Education for the Young
Much has been said about the importance of education and how vital schools are to the modelling of young minds to become self-determined individuals. However, in the past years, the educational system has been under harsh criticism due mainly to the poor achievement of students. When we aim to make something better, it almost always involves some level of change, and that change is dependent on educational leadership. Leadership is the ability to set goals for an organization or community and then determine the best course or path to achieve them. Of course, leadership is essential to any field of endeavour or undertaking; however, it is of vital importance in the educational system, where educators are in the service of teaching and guiding young minds. In terms of education, of course leadership is only as good as the policies that they put in place to enhance the learning experience. Whether we call it multiple intelligences, classroom diversity, or by any other name, the bottom line is that the classroom is made up of unique individuals, different in multifarious levels and forms. For the committed teacher, these challenges make the classroom all the more interesting. Whether the differences are in language, culture, or learning styles, the important thing is that the leader is willing to make the necessary concessions to maximize learning, and make attending classes worthwhile for each and every student. This paper seeks to empower everyone involved in the education of young children by framing the educational process within the principles of the EFYS and the Reggio Emilia philosophy whose values and principles find congruence.
The Role of the Adult
Every parent, teacher, and administrator must be a leader in the teaching of the young. The school leader effects change in the hopes of enhancing the educational experience, not only for students and teachers, but for the larger community that schools are part of. (OECD 2005) Successful leadership initiates change, but change is not the simple imposition of new rules. For change to be successful, the reforms must be based on consideration of the needs of everyone involved. By improving communication and relationships with all members of the institution, school leaders are able to bring about the kind of change that creates better conditions for learning and responds to the needs and concerns of those affected by the change. (Fullan 2003, 12) School leadership involves the ability to create conditions that enhance the development and learning of both the individual and the institution. The ideal leader creates a culture of collaboration and shared vision, where everyone’s participation determines the collective success of the individual. Rather than change for change’s sake, school leaders should pay more attention on establishing relationships and redefining values, which will then be the basis of change. (Fullan 2003, 6) Specifically, educational leaders must pay careful attention to testing and assessment, as well as using technological enhancements as possible steps to improving the learning experience for our young learners as well as empowering teachers inside the classroom. (Edwards, Gandini and Forman 1998, 92)
Both the EFYS and the Emilia-Reggia believe that parents are key elements in the education of the young. Parents are a child’s first teachers, and no other person knows the child intimately as the parent does. As such, their involvement in their child’s learning is a vital aspect of the child’s education. One of the best examples of the importance of parental involvement and parent-teacher partnership can be found in the concept of early intervention among exceptional children. (Powell 1982, 136) By keeping the communication lines open, parents/carers and teachers can work together to come up with an appropriate intervention plan in case there is something wrong with the young learner. For children showing signs of developmental delays, the earlier the intervention is given, the better the chances the child has for living a normal life. In such cases, information from the parents as well as observations from the teacher can provide diagnosticians with enough information that will serve as the basis for further testing. (Shonkoff & Meisels 2000, 52) In such a case, the learning and development of the child is fostered and supported by parents and teachers who are ever vigilant and watchful. (Fraser and Gestwicki 2001, 91)
In as far as early childhood education is concerned, partnership between parents and teachers is vital to the child’s learning. (Fisher 1999, 218) Teachers can gain insights about the child and be able to create individualised learning goals based on this. Moreover, parents can support the learning goals of the teacher by providing activities in the house that will both supplement and complement the activities inside the classroom. (Nutbrown 1994, 294) Of course, parents must not be overly involved that they end up doing all the work for their children. In such cases, involvement becomes detrimental because children end up depending on their parents for projects and homework, and they may end up gaining nothing from such activities. The best that parents can do is assist or guide their children in their school-related tasks. (Fraser and Gestwicki 2001, 46) Of course, every well-meaning parent wants the best for their children, but they should be careful that their children learn to think and act for themselves. (Edwards, Gandini and Forman 1998, 38) Such “tough love” teaches the child to have a sense of ownership for what they accomplish, little as it may be. (Smidt 1998, 22)
There are several factors that may pose as barriers to establishing good parent-teacher partnerships. The biggest obstacle is the incongruence or mismatch between the parent and teacher’s values and principles. If parents and teachers come from very different backgrounds, then there may well be disagreements and ‘cultural clashes’. Teachers should always be conscious of their own value systems and how these things affect their treatment and perceptions of parents, and vice-versa. Teachers and parents can be so entangled in their differences that they fail to see how they are united in their concern for the child. Often teachers may not be aware that their own cultural upbringing manifests inside the classroom, and parents may take offense at this. As such, teachers must always be vigilant and keep constant watch of their own behaviour inside their classrooms. Our culture is something so intimate that it shows in all aspects of our live, but when we enter the classroom, that culture arguably should be left outside the door.
Regarding the effects on the child, the ‘verdict is out’. Studies have consistently shown that parental involvement has positive effects of the child, effects which go beyond the classroom. (Katz 1984, 23) A child who feels cared for and loved by their parents is more likely to grow up well-rounded. When parents take the time to check on their child’s schooling and are involved in their class activities, they are sending the message that no matter how tired or stressed they are, they will always make time for their children. Nothing is as important as making a child know that he or she is important and valued. (Katz 1984, 11) In so far as parental involvement is concerned, the one that is most effective is the one where parents are directly interacting with their children. (Keyes, 112) In particular, programs that require parents to read with their children as well as projects that require parental input and participation are the most effective and show the most remarkable results as far as student achievement is concerned. (Keyes, 115) It is worth noting, however, that in the past very many generations of children grew up perfectly well without close parental involvement, and that very often a ‘surrogate’ parent, such as a relative or a nanny, provided far more than a child’s ‘blood’ parents. Moreover, many children these days have parents who may be less than ideal, and whose parenting actually damages the child through ‘paranoid parenting’, ‘over-cosseting’ and ‘molly-coddling’: the emergence of ‘helicopter mums’ in an irrationally fearful society would seem to be a negative development.
The Learning Environment.
Starting with what students know is encouraging because it gives them a sense of accomplishment early on in the lesson. This will motivate them and prepare them for the next lesson. The sense of achievement, especially among young learners, motivates them to take responsibility for their own learning. Dewey once said, “I believe that this educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological… Of these two sides, the psychological is the basis. The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education.” (1897, p.90)
This statement, while very simple, has profound effects in the way we teach children. In the educational process, it is important to start with what the child knows. Prior learning is the framework where new knowledge attaches itself to build a stronger structure. When introducing a new concept, it is useful to begin with the previous lesson and connect it, or ‘scaffold’ it, to the new material. Let the child see the relationship and build their own concepts. This way the child earns ownership of what he has learned because it was a result of what he already knows. Indeed, all children have prior knowledge that teachers can use when teaching a new lesson, and have different areas of knowledge too which can be shared in a collaborative classroom. This is a concept that can be used regardless of the subject being taught. By using this knowledge in positive and proactive ways, the learning process becomes smooth and effortless.
Organisations of Provisions
Education is a process where teachers and students come together in an atmosphere of collaborative and sustained learning experiences. As teachers facilitate learning, so should their own wealth of knowledge and experiences be enhanced by the students too. Inside the classroom, the teacher and their ability is the single biggest factor that determines the success or failure of learning (Smidt 1998). It is the teacher who creates the atmosphere that will allow the class to focus on their tasks and keeps the pupils engaged in lessons. The teacher must create a classroom that invites constant opportunities to learn (Mujis 2005, p. 75) By the same token, school leaders create the atmosphere that makes it possible for teachers and students to come together in mutual learning experiences. As teachers create the atmosphere inside the classroom, so do principals and school administrators create an educational institution that facilitates or hinders learning. Schools provide the venue where the educated person is developed and the policies that school leaders create and the rules, values and ethos that they establish determines the success or failure of this educational process.
Educators understand that learning best takes place in an atmosphere of positive expectations. (Fraser and Gestwicki 2001, 114) How students are perceived dictates how they perceive themselves, and it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, it is important and imperative that school leaders create an environment where students are expected to achieve and be successful. Similarly, while all students are expected to achieve, they should be allowed to do so according to their style and preferences as unique individuals. When the educational process approximates the student’s own learning preferences, they become more strategic and reflective in their learning approaches, which leads to better and enhanced achievement.
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