Believe it or not, the pre-kindergarten curriculum begins with a monster. More specifically, a story about a very mischievous monster who refuses to listen, share, or help on her first day of school. The monster makes so much trouble that the teacher asks her to leave which makes the monster very sad. The monster wants to stay at school, but she doesn’t know what to do. At this point in the story, the pre-kindergarten teachers stop telling the story and ask the students, “Can you help Monster?”
Ellis pre-k students in the classroom and at home eagerly share their ideas about how Monster should act at school. The discussion leads to a set of rules that will not only help the monster, but will also establish a classroom culture for the group. Enthusiastic and excited about being part of the pre-k team, students write their names on sticky notes and attach them to the “Our Team Promises” poster to show their support. What began as a story about a naughty monster ends in a team agreement: the Pre-k Team Promises.
Our Team Promises We will… Be ready to learn. Listen to each other. Help each other. Be kind to each other. Make good choices.
In the following days, students begin lessons by reciting the team promises and discussing why the team agreement will help them be successful at school. Ms. Martone, Ms. Kovach, and Ms. Kennedy help students learn what each promise means by teaching students that they are going to use their bodies—their brains, voices, hands, and hearts—to learn, listen, and be kind and helpful team members. Students come to understand that following the team promises means sitting in ready position and practicing active listening skills when they gather as a group. It means sharing materials and toys in the classroom. It means noticing when a friend needs help and giving a hand.
“Our Team Promises really set the framework for the year,” shared Maggie Martone, Pre-kindergarten Teacher. “It lets the girls know that we’re all in this together and that even when we do work independently, we’re still part of a team and the choices we make affect everyone around us. The promises and the lessons that support them give the girls concrete language and tools around how to behave, cooperate, and learn together.”
As the weeks go by, pre-kindergarten students learn about their team identity and what it means to be part of a community in over a dozen different lessons. In each one, they discuss the different tools they have at their disposal to help them stick to their agreement, like listening ears, growing brains, gentle voices, helping hands, and caring hearts. The team promises are at the center of everything they do. From taking turns on the playground to being good listeners in morning meetings, teachers relate behavior to the promises and hold students accountable. Instead of focusing on rules and language like “don’t do this or that,” Ellis teachers remind their team of the promises they agreed upon. For instance, if students are calling out answers or talking over another person who is speaking during a lesson, teachers may say things like: Are we using our listening ears? When we call out, are we showing we are ready to learn and listen to others?”
“The promises give the girls a sense of agency and a way of doing things. It allows them to be proactive and have ownership over their bodies and space,” shared Katie Kovach, Pre-kindergarten Teacher. “It’s our job to explain what it means to keep the promises and how we can do it together as a team.”
For pre-kindergarten students, the Team Promises take big ideas and abstract concepts and operationalize them for girls. They show them what learning in community and being part of a team looks like in practice. Over time, this commitment to the team mindset empowers girls to discover the many ways they themselves and each of their classmates contribute to the growth of the whole group. By integrating the Team Promises into everything they do, Ellis’ youngest learners are prepared with the tools and language they need to create meaningful relationships that will support their growth for years to come.