Thursday, May 26, 2011


I take all of the pictures I use on this site with my iPhone, many without even looking into the viewfinder. I've added an application that allows me to take pictures by just tapping anywhere on the screen so I don't even need to pay attention to that.

They're snapshots in the truest sense of the word. I don't take any particular pride in my photographic ability. I have no philosophy or training or expertise or even experience. Many of them are blurry messes, but I use them anyway. In fact, I use almost every picture I take unless it's absolutely indecipherable.

I began taking photos in class at the urging of Kristin over at Preschool Daze. Now she's a real photographer, her pages full of preschool teacher eye candy that sucks you in and won't let you go. I'd commented that I was worried that having a camera between me and the kids too much of the time would diminish my teaching ability and she responded that she'd found the opposite, saying it just took a little practice, so I gave it a whirl.

She's right. I still try to keep my snapshot taking moments to a minimum, but I don't think I'd ever want to teach again without a camera in my pocket. I now spend a lot of time reviewing my photos. One of the highlights of each day, in fact, is watching the screen as the phone dumps its fresh stash into the computer. 

But I also often go back over the months and years, looking for ideas, inspiring myself, remembering success and failures. I notice new things every time, setting off on new paths of inquiry about children, parents, and teaching. It's become a centerpiece of my reflective practice as a teacher, the habit of spending some time each day simply thinking about what I'm up to, where I need to improve, and where I can take pride.

What I've noticed recently is that I'm always taking pictures of hands.

Even when I think I'm photographing something else, there are hands right at the center.

I suppose that's because hands are the "doing" part of our bodies. That's where the action is. Hands tell stories in a way that words and faces simply can't.

I don't do it on purpose, but there they are, slide after slide of hands engaged in something.

Maybe we're all doing that. I haven't taken a survey of the blogs I read. Maybe we're all documenting the hands of the children we teach. I know that parents tend to focus on the faces, asking for poses, or capturing candid expressions, but as a teacher I find those moments of cuteness far less compelling than what the hands are up to.

Hands tell the story of learning. That's where our focus is. 

Almost always, that's where our eyes are focused as well, either on our hands or on the action our hands have caused, but it's the hands that tell us where the learning is.

Hands together.

Hands alone.


If eyes are the window of the soul, then hands are the gateway of the intellect.

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Scott said...

I've got lots of hands photos, too, Tom. And if the photo has more than that, I tend to crop it to the hands. You're right - that's where the action is.

Jeanne Zuech said...

Yes! It is absolutely about the hands. Love your comments about using photography for research and reflection. I wrote "the final touch" on my zella said purple blog that connects with your perspective -
keep on snapping photos!

Meg said...

I find that in documenting the little people's work it's more important to capture the work that their hands, feet, and bodies are doing. These photos serve as a story and a place for reflection both for myself and for the little people (and their families). I always have a camera for documenting their play and the children, become used to the camera and stop posing allowing me to capture them at work. :)

pamlovesbooks said...

i was hesitant at using my camera at first, but now i, too, am addicted to it. the children love seeing their own faces instantly after i take the camera and they seem to love having someone document their creativity.

i dont know why i waited so long to use the camera. i,too, will never teach with out it again.

Teacher Tom said...

@Meg . . . Totally! I try to be an inconspicuous as possible. The camera often changes their behavior so I do my best to keep it at hip level or off to the side, somewhere where they don't know I'm taking a pic.

@PP . . . I've never shown the kids the pics while I'm taking them, but their parents sometimes show them their photos on the blog. Many of them come into school the next day and say, "Post me again!" There is one boy this year who has become a little obsessed with getting posted on the blog so I have to be extra careful he doesn't see the camera!

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

We always make sure to take a lot of photos. I also have a continued wish list for old digital cameras. The children love to take photos and be in them. The cameras have been a part of our program for so long that most of the children don't even notice them any more. They do like to have their "fashion shows" and regular "photo shoots" too where they are definitely posing for the pictures. I like to make slideshows every so often and show them. The children love to see all of the pictures. It helps them remember, reflect, and review too. I put up memory photos on Mondays for my daycare families. I started the blog for them, so prior and current families have really enjoyed looking back at them. I don't have nearly as many children as you do, but when my little ones move on I make them a photo book to take with them. The parents and the children absolutely love them!

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

Oh, I forgot to mention... Hands are definitely a big part of our photos too :). Great observation!

Deborah said...

I am just like that Tom - I always focus on what the hands are doing. I want to share the process and this is where it begins in most cases! I am also the same when it comes to my camera - I just have to have it with me in the classroom at all times. I see so many things I want to capture and when my camera is not with me - it drives me crazy!!

meli said...

your not alone Tom! If you go to Meliesque Art on Facebook you will see my hands collection of the children! I like to tell them; Our hands can do wonderful things, such as painting, building etc etc...its wonderful to add on after you have had had to say using our hands to hit hurts. And the kids love using the camera, its settled and occupied more than one unhappy child!