Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Educators as Co-Learners

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

I have always believed that early childhood educators are the salt of the earth, a phrase that refers to groups of people who have great worth to society. In my long career as a proud early childhood educator, never has this been more apparent to me than during this unprecedented pandemic. I have watched as my fellow early childhood educators have entered the world of teaching young children remotely and have seen how truly they miss their children. Then there are those who have continued to work to provide care for the children of essential workers and they are nothing less than heroes. Early childhood educators are essential too. Without child care centres, how can we expect others to get back to work when our quarantine is over? I worry about how this experience will impact the landscape of early childhood education, especially the future viability of child care centres. Still in this time of uncertainty, I also see that early childhood educators around the world are using this time away from the children for their own professional learning. In Ontario, that means registered early childhood educators are working on their Continuous Professional Learning (CPL) two-year portfolio cycle that includes the setting of professional learning goals and engaging in activities to meet those goals. I personally have had to reconsider my professional learning goals in the time of COVID-19.

Instead of organizing, attending or presenting at workshops and conferences, I am learning online. I am learning more about doing webinars, using Zoom and creating online courses. I am using this blog, as a means of documenting my professional learning. Fortunately, one of my goals is to more deeply understand the pedagogical approaches from Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years. This blog and others are evidence that I am meeting my goals. This is the third post in a series focused on the pedagogical approaches from How Does Learning Happen? (2014). These approaches are interdependent, they do not stand alone. I am presenting them in the order that they appear in How Does Learning Happen? Beginning with Responsive Relationships, followed by Learning through Play, Exploration and Inquiry, to this post on Educators as Co-Learners, soon to be followed by Creating Environments as a “Third Teacher”, Pedagogical Documentation and finally Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry. In each post for all of the six pedagogical approaches, I include a PowerPoint, videos and handouts connected to the topic. Here is the accompanying presentation on the pedagogical approach of educators as co-learners.

In unpacking the pedagogical approach that asks us to consider ourselves as co-learners, it is important to consider pedagogy as an umbrella term that covers a wide range of concepts belonging to the broad category of teaching and learning in the early years. How Does Learning Happen? is “intended to support pedagogy and curriculum/program development in early years programs” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 4). Pedagogy is a term that “may be unfamiliar to some in early years settings” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 4). It includes your philosophy and what you do in practice as it relates to your method of teaching and the content of what you teach (curriculum). In my experience, teaching early childhood education students and now working with early childhood educators, philosophy is not everyone’s favourite topic. To examine educators as co-learners, requires reflection on the philosophy that underpins this pedagogical approach. That philosophy is constructivism, specifically social constructivism or co-constructivism. However, the term philosophy is like the term pedagogy – often used but not necessarily understood. Jones and Shelton (2011) define philosophy as “a personal clarification and articulation of your educational beliefs and values. You define yourself by it; your practice reflects it” (p. 66). It all sounds complicated. To simplify the process of understanding philosophy as it applies to early learning is to ask yourself this basic question, “how do children learn”? Then it basically comes down to a choice between two philosophical contrasting philosophies, constructivism/progressivism or behaviourism/instructivism. Do you believe children learn from constructing their own knowledge or are you the keeper of the knowledge and believe that children learn through being instructed? Answering this question, requires an examination of values and beliefs. Values are stable long-lasting beliefs about what is important. A belief will develop into a value when there is a commitment to it. Your values and beliefs should be reflected in your philosophy. Values and beliefs become the foundation of practice.

Constructivism is the underpinning philosophy in How Does Learning Happen? (2014), it provides you with an opportunity to:

  • look more carefully at what you do each and every day;
  • think about the why of your practice;
  • understand more deeply how your actions have an impact on children and their families (How Does Learning Happen, 2014, p. 16).

I invite you to read about constructivism here. To learn more about the evolution of the teacher as co-learner in education, I found this article very helpful. It is not just in early childhood education that we are moving away from being knowledge keeper to a co-learner.

How Does Learning Happen? asks educators to be “attuned to what children know, what they wonder about, and their working theories about the world around them. Educators engage with, observe, and listen to children. They discuss with other educators, as well as with children and families and caregivers, the possibilities for children’s further exploration in increasingly complex ways. All are co-learners, constructing knowledge together” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 15). We need to move away from being the knowledge keeper to be the knowledge seeker. We need to find out what children already know about topics of inquiry. We need to ignite their prior knowledge. Alber (2011) suggests that if we don’t, we may fall prey to what Paulo Freire referred to as “the banking concept” in pedagogy, were we treat children as empty vessels waiting to be filled with the knowledge of the teacher. Children have knowledge! Children have had powerful life experiences. Children have their own identity. This video not only demonstrates constructivism in practice, it illustrates that children are indeed capable and competent with their own unique identities.

I know watching this video might be hard for some of us. You may see the images of children and their teachers and feel sadness that you are in quarantine because of this pandemic and away from work. While in isolation, we can still demonstrate co-learning. We have each other! I was so thrilled to receive this feedback after my last blog post on the pedagogical approach of play, exploration and inquiry:

I wanted to thank you personally for the free workshop last week. My small team studied it together and discussed it and picked it apart for days. We reflected on what you wrote and on the videos we saw. It was very exciting, and we are so thankful. For us, our child care program is a small rural centre so we are already very fortunate….our next step after your workshop is for the educators and director to communicate our observations and document them better. We could make the play more complex by following the child and asking questions and helping them explore the topic as well as us explore it more deeply. Always moving forward. Discuss, reflect, revise, on-going…my new mantra! Thank you!

Always moving forward! What are you learning while in isolation? Have you had a lightbulb moment? Please share in the comments section, so that we can practice co-learning. I had a significant shift in understanding about play while curating play-based learning resources. I realized that play-based learning is another umbrella term! The resource that helped me can be found here.

I realized through the process of curating resources, that I needed to learn more about guided play. In my capacity as an adult educator, I recognize that there is so much that I don’t know. I need to be a knowledge seeker rather than a knowledge keeper. This article was very helpful. I invite you to read it and share your thoughts.

I am very grateful to have this blog which serves as a way for me to connect with others to learn with others. It is not the same as being together. I miss the times that I have had with colleagues and friends learning together. I miss playing and learning with my own grandchildren. It is so hard to be away from my six-month-old granddaughter who is learning to sit up and is fascinated by animal sounds. My daughter may not realize that she is providing guided play for Reese to help her develop her balance skills and to cultivate her interests in animals.

What are you learning in this unprecedented time? Please share by commenting below. You might be learning from your own children or you could be learning professionally utilizing the amazing resources available online. If we use this time to engage in self-directed learning, when we return to our work with children, our practice will improve and in the role of co-learner, we can be curious knowledge seekers “learning about children, with children, and from children (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 13).

2 thoughts on “Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Educators as Co-Learners

  1. i love your blog, and especially this post. as an early childhood educator, i can so identify with this. the questions we have to ask ourselves, the need to be open and life-long learners, right along with our kinder. i’ve had a struggle managing the tech component of teaching from a distance, know it’s all about connection, but i’m getting better. 2 weeks ago, we lost a young child in our class (4), and we’ve been navigating our way through helping them to process and manage grief, right along with our own grieving. i know it’s important to maintain a sense of security and routine, so we continued as best we could and have been working with families and children on an individual basis. our nature is to go to families, to hug them and their children, to be there for them in every way. on top of this, they are immersed in this virus crisis and things are already off kilter for all of them. it is a delicate balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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