Monday, 23 November 2015

Developing the Third Teacher...

We all need professional development to grow, to learn and to be able to see things from new perspectives. The setting is also in need of this development... it needs to grow with the children, to adapt to the needs of the group, the individuals, the interests, the teachers, the context, the world we live in... etc.

How do we ensure that the changes we make in our settings... in the physical environment are having the effect that we hope they will have.
How is it being documented... and how is this documentation being referred to in order to support the third teacher's development. That is is not change for changes sake... but development.

How do we inspire the third teacher?

I know that I have benefited from visiting other settings... looking around, talking with how the pedagogues use the environment, their thinking behind the layout, the structure, the design and the choices of materials available. I have appreciated taking photographs... not so that I can copy, but so that I can remember the processes, the feeling I had while I visited, so that I can continue my reflections.

I have visited places where no photos have been allowed (and I know this is the case in the preschools in Reggio Emilia) - and while I understand that they want to provoke thinking, and that those visiting make their own reflections and so not just copy and paste - I also feel that the chance to make deeper reflections go missing when there are no images to take back to colleagues to talk about, reflect with... for them to ask questions about the reasoning and to start making decisions about how to develop their own settings, their own third teacher.

Of course there will always be those who will copy-paste in the exact same way as there will be those who use templates without questioning them...

For me it is not about the copying, or the use of templates that is a problem... but the lack of reflection. And for me, in the start of a Reggio inspired journey you need all the support you can get... to structure the reflections, to dare to question what you know... to make those somersaults that take you from being a teacher where you follow the instructions to being a co-researcher with the children - where the children learn to learn and you learn more about the children and how they learn so that you can create the curriculum that will enable them to learn more and deeper.

The environment is a part of this process... your observations of how the space is used... your reflections about how to make the space interesting and available to ALL. Understanding how small changes can have big effects... and learning when to make them...

All of this takes time... it is a process. Especially if you want to understand.

I am still very much in this process of learning... of getting to know my third teacher... my colleague. Even after three years at the same setting, with twenty years of experience, I feel far from fully understanding this setting... but I am getting a grasp of it.

 To find out more about this visit to Ekudden... check this post
 To find out more about Boulder Journey School check out... this post from 2014 and this post on outdoor surfaces and this post about ceilings and this post about lighting and this post about water play
 The outdoor environment is an important third teacher too... the third teacher is NOT just indoors...
you can find out more... here, here and here - there are 19 posts on outdoor environments.
 Acorm School of Early Childhood - Boulder - is the post I first shared this image.
and also here in small spaces for quiet play
 Thsi is the atelier where I work... although it has evolved a little since this photo was taken... here is a post about the process of this space
 My visit to Canada was also very inspiring... I have many photos to refer to even though I did not make as many posts as i would have hoped... this post focuses on light
 My visit to Iceland was very inspiring... post about the dining area and also a post about the empty space... and use of it
Visiting early years setting in the refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine was also very inspiring. A completely different context from my own... and the need to walk in without judgement ... but to walk in with the desire to understand and learn.

 We can also temporarily chamge the environment to provoke thought and play... check out the light installation play... here, here and here

It is so easy to judge others based on your own context... but I feel this is a dangerous and counter-productive attutude to have. We need to always walk into a setting with the desire to learn... to learn how the space is being used by the children, how the space is being used by the adults, how the context of the setting impacts the choices, how the availability of materials impacts how the children can learn.
There is not always a great mass of materials at the disposal for children to explore and experiment with, sometimes you need to get creative... and in many places recycling junk is not an option because the whole city is littered with the stuff in such a way that it is something negative (and the junk everywhere was overwhelming - a reminder of oppression almost).
So we need to go into a setting to understand so that we can join them on their journey and enable them... not look down on them from our vantage point of a more peaceful context, or cultural differences, or the impact of poverty, or politics... or whatever it might be in any given place...
We need to be there and understand that these marvelous educators are doing their very best for the children in their circumstances.

For more posts you can check out the links conected to "Preschool visits" and also "The third Teacher"

A good one to start with is How is your Third Teacher Teaching

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Structure for freedom

Its been a busy few weeks as I settle into my role as pedagogical director at Filosofiska ... which means there has not been so much time to write here on my blog...
but I have been reflecting a whole heap...

On Friday I participated in part of the course for medical students where they are studying neurology and psychology... (funnily the same students my husband will be teaching in a few weeks) - they are doing a project right now on how to assist preschool pedagogues meet the needs of their group... identifying problem areas and making goals... I was up at the front of the lecture hall with the lecturer as he role-played with me a possible dialogue they might have at the preschools... first incorrectly, and then correctly... it was one of the strangest things I have ever done... adlibbing to something there was very little preparation for, with a diary he had filled out about my reactions to the group and observations he had made about my group...

But it got me thinking about play and the freedom to play and how that is taken away when the group is dysfuntional.

A dysfunctional group is stressed, focussed on the problems of maybe one,two ot more children disrupting play for whatever reasons so that play does not flow as usual.

It made me realise just how much structure is sometimes required for free-play to exist... which seemed totally absurd.

But when I got thinking about it maybe it has something to do with self-discipline... some children are totally lacking any of it and will do whatever is on the top of their head (repeatedly) without reflection to how it will impact others, just because it feels good to them. So before their own self-discipline kicks in, we, as adults, have to act as their self discipline. Supporting them to understand the social play codes.

In The Art of Listening I explored how we as adults often use the words "are you listening" instead of "are you obeying", because frankly they probably have listened they simply have chosen not to act upon the words... and how can we then support the children to make better life-decisions - as often these "are you listening" phrases were connected to safety and creating more positive social interactions... (not just simply obeying an adult).

Lining up and rules have been an essential part of this descipline... not just following rules blindly... because you learn nothing by that... but by understanding why we have the rules...
Lining up is a post that explores these ideas...

I have been working with the same children for just about three years now... and as the children grow and develop the less they need me to act as their self discipline... Its wonderful, making myself invisible and making their play visible.

But this free play stuff did not come easily for the children either... it seems like they are conditioned to seek out an adult to solve their problems... if they have a disagreement, if someones says something they think is not nice, if they fall over... Its been a process to hand over the power back to the children... instead of them staring at us when a friend falls over, they now go to their friend and comfort them. We are always watching and making sure that the level of risk is appropriate... to big/hard a fall and we will be there... but a minor fall the children can manage themselves... I remember a few weeks ago when the fall had been a little higher than I felt comfortable with I went over like a shot and two of my 4 and 5 year olds repeatedly told me "but we are here, we can take care of her" - it made me happy, and thanked them for their help and their consideration and explained how we were always watching and if we felt the fall was very big then we would always be there... Sometimes the children have made this judgement by themselves when a child has been sadder than what their abilities to comfort could manage... they have come to us and asked for help... and this asking for help i consider and important skill... but this just standing there watching a friend be sad and expecting the adult to take care of I felt disempowered children...

My post Scaffolding is also about rules and the need for them to create safety... it is when we are safe that we can play and learn best. Understanding why we have rules and being aware of the safety issues is essential for children... and adults.

So what structures do you have to enable freedom for the children to play...?
here the structure was finding a safe way to explore heights to conquer fears as well as turn taking and supporting each other

the talking rings were a form of structure to enable children to talk freely and to know that they were being listened to... that their words were being valued by their friends.

the structure was learning about who you could make paitn marks on and who you could not... not just an art exploration but also learning about how we all play differently... the rule was you HAD to ask first before making a paint mark on another... soem were very keen on this play.. while others absolutely did not...

rules for risky play.... YES we can play with sticks... YES we can fight with sticks... but we need to have total control... once we have body contact we finish the game (as experience tells me that is when they are getting tired and an accident is likely to happen - and the children know why this rule is in action... and that is JUST as important)

more risk taking in a structured form... so that they can apply it in a free form... thinking about the surface they land on, thinking about turn taking, thinking about taking care of each other...

the together paitings have a lot of structure in them in order to paint freely... but also a way to communicate and solve conflicts

paiting within the lines... understanding that your actions affect another perons reaction... if you do not concentrate and keep within the lines then it will go into the space of another person's painting area... what does this mean and how can we be a part of the social interaction of cause and affect... (read the kandinsky painting post)

Blowing bubbles... instead of at the lunch table where it disturbed many (including those who were not keen eaters, which meant they ate nothing and then had low energy in the afternoon) we created the structure of bubble blowing time at other point of the day

and it is important to remember that children are not just learning all of this for future use, but to be active social being right now too.