Sunday, 22 September 2013

Invisible teaching and learning

Can what is unseen be quality?

The eyes of the world stare outward, applauding the extravagant, the entertaining, the flashy or even the vulgar, seeing only what is precociously displayed in their immediate view. The thing about me though, is that I'm not that person. If only a quarter of the population value introspection and outer calm, it's easy to understand why I sometimes feel discouraged, and that I'm in the wrong profession, and that my more quiet style of interacting and facilitating learning is going unnoticed. There is however, a stronger part of me that delights in the fact that early childhood is the only time in children's lives when they can truly follow their own passions without the constraints of an enforced curriculum. It's also the only type of teaching that allows me to find the essence of what I believe is truly important and valuable in a young child's experience and education, and attempt to provide this for the children in my care.

I have said before that teaching can be intentional without being clearly visible as teaching. Interactions can seem spontaneous, but also be intentional. If I choose to spend some one-on-one time with a child, listening to what is really happening in his mind in order to attempt to assess whether his parents' concerns about his social skills are truly valid and this is not noticed, does it mean that it's not valuable? If I choose to read a book about sharks to a small group of interested children rather than to stage a whole-group performance, does this make the learning experience of lesser quality? Maybe the rest of the children have no interest in sharks, and why should they? One of them is at the construction table remembering the conversation he had with his dad while he was fixing the car. He has been waiting for days to come to kinder and test out his theories with the mobilo. Another is lost in his created world, moving his body to the Star Wars theme song, in blissful ignorance of those around him. A group of three are negotiating roles in an imaginative play scenario, discovering their own ways to compromise and resolve conflicts. Why should I force them to come and learn about sharks?

Maybe the teacher you remember is not the one who wanted to entertain herself or be the centre of attention. Maybe the one who had the most lasting impact on who you became was the one who really listened to you, who validated who you were, who allowed you the time to discover who you were, who gave you the opportunity to explore all the possibilities that were open to you. Maybe you don't remember her but she had a part in creating who you are now. Maybe you still don't know who you really are. Maybe you were always told who you needed to be and what you needed to learn. The great thing is, we don't have to be these kinds of teachers. We don't have to do anything because it's how it's always been done. As early childhood teachers we are at the head of the game, developing and refining our own learning framework through our practice, being given licence to innovate, to reflect, and to draw on the best examples from around the world.

The difficulty is making this thinking visible to those who are still looking for bells and whistles. Documentation, conversations and photos all help. Ultimately though you have to do what you believe is right whether anyone notices or not. It's a lesson I'm still struggling to learn, but I believe that the benefits to me and to the children will be worth it in the long term.

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