“It is crucial that all children have access to high-quality pre-school and kindergarten programs—the earlier the better.” – Devon Caldwell, Canada
When we first talked with Devon Caldwell back in 2013, she shared her collaboration with first-grade teacher Leah Obach. Caldwell and Obach’s two classes are “partner classrooms,” Skyping, video Kinecting, and collaborating together regularly. Today, their partnership continues, strong as ever, but with some new twists and activities.
“I trained as a yoga teacher last year and now integrate yoga and mindfulness practices into my kindergarten program,” says Caldwell. “Leah Obach was eager to make yoga part of her Grade 1 program, and it made sense for our two classrooms to connect via Skype for weekly yoga practices together. Our students’ love of yoga evolved into a global Connected Wellness Challenge in the month of March.”
And while incorporating yoga into their daily classroom activities is a benefit in and of itself, the two classrooms also incorporate Skype, Movie Maker and OneNote as a way to share their yoga practice with other classrooms around the globe.
Caldwell has participated in three Microsoft in Education Global Forums. In 2012, Obach won first runner up in Extended Learning Beyond the Classroom. In 2014, her project with an international team of educators received first place in the gender equality category.
Caldwell’s multiple honors include designation as a Microsoft Innovative Expert Fellow and recipient of a Canadian Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, Early Years Teaching Excellence Award from her school division, and ManACE Educator of the Year Award. You can follow her on Twitter and explore her blog at Kindergarten Diva.
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Devon Caldwell.
What inspired you to become an educator?
From the first day of kindergarten, I’ve always loved school. Although I considered other careers, I wanted to be a teacher from a young age and it is the perfect fit for me. The challenges are endless, it is never boring, and I feel that the work I’m doing is hugely important. Last fall I trained as a yoga teacher, and I realized that when teaching is a huge part of who you are, you can teach anything.
A quotation that describes how I feel about teaching is: “Some people wake up to an alarm. Others wake up to a calling.” Every morning, as I turn off the highway and head down the street to my school, I start to get excited to see my young learners. I can’t stop myself from telling everyone around me about the cute and funny things they say and their accomplishments. I feel so grateful to get to spend my days doing what I love, and what is most important to me is the strong connections forged with children and their families.
As a pre-service teacher, I student-taught with my current principal, Brenda Masson. When she became principal, she hired me and she continues to be a daily inspiration. She works tirelessly to give children and families what they need to be successful, and she is relentless in her pursuit of additional funding and support. Under her leadership, our school and its role in the community has been transformed. She is unfailingly positive and encourages her staff and students to strive to meet her high standards.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
I’ve had many moments when I felt proud to be an educator, but this is a particularly special one.
One of my preferred instructional approaches is project-based learning, based on student-identified problems, issues, and interests. Last year, one of my little girls announced that she had exciting news—she was going to be adopted by the family who had fostered her since birth. To celebrate this momentous occasion, my kindergarten students wanted to have a party.
I completely agreed, and saw it as the perfect opportunity to “uncover” more of the curricula and teach important literacy and numeracy skills as well as critical/creative thinking skills. We ended up hosting a huge event that brought together our kindergarten families, community members, and partners from our school district, local government, and child welfare agencies.
At the party, my students decided to perform two songs, and halfway through the first song, my little girl looked at her adoptive family and burst into tears. As the rest of the students continued to sing, she ran over to her family and her new mom pulled her up onto her knee for a hug. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and at that moment I knew that what I was doing as a kindergarten teacher was profoundly important. It was an amazing opportunity to teach the curriculum and beyond, bring the community together, and celebrate a life-changing event. Read more here.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
Technology empowers my learners and me to connect and collaborate. I teach in a small rural school, and without technology we would struggle to connect to educational partners outside our community. As a result of infusing technology, our learning is rich, collaborative, authentic, and highly engaging for the students and me.
After incorporating yoga into the classroom daily, and connecting with Leah Obach’s 1st graders, the classrooms decided to participate in a Connected Wellness Challenge in the month of March.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
I feel incredibly fortunate to work in a small school division that is doing so many things right. As one of 130 teachers, I have a voice and I am heard, enabling me to take an active role in shaping education in our region.
When my principal and I saw a need for quality pre-kindergarten programming in our division, we worked with our superintendent and school board to pilot our division’s first-ever junior kindergarten program. Four years later, the program became division policy and available to all schools. Read about this program here. I’m also grateful to teach in the province of Manitoba. I feel that we are taking a balanced approach to standardized assessment and starting to make early childhood a greater priority.
Of course there is always more work to be done. There is a great deal of disparity between schools and school districts in terms of access to technology and high speed internet. If a school leader doesn’t regard technology as a priority, it makes it very challenging to get devices into the hands of learners and teachers.
I’m also disappointed that our province doesn’t fund full-time kindergarten or any form of junior kindergarten. If school divisions wish to offer these programs, they have to fund them locally. This means there is tremendous inconsistency with what is happening in early childhood from one district to another. It is crucial that all children have access to high quality pre-school and kindergarten programs—the earlier the better.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
In the past year, I’ve been really excited to make an even greater shift toward a holistic education model in my classroom. Students use technology tools to connect and collaborate with others–engaging in rich, deep learning that makes a real difference in the world.
Junior and Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Oak Lake Community School, Fort La Bosse School Division
Kenton, Manitoba, Canada
- Blog URL: http://kinderdiva.blogspot.com
- Birthplace: Hamiota, Manitoba, Canada
- Educational background: Bachelor of Education (Early Years), Graduate Diploma (Special Education), Master of Education
- Website I check every day: Facebook and Instagram
- Favorite childhood memory: I didn’t realize what a great childhood I had until I became a teacher and started working with children from diverse backgrounds. I grew up in a small town surrounded by family, and my early years are a happy blur of playing Barbies with my sister, piano and figure skating lessons, riding my bike around town, summer days at my grandparents’ pool, and family vacations.
- Favorite book: Thrive by Arianna Huffington had a huge impact on me and inspired the wellness journey that I’m on today. All-time favorite books include Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, anything by Canadian author M. Montgomery, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype and Sway. Skype is a game-changer in a small rural school—it lets us connect with classrooms, partners, and experts all over the world. Sway is a wonderful way to share our learning with others, and I often use it as a presentation tool at conferences.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “Let your love for teaching and children shine through and the rest will take care of itself.”