ON Seeing the Changemaker

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. 

Think Pieces

I developed the first Think Pieces with colleagues at FirstStep NYC.  Below please find a sample, “Learning to Observe and Record.”  In this piece, Ms. Grace Couchman shares reflections from her professional development.  She encourages colleagues to be open to trying new ways of doing things and let colleagues know “I don’t get it,” when you don’t get it.  You or I could write about these ideas forever and still not be heard by readers.  Documenting the voices of those who make a difference every day – in a program or at home – then sharing that voice with othersis a vitally important change strategy.

Learning to Observe and Record
A FirstStepNYC Think Piece

June, 2014

Based on the insights, lessons learned and most effective practices of Grace Couchman, Assistant Teacher.  Written by Amy Laura Dombro. 

I came here from a place where we gave children ditto sheets.  I’d never learned how to observe children and write down what they do to assess and plan for goals.  Until coming here, I looked at children and saw them working.

Observing is important because you are making a special effort to see and document.  That way you can see how a child has grown.  It’s not about what you think or feel.  It’s about what you see and write down.

Teacher-to-teacher tips about learning to observe:
Observing takes a lot of practice and time to learn.  Try not to getfrustrated.  You are learning a new skill.  

Let your colleagues know, “I don’t get it,” when you don’t get it.  Sometimes as professionals we don’t want to let people know we don’t understand.  We struggle quietly.  It gives you peace to share with colleagues. At first I couldn’t see symbolic representation (using one object to stand for another, for example, when a child holds a block up to their ear using it like a phone).  Now I can.

Be open to learn from your colleagues – and to share what you know.  Our team is willing to help each other.

Be open to learning new ways of doing things. You come in with your own ideas and your own way of doing things. Be open to how people in a new place do things.  It erases conflict when you are willing to give a new idea a try even if you don’t agree.  

Pay attention to and observe daily routines.  Zipping up a coat may sound simple but there are many skills a child needs to do it like using fingers and having confidence.