“We have to try harder to see the power in little children that is hiding in plain sight.”
Erika Christakis wrote this in The Importance of Being Little, her new book out this month, and it rings loud and true in my mind. (The book is on sale in the lobby at the JCC’s book fair this week!)
The power of little children is hiding, right in front of us, if only we look and listen. Often, our discourse around nursery-aged children speaks either to their innocence and cherubic qualities (So sweet! Too cute!) or their developmental work (Still working on counting to 10; When will he hold a marker with a mature grasp?). With our Parent-Teacher Conferences coming over the next few days, I would like to interject a third, and for us at the JCC nursery, more meaningful way to see our children: for their power, their voice, and their ideas. Our work as teachers is to get to know the child’s neshama, the Hebrew word for soul. We teach because we love your children – not their sweetness or their milestones, but who they are. This is what we hope to impress upon you as we sit down for your upcoming conference.
Of course, you should also expect to hear from your child’s teachers about his or her those developmental milestones, and certainly a heavy dose of how cute they are as well! But most importantly, we want to share with you the child that we have come to know and love and hear from you as well about who that child is at home. As Christakis continues, our orientation is one of “recognition of young children as unique people with their own ideas, their own feelings, their own thoughts and tastes and experiences.” That is why we’re here, and that is what we come together with you to talk about.
A part of that conversation is necessarily about their development in different domains (i.e., physical, social, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive). But the reason we partner with you, in the brit (covenantal relationship – think of the rainbow that God shows Noah) between school and families, is not so that children can learn to read, count, or hold a marker properly (although those things happen along the way!) but so that children can express to themselves and to us who they and who they want to be. Our job is to listen, and to share with you what we have heard. Carla Rinaldi, progenitor of the Reggio approach we use in our school, refers to this as the “pedagogy of listening.” The more we listen to children, the more they say and the more thoughts they have. They more they become themselves. Listening to children is our way of getting to know them but also of fostering their growth, learning, and development.
With Parent-Teacher Conferences in mind, and moving from big-picture to practical, I would also direct you to two great resources to help prepare for a successful conference. We’ve often heard from our parents, “What am I supposed to do for my conference?” While the bulk of the work is of course done on our side, there are some good tips to keep in mind for our parents. The first resource is found in the most recent PANI (Parents Association News and Information), given by Andi Wissot, herself a mom and teacher (and sister to Michele Wissot, mom in Classroom 7). If you have a moment, take time to read through Andi’s advice, such as “Talk about what you see at home,” “Take notes” (you might find your teacher even starts talking more as you take notes!), and “Ask for details.” The second resource I recommend is a brief excerpt from Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure, published earlier this year (also available in the book fair in the lobby). Excerpted here, she gives good, succinct recommendations for building “a true partnership with your child’s teacher,” such as:
Show up at school with an attitude of optimism and trust
Project an attitude of respect for education
Let teachers know about big events unfolding at home
Find opportunities to express gratitude
Begin with the assumption that you have an interest in common – the student
Remember that truth often lies between two perceptions
So, with all of this in mind – we are looking forward to seeing you all come in this week for your Parent-Teacher Conference. We can’t wait to talk with you about the child that we know and love.