Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Conversations with Pen Green

Recently I had the very good fortune of visiting early childhood settings across the northern part of New Zealand with Felicity Norton and Tracy Gallager from Pen Green in the UK. This was Trace and Fliss’s first visit to New Zealand and I was their very lucky companion, charged with the task of introducing them to the diversity that we celebrate here, as centres across the country respond to the children and families in their communities. It is that very real privilege that Te Whāriki affords us - a values driven curriculum that shuns prescriptive practice and calls on us to be the very best we can be, through Principles that teachers across the country have grown to cherish. We saw such diversity and yet the commonality was the passion and commitment of teachers to implement wise practice and build vibrant learning communities. There was also a burning interest to learn about the ways Pen Green has worked over many years to provide wrap around services for its community through growing everyone’s leadership potential. We had much in common and much to learn from each other. I suspect this is what happens when people have an open mind and a thirst to consider other perspectives. Yet one thing seemed clear to us all, what ever we take on board we must make it uniquely our own because there is no such thing as a recipe!

Fliss and Tracy were first time fishers and no manner of wild, teasing stories of sharks would deter them from trying this experience. Yet it seems fact is truly stranger than fiction, for we could not have orchestrated the experience better if we had paid that very inquisitive mako shark to circle around our boat. Stranger still, as we inadvertently hooked it, causing it to leap out of the water several times, our reputation for adventure was catapulted into the realm of legend. When I visited Pen Green several years ago I was entranced by the British countryside and the village houses with 1647 and the like inscribed above their doors. It seemed to me that the lanes where hedgerows almost touched each other and the churches that entombed knights of old were straight out of my childhood storybooks. This contrasted so drastically with the history of displacement, unemployment and poverty that has marked the community in Corby where Pen Green is located. Across New Zealand we also have our own challenges and yet as we discussed together what connects us, it seemed to us to be all around the way we endeavour to build communities that are resourceful and resilient. Teachers who have high expectations of children’s competency; teachers who work hard to make their settings vibrant sites for investigation; teachers who listen attentively to children’s interests and nurture their dispositions to be life long learners and work in partnership with families make a difference to children’s life chances.

During those two weeks many teachers had the opportunity to have conversations with Fliss and Tracy and I keep hearing and getting emails about how inspiring the workshops and visits were. It has been a chance for us to articulate what Te Whāriki means for us as we learn and teach in our own communities, reaffirm the things we love so much about our lives here in Aotearoa and the ways we build powerful learning communities. There has also been a drive to stretch our imaginations to think about how we might respond to some of the exciting initiatives we heard from Pen Green. Fliss and Tracy have said they go back with much to consider also and each of us will find ways that connect with our own settings. It is just as well they have a movie of the shark because that may just have been too improbable for their colleagues to believe - a wild fishing tale impossibly true!

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