Last week while presenting in Vancouver on the practice of pedagogical narration I decided in a split second decision that I would present my narration on the dead duck. I told myself it was because I wanted to challenge myself and present something new, a narration I wasn’t comfortable with, that I couldn’t predict or expect the questions or reflections that it would inspire. We had a thoughtful conversation about the narration.
As I was driving home from the presentation I realized that wasn’t the reason. Truth, I want to talk about death. That moment on the beach with the children has raised so many questions.
Why are children able to discuss it so openly but adults tend to shy away from the subject?
What age do we stop talking about it? 5, 8, 12…?
How does one learn to stop talking about it? Are we confronted with the taboo, are conversations rejected, dismissed or are we scolded for talking about it so openly?
Where did this assumption that children don’t understand death come from?
I wonder how I can explore death with the children in a meaningful way. (A way that wouldn’t freak out my colleagues or families)
So I invite you to add your perspective, your layer to my inquiry. What are your thoughts? What questions does the dead duck bring up for you? What stories do you have about death?
So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”
“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.
“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.
“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”
The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral. I place the log on the water and hold one end.
“Should we say something?” I ask.
“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.
As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.
Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.
Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing. The children start talking about death and the duck.
I ask “What does it mean when you die?”
“You never see them again.” says a little boy.
I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.
A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.
Wow, great dialogue started on our Facebook page about professional attire and the ECE. Thank you to all the people who emailed me as well after my post on wardrobes.
Do you know I have been thinking about that post for over a year? I wrote it six months ago and it took me until two weeks ago to muster up the courage to post it. I knew it would spark some intense feelings. I worried about the message and how it would be taken. I sent the post to many trusted colleagues for feedback. I agonized over every word. I almost didn’t post it.
I am glad I did though. I have been pleasantly surprised and excited by the dialogue it has inspired. Even the people who disagreed with me and left comments, I was glad to hear their perspectives. It’s not so much that we agree with each other but that we have the willingness to discuss these issues together. To think together about what our values are and how our programs can reflect those values back to our communities.
The catalyst for this post was my experience subbing last year. Seeing educators who felt like they had been beaten down and looked it too, noticing where the wages were low the professionalism was also low. It didn’t reflect the educator’s passion though. If I asked the right questions I could see that twinkle in their eyes about why they entered the field.
While on holidays I talked to anyone who would listen to my stream of thoughts. In conversation with others I remembered something I heard long ago when I was entering the work force. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Now I have the job I want so what if we shifted that statement to “Dress for the respect/wage you want, not the respect/wage you receive.” To me that’s what it’s about.
I am one of the lucky ones who receive a living wage, have benefits and I feel respected in my workplace. What I want though is for my field to be respected in our society. For it not to be an issue of luck, I want children and families to be first in line for funding and honestly I want Christy Clark/Adrian Dix/Stephen Harper/Justin Trudeau/Thomas Mulcair to say they respect us…… and I want to believe them when they say it.
Somehow a few people believed I was suggesting ece’s needed to be more stylish. Goodness knows the style fairy chooses to skip my house most mornings. There are days where I wish Stacey London and Clinton Kelly would surprise me at a presentation to say they are going to take me shopping in New York city. I find myself wishing for a personal stylist when I am going on the road with Kim (she is the most stylish ECE I know). Style and professionalism are two separate things that can intertwine. I think we all deserve to feel stylish and confident but what I was suggesting was professional and confident.
Professional is different things to different people. To a former student of mine she feels professional when she wears suits, blazers and blouses that don’t show her shoulders, to my mother she feels professional when she looks stylish, a co-worker feels professional when she has the right clothing for the right season (i.e. rain slickers and gumboots for rain) and I feel professional when I dress in clothing that makes me feel like a professional.
I would like to know what professional looks like to you. So I would invite you to send me a photo and a few lines about what looking professional means to you. If you have a blog send me a link to a post about what professional looks like to you. Next month I will do a post sharing your pictures, stories, posts and together we can discuss what professional looks like in Early Childhood Education. Send pictures, links and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
I was raised by a bank executive and a tradesman. Both my parents had two wardrobes, one wardrobe for work and one not for work. My father’s work wardrobe consisted of steel toed boots and coveralls. When he was home he wore jeans, t-shirts and comfortable shoes. My mother’s work wardrobe consisted of suits, skirts, blouses, dress shoes and simple jewellery. When at home she wore pressed pants, casual blouses and pretty shoes.
When I went to work at my first childcare job I followed suit and part of my closet was dedicated to work clothes and the other part of my closet was designated non work clothes. My work wardrobe consists of pressed pants, blouses, skirts, blazers, cardigans and simple jewellery. My other wardrobe consists of jeans, leggings, vintage tees, flip flops and party dresses. I quickly realized this wasn’t how early childhood care and learning professionals worked. Most had one wardrobe clothes that were comfortable, affordable and practical.
I heard many reasons why this was the case. Our wages weren’t high enough to warrant a separate professional wardrobe. We work with paint, bleach and mud why dress up. It’s just easier to come to work in comfortable clothing. All of these reasons sound perfectly legit to me.
Here is where I am conflicted though. I think that what is inside matters most. In the area of caring and educating our youngest members of society, a person’s character and ability to connect with children and families in meaningful ways is more important….. but….. yes there is a but, we are underpaid and we are not given a lot of respect in our communities. Could our lack of a professional image be contributing to that lack of respect?
Last year when I decided to return to the floor after an almost two year break, I put my name out there for subbing. I was immediately hired to work a permanent position at the community centre I am at presently. I was also hired to be a sub in another community centre in the city. At my place of employment you are more likely to see people dressed in professional and practical attire.; skirts, trousers, blouses and cardigans are common place. I am paid a living wage, I have excellent benefits but most importantly it is the most respectful place I have ever worked. I love going to work. After a preschool session one day I headed to the other community centre for my orientation for subbing. During my orientation the childcare coordinator for the centre informed me I was too dressed up for working in child care. I was taken aback by this as I was wearing a simple pair of black trousers and a black cotton button down shirt with ballet flats. I listened though and when I went for my first shift I pulled out my most casual outfit. I wore a pair of denim jeans with the cuffs folded up, a cowl neck sweater and a pair of ballet flats. When I showed up in the daycare I was informed by the manager I was too dressed up. The manager, who told me this was wearing layered tank tops with her bra straps showing, rolled up jogging pants and sneakers with the laces undone. I didn’t last long at subbing. I removed my name off the list. I was paid poorly, there were no benefits and I didn’t feel anyone felt respected there. I have been thinking about my two wardrobes ever since.
“It’s an act of respect for the people you are working with the get dressed up for them.”
Richard Van Camp
I put my best self forward every day for the families, children and colleagues I work with. Part of doing that is making sure I look professional. We are educated women and men who care deeply for children and families. As a field we have a specialized knowledge that needs to be shared with our community. We must advocate for the practices that we believe in. We must articulate why we do what we do.
Now imagine sharing that specialized knowledge and articulating those practices to a parent, a colleague, a community member, a politician, the media or a board member dressed in layered tank tops, an exposed bra, rolled up jogging pants and undone sneakers.
Last night while watching What Not to Wear(Kim and I love this show, it’s what we watch when we are sharing hotel rooms), the host Clinton Kelly said something about appearances. What he said paralleled conversations Kim and I have had about values of our programs. It went something like this “Your clothes don’t define you, but they say something about you and are they saying what you want them to say?” When I go to work it is my goal that my wardrobe says I take pride in what I do, I care about myself and your family and I am a professional.
My professional wardrobe is always practical; fabrics are usually stretchy, washable and durable. Shoes are comfortable and more often than not flat. I do wear jeans to work but they are usually a more professional cut and they always always have Lycra in them. My wardrobe is purchased with a budget in mind, I never buy something I would be sad to see a finger paint stain on. Therefor sales racks are my best friend. I do invest in key pieces, a good pair of boots, comfortable shoes and a good warm jacket. I do have a personal style and I try to incorporate that as well.
I am not suggesting that we go to work with suits on. I don’t want to see our profession in a uniform either. What I am suggesting is that we honour the children, the families and the work we do when we put our best selves forward.
Here is another thing I remember about my parents two wardrobes. When they came home they changed. They got comfortable. To me it always seemed like a symbolic way of saying goodbye to one part of your day and getting comfortable with the next. In a profession that is grounded in nurturing and compassion sometimes we need a little symbolic divide between our professional and personal lives.
What would happen if we created a space void of colour? Kim and I asked ourselves that one day as we contemplated what to do next with the provocation studio. What would a space void of colour invite children to do? How would it affect their interactions, explorations and engagement with materials?
It took time for us to get to this question, this idea…… this provocation. We had spent the last year visiting many early childhood spaces. Often when entering these spaces we were overwhelmed with the colour and visual clutter of the spaces. Red, yellow and blue were prominent in almost all of these spaces. We often found ourselves wondering why…. Actually we wondered more who decided primary colours were what young children needed.
In November we visited the Reggio exhibit in Vancouver. We spent time examining how they used space. We noticed the use of empty space, the lack of primary colours and the intentionality of materials that were in the space.
In our search for inspiration we found artist Sakir Gökcebag who created an exhibit called Trans Layers made entirely of toilet paper. It was stunningly beautiful. We were struck by how he took an ordinary everyday object and transformed it.
Our idea for a provocation began to crystalize; we would create a space with the colour white. In researching colour theory we discovered white is actually not a colour, it is the absence of colour. We set out to find materials; we went to the dollar store, fabric store, thrift shop, Home Depot, Capital Iron and our backyards. We began to experiment with space and materials. We played with materials testing what they could do, continually trying for something new. We invited my daughter into the space and watched how she interacted with the materials. What ideas were sparked for her? Documenting her explorations of the space we were able to look at the space through the eyes of a child and re-examine our ideas.
The provocation studio is meant to provoke. The ideas present in this space may make you uncomfortable or they may make you jump for joy. Either way we hope you are inspired to think differently about space. We would invite you to examine how a space void of colour makes you feel? What do the materials invite you to do? Finally we would encourage you to wonder with us; what would a space void of colour invite children to do?
The provocation studio is located at Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral. For more information about viewing times and the other wonderful resources at the Victoria ccrr please check out their site.