What matters in your setting?
Do you know why you do what you do?
Do you have a shared set of core beliefs and values that helps you to steer the ship? Or are you a motley crew of people with their own agendas or are you rowing together with the same destination in mind?
More importantly do you share the same vibe, is your “what matters, a meeting of the heart and minds of the whole team?
Let me share an example with you:
Sally is inspired by the work of Emmi Pikler, she believes in a peaceful, respectful curriculum for infants. She allows the infants in her space lots of time for uninterrupted play while she says present as the observer allowing the child to lead their own learning through play. Sally believes in following the infant’s cues for mealtimes and sleep and being flexible in her approach.
Maria believes in teacher-led learning for infants. She believes in strict routines for meals and sleep times. Maria prefers mat-times and structured table-top activities.
These two teachers work in the infant’s room together and both believe passionately in their way of doing things. However, every time Sally allows an infant to play independently on the floor while she quietly observes this really grinds at Maria – she sees Sally as lazy and neglectful. Maria thinks that Sally should use her time more wisely. Similarly, Maria’s practice really upsets Sally. Every time Maria summons the babies to mat-time or insists that all the babies need to sit at the table and eat together this results in Sally rolling her eyes saying uncomplimentary things about Maria under her breath.
The two teachers have started complaining to other teachers in the centre and are at an odds with each other. This is causing friction in the centre and creating an extremely unpleasant environment in the infant’s room. You can feel “the vibe” the minute you walk through the doors. This is having a profound effect on the children who are unsettled as a result.
Until Sally and Maria sit down together and talk through their issues and create a common vision and philosophy for the infant’s room there is always going to be discord and issues with camaraderie within this team.
It is likely that Sally and Maria if they are to work together they will need some support and professional develop to reach a place of empathy and mutual respect grounded in what is best for the children in their place. There is likely to be some conversation, unpacking of beliefs and values and some compromise from both parties in order to work together as a team. The two teachers might need to unearth the values that they have in common – and focus on the things that bind them together instead of focusing on the things that will tear them apart.
Having this courageous conversation might seem daunting to both parties. However, the consequence of not having a shared understanding of “what matters”, is that each teacher will wage a war with-in herself and that the team, the emotional hygiene of the centre and the children will suffer because of it. This is also not great for the teachers themselves because this is causing upset, anger and stress which robs them of their peace, passion and joy.
Why we should decide what matters?
This concept of “what matters” although it has it’s roots in the philosophy, spans much wider and deeper than just philosophy. “What matters” is not just merely a statement of what we value but speaks to the core of who we are as a service, as a team and as a community.
We are now two years on from the publishing of the latest iteration of our Early Childhood Curriculum – Te Whāriki. This is an incredibly deep document and as a profession we are still unpacking it fully.
One of the differences in the new document is the importance that it places on each service using the curriculum framework to weave a localised curriculum of “what matters”.
“Te Whāriki interprets the notion of curriculum broadly, taking it to include all the experiences, activities and events, both direct and indirect, that occur within the ECE setting. It provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes that foregrounds the mana of the child and the importance of respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships. This framework provides a basis for each setting to weave a local curriculum that reflects its own distinctive character and values.”
Te Whariki, Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 7
The localised curriculum is informed by the priorities of learning within the setting and can and does differ greatly dependent on the values, beliefs and philosophy of the people in a setting. This should take into account “what matters” not only for teachers but also for children, whanau, hapu, iwi and the community. When considering the holistic development of the child we need to consider the child within the context of the whanau and through the lens of their culture.
“Curriculum and pedagogy recognise that family and community are integral to learning and development, with every child situated within a set of nestled contexts that includes not only the ECE setting but also the home, the whanau, community and beyond”
Te Whāriki, Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 60
Many services have an informal “what matters” that is assumed. However, I would like to challenge you in that until you have unpacked this fully as a learning community and have developed a shared understanding of what this means for everyone invested, you will never achieve synergy within your team.
Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – Let us keep close together not far apart.
Having a shared understanding of “what matters” is at the foundation of all assessment, planning, documentation, professional discussions as well as our intentions a teachers. Your shared understanding of “what matters” acts as a foundation from which all meaningful learning can unfold.
How do you decide what matters?
When you think about your place, what would you consider to be the what defines your setting, the people there and the learning for the children?
What makes you special?
Does everyone in your setting have the same view?
I would like you to think about the following questions when I unpacking this for yourself:
- How are you deciding what matters? (Who do you involve – whose voices are we including?)
Here you might like to think your philosophy as well as how you are including the children, their whanau aspirations and the community? You might consider the theories that underpin your practice as well as the cultures of the children in your place and how this might influence your curriculum design.
This might entail asking yourselves and the other members of the learning community :
How do we view children as learners and leaders in their own learning?
What world do they live in and will be inheriting?
What do we think is important for them to learn?
How do we think that they should learn this?
- How do you ensure a shared understanding of what matters?
When we are considering this question is important that we are not just considering teachers. We should consider children’s voice, as well as the views and aspirations of whanau, hapu, iwi and the local community.
We need to decide:
How are we leading this?
What is the intentions of those leading this and how are we collating everyone’s understanding and making sense of this?
Is the lens that we are using to create a shared understanding inclusive and equitable for everyone?
How are we communicating about this within the setting?
It is important to consider that just as our children are all different and learn in different ways, so do our parents. You might need to consider the dispositions and communication style of the families in your setting and to be flexible and adapt your approach in order to connect with them.
You might gain a better understanding of what this means for whanau through informal conversations where you share ideas. Or you might use more formal channels such as parent evenings, emails, surveys or assessment documentation.
You might want to prompt your parents and whanau with a few questions such as:
In our family we value…
The qualities that I would like my child to possess are…
When my child finishes at (service name), I would like them to….
When think about my child being a successful adult, I would like them to be….
As a team you would discuss this when reviewing your philosophy, completing The Quality Practice Template, engaging in professional development or through unpacking the principles and strands of Te Whāriki together.
“Being grounded in your educational aspirations and intentions will determine the types of experiences children and their families will have in your service. Whether you are a home-based service, playcentre, kindergarten, kohanga reo, or early childhood centre, having a clear philosophy is a way of guiding thoughtful practice and preserving the ethos of your setting.”
Christie,T. Loader, M. Childspace, 2017.
- How is this reflected in your practice and documentation?
Here I would like you to consider how do put this shared understanding into practice?
You might like to think about how this shared understanding is interwoven into the fabric of who you are and how you communicate within your setting.
How does this influence what you bring, what you do and the outcomes for children?
What matters should be interwoven into core documents for your setting such as your philosophy, strategic plan, internal evaluation, position descriptions, appraisal, policies, assessment, planning, documentation and curriculum design. How has this influenced your leading documents how is this being put into practice in your setting?
How are we using Te Whāriki?
Are these just documents that we aspire to in theory or are they living breathing documents?
Are we aware of how we are enacting our shared understanding within our practice and how this is been evidenced?
Differences in how we interpret “what matters” as well as how this looks for everyone involved can vary from person to person depending on personal experiences and life context and this can be confusing. It is important for us to regularly revisit “what matters”, using this as a reflection tool and to talk to each other about it.
One way that you might do this is to create indicators of practice for what it will look like if you are in fact living your philosophy. This would serve to create an awareness of who you are and what you value as a community and how this is being enacted in everyday practice. You could use this as a base-line in your conversations with each other and parents. You might create a photograph display with examples of your philosophy “in action” which would make these indicators visible and could help you to communicate these concepts to children and their whanau.
Where to from here?
Having a shared understanding or who we are – our philosophy and our vision, provides the purpose from which teachers and whanau can work together in order to allow all learning to unfold. This gives our children a solid foundation on which to stand as they navigate their learning pathways into the future and beyond.
You might want to reflect on some of this within the context of your own setting and unpack some of these questions with the members of your learning community.
Where are you on your making sense journey of “what matters” to you? I would love to hear from you. If you need some support along any stage for you and your team contact me for some tailor made professional development.
Until next time.
Ministry of Education, (2017), Te Whariki – Early Childhood Curriculum.
Loader, M., Christie, T. (2017), Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood.