By TIFFANY RONEY
Two local elementary teachers are partaking in a practice that is both old and new — looping.
In its fullest form, looping began in the one-room schoolhouse or even earlier in home schooling because the teacher or parent followed the students through all their years of primary education, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
According to National Association of Elementary School Principals, looping — also known as multiyear teaching — is a placement in which “students have the same teacher for two or more successive years. Looping involves a partnership of at least two teachers, who teach two different grade levels, but in alternate years.”
Kristine Barrett and Kathy Horan loop second and third grades at McKinley Elementary School.
Barrett and Horan said the most important benefit of looping is the building of relationships in three directions: student to teacher, teacher to parent and student to student. The teachers said the long-term commitment of looping zfosters an atmosphere of trust.
“The students feel a lot more comfortable in making mistakes, and that’s how you learn,” Barrett said. “Especially that beginning of the school year, when I have a new group, I can just tell that they’re walking on eggshells because they don’t want to do anything wrong. They want me to love them and they want me to think they’re wonderful kids, which they are.
“But when you go into third grade, you really get to know the kids,” Barrett said. “They say things, they do things that they would only do with someone they felt comfortable with. And they’re a lot more excited to learn, I think, in some ways, because they know your teaching style and they know you understand them, and so I think sometimes they’re more willing to take risks with things that they’re doing.”
Barrett said this concept of risk-taking also surfaces between parents and teachers.
“I think sometimes the biggest thing I noticed about looping is the relationships with the parents because in second grade, it’s just second grade, but when third grade rolls around, I always tell parents, ‘If there’s something that I need to know about your child, please feel free to let me know,’” Barrett said. “It always amazes me what they’ll tell you in third grade.”
Barrett said this new information often involves family dynamics.
“Maybe in the morning — because we all have those bad mornings — maybe the parent and the child just were knocking heads, but they don’t want to tell you that in second grade because they don’t know you,” Barrett said. “But in the third grade, because I understand their relationship and the parent understands my relationship with the child, they’ll send me an email that says, ‘Rough morning. Be prepared.’ You know, just things like that. I’d say, ‘Oh, it was a bad morning. I can help the child through.’”
Horan said parents are much more open the second year not only on family dynamics, but on receiving advice.
“Some of the discussions you can have with a parent about meeting a child’s learning needs,” Barrett said. “They’re a lot more, I don’t know how to say it …”
“They accept it coming from someone they trust, someone who they feel like they really know,” Horan said, finishing Barrett’s sentence.
These relational aspects also carry into student-to-student interactions.
“You get that sibling stuff going on. They’re like brothers and sisters,” Barrett said.
She said this sibling phenomenon can be sweet and sour, but mostly sweet.
“Then they start arguing and bickering like brothers and sisters,” Barrett said. “The kids trust each other more, too. They’ll tell their friends things.”
Horan said she has noticed students who loop are more protective of each other.
“Sometimes, when you’re doing a reading group or they’re reading with a friend in second grade, and the friend stumbles over a word, they’ll get impatient with them and they’ll just blurt it out,” Barrett said. “Then in third grade, you can see they’re like, ‘Oh, well, you have to …’ I mean, they become like little mother hens. They really learn each others’ needs.”
Barrett said these protective instincts are helpful when it comes to discipline.
“In third grade it’s a lot easier with behavior because a little friend will (whisper), ‘Tiffany, you need to “Shh.” You’re going to get in trouble,’ where in second grade, they’ll make a bigger deal about (saying loudly), ‘Tiffany’s talking.’ In third grade, they realize we work better as a team.”
Horan wrapped up the conversation about relationship building and trust with a little story that combined student-to-student connection with students’ dependence on their teachers.
“I had a little boy last week get upset because he was struggling with something and I wasn’t tuned into it,” Horan said. “One of my little girls came over and said, ‘Mrs. Horan, he’s crying. You need to go help him. He got stuck on this.’ They look out for each other but they’re not afraid to come and tell me either.”