“Teachers start off gung-ho and then they get bogged down by all the requirements they have to fill and all of the things they have to remember to complete,” says Terri Rivera, a Playmaker and 20-year preschool teacher at The Barnstable Early Learning Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “Before they know it, all of their dreams of changing lives get thrown out the window.” Terri knows that feeling all too well because three years ago she was “feeling burned out and stressed” in her work. That’s when she discovered the Life is good Playmakers and attended her first training. She returned home feeling excited and ready to bring more of her playful self into her classroom. “There was just this igniting within me after that training,” she said, “Like I could take off.”
Like a rocket, Terri has indeed taken off since then. She has been a huge advocate for the Playmakers, recruiting many of her co-workers and other child care professionals in the Cape Cod area to attend Playmaker trainings as well as attending additional trainings herself. Even after long days that required all her energy and focus to be the best she can be with children, she still made the long trek from Hyannis to Boston several evenings over the next few months to attend monthly Booster trainings in Boston. Boosters provide Playmakers opportunities to reconnect, share challenges and successes, as well as learn new activities and techniques to improve their work with children.
When Terri realized that the growing number of Playmakers she had recruited were not attending the Boston Boosters due to distance and busy work schedules, she decided to take the initiative to organize several local gatherings for members of her Cape Cod community to ensure that their commitment to transforming lives through playful, joyful, loving relationships would not waver. “My goal is to attract more and more people to the Playmaker movement,” she says. “There needs to be more laughter and more joyfulness in the classroom. I can’t imagine teachers working with children who don’t smile.”
Terri’s inspiring example in the classroom and leadership outside the classroom were chief reasons why she was a co-winner of the 2012 Jesse Howes Award. The award commemorates the late founding Playmaker Jesse Howes and is given each year to a Playmaker who, like Jesse, shows, “A deep love for, and commitment to children, and an unquenchably playful spirit.”
Terri has seen the difference a joyful approach can make, especially for those, like “Anna,” whose childhoods are filled with difficulties. Anna arrived at Terri’s classroom as an overweight child who spoke Spanish and understood no English. She lived with her mother and father in a very small attic apartment. Anna’s days were filled with little play and no interactions with other children. Her transition to the classroom was difficult, and the language barrier contributed to her isolation. Fortunately, Terri speaks Spanish and was able to communicate with her, but since she could not communicate with the other children, the girl resorted to frequent pinching and hitting to gain the other children’s attention. Terri called upon her Playmaker training, drawing Anna in through a variety of group activities such as parachute play, “Newsball” and other games. As a result, Anna has become much more engaged with the other children and now loves to share and play with them. Terri believes the active classroom and the love Anna now has for active play have contributed to her needed weight loss. Her desire to connect and participate has spurred her English development as well, and she is now beginning to converse in English with the other children. Socially, Anna’s approach with the others is now more playful, joyful and cooperative.
Successes like this have made Terri a passionate advocate for the Playmaker movement. She remains convinced that the approach benefits not only children, but teachers as well. She has taken the Playmaker mantra to heart, recognizing that, “you can’t spread what you don’t have” and that “nurturing one’s own joy and playfulness is essential to becoming an effective teacher in the long run.” In addition to this, she has gained a deeper respect for the work she does. “I have felt so appreciated as a teacher since I started going to Playmaker trainings. I feel like I am doing something special in my life. A lot of teachers need to feel that too.” Thanks to Terri’s leadership, that’s just what many more do feel. It’s a ripple effect that is reaching a growing number of engaged, joyful and healthy children in the Cape Cod community.