The work of early childhood educators can appear deceptively simple. After all, it seems that our youngest learners eagerly engage in exploring their environment and naturally delight in their discoveries. The best early childhood educators indeed create learning spaces where they take a step back from prescriptive teaching and move to guiding and facilitating based on a child’s interests and needs. Early childhood is a crucial time period for the development of motor skills, the emergence of language, and psychosocial, cognitive, and learning abilities. This growth can best be supported by trained professionals who continually work to build independence and the social and emotional skills that children need to succeed in school and life. Children learn well when they are mentally active, engaged, social and can make meaningful connections to their lives, which are all characteristics of play. It’s purposeful play that fosters the incredible growth that occurs in these early years.
This year with the challenges of educating young children during a pandemic, it’s more apparent than ever that PBS is incredibly fortunate to have Stephanie Hall-Koester in our Early Learning Center as a Lead Teacher in our Preschool. She began working with young children in 1996 and moved to teaching as her full-time occupation in 2001. Stephanie has been instrumental in developing the ELC’s social-emotional program, drawing on her previous experience teaching at Notre Dame de Namur’s signature early childhood program and contributing to the creation of an SEL program at the Nueva School.
“This year is extra special because of the pandemic; families are grateful, as am I, to be able to work with these children in person. I feel very close to my students and families because of the size of our cohorts this year. I can really help each student and work in a place of strength. We work through challenges together, and I’m finding this to be one of my most rewarding teaching years ever.”
Stephanie, a lifelong learner, recently completed the Early Learning Leadership Certificate through Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this two-year online program, Stephanie pursued a wide scope of subjects in both early childhood and leadership including diversity, neuroscience, problem-solving as a cycle, student and adult relationships, and the most recent best practices in social-emotional learning. She shares “This certificate program was such a great supplement to my experience as it was both practical and research-based and now I have a new learning community through Harvard who are supportive and available when I need them.”
In addition to staying current with early childhood best practices, Stephanie has been practicing yoga for the past ten years and often shares this love with her students. Over the last three years, Stephanie has been part of the Instagram yoga community participating in various worldwide pose challenges. Through this community, Stephanie has met people all over the world and even won a few pose challenges! In fact, in preparation for the handstand challenge, she has not missed her daily handstand practice in over a year. In the ELC, Stephanie incorporates a daily yoga pose into the morning meeting and notices the positive impact it has on student balance and focus.
Another personal creative outlet for Stephanie is jewelry design. Every year, she shares this passion with her students as an inspiration to provoke mathematical thinking, practice hand-eye coordination, and support small motor development. The opportunities for learning are different each year as she guides and follows the curiosities of the students. One year, beading work with stone beads led to an in-depth project to research rocks and gems.
Stephanie’s love of learning is contagious and is evident in the way her students emulate her wonderings. It is typical to hear a Preschool student ask another student to “tell me more about your drawing” or “I wonder why that happened. What do you think?”
The skill of facilitating early learning is an ongoing journey that Stephanie finds life-affirming and full of opportunities to grow personally and professionally.