The Power of Our Mind’s Eye (Guest blogger: Anna Owen, M.S. Ed)

As I was scrolling through my social media feed late one evening, I came across a quote that someone had shared by a gentleman named Wayne Dyer that said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

This quote made me stop scrolling and I began to think about the many ways that it spoke it to me.  If you know me personally, you probably know that in addition to my passion for early childhood, I also have a great passion for photography.  From the moment that I began to look at life through the lens of my camera, I began to see things differently.   Suddenly, that old tree in our front yard that I had probably looked at a million times before was more beautiful to me.  My camera helped me to slow down and to observe this world more closely. I began to notice the tree’s textures, it’s lines, it’s colors, the way the sunlight illuminated it’s leaves at different times of day.  I noticed how the tree’s beauty changed through the various seasons.  My camera forced me to slow down and to truly “see” things.  Now I find myself appreciating the beauty around me even when my camera is not near. My family will often hear me make comments when we are out such as “Wow, look at how the light and shadows are hitting the side of that building, isn’t that pretty?”  It’s just how I see the world now.   I am so thankful for photography as it has given me the gift to slow down and to notice details that I might not otherwise have seen.

As I reflected on the impact of photography in my own life, I began thinking about how our mind’s eye really shapes everything that we experience in this life, both personal and professional, including our work in the field of early childhood.

The way in which we, as adults, “see” children certainly shapes our interactions with them.  Do we slow down to notice and appreciate what is unique and beautiful about every child that we work with?  Do we approach each day with a fresh curiosity that allows us to be more “in the moment” and to observe children more closely?  This can be extremely difficult to do during the hustle and bustle of the typical preschool classroom.  If we did this more intentionally, what might we see?  What might we learn?  How might this practice affect our relationships with the children?  How would the climate of our classroom change if we made seeing in this way a priority?

How do we “see” the children that might have more difficult temperaments or children that exhibit ongoing challenging behaviors? Do we view those children negatively and/or respond out of stress?  Or do we choose to “see” a beautiful young soul that needs some help getting through a difficult moment?  The way that we “see” shapes the way that we act.

It can be difficult to train our mind’s eye to see differently.  It’s a journey and it takes time, reflection and intentionality.  In my own photography practice, I have committed to doing a “365 project” in which I take one photo daily.  This commitment forces me to look at my life more creatively and I have to be intentional about seeking the beauty in my everyday moments that might otherwise seem mundane.  When I’m not intentional about challenging my mind to see differently then I’m just not growing.

In addition to preparing teachers with the skills and knowledge that they will need to implement developmentally appropriate practices and teaching methods, I’m wondering how we might also help them to nurture their mind’s eye as they grow professionally?   What tools can we give educators to continue to reflect on how they choose to “see” as they go to work with children each day?

Our mind’s eye will shape our methods.  Our methods will impact children.  We need to always ask ourselves, “Am I modeling the dispositions (habits of mind) that I want to strengthen in the children that I work with?”  The way that we “see” will certainly impact how the children “see,” as well.   Just the other day, my five-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, isn’t the golden light that is shining on my wall just so beautiful?”  I loved that she paused to notice that detail as she was playing in her room.  As we continue to take the time to notice and appreciate the beauty in each of our children, it is more likely that they will also notice and appreciate others in the same way.  Don’t we need more of that in the world that we live in today?

 


Anna Owen, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist with STARnet Regions I & III. Anna has been involved in the field of early childhood since 2003.  She received her Master’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2013.  Her previous job titles include training coordinator, parent educator and preschool teacher.  In her role as an Early Childhood Resource Specialist, she provides technical assistance and training to early childhood professionals and families. She is passionate about the arts and serves as the co-chair for the Creative Expressions Art Gallery that takes place biannually at the statewide Sharing A Vision conference.  She provides professional development on a variety of topics related to curriculum, assessment, lesson planning, intentional interactions and much more.  In her spare time, she enjoys photography and spending time with her husband and two young children.

Guiding Pre-Service Teachers to Build Relationships with Families (Guest blogger: Dr. Bernadette Laumann)

One of the most difficult relationships that beginning early childhood teachers encounter is creating trust with their students’ families. I have seen this in settings where pre-service teachers are nervous about greeting and engaging in conversations with students’ parents. Often the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of pre-service teachers may be quite different from their students’ families. This is true in many communities across Illinois, where families from a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds live and work. Teacher educators must consciously prepare new teachers to be ready to engage with families from many different backgrounds.

Course assignments that include home visits, conversations with parents, and parent/teacher conferences help prepare new teachers for their future work with families. The more practice pre-service teachers can have meeting with families the better. When we talk about differentiating instruction for young children, we also talk about differentiating communication with families. Each family is unique and brings their own dreams and hopes for their child. Using technology helps facilitate ongoing communication with families about their child’s learning.

As teacher educators it is our responsibility to model open communication for pre-service teachers. Our communication with them and willingness to listen to their hopes and fears with an open heart demonstrates how they can approach the families of their students. Communicating with families can be embedded into pre-service teacher education programs in a variety of courses and practica. Our work is to prepare future early childhood teachers to be partners with the families of their students and to be open to learning from them.

Resources

* Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA), Engaging Culturally Diverse Families, a resource list with links to a variety of materials addressing cultural competence and promoting partnerships with diverse families

*The Illinois Families and School Success Project provides resources for school staff (PreK through 12th grade) and families to promote best practices in family engagement.

*The Illinois Early Learning Project focuses on resources that support educators of young children birth to age five years old and their families. Resources for families are available in diverse languages.

* IRIS Center Module: Collaborating with Families highlights information teachers need to understand when working with the families of children with disabilities.


Bernadette Laumann, PhD is the Co-Principal Investigator for two ISBE funded grants: the Illinois Early Learning Project and the Illinois Families and School Success Project. She has been a teacher educator, principal of an inclusive public pre-k program, and an early childhood special educator.