Thursday, 2 January 2014

Being Critical yet not Criticising.



In the past 9 years I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to visit preschool settings around Europe & further afield, mostly through the British Council's Comenius programme but also through a GTCNI CPD bursary & the generosity of Fafu.
I have been able to witness practice first hand in the following countries: Italy, Poland, Norway, France, Sweden, Turkey, Scotland & Iceland.
Through on-line project work & social media I have also been able to get a glimpse into settings around the world.
If I have learned one thing from these opportunities it is that it is OK to look at other settings with a critical eye in order to see what I can take away from another place but it is not OK to criticise what I see, merely because it's not what I would do.

Every setting is unique no matter if they have similar resources or even buidlings. I found it very weird that most of the kindergartens in areas of Europe that were under the rule of the former USSR are all in the same standard buildings but no matter how similar things may look the fact that the children & staff are all individuals will mean that no 2 places will ever actually be the same.

I am an optimist by nature so no matter what I will always look for something positive to take away from every experience and in fact I have found that it is actually more disheartening to visit somewhere that you are overwhelmed by & end up feeling like my own setting can't achieve any of it. I'd rather come away from visiting another classroom feeling positive about my own!

So whilst I may not like my classroom set up to be as formal as I found it to be in Poland or France, that is not to say that I have a right to start being negative about the practice in either country. I have never seen such creativity as I did in both places that I visited, as the schools had very little money for posters or wall displays etc. yet those teachers had come up with amazing ideas of how to make sure they used everyday objects to make their rooms as attractive as possible.

It is so easy to look at a photograph from another setting & make a snap judgment on what you see, yet let's be honest how much can anyone really tell from a photo? Usually the person taking it knows the whole background story to the end result but it's hard to convey that in a photo. I had people comment very negatively once on a photo of some children standing on a stone structure, it did look like the stones were leaning but of course they were 100's of years old & very, very structurally sound. However to anyone just glancing at the photo it looked like the stones were leaning & ready to fall but seriously what kind of person would I be if I let children climb on an unsafe structure just to get a good photo! 
Everyone has their own experience in mind when they look at photos or see another setting but we have to be careful we aren't judging others based on how we operate or on rules & guidance we have to adhere to. 
My advice is to view the opportunity to see around another setting as a privilege, you are getting a look into another world & try to get as much out of it as you can. In my own experience it can be weeks, months or even years afterwards that you may be able to recall something you saw & replicate it in your own setting. Never dismiss anything because you feel it would never work in your setting, it might not work right now but who knows someday you might be able to. 
In 2006 when I sat in a forest in Norway watching children sitting around a fire whittling sticks & enjoying hot chocolate I never imagined that 4 years later I could offer similar experiences in my own setting.
So embrace chances to glimpse into settings around the world either virtually through social media or in person through various funding opportunities or just by networking but try not to criticise fellow practitioners, we are all on the same team!

20 comments:

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! And thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Jessica it has taken me a while to write this one!

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  2. Well said. I did a single week in a Romanian orphanage once and that was an eye opener. Taught me a huge amount about what our education system takes for granted and about working with what you have. And as you say about the whittling and fire, it's about making things fit into what YOU do :)

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    1. Thanks Niki, for some reason early years folks do seem to judge each other quite harshly sometimes.

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  3. Thanks for this great 'systems check' post for the new year. A great reminder to supportive and open to new ideas!

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    1. As if you need that advice ;)

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  4. Oh Kierna - you soothsayer - I couldn't agree more.... Learning is all about exploration and variation - if we all did the same and thought the same and said the same how boring would life be - let's be creative and thoughtful and gather and seek. Let all of our practices be descriptive not prescriptive and lets work together and all learn from each other....

    Tom xxx

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    1. How wise you are indeed Tom! This post has been fermenting since Iceland! Here's to a year of learning together xxx

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  5. Wonderful post - having reviewed programs/settings in the past in a supervisory capacity, I have found this very challenging at times. It takes practice to recognize that different is just different, not better or worse. Shared this on our Facebook page.

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    1. That is it exactly Cynthia - challenging is the best way to describe it. Thanks for the share I wondered why my numbers jumped over night!

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  6. I love this! Do you have an album or specific ideas of what these teachers did? I'd love to see them!

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    1. Hi Kristin, not specific albums but if you click on the 'Trips & Visits' & 'Comenius' labels on the RHS you will find posts with photos from some of the settings I have visited. You have now given me a challenge for 2014!! I will try & do some more posts sharing photos from the various settings xxx

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  7. Good thoughts, Kierna. Different is not bad, just different. I've seen things that I wouldn't do in my classroom, but usually because it doesn't fit me, who I am, or the class I teach. When looking at other environments, I try to look for "principles" - the whys behind what the teacher is doing - and implement those whys in ways that are me. Great post.

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    1. That is so true Scott, very rarely does any teacher set out to create a 'poor' learning environment.

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  8. Spot on with your post- well said !!

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    1. Thanks, I really felt it needed to be said but didn't want to come across too bossy!

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  9. I wish everyone visiting another setting took this approach. It's all too easy to come in and say 'this isn't how i do it so it's wrong'!

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    1. It is the first reaction & it comes naturally to us all but I have learned to reflect a little longer on what I've seen before making any unkind & unhelpful remarks.

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  10. Love your last sentence: we are on the same team. Team members learn from each other and support each other.
    Thanks

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    1. So true! I feel as if in the past few years I have gained so much from my international colleagues I have met on here!

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