By: Dawn Irwin
I know what you're thinking. You're wondering how a three-and-a-half-hour car ride doubles in length. Well, it's actually pretty easy. Holly and I were driving back from the incredible NAREA Brick by Brick seminar we attended back in November, thoughts bursting out of us and bouncing around the car, one right after the other. After about a half hour Holly said, "I wish we had started taping this conversation. I don't want to forget everything we are saying!" That comment made me realize how close we were to the only Cracker Barrel on our route home. I suggested that we stop, grab some delicious food, and write down everything that comes to us.
What came out of this amazing brainstorming session is what we like to affectionately refer to as our "teacher manifesto". It is our core values and what we believe are the essential practices that make us the early childhood educators that we are today.
Everything that we do and everything that we are comes down to the proclamations made in this document.
That being said, we also recognize that we are always evolving, not only as people, but as educators. Because of this, we view the following as a living document that will grow and evolve with us as we continue on our journey down the path of early childhood education.
So, without further ado...
Growing With Wonder: The Multiage Approach
- We are a multiage, emergent, Reggio inspired, play based, teacher/child collaborated approach to early childhood education.
- We believe in children, teachers, families, and the community all growing with wonder together to create an environment where all people are inspired to be their best selves.
- We believe that building strong relationships is the foundation upon which deep and meaningful learning emerges.
- We see each child as a capable human being, respect their individuality, and the unique contributions they bring to our community.
- We believe that children are born with an inherent sense of wonder. Through and with their peers, families, educators, and the community, they can grow that wonder together.
- We will do our best to never lose sight of the needs of the community and families we support.
- We believe in a true collaborative approach. Educators and families, families and child, child and community.
- We believe everyone is an agent of change and the owner of their educational journey.
- We believe teachers should always be hungry for learning, growing, and evolving into better, more passionate versions of themselves.
- Educators will always start with the child, giving them freedom of expression while guiding them along a path that leads them towards learning through creativity, allowing for deep and meaningful exploration, collaboration, and understanding of the world around them.
- We believe documentation, research, and reflection are crucial pieces of the educators' role in guiding students towards deeper learning experiences.
- We believe in giving ourselves permission to make mistakes, viewing each mistake as an opportunity for growth.
- We believe in always approaching life with a "Let's Try" perspective.
- Educators will continue to influence each other and the early childhood education field through discussion, presentations, knowledge sharing, mentorship, advocacy, and continuing the never-ending quest to provide children with the greatest educational experience possible.
This is who we are. This is what we believe in. This is where we start from. And we can only go up from here.
By: Dawn Irwin
When I was five years old my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Klinkenburg, asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I didn't hesitate; I knew in my heart exactly who I was supposed to be. I whipped my hand in the air, impatiently waiting to be called on. When she finally picked me, "I am going to be you!" burst out of my lips. And, it was true. I knew I was meant to be a teacher.
A few years later, I had forgotten all about this event, and began fantasizing about the potential careers I could have when I became an adult. After graduating from high school, I tried on dozens of uniforms and desks before finally landing in the magical world of early childhood. Teaching, supporting, and loving children came as naturally to me as breathing. My entire life I had taken care of people - it's totally woven into my DNA - but now I was getting paid for it. And, honestly, most of the time it didn't feel like a job at all. I loved living in my students' world, creating incredibly strong and trusting relationships with them and their families, and learning from them who I was as a person.
Twenty-two years after my prophetic announcement surrounded by my fellow five-year-old classmates, I met the teacher who would impact my life more than any other. I was so nervous. I had just accepted a new teaching position at a very well known, prestigious school. There would be new teachers, students, families, routines, paperwork, you name it. Not to mention upholding the impeccable reputation that came with this amazing program. But, on my very first day a bubbly, energetic, and kind-hearted woman took me under her wing and began mentoring me. Because of Holly's incredible mentoring skills, I slowly gained confidence in myself and my abilities as a teacher. With her support and my newfound confidence, I was able to push and challenge myself to newer and greater heights. As time went on I was able to reciprocate this support, which enabled us both to grow as educators and friends. After six years of working side by side together we had become a dynamic, collaborative, and creative teaching team. Our strengths supported the other's weaknesses, our passion for early childhood education was immeasurable, and the love we felt for our students knew no bounds.
Fast forward a couple of years. Holly and I are co-teaching at a new, innovative program. We decide to attend a Brick by Brick one day conference in Boston hosted by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. The theme for the conference is Wondering and Learning Together. We spend the entire day soaking in every word, image, idea, and discussion shared with us. At the very end of the conference a woman stands up. She thanks us for attending. Then she asks the people in the room if they believe in children. Everyone raises their hands. She asks if we love the profession we have chosen. Most of the room, again, raises their hands. Then she asks how many of us believe that changes need to be made - drastic changes - to the field and the profession itself. Now, I had raised by hand every time so far, but this time, it shot up like an arrow. Then she said:
"Look around. See the hands in the air? These are the hands that need to make the changes we all know our profession needs. We can't wait around for someone else to pick up the baton and do it. No one else but you can do it.
There is no one else. You have to stand up and be the advocate. Bring back what you learned today and make the changes you want to see in the world.
You can do it.
Change the world, show people who we are and what you believe in. Make them see and understand what Early Childhood Education could, and should, look like. You want things to change? You know things need to change? Then bring your voice back with you and do it."
As she spoke, I looked around the room. Everyone was staring at her. Some people had looks of inspired awe, others were wiping away silent tears. I could feel my heart swelling in my chest. She had struck a chord in us. In me. I looked at Holly. I could see the same exact thoughts racing across her face.
I can be the change. I NEED to be the change. I WILL be the change.
We got into my car at the end of the day and words began pouring out of our mouths. The Hoover Dam had broken and there was no way to stop it. A tidal wave
of thoughts, energy, and potential filled the vehicle.
Holly and I knew we were great educators, but something happened to us after that speech at the end of that super inspiring day. I don't know if it was the woman's choice of words, the passion that filled her voice, or the vulnerable, honest look on her face. Whatever it was, a lever had clicked inside of us. We finally believed in ourselves in a way we didn't know was possible before. We finally believed in our ability to actually do something to change the status quo. We finally believed that change could happen and that we would be the ones to do it.
Thinking back on that three and a half hour drive that turned into seven, I can't help but look at it as a monumental turning point in my life. Holly and I decided that very night on Interstate 93 that we are going to start making some waves in the field of Early Childhood Education. We are going to create the loving, nurturing, supportive learning environments we want to see in the world. We are going to provide the educational experience children deserve, but is inherently missing from the center-based programs currently offered in America.
No one else is doing it, so why not us?
Of course we realize there are going to be those that don't understand, support, or believe in our vision. Of course we know that there will be roadblocks, bumps, and detours that will present themselves along the way. But, that's just all part of the journey, right? Isn't it the challenges, mistakes, and failures that make us stronger, more determined, more resilient, and more grateful for the successes? That's the lens we're choosing to look through.
So, here we are. Standing at the beginning of a very long and arduous road, about to embark on the journey of our dreams. Our careers. Our lives. And we plan on using this blog to document every step along the way. We would love for you to join us.
Share our joy, fear, hesitation, curiosity, and passion. Share our triumphs, our stumbles. Watch with us as we view the world through the eyes of children and learn all they have to teach us. Laugh with us. Cry with us. Grow with us.
Wonder with us.