Monday, December 2, 2013

Waiting for the potty IS our curriculum! Thinking about our hidden curriculum with videos

A beloved colleague said the above when teachers complained about the parts of the day that seem to take time away from learning. What he meant was that young children are learning from every experience in our care, and that the ways that we choose to care for them are another way of teaching. These moments are part of the "hidden curriculum", and provide an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves as people and as teachers. When we look at how we help children with their coat, or sing a song to them we learn about who we are, which informs how we teach. 

We spent a few weeks examining our hidden curriculum so that we can shift our practices and allow even incidental moments to be informed by our highest values and our best thinking. Each week, a different group of eight teachers came together and read an excerpt from the first part of Parker Palmer's brilliant essay "The Heart of a Teacher".

Here is a little of the wisdom teachers and staff shared in reaction to this piece:

Katy: When something doesn't go well, we pick it apart, "Why is it hard?" When something is going well, we rarely reflect on it and think "What did we do well?" so we can remember that. This is true in supervising staff as well.

Sarah: I really resonated with the second paragraph. It took me a long time to realize that everyone who is a teacher feels stupid or worthless or that they're not good at their job sometimes. Sticking with the cycle long enough, I've gotten to more self-compassionate practice. I'm a flawed person and I'm a good teacher.

This week, we considered transitions, which make up a big part of our day, by watching teachers and children transition together.

We started with a ten second video by way of introduction. Sara, a toddler teacher, walks with three children to a play yard. Afterwards, I asked the group "What are these children learning in this moment?"

  • to stay together (They are all holding hands.)
  • that the destination is exciting ("Here we are! Yay!")
  • there are many ways to get there (for example, waddling like a penguin)
  • learning about Sara as a teacher, her sense of humor... if I were with her I'd feel safe
  • they know to hold hands, they know they can leave their room together and get somewhere fun together
These are the kinds of things that all children are learning when we don't realize that we are teaching. Sara is a master teacher and she was teaching these children as she skipped and celebrated with them in this tiny moment. I believe that the more that we watch each other and ourselves teach, the more we practice paying attention, the less our curriculum is hidden and the more children are learning the kinds of things we want to be teaching.

We spent the next hour or so watching three videos: a toddler 1 class getting ready to go outside, a toddler 2 class waking up and getting ready to go outside and finally a preschool classroom cleaning up their classroom. Teachers had three protocols to choose from to focus their thoughts as they watched. One was about limited resources; tracking time, space and attention and how they were allotted. The next was grounded in our Reggio Emilia inspiration examining the role of the teacher, the role of the child, and the role of the environment in the clip. Finally, Some teachers used a list of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence to see what kind of learning was taking place.

Monica: I noticed that even though they were running back and forth and doing other things, they were trusted by their teachers. the kids who needed attention, they got the attention they needed

Mari: I was thinking about our Reggio inspiration...the image of the child, the trust. Each [of the children] were focused on something different, touching  a basket, looking out the window, looking at [the class next door through the window]. This was a situation where it could be chaotic for a teacher "Don't' touch that! Come here! Your coat, and here's your hat!"  

Sarah: There was a lot of room for intra-personal learning, one kid is lying on his or her mat, taking care of themselves, waking up. Phineas is given the choice to eat inside or outside, when he is frustrated they say "I just didn't hear you, it's not a big problem." Teachers helping children learn who they are as individuals.

Debbie: I was struck by the kinesthetic part... that once they got their coat on, they weren't just sitting on the bench, they were running through. There was energy that was all allowed and encouraged.

H: I noticed the role of the teacher: I liked all the questions, asking for teamwork, asking "Can you show me where this goes?" instead of just picking it up.
Athletes watch videos with their coaches to really see the way that their bodies work, the consequences of their choices as they work. We use videos in our professional development for the same reason; to notice things from the outside that we can't from the inside. Our center values collectivity, so we watch videos together. 

The ones we watched were all taken in one hour last week, we didn't prepare for them in any way. I just showed up with a camera and asked permission and teachers graciously assented. Every time I share video of a teacher to other teachers I'm humbled by the willingness of the watched to share themselves and by the gratitude, sensitivity and recognition offered by the watchers.


  1. Thanks guys! Perfect timing. I will be sending this to my coordinator and recomending video as the new method of reflecting and sharing.

  2. I really appreciate the time you take for reflecting on your own practice. So often we think that we can visit another program to see what they do to get new ideas. Like the children, the new ideas can come from within. Thanks for the reference to the essay.

  3. much food for thought here, Kendra. It's one of the fundamental ideas in intentional work- to slow down and be present for it all, rather than just to the schedule/product/outcome. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sarah, I learned about using video from my colleagues at Hilltop Children's Center and it's really transformative, even one-on-one.

    Tom, thank you for your message. We have come to really appreciate the genius of our community, and taking time together always brings us new information. Enjoy the essay, and anything else by Palmer. He is a real teacher hero.

    And thanks Pam. I think that when we ask so much of teachers, it's natural for us to feel hurried and to start prioritizing certain moments during the morning over others. I wish you could see the clips we watched... these moments that take place every day and that no parent ever asks about, no teacher ever mentions in an assessment, and they were like a beautiful dance of children and teachers.

  5. It certainly does take a learner's heart to show one's colleagues a video of oneself for which there was no special preparation! I am so glad that my children learn from teachers who have learner's hearts.
    There's so much to this post that resonated with me. One theme that is very alive for me now as a parent is the pervasiveness of the "hidden curriculum" - and the fact that it is actually most of our children's experience of us and the world. I thought of this just yesterday when I took my 5 y.o. daughter with me on an errand to the post office. She wanted to put the stamps on a package and, well, it took FOREVER for her to peel each one off and stick it next to the previous one (another reason they are called "forever stamps?"). I paused and took a lot of deep breaths and really had to think about what my most impt goals in the situation were. I had thought my most impt goal was getting the packages mailed, but I saw that having her do this task which was impt to her, and having her feel trusted to do it, was in fact far more important to me.

  6. Thanks so much, Parent!
    It's interesting what we find when we can interrogate our motives in the moment. Or step into the child's shoes. I can just imagine her, concentrating on the difficult task at hand and what she was learning about patience, sticking to a task, a job well done, and what she might have learned about hurry, your relationship and her own efficacy. Now that I'm a parent, I definitely see the moments that I can prioritize my son's learning over, say, my eagerness to be done with a task as investments that will cover me in other moments when I *have* to prioritize, say, getting to the train station in a hurry.

    Thanks, as always for your thoughtfulness!