Diana Friedman joined the Nueva community in 2015 and is currently in her second year as one of our kindergarten lead teachers, having previously taught in the first grade. We sat down for a discussion about what makes Nueva a special place to teach, Diana’s memories of her own kindergarten teacher, and what is happening in our kindergarten classrooms.
Jim Morrison: Kindergarten is the beginning of many Nueva adventures. All across campus, students and teachers have been setting expectations for the year. What are some of the ground rules your students have come up with to set the tone not just for your classroom this year?
Diana Friedman: Let’s celebrate our mistakes! When a child says they’ve made a mistake, we’ll say, “Give your brain a kiss!” Your brain is working hard and actually growing when you are trying something new and challenging, this is something to celebrate. We read Beautiful Oops by Barney Salzberg and each took a page with scribbly lines and turned it into a new and interesting drawing. Now during work time and investigations, we hear students say, “Oh no, I made a mistake! Wait, I’ll make it into a beautiful oops!”
JM: Over the years we have seen a lot of change and growth at Nueva. What would you say has remained constant during your time at Nueva?
DF: The intellectually curious, passionate students remain as engaging as ever. These eager learners come to school every day with questions, ready to explore and discover. I especially love the first few weeks of school when we are creating our classroom community, getting to know one another, and exploring the interests of the class.
Our students never fail to share rich wonders and curiosities that lead to future studies. Last week a student wondered how to write the word night, which led to a structured word inquiry (SWI) investigation of trigraphs with Rebecca Loveless! The students hung on every word as Rebecca shared a story of the word night.
Working with such talented, committed educators has been a constant—collaborating with creative colleagues through ever changing times reminds me how lucky we are to be at Nueva, where we are continually looking for ways to improve and help support our students.
Finally, we are surrounded by the incredible beauty and nature that is Nueva—our gorgeous environment remains as inviting as ever. We often think of the environment as our "third teacher," and we take advantage of our outdoor learning spaces around campus whenever possible. Visiting the garden each week with Kasey Wooten is a true highlight for all. Our kindergartners have also been enthusiastically exploring the new Nueva hiking trails that Zubin and the Operations Team created last year.
JM: Any time I visit your classroom or run into you around campus, I am struck by your positivity, high energy level, and outward kindness. What are some ways you prepare yourself to bring such wonderful and engaged energy to the classroom?
DF: Honestly, I have so much fun with my students, they just put a smile on my face everyday!
I have always appreciated the way Nueva gives us permission as educators to learn right along with the children. We have the opportunity to explore, research and discover together with our students. Seeing myself as a life-long learner, and modeling that, makes teaching such a fun and rich endeavor. We often say the children are our teachers, as they help shape the curriculum, sharing their passions and interests with the class and helping drive the learning.
Outside of school I am fortunate to teach yoga and fitness classes at the YMCA and am inspired by members challenging themselves in new ways, much like our learners at school. As Zubin reminds us, “The harder you work, the stronger you get!”
JM: Can you describe a project or unit that you have planned for this year that you are excited to start? What are some of your major learning goals for the students?
DF: Identity is currently a theme in kindergarten, and we have been investigating what makes up our own unique identities. We just read the book Fly Girl Fly! Shaesta Waiz Soars Around the World. Before reading, students studied Shaesta Waiz's photo and determined what parts of her we could learn about—her hair, eye and skin color. We also noticed she was wearing a uniform (“is she a police officer, a pilot?”).
That was what we noticed, until we dug deeper into her story We learned about her inspirational story, her family, and the languages she spoke at home—all parts of her identity we couldn’t see when initially studying her picture. We discovered there is so much we can't know about a person until we ask questions and learn more about all the pieces of one's identity, including culture, family, and interests.
JM: Was there a teacher you remember having as a child that inspired you as an educator?
DF: I grew up in Wilmette, IllinoisL, a suburb of Chicago, and I remember my first grade teacher, Miss Elzey. She'd traveled to Japan and came to school one day, dressed in a beautiful brightly colored kimono, ready to share the culture of Japan with our class. We learned how to recite the Japanese National Anthem (which I still remember!) and we cooked rice in the school cafeteria, which felt very special. She was so inspiring, bringing learning to life through meaningful hands-on experiences. - I think I’ve always wanted to become a teacher ever since then!
JM: Do you have a piece of advice for the adults in our community who want to stay connected to their inner kindergartener?
DF: Through mindfulness we learn to “practice being present in this very moment." With so much going on in all our busy lives, we are often racing around from one thing to the next. Our students continually remind us to stop and smell the roses, as they are intrigued with various finds and treasures—like a spiky, serrated leaf they just found on the way to school or an acorn-like treasure they discovered on the K-lawn.
Young children are fascinated with all things nature and the world around them, and they have so many questions. We can share in their wonder when we pause, get down on their level, listen, and wonder alongside them. Tuning into our own childlike sense of wonder and curiosity can open us up to rich, new learning with so many possibilities!