Friday, 29 December 2017

Reflecting on 2017

This year has been quite a different year for me, as I have not spent most of my time working in a preschool, especially the first half of the year.

I have focussed on writing blogposts and on trying to put a book together, and also on my work with the educators in Jenin Refugee Camp in Palestine.

Each year I have had my own "project" to explore... listening for a few years, play for peace and this year it has been democracy... this has impacted the posts that I have written. I do not feel like I become an expert in these areas, but I learn more about what I know about these subjects and how I feel about them, and how I can improve my own relationship with these words.
Creating a democratic classroom/democratic learning is so connected to both listening and play for peace... that I feel I will continue with this thinking for another year, I do not feel I have finished exploring democracy and being democratic with children.

During the year I have written posts that I am proud of and there are posts that seem to have struck a chord with others - they are not always the same posts...

I am proud of the fact that I challenge how we use words... not because I think people are wrong using them the way they are used... but that I add another layer, another perspective - and hopefully those that take the time to read my posts will be offered the chance to reflect and think about how they use these words, what their own reactions are and develop their own opinions.
My posts are not about me thinking I have got it right... it is about me exploring possibilities ... it is an open dialogue with my reflections that I share with those interested.

I am also proud of the fact that I participated in several online conferences, and right at the moment I am preparing for another one (Fairy Dust Teaching Winter Conference) where I will be talking about Natural Learning - I am proud of this because I have had to work with my own fears of speaking on phones/skype and recording myself - being "live" is so much easier, as I react to the audience - and I am a very visual listener, and also I move a lot when I talk, which is not entirely suitable for skype... but being a visual listener means I have become a talker with my whole body for the sake of other visual listeners! Stepping outside your comfort zone is such an important part of learning... we should feel safe, but there needs to be an element of risk when we learn... the risk of failing. And learning that failure is not a bad thing, but just a part of the learning process has been an essential for me to overcome some of my social fears.

I am also proud of my autism. That has also been a process for me in the last few years... working out, through the diagnosis of my son, that I am autistic has been an eye-opening experience. Suddenly the world makes so much more sense. I know who I am, I have spent long enough with myself to get an idea of that, but suddenly I have a better understanding of other people around me, of why I get so tired in social situations (I love being social, but I know now that if I am social active for a while I need time to pause afterwards to recuperate and reload my batteries... I see my son and one of my daughters become exhausted after every school day in part due to the social requirements of school).
My own autism has allowed me to understand the needs of other children who are not neuro-typical... to understand that there is an extra level of exhaustion in a day that neuro-typicals do not experience or even consider. And also that many descriptions of autism just do not apply to either myself or my children... this lack of empathy and imagination that is assigned to autism is just so incredibly far from the truth - but sometimes you just have to shut down the outward expression of emotions just to survive the day. In other words sometimes the empathy is so overwhelming that you are depleted of energy to such a level it becomes non-functioning, and to prevent this you put up a wall to shut out the feelings of others. I have walked into rooms where colleagues have been stressing so much (about things that are not worth stressing about... the children are noisy, they are not doing what you say fast enough) that I have had to walk out because I was absorbing their stress to such an extent that my heartbeat was in overdrive...  I accept the fact that children will be noisy (even though it is sound pollution) and that children will not do what you want them to, if they are not active participants - they will push boundaries if they have not been allowed to create those boundaries with you, or know why those boundaries are there.

My most read post this year is...
Pedagogical Documentation - a beginners Guide - session one
in fact all the sessions and  the film that I made in connection with this series were well read and watched.

Border Crossing from analogue to digital and back has been another well read post...
in fact this year has been the year where more Swedish people have been reading my posts. Which has been great, because I live and work in Sweden, so it feels good that I have a sort of relevance here too... not just sharing my story with others from around the world. Of course writing in English is going to have an impact on my accessibility here in Sweden... after a long day reading in a foreign language is not always the most relaxing.
I have written a post in Swedish, maybe even two... but my written Swedish is hampered by the fact I cannot write in the same style that I write English (well they are different languages) - and that I will try to use metaphors etc that really just do not work in the same way in Swedish. Sure I am understood, but it's different !! But maybe I should just embrace that too? Something to work on!

Another most read post has been...
The attitude of autism
this year has been yet another year of seeing the school system fail my son... the system has not found a way to ignite the joy of learning... which I see he has in other situations and he had before the school system has tried to enforce their one way of learning on him. He has as a result developed an attitude that really does not do him any favours... and as a parent is embarrassing at times, even though I understand why it is there, I hate the way others see him.
Anyway the principal/director/head of this school is now being replaced - so I am hoping next year will be a better year.

I am proud of introducing two new terms - that make sense to me, and hopefully will make sense to others... Original Learning (which I will continue to explore in 2018) and also together-led play/learning (rather than just child led, or adult led - so very much in tune with democratic learning that I had been exploring all year). You can read a post here...
Original Learning and together led play




In the latter half of this year I have started a project with Gästrikevatten (Gästrike is an area of Sweden in the Gävle area north of Stockholm - about 2 hours by express train). A board of children has been started to get the children more involved in their learning... to find out more about how children learn, and to get the children involved in designing learning situations for the children. This is very much about creating a democratic situation where the children are guided by adults... where they are seen as participants with equal value, where their words weigh as heavy as our adult words. It is an exciting project to be a part of... and I take my role seriously in lifting the voice of the child.


This year was the first time that I have not been working at a setting at the same time as the International Fairy Tea Party - a play event I started 5 years ago to celebrate play and imagination - to encourage educators and all adults to indulge in play and fantasy with the children. It is a worldwide event - anyone can join in... just look up the facebook page and say you want to be a part... in the lead up to the September equinox (where we are united by the same number of daylight hours regardless of where we find ourselves on the planet) if you let me know on the page the name of the party (it can be a school, class, nursery, family or imaginary name, and your location - (town/village is enough detail) then I can add you to the fairy map... which allows the children you are celebrating with to see how many others are celebrating play around the world with them. And by the sharing of images afterwards we get to see the similarities and differences of how we use our imaginations...
I have collected images for a film, a short film is available to see of the worldwide celebrations, and I am well behind schedule putting the longer version together... hopefully it will be done in the coming weeks)

I have also been working at a preschool as a substitute - which I have enjoyed, but also saw that the reason I left the preschool world this time last year is still very prevalent - still not enough support is being given to the teachers/educators working with the children... and yet they take all the responsibility... the system makes it hard for educators to give children what they know they need if they are not given enough time to develop they competence they need for the group of children they have (just any education is not right), enough time to plan together as a team, enough time to communicate with each other (or develop a mode of communication that actually works for all of the team). I saw hard working educators on virtual burn out and instead of being given the support to prevent fires they were constantly putting out fires. This is exhausting and non-productive for both children and educators.
I have written to the boss of this preschool twice, once in early autumn pointing out these things I  saw- where the response was management was aware of all of this and was dealing with it. I wrote again just before Christmas saying that I had not seen any support given to the educators and that the situation was unchanged. I offered that I could help -something that the educators there also asked me for, but I cannot do if I am a substitute, because then the children are the focus not the educators - these people need someone to go in and coach them and support them where they are now, they need to be lifted - their morale as much as competence development, and new strategies of communication and planning so they can support each other better in their roles.
I assume that these truths were hard to swallow - and I hope that the management takes me up on the role of coaching/supporting the staff. But I guess that is no easy thing from a person who has just been critical.

yeah... autism means you will get the truth from me... and the sad thing is that people do not want the truth, they want the sugar coated version, or the lies, even though they say they want honest people around them. Honesty is not easy to swallow, it does not always taste good... but it is a great place to start learning from.
I make social faux-pas probably more often than I should... I am still learning the at of sweet talking and sugar coating and lying. When put in the situation of lying to parents to save the face of settings I have worked at (yes I have been told not to tell the truth, and have over the years been threatened with court if I told the truth - or that "it would not be good for me" if I told the truth) then I have left these places, because it is just too socially exhausting for me to lie like that and work - it is not sustainable.
 In the end will all have to be true to ourselves, or at least comfortable with the lie/story we tell ourselves.

So I wonder what 2018 will bring?
Hopefully  a year where I can support other educators find their truth, their inspiration, their motivation...
I will be returning to Palestine, and hopefully also to Israel to meet with educators in both places to explore listening, democratic learning and play for peace.
I will continue my work with Gästrikevatten working philosophically with 8-13 year olds - and I would love to be able to do this kind of work with other groups of children too.
My trip to Pakistan has been put on hold until after the elections at the end of 2018 - as there are concerns for safety - but maybe there will be trips to other places?
I would love to travel more around Sweden... to share what I have been learning with them, and to be deeper inspired by the many amazing settings here.









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