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.

Thursday 28 December 2017

The Freedom of Speech

Just before Christmas I shared a post about gender issues - the original post was about males and females - but the dialogue soon expanded to that of transgender and more...

There was issue taken with whether this was appropriate to "teach" in ECE ... and there were discussions about this... but what came forth was that when it boils down to it, we all want to create a better more open, more accepting world - what was at issue was the "teach" in the sense that it was a formal lesson about transgender. Not one of the people speaking for transgender awareness mentioned formal lessons, but more about creating an atmosphere of acceptance where transgender is part of the norm rather than something different... ie that children do not grow up thinking that transgender (and other minority groups) are different but  simply people that have a different approach in life
yes I used the word different in both descriptions - but my intention is to explain that often different is seen as deviant, not like us... while we all know we have different thoughts from one another, we have different occupations, we have different approaches to life - but that we are not lesser for that.

Just about all the people who had misgivings about transgender in preschool changed their mind about it when given an explanation about how it could be done... not by formal lessons, but by creating open learning spaces, where children and educators could talk freely and openly without judgement... and also for the educators to be aware of their own prejudice (in all areas of life) and to attempt not to spread that prejudice but to allow children to form their own opinions (this is a really hard thing to do, as we are not always fully aware of our own prejudices, or how they manifest through words and actions - exploring and talking abut them is an excellent way to discover this... and hence the reason why transgender is one (of MANY) topics that ECE and all educators need to reflect on... not to create lessons, but as part of creating a democratic classroom where all are valued.

Back to the dialogue in the facebook group... there was one person that was never convinced, and found arguments against everything that was presented, including sharing youtube films of research stating that there was no need for transgender rights and no need for feminism.
It got to the point where some people were messaging me saying that he cannot be a real person/educator but that he was a troll promoting extreme right wing propaganda...

This discussion happened over a course of a few days... and in the end I started talking with my husband about it... who as a researcher (professor) told me about some excellent studies about the fact women were not being paid the same amount for the same job, or being valued in the same way as men (something this person had said and "proved" with a youtube film was a fabrication and that men and women were being equally paid).
So I shared the research in the group, to which this person then said that it was bad research... I mentioned this to my husband... my husband reacted by saying that this person was being irresponsible by saying things with such authority when in fact he did not know what he was talking about.

My husband and others repeatedly said I should ban this person from the group. This is something that really goes against everything I believe in... I think we should be able to discuss and have differing opinions, and that people should not be banned because they think differently.

I did some digging to find out who this person is... was it just a troll, or was it a real educator? I managed to find a person who knew this person and could confirm they had been trained as a educator and what level of education they had... below mine, and well well below that of my husbands. This is not to say that you need to have a lot of education to be a smart person, but it does give you more experience of understanding the difference between bad research and good research, it gives you the experience to have read more papers on an academic level of critiquing them, rather than just reading to gain more insight (keeping that critical thinking approach of course just not quite at the same level)...

So having had this researched challenged in the way it was i challenged the research that had been presented by this person as having a political agenda and were written/presented by people connected to politics)... I also said I was unable to continue the discussion because I was taking time of to be with my family for Christmas... I literally had just picked up my daughter at the station as she had returned from the other side of Sweden for the school holidays (and yes my daughter does highschool/A-levels on the other side of Sweden as it is one of the few places in Sweden that does marine biology special educational course - so I miss her a lot and my priorities are my family)

Then it got personal... I was accused of trying to defame this person (because I had questioned the evidence that had been presented, in the same way that this person has questioned the evidence I had presented) and that I was a typical left leaning person who bails out of a discussion...

I like to consider myself a non-political person, because seldom do these politicians speak for me... and to be honest I can't vote... I have lived too long in Sweden to be able to vote in the UK now, and my UK passport will not let me vote here in Sweden... I have no political voice...
So my voice I use for humanity. Not left, not right, but what I feel can help people value each other better... this I do through exploring how to support children and adults to be better listeners, about exploring what is a democratic classroom, what is democratic learning/teaching, and also to listen to the histories of people who feel they have been treated badly by the education system and also society, and try to think about how can we make this world a better place so that people no longer have to tell these histories?

This person made statements like women hug children too much, there is an educational institution where there are more men than women so the whole female inequality argument is false, that there are only 1% transgender people in the world so there is no need to talk about it... (my arguments that 1% of the world population is bigger than many countries' populations went ignored... and that it is more than the percentage of people that suffer from cancer worldwide... ALL people need to be seen, and need to be valued and given the treatment they need - whether that be medical, or being treated with respect)...

In the end I banned this person from the group.
I felt awful.
I was literally shaking.
My husband tried to comfort me by saying this person was not worth getting so upset by...
I pointed out that I was not upset by this person... in the discussion I had learned many things... I have learned more about the population of the world, of the percentage of various minority groups, I have learned I want to spend more time exploring what is identity... and also the meaning of other words...  The reason I was upset was the fact that I had done something I did not believe in... I cut off this person's freedom of speech in the group. I found it hard to reconcile with that.

I have not really been online since then. But I have been reflecting more and more about what is FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
I have come to the conclusion that it is simply NOT being allowed to say whatever you want... that it comes with responsibility. That it means you are giving others the freedom to express their opinions with an open mind... and this person was not doing that. This person was driving an agenda not participating in freedom of speech.
The rules of the group are such that you need to come to each discussion with the aim to learn from others, that you come to them with an openness, that there is no need to agree but there is a need to learn to understand the other point of view.
This person was not doing that...
On several occasions I pointed out that this person had now encouraged me to look deeper into a topic I had not considered before... this was not the case for this person who repeated the agenda over and over again to force the point... the sad thing is that this person is very articulate, so that if you are not well read in research yourself this person would be very believable... and this was a major part of why I banned.
There was no willingness to learn, there was only the agenda which could possibly misinform others, and that looking at the history of this person's participation in the group there was only activity in gender issues to rally the aforementioned agenda that feminism, transgender etc is fake news. (at the same time saying yes, these people exist - but placing them in a void in the sense that despite the fact they exist we should not talk about how they are treated - because that is fake news too).

This is a very different post for me that usual.
BUT I feel so strongly about the fact in ECE the foundations of each person is formed. If we create an environment where we value all people then these are great foundations for children to build their learning on and form their own opinions and hopefully learn to treat and value all people with respect, even those that are different from themselves, belong to a minority group etc - that we focus more on the similarities than the differences, at the moment I feel that there is more focus on the differences than the similarities... and that makes it harder to connect.

Freedom of speech is not simply the right to say whatever you want... we all have social responsibility... and one person's freedom to speak should not come at the cost of another...
this is why I have struggled banning a person... but there again this person was shutting down the speech of so many others with the words, phrases and links being provided - so for the sake of the group's freedom to express their ideas in a safe environment, one person was removed. Not all people with the same opinion as this person, just this one person who had the agenda to shut others down.

When working with young children I want to help them learn how to listen to each other, how to value the opinions of others, how to learn to understand why others might think differently from themselves. Working philosophically with children really helped this part of their social interactions and had an enormous impact on their play... there was more time for play and exploration and the learning that occurred through that. The children supported each other, built on each others theories, learned together, were amazing at conflict resolution because they also listened to the other side and not just from their own perspective (and this goes so much faster when both sides of the conflict are doing the same thing not just one of them). If one of these children was bullying the others by not listening, by saying that they had the only right answer and by providing evidence that others could pick holes in and yet the non-listening made it impossible for the child to be self critical - then I would take this child aside and learn more about why they were not interested in the opinions of others, I would play games that would allow this child to explore their listening abilities etc etc...
sadly I am not in the position to do this with adults that have a pseudonym facebook-name and clearly lives far far away from myself.

Yeah, I think I will struggle with this for a bit longer - but the dialogues that I have had with others about this situation (some of which followed the discussion) all support my decision.

Below are some quotes... some are there as part of sharing my thinking, and some are there to remind me that I need to keep on reflecting and thinking and working with myself to be a better educator and person.

I actually talked about this day with my children today... this was taken on Bastille Day in a small village in France... my 2 year old son knew that when there was dancing his sisters liked to dress up in swirly skits or dresses - and so he wanted to do the same... we had talked there would be dancing at Bastille day - so on went a skirt - and the three of them proudly danced in front of the whole village to live music - every eyebrow was raised because I had allowed a young boy wear a dress... luckily none of the children noticed, they were far too busy dancing.
My children have had that kind of freedom from us as parents to explore without judgement or fear that a skirt will change him... its just a skirt... he is who he is skirt or no skirt.