Experiencing a Community of Carers
By Bernadette Nicholas
Last week, we found animal poop. It happens from time to time when critters leave little surprises for us to find. So, I removed it, then sprayed the area with a disinfectant. I mentioned to the children present that they needed to avoid the area while the disinfectant dried. As I walked to another area, Colton – who was very concerned that classmates who had not yet arrived wouldn’t know to avoid the area I sprayed – made a plan to section off the area so other children wouldn’t accidentally play there and get exposed to the “chemicals.” He found a box and tried to position it to block the area. Ultimately, his plan did not lead to a substantial barrier, but I was struck by how his concern for his classmates led to his immediate action.
But with this group of children, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the “Don’t Eat the Potato Greens” group. When my co-teacher, Amber, warned the children that the greens for the potatoes they planted can make people and animals sick, they set off on a school-wide campaign to make sure that EVERYONE knew not to eat the potato greens AND to not let Leo the Tortoise or Super Chicken eat the potato greens neither. They wrote letters to the other classrooms, made signs for the garden bed, and told anyone who would listen about the potential dangers of the potato greens. They even told family members who, due to the current restrictions, don’t even have access to the potato greens. They went above and beyond to ensure the safety of those in their community.
Before this year, one of my goals as an educator was to cultivate a community of learners within the classroom, a community in which adults and children work in collaboration and learn alongside one another to co-construct knowledge. But now the question I ask myself as I reflect on the work that I do from day to day is what I am doing to cultivate a community of carers? Through their words and actions, the children have shown me that while it is still exciting to explore our ideas about natural disasters or to observe insects in the garden or to experiment with the shapes and sounds of letters, during this time learning to carefor one another is far more important. My focus has shifted accordingly, and now as I reflect on my practice, instead of reflecting on how well I’m facilitating learning, I assess my effectiveness at facilitating caring. How well did I model a caring attitude today? What am I doing to foster caring attitudes in the children? What opportunities did I provide for the children to care for others? How well did I address moments when uncaring words or actions occurred? These questions have become the roadmap that helps guide the work that I do each day.
This year has been an interesting year to be an educator. While some educators have had to adjust to teaching online, others – such as me and the other teachers here at Little Owl – have returned to the classroom to support the children in person. With the ongoing pandemic, being in-person can – at times – be anxiety inducing. But the gift of this time as an educator still in the classroom, is in experiencing how, throughout this pandemic, the children’s altruistic, caring selves are shining through. The gift is in experiencing the sweet taste of belonging to a community of carers.