Below is an excerpt from the book Insights written by Fleet, Patterson & Roberston. Many writers have contributed to the book and this excerpt is written by Jill McLachlan who is a Sydney teacher working in a school that cater for children from three to eight years old. I think she writes so well about the internal struggle teachers have as they consider how to share the power while building a curriculum around children’s passions, play/inquiry and questions.
Our view of the children certainly impacts on the way we think about teaching and learning. If we view the child the way that Rinaldi has described below it is easy to think of children leading their own learning through play and inquiry. When I think of play it is not a narrow view of play but it is about giving children the opportunity to play with their own ideas, problems, creations and of course free play.
To ensure that children are leading their learning it will mean that we cannot have planned out days, weeks or months as this potential will highjack the learning. We need to be able to move in response to children, like a dance. A dance is such a wonderful metaphor for planning. Imagine the waltz with the child as the leader. There are guidelines and boundaries for the dance, but, well the direction is up to the child. As the child leads you get a glimpse of where you have been as you peer over their shoulder. This is retrospective planning - looking back to see where you have been. A great waltz, so I am told - this is not my strengthen, requires a partnership and a deep trust from both partners in the dance.
“Following the interests of children is not a predicable process, no matter what the context. Children see differently, walk differently, care differently and talk differently from adults and from each other. Walking beside children, rather than leading them, requires constant and committed reflection with every step. It means getting down low, adjusting your pace regularly, and following through to completion. It requires negotiation, questioning and risk, recognising and respecting the difference that exist among a group of thinkers.
Engaging with children’s real concerns and thoughts requires careful and intentional decision-making on the part of a teacher. When the question asked or the situation that has occurred touches on issues we don’t have clear answers to, we begin to ask ourselves may questions:
Is the discussion worthwhile?
It is okay for me to share my opinion?
When do I challenge the group?
When do I choose to stay silent?
How can I relate within the group without exerting control over the process?
How can I create space for the children to have a voice?
How can I protect all of the children if I can’t control the direction of the responses?
In other words, this list might be simply put: ‘How do I facilitate meaningful learning in this moment?’……
I am reminded of Italy and the schools of Reggio Emila. They seem to touch the ‘untouchable’. I admire and respect them for the risks that I so often fear to take. How have they come to navigate so confidently through such unexplored territory? Why are they open to risk, adventure, questioning and open-ended experiences in a way that I have only dreamt about? There is such power in the way they ‘see’ and therefore relate to children. They seem to carry with them an almost mystical faith in children; faith in the sense that they pursue the unseen, confident of a goal that can only be described in retrospect. It seems to me that their faith in the children themselves is what frees them to share their power.
They see a child who is:
Rich in resources, strong, and competent.. unique individuals with rights rather than simply needs. They have potential, plasticity, openness, the desire to grow, curiosity, a sense of wonder, and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate….children are also very open to exchanges and reciprocity as deeds and acts of love that they not only want to receive but also want to offer. (Rinaldi, 1998, p.114)
Who wouldn’t take this child’s lead? So the journey towards shared power and control has begun for me. Children are powerful; I am learning to give some of my power away.”