Summer 2019 Advisor

6 CEA ADVISOR SUMMER 2019 This legislative session, Connecticut lawmakers enacted into law a bill that would allow for more unstructured playtime in elementary schools. CEA Government Relations Coordinator Susan Williams explains that An Act Concerning the Improvement of Child Development Through Play allows local and regional boards of education to substitute unstructured play for physical activity and exercise in elementary schools. (Current law mandates at least 20 minutes of daily physical exercise in public elementary school, and the new law expressly allows boards of education to include more than 20 minutes of physical exercise or undirected play in their elementary schools’ regular daily schedules.) The law also requires boards of education to adopt a policy by October 1, 2019, addressing any school employee who prevents, as a form of discipline, an elementary school student from fully participating in the required period of physical activity or undirected play during the regular school day. Beth Horler shares her personal experience as a teacher when play- based learning was de-emphasized in her school. BRINGING CREATIVITY, PLAY AND JOY BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM Teacher symposium, legislative session examine how students learn and thrive Play is one of the primary ways young children learn, but as elementary school teachers well understand, the time allowed for play-based learning in school has diminished as demands related to standardized tests and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have increased. The educational benefit of play was one of several key topics addressed at the 2019 Empowered to Lead Symposium, hosted by the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, where teachers also did a deep dive into issues including equity, leadership, and social and emotional learning. Keynote speakers included Dr. Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Mandy Manning and Sydney Chaffee, the 2018 and 2017 National Teachers of the Year, respectively. “This conference is a great way for teacher-leaders, administrators, and other educators to participate in collaborative discourse and to share ideas and resources aimed at elevating our profession,” said David Bosso, president of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council. Bosso, who was named Connecticut Teacher of the Year in 2012, was inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame this year. The symposium drew teachers from every corner of the state, with breakout sessions exploring everything from the effects of play on healthy brain development in young children to building students’ capacity for promoting equity. (See story on page 9.) Thinking outside the box Kate Miserocchi, a fourth-grade teacher at Parkway Elementary School in Greenwich, conducted a workshop titled Magnificent Minds of Quirky Kids . “I’ve worked with children who think in ways we might not expect, whether they have been identified as gifted or special education students,” she said. “The biggest stumbling block is that there is so much curriculum that they have to get through, and so much is laid on us teachers so that students meet CCSS. But kids are not necessarily ‘standard.’” Miserocchi’s workshop provided a forum for considering unconventional approaches and classroom resources that tap into children’s creative thinking. “Young people are frequently the authors and inventors of big ideas, with insights that emerge unexpectedly when given the right stimulus or environment,” she said. “They don’t always color inside the lines of our expectations or perform successfully when responding to the demands of curriculum objectives. With an increasing emphasis in schools on standardized test scores and summative assessments, we are possibly missing a vital component in our methods for finding out what kids really know beyond what we want them to. Whether in math, reading, writing, science, or social interactions, children are eager to demonstrate their understanding of abstract ideas in practical as well as imaginative ways. Their social- emotional well-being may be at risk if they’re perceived as ‘off task.’” Too much, too soon? Retired Bolton teacher Victoria DeLeo and Beecher Elementary School teacher Doreen Merrill, who serves as president of the Woodbridge Education Association and chairs CEA’s Commission on Instruction and Professional Development, co- presented on the topic of developmentally appropriate instruction for the early elementary grades. “Children in grades K-2 are under significantly more stress than in the past, as more and more academic content is pushed down to the early grades,” said Merrill. “High academic standards and increased time on direct instruction in the early grades have resulted in less play- based learning and fewer hands-on activities.” In focus group interviews of nearly 200 Connecticut teachers, 72 percent linked CCSS with an increase in direct instruction and a decrease in hands-on, play-based learning in the early grades; 73 percent stated that CCSS set unrealistically high standards for the majority of students in grades K-2. Though a cause-and-effect relationship may be debated, 75 percent of K-2 teachers surveyed have observed an increase in student anxiety or stress, and 76 percent reported a rise in serious student misbehavior and aggression since the implementation of CCSS. School psychologists, too, have seen their caseloads explode over the last few years. “Cognitive science suggests that children between the ages of 4 and 7 learn best through play, which is also an important stress reliever and necessary for healthy brain development,” DeLeo explained. Teachers surveyed overwhelmingly noted that when play is incorporated into learning, the result is higher student enjoyment and satisfaction. “Time that used to be spent on socialization and the development of interpersonal skills,” said Merrill, “is now spent on reading and mathematics, which may be contributing to the dramatic increase in student misbehavior and aggression in the early grades. This perfect storm of more content and standards and less play equals a spike in anxiety and behaviors.” “With budgets being cut, we’re cutting out social workers, and we’re losing resources,” said Region 10 teacher Christina Flaherty. DeLeo told teachers, “CEA lobbies to protect and improve public education, but legislators also need to hear from you—their constituents. Send a handwritten letter. Invite them to your school. They need to know how you feel.” “Many districts are recognizing the need to bring back play, but it’s not happening globally or consistently,” Merrill said. “Goals are often cognitively inappropriate and unrealistic, setting children up for failure.” Beth Horler, president of the Groton Education Association, said she could relate. “We had to fight to get back blocks, dress-up, and play centers in our elementary schools,” she said. “It’s been a long struggle.” “In weeks where we play less, there is a dramatic increase in anxiety, behaviors, and mood changes in students,” Canton teacher Jess Papp observed. “Even teachers feel it. At this young age, more academic content is being pushed down, but play is the most important piece.” Papp teaches at Cherry Brook Elementary School. Presenting on a related topic, CEA teacher development specialist Kate Field talked about building a culture of joy and empathy in school. “Social media, divisive politics, and the frenetic pace of modern life are impacting how we interact as a society and contributing to an epidemic of loneliness and social anxiety,” Field said. “Our children are experiencing these emotions as well, which can impact cognitive development, academic performance, and social-emotional well-being.” Her workshop—relevant for teachers of all grade levels and subjects, as well as school administrators—explored practical strategies for promoting a school culture of kindness and inviting joy back into the classroom. For more on this and other CEA workshops, visit . Canton teacher Jess Papp and Superintendent Kevin Case share takeaways from a workshop on the emotional and behavioral impacts of diminished play on young children in the classroom. New Connecticut Law Recognizes the Value of Unstructured Play After splitting up and attending various sessions, Wallingford teachers Mike Green, Jessica Harris, and Anne Porier compare notes. EDUCATING