This guest post comes to us from 4C Professional Development Specialist, Debra Chin.
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. –Isaac Newton
As early childhood professionals, many times we claim something that we do daily is the best practice. Like the little boy described above in Newton’s quote, the moment we found or researched something, and thought the data showed a certain practice that seemed to serve the best to children, we “published” a best practice from our own lenses. I caught myself using the term “best practice” numerous times while I was coaching or presenting training. Then, a tiny voice crept up asking me, “Before you open your mouth trying to defend yourself with so called “best practice” and criticize others, do you know what others’ practice derived from?” I thought I had found “a smoother pebble or prettier shell,” yet Newton’s quote reminded me that “the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” I pause and think…
Each child is a unique person. Each of them has his/her own previous experience constructed from the interactions he/she has had with his/her peers, family and community. A practice that we entitle the “best” could be diverting from those unique experiences that we have learned from each child and each family.
We often promote independence and value children’s learning through free exploration of materials. We encourage children to openly express opinions for themselves. We may expect children at a certain age to be able to use simple words to express their feelings. However, some of our children may come from families that value dependence behaviors, and expect young children to first develop an ability in following guidance from adults, instead of initiating activities independently. Children may be expected to “be seen and not heard,” and are encouraged to develop a skill of listening patiently to others prior to that of speaking out. Sharing emotions may not be valued by some families, and instead viewed as something to keep private.
Best practice is not a set of rules, but requires more talking, clarifying, listening, understanding and perhaps negotiating. Negotiating difference begins with us as teachers or administrators clearly understanding our own preferences and where they come from. I think the message that I’d like to share with all of us is to humbly learn from our children and families about underlying reasons of each practice that seems awkward to us. Through a manner of honoring those different practices, we learn the hopes and dreams of each family for their children which will provide us with a rich source of information to develop a practice that would best facilitate children’s learning and development. Meanwhile, this same reflection goes with the work that we have with our fellow professionals. None of us should proclaim our practice is the best without the willingness to be open to learning from each other and to expand our view of practices based on what we learn, for the best interest of young children. Then we could proudly say that we have a best practice.