Observation Dialogue: Child Care in a Learning Community

As a veteran early childhood educator and masters student, I invited my co- teachers to participate in a project of observation and dialogue. I work in an accredited, multiage children’s center in Burlington Vermont. Our focus on emergent curriculum endeavors to construct learning experiences around questions and discoveries explored through children’s play and engagement in the community as well as the natural world. We have a dynamic staff and director who encourages innovation as we strive to offer our best in the care and education of young children. Our ongoing challenge is to aspire toward strong collaborative relationships among children, parents and staff.

It was my personal hope that the act of observation and dialogue would begin:


  • to reconnect staff and parents currently feeling confused about their role in the community and the curriculum through developing ‘listening’ and interpreting skills.
  • to establish a learning group.
  • to reflect, gain insight, and participate in the life of the child.
  • to regain and sustain the sense of community well being.

It is important to note from the start that the teachers helped to develop the strategies for the observations from the moment I suggested the task. I felt that the more I let go of prescribing a form for the collaboration, the more the collective became impassioned about their work. Letting go of my vision felt risky, but the teachers’ enthusiasm and practical thinking soon reassured me.

After much exchange, the teachers decided that it would be best to volunteer an evening for the discussion and I offered to buy the pizza. Of seven teachers, all provided observations and five attended the evening dialogue. I am grateful to our Director who later acknowledged the commitment of the staff by paying them overtime for their contribution to this project.

We chose three children to observe (only one will be included in this article). I observed the children for one hour. The other six teachers provided a 10-minute observation on each child. We did not have opportunity to review observation techniques, nor were we able to review each other’s work before the hour and a half meeting we had to discuss our findings.

During the evening gathering each teacher reflected on his/her observation and was asked to give it a name from the child’s point of view. When all observations were shared and discussed for a child, we then attempted to provide an overall name that would frame our discussion as a whole, making it easy to recall the thread and providing an image for later reflection. To me this frame ties me to the group in a profound way, as a piece to a puzzle. It has been a long time since I have felt such integrity among our small group, and this feeling brings great hope.