Friday, November 1, 2013

Hiatus 2

Sigh... the intent, the ideas.... all there but the energy and time is not.... so time to officially declare a holiday! Life is just too busy, but I'll continue once a few other projects are wrapped up.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chasing Section B

Section B of Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum in Aotearoa, is written in Te Reo Māori and is designed to guide Kōhanga Reo and Māori immersion centres. I've been searching for an English translation for a while as I'm part of a team in my centre who are reviewing how well we are doing in implementing a bi-cultural ethos to all we do. We're taking a critical look at theory and practice and are delving into topics such as
Place-Based Education, Geneva Gay's Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Peter Moss's delightfully radical work on education for survival, Māori learning dispositions as a possible framework, work by Rose Pere, are just some on the reading list...

but I really want to know what our curriculum says we should be doing...

The Ministry of Education refuses to translate Section B. "Never have and never will" was the gist of their reply to my email. Having lived under the mess that the 'Treaty of Waitangi' (sic) has created, I understand how translations can profoundly alter meanings . I'm told it's surprisingly different and part of me wonders if there is a way to gain some insight while maintaining the integrity of the document.

Is my curiosity taking me across a line I have no right to be concerned about?

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Hegemony of Niceness...

Is a phenomenon I've just discovered thanks to  Janet Gonzalez-Mena, Luis Hernandez, and Debra Sullivan, who have authored Learning from the Bumps in the Road.  They write about how niceness can be a cover for conflict-avoidance, for going along to get along, and pretending to be just fine when things are actually a bit shit.
"For us in ECE, it can mean that the pressure to be nice is so dominant that if anyone speaks up, speaks out without prettifying her words, especially if she confronts someone, is cruising for a bruising.  'Make nice' means 'don't rock the boat.'  Sure, some aspects of making nice are worthy, like being kind, accepting, forgiving, and upbeat.  Those other aspects, like inauthenticity and sugarcoating?  Not so much..."

The desire to affirm and nurture 'professional relationships' often trumps the deeper need for the tough love of confronting misdeeds and injustice.  Niceness frees us from facing the tough things: confrontation is a bugger.  We all know that smiling and being nurturing, selfless, and supportive help us fit in, but there is just so much bullshit in ECE... 

Crap team-leaders (consult? discuss? listen? eh?), lazy uninspiring teachers, degree-qualified adults who think their mother is around to clean up after them, jaw-dropping conservatism that leaves me wondering if they can feel empathy, personal discourses that are really fucking suspect, employers who knowingly exploit your passion for children and love telling you about how progressive they are...

So much fucking tip-toeing I feel like a ballet dancer.

Honest, constructive, productive - yet respectful - ANGER can be a good thing.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Intentional Teacher... (with a nod to Emmi Pikler)

I've being wanting to return to the subject of the teacher-learner relationship for a while now. After a long process of critiquing the learning principles of Emmi Pikler and it's constructivist positioning of the teacher - especially in relation to the acquisition of content knowledge - I departed for the shores of Vygotsky's socio-constructivism.

I didn't abandon everything of course - I've happily gutted Pikler's principles and took the best with me: image of the child as a competent learner, respect to allow them to lead their learning, play as the vehicle for learning, as well as an understanding that it remains best practice for infant care and education - but not for older children. Yet in embracing socio-constructivism and it's more active role for the teacher with strategies such as co-construction, guided participation etc,  I felt that things had changed to the point where I was unsure of where I was at and what I was doing with my teaching... I need a framework.

I want my tamariki to learn through play and I want them to be in charge. I trust them to know what they want and that they can achieve their goals in their own time and way. Yet I realise the limitations of the free-play environment, that there is a danger of achieving no more than a reproduction of knowledge with learning limited to peers funds of knowledge. Deep, complex and sustained learning within curriculum areas such as science, mathematics, music, language and art is now recognised as not occurring in the free-play environment.

So I'm going to teach them, but in ways that are not interruptions to their learning journeys.

I come back to the idea of the intersubjective learning space where fundamental questions that arise during play/discovery create the opportunity to co-construct new knowledge.... "will the brown grass become green again?" .... "Are butterfly's boys or girls?" Real questions from my centre that gave us opportunity to hypothesise, conduct research, and formulate theories. New ideas and concepts were introduced that was way beyond the funds of knowledge 'pool' of their peers...  "children learn from more knowledgeable peers and adults" (Te Whariki).

Yet this type of teaching 'in response' leaves a lot to chance.

Intentional Teaching is a strategy explored by Anne Epstein who defines it as directed, designed interactions between children and teachers in which teachers purposefully challenge, scaffold, and extend children's skills.

Another path of inspiration comes from the philosophies of Reggio Emilia and their concept of the '100 languages with which children make meaning of the world. If we consider that creative expression is a response to living and a form of communication, then we must ask ourselves how young children come to acquire the foundation skills they require to utilise these skills.

I realise that all this sails pretty close to the wind for many teachers!

My reason for introducing a programme of intentional teaching to very young children (2yrs+) was to instill an ethos of respect and reverence towards each other and the learning environment through the introduction of specific content knowledge. I've explored content knowledge fully in an older post (link is in the side panel), but briefly, it refers to the vocabulary, concepts and skills in an area of learning.

The quote that sealed it for me: because young children are often encountering these learning spaces for the first time "they need teachers to set the foundation for later learning and success" (Epstein, 2007).

Nothing random, not a 'project', but a deliberate teaching lesson. Every day for half an hour I led the toddler cohort through and introduction to equipment and the rules that come with their usage. Hammers and saws, staplers, glue, paint, trowels and rakes, glue-guns, dye... tools that require a level of mastery before they can become tools of expression and creativity.

There are more layers going on here. The periods of intentional teaching around using new equipment also serves as an introduction to a new way of learning for the children. In the context our my centre it's a transitional process towards a more Reggio Emilia inspired framework of learning where there is a higher level of teacher engagement (using many strategies) than what these children have experienced coming from a pure Pikler-inspired infant curriculum.


I'll have another 'pause in the theory' post and discuss how it all pans out once we have completed a few cycles.

Now go teach (with respect of course).

The best book to buy? The Intentional Teacher by Anne S. Epstein 2007

Friday, May 24, 2013

Parental discources that make you puke...

We have a Dad who likes to hang out at our centre a lot. He's here most days either before or after his (brief) working day. Brilliant is the correct response - involved Dads are a rare breed - but not this guy.

I'm not sure if he's primarily here for his child or the fact that there's good coffee and a bunch of cool women working here, but whatever his reason, he's really fucking with the kids.

The problem is his own hang-ups. Thanks to Dad we have boys not wanting to play with the dolls and handbags, boys who don't want to "cry like a girl", but instead want to "smash your face in" and other such sexist macho bullshit.

What can I do? I really hate difficult conversations... how can I approach him with these concerns of mine?

Everyday we teachers experience the lived worlds of our children. Their 'funds of knowledge' draws primarily from the world of their parents. They are a reproduction of Mum and/or Dads words, actions and all the underpinning values that generate them.

And there are some really fucked-up people out there.

Will four years of being with me - the pro-feminist, anti-war, anti-Hollywood, animal loving, queer supporting, politician hating punk - be enough?

Our future depends on it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When Exploitation Masquerades as Altruism

Altruism - doing something for nothing simply because you love it.

Yesterday I was informed by my boss that people working in the education sector put in extra hours outside of their contracted hours because they love it and it's about being professional. So 'suck it up' was basically her reply to my complaint of too much paper work and not enough non-contact time.


Recently, an Auckland ECE centre was touring Aotearoa with examples of their documentation work in the form of wall panels - and they were exquisite. In reply to a query, the teachers responsible informed us that no, they didn't get a lot of non-contact time to produce these, they did it in their own time because they were 'passionate' and 'professional' - these were the results they wanted so they simply did it.

Last year in the First Years Journal a similar ethos was being espoused by a newly graduated teacher. Donna Bergmen writes in 'Quality of Commitment' (2012, Vol 14;1) that "as a professional teacher .... it is about the willingness to go the extra mile and make sacrifices to take on extra commitment" (p. 29).

I imaging that most of us are teaching because we enjoy being with children and find the learning process/journey quite fascinating. Yet I feel that this passion to work with children, to take on a difficult and demanding job is exploited. It is exploited by our employers who pay shit wages to University graduates doing a vital job. It is exploited by our employers who demand more and more on less and less time.... assessment and planning for children is barely a blip on the radar for many teachers: self-reviews, parents news-letters, long-term investigation projects ala Reggio Emilia, presentations, repairs and maintenance, resource gathering...

In the big bad world of business and profit at any cost, we are the poor cousins of the workforce - I mean what the fuck do we really do but play in the sandpit and change nappies right? And now to top it off we have teaching colleagues cheerleading this ethos of exploitation.

Does this fit with your idea of what it means to be professional? Suck it up and work your weekends? Not mine.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jumping ship...

The Herald recently ran an investigative report into how ECE centres 'work' the 20hrs-free childcare subsidy here in Aotearoa. Every child over the age of three is guaranteed free access to childcare, but in reality most parents pay a top-up fee as the subsidy is only about $11.50 per child-hour. Some Kindergartens will charge you $50 a week 'contribution', while some private centres will bind you to compulsory enrollment times and charge you $400 per week.

You can read all about it here:

Two children at my centre have recently left with a third poised to go because of this compulsory hours component. One child spends a day with his father, another is an only child, while the third has a newborn and Mum at home...

They want to spend time at home with Mum and Dad but the runaway gravy train that is ECEC can't bear to let go - it's all or nothing when it comes to the ching ching and there are plenty more kiddies on the waiting list.

The majority of the families at my centre are either in serious debt or so consumed by conspicuous consumption that they can't let go of the career ladder for their children. They have weekend children. When one Mum told me that she had decided to quit her job to spend precious time with her only son, she spoke of the battle with her husband over the loss of income and how it would primarily impact on their 'fun'. She won; I see them about all the time off to a park or the beach with friends... free fun. No longer does he cry at the centre window as Mum drives off to work.

What would happen if more families simplified life for the sake of their children? To have a parent as the primary caregiver rather than a stressed-out professional? We have high unemployment and too many centres; would it be a setback for women as far as workplace equality? Although I can't image society will collapse, it would be interesting to see the roll-on effects of a large drop in attendance.

Would I lose my job? Now there's a thought.

3/4/13 Update: Another family rebels against compulsory full-time and gives notice...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making a habit of it...

"Early Childhood Council chairman Peter Reynolds says early childhood teaching is the second most gender-biased profession. The first is nuns."

Now I was wondering what my next challenge would be...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Te Whariki and the Big White Guy in the Sky...

In Aotearoa we don't have religious instruction in our education system by law. This came out of colonial fears that 'the troubles' between Irish Catholics and English Protestants would continue within migrant communities if one or the other was declared 'official' and made compulsory in schools. The New Zealand education system was to be free, universal, and secular. Radical stuff, widely applauded. There were hidden agendas of course: unifying a diverse country on the brink of bankruptcy, wayward poor kids causing trouble, up-skilling the work force etc, but they are not for this discussion!

Unfortunately the English settlers in Nelson quickly got around this: the 'Nelson Clause' sees many state schools officially close for a short period each day for religious (ie Christian) studies. These are not compulsory – but peer pressure usually wins hearts and souls. Calls to close this loop hole continue today. Jump forward several decades and the line between The State and religion gets blurrier when many church-owned schools are integrated into the state system and now receive full funding. Finally, things get really confusing with the Waitangi Tribunal's decision in the mid-80's that all Government departments must actively promote Maori language, heritage and customs which saw the arrival of 'spirituality.' Queue much eye-rolling by Pakeha New Zealand.

Spirituality is “one of those subjects whose meaning everyone claims to know until they have to define it” (Sheldrake, 1995).

Our curriculum, Te Whariki, does not define spirituality or how a child is 'healthy in spirit' despite it being part of the core aspiration for children. How do teachers help child develop a spiritual aspect to their lives? Individual interpretation. Again. Default discourses rear their ugly heads – again.

Which is why we have teachers singing Sunday School hymns to children and the karakia said before meals is turned into a form of Christian prayer complete with hands clasped.

The Batchelor, Hedges and Haigh (2011) study into teacher beliefs and practice around spirituality found that the teachers they interviewed had a clear understanding that there was a difference between religion and spirituality. Maybe they got lucky because it has not been like this in my experience.

Spirituality was found to have two significant features that were common throughout the world: 

  • The meaning of life, their place in it, connection to other people, to the land, or to a transcendent being.
  • And that it is not synonymous with religion. Historically however they have been considered to be together and the focus was religious knowledge.

So linked, but clearly separate.

The phrase that a child be 'healthy in spirit' used in Te Whariki is not found in any related literature outside of Te Whariki which is interesting – did they just make it up?

Fisher (1999) defined spiritual health as a “dynamic state of being, shown by the extent to which people live in harmony within relationships... with self, others, the environment and with something or some-One beyond the human level.”

This can be expressed as mutual respect where children can share unselfconscious and authentic expressions of self. Rofrano (2010) argues that “ the spiritual life of the infant emerges in relationship with a caring adult”. In considering that relationships are the basis of a healthy spirit, the authors found that a distinction is made between gaining the skills for healthy social/emotional learning and development and the deeper connections that spirituality entails. Brilliant. And I think we do a fantastic job at nurturing deep reciprocal relationships with the children in our care as is required by Te Whariki.

When it comes to those 'deeper connections', it is the karakia said before meals that most teachers get right in considering it as a critical ritual to take the concept of relationship to a deeper level. Tilly Reedy, one of the authors of Te Whariki, writes about the confusion around karakia and the misconception by many teachers and parents that it is about praying to either Maori Gods or the Pakeha God. Personally it wasn't until I was staying at a Marae on Parihaka (staunch opponents to the Government) where they did not allow any Christian-based karakia to be said that I realised it wasn't just about 'praying' as I knew it. Yes, karakia can be looked at as “a form of prayer or relaxation. It isn't aimed at any faith, belief or denomination, but focuses on encompassing the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional attributes within oneself. In Māori tradition, karakia plays a vital role in upholding the values and traditions of our ancestors,” (Reweti, 2004).

According to Reedy, karakia is a tool to “imprint within the mind and being of the person, the ability to focus on the purpose at hand which may be to seek help for someone, themselves, a job, or to help achieve some goal.”

So karakia is all about holistic relationships (self, others, land, past, present, and future) and perfectly fits our definition for spirituality. Yet confusion remains about its intent with responsibility for this lying in the ongoing problem of the curriculum failing to offer clear definitions and practice guidelines. Parents refuse to let it happen in their centre as it is 'Christian'. Teachers refuse to say it because it is 'pagan' etc etc...

Ongoing education? Just talk about it! There is literally nothing 'practical' out there on this topic! Bring back the PD funding!

Supporting young to children to grow up healthy in spirit. Susan Batchelor, Helen Hedges and Mavis Haigh. 2012; The First Years Journal.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Better Work Stories..

'Better Work Stories' was the basis of an extensive marketing campaign by the New Zealand Police that brags about the excitement and satisfaction you would get from beating up drunk teenagers and being a general power-obsessed fuckwit as they tend to all be.

The phrase came up the other day when I was talking with a friend about the deep pleasure we get when a 18 month-old baby sidles up to you and squeezes onto your lap for a cuddle or to read a book. Just knowing how much they trust you and feel safe, being able to put your arms around a young child, to laugh and talk with them, point out the world about and make up silly words and stories...

What a great job. I have the best work stories - and a lot of them involve poos and wees!

So to paraphrase millions of angry youth the world over: Fuck the Police. Fuck your violence, your power-over, your protection of the rich and oppression of the poor.

Cuddles not Handcuffs!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Why am I an anarchist?

Road trips are a familiar theme of our summer holidays - and road trips mean we dig out the old cassette tapes to keep things interesting as we cruise. Which is how we came to be listening to Norman Nawrocki's song 'Why Am I An Anarchist?' For a long time I have thought that he has written the most eloquent description of what fires the passion and anger of anarchist's - well for me at least. While I could endlessly spout on about the world of injustice (and I will from an ECEC perspective), I figured that I'd start the year with a bang and introduce you all to Norman. If you like what you read I'm sure an internet search will provide more...

Why am I an anarchist?
Because old age pensioners eat dog food.
Because single moms on welfare cry.
Because politicians steal our futures.
Because women can't walk the streets safely.
Because I want to breathe fresh clean air.
Because hope, freedom and dignity are never on special at walmart.
Because capitalism is a scam.

Why am I an anarchist?
Because I'm tired of supermarket rip offs.
Because truth, peace and justice are almost extinct.
Because TV and newspapers lie.
Because kids go to school hungry.
Because I feel unsafe around cops.
Because America's president leaves me no choice.
Because poetry and butterflies demand equal time.

Why am I an anarchist?
Because no one will watch the rain.
Because groundhogs and rabbits are getting murdered.
Because two headed chickens protests and no one listens.
Because twenty minutes of sunshine can now kill.
Because rent is no longer affordable.
Because we deserve better.

 Why am I an anarchist?
Because banks rob people and it's not a crime.
Because I want to banish all cars from the city.
Because they built prisons but close hospitals and schools.
Because neither the sun, the moon or the stars are for sale.
Because corporate greed destroys lakes, rivers and forests.
Because I'm not afraid to dream.
Because I refuse to remain silent.

Why am I an anarchist?
Because it's time to shut down McDonalds.
Because I have friends who can't afford to visit the dentist.
Because one homeless family is too much.
Because the state blames and attacks the poor but rewards it's friends.
Because no fat cat lying politician ever has to wait for the bus.
Because I want social revolution now (now) (now) (now)
Why am I an anarchist?

I'm an anarchist for all of those things and more. Now lets get back to the task of saving our world via education...  and direct action!