Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Nurturing the Spirit to Teach: Commitment, Community and Emergent Curriculum

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Nurturing the Spirit to Teach: Commitment, Community and Emergent Curriculum

Article excerpt

My daughter, who is eight, understands that one of the things I do is present to teachers and that I draw on my experiences with her and my son Jack, who is three, to provide real-life anecdotes about children. The night before I left to travel to a conference I found this note on the kitchen table:

`Daddy these poems are for your gig.'

One of her poems particularly attracted my attention, both as a father and as an educator.

My Soul 
   My soul is full of love and hope, 
   My soul is full of courage, 
   My soul is full of care and worries, 
   And full of sorrow. 

Touched by the intensity of her feelings, I was reminded that children are indeed complex; not easily reduced to an image of cute sayings and behaviour. The unrelenting curiosity of children as they seek to make sense of the world, and their perseverance in the face of obstacles, amaze me. This spirit is the reason I have spent time watching and playing with, being frustrated and inspired by children since I became a teacher and parent. In their recent book on observation, Curtis and Carter (2000) remind us: `When we neglect to see the children for who they really are, we deprive ourselves of deeper sources of delight. We miss the opportunity to witness the profound process of human development that is unfolding before our eyes' (p. xiii).

As professionals we also have a `spirit' that guides our work with children and families. In his book The courage to teach, Parker Palmer (1998) refers to the spiritual landscape of the teaching self as `the diverse ways in which we answer the heart's longing to be connected with the largeness of life--a longing that animates love and work, especially the work called teaching' (p. 5). Teacher educator Barbara Sizemore (1999) talks about the `spirit that ignites the will,' the spark in you that overcomes all obstacles, `courageous optimism that positions the mind to know that we can make a difference' (Sizemore, 1998, p. 12). This spirit needs constant nourishment to rejuvenate and so `we must nurture our spirits with positive thinking. If we act out of anger, hatred, shame and guilt, we diminish our spirits. If we act out of charity, love, hope and respect, we expand the power of the spirit' (p. 12).

Nurturing our spirit as educators is the neglected heart of professional development. The work of early childhood teachers is hard, with insufficient pay and a lack of recognition. There is a misunderstanding by the public of what is needed to sustain a teacher's vision amidst the daily grind of this profession. In this article I propose four interconnected ways in which we can reclaim and nurture the spirit needed to teach. First, we need to uncover what image of the child (Rinaldi, 1998) drives our engagement in children's learning and fashions our approach to teaching. Next, I consider how the spirit to teach is nurtured through being creatively engaged in the invention of the curriculum in your own classroom. Third, taking thoughtful risks that push the boundaries of one's experience is explained as critical to teacher growth and creativity (Jones & Nimmo, 1999). And finally, I argue that the building of community amongst educators, families, and the local neighbourhood is critical to providing the resources needed to fuel an ongoing commitment to teaching (Nimmo, 1998).

Constructing our image of childhood and teaching

Can you remember why you decided to be in the company of children in the first place? One place to begin is to talk about the image of childhood that you value from your own childhood experience and which subsequently guides your work in the classroom. Margie Carter and I asked a diverse group of teachers at Pacific Oaks College to capture a cherished childhood memory to share vividly with a partner. We debriefed the themes we heard in the stories. What is powerful about childhood? …

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