Friday, October 26, 2018

Presuming Competence with Our Colleagues

I’m two days into the three day Division of Early Childhood conference and I have to tell you, I am EXHAUSTED. These first two days have been packed, with limited time between sessions to process what I’m hearing. It’s exciting to hear about the current work in the field, what is about to be published, and what research questions are being pursued. Yet it also feels a bit like it’s impossible to keep up. So much is swirling through my head right now. 

It’s always fascinating to talk to practitioners across the country to hear how practices, trends, and terminology varies from place to place. Because we typically work within only the constructs of our school or district, we often assume that what we are being told is best practice is what is considered best practice everywhere. Or, to be even more specific - We often assume the terminology we use to describe best practices is the same terminology used everywhere.

Even though practices may look the same, what I find the more I talk to people across the country is that the terminology we use to describe those practices is not. It may change depending on what program or philosophy our county has invested in, what trainers we’ve seen, or the background of our university professors. 

The greatest problem I’ve seen in this is that we make assumptions that we are right. The terminology we are using is what describes one certain practice, and that when an educator doesn’t show that they recognize a certain term or researcher, that the educator is somehow not as good as us. “They don’t even know what X is…” is a phrase I’m not unfamiliar with. 

I am continuously shocked by how big the field is, and how many different studies exist around similar topics. And it should be this big. We need a spectrum of ideas, and research studies again and again proving techniques that work and don’t work. It keeps our profession inquisitive and making sure we are serving the needs of the kids around us. 

We talk a lot about presuming competence in our students, but we don’t always do it with our colleagues. We assume that because a teacher doesn’t recognize a particular term or practice, or that a teacher approaches a behavior in a certain way, that the teacher isn’t as good, competent, or informed as we are. 

It is exhausting to attempt to keep up with the research, and to try to understand how certain practices overlap. So let’s be kind to each other. Let’s listen to one another’s educational backgrounds, and learn more about what practices we bring to the table. In order to collaborate effectively, can we openly talk about what each practice, theory, and “research based best practice” brings to the table, and whether or not it will be effective in this particular situation? Can we stop implying “I”m right because research says ….” And instead engage in genuine dialogue over practice and research?

These are scary conversations, because they often imply that the practices we’ve been taught - the ones we’ve been using for years - aren’t always “right”. But here’s the secret - nothing is ever “right” in education. When we get caught in “right and wrong” we stop responding to the kids and critically thinking about what’s happening in front of us. 

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