Monday, August 17, 2015

Partnerships: Collaboration and Reflective Practice

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives" - Robert John Meehan

We are honoured to welcome Barb and Sharon West as guest bloggers! We were so excited to see that Barb and Sharon would be joining us for the 2nd summer in a row for our Summer Academy workshop. We met this team of sisters last summer while presenting in Ottawa and have stayed connected via Twitter ever since! Barb and Sharon bring so much passion and enthusiasm to their teaching. They also stand out for their love for professional development and collaboration. They take risks in their teaching and learning and certainly share their vulnerabilities along the way. Thank you so much for capturing some of the learning that took place during our time together and for making it visible for others to reflect alongside you!

If you don't already follow them - be sure to get connected on Twitter:
Barbara West @BarbinFDK
Sharon West @Gowest_inFDK



Moving to Full Day Kindergarten was both exciting and scary for us.  We have both previously taught Kindergarten but this was looking to be very different from our experiences with the program.  Over the past few years we had embraced play based learning and intentional teaching, with a focus on the classroom environment and following the children’s questions and wonders.  Still there were many uncertainties that kept coming up when we talked about entering the world of FDK.  Working in partnership with an E.C.E., larger class sizes and knowing how to program for a full day experience, these were our main concerns.

In our past teaching experiences we have worked generally on our own.  We had our own classrooms and our own groups of children we were responsible for teaching.  ‘Team teaching’ involved working with another teacher for a few periods here and there. But the thought of having to work alongside another educator, day in and day out, for the entire year was overwhelming.

What happens if we don’t get along?
What if we have different approaches to children’s learning?
What if we have very different personalities? or likes?
Yikes!

It was also difficult to find anyone talking about the relationship between educators and how best to develop it.  So we looked forward to our ETFO Summer Academy course, Partnerships, Provocations and Pedagogical Documentation, to give us some guidance.  In fact, the reason we chose Tracy and Cheryl’s course was because they were leading it as an FDK educator team.  We thought that if they could come together to teach a course, then they must have all sorts of insights on how to make this work.  Tracy and Cheryl did not disappoint.  

They spoke about how it was important for them to get along and also to remember, “It’s not about us, but about how we can work together to help the children”.  Hearing them say this reminded us to take a step back and look at how our developing relationships should focus on the children and their needs.  



Together they talked about how important it was to be honest in acknowledging their own individual strengths and weakness and how they could be open to supporting each other and learning from each other.  

As teachers new to working in a partnership it was interesting to hear how part of their growth came from a difference in philosophies and approaches to how young children learn.  Tracy and Cheryl shared that they were not friends their first year together, but decided they needed to have a positive professional relationship for the future.  Cheryl speaks to Brene Browns’ quote, 
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort.  You can’t have both.” 
and how we need to be courageous in our relationships if we want them to grow and develop, or we can be comfortable and let them become stagnant.  Tracy is very brave in acknowledging that when asked the question, “Why?” she often had to think deeply about the reason behind some of the routines and planning she set out.

The two of us spent a great deal of time reflecting on how we wanted to approach our own new working relationships and decided we would try, with each other’s support of course, to be brave and to ask some of those tough questions, especially the “Whys?”  We decided to try breaking the ice by emailing our partners over the summer thinking it would help to know something about each other before the first day of school.  

We began with the ‘safe’, “10 Things I Want to Know About You” questions, like the all important, “Coffee or tea and how do you take it?  Mac or PC?  Family?  One thing you look forward to in FDK?  One thing that scares you about FDK?" etc.  It gave us a beginning to build upon.  Then we shared a couple of blogs that have similar teaching approaches to ours and moved on to articles that had sparked our interest lately hoping to open up a conversation.  

From the beginning we encouraged our partners to ask questions and to share their thinking about what was happening in the classroom as we continued to try to be open to new approaches, ideas and to sharing our thoughts or reasonings.  Although we often discussed over the school year how we hadn’t really had those hard conversations, we knew we shied away in order to avoid hurt feelings or sounding like we knew more than our partners. Looking back over this, our first year in FDK, we try to keep in mind that this was our first year with a partner and will continue to work on improving and growing our relationships over the next year. That’s the nice thing about teaching, you get the chance to try it again and have a fresh start.

This summer we were excited to participate in our second Summer Academy course with Tracy and Cheryl, Engaging in Play in Kindergarten. We wanted to hear them speak to their relationship again, but we were ready to embrace more as we get ready to enter our second year.

Listening again to Cheryl and Tracy talk about their interactions with their children we are able to see just how clear and open their communication with each other is.  They are able to present consistent language and vocabulary when introducing centres, materials and routines by talking before hand about what they plan to say during their conversations with students.  For us we know it will meant being even more open to listening to our partners’ thinking, appreciating their background knowledge, and together coming to an understanding of what would be best for our own groups of children.  It will also help the students in our classes and others in the school to see us as a team.  

We have moved away from “I” and are working towards “we”. 

Effective communication isn't just for educators. How we talk with the children helps to develop a supportive and respectful classroom community including both children and adults.  We love listening to Cheryl talk about children and how she has them work through their problems. Statements like, “I notice you were having a problem…” or “How are you feeling when you are playing together?”  When we are working with a child or group of children who are having a problem we acknowledge that there is a little voice in our heads that says, “Now, how would Cheryl say this?” 

We have had many conversations, thinking and reflecting on what we saw presented in both these courses.  We recognized the importance of stepping back and supporting our children in speaking with their own voice and learning to listening to others.  We also recognize that speaking courageously with our partners will further develop and strengthen our relationship as educators in a FDK classroom.  



Tracy and Cheryl helped to give us a foundation from which we can build on and we look forward to learning more from Tracy and Cheryl through their blog posts on Passionately Curious Educators:  Connecting Lifelong Learners, through their tweets on Twitter and during their upcoming workshops.  We thank them for their leadership, encouragement and their support as we continue to grow in our own learning.

Sharon will have the opportunity to continue and develop her relationship with Izabela, her E.C.E. partner this September.  Barb looks forward beginning a relationship with a new E.C.E. joining her classroom.


Thank you again to Barb and Sharon West. Your honesty and reflectiveness is what makes you both such outstanding educators. Learning in partnership is absolutely a journey and a challenging one at that. Continue to be brave and courageous in your interactions with others'. We are proud and thankful to have opportunities to learn with you both and look forward to collaborating throughout the year!

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