Sunday, September 24, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

I often wonder when I look at Instagram, Facebook and blog posts how much is authentic and how much is smoke and mirrors. I know firsthand that teachers face many challenges in working in a Reggio Inspired context. The smoke and mirror happens when the fundamentals are missing. Not only is the understanding of the guiding principles and processes involved falling short but the ability to BE a teacher is falling short. The question is, is it happening at the college and university level? Why aren't graduates ready to delve into their work?

Let us consider that to know a practice, trade or skill you must live it. Only a surgeon who has performed open heart surgery can teach another how to do it.  This must also be the case with teachers of teachers, not only those who educate us in colleges and universities, but also those who seek to support teachers through workshops, courses and mentoring. They should have been or be practitioners of what they are seeking to teach. Only those who work in the trenches can know the challenges and how to face them. This, however, is just my opinion and I am a small grain of sand on a vast beach!
There are many considerations when it come to managing a classroom. Beyond providing enriched environments, provocations, supporting ongoing projects, daily experiences, documenting…. teachers are charged with daily routines, orienting new staff, mentoring student teachers, supporting children with specials needs, managing children who are stressed and struggle with self regulation, consoling new children and keeping abreast of the mountain of policies and procedures mandated under the Child Care and Early Years Act.

How do we go beyond the smoke and mirrors?
Let me begin by saying that any teacher, whether an ECE, elementary or high school teacher must have a deep and abiding respect for childhood while having the same dispositions she seeks to support in her students:
·         thinking and communicating with clarity and precision;
·         listening with understanding and empathy;
·         creating, imagining, and innovating;
·         thinking flexibly;
·         responding with wonderment and awe;
·         thinking about thinking (meta cognition);
·         taking responsible risks;
·         striving for accuracy;
·         questioning and posing problems;
·         thinking interdependently;
·         applying past knowledge to new situations;
·         remaining open to continuous learning;
·         being able to engage in conversation;
·         forming meaningful relationships.
She must be joyful, laugh easily, and be able to find humour in the chaos. She must have a strong VOICE! Learning does not happen in silence.
It is not easy to manage and support authentic inspired processes.
However, it is effortless to snap a photo of a child engaged in what looks like a beautifully inspired experience and then manipulate the document to suit the need to produce pedagogical documentation. I believe this happens more often than not.
Meaningful exchange between children, and children and teachers requires uninterrupted time, tranquil settings, and respect for process. The final product is not what we seek.

Yet, time is a teacher’s nemesis. How much of the day is dedicated to “work”? 
Routines, breakfast, lunch, snack, toileting, nap and prepping for outdoor play especially in winter takes up 2/3 of the day leaving an hour or two at best to do “the work.” 
Somewhere in between she has to prepare and post documentation, discourse with their team and gather thoughts and plans on how to proceed the next day. At any given time she may be managing well over 10 experiences and projects.

There is hope!
Here are a few tips for good practice;
1. Visit authentic settings. Not necessarily those advocated by a workshop host who may have a tie to particular settings but one you have researched. There are some hidden gems out there!
2.  Read articles, find workshops that are given by people who have lived the practice they share. This is not to say that there are not excellent professors who host exceptional workshops or who speak at conferences. They are part of the learning journey! Do not insult your intelligence when you make a choice about what to attend.
3   Take your work home. There is no way to avoid it. Authentic practice takes time which is not easily gained during the business of the classroom;
4.       Have a strong voice, converse with your students not just at them;
5.       Work as part of a team-no man is an island and good practice needs support;

The journey is long.  Do not rush to the finish line because you will never get there!

Happy trails my friends!