“Far beyond the reach of my sight, I know the answer must be there...”
Inner Space, Chain Wallet
One of the perpetual difficulties in education is creating, sustaining and growing parental connections. It always seems to start so well and then, over time, parents seem to disappear from view, possibly washing up to the school’s shore three times a year for parent meetings which both sides probably find artificial and slightly tiresome.
As a teacher, I strived very hard to create strong bonds with parents being as they are the First Teacher but also because I failed in my own parenting to pursue a true understanding of my children’s school experiences and felt that I didn’t want to repeat that for parents ‘in my care’.
It’s a fine line however. I think all too often in Early Years we can get bogged down with recording observations for our parents so they can see what’s happening which then over-shadows the true purpose of observational practice. It’s like we take photos to ‘prove’ experiences rather than truly connect to growth.
Connections with parents can often suffer because parents bring with them emotional baggage and ghosts from the past based around their own school experiences and distrusts. Breaking these down can prove challenging though it’s my experience that once play takes hold amongst the children, once that door is opened to the magic realm then parents begin to thaw and start their own journey into the children’s world.
So it was a real sense of wonder and dare I say a little sprinkle of man-crushing that Teacher Tom took centrestage at Play On Athens. There, right before me was a man who had for several years, through his passionate and insicive blogs, acted as a signpost to go further and deeper into the magic of children.
And in the flesh, Teacher Tom did not disappoint. Articulate, witty and coruscating where need be, Teacher Tom shared the delights of his cooperative preschool, its boundless ability to ensure that children were truly at the heart and its commitment to play, wonder and genuine co-researching. Such faith in children. Such belief in their curiosity and capability. Here was an authentic voice for children - a rallying cry for children’s right to explore, create and collaborate for their own purpose, their own design.
In amongst the stories and the passion however there lay a central tenet that resonated hugely with me. It was the concept of the cooperative education model, the organisation run by and with the parental body employing the educator to bring their own magic self in to their children’s realm.
Yes, the red cloak was in attendance at the conference and yes, the children’s experience daily experience is second-to-none. But what resonated was the commitment from the parents to engage and regularly volunteer time to come into the setting to play and collaborate with the children, to truly get to know them, to truly grasp Teacher Tom’s pedagogy and view of who children are and what they are capable of if only we’d allow them.
This buy-in creates a closeness that I can only envy, but can at least strive for. The consistency, the clarity, the interaction - so no child is seen as greater than another, that a community of parents can gather round its collective children and enable them in their dreams and ambitions. This was the beauty of Teacher Tom - not the good looks, not the chat-ability, not even the fact that before us was a man who unerringly lived his vision - it was his close-ness, his proximity to his parental body that makes Teacher Tom extraordinary.
Parent power is key if change in education can be truly achieved and at the end of the day I left the Athens conference centre with more determination to open the door to parents wherever I can so that they not only see the magic but that they absolutely demand it for their children within our system.
So thank you Teacher Tom. Athens will live long in the memory and in time I hope a more ‘cooperative’ model can truly take hold.
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....