According to Gretchen Reynolds and Elizabeth Jones:
“Observation can be used not only as the basis of information about individual children and the building of a classroom community, but also as the place from which teachers can begin to engage in the dialogic process of reflection, hypothesis building, and planning” (13).
Similarly, we discovered that our aspirations had awakened us to research and co-construct as a group.
Our observations and the discussions about them offered a sense of possibility, a place of questions and a place of joy. Not only were we fully engaged in inquiry, but we were happy, laughing, smiling and in awe of the children and ourselves. As Amy said, “I learned so much, coming to this and seeing how I could be observing is totally cool.” It felt good to be together as a staff learning and enjoying each other’s ideas. The process offered multiple perspectives on the child and an avenue for developing further investigations and curriculum. Amy continued, “Now when I’m doing observation I will be looking for (important points) and questions, if not before the observation then afterwards.” Traci added “…sometimes you don’t even know the question until after you’ve reflected on the observation…you may (even) find an answer to a question you didn’t know you had.”
As we brainstormed together we agreed that the observations would make important additions to childrens’ journals; not only would we offer teacher reflections to our parents, but we could contribute a record of particular, vivid moments in their child’s life. What I liked in this observation process is that we got to hear all the stories and a key idea that surfaced was seeing how we all observed in our own way and heard the different points of view. The process offered multiple perspectives on the child and an avenue for not only developing further investigations and curriculum but a method of dialoguing with our families.
Teacher and Community Well-being:
This experience empowered me to approach my Director to discuss future and regular Observation Dialogue evenings as well as to plant the seed of eventually inviting parents to participate in documenting the educational and community life of our center. I am absolutely and passionately convinced “… if we want to have a school based on participation, we must create spaces, contexts, and times when all subjects–children, teachers, and parents–can find opportunities to speak and be listened to” (Giudici 137).
To engage in meaningful and authentic work with children, the teacher must brave observing. Teachers need to build meaningful relationships in and around their working life. The teacher must cultivate a lissome tenacity and courage for their work. If we want to encourage deep thinking in children, then we must go down and think ourselves.
I am afraid that teachers have grown accustomed to being defined and limited by school structure rather than using the structure as a support for originality.
Teachers are given curriculum to follow rather than being asked to construct curriculum around the learning styles and interests of the children, parents, and themselves. Some school structures are so time restricted that there is no space for creativity (I am fortunate to work in a place that has addressed this last issue).
It is through the process of creating and evolving within the flexibility of the possible that gives vitality to my work as a teacher, and it is the balancing of our unique perspectives as a group that gives texture and depth and form and meaning to our relationship and learning community. The time we took to observe and share those observations allowed me to feel that vitality in my work and share the results of it with colleagues and eventually with parents.
We have known for a long time that observation creates invaluable windows of understanding for parents who miss so much of the evolution of their childrens’ growth that takes place at school, but our experience showed us that the teachers also stand to gain greatly from refining their observation techniques and sharing their findings and hearing the stories of their colleagues.
Thank you to the teachers: Amy Carlson, Traci Nicolay, Jason Hartwick, Siobhan Henry-Hooker, Robin Ploof, and Jenn Carusone for supporting and participating in this work. And thank you to the children: Karla (11 months), Edward (3 years), and Abraham (3.10 years). I would also like to acknowledge Gretchen Reynolds and Sue Stacey, from Pacific Oaks College, for their support and guidance with regard to this project.
Gandini, Lella and Edwards, Carolyn Pope (eds.), Bambini: The Italian Approach To Infant/Toddler Care. Teachers College Press, New York 2001.
Giudici, Claudia, Rinaldi, Carla and Krechevsky, Mara (eds.), Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners. Reggio Emilia, Reggio Children, Italy 2001.
Reyonds, Gretchen and Jones, Elizabeth. Master Players: Learning from Children at Play Teachers College Press, New York 1997.