Are we Lobbyists? Positive Deviance has a Place in Politics

Meetings with local politicians to talk Early Education

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By now you may have noticed that The Reggio Approach has been a grand inspiration for our pedagogy and philosophy on early education. Part of this is because The Reggio Approach is not exact or permanent. It is fluid, evolving, emerging, and reflective. These principals provide a flexible groundwork to build an ideal setting and community that allow children to thrive. A favorite poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of The Reggio Approach, titled The 100 Languages is always present in our interactions. The poem, published in its entirety below, encourages us to look at the world through the eyes and experiences of our youngest citizens.    

The Hundred Languages Poem

Early education is more than just teaching kindergarten readiness skills. Early education is about being present and responsive to support the growth of the whole child.  Children truly do have a hundred ways of thinking and a hundred ways of communicating their ideas. This is evident if you have spent any time in a classroom where young children are thriving. And we have to add that ALL children deserve the opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, in the United States, mounting research shows that we are not investing enough to ensure that this is possible (Check out our blog post here to see the trailer from The Raising of America, a documentary about the early education crisis that our country faces). Staying true to our Positively Deviant ways, we have been stepping out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves to engage in new experiences that promote awareness of the needs that our most vulnerable citizens face.

On Wednesday we took our first big step outside of our comfort zone. As we walked up in the pouring rain, we laughed and asked “Are these the doors we go in?” Neither one of us ever expected that our passion for early childhood education would take us to the Vermont State House in Montpelier. But now is the time to use our voices to gain political support for investing in high quality and affordable early education for all children in Vermont. Our goal is to push for policies that will create a better system in which all children can flourish with high quality care from professional early educators. Vermont has potential to become the first state to establish a system that can be modeled for the rest of America.

As we entered the heavy doors and were immersed in the hustle and bustle of our local politicians running through the halls of a beautifully architectured building we both felt our nerves and excitement peak. Thankfully we did not have to go it alone – we had some wonderful help from the advocates at Let’s Grow Kids who gave us an unofficial tour and abbreviated lesson to help us prepare for our meetings. We had two meetings set up, one with Senator Claire Ayer (Addison County, VT) and another with Senator Tim Ashe (Chittenden County, VT – President Pro Tempore) We arrived with our fact sheets and talking points, prepared to deliver as much information as would could in a short amount of time. What surprised us the most about our meetings was how receptive and open both Senators were to discussing the issues of early education. Both senators were in agreement of the importance of investing in early childhood education.

Senator Ayer shared her own personal story of helping her children find high quality childcare for her grandchild. She understands the struggle that young families face both in finding care and then affording care. She was excited about the continued support and expansion of funding for CCFAP, Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program. However, Senator Ayer realizes that this is not enough. We have to look to other solutions to attract and retain professional teaching candidates. We need to look for alternative ways to fund child care, recognizing that it is not just the immediate family who is impacted, but also the businesses in local communities who employ parents. In order to create sustainable written policies that ask for specific funding, we need to ask the right questions and understand the demand for the various types of childcare. Senator Ayer has been recommending that we ask the question “Where are all of Vermont’s children while their parents are at work and are their parents happy with these arrangements?” The Education Committee is currently in the process of securing funds for a Demand Survey to answer just that. The demand survey will inform future policy built around knowing exactly what Vermont’s families need. By the end of our meeting we were feeling much more at ease. The conversation was candid and fluid. We never even pulled out our fact sheets.  

In our small world of advocacy, we had heard that Senator Ashe would be a little more difficult to talk to about the issues facing early education. We went into the meeting feeling over our heads after hearing that he can be intimidating to speak to. All of this quickly faded as we engaged in conversation. Senator Ashe realizes that many current educational expenses for social services in public schools could be mitigated if we could appropriately invest in early care. The Senator also realizes that while Vermont does have potential to create a system for early education, we will need a large overhaul to make it happen. In Vermont we are lucky to have an array of services already available. Although these are dismal in terms of the REAL need, we are ahead of other states in thinking about our youngest citizens and their outcomes. However, the systems that we have in place are old and barely surviving. As Senator Ashe described it, we are putting bandaids on all of these systems. This keeps them alive, but costs us more in the long run. Our solution – we need to begin the difficult conversations of advocating for increased funding for early education so that we can create lasting change.

So, what was Loris Malaguzzi saying when he said “they steal ninety-nine”? It’s not just the ideas that our children are directly taught. By not investing in affordable and high quality early childhood education we are indirectly communicating to our children that we do not value their future and thus stealing their potential to thrive as contributing members of our communities. Educating young children affects everyone in the community, regardless of whether you are a parent. These children are our future citizens of Vermont and of the United States of America.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Fred Rogers

The Facts from Let’s Grow Kids:

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Franklin

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Addison

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Chittenden

Ways to get involved:

If you are in Vermont, Let’s Grow Kids is a statewide campaign raising awareness of the early childhood care and education needs that families face    Find the Let’s Grow Kids website here!

Learn more about the importance of early education from Zero to Three

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is working on advocacy and professionalizing the field of early educators

Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance has information at our local state level

 

We wanted to thank Senator Ayer and Senator Ashe for taking the time to meet with us and for all the work that they do for the State of Vermont. 
Continue reading “Are we Lobbyists? Positive Deviance has a Place in Politics”

When Little People Have Big Emotions: Helping Young Children Develop Strategies for Self Regulation

“Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn.”

Loris Malaguzzi

The practice of teaching is not an exact science nor does it have a clearly defined path. With no final outcome, the beauty of the teaching journey lies in finding balance between science and art. Finding this balance requires us to be comfortable and confident with not having the answers, especially when working with children. We are incredibly lucky to live in a world filled with curiosity. This curiosity about children’s development and how we can influence it has led to many various developmental theories and philosophies on teaching. As educators, we are inspired by a combination of these theories and ideas. However, our investment in Reggio inspired learning was deeply inspirational to our own pedagogy. A key element to this approach is the perspective of the teacher as a partner in learning. We used this concept to guide many of our discussions, always remembering that we are there to learn from each other and to learn together. In this way, our teaching methods unfolded with respect for each unique individual in the classroom. As an educator, you are like a conductor for a piece of music. It is your role to allow each instrument or each child to be heard, to guide, but not to direct, and therefore to create a beautiful harmony.

On our co-teaching journey, we constantly engaged in reflection and discussion, questioning what we were doing and why. All of our discussions and reflections had one consistent element: improving the sense of community and belonging in the classroom. We agreed that this would support a child’s social and emotional development and be our most important task. But we found that following traditional methods were not sufficient. Over time, our deviant ways of teaching positive social and emotional skills evolved.  We felt it would be useful to other educators and parents to share some of our ideas and generate further discussion. We want to be clear about one thing –we don’t have all the answers. We are each in different roles now, yet we find that using these ideas and continuing to build on our methods have been useful in our positions as parents and educators.

One aspect of our deviance within our social and emotional learning framework is to allow the child to feel big emotions, to be in the discomfort of it, as long as everyone was safe. When students demonstrated feelings of big emotions, we validated their feelings. Traditionally, it is much easier to use methods of redirection for young children and to try to calm them right away. After much reflection and trial and error, we found that the children were more successful by being allowed to release their strong emotion. We introduced different tools to help with self-regulation of big emotions and  taught the children not to be afraid of feeling what can be considered negative emotions (like anger or sadness). Our reasoning behind this was simple. Research shows that if children are not taught coping skills for all types of emotions and are only taught to shy away from them, then they will not be able to handle when these unavoidable intense emotions come up throughout the rest of their lives.

“Regulating emotion refers to the strategies used to manage the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to an emotional experience (Eisenberg, Fabes, Guthrie, & Reiser, 2000). Emotions can be prevented (test anxiety can be avoided), reduced (frustration toward someone can be lessened), initiated (inspiration can be generated to motivate a group), maintained (tranquility can be preserved to stay relaxed), or enhanced (joy can be increased to excitement when sharing important news) (Brackett et al., 2011). Students who know and use a wide range of emotion regulation strategies are able to meet different goals, such as concentrating on a difficult test and dealing with disappointing news, and managing challenging relationships.”

Transforming Students’ Lives with Social and Emotional Learning, Marc A. Brackett & Susan E. Rivers Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Yale University

Our range of emotions are what makes us human. We cannot feel joy without pain. Our goal was to help the children understand that we all feel these big emotions at some point and that all of our emotions are impermanent phases. The emotion does not define the child or the person. It is separate from who they are and they can identify the emotion that is happening to them for a reason. The emotion is a temporary and passing state that is usually in response to a specific trigger. By validating this emotion, the students could then begin to understand the cause and effect as well. We worked with children to problem solve. Allowing a child to release their emotion might feel a bit uncomfortable for the caregiver initially. This idea inspired us to reflect on our own experiences with emotions and conclude that maybe as adults we are still not comfortable with big emotions. This is alarming considering that humans have the capacity to experience a vast range of big and small emotions at any given moment. These emotions trigger physical responses within our body. Children can often not connect what is happening to their physical body to the triggering big emotion.

“When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.”

Understanding the Stress Response Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School

When the human brain is triggered by a stressful emotion such as fear or anger, the brain goes into ‘fight or flee’ mode. This function of the brain was essential for our survival but makes it challenging for children to learn self-regulation skills. It is essential to allow the individual to release these hormones and provide strategies to calm them down. During a stressful or intense situation, different parts of the brain are working and hormones are flooding the brain. As a result you can not reason with a child until they have calmed down. The part of our brain that controls judgement is not in use while the brain is under stress, even for adults. Our body also feels a physical reaction to the stress as well, such as tense muscles, increased heart-rate, red face, quickened heavy breathing, etc. A child has difficulty navigating their physiological reaction. Self-regulation during these times of stress are a learned behavior that must be taught by the caregiver by providing tools to calm down after a stressful incident.

This physical and emotional moment of anguish is not easy for anyone involved. Each child might need an individual method for how to help them cope. Sometimes, when a child is angry, all they need is a very deep hug.  It might seem odd to hug a child that is angry or that may have acted upon their emotion that will eventually need to be addressed, but it can help them to regulate their emotions. When children are regulated and calm, they are able to access the prefrontal cortex region of their brain. This translates into reasoning, logic, and a much more successful moment for teaching because the child is able to fully engage and participate. As always, other children might need space, or to be offered different strategies.  

In our classroom we found that the most successful strategy that works for all children and adults is to take a deep breath. It may sound simple but this idea, rooted in the concepts of mindfulness, is highly effective. We incorporated a practice of mindfulness and used many of these techniques to aid with our social and emotional learning in our classroom. The act of slowing down, breathing in and out, changes your body’s physical response. It is helpful for both the child and adult to take this deep breath together. I think sometimes we underestimate young children’s ability to use complex tools for their emotional development. The simple act of deep breathing is the perfect starting point for fostering social and emotional intelligence in young children.

The best part about using a mindfulness approach was experiencing it alongside the children. We were not simply instructing them to engage in mindfulness. We were actively participating alongside them, as partners in learning. We would engage in reflective sessions with the children asking how a particular technique worked for them and sharing what worked and didn’t work for us. Our daily mindfulness practice helped us to remain regulated during high-stress times in the classroom (hello, strategies for effective co-teaching!) and informed many of our ideas about social and emotional development in young children. The practice of reflection and partnership that is fostered through Reggio, inspired us to work harder on figuring out how to teach social and emotional skills in a way that reflected our philosophy on the subject.  From this we developed our own Social and Emotional Learning Framework and mindfulness practice in our preschool classroom. Look for upcoming posts regarding further detail on the steps and techniques for early childhood mindfulness practices, Teaching social and emotional intelligence, and how this all can inspire a better co-teaching relationship!

We want to hear from you! Have you used any specific strategies to teach social and emotional intelligence? Have you used mindfulness in the classroom? Do you need more strategies to build your co-teaching relationship? Join the conversation!

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