Thursday, January 10, 2019


I’ve been either a parent or a teacher in a cooperative preschool for more than two decades. As a parent working in the classroom, one of the teacher’s main instructions was to avoid chatting with the other parents during class. This was the children’s time, we were told, and that’s where our focus ought to be. When I later became a teacher in my own right, I carried this ethic forward to Woodland Park and it continues to be a part of my annual Fall Orientation banter to start the school year.

A couple nights ago, at a monthly parent meeting, I was talking with the father of both one of my current students as well as a former student who is now in elementary school. Normally, his wife represents the family as a parent-teacher, but he occasionally fills in for her when she has other obligations. He said, “The first time I was going to work in class, she warned me that whatever I do, don’t chat with the other parents. Teacher Tom will yell at you.” Now this was some six years ago, but I’m still pretty confident that I hadn’t made a habit of yelling at anyone, especially around the school, but it is possible, nay likely, that I was sometimes a bit scold-y, or perhaps even passive-aggressively judge-y when I perceived that classroom parents weren’t, in my view, sufficiently focused on the kids.

Reflecting on this exchange, I realized that I can honestly say that I no longer feel the way my younger self did. Sure, I still habitually give it lip service, but the truth is that when parents chat with one another during class these days, I tend to be rather pleased as long as their conversations don’t take over the class. Indeed, I even join in sometimes, chatting about movies, restaurants, or politics.

Sure, they’re not fully focused on the kids, but I’ve come to fully embrace the promise of the cooperative model: that we are not just a place for children, but rather for entire families. In our school, the parents are every bit as important as the kids: they are there to learn as well, to make friends, to create community, which is exactly why the children are there. It serves all of us, especially the children, when we spend our time amongst good neighbors, good colleagues, and chatting is a big part of how that happens.

The cooperative model is, at it’s core, the model of a village, the kind required to successfully raise a child. It’s how children have been raised and educated throughout most of human existence, not as precious pearls, but as fellow villagers, living, working, learning, and playing alongside their neighbors, both other children and adults. And in all honesty, the last thing children need is a roomful of adults ignoring one another to place themselves in silent service to the kids: I can think of few things more oppressive. No, much better I think is a village in which children and adults strive and thrive together as fellow citizens.

Neighborly chatting is how we get to know and trust one another: it is in many ways the foundation upon which civilization is built.

(If you're interested in learning more about cooperative preschools click here. I've written a five part series of posts with my best thinking on the topic. You'll want to read the posts from the bottom up, the order in which they were published.)

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