Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

Reflecting on and celebrating the work of becoming a caring learning community

As 2011 is coming to a close, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on our year together thus far and celebrate the incredible hard work of the children.  (Warning: This is a long blog post, so you might want to grab some hot tea and get in a cozy spot.  Or print it out to read when you have time, as it covers a lot of information about our first months together.)

As Teacher-Researchers, we began our year asking the questions, “Who are these children?”, “What are their stories and experiences?”, “How will we invite everyone to bring themselves fully to the community?” 

We believe that in order to explore these questions and learn about one another, we needed to stay somewhat insular.  Meaning, we wanted to stay focused on our community of 20 children and their families, with the intention of creating a shared vision of a classroom culture where trust, respect, and collaboration are central to the work and where everyone feels a sense of belonging and their experiences and perspectives are valued.  This base becomes the foundation for all that is to follow, it allows us to take great leaps together and, take new risks as we venture forward together into unexplored territory.

So how does a caring learning community develop over time?  It is by participating in the art of living and working with each other in constructive and productive ways – through playing together, wondering together, thinking together, imagining together, resolving conflicts together, creating together, listening to one another and caring for and trusting one another.  Our learning community is an organic, living system that is continually shifting and getting stronger based on new experiences, ideas and understandings from the members of the group.   As Teacher-Researchers, we are continually looking for opportunities that will support this important work.

For many children, preschool is the first community that they are a part of that is not their family community.  We invite children to bring themselves fully into the classroom.  We recognize that we all carry our own unique experiences and it is through sharing them with one another that we all become enriched.  We see this as vital to living and working productively together.

This means that we spend a lot of our time sharing our stories with one another, seeing how our stories connect to one another or how our experiences are different from one another.  When they differ, being curious and asking more questions to understand that person’s experiences and perspectives, thus creating room for opportunities to learn from one another and with each other.

We have taken these stories further still in inviting children to become part of one another’s stories, as actors and audience members, through story theater, to help bring the stories to life.  This adds an even deeper understanding of the stories for all.

We have invited the children to explore their feelings and what makes each of us angry or sad or happy.  We have asked children to consider what colors express their particular emotions and why.  Again, this invites them to play with these ideas for themselves as well as offers an opportunity for them to hear each other’s ideas and experiences and see how they are the same or different.  This is another valuable way to connect with one another.

We have explored how a variety of emotions are expressed through our faces and bodies, seeing how each of us interprets these emotions within our bodies.

Trust is an integral part of being able to bring ones’ self fully to the community.  There are those children who just trust implicitly, as their parents have selected this school and they trust their parents.  For most of us though, it is gradually gained through the multitude of moments encountered, both big and small.  Some children need to test the people within the community as a way to learn that they can trust them. 

This might look like a child testing the boundaries that we set together to see what will happen.  Will anyone notice?  How will it be handled?  For others it is in having shared experiences together, such as, eating lunch together (something that many of them have only done with their families up until now) or going on a fieldtrip, into the Arboretum or the Farmer’s Market.  For others it is in knowing that they will be cared for, as their families would care for them, in those times of sadness, such as, due to falling and getting an owie or when their feelings are hurt by a member of the community.  And for all of us it is in experiencing being listened to and seen for who we are and loved unequivocally for it.

Culture of Respect
We have spent these few months creating shared meaning for what this looks like and sounds like in our classroom and will continue to do so in the New Year.  We have had many conversations together where every member is invited to share ideas of how we want to be together as a community and how we want to treat our materials and classroom.  On a daily basis we all participate in following these agreements and have opportunities to refine our understandings of them.
We also get to practice what to do when an agreement is broken and how to repair the oopsie moment.  As the teachers, we are continually learning from the children about forgiveness and the great depths of their forgiveness towards one another.

We will end by sharing two small stories that we think highlight how we are creating shared vision of a classroom culture where trust, respect, and collaboration are central to the work and where everyone feels a sense of belonging and their experiences and perspectives are valued. 

It is not uncommon at Morning Meeting for someone to shout out that they notice so and so is missing today.  This usually gets the rest of the group looking around to see who else might be missing.  Recently at Morning Meeting, MG said, “I notice that MM is still missing.  He must be really sick.”  Then OC said, “I think we should make him a card to let him know how much we miss him.”  This idea was met with lots of shouts of agreement from everyone.  The children eagerly followed through as they contributed well wishes to be dictated, and signed the card with their name, or a drawing.

This next story also happened at Morning Meeting this past Friday.  HF was talking about the upcoming Winter Break and said that in his house he calls them “Family Days.”  He then looked at his classmates and said, “And I’m wondering what anybody else calls them at their houses?”  Almost every child’s hand went up, excited to share their family culture with this community.  Below are just a few examples of the many ways they answered this query.  What a wonderful recognition and invitation of ways we can connect through our own unique experiences.

“Mama days”
“Daddy days”
“Stay home days”
“No school days”
“Play days”
“Vacation days”

We excitedly enter 2012, knowing that this community has worked hard to become a strong learning community that cares deeply about one another.  We know that the community will only continue to grow stronger and are looking forward to where we will go, knowing it will be together, as a community.

In the New Year, we will use the blog as a place to regularly share stories of the art of living and working productively together, what it looks like and sounds like, that continue to help shape and strengthen our caring learning community.