Teachers looking ‘outside in’ to infant and toddler settings sometimes wonder why the teachers looking ‘inside out’ talk about these very young children in such passionate, emotional ways. To outsiders it is somewhat incomprehensible that adults could be so totally engaged with children who seemingly have limited communication. Yet infant and toddler teachers know at a ‘bone marrow level’ just how capable our very youngest children are at gently squeezing hearts as they so powerfully connect to the adults who work with and alongside them. It is certainly true that infants and toddlers are growing their abilities with oral language and this is often the stumbling block for those teachers who love verbal engagements with older children. What captures the hearts and minds of early years teachers is the incomprehensibly connected ‘thousand languages’ that infants and toddlers use to fill the hearts of adults around them. They are wired this way and adults who take the time to get to know them, begin to realise the amazing learning that happens in those first years. This is not in an abstract theoretical way but deeply tuned in, enabling teachers to relationally engage, so those brain neurons build the thousands of pathways that are the hallmark of growing our intelligence.
I have been fortunate in the last few weeks to meet a number of these passionately involved teachers at our infant and toddler cluster days. We are on a journey together to research wise practice. Each team of teachers are considering a narrative research question that will require introspection. We want to figure out what wise practice looks like in a variety of settings, gathering documentation along the way that will offer others a window into the intricate strategies involved. As teachers move from Te Whāriki Principles to moment by moment relational decisions, these build to comprise a concept of what it takes to be learners and teachers in a wise learning community. While these journeys primarily connect to the particular setting, strategies that denote wise practice will emerge as thoughtful teachers reflect to make their engagements visible for other teams to consider. It seems to me that it is never useful to talk about good practice. That is so judgmental, for what is ‘good’? It’s a shifting notion depending on where you’re standing. Wise practice however sends messages about thoughtful, experiential engagements that generate an intensity around the notion that each time teachers act in particular ways they are building complexity into children’s learning experiences. This is what we all want to find out more about because we all know that these first years are the critical ones that set children up to be successful learners. So, our hope is that we have an opportunity to grow leaderful communities with teachers who generously and diligently reflect on what it means to be a teacher working with and alongside our youngest children. We invite you to watch this space as we progressively provide vignettes from teachers that will offer insights into what wise practice looks like.