Mackenzie Radomski

Alumni Feature

Kindergarten Teacher | Westcot Elementary
MEd in Early Childhood Education, 2019

Westcot Elementary sits tucked away just off the Trans-Canada Highway in West Vancouver. The grounds boast two large fields, an extensive playground, and more recently a new Gathering Tree – an initiative spearheaded by Mackenzie Radomski and some of her colleagues.

Mackenzie graduated from the UBC Faculty of Education with a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education in 2019. She has been a Kindergarten teacher at Westcot Elementary for 3 years; the Gathering Tree initiative is a project she hopes will bring the school community together through their natural surroundings, with a goal to collaborate, inquire and explore together, and to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into the learning.

“The goal was not only to improve the mental health of the students and staff, but also to make a school-wide difference towards understanding the land we live on, and to create a healthier school community by making that connection to trees,” Mackenzie notes.

With the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Foundation, a new Ginko tree was planted in March 2022 and the space was officially opened mid-June with the whole school participating in a special launch ceremony. The Ginko tree was chosen because it is one of the oldest tree species in the world, and Mackenzie and her colleagues appreciated that First Peoples used this type of tree for ancient medicine and for deep thinking.

With the funding from the UBC alumni campaign, Mackenzie was able to purchase 30 sit pads designed specifically for outdoor learning – green foam sitting mats with a carrying handle that makes it easy for kids to comfortably sit and learn outdoors.

Mackenzie’s passion for her students and her craft are not limited to the outdoors. Walking into her classroom is like walking into the children’s section at an IKEA showroom. One would not know that kindergarteners learn and play here – everything is neat, tidy and stored in its proper place. The décor is warm, inviting, and absolutely charming, giving an immediate sense of calm as you enter her classroom. A twinkling fairy light tree sits in a cozy reading nook stuffed with pillows, real plants line each student table, and colourful rugs and pom-pom garlands pull together the space.

Mackenzie explains that she uses the Reggio Emilia philosophy that features calming and all natural materials, in a child-focused and community-oriented approach to teaching. She maintains that showing kids by example is the best way for them to learn and internalize concepts, including how to be a responsible custodian of a shared space.

“I got to expand my own knowledge and understand developmentally where [my students] are at, and how I can meet them there, and give them the tools and guidance to help them in life.”

Mackenzie’s MEd program in Early Childhood Education has played a huge role in helping her find her niche. When she first started teaching 8 years ago, she explored teaching various age groups, but has since been able to hone in on her own interests in early learning and how to best apply her learning to benefit the students. “I was able to find where I fit best, and where I excel as a teacher,” she reflects.

Completing her program gave her the knowledge and experience to incorporate back into the classroom, and the research to back up her methods. Her capstone project was on the ​cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development of children in the early years. “I got to expand my own knowledge and understand developmentally where [my students] are at, and how I can meet them there, and give them the tools and guidance to help them in life.”

The program was extremely valuable for Mackenzie, and she notes the importance of continuing to learn and grow as a person and educator. She appreciated the opportunity to be in an environment where she could think critically about the topics she was interested in, while surrounded by like-minded colleagues.

“I’m continuing to learn and stretch and grow, and this was a beautiful step to be able to do that,” she acknowledges.

As the kids start to arrive that morning, she greets them each warmly with a passionate “I’m so glad you’re here!” She has them start each day with the same routine, beginning with putting their unique personalized and labeled rock into the “attendance” basket. They then move on to answer the daily question on the whiteboard – today’s question: “which colour do you like best, red or purple?” The overwhelming consensus so far is red.

The next activity is Story Workshop – natural materials like wooden stars, rocks, glass pebbles, and tiny felt trees are laid out on tables for students to build out a story picture on a burlap canvas. Mackenzie notes that this activity supports language and literacy development in a play-based way, and that she makes sure the students know that they can come to this activity on their own time, when they are ready. Once they are done building their pictures, they tell their stories to Ms. Radomski. Soon we start to hear snippets of elaborate tales about forests, magical eggs, and heroes named Cucumber. Mackenzie prompts for more with “and where does the story take place?” or “and how did that make them feel?” – encouraging the students to dive deeper into their imaginations.

As the morning progresses, Mackenzie smoothly transitions the students from their story creations over to the reading nook where she takes out “Picture a Tree” by Barbara Reid. “We’ve read this one before,” one student objects! “Yes, I know, but it’s such a good one!” Mackenzie replies with a mischievous grin. They are enthralled none-the-less. In between activities Mackenzie makes time to connect with each child. As she starts to fix the hair of one little girl, Mackenzie confides that “sometimes this job requires you to be a jack of all trades,” though she doesn’t seem to mind.

“We wanted to re-connect our students to the community and the land.”

Mackenzie’s learnings from her MEd program and her expertise in early learning is evident throughout all her interactions with the students. “This focus changed the way that I teach. I now prioritize how children feel and how they interact with others, and make that the biggest component of our day.” Incorporating play-based learning and nature in most of her activities, her approach applies a growth mindset and inquiry focus that encourages students to ask questions and explore themselves, their feelings, and the world around them. “It’s endless and daily, where we are learning about ourselves, others, and the world we live in.”

Our visit ends outside, as Ms. Radomski leads the kids to the playground behind the school. They fan out quickly, taking over the monkey bars, jungle gym, slides and climbers. The favourite by far, however, is the monorail – the kids hang tight to the handle while Ms. Radomski gives them a gentle push and they go sliding down the rail, squealing with delight as they fly through the air.

After some energy has been spent in playground merry making, Mackenzie leads the kids to the back of the playground where we finally get to see her Gathering Tree. It is lovingly adorned with colourful trinkets and art pieces made by Mackenzie’s kindergarten class with the help of their big buddies (older children paired with kindergarten students). Rainbows, flowers, and feathers dangle from the still-thin branches like a charming Charlie Brown tree. And if that wasn’t sweet enough, small strawberry plants encircle the bottom of the tree, promising a ripe harvest in the next few weeks.

Mackenzie brings out the sit pads, and has the kids sit by the tree and draw out scenes from the nature surrounding them. As they sit calmly, focusing on their task, Mackenzie goes around to each of them, checking in on their progress and pointing out other details on the tree they may have missed. “We wanted to re-connect our students to the community and the land,” Mackenzie says, and watching this scene play out I would say she accomplished just that.

Mackenzie approaches her teaching the same way she has approached decorating her classroom – with a warm, comforting and caring attitude that clearly has made her well loved by her students. Whether she is helping the kids build worlds on a burlap canvas, or connecting them to their natural surroundings in the outdoors, Mackenzie has found her calling and is playing a huge role in helping these children reach their full potential.

While acknowledging that there are hard days and challenges to her teaching role, she ultimately gets so much fulfillment from working with her students and has a wealth of gratitude for the position she is in. She loves watching them play, explore and inquire, and being able to contribute to their unique growth journeys.

“There is so much goodness and positivity that comes from kids – not only do I teach them, but they teach me, every day.”

Article written by Milena Constanda | September 2022
Photos by Milena Constanda & Bryan Lee
Learn more about Mackenzie’s program, the MEd in Early Childhood Education.
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Mackenzie’s Photos

View Mackenzie’s full album on Flickr