In the past 9 years I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to visit preschool settings around Europe & further afield, mostly through the British Council's Comenius programme but also through a GTCNI CPD bursary & the generosity of Fafu.
I have been able to witness practice first hand in the following countries: Italy, Poland, Norway, France, Sweden, Turkey, Scotland & Iceland.
Through on-line project work & social media I have also been able to get a glimpse into settings around the world.
If I have learned one thing from these opportunities it is that it is OK to look at other settings with a critical eye in order to see what I can take away from another place but it is not OK to criticise what I see, merely because it's not what I would do.
Every setting is unique no matter if they have similar resources or even buidlings. I found it very weird that most of the kindergartens in areas of Europe that were under the rule of the former USSR are all in the same standard buildings but no matter how similar things may look the fact that the children & staff are all individuals will mean that no 2 places will ever actually be the same.
I am an optimist by nature so no matter what I will always look for something positive to take away from every experience and in fact I have found that it is actually more disheartening to visit somewhere that you are overwhelmed by & end up feeling like my own setting can't achieve any of it. I'd rather come away from visiting another classroom feeling positive about my own!
So whilst I may not like my classroom set up to be as formal as I found it to be in Poland or France, that is not to say that I have a right to start being negative about the practice in either country. I have never seen such creativity as I did in both places that I visited, as the schools had very little money for posters or wall displays etc. yet those teachers had come up with amazing ideas of how to make sure they used everyday objects to make their rooms as attractive as possible.
It is so easy to look at a photograph from another setting & make a snap judgment on what you see, yet let's be honest how much can anyone really tell from a photo? Usually the person taking it knows the whole background story to the end result but it's hard to convey that in a photo. I had people comment very negatively once on a photo of some children standing on a stone structure, it did look like the stones were leaning but of course they were 100's of years old & very, very structurally sound. However to anyone just glancing at the photo it looked like the stones were leaning & ready to fall but seriously what kind of person would I be if I let children climb on an unsafe structure just to get a good photo!
Everyone has their own experience in mind when they look at photos or see another setting but we have to be careful we aren't judging others based on how we operate or on rules & guidance we have to adhere to.
My advice is to view the opportunity to see around another setting as a privilege, you are getting a look into another world & try to get as much out of it as you can. In my own experience it can be weeks, months or even years afterwards that you may be able to recall something you saw & replicate it in your own setting. Never dismiss anything because you feel it would never work in your setting, it might not work right now but who knows someday you might be able to.
In 2006 when I sat in a forest in Norway watching children sitting around a fire whittling sticks & enjoying hot chocolate I never imagined that 4 years later I could offer similar experiences in my own setting.
So embrace chances to glimpse into settings around the world either virtually through social media or in person through various funding opportunities or just by networking but try not to criticise fellow practitioners, we are all on the same team!