Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Evening Parent Provocations; a New Practice at PTCC

When we say "provocation," what are we talking about? At our center, the term has come to encompass many encounters with many different audiences - children, teachers, and, now, parents - yet they all stem from a belief in working together to deepen our thinking.

Provoking Children:
The word "provocation" comes to us from our Italian friends. Because teachers and children are collaborating together, we often find that it is our role, not to "teach" but to "provoke" exploration, innovation, or reflection. It sounds strange when you first hear it, but we want to be "provoked" by our environments, materials and our peers to see our world differently, to participate in it's construction. When you see materials or ideas displayed beautifully for children to encounter in a child care, that is a provocation. It's part of the shared jargon of our approach and I feel that it's quite helpful and specific.

Provoking Teachers:
Our center has an novel practice that we call “Teacher Provocation,” a weekly gathering of teachers from every classroom that contributes to our quality as teachers and to the culture of our center. When the studio at PTCC was built 8 years ago, it became clear that many teachers did not have enough experience and comfort with art media to offer them to children. Once a week, a floating teacher who was also an artist welcomed one teacher from each classroom to spend their planning time working together with clay, water color, pencils or wire, and thus “teacher provocation” was born.

After a couple of years of these materials-based provocations, our staff felt confident with using the Hundred Languages with children, and began to spend the time together thinking about other areas of our practice. Then, as a teacher, I helped create themed, constructivist mini-workshops for us to share each week, and today this is a favorite part of my work as pedagogista.

Teacher provocation is valuable not simply because of the content (such as reading an article about something, sharing and responding to documentation, or talking through a dilemma with a peer). We value protected time to consider big ideas in the midst of our day to day work. In a center with 8 classrooms, three buildings, and a staff of 37 it can also be hard to know everyone. We have several opportunities for professional development as a whole staff spread throughout the year, but even that time is often spent in teams or in a large group, unable to connect with many of the individuals by our side. At provocation, each teacher has the opportunity to sit at a table with seven of their colleagues and usually most of the administrative team. We work as a large group and in smaller groups or pairs to answer big questions, articulate our positions and come to agreement. We are doing the same work together that we support children in doing.

Provoking parents:
Which brings us to parent provocations today. We are always seeking ways to collaborate with families, and it occurred to us that our teacher provocations provided a helpful model because they offer us precious and regular opportunities to:

  • connect with people in our community
  • take part in a conversation about something important and relevant
  • create shared ideas, and contribute to our organizational knowledge
  • practice the same kinds of collaborative, constructive learning that we choose for the children in our care
We’ll be provoking parents one evening each month until May. We'll talk about big ideas like what it means for children to share, how children play about violence and what it means to be child-centered educators.  I’m eager to see how this practice changes over time, and how it can support families and their roles in our center. I love seeing that this practice born of necessity (we need teachers to use artistic media with kids, our planning time is set up so that we can only get one teacher from each room each week) has developed into something that is absolutely critical to our work and our identity as a center, and that it's still transforming to become more valuable to our community.

Do you have a habit or practice that started as a necessity (i.e. walking to work) that has grown into something that is important to you for ideas that you couldn't have anticipated (i.e. sharing time with the friend you walk with, or getting into shape)?

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