Sunday, 21 February 2016

Seeing your practice through other's eyes.

From day 3 we start with our basic routine that can be expanded as the day lengthens.
Sadly in teaching the only people who regularly view our practice are usually inspectors or management for performance related pay assessment, on these occasions those watching the practice generally feel they have to be super critical and on the look out for ways to suggest improvement.
Luckily in a nursery classroom there are always at least 2 adults working together, so it is not a huge deal to have another adult in the room when you are teaching but I know for many teachers this is their worst nightmare!
Every so often, it is rewarding to have an outsider come to watch your practice and give feedback through their questions, it gives the practitioner time to reflect on why they do things a certain way and to step back and ask themselves, 'do I need to do it that way?'.

In the past few weeks I had 5 different practitioners come to spend some time in my classroom, one was a local practitioner who wanted to see how we organised our indoor play time and the others were four Swedish preschool teachers who were on a job shadowing experience in our school. 
Sometimes, as we toil away in the classroom everyday, we lose sight of our own craft; we are so used to doing things a certain way we forget that it is not the norm. In N.I, I imagine every preschool class has indoor & outdoor play, tidy up time, a group story time and depending on whether they are full time or not, a dinner/lunch routine. However, how each teacher chooses to move from one activity to another will be unique to that teacher. I found it really interesting to suddenly see how an average day looked to these outsiders and it was through their questions that I began to see where my practice had evolved to over the past 5-6 years.

I had been concerned that the Swedish teachers would be disappointed by what they saw & not really gain anything from their time with me but I was wrong! They kept having to disappear into the office to jot down copious notes as they observed how our day unfolded. We had two at a time each day, so that one could stay in the classroom while the other went off to write up notes. 
At the end of the first day, one of the teachers told me that she loved how our day flowed seamlessly from one activity to the next, she commented that it was very obvious to her that lots of work had been done to make the structure look unstructured. I could have kissed her at that point, as there is nothing worse than someone perceiving my nursery classroom as a chaotic place, it is anything but, we have spent a long time (the first four weeks) 'teaching' the routine so that it becomes a natural part of the day. There is a long thought out reason for every activity, sometimes it can be as simple as the need to have all 26 children in the one place at the time when there are just 2 of us, other times it is because we know it is important to actually teach young children how to tidy up and not just announce 'tidy up time'. 
The key point for me was that the Swedish teachers had enough practical experience plus subject knowledge of early years, to be able to see the why of what we do. 
For me, it was invaluable to have to explain to another practitioner why we split the children into small groups to tidy up, why we have set points in the day when we regroup as a whole class and how as a team we decide who will be based where in the classroom.
I personally believe we should all get regular opportunities to go and observe other teachers in action not to criticise but to challenge ourselves and see new ideas in practice.