An Interview with Michele

Anyone who is lucky enough to have had a child attend our PreK program knows that our youngest Parker students are treated to a magical experience in learning. Here at Parker, we believe that all children are capable individuals deserving of respect. Every aspect of a preschooler’s day, from snack to circle time, and buddies to project work, is constructed with this principle in mind. Our teachers work hard to observe and document each child’s play, language, and interests to get at the heart of what each child wants to know. Our teacher’s real work is then to manifest these observations into project work that brings the children’s collective curiosities to life.
Michele Ridgeway is one of Parker’s most veteran teachers, having led a PreK classroom of either three or four-year-olds for the past 15 years! Michele has a B.S. in special education. She joined Parker in 2005 after working for 15 years as a certified early intervention specialist. More recently, Michele has pursued her own passion for art, graduating with an MFA in studio arts in 2014.

Michele lives in Hancock, Massachusetts with her fiancé Phil. Her family lives nearby, including her mom, her daughters Amy and Melissa (and their partners), and her granddaughter Hazel. Both of Michele’s daughters are successful artists — which makes her really happy as a mom:) Michele characterizes herself as a maker and a painter, and she enjoys creating things together with her daughters. She also loves her flower gardens, baking, making presents, Food Network shows, hiking in the beautiful Berkshires, biking, skiing, walking her dog, and getting outside. Please read on to learn more about Michele, in her own words…
How did you get in to teaching?
“I have been a teacher my whole life — from working at summer camps as a teenager to teaching in special needs preschools, working in early intervention as a caseworker, and now teaching at Robert C Parker School. Being a teacher is my joy!”
What drew you to Parker and the idea of progressive education?
“When my daughters were young they had the good fortune to attend Hancock School Elementary School, a “one-room schoolhouse”. The grades were combined, progress reports were anecdotal, and the school started and ended the day with a school-wide meeting. My daughters have incredible memories and stories from their elementary experience. That was my introduction to progressive education. I came to Robert C. Parker School as an assistant teacher in the PreK classroom, and the next year I was hired as the PreK 4 teacher. Everything just fit for me, and I fell naturally into a happy place! Being a progressive educator is just “me.” PreK children are magical, as they are open to all experiences, and everything is new, although they will be the first to say ‘I know.'”
Describe your educational philosophy?
“I strongly believe that children will learn what they need to learn when they are ready, and that where there is purpose, there is motivation. My classroom philosophy is based on the Progressive Classroom. It is experiential and inquiry based, but also has components of Reggio Emilia in materials and approach. Most essential to my teaching style is respect for each child and family and what they bring to our classroom community. My PreK classroom is structured as a hands-on experiential space with a steady routine in which the children feel safe to explore, but within which there are boundaries for safety and social learning. I believe that children play what they need to learn, and my responsibility as their teacher is to respect their learning process and provide them the materials and space they need.”
What do you like about teaching at Parker? 
“I’m happy to teach at Parker amongst these motivated, vibrant, and creative faculty and staff. We share a respect for the children that we teach and a lifelong love of learning. We have an incredible outdoor space. Another benefit of teaching at Parker is that we have autonomy. In the PreK classroom we follow the children’s interests and questions to create our curriculum. Every year is different and we like it that way.”
What do you enjoy specifically about working with preschoolers?
“Three and four-year-olds are my favorite people. There is so much going on developmentally during these years — the children are gaining independence, learning to express their feelings, learning that their peers have feelings too. There are leaps in conversational and language skills, including being able to tell jokes. They also develop physical prowess and climbing skills, so that we witness emerging confidence as the children climb trees, learn to pump on the swings, and jump from increasing heights. The world is expanding for these children, while at the same time there is an innocence and joy that almost can’t be described.”
What is happening in your classroom right now?
“We began our year with an emphasis on spending time outdoors, and we learned quickly that we needed boundaries! We have a few rules about getting outside: teachers first, sticks are allowed but can only be as long as an arm, and keep your body safe. We introduced boundaries by talking about trails, looking at maps, and creating our own trail complete with markers, a map, and a name. We are still working on our trail, clearing it, finding shortcuts, and racing on it. Because we are outside, we have also encountered a lot of SAP, and it’s stickiness has intrigued us. We wrote questions to Parker’s science teachers and Matt Thornton (our resident maple sugaring expert) looking for answers. We’re excited to find out all about sap! My favorite question was “Does sap come from rain?” Most of our time in PreK is spent in social/emotional learning — being mindful, taking care of ourselves and others, and becoming a community of learners that are kind and respectful.”
What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
“This year is unlike any year that I’ve taught. I’m sure many teachers are feeling that way! We combined ages 3 and 4 together (something that I’ve always wanted to do) and it’s been a positive experience. I am so happy that we are able to give these children the chance to be together at a crucial time in their social development. We are cognizant of the requirements for safety in the classroom, while remembering to be joyful! We have learned that PreK children are resilient and flexible. My hopes and dreams for this classroom is that we will become a community of learners and kind people, and we will have time to answer all the searching questions that PreK children have.”
*Robert C. Parker School follows NYS guidelines and protocols for school safety during Covid.