Of Paint Blobs and Professional Learning

paint blobA child tugs at the teacher’s sleeve, “I dropped a jar of paint on the carpet. By accident”.

We look over, and yes, there is a very large, very pink splattered blob of paint on the carpet under the easel. It is a carpet meant to absorb paint, but still, this is a really large blob. Sigh.

It had been one of those days, days we are all very familiar with. All the puzzle pieces seem to have disappeared, a child is inconsolable, sobbing  because her shirt is wet. A parent is unhappy, wondering why the children just play all day, shouldn’t they be learning something? Another parent has stayed to help, but all he does is hover and follow children around admonishing them to be careful. We want to shout “They ARE being careful! No one is getting hurt! But we can’t shout at parents. The paperwork is piled up and we can’t really remember if we saw Horatio’s birth certificate, and we are fearful of what the custodian will say when she sees the glitter that is delicately covering every visible surface.

Sigh.

Days like this can make us weary. So weary. An educator I work with had a day like this, a day that ended with a blob of pink paint on the carpet. She decided to photograph the blob, hoping to see it differently, to transform the blob into something better, more interesting, more beautiful.

After taking a few shots of the blob, she looked up thoughtfully. “You know what makes days like this ok? Having the opportunity to talk and think deeply about children.”

That is exactly what she and I had been doing all morning. In moments  between the crying child and the hovering parent we had observed a toddler investigating this place, walking around the room picking up items and dropping them on the floor. We observed how intentional he was, how carefully he chose the items, how he attentively he watched and listened as each item hit the floor. We discussed how he might be theorizing about  sound, about weight, or how he might be connecting with this place, this room through investigating the materials within it.

We observed a girl as she sat with a pen and paper drawing intersecting lines, creating complex shapes. The drawing was detailed and precise. This girl had started the year unhappily, striking out at other children, encountering conflict wherever she went. But now a couple of months into the year she was focussed, calm, intent on her own projects. Had the materials and environment here invited this calm? What had caused this shift? How could we find out more about her drawings, what she was thinking?

These conversations extended throughout the morning session, sometimes a shared look toward a child, sometimes a few minutes spent discussing as we washed dishes. And at the end of the session we could delve more deeply into our shared thinking as we tidied the room.

This is what our practice is about. Thinking, listening, researching and collaborating with others to make meaning.  Professional learning is often thought of as something we do outside the walls of our centres. But conversations like these are professional learning. Carlina Rinaldi asks:

So what then is professional development? It is simply learning: our job is to learn why we are teachers.  It means keeping our distance from an overriding sense of balance, from that which has already been decided or is considered to be certain. It means staying close to the interweaving of objects and thoughts, of doing and selecting, theory and practice, emotions and knowledge.  

As my colleague looked at the paint blob, she said “You know, it is rather beautiful, the bubbles, the texture the shape.” The day and the blob had transformed into something better, something endlessly interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

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