The Importance of Documentation and Reflection in Building Community
In the Cottonwood community, one of our main focuses in the beginning of the school year is community building – which is foundational to all of our other curricular work. With each new group of children, we try to make visible to them our complex process of becoming a “we”. As teachers, we know that becoming a community together can feel exciting, but can also have bumps. Children will try to make connections with one another. Many attempts seamlessly work; other efforts to reach out need adult support to feel like collaboration. To normalize the risks, successes, approximations, and oopsies of this intricate social process, and to learn about what support can look like and feel like, I make time to listen for and document the children’s initial attempts at building relationships with one another.
I have found that children seem to most concretely feel their group building trust together when the risks and courageous efforts of collaboration, joy, and problem-solving are highlighted visibly and shared back with them. Because of this, Sarah and I began putting documentation of these captured moments up on the walls in the Cottonwood room. Stories where children are listening to one another and taking a risk at making a connection in the face of uncertain outcomes.
I try to make ample space and time each day for children and teachers to notice, listen, and contemplate; to be present in moments of celebration, repair, and collaboration. It is my job to bring that back to the group, to make those moments public to the whole community. While this can feel incredibly vulnerable for some, in my practice, it has become an essential tool in helping the children and I recognize the myriad of roles that we play, the strategies used that support the whole, and the role do-overs have in a classroom culture that values approximations in all areas of learning. We revisit these pieces of documentation both as participants in the stories, but also as a person from the outside of that experience, who can learn from another.
These small moments along with others serve as building blocks, supporting our efforts to create a community culture grounded in listening and support. By continually striving to hear each other, knowing that time and space is held for you to also be heard by others, we know that we will gradually become more comfortable in the place we are each in, to be scared yet brave, and begin to see ourselves as the change-makers of our community and eventually that the world needs.
As one child shared about needing inspiration to write, “[You could] find a picture of you or your friends in the classroom, so you can remember their idea and it might inspire you to find a new idea.”
I’ve been considering…
What might the implications be of reflecting on the process of building community together? And how might those implications support this group of children to see themselves as change-makers? …in their own community? …in the greater world?