Throughout the year students and teachers from around the world visit our center. Each year we host a group from Iceland, one from Japan and one from Singapore. We discussed this with Lella Gandini when she visited a few months ago and she asked
"And why do they come?"
"Because we say 'Yes'?" said my director, Katy with a smile.
"and you say yes because there are always things we learn when they ask questions of us."
Of course, Lella is exactly right. We learn from their questions and from seeing our center through their eyes. Today I visited with some students of early childhood education from Singapore. They work at centers with the same age range that we do. It was a joy walking around with twelve young women as they peeked into classrooms, sat down to play with children, pored over our documentation, and pointed out details of our environment to one another.
Here are some highlights of our conversations together today:
- I learned that it is very common for centers to be open there between 7 am and 7 pm daily "or longer, if they have parents who work late" said one of the students.
- They were struck by the fact that we had male teachers. After some conversation about this someone asked if male teachers were allowed to change diapers, and told me that this was not allowed in their centers even in the rare cases that they have a man working there. "They can only teach a class, like maths." This is interesting, because of course, although male teachers are "allowed" here in the US, they are not the norm, and we have to work hard to recruit male teachers because we believe that children benefit from having men and women in nurturing roles in their lives. The students were all excited because they believe that child care teachers should be men and women, they'd just never seen a male teacher before.
- After watching a dad spend snack time with his child's class during an extended drop off time, students asked questions like: "How long are parents allowed to stay in the morning?" and "How many days during the year are parents invited to visit the classroom?" It was clear to these students that we welcomed families, and it felt a little unfamiliar to them, but they were excited about it, too.
- The students were lucky to come just days after our annual Showcase, so we had extra special and extra large pieces of documentation all over the center. They compared what they saw to the report cards that they issued to families at this time of year, and said that they saw "the whole story of each child" when they looked around our center. They marveled at pieces of documentation that welcomed families' collaboration. A couple who were familiar with Learning Stories were happy to see something familiar.
- They were surprised that we don't take showers each day. Singapore, they told me, is so hot that children take a shower between lunchtime and naptime to cool off before they rest. The recent weeks have been so muggy, I felt envious when I heard this.
- They were touched by how children talked together. "The children are so encouraging with one another!" they said.
- They asked about our dress code, and were surprised that we are allowed to wear shorts to work.
- "It is obvious how children's work is valued here." one said, reading the stories of the children of Toddler 1 North.
- "Children must walk in and think 'This is the place where I belong!' every day." said one student.
Teachers also learn just from having visitors in their classrooms, not from what they say, but from their very presence. The observer effect in a classroom is one that usually results in straightening our backs, looking around at our classroom and imaging what another sees. I'm happy that in our center, this usually results in a sense of satisfaction for teachers, and an opening of blindspots.