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....and explore the many benefits of meaningful art activities that encourage use of media to express ideas and feelings, but they still see precut shapes and photocopied illustrations to be coloured, and stereotypical busy work that fits a theme. We learn about developmentally appropriate practice, but many see preschoolers enduring daily calendar circle (see Katz and Chard, 2000, pp. 23-25). New grads are often expected to fall into step with such practices in centres and do not have the confidence or support to question them aloud. Instead, they are told to forget what they were taught. The ECE program can encourage reflection, but this inclination has little hope of long-term survival if it is not encouraged and modelled in their workplace.
Early childhood education is a profession where there is tremendous potential to have impact. Early childhood educators are the creators of curriculum. There is no provincial document to blame. We also create the environments in our programs. Certainly, factors such as ratios and group sizes and other similar quality-linked variables affect what we do, and fall under the jurisdiction of legislation. But the quality of care that children experience is strongly affected by the teachers in the room. This was shown to be true in the study done at the Johnson & Johnson Child Development Center in New Jersey, where ratios, group sizes, and staff training were all better than average. Nevertheless, it received a poor score on sensitivity of caregiving. After the centre went through the accreditation process of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, there was a dramatic improvement in the quality of interactions between teachers and children, with increased sensitivity and diminished harshness. This change was attributed to the extensive self-evaluation requirements of the accreditation process. The teachers became more reflective about their behaviour (Howes and Galinsky, 1996). This finding is cause for celebration, as it confirms that a significant degree of control over "the real world" of ECE lies within the educators.
If reflective teachers provide better care, we should be looking at ways to create communities of inquiry within childcare programs. In Wideen, Mayer-Smith and Moons (1998) survey of research into teacher education programs, it was found that where students were supported by program, peers, and classroom situations, and where deliberative exploration and reflection were encouraged, there was a flowering of empowered teachers. "These were beginning teachers who were not afraid to experiment, struggle, and make mistakes teachers (who) expressed a sense of joy at their emerging understanding of what it is to be a teacher" (pp. 159-160). They found that continuous growth was experienced by rookie teachers whose construction of knowledge "developed and evolved through a sustained conversation during their first year of teaching" (p.158, italics added). Both students and rookies need to see functioning decision-makers and inquiring reflective teachers in the workplace, where colleagues use knowledge to inform and question their work.
The programs in Reggio Emilia are models of reflective practice. The educators there have inspired us to consider our view not only of children, but also of teachers (Malaguzzi, 1998). If we see ourselves as co-learners and researchers, we will have an attitude of inquiry. If we are to have sustained conversation, it is clearly a collaborative venture. Everyone has a place at the table, with rookies and veterans bringing different perspectives, making the conversation richer. With few exceptions, childcare programs provide great opportunity for meaningful collaboration because the work is seldom solitary. However, this potential is not automatically realized. Having a partner often translates into simple division of labour, alternating weekly who plans circles and who set up the art activities. Collaboration is work, involving deliberate effort and intent. It requires explicit understanding that the shared goal is ongoing growth and learning for everyone in the program. It goes beyond mere friendliness. It means gaining comfort with provocation. I was deeply impressed hearing two educators from Reggio Emilia talk about their teamwork. They had worked together for ten years. At first, they said, there was much conflict not the nasty backstabbing kind, but the prodding and challenging kind the kind that leads to reflection and meaningful discussion. Now, after all these years together, they had no more conflict, and so they agreed that they should split up because they werent learning from each other any more. This is a very different perspective on teamwork. In our culture, we strive for harmony, even if only on the surface. Could we come to embrace an atmosphere where everyone has a responsibility to help everyone else to be the best she or he can be?
Reflection can occur within individuals and among partners, but it can also take place within entire centres. Perhaps in the statement of philosophy for the centre, it could be identified that this is a community of learners. We could then encourage and support the kind of sustained conversation that promotes ongoing learning for rookies and veterans. The staff and parents could be involved in discussion about the practices that would make this philosophy real. Time could be allocated on the agenda at every meeting to discuss the "knots" that educators are working on and what they are learning about themselves as learners and teachers. There could be discussion of an article that every member of the staff has read. A new grad can be a good resource for these articles. The teachers and supervisor could revisit other aspects of the centres philosophy to see how accurately it is being reflected by the practice in the centre, and get input from parents and students. An ongoing question for these discussions is.....continued...
Karyn Callaghan is a professor of early childhood education at Mohawk College in Hamilton Ontario.