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Hi I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.
In this week’s episode we explore how the simple concept of opening yourself up to change and challenging your beliefs as an early childhood educator can have a significant impact on your relationships with children. While all early childhood educators want to do what is best for children and often feel as though they are doing what is best for children, reflecting on your practices both as an individual and with your peers is a liberating experience. We speak with Tanya Farzaneh, an Early Childhood Educator and Teacher at Seneca College in Toronto. We discuss the impact that the How Does Learning Happen document has had in Ontario by guiding child care and early learning programs to be reflective, but we also discuss how to implement theory in practice with leadership and accountability.
Tanya, welcome to the show. It’s so great to have you on the preschool podcast. I always like to start things off. Just having our listeners learn a little bit more about you and your background so maybe you can tell us about how you got into early childhood education and why you’re so passionate about it.
So among those other foundations there is wellbeing which is looking at the holistic development of the child, so the physical, mental, and the spiritual connection with the children. It also asks us to consider engagement for children being fully engaged in their experiences. And so that again if we’re really looking at delving in a little bit deeper this document can help us see and yes we are supporting skills but are they inquired in you know inquiring are they researching in the classrooms. Are they building their own knowledge. And then the other last foundation is expression and so really fundamental to children’s learning is you know communicating and how are they being heard. And I think often as educators we think we are listening or hearing children in but really have to kind of look at our practice and are we in fact truly listening. All of these we see as interconnected you know one dependent upon the other. The guide, the resource guide How Does Learning Happen asks us to reflect and collaborate, to look at the environment and documentation and all of these things that really is reflective practice. And I think that is a great catalyst for change for us as educators particularly for us.
We’ve seen it help support us in our work in the Lab School. We are a Reggio inspired center. And so a lot of these fun foundations for learning really connected with us and they resonated with us but they also asked us to look a little bit deeper. It’s a great resource especially for teachers educators that are looking to change or looking to improve their practice to make connections between what they believe the theory of learning and then to reflect on it to see if they really are in fact following through with them.
One of the things I wanted to follow up with you on was something you mentioned which was the document has helped you ensure that you’re doing what’s best for children or reflect on the question of are we doing what’s best for children. But aren’t you always doing that?
I think we think we are. And I think, to be as honest as I can be, I think that I think all educators or most educators are with working with children because they really do want to support them. They believe that they’re doing the best that they can for children. But I think sometimes when I think through reflective practice and some of the questions in this document challenge us to look deeper at that. But I think when we do look a little bit deeper it can be real support us and change. We look at our self we look at our beliefs our values and do these actually in fact align. So what I say what I believe and is this really what I’m doing .
I’d ask my students in class constantly you know while we’re developing a personal teaching of philosophy and learning is it what I’m doing in the classroom the things that I ask of children and the way I set up my environment or the planning and the curriculum is really a reflection of my views and sometimes we get so busy in our day and we get lost in the transitions in the work of our in the mountains work that we have that we don’t have time to sit and reflect about these things that are really fundamental important to learning. And I think this document has supported us in looking a little bit deeper asking educators to dig deep to look at you know what are we doing why are we doing it. And is this really connecting and reflecting what we believe.
Interesting now one of the things that I might say the document is, is quite bold. It’s quite a big step forward for a lot of talk here in early learning programs and I think maybe at a lab school as Seneca you might be a little bit more progressive. I know you mentioned it was sort of an affirmation of what you’ve already known. But there’s other child care problems that might not be as progressive in terms of their practices and being you know Reggio inspired for example implementing immersion curriculum into their programs and for them it might be a little bit more challenging and I know you mentioned theory to practice and I think that’s something that might be challenging for people with this. So do you have any suggestions for other educators in Ontario or other places where they’re trying to be a bit more reflective in their practice about what that actually means. How do I apply this?
– Mm hmm. I think yes I think from ourselves here in the lab schools is that we’ve been on a continuous journey of change. And so and I think being open to change is one of the first steps is to realize that we’re all learning. So children are learning and so are we as educators. And there’s nothing wrong with not knowing everything about the field about children about you know how to program. And because I think with every group of children with every teaching partner it changes and so we’re changing. You know I laugh when my co-worker that I work with my team partner you know I say to her I’m not the same teacher I was last week let alone you know 20 years ago and thank goodness because I’m changing and growing.
So I think one of the first steps to effective practice to change is to look within look within and start letting go of some old ideas and beliefs. We started this many years ago but it’s been a it’s been a slow progress as well. So often I tell students when they’re coming in from their field work and they may be frustrated because they’re saying I. You’re telling us this in theory but I’m not seeing it in practice and what we do. And so there is that need that I think educators have to challenge those long held beliefs. And sometimes I call them you know the Urban Legends of Child Care. You know we say we have to do one thing and order. Children are not allowed to walk up the slide or climb up the slide. And so to start challenging those kind of long held beliefs that children are telling us what they need and we should be listening to that. I asked you know students and my colleagues and so on what is our image of the child for instance what is our image of the teacher and families and you know challenge one another.
I think as well, you know going in and asking is our curriculum truly for instance emergent or whatever philosophy we’re prescribed to you know is it child based child lead and how do we know this. How do others know this. How is this visible as others. If they were to come in and I think once we start looking at that and really honestly reflecting and sometimes challenging one another it’s not always easy and sometimes we rock the boat, but that’s change and change is sometimes difficult but the benefits of it. And to see the learning that transpires for not only children but for staff as well it can be liberating it can be freeing. There’s a lot of benefits to kind of digging in and seeing the potential of growth for all.
Yeah it’s it sounds like what you’re saying is that a lot of it is really just changing your point of view or your frame of mind to look at things and think about things in a new and different ways. Is that is that right?
– I think so and I think just like this document and many other early learning frameworks are asking us to do this now they’re asking us to have the desire to change and to grow as reflective practitioners. We’re constantly changing hopefully to seek a higher standard. You know for ourselves and for the children and families that we care for. And I think we’re happy with the Roggio. I mean sorry with the How does learning happen document was because the principles resonated with us. But I think they can resonate for many because we do all want hopefully what’s best for young children and this document as well as others are asking us to hold common beliefs. And so to see those connections among all of us as educators and there’s many different principles that are outlined in within this document that support kind of a shared belief based on research based on what we know how children learn that we can have a common language a common understanding. So I think in and of itself is enough reason to want to change to be better to raise our standards.
And what do you think is a part of this change that has affected you most?
The tough one there’s many. I think one of one of the most significant ones I think would probably be the image of the child and I see this often and I see this with colleagues or people in the field that we consult with. And so on so educators may say if you asked What is your image of the child and there’s varying views and many of us have read many documents this document in itself or if you read behind Roggio inspired teaching and learning they’ll say the image of the child is one of capable competent creative resourceful and so on and so forth. But when we look at someone in practice and we say OK you say this but what does that look like when in the classroom when you’re for instance pouring the milk for the child or putting on their shoes or a child wants to climb up the slide. And you’re saying no we’re on furniture. How can we turn that around so that if you are saying in your actions, yes I see you as capable. I see you as competent. So there has to be that transparency in our classroom.
And I think you build that in to the culture of the class when we look at our views when we examine them and say why am I saying no and how can I make this no a yes. In terms of the image of the child I think and for us that was huge a huge turn in our philosophy is looking at. OK. So we say this but when we do this it’s not a reflection of the view of a competent capable child and many staff were a little bit ruffled in the feathers and many were unsettled by it. But with a little bit more discussion and respectful discussion we all have different views. We all have different opinions but there’s hope to come together to have some consensus some mutual understanding so for us we looked at the competent child and the image of the child and challenge one another and one summer many years ago we read online and that’s another piece to kind of getting out there and being open to other perspectives and that there are others in the community. And so we read a challenge online about what’s one rule you’d let go of and it goes with the image of the child. And so all of us came in and we had different rules. And so one of them for me was like can’t they walk up the slide. You know they’re telling us what they need. And so some staffers say it’s not safe it’s not that she wasn’t telling us what they need.
So that became a huge kind of inquiry for us as practitioners, the children climbed up the slide. They were successful. They were happy. They felt empowered. They felt capable competent. That’s a direct reflection of that view. And so that little change sparked many many changes along the way. And to this day we still challenge one another. We’re in a comfortable place now someone most of the time to say that’s not quite a reflection of our views. I went to a workshop with the wonder of learning downtown in Toronto they’re hosting the wonder of learning exhibit and one of the presenters there had said we need to be held accountable to this image so if we say you know I view children as capable competent whatever it may be then we should be held accountable to them. So everything we do should be a reflection of that view.
And I think accountable is actually a very key part of this equation. And it sounds like what you’ve done at the Lab School at Seneca is as colleges you hold each other accountable. What it sounds like to me based on your discussions with how you’re putting theory into practice at the school.
Yeah. I think so that we do hold each other accountable we have good respectful relationships and we come from the intention of we’re developing and grow and we’re trying to expand and extend our program and to put our theory into practice to be visible to our community because our community is quite large with students with visitors with our faculty and so on our families. And so yeah there is that accountability for sure and our end to model you know the best that we can. In early childhood education and for some it’s a difficult shift to let go and I know many in the field have a problem sometimes they’re letting go of power it could be scary. We don’t know the in the end. It’s there’s uncertainty.
But I think trusting in children and knowing that they will show us what they need and they will tell us in many ways and challenge us perhaps but often what happens is often teachers will push back and say no right to children and don’t climb that or don’t do this and this is you know it’s not safe and all of those things. But we need to find ways to say yes we do. Children again feel empowered. They feel that sense of competency they own it. And I think we saw that in our children and that kind of propelled us even further. So we’re letting go. We’re you know releasing some of that power. And when we share power in the classroom with children they rise.
Yeah I really liked your example of walking up the slide. It’s such a visual thing to it’s just the thing. No you’re supposed to go down the slide. That’s the whole thing. You hear it all the time you hear it like that.
It’s like an urban legend like who made it up and why. And yeah maybe they’ll bump their head the first time a slight little bump and it won’t be you know major but they’ll learn they know they’ll learn and they’ll get up and try again and that’s part of learning.
What I’m trying to understand is the point that you’ve brought up a couple of times around theory to practice and how do you how do you close that gap of what you’re saying is your image of the child and what you’re actually doing in the classroom and you know holding each other accountable sounds like something you’re doing. And then also it sounds like another key aspect for you is seeing the results of the changes you’re making in the children themselves seeing them feeling empowered and the impact that that has, right.
Yeah. It’s a reciprocal relationship so all of those things are happening you know together as one. And you see the changes within the children and you see them within the adults and the student teachers and our families even because we document all of these things and we reflect on it and we’re sharing this growth our growth with our community here. And so it trickles out and then someone else might say OK maybe I’ll let go of a child pouring paint onto their hands or applying it to their hands and then we see the creative potential that’s released through that and then it catches on and we see the joy in learning we see the wonder and the fun that comes back into the classroom as well. Children are joyful, educators are joyful. And this is this is how learning happens.
Absolutely. And what role do you think administrators play in this because I would imagine that it would be very difficult to make these types of changes successfully without the leadership of the programs being a 100 percent on board with us behind it.
And I think that that’s a challenge for sure. And I think particularly if your director or your supervisor or whoever it is doesn’t see the value in that. And I think that for us, we’ve been fairly lucky we’ve had some resistance here and there. But that was part of their change as well. So their process of change and so many of what a lot of what we did was document this process to share this you know the triumphs the victories the wow look at this moment of learning look at the face of this child in this photo when he made the top of the slide. We actually have a video of one particular boy making it up. And the joy. And when he finally reached the top and his peers screaming and clapping it was it was truly you know one of those. And so kind of sharing those with you know the governing bodies the people who are in charge I think can help us.
And so we’re making you know, risk assessment so we’re not putting children in danger and all of those things. But we know and we trust that children will tell us what they need. And I think communicating and discussing these things. We have monthly staff meetings where we bring up issues and to have discussions about curriculum and pedagogy and all of these different things and having open communication can support that. There will be resistance along the way I think that’s part of change as well. But being open and flexible and sharing through you know documentation even with families who sometimes might think Oh is that safe is that safe when we watch we supervise to make sure children are still safe. But there needs to be their voice in the program as well.
So that’s a good point you raise about families because they’re another key stakeholder here as well. And how are you involving in engaging families in this process at the lab school?
Well we have relationships in general are a huge piece of our philosophy here. Some of what comes from Reggio as well as being Reggio inspired by our families are part of our program in every way we can bring them in. I think daily and encounters with respectful relationships are key in our whole learning environment but particularly with our families they’re welcome into our program whenever they like. They say often they’re invited to play. We are inviting our families in to share that with them through documentation as well and we do a lot of documenting in children’s portfolios journeys of learning we call them that we share with family so they’re continually a part of the learning the learning journey of the children. They have a voice in the center. They have opportunities to share what’s been going on how they interpret the learning and all of that as well. So it’s a real mutual reciprocal relationship between families and that’s one of our goals is it’s not just about you need diapers and wipes today and you forgot the hat and you know all of those things. I think that can cause a disengagement. But when you genuinely share your child’s learning and how you’re supporting them and the joys of it throughout the day I think that builds connections and relationships.
Yeah and that’s something that’s come up in this podcast before as well in terms of almost educating the parents on you know what you do as early childhood educators. And you know what is Roggio inspired practice. What is your image of the child and how are you implementing that in the classroom. I think is very important for them to know those types of things. Because a lot of parents quite frankly aren’t familiar with a lot of these concepts.
And so when families are originally coming to register or doing tours like we spend a lot of time explaining our pedagogy our philosophies because they might not be right for them. And that’s OK you know. And so we talked about you know that we believe children are capable of comprehending they may try this and our environment is really rich and full of potential and this is why it set out this way and we have a lot of natural materials in nature and because it’s you know it’s a passion of ours and we want to connect children to nature. So we go through all of these things and with them and they can ultimately decide if we match with their values and beliefs. Some families we will spend more time on you know children’s expression or there 100 languages to help support families in understanding perhaps how their child learns or how their child expresses themselves. So there is a lot of investment in that in talking to families and building those relationships and their understanding of our pedagogy and our philosophy because ultimately they become you know excited and enthusiastic and their child hears it and the child sees the relationship too as well between teacher or a teacher and parent.
Yeah. I mean at the end of the day you can’t really go wrong with transparency in my view because you’re just sort of showing as it is. Now you mentioned 100 languages of children.
Was any mean hundred languages of children so it comes from the philosophy of Reggio and so essentially it’s looking at children and belief in children having a hundred languages so a hundred ways of knowing and seeing and expressing or understanding their world and so it’s not a one shoe fits all so all the children need to write through all that should or need to do that for that. And so there’s opportunities like we value the opportunities to discover each child hundred so they all have different strengths and so we’ve in the past we’ve done just recently we explored a project where we wanted to you know dig deeper and in understanding each child and we had children in our program. One was just an artist and you could see it coming out of her constantly and everything she did. And she was very sincere in her art but beautiful art. And we had two other children that were musical and that we created you know music to liaise you know big huge music rooms for them to create with music. We even had runners that that was his way of expressing himself.
So it’s kind of just deepening your understanding with children and deepens that relationship with them. I think when we began to listen to understand to understand the more I think that helped again build our curriculum build our understanding of the child of the 100 languages of children. It’s a beautiful poem if anyone it’s written by a Loris Malaguzzi (http://www.chevychasereggio.com/poem.htm)and it’s just a metaphor for children’s many ways of teaching.
Very cool and it sounds very rewarding. So that’s great because I think that’s why a lot of early childhood educators become early childhood educators in the first place is to see all their work transitioning over to the child benefiting in one way shape or form and hopefully in many ways that’s very neat. One of the things that you talked about a little bit was the importance of getting engaged with the wider community of early childhood educators whether that be in your center or online as well. Where do you go to get information about what’s happening in early childhood education around you?
I’m a part of a few professional organizations so the Ontario Reggio Association for one I’m also a volunteer there. I volunteer at the York Region Nature Collaborative which is organization connecting children to nature. I also do a lot and this is only been more recently because I was never very tech savvy so for those that are a little nervous about that it’s quite easy. Facebook groups blogs, there’s a huge world out there and so you can find your interests in whatever pedagogy or interest in teaching and learning and there’s so many communities that I call them communities of practice where you really can support one another ask questions you deepen your learning and so you get exposed to many more and different points of views and perspectives and that we bring back into our into our environment as well. We also are out in the community trying to share our work with you know other educators and conferences or workshops to support others and learn their learning as well.
So I think it’s important.
Awesome. Also, what excites you most about what’s happening in early childhood education right now?
I think one of the things that is exciting you the most is this huge move towards connecting children to nature. I think I actually wrote my MRP on that. And I think there’s a lot of connections to you know connecting children to nature. We know it’s important we know they’re not getting enough time in nature and they’re losing that connection with it. And so I think that’s really really significant there’s a lot of information for schools and even just some of the connections between forest school and Reggio practice is really significant. So I actually did my MRP on connecting children in natural outdoor playscapes with the Reggio kind of lens that just you know the use of classrooms or doors. And so you know nature inspired classrooms out on the playground rather So kind of reconstructing and looking at our play spaces outdoors as actual learning environments rather than a place to burn off steam which is fine we all need that. But I think there’s so much potential in the outdoor environment that we often overlook. And so I think there’s a big kind of move towards that. And there’s real potential to see where that will go in terms of the learning environment. Here we place equal value on our outdoor learning environment so we have made kitchens outside and block building and art and music and all types of things because we see the value of that and some children resonate with that and we plant gardens and all of that so I think that’s a big trend that’s up and coming we’ve been doing it for many years. But it’s nice to see that others are seeing the importance of connecting children to nature.
Yeah a lot of people are talking about that right now. And it’s one of the I like it’s one of those things where you think why did why weren’t we doing this before. It just makes so much sense.
Right. I think we were lost a little bit in terms of trying you know all the phonics and all the other things that we forgot about. You know one significant piece where they need to they need to have a connection with ecological identity with their place.
Yeah it was almost like exactly what I think you said it almost perfectly was like you just like put up a little playground thing and then you tell the kids to go outside and sort of burn all their energy.
Right. And that’s another place for teachers to kind of reflect on my standing on the sidelines with my arms crossed the children run. Or is this or am I missing this opportunity to really engage or floor where there another natural place or just outside of our playground walls. And I think we get so stuck in the same routines that we forget. And I think there’s so many opportunities you know to take children out and to expose them right to their own environment.
So very exciting stuff that’s happening in Ontario at the Lab School at sonic. Perhaps some people may want to get in touch with you to learn more about how you’ve implemented. How does learning happen and read you inspire practice at Seneca if people wanted to find you online What’s the best way for them to find you?
They can look me up on Facebook. So it’s just Tanya Farzaneh. I also have a Pinterest account which is Tanya Farzaneh as well. And they can e-mail me at Tanya.Farzaneh@Senecacollege.ca.
Awesome Tanya. Thanks so much for coming on the show today. It’s been wonderful learning more about how you are implementing How Does Learning Happen at Seneca and following a regimen inspire practice that is holding everyone accountable. And you’re seeing the results of that work and it’s super exciting to me to see how you are moving theory into practice. Very exciting stuff. Thanks so much.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.