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

Teaching and Learning: A Reciprocal Exchange

One day last week, we invited the children to capture in their journals some sneak peeks from the stories in their lives they had been sharing.  As we invited one child to capture his story about climbing a ladder with his dad at home, he hesitated, "But I don't know how to draw a ladder." 

Hearing this, a nearby child offered, "You start with two lines down and then connect them with little lines going across like this," as his finger dashed out horizontal marks in the air between them. 

Doubtful, yet drawn in by the gentle coaching of his peer, the first child sat down and began to "have a go".  When we say at Opal School that we promote a social-constructivist approach to learning, this story that follows is an example of what we mean.041Listening in, I was struck by two things–the gift of vulnerability and courage of the first child and his willingness to accept the coaching of the second child.

I was also struck by the second child's trust in seeing himself as a resouce, allowing the other the gift of being mentored.  He gently leaned in and offered advice, but did not offer immediately to do it for him.  There was no judgement, just a suggestion of how he might begin, and a simple, "That's good," as he proceeded.

The next hurdle came as the first child attempted to add himself on the ladder, "I'm not really good at drawing people," he said.


"Start with a circle for the head, then draw lines out to the side for  your arms like this," the other replied wiht more finger sweeps in the air.


The first child continues sighing and pausing. 

"It's hard isn't it?" The second child offers, then adds, "Do you want me to show you?"



Gently taking the pen, he adds on arm, reaching for the next rung on the ladder.


The first child considers this gesture, and picks up the pen again.


Together they consider how to add his legs.  I'm noticing the expression on the first child's face as it shifts and changes. From doubt to interest, determination and to joy.

052 054 055 056 058 059 062

As the first child takes the pen back into his hand again, the second child suddenly pauses and says, "What do you want to draw?  You should just do what you want to do."  Both boys smile at this idea and with this last bit of advice, the second child eases away while the first child completes his drawing: 081

The second child does not go far, however.  He decides to check in with others, and while listening to their stories, decides he will capture them in "writing", repeating back their words as they are spoken to him.



As they spoke, he nodded, encouraged, and remarked, "that's great, good story, wow, you did that?" 

Here are a few of their stories as he has captured them:



Again I reflect on the implications of what has just happened.  More than capturing their stories, he took time to listen, give back their words and they in turn were willing to share their stories with him.  I can't help but wonder how their responsiveness to him communicated this idea that he can take on a meaningful leadership role.  And what gift in return did he give to them through his own encouragement? 

Here is teaching and learning at it's best.  When I think of what I need to be able to learn, it takes courage, willingness, openness to ideas and vulnerability.  When I think of what it takes to lead, it takes empathy, flexibility, responsiveness, and encouragement.  These children do this so naturally.  There is so much we can learn from them, and I can't help but wonder about the meaning these experiences hold for them as they continue to grow into their roles as learners and teachers.

It is one thing to look back on this story and consider the experiences of the individuals, and what they have both gained and received from this encounter.  When we choose,however to consider that they both came away as competent, powerful learners, and consider the implications this has for our learning community as a whole, we see possibilities and further our inquiry into the merits of relationship-based education.

December 05, 2013