Creating meaningful and lasting change on behalf of children and families requires pausing to see, listen to and learn from changemakers.
It was in the late 70s and I was head of Bank Street’s Infant and Family Center. I can still see two visitors who came to observe. Each dressed in a crisp blouse, skirt, stockings, and low heels.
It was a busy day. The baby on my shoulder was teething and Jerry (26 months) was biting.
I greeted our guests, smears of playdough and baby food on my tee-shirt and jeans and showed them where to sit.
My co-teacher, Gwen, and I had decided earlier to divide the group. She would take Jerry and two others to buy snackwhile I “stayed home” with the others. Our thinking: Jerry would get break from the group and Gwen’s focus. We’d all go outside later.
After the shoppers left, I started to read, one toddler on each side of me and the baby with a teething toy on my lap.
A few minutes later, our visitors stood up to leave. I smiled “goodbye”. One of them walked over to me.
“Thank you,” she said, standing over me. “We enjoyed our visit. But… I think the water table should be over there. And shouldn’t you take all the children outside to play?”
I can still remember how this woman’s tone (her nice clothes too, I have to admit) left me feeling defensive and annoyed – almost 40 years later. How different it all would have been if she had paused to listen and learn from me. If she had said something like, “I’m curious. Why did only a few children go outside?’ Or “I wonder what might happen if you moved the water table?”
P.S. It took me a week before I moved the water table. She was right.