When I think about the art of reflective teaching and how it informs relationships in the classroom, I automatically begin to wonder about the opposite end of the spectrum and the teachers who have (or are expected to carry out) rigid, themed and predestined curriculum. Those methods clearly illustrate certain attitudes toward children, and a perception of what children are capable of. What deep and lasting effects do those practices have in the lives of young children? What is being communicated to them about who they are as people, where their ideas fit into the world, what they have to contribute to their communities? I truly wonder how (and why) teachers do things in that way. I suppose the defensive argument they might make is that it’s how children learn, or that in the absence of a strict curriculum children would simply go crazy and wreak havoc. Perhaps they feel pressure from parents to teach their children certain concepts that they deem important, or they just want their child to learn to “behave” and “sit still.” It’s difficult for me to understand how evidence-based research can be thrown out the window and why adults tend to rail so hard against the very nature of young children…causing everyone misery in the process. In a broader scope it is, of course, a cultural phenomenon and there is an entire consumer-driven, fear-based marketing machine out there scaring new parents into believing their child will be left behind if they are not reading and writing at two years old. It makes me feel simultaneously sad and extremely motivated to share the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years of teaching young children.
Reflective, child-centered teaching methods can feel tricky to navigate…especially for teachers who are used to doing things a different way. There is no certainty, no definitive map, no clear road to “success.” One must learn to be vulnerable, open-minded and grow comfortable in the not knowing, and adopt an attitude of “let’s figure it out together.” In this way there is risk involved, a plan or idea might never grow wings, or an idea might change course a hundred times. The role of the teacher is to simply provide enough of a framework and sense of wellbeing for children to thrive, and of course to keep them safe along the journey. The teacher is a resource, an advocate, a co-researcher and facilitator, there to help clarify ideas, gather materials, document and reflect back to the children their own learning. It really is as simple as that. I believe there is a misconception, too, that in a child-driven curriculum that there is a lack of boundaries or guidance. Nothing could be further from the truth. A thoughtful, engaged teacher…one who really questions every aspect of their practices and challenges their own biases, attitudes and processes…is actively connected with the children in their care. Connection fuels trust, and trust is the foundation for relationships. Thus, a dialogue is established between teacher and child, and that is at the heart of emergent curriculum.
When we actively listen, not just to the words children say but to their behavior, their stories, their imaginings, their preferences and aversions, when we listen to their paintings and buildings and sculptures and games…how they communicate with their peers, how they cry when they fall, or when their friend doesn’t want to play with them, we learn more about who they are as a whole, unique person. We learn how to support their growth, stretch their thinking and bring their ideas to life. Because being a reflective teacher is equally about learning and teaching, and aren’t the two inextricably linked? The Old English word for “to teach, instruct, guide” was commonly pronounced læran, which is the source of our modern word “learn.” It is a cyclical and never-ending process, as essential and instinctive as breathing. There is the inhale and the exhale, the intake and the output…it is a flow. And I try to follow it and ask “where will we go today?”