The Happyland Family
As a school and “family” organization, Happyland has historically cherished the importance of bringing in the interests, passions, ideals, intellect, knowledge, and experience of its directors, teachers, parents, interns, and volunteers. This has resulted in the strong pursuit of an egalitarian and (relatively) horizontal operating ethos in which positionality and hierarchy are used in the service of betterment of the school community as opposed to serving as barriers to equity and access. Thus, we often use the term “The Happyland Family.”
As Happyland continues in its pathway, we seek to ensure that members of the Happyland Family (our staff) have an opportunity to continuously grow, to reinvent our ideals, to come back to our core foundation, and to become knowledgeable in all aspects of the school, so that each of us can take on multiple, mutual, and shared roles; distribute talents, passions, and responsibilities; and ensure that the children in our care are enriched with an education as broad and deep as possible in the domains of Peace Education, Interculturalism, Democracy Building — the skills and attributes needed for them to truly make the world a better place!
Why We Use PODS
Happyland has implemented a flexible “PODS” approach that involves rotating and moving teachers, switching spaces, centralizing various materials, enriching curriculum exchanges, honing in on best practices, and formalizing some of our systems and processes to bring out the best in our teachers and students.
We currently schedule our teachers to form PODS, which strengthens their individual and collective knowledge base and allows the balance of teaching responsibilities to be shared collectively. The PODS approach also gives each child the opportunity to learn that they have more than one teacher to “rely” on, that they have more flexibility and choices in their activities, and that they are part of a larger “community of learners” beyond their core classroom.
Using PODS — semi-combined classes and team teaching — enhances our school’s curriculum, instruction, child dynamics, teacher dynamics, parent dynamics. This approach also supports portfolio assessments, creates release time for teachers to do planning and documentation, and generally improves the school’s efficiency. Through PODS, we are building around the three “pillars” of Happyland’s curriculum — peace education, interculturalism, and democracy education — bringing the ideas of Paulo Freire into early childhood education.
Bring Your Narratives
At Happyland, we also encourage our children, families, and teachers to weave their individual, familial, and cultural narratives into the framework of our classes. We invite everyone to explore and share as much as possible about the ingredients that make up their identity. Our goal is for our teachers to understand the children’s identities, peer relations, and teacher/child dynamics, with attention to the interplay of social, emotional, and cognitive elements.
As we continue the journey toward kindergarten readiness, through class transitions, and in preparation for all of life’s enriching adventures, the preschool years offer fun-filled leaping points that our teachers help our students translate into important learning experiences. Our adage at Happyland is: “Seek to be nice, not just to be right.”
Recognizing and accepting that the world of adults shapes the world of the child, and vice versa, helps us all unpack our narratives, experience them, and experiment with them — knowing that the process can lead to wonderful, enlivening opportunities to learn practices through which we can engage our students in Happyland’s mission of Peace Education, Interculturalism, and Democracy Building.
Language At Play
As we play with these ideas, we are reminded of how important language is as a symbol system. More importantly, we realize that children (and sometimes even adults) may have a sense of symbolic capacity (the ability to absorb content) while still grappling with symbolic faculty (the ability to understand and articulate their social reality). Accordingly, we help the children pause to reflect on ideas, statements, and meaning-making.