By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D. RECE.
In my last blog post I wrote about the research that I have been doing on Community of Practices (CoPs) and lamented that I have only been invited to be part of one and the experience felt like a focus group set up for the organizers to disseminate information. For me, a community should be a group that cares about each other, where everyone feels like they belong and have a voice. If CoPs are suggested as a professional learning strategy for early childhood educators, going forward, let’s be mindful of creating a community feeling. Being part of a CoP should feel like being part of a community. It is my goal over the next year, to understand CoPs and to offer early childhood educators, information that may help them create communities that feel supportive. Creating Communities of Practice is a great site to provide background information on CoPs, but it is not specifically focused on the early years. In the early years, any CoP needs to recognize the shared social identity of early childhood educators. The low wages that have plagued our sector, are internalized as a feeling that society undervalues the work. While, the pandemic seemed to bring, more public appreciation, it has not been met with policies or funding to ensure appropriate compensation (Powell, Ferns and Burrell, 2021). Early childhood educators need to feel valued and therefore, they need someone to listen to them. They need to have a voice. Rather than look to others to set up and facilitate CoPs for ECEs, we can, as a sector, become more mindful of the importance of listening in our professional relationships. We can do this for each other. In the research that I am doing for my new book on critical friendships in early childhood education with Redleaf Press, I have been reflecting on the fine art of listening and realizing that I may not be the only one who has to work on being a better listener. I want to listen to the way space and materials speak, but I also want to listen to what my fellow early childhood educators are saying. A good listener takes the time and makes the effort to help others find their voice (Murphy, 2021).
A catalyst for my reflections occurred after my last blog post. I was invited to be a guest at a meeting of a Community of Practice. This particular CoP meets virtually every month. The goal of this CoP is to dialogue about practice. This time, the conversation was about being a CoP as the members had been invited to read my blog post. During the time, I was part of this community of inspirational early childhood educators, I was very aware of voice … my voice, and the voice of others. I wanted to share my reflections on the conversation without taking over. The depth of reflection and thoughtfulness of all who shared was wonderful and I felt there was underlying kindness and support, for each other. I loved listening to what was being said. One particular member spoke with enthusiasm and knowledge as she made connections that generated for me, deep thinking and thoughtful reflections. As I listened to her and watched her speak in a little box on my computer screen, I realized that we hadn’t heard from a few of the other boxes. On a little piece of paper, I wrote down the words, “warm and cool” and waited for a time to offer feedback. I actually don’t remember the warm feedback that I offered. Warm feedback is supportive and encouraging. I do remember the cool feedback because when I offered it, I realized that I too need to heed the words. I suggested that in the effort to hear the voices of others, we sometimes need to embrace silence. The response of being uncomfortable with silence was one I can relate to. I understood the need to fill in silence. I need to work on this because being comfortable with silence is a superpower (DeMarco, 2021). There is a science of silence that shows us why it’s healthier for us to embrace it than fight it. I am going to try! I could use another superpower! Silence is the absence of intentional sound. Silence can also be when we are purposefully quiet. This can be unsettling. Silence forces us to notice our thoughts, and these can be the ones that we can’t help but think. These thoughts shine a light on our fears and insecurities so we fill in the silence.
I have been influenced and inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach® throughout my career. Rinaldi (2004) speaks of the pedagogy of listening as an attitude for life.
Listening is a sensitivity to everything that connects us to the others, not only the listening of the school but the listening that we need in our life. The most important gift that we can give to the children in the school and in the family is time . . . to offer our time to the children, because time is the only possibility for listening and being listened to by others ~ Carlina Rinaldi
I believe the most important gift that we can give each other, is the time to listen. To truly listen to another is to give the other a voice. Hearing the voices of others is central to the pedagogy of listening. Years ago, when I was teaching the pedagogy of listening as it relates to the pedagogy of relationships, I learned that listen and silent are spelled with the same letters. With CoPs being based on conversation, we do need to work on listening! “You’re Not Listening” by Kate Murphy has been an illuminating read, and I highly recommend it!
Listening is more valuable than speaking. Listening plugs you into life. It helps you understand yourself as much as those speaking to you. According to Murphy (2021) hearing is not the same as listening. Listening is active. Listening is not teaching. Listening is when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing. We need to be mindful not to listen only to respond. You have succeeded as a listener when, after you respond, the other person says, “yes, exactly!” or “you totally get it!”. A good listener tries not to get bogged down by their own thoughts and superficial judgements. A good listener picks up on the subtext of what people are saying. As early childhood educators, we can offer the gift of listening to our professional friends.
When was the last time you listened to someone? Really listened, without thinking about what you wanted to say next, glancing down at your phone, or jumping in to offer your opinion? And when was the last time someone really listened to you? Was so attentive to what you were saying and whose response was so spot-on that you felt truly understood? (Murphy, 2021, p. 6)
Start by offering supporting responses and not responses that shift the conversation to yourself. A good listener takes the time and makes the effort to help others find their voice. We can do this for each other! Let’s try. It will take more than one conversation or one CoP meeting, we can work on our conversations with our colleagues. Murphy (2021) suggests it will be like a dance. With a good listener you are dancing in sync. When you are in conversation with a bad listener it is like dancing with someone who is keeping a different rhythm or who has no rhythm. I am going to work on being a good listener. As a listener I am going to try to understand another’s point of view. I am going to avoid shift responses that are self-promoting or qualifying and offer instead thoughtful questions or positive, encouraging feedback as a response. I am going to practice staying on track and following the narrative of another. I am going to try to not to focus on what to say when it is my turn. Will you join me?