Launched to an Online world: Reflections on Connecting with Seneca ECE Placement Students

As a lab and teaching school it is a great honour and privilege to work alongside future generations of ECEs. Each year, the excitement of the September rush brings new Seneca ECE Placement students through our doors to join our Lab School community; to live, learn and play alongside us, the children and families. 

The connections and the relationships that are developed often last well beyond the last days of placement; our paths, our stories, intertwined for only a few months but changed for a lifetime. Each student leaves their footprint on the heart of the Lab School.

September 2020 was a semester like no other…

The Seneca ECE Lab School remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The college campus was nearly empty of all students and employees for the duration of the semester. Empty were the halls and classrooms of the school we call home.

We are living in an unprecedented time during this pandemic, embarking on an uncharted journey into the land of online ECE field placements. These days and months have definitely been hard, but the times we’ve been able to connect with students have been bright spots of light in the darkness. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that we would be able to spend time connecting with thousands of students over the semester; sharing our stories and pedagogies of the lab school and rethinking alongside them. We couldn’t imagine or foresee what online learning and teaching would look like. As a student mentor in this new format for learning, it became evident to us that this was going to be a challenge. A challenge requiring creativity, patience, perseverance and dedication.  A challenge we were ready to accept.

We looked for possibilities and imagined what this online reality may look like. What online field placement could we help create? How might we translate the work and life of an Early Childhood Educator over the computer? More importantly, how might our passion and love for the work, the feelings of entering our lab school transcend through the screen and reach so many students? 

My 17 years of mentoring E.C.E students at Seneca College has been one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences for me.  The learning route between myself as a mentor and my mentees’ has been a two fold learning process in the sense that I have been able to expand on my abilities and also on those of my mentees’.  I see our relationship as co-learners”.  As I reflect on my life, I can remember several people who have inspired me in my career path.  When I became an E.C.E, I saw that as my calling to be someone who will leave a lasting impression on a child’s life and I wanted to have that same effect on students who I have had the honor of mentoring.” 

Niluka Perera-Jones, Lab School Educator

Many thoughts and wonderings crossed our minds…

“How could we ever replace an in-person field placement with anything online? How could this even compare? How could we maintain a quality learning experience with no physical access to programs, spaces and materials? How could we replicate the necessary hands-on experiences that students adored from in-person learning? How could we connect students with children, when there were no children for them to connect with?  We wondered what our role would look like?” 

Carrie Harrison-Lameira, Lab School Educator

Being away from the Lab School, our home, has been so incredibly difficult. However, we have found another sense of home, in somewhere we could never have expected. Through the window of a screen in a house called Zoom. Although we have missed the in-person community of children, families, colleagues, the environment and community; this time has provided us with a covid gift  to meet thousands of students and educators from around the globe. We have met so many incredible educators and students who are passionate, excited and willing to question the way things have always been done in the name of the way things could be.

We connected with students who ask brilliant questions, and bring insightful ideas and experiences of their own to the conversation. Who help each other, and us, imagine a better world and work together to rethink the ways we live with children, families and each other. Together we listen, laugh, share, cry, wonder…. What would it look like if we did things differently? We wondered . together about how the smallest change in what we do, or what we say, or with what intention we come into a moment, could change not just what happens in our classrooms, but in the world around us. We are the change makers. We are powerful. The students this semester reminded me of hope. During our time together, I could see a transformation in not just the students, but myself. The more we shared with them, the more they shared with us. Our walls began to come down; some that had been built up over the course of a lifetime. Together we risked letting our eyes jump over these walls to see, as Loris Malaguzzi puts it, “the beyond”. 

-Nicole Pierce, Lab School Educator

Students rose to this challenge and shared beautiful insights, and metaphors for teaching and learning. Through technology, we were able to hold space to share the pedagogies and the journey of the lab school, and in return, listen to student reflections, thinking and their stories of their own journeys. The dialogues were rich, complex and often beautiful.  The learning has been reciprocal; as much as we have done our best to guide, inspire and spark students’ passion  for the career path they have chosen; they have taught us so much.

“I have always shared a message with each person who has walked through our Lab School doors… that they leave their footprint behind…each meeting and each and every interaction manifests something within our walls, and creates a new layer to our thinking, philosophy and pedagogy. To feel this same revelation in this online platform with ECE students was so enlightening. We all felt the vulnerability of letting each other into our lives in more intimate, personal ways, as well as supported one another in unpredictability. This has been a changing and growing ‘living organism,’ not only promoting the education of the student but the health and happiness of one another. I am reminded…we are all in this TOGETHER!”

– Laura Salau, Lab School Educator

“There is one thing (among others) that we will take away from this experience that came as somewhat of a surprise. Whether it was a question or statement in the chat, a laugh shared together, a sharing of technology frustrations or a simple ‘thank you’ at the end of a meeting, it became clear that something great was happening here. Looking closer, we could see that sense of connection building amongst each group of students we met with. The more time we spent with a particular class, the more we saw that they had figured out a way to come together as a community. Despite never meeting face to face, despite much of the group only communicating through the chat function, despite most of the cameras being turned off making it hard to put a face to a name, these groups had come to know each other and had become each other’s support systems.” –Carrie Harrison-Lameira, Lab School Educator

“I have been witnessing extraordinary conversations between Seneca ECE Lab school educators and students. Ideas of consumerism, relationships to land, slowing down, listening, really listening and honoring children as human beings have been filling the chat room during every webinar. “

– Fran DeFilippis, Director of the former Seneca’s KOLTS (King Observation Laboratory Teaching School)

We are reminded of a poem by Loris Malaguzzi, ‘Finding Our Way in the Forest’. It becomes metaphorically transformed as we reflect on our field mentorship role within the School of ECE at Seneca College in these times.

“All of this is a great forest. Inside the forest is the child. The forest is beautiful, fascinating, green, and full of hopes; there are no paths. Although it isn’t easy, we have to make our own paths, as teachers and children and families, in the forest. Sometimes we find ourselves together within the forest, sometimes we may get lost from each other, sometimes we’ll greet each other from far away across the forest; but it’s living together in this forest that is important. And this living together is not easy. We have to find each other in the forest and begin to discuss what the education of the child actually means. The important aspect is not just to promote the education of the child but the health and happiness of the child as well. We need to think of the school as a living organism. Children have to feel that the world is inside the school and moves and thinks and works and reflects on everything that goes on. Of course not all children are the same — each child brings a part of something that’s different into the school.” – Loris Malaguzzi

“The intersection of educator’s authentic experiences with children is filling a current void of “in person practicum”. Students are asking for more spaces for dialogue and conversation, they are sharing complex ideas and challenging historical ideologies!  This is a time for change, fluidity and adaptation.” 

– Fran DeFilippis, Director of the former Seneca’s KOLTS (King Observation Laboratory Teaching School)

Somehow we all managed to make it through this semester together. As different as it was to the previous years and semesters in mentoring students; we are so proud of their work and grateful for this opportunity to work with so many students and be part of their journey. Mary Fisher,  Chair of the Seneca College School of ECE, adds her reflections about the semester. We invite you to click here to read her thoughts.

We would also like to share with you a message from one of the ECE Students:

“The lab school has been a key part of a lot of children’s development and the foundation for us as students to learn. I value the time I was privileged to have in the centre because everything is organized. It isn’t so much organized in the sense that you naturally assume, it is organized in the sense of vision. The vision and the passion is organized. Children are the priority and educators are focused on them. Each part of the lab school is so well set up with natural materials inspiring children to think outside the box and create for themselves. The centre is not filled with specific purpose toys or materials. All the materials in the centre can be used in a variety of ways, they can be used in as many ways and there is a vast variety of options for what children are able to use. The educators encourage the children to explore and they aren’t caught up with adhering to a company based learning structure. 

It is a shame we can’t go into placement and interact but right now it is for our safety and the well-being of the children. We should understand this. It may be foggy at times but the road is paved, we just need to keep feeling the vehicle (our minds) to deal with the rough weather conditions that may try and route us a different way. It is important for us to have support as students, the lab school provided this. The lab school provided this in ways that a textbook can not provide. I appreciate your kindness in saying I moved and inspired you, I hope to move and inspire many more throughout my journey.” -Mihai Chirculescu, Seneca ECE Student

We would like to share some of the students’ thinking, learning and journey over the semester in hopes that it too will inspire you as it did us. We are proud of their work, dedication and in spite of our world being flipped upside down they’ve persevered. In honour of them, their resilience, creativity and passion, our next few blog posts will highlight some of the work they have shared with us and given us permission to share with all of you. 

As a result of the relationships that developed this semester, we have created even more opportunities to connect with students this semester; being more connected to the online field placement course, Connections Cafés and an ECE Club to hold space to play, live and learn together. We look forward to the upcoming semester where we can continue to grow, learn and inspire one another.

One thought on “Launched to an Online world: Reflections on Connecting with Seneca ECE Placement Students

  1. This blog captures and reflects the Seneca Lab School team’s (former & current & KOLTS) immense creativity and dedication to empowering and strengthening the rhizomatic nature of the intersections of students and mentors, children and families, educators from near and far, and happily faculty. COVID has changed what this looks like but I can attest to the inspiration and excitement felt even by the students who are being mentored virtually.
    Yes, let’s continue to grow, learn and inspire one another. With gratitude.

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To All School of ECE students,
It has been rough ride this fall. I want to commend you all on your resilience in responding to what seems like an endless stream of adjustments to unknowns. For most of you, this was your first semester fully online, the first time you have had to rely so heavily on technology and at a time when we have all been cut off from each other. 
Despite all the challenges posed by living in a pandemic, you have managed to attend classes, get help and help each other, produce good work.
The professors commented on the high level of participation and along with you broke new territory in teaching and learning.
I hope all of you can look back on the semester and find instances of what you did well, what you managed to learn rather than what grade you got, how what you’ve learned will make your next step in life more solid.
Over the next few weeks I hope you will find time to relax and enjoy some fun activities, observing, of course, all the protocols to keep our communities safe and healthy.
Best wishes,