It can be really difficult to let go of the way you have done things in the past. Believe me, after 21 years teaching, this has been the most challenging and confronting journey I have been on. Confronting because in the past six years I have called into question all that I have believed as a teacher and given away the majority of my practice.
It has been a challenging journey, because it has meant really having to stick my head up out of my teaching shell and be prepared to share my journey, knowing that many don't agree, can be down right rude, but also trusting that for many, the journey I am on supports them, just as I am supported by the journey of others.
I think a lot, as we all do, so this experience has been challenging, because just as I think we are ticking along, another wondering pops into my head that I just have to pursue. Play, as in the pedagogy that I use and how I approach it has morphed and changed each year, because let's face it...we don't know what we don't know until we want or need to know it.
This has made this journey transformative for me, but ultimately for my school and I know for many this continues to be challenging and confronting, but hopefully, just as rewarding as it is for me.
My journey has lead me to a place where I work a lot harder, I am constantly on the go, I don't plan in the traditional sense, but I am 'planning' just on the spot and led by the children. Being reflective and responsive is not something that naturally comes to all of us, I am lucky that it is part and parcel of who I am.
For those that like to tick the boxes and know where they are headed, this journey is challenging. By the very nature of play as a pedagogy and the need to make learning purposeful and authentic we can no longer control it. That can be scary, it can create stress and it can create worry...and that is where trust comes in.
Transformative change, real change, change that blows things up, deep change, change that makes a difference, does not happen without trust. This comes in several forms in a school environment.
1) Trust in ourselves. We need to believe in our abilities as an educator to let go of the known and leap into the unknown. Not blindly of course, but following research and a great deal of thought and reflection. But ultimately that leap does need to happen and we have to be prepared to let go of the old pedagogy or it will only hold us back in the place we have come from. It is like losing weight, but keeping your old clothes just in case you ever gain it back. We have to trust in the decision we have made.
2) Trust in each other. As educators we are a team. We have to be willing to listen to each other, without getting defensive or employing excuses. We have to be willing to take on ideas and truly have a go. Most of all we have to trust that others are as deeply into this journey as we are and not holding onto their old clothes. Children quickly get used to this pedagogy of play, student voice and agency and if the next teacher is not as far down the rabbit hole with it, they will quickly sense this and demonstrate it in a range of ways...defiance being one of the ways. If they are not feeling listened to or valued, they will make sure they make their feelings known.
3)Trust in learning. Play is how we mammals learn best, even as adults. Authentic and purposeful learning context driven by interests and urges produces a depth of learning I have never seen before. But we must trust enough to take a scalpel or sledgehammer to the amount of direct instruction we have been engaging in, the activities we have pre-designed and the planning we have done in the past and trust that children want to learn and will learn without these things. Instead we must trust in the individual and small group moments, the just in time moments, the just right for now moments, the moments of intrigue and wonder, the moments we can respond to and really make a shift for that child. Children will read, write and develop mathematical understandings...that will happen, but in their own time and as they are ready, and you will know when this time is, if you trust enough to let them guide you. Learning should be playful, so even when we are engaging in direct teaching, we need to be aware of this.
4)Trust in the children. Without this, this approach is dead in the water. Play has been around since adam was a baby, it is not a new thing, we have not discovered it, we can not claim to be the experts...we have rediscovered something we should have always known. Play is learning and learning should be play. Play however can not be micromanaged. Give up now if you need to do this. Children need freedom to play, freedom to truly self-direct, regardless if we understand what they are doing or not. They need space to grow and an environment that allows this. They don't need us to constantly know where they are at every moment and they don't need us playing with them, unless they actively invite us in. Children are competent, capable individuals, wired to learn through play, they don't need our help doing this. They are naturally curious and will find the 'curriculum' for want of a better word, without out help.
Trust in them and you will be rewarded.