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Listening With Intention to Go Big

Listening With Intention to Go Big

The weeks leading up to Winter Break provide teachers with a unique opportunity to pause and reflect on the work that our learning communities have been so immersed in. Our recent staff meetings have been structured to support this processing. We have been exploring how we might support the children in our respective learning communities to “go big” this year.

In Feeling Big, Kerry wrote:

“As an educator, I hold an image of young children as capable, competent, and full of gifts that the world needs. In contrast, young children have the least amount of power in our society and oftentimes are reductively viewed as cute, small, incomplete, or a future resource. Ben Mardell suggested that it is the context children are in that make them feel big or small — to themselves and to the adults around them.”

My conversations with colleagues – and rereading Kerry’s post – leaves me wondering what it will look like for the kindergarten and first grade children in Cottonwood Community to “go big” this year. The children are filled with ideas, curiosities, and theories about the natural world and we teachers are searching for threads that connect their ideas so we can construct and expand these new, bigger ideas  together.

As the children have begun to notice and wonder about each other’s differences, we have been bringing them mentor texts and creating space for conversation around diversity. We have read books together like Each Kindness, Sparkle Boy, We Came to America, and Skin Again and had conversations about gender identity and pronouns, skin color, exclusion, and inclusion.

I found myself paying attention when the children said things like:

“You can tell if someone is a girl or boy by how long their nose is.”

“Sometimes the problem is that people only want one kind of person [in a group]. They want everyone to be the same.”

“It makes me feel sad [if a boy feels like they can’t wear a dress] because the person…just wants to be free.”

“It doesn’t matter if we’re different! We can be friends.”

“If we were all the same it would be so weird. We wouldn’t be like ourselves…we wouldn’t have different personalities. We’d be clones. Who wants to live in a school where everyone is the same?”

“Your skin color matters a little bit for who you are, but it’s not the only thing. Does anyone in the world even have the same skin color?”

“My mom’s skin is different than mine, even my dad’s is different than mine!”

Alongside these conversations, questions, and theories, the children have continued to build relationships with the natural world. We have practiced slowing down to notice and observe nature, growing connections with specific trees in Hoyt Arboretum, and reflecting on the connections that they have been making following hikes. After reading Tell Me, Tree, the children began to personify trees. They connected the bark to human skin, leaves to hair, sap to blood, branches to arms, and roots to feet. We asked them to draw themselves as trees and to draw their favorite tree in the arboretum as a human. We noticed that this specific group of children are caretakers: they have many wonderings about the experiences of living things in the natural world.

I heard them saying:

“If something can’t talk, how do you know what it’s feeling?”

“Does a tree feel it when there’s a bird’s nest inside?”

“What are all the colors of the forest?”

“Some people can live in [trees]. If you’re homeless you can stay near a tree! It’s easier to live because there are more trees around you and…there are hikers and other homeless people around. People know where to find you.”

While looking closely: “Brown moss is like a whole forest!”

“Can a world even exist without trees?”

It is exciting to puzzle with the children over their complex, thoughtful questions and theories. And, simultaneously, the number of possible threads we could follow, connections we could make together, and ways that we might move towards going big can be quite overwhelming! Lately, the possibilities have felt endless. Making a choice to follow a thread has left me worried about what important ideas we might leave behind!

At our staff meeting last week I shared about all the balls it seemed we had in the air and my worry that I wasn’t supporting the children to make the connections they needed to be making. Afterwards, Mary Gage asked me, “What are you hearing from the children?” Her question felt like a breath of fresh air and an invitation to step back. It reminded me that, in moments of overwhelming possibility, reviewing our yearly intentions and listening with these intentions as a lens provides clarity.

The overarching research question that the primary team has this year is:

How might nurturing our relationship with the natural world support empathy and agency?

After Winter Break, with this guiding question at the forefront, I will be paying attention to:

  • What I notice the children returning to and growing relationship with in the natural world
  • Moments when I see the children care-taking and opportunities to use these moments to more deeply understand and practice empathy
  • The questions that the children are raising regarding experiences of living things outside of themselves and moments when this naturally invites perspective taking
  • Times I notice the children energized to take action and the possibilities this might present for us to practice taking agency

And as I focus, I’ll keep asking: How are the children pointing the way to how we might “go big” and bring their ideas into the world?

Reader, I’d like to hear from you. Within your learning communities,

What clarity do you find when your intentions serve as a filter through which you’re listening to the children?

What boundaries do you see as an adult where children only find possibilities? How will you challenge these?

How do you hear the children in your learning community imagining “going big” this year?