Feature Teacher: Ferlady Wilhelm
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Ferlady Wilhelm has worked in early childhood education for more than 15 years. She currently serves as director of early childhood and a pre-K teacher at St. Jerome Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Tell us about yourself!
I am creative, effective, and passionate! I have had the joy of working in the early childhood education field for more than 15 years. Currently, I am the director of early childhood and a pre-K teacher at St. Jerome Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and a master’s degree in eLearning with a focus on synchronous and asynchronous distance and hybrid learning.
I am also a National Geographic Certified Teacher and a candidate for the Early Childhood Leadership Certificate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I love researching new learning experiences and engaging adventures for young children.
What is something important a child has taught you?
Persistence, empathy, and kindness are some of the gifts that children have given me over the years. Through their actions, children teach me on a daily basis to strive to become a better person. They show me how to forgive, be a better friend, help others, and overcome obstacles. They teach me how to value human beings with their unique abilities and talents.
On one occasion, I announced to the class that they had five more minutes until it was time to move to a new center. Suddenly, one of the children noticed another child was not going to finish his work in that time. She immediately stopped her own activity so she could help her classmate. Seeing such a young child take this initiative is forever imprinted in my mind.
Another memorable moment came while observing and working with a child who had been struggling drawing a square. I was in awe of how persistent he was in accomplishing
this goal. He practiced with popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, playdough, and shaving cream with incredible determination so he could finally, successfully create the square using a
pencil. My biggest reward was seeing him beam with pride.
Never underestimate young children.
What strategies would you recommend to build on children’s individual and family strengths, cultural backgrounds, and experiences and to show children and families that you value them?
It is important to practice empathy and recognize each family and child for their uniqueness, expertise, and interest.
We welcome families into the classroom so that they can actively participate in daily routines, including helping at circle time or at the technology station, and weekly activities, such as Family of the Week, Book of the Week, and Letter/Snack of the Week (the snack begins with the same letter of the week). We also organize events like weekend family picnics. Due to the pandemic, we found ways to connect regularly with families virtually to tap into and share their knowledge interests. These in-house “field trips” have been tremendously helpful in effectively gathering information, planning learning experiences, strengthening social and emotional development and our relationships with each other, and communicating with families.
Describe some ways in which you communicate with families to build and maintain positive and reciprocal relationships.
Some of my communication strategies include: greeting families at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up; consistently sending emails, notes, photos and videos, newsletters, and text messages; regularly scheduling phone calls and in-person or video conferences; and organizing family classroom activities, and community events.
I’ve found that families value phone calls to hear about special interactions and moments with their children on a routine basis, especially conversations in which kindness is highlighted. They also appreciate the newsletter with the summary of completed activities and upcoming lessons. They often reply: “Thank you, Mrs. Fer for that picture!” “It made my day!” Or, “This picture means a lot to me to look at while I am working.”
Share a recent situation in which things didn’t go as planned. What happened, and what did you do to make the most of it for you and the children?
During our class’s vegetable garden project, we decided to host a farmers market to extend children’s learning on a topic that really piqued their curiosity and engagement. Earlier in the school year, we learned about marketing tools, advertisements, and types of payments, which we revisited and put into action during this project to advertise our farmers market.
We didn't realize that our advertisements campaign around the school was so effective until the day of the farmers market event—we ran out of vegetables! There were so many child and faculty customers trying to buy our produce. We previously organized and packed the vegetables to be sold; however, once the market was underway, children had to return to the garden beds and gather more veggies to satisfy our customers. My little farmers were excited during this unexpected situation because they could pull the vegetable in front of the customer and hand it to them.
After the event and back in the classroom, we discussed ways to plan better for next time. It was a very productive learning discussion during which children generated questions, ideas, and solutions for the next market day. For example, one idea was to count the number of children in each classroom to get a better estimate of potential visitors. Others suggested preparing extra vegetable bags. We also discussed the possibility of offering vegetables straight from the garden beds instead of packing the vegetables ahead of time. We concluded the discussion thinking that solving problems is fun!
What is your favorite children’s book and why?
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book embraces different values and perspectives: unconditional love, kindness, generosity, sadness, selfishness. Reading the book with children in my class is a great tool to identify and talk through all these perspectives and emotions. The story can bring reflection through open-ended questions in the classroom. After reading the book, we’ve discussed how to be generous, thankful, empathetic, respectful, appreciate others, and reciprocal.
What are you reading now?
Identifying and Analyzing Negative and Unproductive Thoughts by Stephanie Jones.
How do you take care of yourself?
I care for myself by practicing activities that I enjoy and that make me feel happy, such as taking photos, self-reflection, reading, walking, breathing exercises, and tap dancing. I also like to connect with other teachers around the country and around the world. Forums and open discussions, such as NAEYC’s HELLO interest forum platform, are amazing tools allowing us to be united. I have learned so much from other teachers' experiences. Exchanging ideas allows me to further plan my lessons and to reflect on and improve practices. Collaboration is essential in the educational field. Knowing that I am not alone in this process is very uplifting and energizing. We are a team around the globe with the same goal of guiding our children to be their best selves.
What is your proudest accomplishment as an educator?
I believe my biggest accomplishment is that I have learned how to make learning magical for children. I often dress up in fun costumes (as appropriate for the occasion) and facilitate activities (during the day and after school) that nurture love and respect for other cultures. For example, I work with children in the following clubs: Creative Culinary, Fashion Design, Creative Club, and Dance Around the world. I also look for opportunities to consistently integrate Spanish throughout the day.
Professionally, I am proud of my recent recognition of excellence in the school’s state benchmark execution rates. The "readiness rate" measures how well the program prepares four-year-olds for kindergarten based upon the state’s early learning and developmental standards.
Another accomplishment to celebrate is that National Geographic awarded our Vegetable Garden project with the “exceptional” category for the 2020 Educational Projects in their certification program.
I knew I had to teach when . . .
I was six years old. As a child, I taught my neighbors.
I keep my passion or enthusiasm for teaching alive by . . .
seeing children’s faces. It is priceless to see them smile when they complete a task that they have been working hard on and even struggling to achieve. I also feel blessed and reinvigorated when I receive the appreciation and affection of so many families.
What is a future professional goal that you have for yourself? How might being a NAEYC member help you reach this goal?
My future goal is to continue to pursue my Leadership Early Childhood Certification from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and use my NAEYC membership to assist and inspire me in my research.
My teaching style is . . .
Based on constructivism and ensuring that children have active, engaged, and playful experiences that empower them to make choices in their learning.
I strive for my students to be active, hands-on learners who are empowered to make choices in their learning experiences. They explore a wide range of themes with sufficient time to foster a desire to identify and pursue their interests. Developmentally appropriate activities challenge and support children across all domains, including in their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional growth. The schedule is flexible and adaptable. We work on values such as practicing respect for one another as well as learning to love oneself as an essential central axis.
I am a NAEYC member because . . .
I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I value the opportunity to glean from NAEYC resources and the NAEYC community effective practices.
How has being part of NAEYC positively impacted your teaching and/or interactions with children?
NAEYC has provided me with valuable resources, such as the 10 NAEYC Program Standards, to help me reflect on how I can strive to have a growth mindset, especially in differentiated instructional and assessment methods. Although all the standards are crucial, the standard that resonates with me most recently is Standard 1: Relationships. This standard captures the many layers to building and maintaining positive relationships: promoting conversations, identifying feelings, building self‑worth, practicing conflict resolution and problem‑solving skills, as well as promoting healthy relationships while learning to work together. Also important to note is that this standard includes relationships with children’s families.
Please share how you incorporate technology and media in your classroom in developmentally appropriate ways?
I make technology available every day in my classroom at morning meetings, during which my class uses an interactive calendar. Children can touch the screen and explore by picking the number of the current date and learn about the weather and the day’s forecast.
Another way to incorporate technology is through photography and video. I take pictures and videos during the day to later share with families. I also encourage children to take their own pictures of their classmates (with their permission) while they work and play. At the end of the day, we do our closing meeting and project the photos and videos on the interactive whiteboard screen. All children have the opportunity to celebrate accomplishments captured during the day while working at various centers. For example, we spotlighted the photo of Breanne and Wyatt building a zoo in the block area and reviewed details and materials used in the construction. This photo helped us to connect with our learning experiences focused on wild animals.
And lastly, children enjoy making videos and sharing them with their families. Children represent characters while wearing costumes. They are beyond proud when they watch videos of themselves as the protagonists, and even more so when they receive acknowledgement from their families. They feel like superstars! I believe that this type of experience promotes self-confidence.
I am so thankful that technology and media are readily available to us and we can use it to contribute to the children's learning experiences.
Vol. 15, No. 2