that you were a student.

Julia Allan: I guess my answer is a little bit different because I was a career changer. So I knew my entire life I wanted to be a teacher. However, life took me in a different path. And when I turned 30 I thought, I want to give back and I want to give back to the community that I grew up in and that I still lived in. And I went back to school and I went through an intense master's program—10 months. And throughout the whole time they would tell me, make yourself marketable. Don't be grade specific and don't be county specific. Just put yourself out there as much as you can because you're not going to end up where you want and you're not going to end up in a grade that you want. And so I went through the program upon graduation, we could interview with different counties. Howard County was not one of them, but I knew I wanted to come back to Howard County and I kept putting in my applications over and over again. I would call central office and say, do you have everything? I ended up going out there and putting my resume out there into the schools cause I wasn't getting callbacks and I came to Northfield, which was the school that I went to when I was a child. And that was the only principal that would see me. Because you're not supposed to do that. And she told me the position that I had been applying for actually didn't exist, and they had already hired for it, but she knew of something coming up in August, and if I hadn't been picked up yet to go ahead and email her and submit my resume again. So August came around and I emailed Dr. Straw, who was the principal then, and she called me in and we interviewed, and I took a job as a para-educator in special education. So I was a para-educator at Northfield in special education where I got to work with my friend, Mrs. Ginsburg. We all work together and we developed a very close friendship through special education. And the next year redistricting happened and we gained two new classrooms in kindergarten. But I was not originally going to come down to kindergarten. Dr. Straw originally hired me as a second grade teacher. When the openings happened in kindergarten, she called me up and she said, I think that you would like to be in kindergarten and I think you would be a great fit. Do you want to move or do you want to stay in second grade? And so, we made the decision together for me to come down to kindergarten. So, I ended up in the County that I wanted to end up in. I ended up in the grade that I wanted to end up in. I ended up in the school that I went to, which was really great. And then that summer I could not wait to decorate my classroom and get in there and set up everything. She told me what room I was in and she had no clue that this was my room when I was five years old. So I ended up full circle in the classroom that I went to kindergarten in.

Noelle: I can't even imagine a couple of decades, almost a couple of decades have passed since you were in kindergarten. Do you have flashbacks?

Julia: Absolutely. And I think that back there is my calendar station and I pretty much keep that calendar over there cause that's when I remember being over there. And that's also I think why my rocker is over there because that's where the rocker was in 1986. So it's still there now.

Noelle: It's okay that kindergarten was 1986 for you because I was a junior in high school, so we're all one big age family once you become a teacher. I actually was getting to see your kids writing in a journal about being kind and how could they show kindness. How do you even begin to approach that? I watched your patience. I watched as they came up, ready to share what they had written, and having those conversations. But you can tell that you're using their pictures with their writing. How did you learn to do that and how do you continue that stamina? 

The community circle area and rocking chair in Ms. Julia Allan's classroom.

Julia: Well, I think that through the standards with language arts and Common Core, you have speaking and listening, you have writing standards, you have reading standards, you have all these standards that kind of all go together hand in hand. And part of telling a story is you have to be able to orally tell it first. So unless they can share their story verbally, it's going to be very hard for them to get it down on paper. And they might get it down on paper with pictures and then maybe some symbols, maybe some letters, and then start to sound out words or use the word wall or different things, environmental print around the room to try to help them. Especially in today's generation, the art of speaking is somewhat getting lost and it's so important to get them talking not only just about themselves or telling a story, but to each other. In my classroom, we always take a lot of time in the beginning of the year of how to have a conversation and how to turn and face each other, how to look at each other and that talking and sharing isn't just speaking, but also listening. I will trick them in the beginning of the year and I will pair them up and I will have them tell each other something. And I'm like, now who can share? And then I'm like, what did they say? And they just want to tell me what they shared. Cause that's what they're used to doing. But they didn't listen. And eventually they catch on and they start listening to each other. Once they have that down, they can start telling you stories and then they might do it through print, through pictures. And I have some friends that came in that were already writing. And I have other friends that may not have ever seen a book before. So we all start at different places and just knowing that it's okay to start at different places, but helping them grow from wherever they are when they walk in the room is important.

Noelle: I noticed going down the hall that that's something that must be part of the school culture. That you use the word friends for students, scholars. Is that part of how you help them learn each other and learn specifics about each other? So they do connect and form that community?

Julia: We do that. We have community circles twice a day, every day, at minimum. We also go into a community circle if there's ever a conflict or we need to discuss something to talk about how it made somebody feel. In our community circles, we always start by saying our name first, and then sharing whatever it is, the topic is that we're talking about. That's something we did in the beginning of the year, so that they started using each other's names, hearing each other's names. In addition to that, because it is so hard in kindergarten, and it's a lot of their first interactions with peers where they are really making friends and people that they're going to go through their entire school career with, we made a book kind of modeled after Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Who Do You See? I take a picture of them and we do a name and we say, you know, let's say Bob, Bob, Bob, who do you see? I see Cici looking at me. And then you turn the page and it's a picture of someone named Cici. Each night a different child gets to take that book home. So that's something they can share with their family. They can look at the pictures and they can use the names when they read. And then we also on the first day of school, sent home a video where they introduced themselves and said one thing that they like in hopes that they would find someone that they had something in common with. 

One of the many colorful bulletin board in the classroom.

Noelle: So on the first week, you're already using technology with them?

Julia: I do. I use a lot of technology in kindergarten here.

Noelle: They're all digital natives, right? So, I know they come swooping and knowing apps and all of that, but how do you transition what they know to begin to use it for your curriculum?

Julia: I think that that's really important, and someone said to me last year, they gave me an opportunity to go to a conference that focused on technology, and they gave me the analogy of playpens versus playgrounds. A lot of people will use technology in a playpen. Where you're on an app and you're doing whatever the app tells you to. And they said, we want to give you the opportunity to go to this conference because you use technology as a playground. You actually create and let the kids create with the technology. So they'll make different videos and things like that. And later on in the year, we'll do a little research project where they actually use the computers and different programs to put an informational piece together about all of our United States symbols. So I let them create with the technology, instead of just putting them in front of a device to do whatever the device tells them to do. I let them explore it. And so it's a little bit different and it's a little bit scary to think of five-year-olds using it that way. But I've learned that with five-year-olds, if you set the expectations, they'll rise to them.

Noelle: Do you have some favorite tools that you use? Not just not device, but do you have programs?

Julia: We have iPads and I wrote a grant a couple of years ago to get extra iPads for the kindergarten classrooms, so all of us have at least two to three iPads. Our county gives us one, and then we wrote a grant and were able to get extra iPads. I think that the iPads are great too, for 21st-century learning. When we listen to read, a lot of times we would just put on our headphones and page through the book and read along, but now they have these stories that come alive and you have the print down there, so you're still seeing the print. You're listening to the reading, which you're hearing the fluency of the actual books, but then those pages are coming alive and it takes so much to keep five-year-olds engaged. But then also we use the iPad to videotape all of our videos, and we use an iOgrapher. And although right now I'm still holding it, eventually it'll be in their hands and they'll be the ones that start taping and they're cameramen and they are sound people and they cut and action and they're in total control of the taping.

Striking a superhero pose!

Noelle: You have a student who has a loose tooth and she could get herself on task. She could do what she needed, and then she went back to working on that tooth. How do you, um, not get fixated on that? Like, how did you not ask her to stop. And do you, have you ever had a tooth that just comes out in class?

Julia: Absolutely. Teeth come out in class all the time. And I think that it's super exciting cause a lot of times it's their first tooth and they are so excited that it's finally happened. Our health room has these little treasure boxes that they get to take home the tooth. And my thing is after it comes out, I don't want to see it then because it becomes a huge distraction and they are fixated on what they're going to tell their mom, the tooth fairy, their dad, everyone. What is the tooth fairy going to bring? Inflation is whoa big around here. There are some tooth fairies that leave $20 bills and then you have the tooth fairy that leaves 25 cents. It's very interesting because they all come in sharing and I just share, I used to get a dollar. In kindergarten, you can't let the small things bother you. It's messy, it's dirty. There are germs, there are accidents. There is all this stuff happening, but there's a lot of greatness and you get to see them develop as students and learn how to socialize in a school building and environment. And they're these little tiny people that are coming in and it's this big building with these big fifth-graders running down the hallways and there's just so much happening, but you can't let the little stuff bother you. So if they're wiggling their tooth, as long as they're listening and they're engaged with what we're doing, oh well. Shoe tying and the buttoning and things like that, we really encourage [them to] practice at home and then also to find a buddy who can do it and they help them. I don't know if you saw anybody here helping somebody zip up their jacket or zip up a backpack, but we really try to encourage that kind of kindness and looking out for each other in the community.

Noelle: You were doing an activity around kindness and they were writing their journal and drawing. Many of them are really going to help someone get on a bus. So, the bus must be a stressful at the beginning of the year must be stressful for kindergarteners.

Julia: The bus is probably the most stressful time of the day. We have several busses. I would say at least 10 if not more. We have car riders, we have walkers. We have different specialty after school specials that take different vans, and then we have Columbia aftercare in our lunchroom. So there's multiple ways that different people get home. As a team, we've worked together and our system works for us. We, at least the first week of school, write on everyone's hand, how they get home. They also have bus tags on their backpacks, so that if you see a little person roaming around that may look lost, you can just check that bus tag and know where to go. But it is stressful. We used to physically put them each place that they go, and now they're getting in lines with safeties and we're just making sure they get in the right lines and then their safeties are walking them to the bus. I always like to pair somebody with a bus buddy if they have that in classroom, so they have that one pal that they know that they can look out for and that's looking out for them.

Community circle time at the end of the day.

Noelle: It was so sweet because you have, I'm going to help with the bus. I'm going to help my grandmother. I'm going to bake someone cookies. I loved when the one little girl said, I'm going to help another student, and the fact that they see each other and they're not looking at each other's weaknesses. That was the other thing I was like, if five years old, if they can find the goodness in each other. How amazing is that? I mean, I was just like, they look at each other in the eyes. Someone goes down, they're like, let me help you. That must make you proud.

Julia: It really does. It is. That's probably the best part of the job is watching them grow together and accept differences and recognize that we're all humans and that we're all here, but all of us are going to get to different places in different times and helping each other get there is really important. And building that community and acceptance for, we might not be good at this yet, but we're going to help everyone to get there, is very important. And I love watching them help each other and watching them understand each other's differences. It's just. . . That's my favorite part of the job, I think.

Noelle: I think it would be mine too. You know? There's a future scientist in here. There's a future Congress woman. There's future doctors, there's future plumbers. There's future the job doesn't exist yet, and they might be the one that helps create it. I realized watching you, that's so much of that opportunity and what's possible and living up to my full potential begins in kindergarten. Tell me a little bit about the first week. As a kindergarten teacher, how do you prepare for the first week and how do you help them feel safe?

Julia: I don't think you can ever be fully prepared for the first week, cause you never know what it's going to bring. At our school, we are the first level. So some of them may have been in different pre-kindergarten programs, some of them may have been in daycare, or some of them may have never been in school before. So you really don't know what's coming. So to prepare, we can do our best to prepare. But you never know. But to help them feel safe, I think it's really all about building that community, letting them know that you're here to listen, that we don't make judgements in here, that we accept everybody exactly where they are. I like to equate differences to different superheroes and talk about this is their superpower and this is how they hear better through this cochlear implant. Or if a student may have autism, I talk about Aquaman and his sensitive hearing and how oftentimes that person may be hearing things that are happening in other rooms that we can't hear, and that might be why they might be a little bit more agitated at that time. And it just builds a better sense of understanding for what's happening around each other. I'm a big believer in equity, so everybody gets what they need. Not everybody gets what's the same. And I think that that's important for the little ones to learn because they've never had that. They're used to, everybody gets the same thing, cause that's what's fair. But what's fair in our classroom is everybody gets what they need. And like we said, some kids may have come in never seeing a book or some kids may come in writing books and we're going to support everybody exactly. Meet them where they need to be met. 

Sharing their highs and lows during community circle time.

Noelle: You had your kindness, your social-emotional learning unit was you were incorporating that curriculum into what you were doing and one of your friends had on the Kindness Cape. Did you make that? How did that come to be?

Julia: So I think social-emotional learning is always big in kindergarten. In our classroom it's huge and we really want to make sure that we are accepting everyone's differences. ‘Cause a lot of times there are differences in my room. And through that, I wanted to think of a way to reinforce positive kind behaviors and everybody loves superheroes. Again, we're going back to the superhero analogy, and using a cape. I was talking with one of my former parents, and we were talking about how to instill kindness and how to teach kindness and social skills And I said, I wish that I just had like a super cape, and she said, I can make that for you. Within a week, I showed up and that Kindness Cape was in my room. And so now we look for different ways to pass on the Kindness Cape throughout the classroom. Different students can give it out if they see somebody doing something kind, they can recognize someone else's kindness. Or if I see something that is really kind, I can give out the Kindness Cape.

Noelle: Wow. And when I asked your friend how she earned the cape, seeing her eyes light up and she's smiling and you know, she shared that she gave hugs. And I just am completely amazed at how close they are with each other and that they do love you. The community time at the end where, what was your high for the day? What was the low? A half of them were like, my high was seeing Ms. Allan. I didn't have a low. How do you get through, like who do you share your highs with and your lows with? Do you have a teacher, best friend? Do you have a community that you turn to just to share and celebrate?

Julia: Our team definitely is a great community. Mrs. Ginsburg I share a lot with, because we have a different history and we worked in special ed together and we also meet up with different colleagues that we work together who might be at a different schools pretty regularly, but I think that what's great about kindergarten and the team that I work with in this building is we all really do support each other. We eat lunch together every day, and I think that that is so important. Unless we're at a meeting or something like that, we take that time to sit together and decompress. Vent if we need to vent, celebrate if we're celebrating, or just share different ideas. But building that community, that lunchtime, that little half an hour window of having lunch together as a team every day is very important.

Showing kindness by holding hands.

Noelle: What would you say is your daily routine? Like how do you start your day and how do you end your day?

Julia: So in the morning to get here. I have a lot of coffee and I try to have some quiet time because there is no quiet time when we're in this building. So I have my coffee and I hang out with my dog a little bit with quiet time. I come here and I talk to my amazing team and Mrs. Ginsburg, and we just catch up briefly, but once the kids come in, we greet each kid. And make sure that we say hello and good morning and give our hugs. Our friends from other grades come down and sometimes they might need a little extra motivation to go to class. I have one little friend that comes down every morning and, actually, Mrs. DiBattista, our para-educator, wants to tape my voice because I just reminder what a hard worker she is, that she's going to have a great day and how much she's loved. And that's just her morning routine. She starts and then she goes right on down to the grade that she's in. But Mrs. DiBattista wants to tape that for me so that when I'm not here, Mrs. DiBattista can play my voice for her and give her my hug. But once everybody comes in and unpacks, we always meet on the carpet for our circle, and we can share anything that we want to do in our circle. And then we go through our lessons and our normal typical day. And then at the end of the day, we end it the way that you saw it with our highs and lows.

Noelle: You're intently listening and you're making eye contact with each of them. Has any one of your friends ever shared something that was so surprising or it just took your breath away because maybe it was their first time sharing?

Ms. Julia Allan during our interview, after students left for the day.

Julia: Any time that I have somebody who is either nonverbal or has limited words and they get up there and they either use their communication device or they use their words to share a high. That is always huge. I think that highs that involved how other people made them feel or something that they did to help somebody or go out of their way to make someone feel included is always my favorite kind of high. The lows though. I think sometimes those are something that can kind of be sad because it might not be something that actually happened in school. It might be something that happened at home or outside somewhere that in today's climate, we're dealing with, so many different factors. And socioeconomics and food insecure children or hungry children or homelessness or things that different mental health departments need to step into. Hearing some of the lows and what they choose to share once they feel comfortable is really hard, but then also gives us an opportunity as educators to step in and reach out to the greater community and do different things for them or for their family, or reach out for different resources to help them.

Noelle: The thing that might surprise listeners in general, because you think about Howard County and you do not necessarily think about some of those socioeconomic issues. You just don't. I mean, if you look up Howard County, you Google, you look up the demographics, it's completely different. And you alluded to that in that it was not one of the places that you could initially apply. And there's not a lot of job openings, which is different than a lot of surrounding counties and nationally. We know that there's a teacher shortage. How do you help—outside of your County—how do you help connect to other educators to let them know? We can't just look at each other's demographics. We have to know that every socioeconomic issue, it might not be at the same number, but it is impacting. It still has the same impact on a family. It still has the same impact on a child. How do you think you drive that message or you share in that community, that outreach?

Julia: Just being active in different groups, sharing different stories and getting the word out there is very important. Even within Howard County, there are different areas that might be more impacted by socioeconomics then others. In particular, my school may not be affected by it as much. However, it is still here. I have had homeless students. I have had food insecure students. Homelessness, socioeconomics, food insecurities affects everyone everywhere. It's in your backyard. We're seeing more and more multifamily living situations. We're seeing more and more students that are using our resources, like breakfast programs and lunch programs. I've had students that come in for the breakfast program and they ration out their food and they put some in their backpack. And I know where it's going. It's going home to a sibling or it's going home for them later tonight because the two meals that they're getting in school, maybe the only meals that they're getting. Understanding that, acknowledging it first, is important. Then understanding it and looking for ways to support that person or that family is really important. And making sure that the child's comfortable and knows that it's okay. Like, yes, I saw you put the food in your backpack. It's okay. I know, and come on over. Let's see if we can go get extra, because the cafeteria might have some more later.

Ms. Julia Allan's classroom.

Noelle: The heart of a teacher, right? The gift that we have to catch those moments, and know how to walk through the conversation because even a five-year-old understands the importance of dignity. You talked about having a career change. Do you mind sharing what your first career was, and I'm also interested to know, are there any other educators when you made this career change. . . I know what drove you is you shared that you wanted to make a difference, but did you have any other teachers in your life before that.

Julia: Prior to teaching, I was in the hospitality industry where I did a lot of event planning and I worked with lots of local organizations and threw lots of parties and did a lot of fancy fun things, but there was something missing. I wasn't making the kind of impact that I make now on the people that I was working with. It was fun. It was quick, and it was on to the next event. And now, there are students that I taught my first year who still come back to see me. There are families that still reach out to me. Some of the letters that I received from the fifth graders, when they come back, when it's their last day, they might write a letter to me about their kindergarten experience. I had one student last year that wrote the loveliest letter about how she grew up in the school and how she slowly stopped coming to visit me as much because the demands of her academic career became greater and she had less time. But her and all of her girlfriends still thought about me all the time and the lessons that they learned and the friendships that they made in kindergarten.

Noelle: Took priority and that they have these goals, but that they still thought about you. I mean, how awesome to know that you are a topic of conversation in a gaggle of girls, right?

Julia: It’s exciting.

Noelle: Or any students.

Julia: In a positive way.

Noelle: Yes. So that was the impact you were looking for.

Julia: It really was, and I think that's why I wanted to become a teacher, and I'm glad that I did. Today, especially when we were talking about kindergarten, is more academic than it used to be. It definitely is. And you also have some very intense parents who want to push their child to be the best and be the top. I always sit back and I say they're not going to remember the reading group that we had or who was in it or what exactly we did in that lesson, but they are going to remember how they feel when they were in this room and they're going to remember how they felt when maybe we hit a topic that they loved. Our engineering unit in science is something that these kids get into. They are hands-on building stuff. And one of the first lessons in the unit, we talk about what is a scientist and what do they look like. And a lot of times they describe a man and then I hold this iPad up and I put it on the camera mode and I say, come here and I'm going to show you what a scientist looks like, but you can't tell anybody else until we're all done. And each one comes over and their face lights up because they're looking at themselves. They are the scientist, they are the engineer, and that is real life. They are going to be that person one day. They're going to be whatever great thing that they become. That's what's amazing about kindergarten is we plant the seeds for what they are gonna become. We spark interests. We turn on lights, we show them different paths that they might have not known exist. And then they follow them and they come back and they tell you about all the things that they did and the kids that come back to check to see how the room’s changed and do you still do this and do you still do that? And, oh, I remember this day. Yes, we still do all of that, but everybody takes something different from it. 

Noelle interviews Ms. Julia Allan.

Noelle: The impact that you make, the moment you realize like, wait, I need to correct some of the bias that you already have as a five-year-old about who can be a scientist and you have the glimpse of all that potential happening around you every day. Do you have a superhero? Do you have someone that you look up to?

Julia: My mom's my superhero. She taught me everything that I know about life. She's the one constant in my life. She's the one person that I know that I can turn to. No matter what kind of day it was, whether it was a great day or bad day, and she helps me with everything. She's been my biggest cheerleader my entire life, and she pushes me to do things that I might not be comfortable doing. I think about my household growing up and my mom and my dad and I was an only child, but I guess I never thought of myself as an only child because my house was always open up to everyone, no matter what. And maybe that's why I'm so big on inclusion. My mom would always cook for everyone. There would always be big meals for anyone that came in and later on in life, something that never struck me, and we're talking about Howard County and different socioeconomic classes, someone recently came to me and their first question was, how's your mom? And I said, she's great. And we talked about my mom, and he leaned over. He was like, you know, I think about your mom all the time, and we were hungry. I was hungry. And I knew that I could always go to your house and your mom would feed me. And I never knew that he was hungry. We were teenagers. I didn't know. I knew I'd never been to his house, but I didn't know he was hungry. And I didn't know the impact that my mom made on so many people growing up. But she did. And he said, the way your mom made me feel in your house was so important because it was a safe place that I could go. The lessons that she taught me through that, just watching, never really telling me this is what you have to do, but just watching and learning by example. I really want to make sure everyone feels included in my classroom. I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable in my classroom and that everyone can count on each other. 

Community circle time at the end of the day.

Noelle: Julia, I mean, you had such a phenomenal childhood, right? And you did not know the impact or what was happening around you. That was just your mom that was giving. Now, as a teacher, we do have to be cognizant. We do have to be aware, but it's so important for us to have parent connections. How do you go about creating those opportunities and open communication between you and your parents and how do you keep them informed and invite them in?

Julia: This is a very important question because times have changed. And a lot of times if we have a two-parent household, both parents are working. And we oftentimes may not have a two-parent household. We might have a grandparent that's raising a child. We have all different family makeups. Since I've been at Northfield, one of the changes that I've made in kindergarten is our parent circles that we do. So for orientation, our first time, the last year, what we did was instead of doing one big huge orientation where 200 parents show up and we show them a PowerPoint slide, we broke it into smaller sessions where 20 families could sign up different times, different days, some morning sessions, some evening sessions so that it worked in the schedules. And we had a circle just like we would do with our kids. And we sat around and we talked and we opened up for questions and we did have a quick little PowerPoint to touch on some things and kind of give the vision and the mission of our school system and how it is so entrenched in that social-emotional learning. And then we opened it up and we could talk about any topics. So we started out that way. And especially cause of kindergarten, and I will go back to my mom, she talks about when she dropped me off at kindergarten and how hard it was for her because it was me. I am an only child and it was hard for her and it was hard for me ‘cause I had only been with my mom really. I had a little bit of pre-K, but I try to remember that when I see kids that are having a hard time adjusting or parents that are having a hard time adjusting, what I have learned is that oftentimes it's the parents that are having a harder time letting go than the kids. The kids have the hard time right there in the moment. But then five minutes later when we're up and we're doing something, they are resilient. They are bouncing around and they are with their new 20 best friends. The parents often have a harder time letting go. So in addition to orientation and then back to school night, what we do now in kindergarten, and this was kind of the brainchild of a former parent, and we made it come alive with teachers—and this former parent still comes in for these circles, which is so amazing because she answers questions as a parent and she's like, Oh, don't worry about that. It'll get so much easier or something to that effect. We do the circles again in the end of October. So they were front loaded with all of this information, but really it was just swirling around because their little babies were coming to school for the first time. They've been in school for, you know, the first quarter. And now the parents still have a lot of questions because the kids are coming home tired. They're not answering the questions all the time and they're like, what is going on? So we have the meetings again and they can sign up for the circles. We also, every week send home a newsletter that lets them know what their child learned and maybe gives them some questions to ask their child that's more specific so that they can try to get an answer out of them. Also, in my classroom, we make videos that we send home whenever we do something kind of fun or engaging, wrapping up a unit, or just have a special day, like diversity day or our fall festival. 

Students working on their kindness journals.

Noelle: What a gift to parents. I think it's so smart to know you can't just do a one-time communication because you are so worried about your child. You know, it's not just worry, but you know, that entrance into school means it's going to start moving really fast. And you don't realize as a parent how exhausting kindergarten is. And you do come home, like, why is. . . my child wants to nap. I can't have her nap. She'll be up until. . . you know, then she won't be up to the next day. So I love that you incorporate that circle and that communication with your parents. I truly think you're a gift to teaching. Thank you so much for letting me in here and be a part of it, and I'm hope that I'm now a friend of this kindergarten class, so thank you.

Julia: Thank you. Thank you for coming in.

Noelle: As I reflect on my conversation with Julia, I hope that y'all are able to take some of the same moments that I had, and that's one on the importance of every child to be seen and heard. And not only to enjoy who they are and embrace who they are and share who they are, but to listen and accept that from one another as well. How equally we need to be ourselves, but we need to listen and understand each other. Julia exudes that instruction, sets up her classroom in that way, and I got to see and hear the youngest learners express that. As we go out there every day, let's continue to be kind and grow together. If you want to see photos from behind the scenes and more from my visit to Julia’s classroom, check it out on HMH’s YouTube channel. The link will be in the show notes. And if you would like to be a guest on our Learning Moments: Teachers in America podcast, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. I'd love to talk with you.

Onalee: Thanks for listening and learning with us. Be the first to hear new episodes of HMH Learning Moments by subscribing on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

We hope you enjoyed today's show and will please rate and review and share with your network. You can join our community and read more on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. There you'll find a transcript of this episode and more. The link will be in the show notes. HMH Learning Moments is produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Learning Company. Thanks again for listening.