Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Vocabulary of Partnerships in FDK





There is something very odd taking place in FDK (Full Day Kindergarten) across Ontario that has to do with the vocabulary surrounding teaching partnerships in FDK programs.

For whatever reason, despite the fact that both OCT and DECE names are on the door... sometimes one educator thinks that they are the lead or that they are in charge.

I have heard phrases like “my room”, “my students” being used. I have heard a distinction being made a lot in schools and on social media between ‘the teacher’ (OCT) and ‘the ECE’ (DECE). More specifically, it is the phrase “my ECE” that has caught my attention.

I will admit that I am one of the people that have made this distinction. I have referred to my teaching partner as “my ECE”. At the time when I said it, I didn’t think anything of it. I was speaking to someone about how lucky I felt that “my ECE” and I had such a positive relationship that year. That we were able to have discussions, accept feedback and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. It wasn’t until I was walking away from this conversation that I started to think about what I had actually just said.

It was the weird phrase “my ECE” that was sticking out. I had heard it used a million times before so I didn’t even think about it when I said it… but it felt weird when I was thinking back on it. I had been speaking about OUR classroom and OUR kids, so why did I say “my ECE”? I was singing her praises as a partner, so why did I opt to use “my ECE” instead of teaching partner? I hadn’t meant it to sound possessive or hierarchical but I couldn’t help but wonder… did it sound like that anyway?

It got me thinking, what is meant when we are saying “my ECE”? I am pretty sure ECEs don't say “my teacher” or “my OCT” so why do we say “my ECE”? What does this phrase imply? How does this change how ECEs are viewed in education? Does this impact how the parents view the roles in the classroom? Could this be affecting the way children view the roles in the classroom?

Here are my thoughts.

When we use these phrases it indicates that there is not equality in the classroom.  It weirdly turns ECEs into a possession of the OCT… “my room, my kids, my ECE”.  This degrades the partnerships and implies that ECEs are subordinate to OCTs.
It creates a hierarchy of power in the classroom where the OCT is the Teacher (the leader and owner of the space) and the ECE is ‘just’ the ECE. When a distinction is made that one is the Teacher and the other is ‘just’ the ECE it becomes very difficult to have an equal partnership.

I am reminded of the words of Loris Malaguzzi when I think of the impact that this tension and false hierarchy creates in our classrooms. If left unchecked, this tension can spread and grow to become a very negative, very ugly force in the classroom. When this happens, student’s sense of belonging and well-being is impacted. When this happens, the classroom is no longer a safe and nurturing space for children to learn and grow.

“Children are very sensitive and see and sense very quickly the spirit of what is going on among the adults in their world. They understand whether the adults are working together in a truly collaborative way or if they are separated in some way from each other, living their experience as if it were private with little interaction."
- “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins” by Loris Malaguzzi

Is this what we are intending when we use this phrase? No way (not for me at least). But whether or not this is our intention, I can’t help but think that maybe it is being interpreted this way.

I mentioned this to my teaching partner after the year was over that this was something that I had been thinking about. At first it didn’t seem to me that it bothered her that I had referred to her as “my ECE”. When I suggested that I was pretty sure she had never called me “her teacher” I could see that her understanding of the phrase “my ECE” had changed, just as my understanding had changed too.

I suggested that ‘teachers’ need to stop saying “my ECE’ because it wasn’t right. When we use these phrases it creates tensions and hierarchies in places where they don’t belong. 

We need to stop using these phrases and replace them with a new set of vocabulary where we are all educators and partners. Lose the ‘my’ and the ‘me’ and replace it with ‘our’ and ‘we’.

This is something that I am working on. I have been making a conscious effort to remove the distinction from my vocabulary to be replaced by the word educator for both. I think that this is something that the province is moving towards (e.g., changing the wording in the new 2016 Kindergarten Program to say educator) but that individual schools and teachers are still moving towards.

And with that I ask again…

What is meant when we are saying “my ECE”? I am pretty sure ECEs don't say “my teacher” so why do we say “my ECE”? What does this phrase imply? How does this change how ECEs are viewed in education? Does this impact how the parents view the roles in the classroom? Could this be affecting the way children view the roles in the classroom?

Let’s talk,
Shannon