There is probably a better term for this but I think there is a human tendency to turn into an annoying zealot when somebody newly discovers something profound or exciting in their life. I mean they are also passionate, dedicated, dynamic and full of a sense of purpose but they can also be plain annoying to others. Maybe the newer they are to something the tendency to be annoying is higher? People who delve head first into far left politics and activism. People who become born again Christians. Hardcore Atheists. People who do Crossfit. People who are vegan. People who aren’t vegan. Apparently also people, such as myself, who discover the world of pro-play, child-led, developmentally appropriate early learning practice. I’ve worked in this field since 2007 but it’s honestly only been the last year or so where I have discovered an entirely new love and interest in this work.
To cut to the chase, I started getting into these topics right when I started a new job in Leeds, where I have recently moved. Like most nurseries and childcare it is full of educators who care deeply and work hard at their jobs. These same educators also simply have too much to do each day and are overworked and stretched thin. And like more settings, there was all sorts of practice that left a lot to be desired. Having my mind blown left and right by the likes of Peter Gray or the Child Care Bar and Grill podcast, I simply did not have the patience or presence of mind to see the situation in a realistic light. Actually a bigger factor was how overworked we all were. There was nowhere enough time to get to know each other, reflect on the day or to discuss practice and how to work as a team.
I wrote most of them off in my head and ended up leaving. It was the right decision. It was 24 2-3 year olds in a full day, over scheduled program that did not have free access to a play area. There were also staff who simply did not have proper knowledge or expectations of children that age. They were probably better than many settings in terms of appreciating play but the schedule still ruled mercilessly supreme over the day. And probably most important, it wasn’t the right place to be in as I was unlearning and rethinking so much.
I’ve learned to look at children with new eyes. I am realizing I need to learn to look at adults with new eyes as well and this is much harder. There is no way around the fact that we only know what we know. We can’t hold people’s lack of knowledge or experience against them. This is easier said than done though when adults lack of knowledge or experience translates into developmentally inappropriate practice and poor experiences for the children in our care. This is legitimately hard to watch. We have a duty to advocate for what we know is right, but I can’t be quickly writing other adults off anymore. At this old setting I found myself being too “go with the flow” about most things and then chose random hills to die on when I got too frustrated with the situation. As I was still thinking through lots of new ideas, I wasn’t confident enough to simply “use my words” and tell my coworkers where I was coming from.
I simply can’t expect my coworkers from different walks of life and experiences to be immediately on the same page as me. I can’t be a jerk about things either but it is also larger than me. Early years educators need to be given more time to build trusting and secure relationships with each other. It’s much easier to bring up differences of opinion when it is with people who know, trust and respect where you are coming from. I think managers and directors need to realize that this takes actual scheduled time and actual support. It’s not going to happen properly in random five minute sessions or after work drinks.
To take responsibility for my here and now though I am thinking about my new job. Part of it is working in small 2 year old program. Overall it’s going very well but obviously the four of us are coming at the job from our different angles and perspectives. A solid team takes time to build. For my part I am going to work on assuming the best from my coworkers and even though it is awkward and uncomfortable, practice respectfully bringing things up when I have an issue.
I am still very passionate about everything I have been learning, and there is no doubt that A LOT needs to change in our field and the wider culture, but I’d like to think I am coming around to a more reasonable, long term view of how I can be a part of that.