Saturday, 11 January 2014

Teacher Collaboration...

In Sweden, working as a preschool teacher, is not an isolated job - we always work as a team... most of the time I have worked in a team of three working in a preschool with other groups/departments with three pedagogues ... at the moment we are seven working together - Ellen and myself working with the eleven 3-4 year olds (turning 4-5 this year) and then there are two groups with 1-2 year olds, one with 2 pedagogues and 10 children and one with 14 children and 3 pedagogues... there is a preschool teacher in each group...
When I worked in groups of three at other places there have been various group sizes... in one place we were two teachers and one assistant with twelve 1-2 year olds, and other groups have had 19 children and one teacher and two assistants, sometimes the assistants are trained sometimes they are not.. sometimes we get support teachers for the group so that we have a better system to scaffold those children with a greater need for adult interactions for one reason or another (which means we are then four pedagogues - and rarely is the support teacher trained - but that is a whole different discussion).

What I have noticed is that in many preschools I have worked in, and read about, in groups I participate in on facebook, is that time for collaboration is not always easy AND when there is time how that collaboration is formed has not always been either clear or meaningful...

I have worked at places where each monthly meeting has grinded on the same issues of keeping the entrance hall swept clean and who is washing dishes etc... and there has been little time dedicated to discussing pedagogical matter, shared values etc etc - the whole pedagogical development of the setting has not been important as it felt more like a collection of individuals struggling to define the rules of who does what...

My first real challenging and meaningful collaborations (on a regular basis) was when I worked at a preschool with a pedagogista... and one with passion.. Soledad Quiroz ensured that the regular times we met to discuss various development areas of the preschool (with a member from each of the five departments of the preschool) the discussion were meanigful. These meetings were structured - we received a paper before hand with a series of questions based on what was both relevant in the preschool's development and also on the previous week's discussion - or on how discussion in the other development groups could deepen our understanding... allowing ideas from various development areas to inspire each other... as no idea is isolated.

The fact that Soledad was with all the groups and could provoke thought in all of them allowed her to ensure that each group could maintain a connection with each other despite each being allowed to explore their own areas... we had the chance to grow and explore... not only the questions but the wording of the questions. It was allowed to challenge each other's ideas. It was a time of enormous growth... not just growth in my own ideas but also in the understanding that collaboration could be on this level if it was expected and constantly challenged. There NEEDS to be a driving engine that makes sure that the RIGHT questions are posed to the right people...

It is just like our work with children - the idea of a provocation is to challenge the children in their own thinking and allow us to see what the children are thinking too. BUT we would never place out a provocation that was too far beyond the ability of the children, because that would not encourage the children to grow but make them feel small... in the same way those who work to present provocations for the teachers - to get them to think deeper, to challenge their perception of what they thought they understood, to encourage teachers to find common ground and also to understand their differences... this requires an understanding of the teachers working together and individually, it requires observation so that the provocations are pitched right - to extend the learning/teaching practice but not to reduce them to feeling this kind of collaboration is out of reach. Soledad was able to do this... and yes there were times I would wrinkle my nose when I saw those questions... but during the meetings where we entered dialogues based on our thoughts triggered by those questions... it all became clear as to WHY those questions had been selected...

I also think that we are not supposed to feel comfortable all the time... if we are to move forward we have to take the risk of being wrong... we have to take the risk of sharing an idea or a thought that is ridiculous or won't work in order to challenge the status quo. Maybe the idea won't work, but the essence of the idea can inspire one that WILL. Daring to make mistakes is not easy.



Of course the immortality does not necessarily have to be you as a person... but the idea itself... that by sharing what you have learned, what you have experienced, by sharing ideas and inspiration can be the spark that ignites an idea and understanding in others. And if these people share their experiences with others from this ignition then the idea will continue...

I remember sharing ideas with a museum in 1997 when I worked as a volunteer for three weeks at the education department there... I still see the ideas I ignited there... developed further - and probably with no idea where they originated from... but I know, and that is my immortality - being allowed to see things continuing that I have contributed to. It is an amazing feeling. I also think that getting older there is less need to lay claim to what is mine... my ideas, my inspiration... well when you look at it honestly, they are all inspired from and by others in one way or another... so guarding my ideas as MINE is not that helpful.

It is part of why this blog was created... to share ideas and processes. To offer inspiration... to challenge thoughts... my own too. To be a part of a collaboration.

It is why I have been active in groups and twitter chats etc - to connect with others who think differently from me... BUT share the same vision that children have the right to learning on THEIR terms... they have the right to play, to imagination, to meaningful interactions... to be seen and heard and valued for who they are right now.

I love the fact that I am not just one nation... I am British in Sweden - I see and feel the values of these two cultures. My English language has opened up the ease of connecting with many others internationally... this evening I will be participating in #ReggioPLC first international twitterchat. And I am super excited about this international collaboration... the possibility to challenge my thoughts with a new perspective.

PLC stands for Professional Learning Community - and the ReggioPLC is a place to hone our Reggio Emilia Approach philosophy... to share ideas and collaborate with each other.

My work at Filosofiska Preschool has allowed yet another way to collaborate with each other.. using PHILOSOPHY as a tool of communication. This means we use the structure of a philosophical dialogue to allow us to explore the meanings of words and values... to gain better insights into each other as colleagues, to move our thinking forward and deeper. It ensures that the dialogues remain focused and do not wander easily into general chit chat. It is not just a tool to communicate with children... but it is an excellent tool to communicate with each other... to encourage EVERYONE to share ideas and musings and also to challenge these ideas and musings... the framework of the philosophical dialogue in a way is like a safety net... we can understand that it is the subject we are discussing - not each other...
It is the development of the preschool that we are working towards... and the development of our professional roles. This is not easy... as no-one wants to feel that their way of interacting with the children is wrong... but that is what is so wonderful about philosophy - that it allows you to dig deeper in your own values, to question them, to listen to others and take the pieces that can complete your own value mosaic, shedding ones that you feel no longer fit.

Teacher collaboration is not always easy. It is something that needs to be worked on, and takes time to fine tune so that it IS meaningful.
It requires finding time, finding structure, finding the drive and finding the glue that binds the collaboration together...
WHAT is it that you are collaborating together on? There needs to be a purpose for it to be meaningful - for everyone to gather round and share their experiences and knowledge...


This will be the first post on teacher collaboration... after the twitter chat tonight, I will no doubt have new and more enlightened thoughts about what and how teacher collaboration works and is effective...
I am also interested in exploring teacher collaboration with other services so that all children are included, regardless of disibaility or diagnosis... and also collaborations with school and the transition children make from preschool learning which is based on the children to school learning which is based more on school tradition...

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