Fall Staff Development Day

By Haley Minick, Assistant Teacher

Bing Nursery School teachers started off the school year by participating in a staff development day offering tips for making classrooms more enriching and comfortable for everyone in the wide-reaching Bing community. The session, held in October 2009, also provided teachers a better understanding of psychological research at Bing.

The morning began with posture therapist Esther Gokhale, an alumni parent and licensed acupuncturist famous for helping those suffering from the aches and pains of a busy life. Giving an overview of her book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, Gokhale explained how human bodies (teachers’ and parents’ bodies in particular) are compromised by the misuse of muscles and poor posture. While demonstrating how to walk and sit with your imaginary “tail out behind you,” and simple exercises designed to keep the shoulders back, Gokhale gave teachers some tools to combat pain while bending, walking, standing and sitting in child-sized chairs all day at Bing.

Teachers also shared exercises and songs to use in the classroom, as well as techniques to help simplify workdays. Demonstrations included head teacher Nancy Howe’s easy snack recipe, crunchy bananas (banana slices rolled in graham crackers crumbled by a unit block); songs for snack time that encourage eating and sharing; using play dough “putty” to keep nails in place at the woodworking table; and assistant teacher Stephanie Holson’s ingenious “bleach stenciling,” turning bleach stains on clothing into small works of art.

Teacher Seyon Verdtzabella introduced Easyfolio, a new online database for teachers that enables electronic documentation of classroom life for accreditation required by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This paperless method of capturing the progress and climate of each classroom saves Bing money and time, and allows teachers to upload photos and documents for better record keeping. Easyfolio helps teachers streamline the process of recording the work, play and interests of Bing children.

Staff development day also offered teachers a chance to get better acquainted with the inner workings of the research process, and the scientific questions behind each of the current psychological studies conducted at Bing. Gregory Walton, PhD, an assistant professor in Stanford’s psychology department, visited to discuss social connectedness and shared motivations, the concepts behind some of his work with Bing children. Walton and fellow researchers are exploring how a sense of social belonging in a group (whether real or perceived) can motivate participants to persist through difficult or time-consuming tasks. “Just doing a task with others,” he said, “may increase interest and engagement in the task itself.” [See page 7 for more information.]

Allison Master, a primary researcher who is now a sixth-year psychology graduate student, discussed her exploration of this topic through puzzle tasks for children. So far, individual children appear far more likely to persist in completing a puzzle if they believe they are a part of a group of children whose task is to work on the puzzle than children who believe they are working alone.

Primary researcher Lucas Butler, now a fourth-year graduate student, also discussed his study of social interactions, motivation and learning in young children, adding that research shows conveying the notion that “we’re in this together,” can help motivate children as young as 14 months complete a task. [See pages 7 and 9 for more information.] Butler also shared highlights from another study that explores the importance of intentional demonstration in young children [See pages 8 and 9 for more information.]

Carissa Romero, now a third-year graduate student and a primary researcher working with psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, discussed different types of praise. For decades, researchers exploring the impact of praise have found that praising a child for some innate quality, like intelligence, has less of a bolstering effect than praising the child’s work or effort. Praising a child’s process rather than their person may allow them to preserve a positive self-concept when they encounter a challenge, and allow them to bounce back and give their task another try. Romero investigated the effect of subtle differences when “wow,” considered a neutral and non-descriptive type of praise, was directed at children’s work as opposed to children themselves.

“It’s great to get a chance to sit down with staff and find out more about Bing research, and how we can keep making improvements in our own teaching each day,” said teacher Amanda Otte. Teacher Sarah Wright adds, “These sessions give teachers time to pause, and to think. We need the time for self-reflection and sharing, so we can grow as educators and advocates for children.”