Friday, December 6, 2013


What does it mean to listen? 

It is one of those questions that we think we know the answer and yet when we stop to really consider the question we are at a loss for words. 

The Kindergarten teachers and I joined the mothership (the preschool teachers)  for a discussion regarding the book The Hundred Languages of Children. We had read the chapter entitled the "Pedagogy of Listening". 

The entire chapter was powerful but one sentence really resonated with me:

"Listening produces questions, not answers."

Often when we listen we have an impulse to solve the problem described, react to a comment, instruct, console or give advice. How often do we or those who are listing to us respond with questions?

Try it today. Listen to someone and respond with questions only. What happens? Does it change the entire conversation?

As  a teacher at Sabot I have learned that my voice in the classroom can sometimes resemble the adults in Charlie Brown.

Children are most influenced by the ideas, thoughts and words of their peers. If I stopped talking and empowered the children to talk and listen to each other contagion, inspiration and learning would live in our classroom. Peppermint Patty didn't just have a cool name she was a sage. 

To end on a more serious note: 

I have been listening to reflections on Nelson's Mandela's life the last 24 hours. In each reflection he is regarded as a leader who listened. He listened to others and others listened to him. His voice carried.

"As a leader....I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion."
Nelson Mandela

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Perspective of the Child and our Response

The Perspective of a Child and our Response


As educators at Sabot, we spend our days listening to children and considering their perspective. We document moments with our cameras, read their words, consider their thoughts and ideas and view the child's work. 

What are their intentions? What is propelling them forward What concepts and feelings are they grappling with today?

I am currently on a sabbatical and although reading many books and blogs written by professionals in the field of education I am also taking the opportunity to read fiction. It takes such deep insight to garnish the perspective of a child but both Betty Smith and Eowyn Ivey seem to capture the spirit of childhood in their novels.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a classic novel written by author Betty Smith. Francie, the protagonist of the book, shares her stories of growing up in poverty on the streets of Brooklyn at the turn of the century. Betty Smith  palpably describes the perspective of Francie regarding her surroundings, family and the common events of her day. One of my favorite passages however recounts Francie's memory of learning to read.

"For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters  sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word "mouse"had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw "horse" she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word "running" hit her suddenly and breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement . She wanted to shout out. She could read! She could read!"

The second book is written by a young first time  author who captures our innate response to protect children without considering their capabilities and resilience. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is set in the beautiful but isolated Alaskan Frontier.  

An older woman and her husband move to this remote frontier to escape the memories of a child lost in childbirth but one evening they experience an event that defies explanation. 

After building a snow child from the first snow of the season they awaken the next morning to find the snow child has been trampled and the mittens and scarf are missing. The older couple observes a small figure running through the trees. Mabel is reminded of an old Russian Fairy tale about a snow child coming to life and begins to wonder if she and Jack just created the child together. Is she a real child or a figment of their imagination?

The pages of the books seem to scream to the reader, "Believe in the ingenuity of childhood." I could also hear the words from the iconic song by .38 Special each time I turned a page. Just hold on loosely but don't let go if you cling to tightly you are gonna loose control."  

"Look at yourself, child. Your hair is a mess. Your're filthy."

Mabel pulled at the ragged sleeve of the child's cotton dress. "This needs to be washed, maybe just thrown out. I'm making several new dresses for you."
 The child backed toward the door. Mabel grabbed her  by the wrist, but Faina yanked it free. "Mabel, Jack said, "let the child go."
The girl was gone for days and when she returned she was skittish, but Mabel took no heed. She pinched at the girl's clothing and hair, and asked if she had ever gone to school, ever looked at a book. With each prying question, the child took another step back.
"We're going to lose her," he wanted to tell Mabel. Jack wasn't one to believe in fairy tale maidens made of snow . Yet Faina was extraordinary. Vast mountain ranges and unending wilderness sky and ice. You couldn't hold her too close or know her mind. Perhaps it was so with all children. Certainly he and Mabel hadn't formed into the molds their parents had set for them.

These books capture the image of the child that we strive for endlessly in our classrooms.
This image was cultivated by Loris Malaguzzi, the author of the following three quotes.

It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very
intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and
has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the
image of the child that we need to hold.

Those who have the image of the child as fragile,
incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from
this belief only for themselves. We don’t need that as
an image of children.

Instead of always giving children protection, we need
to give them the recognition of their rights and of their