J.M. Holland, Head Start

John M. Holland has dedicated his career to serving the neediest and youngest school children as an NBCT preschool teacher of 3- and 4-year-olds from Richmond, Virginia’s toughest neighborhoods. Currently he writes about pre-K issues on his blog, Emergent Learner. His passions include educational policy, teacher leadership, creativity, and 21st-century learning. He is a coauthor of TEACHING 2030 and continues to explore the Future of Teaching. John is working to change the narrative about teachers through the #IknowaTeacher Twitter and Facebook Campaign.

I went back to the classroom a little over 10 weeks ago — because I love teaching. For the two and a half years before that, I provided support and supervision to 16 classrooms in our Head Start program. It was responsibility without immediacy. Each day I would see the interactions teachers were having in their classrooms and I would feel like an artist walking into someone else’s studio. As an administrator I could see the result of learning but never the beauty of it. I realized, through talking to children and their passionate teachers, that I missed creating learning more than I could bear. I also missed the huge responsibility of teaching children like Daniel.

Daniel couldn’t stop touching things when I began teaching him. He was possibly the busiest little 3 year-old boy I have ever met. He was constantly peeling tape, ripping labels, and grabbing toys. Whenever we had a large group time he would get a chair for himself, a chair for my assistant, and sit them down next to each other at the back of the carpet. He would sit down for a story for all of 30 seconds. Then he would get up and walk to the dramatic play area to peel, rip, and grab again.

Daniel wasn’t learning when I met him because he wouldn’t attend long enough to engage with new information, which is the essence of learning. I knew he was capable of more but he wasn’t going to do anything unless I insisted that he learned.


J.M. Holland's motto is 'relentlessly positive.'

First I limited his choice of where he could go to simply the library area. This started to lessen the frequency of his leaving because this was his least favorite center. Next, I explained to Daniel that he didn’t need a chair anymore. I told him he could sit on the carpet or go to the library. At the beginning of each large group time I played engaging, high energy, movement songs and games. I made it worth it for him to stick around. Then, every time he sat down for more than 60 seconds Daniel got to slap me five. This was punctuated by my making a scrunched-up, “Ouch!” face when I pretended he gave me five so hard it hurt. The last step was that I moved Daniel right in front of me. After every minute or so of his staying with the group I would say “Good job!” with an optional hand slap. He started to enjoy the interactions we had. He enjoyed the songs. He listened to the stories. I made sure I challenged him with new ideas, new questions, and I acknowledged every attempt at learning.

A few weeks ago, I had just finished a story when I realized that Daniel had been sitting in front of me the whole time. Fifteen minutes. During that time Daniel made two predictions about the story and participated in shouting the rhymes at the end of each page with rest of the class.

I love teaching because every moment I spend with children like Daniel is a moment of beauty if I make it so.


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