Above is a small piece of the writing that I did during the Opal School Summer Symposium. This is where the root of my thinking lies right now: finding an image of myself in order to clarify my image of education. Educators, Learners, Workers, Players, Children, Adults, and Community.
When I am a teacher in a classroom of young children again, I hope to work in ways that I observed at the Opal School. The words that came up over and over again in my notebook are slowness, thoughtfulness, care, attention, and truth. My takeaways are big ideas about the core qualities of educators and of children.
Although I missed her sessions, my Think With Things colleagues were both struck by something specific that Ann Pelo said. Rather than creating a community of learners, a school is a community that learns. This implies something not only about the goals, but also about the people involved in learning. If teachers are community members, if parents are community members, we all have the opportunity to be part of this learning community. This is one of the main reasons I find myself reflecting on the role that I want to play in the lives of young children. No one can be an expert in education because at its core, there are humans. We are made of much more than schedules and routines. Both adults and children alike are individuals who bring ourselves and all of our curiosities and interests to the table. Creating a community of mutual respect and care means that we open our minds to all possibilities. We can use every moment to learn more, to connect, to question, to challenge, to celebrate. My personal image of a learning community is rooted in the idea of culture and life.
Teachers often complain (and I am absolutely guilty of this) about the trivialities of teaching. The logistics are daunting, and difficulties are often at the front of the work. What so many people call “behavior issues” is an example. Teachers complain that they do not have the time for truly child-centered work, or for a child-centered learning environment. Worries about having markers in glass jars or small objects that children might swallow become the excuses for not creating an environment like the classrooms of Opal have. My mindset in my last teaching position was quite negative - all I saw were obstacles. Had I been more reflective and more open-minded, I might have seen opportunities. What a rich space it could have been for me as a teacher and as a colleague! Even though I only spent one year teaching there, I understand that even a short amount of time can be influential on everyone in the learning community. Whether or not I could have given it more of a chance, I can still use a reflective understanding of that time to move myself forward as an educator.
Teaching is a practice, it is a continuous opportunity for growth for ourselves and children. But we have to recognize that our self, as an adult, is very present. Karen Gallas (2010) calls it the “variable of self”. If we understand materials, children, the learning environment - shouldn’t we understand ourselves and our possible biases? Gallas focuses her work at the “intersection between teacher research and psychotherapy,” where she thinks about the teacher - the person - having a conscious and a subconscious that are always active. What choices are we making that affect us? And rather than being afraid of what we might learn about ourselves, we need to embrace the opportunity, which is hard. Gallas shares, "our culture looks at the unconscious as something scary, something to be armored against, but in reality, the unconscious mind has a great deal of wisdom living in it.” When I think about myself as a caregiver, I think about my parents, my upbringing. Where are those values and practices coming through, subconsciously, when I work with young children? That introspection and self-observation is informative, regardless. Perhaps I already know what I will find and I just need to get it out there.
This idea of the self in teaching seems so obvious to me know, but I agree with Gallas (and Karl Jung) that we are afraid of this kind of introspection. Changing long-standing behaviors is difficult - I have a few that are not exactly secret, yet I still haven’t abandoned them. It is also important to recognize that we’re human, flaws and all, and the goal is not to rid ourselves of "badness", but rather to recognize everything we are made of so that we can understand our motivations. This is part of my image of the child - a complex, capable being who can have a deep self-understanding. I hope that the children I spend my time with adopt an understanding that it takes all kinds of people to make this world, and they are included in that global community. And, if we are truly embracing that mindset, it means that we see ourselves, the adult, as one of those people in the mix. An understanding of self - both conscious and subconscious - has emerged for me as an aspect of my teaching practice.
This time I have spent in Portland - at Opal School, with the Think with Things team, with friends - has reminded me of my love for teacher research. I’m ready to open my mind to the possibilities, the imperfections, the unknown. Understanding children and my role in children’s lives is a journey, and these past few days have allowed me the time and space to explore those things deeply and personally.
I'll close with the image below - these were the last notes I made last night before going to sleep. I'm prepared to think deeply about myself as a person who is an educator.