Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Part Do I Play?





























Back in October, 2010, a small group of early childhood education bloggers, including Marla McLean, Allie from Bakers and Astronauts, and Jenny from Let The Children Play, at the prompting of the brilliant Anna Golden of atelierista, began a kind of blogging round robin by way of exploring the question of why we blogged. It was part of a project we were undertaking together that lost its steam, but it was a fantastic exercise nevertheless, one that has, I think, really shaped my thinking about what I'm doing here.

Our summer program has been on a break for the last couple weeks and in case you haven't noticed, I've used it as an opportunity to write on topics further afield (e.g., democracy, genderTV) than my usual narrow reflections on our preschool day, if only because I've not had a lot of "fresh" material with which to work. So as I've been in a more expansive mode these days, I've asked Anna if was okay for me to share one of my reflections from our group project. Some things have changed since then, so I've taken the liberty of editing and expanding upon it to fit the new realities.

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I started blogging in the summer of 2009 out of pure ego. Prior to becoming a preschool teacher, I’d worked for 15 years as a professional hack writer and I was craving the jolt that comes from having readers.

When I first discovered Jenny’s blog (Let The Children Play) in the fall of that year, she was in full-on research mode, posting exciting posts about playgrounds and outdoor classrooms. At the time, I was the oblivious teacher at an urban school whose outdoor space was comprised of little more than a slab of asphalt attached to a mud garden. It had gotten so that our time outdoors each day was often as short as 20 minutes. I did not consider this a problem we could solve.

But here was a fellow teacher whose ego was so apparently un-invested in her blogging that she was freely sharing the wonderful fruits of her labors. Jenny was showing me a new world, a new way of thinking about the outdoors; it was an exciting, creative, ah ha experience that resulted in a complete revamp our outdoor space and curriculum by that spring, transforming our outdoor space from this . . .



 . . . to this . . .


. . . from this . . .


 . . . to this . . .


On Thursday, Charlotte and Thomas' mom Amanda and I were being interviewed for a piece that will appear soon on The Fremocentrist, our new neighborhood's local "newspaper." We were asked why we'd chosen to move from our old location, and as part of her answer Amanda talked about the entire "outdoor curriculum" that has emerged from those seeds planted by Jenny, explaining that we had grown to fill our old facility to its capacity. We just needed a bigger place in which we could transplant ourselves in order to continue the ongoing community exploration of a school that spends as much as its life as possible in our outdoor classroom (click on this link for more pictures and description). So now we play and learn here as a direct result of Jenny's inspiration:




Simply put, the experience has made me a better teacher and our school a better school. And Jenny is not the only one.

As I began to get in touch with more fellow bloggers I found myself in a world of people willing and able to share insights into children, into teaching, into the way education does and should work, each in her own way, motivating me as a teacher, improving our curriculum, or otherwise touching our community. The experience has brought about a kind of renaissance in our school.

I now blog less from ego (although that remains a part of it), but rather mostly in the hope that my posts inspire other teachers the way Jenny inspired me.

I do consider Teacher Tom’s Blog to be a type of documentation of what the Woodland Park Preschool community does together, albeit one from my own point of view, with all the baggage that implies. Many of the parents tell me they read the blog. Knowing that these parent-teachers who work with me daily in our cooperative preschool are reading my words forces me into a level of honesty and introspection that I could never attain in a private journal. I love when parents quote a post back to me in class, or when one of the kids, as Lachlan did one day, says, “Post me again, Teacher Tom!” 


It’s remarkable that blogging allows even the kids an opportunity to review the documentation, especially when there are photos, and start to consider not only what part they play in the story of our school, but what part they want to play going forward.

I know that’s a question I’ve come to ask myself every day.


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7 comments:

Life with Kaishon said...

I am glad blogging has helped you become an even better teacher than you already were.

RebbeccaJ said...

The teachers at our center have been asked to explore reflective journaling for a while now. Being the rebel I am it is also something I have bucked and scoffed for a while now, wanting to focus on the current moment instead of reluctantly doing what I considered 'homework.' Inspired by you I have started to do my own version of reflective writing, not really for myself but to capture the adventures, stories and other teachable moments in my classroom as a type of expanded documentation or narrative. I have written on everything from the spirituality of our classroom garden to the struggles of negotiating who will be in 'the band.' The parents have appreciated reading these narratives I post on the door once in a while and I enjoy reflecting on them for myself. In turn I have inspired our center to explore the idea of other teachers dabbling in similar narrative writing for our website. Who knows, maybe I will start my own blog? In the meantime I thoroughly enjoy reading yours. Blessed Be Teacher Tom!

Saya said...

Teacher Tom...
You are one of the most inspiring people to me, right now! Ever since I found your blog, I look forward to read your new post, and read the old posts while I'm waiting... Getting inspired and motivated! I am so glad and thankful that you started blogging, and I am soooo glad that I found your page - it had opened up a lot of different doors to wonderful blogs of others (like let the children play, teach preschool, etc etc.), which opened me up to so many ideas and possibilities to better myself as a teacher, too!

I wished I could have my own blog to talk about the class that I work in - stupid policy is in my way, and I am too darn honest to do it secretly (plus what's the fun if I couldn't share it with all my parents, especially who are deployed?) so I am still waiting for approval, so do speak...
Meanwhile I will continue to read, learn, and expand the horizons! Thank you for everything that you do!

Aunt Annie said...

Ah, the high of having readers... I also have an addiction to that jolt. Totally get what you're saying, and I've had a similar journey from egotism to professional development. Sometimes I even find myself changing my views in the middle of writing a post, having convinced myself I'm wrong by being forced to scrutinise myself publicly. Long live reflective blogging!

Teacher Tom said...

@AA . . . Oh man, I know that! In fact, when I sit down to write often all I have is a collection of photos and a few memories of what happened. I can honestly say that more often than not I have no idea what I'm going to write until it's written. I can't tell you how many high horses I've climbed down from during the writing process; how many times I've discovered that my assumptions and opinions are wrong.

And speaking as a writer . . . In traditional writing, one is supposed to start with an outline. With blogging I find, I tend to write first, then go back and find the outline hidden in my words. I probably spend more time "editing" to reveal that structure than I do writing in the first place.

Aunt Annie said...

YES, YES, YES... sometimes the last thing I write is the title of the post, because the thrust of the writing has transformed while I was writing it.

And I too am a compulsive editor! I guess that's why I enjoy your writing so much, quite apart from the content- it's so polished and well-structured. Bravo! :D

jenny said...

I'm glad you are in the blogging world Tom. You were the very first teacher blog I found that I connected to instantly - and through your posts I feel that connection each day. You have made me a better teacher by getting me THINKING and reflecting on my own teaching and the way we do things at preschool.

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