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Q&A with Jean Little

Jean Little has taught at Providence Day since 1997. During her 20 years in the Lower School as a second grade teacher, Little’s roles have also included former Team Leader, assistant tennis coach, mentor, chaperone, and member of multiple committees. She earned her Global Educator’s Certificate at PD, an interest that grew out of her four years as a flight attendant prior to becoming an educator. Little is a parent of three PD graduates: Jenny Little ’08, Sydney Little ’10, and Wesley Little, class of 2014.

Q. What's been the most rewarding part of leading second-grade classrooms here?
The special relationships I have formed with my students and their families. We have amazing students and they are a joy to teach! I get to know our students for the unique learners that they are and it’s a pleasure spending time in the classroom with such creative, motivated, and respectful children.

The parents at PD are warm and caring. They are always willing to be supportive and involved in their child’s education. We invite them to our writing celebrations or a special event in the classroom. Sometimes they drop by to celebrate a birthday or meet us in the dining hall for lunch.

Q. Describe your classroom setting.
I want my students to see evidence that the work they do is important when they walk into my room each day. The hallway and bulletin board displays are driven by the student’s work and the topics being studied in the classroom. My students’ desks are arranged into tables for easy access to collaborate on projects and to have the ability to turn and talk during discussions. Wiggle stools, standing desks, and weighted lap pads are just a few of the special modifications that have been set in place to accommodate the different individual learning needs of my students.

I love to start off our day with morning meetings. The students enter the classroom with happy smiles and buzzing with anticipation. We may do special greetings in different languages, sing songs, play a fun learning game or ask a question of the day. It’s a great way to build a sense of class community and develop morning routines. Our students love coming to sit on the rug, gathering in a circle, and hear what their classmates have to say.

Q. What are some of the ways technology is used in your classroom?
For the past few years, we’ve had the opportunity to Skype with the scientist Dr. Jean Pennycook in Antarctica. Dr. Pennycook shares with our students about her daily life and work with Adelie penguins. She answers questions from our students. Our students create a PD flag and design postcards that we mail to Dr. Pennycook. It’s truly amazing when we see our flag flapping in the freezing winds outside Dr. Pennycook’s hut. When the weather is bearable, she ventures outside her hut to chat with us alongside a rookery of penguins at her feet. This is a fabulous highlight for our students every year!

I credit the brand new smart board technology with transforming the classroom. I love my Smartboard and use it every day! It enables me to involve my students in the lessons when I teach. During math, I use the touch screen so that students can work with virtual manipulatives. They are more engaged in the lessons and eager to participate when they can use smart tools and share their thinking with others.

Q. What have you incorporated from traveling in your teaching?
In my former career as a flight attendant, my eyes were opened when I visited so many interesting places around the world. As a second grade teacher, we guide our students on their own journeys around the world and help them become global citizens. We stamp their passports at the beginning of the school year and will take virtual visits to the seven continents. They spend several weeks learning about geography, famous landmarks, animals, and holidays from each continent.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about your trips to Africa and how they have influenced you?
Through our Global Educator’s program I was able to visit Senegal, West Africa, and South Africa. I participated in a study visit in Senegal through UNC World View program along with a group of other professional educators from North Carolina. We spent 15 days learning about the people, culture, and education system of Senegal. We visited schools, museums, universities, and places of worship. We took classes in Wolof, the native language of Senegal, at one of the University language centers. I also loved my trip to South Africa. It is a very beautiful country and there is so much history. My favorite experience was visiting the home of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg and taking a ferry to Robben Island, where Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years.

Traveling to different places in the world is a powerful learning opportunity. It exposes you to people in other parts of the world and deepens your understanding of their life and culture. You can discover commonalities, as well as some differences. Global citizens show a deeper sense of empathy to others facing challenges in our world. When we begin to think globally, we focus on making connections with other people around the world and working together to find solutions to problems. At PD, we encourage our students to have respect for all people and celebrate our diversity.

Q. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in the classroom?
When not working, I can be found on the tennis courts either playing tennis in a USTA league or working as an assistant coach for one of the PD tennis teams. I fell in love with tennis in high school. I love working with players, helping them improve their tennis skills, and watching them compete in their matches.

During the past few summers, I have spent time working for John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program and Duke TIP Gifted and Talented program. These residential summer programs offer challenging academic courses for young gifted scholars. During the school year, I also spend a few weekends working for Duke’s TIP Academic Adventures program at Queens University here in Charlotte.

Q. How has PD impacted you and your family?
I had three children who attended Providence Day School and am very grateful for all of the wonderful teachers who taught my children.

My husband Marshall passed away unexpectedly from a sudden heart attack in November 2017. It was devastating and such a difficult time for my family. But the outpouring of love and compassion that was shown to us by the PD community was overwhelming. The entire community surrounded me with so much love and support that I didn’t have to go through this time alone. When I returned to school after my bereavement leave, the support continued. Every day for almost the entire year, I would walk into the classroom to find a comforting note with words of encouragement, beautiful cards, plant, or gift of kindness sitting on my desk.

My students and even former students would greet me at the door with hugs. I don’t think I could have made it through this difficult journey without the love and support from my own family and all the caring angels in my PD family. I experienced firsthand what a strong and caring community PD truly is and I will be forever grateful for everything. Because of the support that was shown to me, I am now able to reach out to other families who have suffered a loss.

Q. What makes the Lower School a great place to work?
I’m very humbled to be a teacher in the Lower School. I know that I am working with some of the most talented and dedicated teachers in the field. Our teachers are true professionals who are passionate about teaching and are committed to helping students be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Erin Harper and Jenny Tucker cultivated a positive and respectful school climate and lead with grace, compassion, and integrity. Teachers feel their support to help us do our jobs, and we see their dedication with the students and to their families.

I am very grateful to all of our families and contributors who donated to our capital fund campaign. I am looking forward to the new redesign in our lower school classrooms next year. The physical growth of adding new buildings on campus and the innovation of technology in the classroom has been exciting to witness.

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