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At the beginning of my teaching career, I worked as the 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a K-8 parochial school. Once a month, my students would pair up with the kindergarten students to complete a creative project: paper maché globes, paper kites, Q & A interviews. On those afternoons, my noisy and awkward adolescents longingly stared at various learning stations: art centers, counting blocks, easels,finger paints, and beanbag chairs circled around picture books. It was evident that my 8th graders wanted to go back to kindergarten.
And why wouldn’t they want to go back? Even back then, kindergarten combined the elements of fun and learning through a structured day of collaborative and independent activities. In today’s kindergarten classes, the morning meeting is a cooperative exercise where students are oriented for the day’s activities. Language arts centers develop reading and writing skills and include collaborative guided reading or read alouds. Math centers provide materials for independent practice in developing math skills. Structured play activities build social interaction, while recess, especially outdoor recess, allows students to practice unstructured play. “Specials” expose students to the arts and/or other disciplines. The entire kindergarten day day is structured to provide students with multiple opportunities to collaborate or to be independent.
In an article titled Ready for Kindergarten? In Parent Child Magazine (Scholastic publication), five kindergarten teachers discussed what attributes they believe children should have to be successful in kindergarten.
Their recommendations for the top five readiness skills students should have, in no particular order, are:
1.Ability to play well with others
2.Ability to listen
3. Solid oral-language skills
4. Desire to be independent
5. Enthusiasm toward learning
What is interesting is comparing these skills that kindergarten teachers look for in students to the skills that recruiters look for in hiring once students have exited a school system. A recent survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) a non-profit group that links colleges with recruiters, asked hiring managers what top skills they believe to be the most important in recruiting employees. The top skills for recruiters look for are:
1.Ability to work in a team structure
2.Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
3.Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
4.Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
5.Ability to obtain and process information
The elements of collaboration and independence that started in the structures and strategies from kindergarten are evident in both lists. The ability to communicate is critical whether a student is entering as a five year old or exiting with five years of graduate school.
In addition to this information, consider the first-hand individual employee accounts from those who work at Fortune 500 companies that have been designated as “The Best Places to Work.” Included on this list are predictable choices (Google #1) where the activities of a Google Employee (highly edited) might look something like this:
9:00 AM: Morning meeting
11:00 AM: Call with the team to plan
2:00 PM: Brainstorming with my team.
4:00 PM: Submit ideas; Spend ten minutes trying to convince others.
The skills of communicating and collaboration in this abridged account mirror the qualities required by the five kindergarten teachers. And those reviews by employees from variousFortune 500 companies included statements about additional learning, “They really know how to push you” (McKinsey#9) and “Given great opportunities to expand my knowledge about the field” (Chevron #6). The desire to participate or be “pushed” was a connecting thread for all the top rated companies, and that desire for additional learning could be the spark that is ignited in kindergarten.
I am not suggesting that the focus of kindergarten should be career readiness as has been expressed by some education reformers, but it is surprising how many of the kindergarten-like structures and strategies are embedded in the more successful companies. Perhaps it is no wonder these companies receive such enviable reviews from their employees.
A little creative liberty in rewording one of the reviews from Forbes given by an employee from the top rated company Acuity, illustrates how these structures and strategies in employee satisfaction might sound like the ideal kindergarten experience