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Recently, there has been several discussions about the difference between collaborations and cooperations, initiated by the blogs of Justin Schwamm. Although I’m not sure I totally understand the differences that were discussed, I had to take a closer look at the two words from my own perspective.

When I think of cooperation I think of Sesame Street and lessons taught about getting along, about cooperating. Wonderful lessons! Today, as I mesh it with the other Wisdoms, other discussions about community, I see it as a “me” and a “you” (your “me”), each with our own agendas working together harmoniously, perhaps on the same project but still from the “me” perspective.

Collaborating, on the other hand, from my perspective, is about bringing my “me” and your “me” together, sharing knowledge, Wisdom, and skills, (etc) as one community, one “we”, with the goal of contributing together for one community and for the larger community. It is about bringing the Fire of Truth together for a common goal.

Collaboration vs Cooperation

The above diagram is a visual for my view of the two concepts, based on the focus of education.
With collaboration we are all part of a community which is connected to another community, which sits within a larger community, each impacting the other in some way. “I” am just another circle in the mix.

Cooperation, on the other hand, separates the communities, looking at them one at time, although by touching they do have an impact on other units. “I” am at the centre of the wheel.

Empowering Collaboration
First, we have to understand collaboration and we have to believe in it. Why is it important? How does it have a positive impact on the individual, on society, and on our world as a whole?

Next, we need to believe that it is worth the effort to empower it, to build it. We have to have it as a priority motivation in the big scheme of things. With so many things on our plate, can we fit this one more concept and skill into our interactions with children? Will we have to give up something in exchange? Will we be motivated by the desire to empower this perspective of relationships?

Belief, Motivation, Skill & Self-Control: Self-control is about the strategies we will use to keep collaboration as a priority. It is about making it happen on an ongoing basis. And, now, that leaves the skill part of the components of change. How do we build and empower collaboration within a classroom?

Collaboration is about a common goal so identifying this as a group is important. How do we get everyone on board? One component of this is using the Fire of Truth – ensuring that we are bringing each student into the community based on their interests, their skill levels, their passions, and their personal gifts and talents.

From the perspective of early childhood education, I picture a conversation about fire trucks. Some children will want to read books about the topic, do research. Others will want to draw pictures, perhaps create decorations for the room. Still others will want to build a fire truck or a fire station. Each child, from his/her perspective will bring their skills and knowledge into the mix, sharing information, insights, and contributions to the big picture.

Cooperation, on the other hand might look like this: the teacher brings in a big box that will be turned into a fire truck. Everyone shares ideas of what it should look like and how to transform it into a vehicle. The students cooperate and work on the project together. Some children might end up watching after a few minutes; others will wander off to do something else; some will struggle with cooperation and fight over how they think it should look; and some will be immersed in their favourite activity of building. And the teacher will be busy reminding the children to cooperate, to get along, to take turns, to share, etc. With collaboration, we respect, empower and utilize each child’s unique perspective of the topic.

Collaboration, I believe or I envision, is about that deeper connection to life. It is about contributing to the greater good. If we want to enhance this perspective then we need to use the words. We need to empower through labeling of what is happening and why. “We are a community here. Everything we do impacts each other .. and our classroom… and our school… and our families … ”

Collaboration is about thinking beyond the four walls. We can encourage and plan for activities that involve the larger community. “Johnny’s great-grandmother is going to a nursing home today. What do you think we could do to help her feel welcome in her new home? What about the other grandmothers and grandfathers who live there? What other thoughts, questions, or ideas do you have?” Each child brings his/her ideas to the circle. The ideas are meshed together in a way that empowers each child, that connects each child with the bigger circle, the bigger community.

Older children may mention a complaint they have about their school or community or society. “So what can we do about it? What can we do? What difference can we make and how do we get there in a healthy, positive, contributing way?”

And …
what other ways can we empower collaboration, the view of community instead of “me”?

And …
how do you see collaboration and cooperation? What are the differences and similarities?

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Earlier this week I wrote a piece about respect and the stories that I heard about people not respecting their elders because “old people” don’t have anything valuable to give them.

I shared this with a preschool community and Deborah Stewart commented with these wise words:

“it is when I give you my respect that I am ready to begin learning from you.”

This quote has touched me to the core. It really shifts my vision and understanding of respect. It’s not about you earning my respect; it is not about me respecting you because of your actions or “just because” on a Spiritual level … it is about the relationship that is built because of this unconditional respect.

Respecting someone or something because we are all equals (as I wrote the other day) is great but, it, too, is more of a “me” thing than a “we” thing. Deborah’s Wisdom takes it further. “It is when I give you my respect that I am ready to begin learning from you.”

When I give you respect I open my eyes and ears and Spirit to listen to, to look at, and to feel the teachings that you have for me. I no longer just see “you” but I see you as a Wise one, as someone who has lessons for me, someone who has had experiences that I haven’t and has learned lessons or neglected lessons that I can learn from.

I give you my respect. I am here to learn. Teach me.

Several years ago my lesson of the year was that we need to share our stories. We need to tell of our experiences and the lessons that we learned from them. Adding to that Wisdom is that we need to seek out the stories of others and not just wait for the book or movie to appear. I think of that homeless man that I mentioned in the last blog — what is his story? What are the lessons that he has learned and the lessons that he has been blind to? Who has asked about his story? What happens if nobody asks? … If nobody sees his story, if nobody asks about his story, then his story, his lessons, are trapped within him and we all lose that piece of the Fire of Truth.

And how do we teach this to young children? I used to play a game with my children when we were waiting in the car for their Dad. We’d people watch and come up with scenarios about where the person was coming from and where they were headed. What we were doing was imagining their stories. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was teaching them to “see” people, to see their stories. If I had known then what I know now, I would have expanded this activity to include words such as respect and equal, Wisdom and lessons.

What else can we do to teach children to give respect and be open to learn?

Respect

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I had a wonderful conversation, yesterday, with a daycare supervisor regarding the building of community.

Community is SO important and should be a cornerstone of our goals with children. We want them to be healthy, contributing members of society and that begins in early childhood. We want them to be able to engage with other members of the community, listen to and learn from the other members, mentor, support, seek help from, create together, share, and bring in their own personal skills.

What Communities Are There In A Classroom?

A classroom is the home of many communities. There are:
* the community of friends (children’s friendships)
* the community of peers (the group of children as a whole)
* the teachers/co-workers within a classroom
* the teachers and children
* the children and their families/caregivers
* the teachers and the families/caregivers
* the staff of the centre as a whole
* the centre and community at large
* the centre and the community’s governing body
* the centre and the policy makers etc
* the early childhood education community

How Do We Build Community In The Classroom?
1. We observe the interactions, conscious of “community” in order to enhance it
2. We create situations that bring communities together, to talk together, to work together
3. We incorporate the Fire of Truth – helping participants of the community listen to, respect, and learn from others as well as share their own perspectives and Wisdom

Yesterday, as the daycare supervisor and I wandered through the centre, it was lunch time – a wonderful opportunity to build community! What types of conversations take place around the table? Is it food related? Eating etiquette reminders? Self-help support? And/or are there conversations about the morning? About upcoming events? About children’s interests? About community?

Imagine a conversation that could go something like this:
Teacher: what did everyone do on the weekend?
Sally: we went skating.
T: Skating. How fun. Where did you go to skate? To a pond? To an arena?
S: We went to the arena. It was cold at first but then it was fun. And after we sat on the benches and had hot chocolate. Daddy fell down but he was okay. He had skates on. I just had my boots. But I was skating. That’s what Daddy said.
T: sounds like a lot of fun. Hmmm Maybe we could create an arena here in the classroom.
S: Oh could we? And then could we have hot chocolate?
T: Of course. What do we need to create an arena?
Johnny: We need ice! An arena has ice.
T: How do you make ice?
Johnny: Ice is just water but very very cold. You can make ice in the freezer but not in a refrigerator. It would melt.
T: Melting would be a problem. Is there something else we could use instead of ice? [Teacher’s Mental Note or side conversation with co-worker: a great time to do some ice/melting/freezing experiments. Put ice and water in sensory bin. Use ice and powdered paint for creative activity.]
Sally: plastic is slippery. I stepped on a plastic bag once and slipped and fell.
T: James, your Dad works at ***, maybe he could get us a big sheet of plastic. Should we ask him?
Class: yes!!!
T: after lunch, let’s write him a letter!

Not only have we built community around the lunch table but are reaching out to parents and the community at large.
We have also completed a lot of planning, identifying activities for exploration, for sensory, and for creative art experiences! Bonus.

That was just an example …
What types of things do you do to create and enhance community within your classroom? What are your stories to share and inspire others?
Building Community

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Today, Justin Schwaam, in the ongoing dialogue about the education system, asks, “But how do we make time – or find time – for listening and community building in the midst of a rapid, rushing, important-seeming assembly line of instruction?”

For me, it is about switching that around and fitting the instruction into the goal of building community. This is what we want, isn’t it – that our children are healthy, happy, contributors to our society, a joyful community, as Justin puts it?

The media, the government, and the corporations all tell us that the economy is the driving force behind our society. Perhaps it is but is that really what we want our focus to be about? Isn’t the real goal to put a roof over our heads, put food on the table and to create opportunities for our natural gifts, passions and interests to contribute to society in a meaningful way? Isn’t this what really drives our society? Is the lack of joyful community the “why” behind the depression and anger that runs rampant throughout the world?

Assuming that this joyful community is indeed our primary goal, how do we build it? What are the components of it? Some of it, or most of it, we have touched on already in this series of blogs about “beyond the 3 R’s”. We want our children/youth to:

* respect each other and all things
* learn from each other and from all things
* support each other and all things
* be empathetic, compassionate, empowering
* know themselves, their gifts, their passions, their ways of thinking etc
* use their talents in a way that contributes to society
* seek Wisdom, learning from all experiences (good and bad)
* listen to and share Wisdom with others in the “Fire of Truth”

I am reminded of a Native story that says that a lesson learned by one is a lesson for all. With this perspective we give thanks to others for teaching us through their experiences and, then, through this we lose the judgement of others as well as our selves. It isn’t about being right/wrong or about choosing right/wrong (although choosing “the right” is our goal), it is about the lessons within each experience.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after a situation takes place the joyful community comes together to share the lessons that they took from the experience and then said “thank-you” to the individual(s) who were involved in the event. “Thank-you, Johnny, for reminding me that self-control is important and sometimes difficult when someone takes your favourite things. And thank-you Sarah for teaching me about respecting the belongings of others. I am now a wiser person. Thank-you.” Imagine the healing that takes place during such a circle. Imagine the bonding of the community members, the respect, the integrity and honour.

And imagine another situation where someone says, “I think we should try this strategy. Johnny, this is your area of expertise. What do you think we should do next? Can you do it? Show us? Teach us?”

Or perhaps, more specifically, “I need to calculate how much ribbon I need to buy for this. I’m having troubles with that math. Sarah, you are good at this. Can you help me with the calculations?”

And from specifics to a broader look: “I noticed that someone seems to be living in the park. What can we do to help this individual? Maybe there are others.” “Maybe we could plant a garden in the park so they could at least get free food? What do you think?”

And the possibilities for the joyful community keep on coming!
Joyful Community

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“What’s that?”

“How does this work?”

“What would happen if …?

Inquiring minds want to know. Are our children as “inquiring” as they could be? With older children, have we squashed that desire to ask questions through, perhaps, hand feeding them what we think they should know. Have they given up asking questions because what is the point in asking? There probably isn’t time to find the answers and the adults have another agenda. They will do the thinking for us.

In today’s world basically all information is available online. With this library at our fingertips it isn’t as important to provide the information to students but to teach them how to access it. But before they can go looking for the answers they need to ask the questions!

We can provide them with the questions but we won’t always be there. A better use of our time is to to teach them (and empower them) to think of their own questions, to be curious, to seek more information.

Little children are great at asking questions, especially the “why”. With our support we can nurture this curiosity and introduce new questions to ask, to add to their toolbelt for “inquiring minds”.

How do we do this?
* One main strategy is to support the questioning and not squelch it with responses of “not now” or “I’ve told you before” or one of the many other roadblocks that we throw out on occasion.

* We can ask them. “What questions do you have about this?” “What do you think we should find about about this?”

* We can introduce them to new types of questions: “What do you think would happen if…?” “What do think your grandmother used when she was your age?” “Where did this fruit come from?” “What can we use instead?” “What else can we use this for?”

I had a scenario play out in my mind: the teacher introduces some object that the children are not familiar with. The teacher has the children asks questions about the object and the questions are documented and posted on the wall as reminders.
Opportunities for exploration, experimenting, and research are provided and as answers to questions are found, as more questions are thought of, the knowledge is compiled in a portfolio that is perhaps shared with parents, or made available in the classroom for future reference.

Where & when can we encourage curiosity?
Anytime and everywhere… indoors, outdoors, circle time, snack time, the block area, the craft shelf and so on.

Barriers
Being aware of barriers helps us plan to avoid them, work around them, overcome, them, and utilize them.

What stops us from encouraging creativity?
* time – always a major factor. Taking the time out of our schedules to listen to the questions and to fit in the time to find the answers.
* expert persona: some people like being the expert that is the source of all answers. This not only can stifle the exploration process but can also limit the direction of play for fear of not knowing the answers.
* training – sometimes we don’t try new strategies because a) we aren’t aware of them and b) we don’t know how to implement them
* play – our training can have us so focused on “play” and/or child-directed learning as the learning tool that we don’t want to intervene and turn the classroom into a more structured program.
* and?

What other ways do we put a damper on creativity or miss the opportunity to empower it?

What questions do you have about empowering curiosity?

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Empowering others is one of key goals in “Beyond the 3R’s”. It is about helping individuals have the skills, the knowledge and the confidence to make choices for themselves and to take action. In education this relates to being able to find information, find resources and find solutions as well as to voice one’s opinion and resolve conflicts.

Empowerment is a powerful skill to teach and support but we often undermine our goal by taking care of things ourselves. Sometimes we take charge because of time restraints and it is just faster to do it ourselves. Sometimes we are just not aware that we are doing it. Sometimes it is because we don’t want to give up that role of authority and/or expert.

“Here let me do it” is a fairly obvious dis-empowering statement but we have all used it, I’m sure. “Do this… like this….” – whether the “this” is about building a skill, resolving a conflict, or moving attention from one thing to another. Sometimes the statements are warranted, sometimes they are harmless and sometimes, sometimes they can be those memorable moments for a child that affects their self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence.

How many conflicts have you stepped into and resolved in one manner or another? How many times have you done the problem-solving? If you are like most of us, it is more times than you care to think about.

The following story is one of my “ah ha” moments when I really understood empowerment:

Two seven-year-old boys, who both had difficulties with self-control and anger management, were playing with some trucks and both wanted the blue one. The push-pull-yell cycle began. I quickly jumped in but not with the intention of putting an end to the conflict. I put my hand on the truck and held it in a neutral position between the two boys.
I asked, “What is going on? What is the problem?”, which was followed by “I want” and “He won’t” statements. I rephrased their answers with something like, “You both want to play with the blue truck.” I paused. “How are we going to solve this?” Immediately I got the “I want”, “He won’t” statements again plus the “He should” solution and they tried to tug the toy away from the other child. I kept my hand firmly on the truck.
“You both want to play with the truck. How are we going to solve this?” Again the responses came with the wants and shoulds. I paused and then again repeated the question.
After about four times the boys paused. One child said, “I guess I could play with the red truck.” And they both sat down, started playing and the conflict was history.

What happened in this situation? Why did these two typically volatile young lads suddenly not only resolve the issue themselves but end up playing like best buddies? Was it that they realized that the adult wasn’t going to solve it for them? Perhaps. It appeared, to me, that they had learned the conflict resolution skills and knew options to try but they were waiting for the adult to step in, to possibly take sides, to do the “who had it first” scenario, to do the thinking, and to resolve the issue – which, by the way, would probably have resulted in two angry boys playing on their own.

How often do we step in before we give children/youth the opportunity to think, to access their tool belt full of options, and to walk through the problem-solving process themselves? Too often, unfortunately.

And, on the flipside, how often do we NOT step in and not give them the tools to use? “They will figure it out” comments while pushing, shoving and yelling is going on isn’t the best practice, if our goal is to teach, guide, and empower. If they had the skills they wouldn’t be resorting to being physical. Perhaps they are lacking options to use or maybe it is the self-control to regain composure in order to think of the options. If they are duking it out, there is something missing and we are needed to help them walk through the situation effectively and respectfully.

“But we have done this before. They know better.” Perhaps they do, but something is missing. Maybe it is just a matter of practice or perhaps maturity. It is interesting that when development is about something physical we can be quite patient, going over the same skills time and time again. Think of teaching a child how to ride a bike without training wheels. “You can do it” – encouragement; we don’t give up on them. “I’ll be right here” – support. “I’ll be hanging on to the seat. Don’t worry.” – trust, hands-on help. “Remember to keep peddling; you have to balance; keep looking ahead.” – reminders. Over and over again. And then we discreetly take our hand off the bike and run along side, being ready to jump back in if needed but letting them go on their own, based on their abilities. And then we stop running along side, knowing that they are on their way. But still we watch, just in case … and then one day, we are no longer needed, as they have mastered the craft of riding a two-wheeler.

It’s impressive. And then we think of social skills, of conflict resolution, self-control, etc. For some reason we are not as patient, supportive, encouraging, or helpful. Why? Well, everyone is different. If you feel that you have missed an opportunity to empower a child, step back and do some self-observation. What were the motivating factors for you? Was it simply awareness? Or was it a lack of skills? Or perhaps it was an inner need for a feeling of authority or being needed? Only you know.

Empowerment – is not just about expecting them to do things on their own. It is about teaching them how, giving them the tools; it is about observing, encouraging, stepping in as needed but being ready to step back out again when they are ready. It is about following their lead and giving them a chance to be successful if only for a brief moment. It is about celebrating those moments and trusting that they can and that they will be able to do it on their own at some point.

empowerment

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“We” are a community. “We” should be a priority in our daily lives. “We” should be the driving force behind all that we do. “We” should be constantly striving to make our community stronger, healthier and happier.

Community comes in many shapes and forms. It can be a small community of “you and me” or as large as all things in the universe!
Actually, it’s more than “can be”, it is!

community and the fire of truth

Let’s take a closer look at this.

Community:
* sharing common values, interests, or environment.

Fire of Truth:
* sharing knowledge, perspectives, Wisdoms, learning from each other, combining the perspectives into a larger understanding of the Truth

How do we use these two concepts and strengthen them within the classroom?
* we build community within the classroom
* we contribute to the local community
* we care for the environment
and
* we create opportunities for sharing of questions, of knowledge, of ideas etc
* we encourage group play and group projects
* we create projects to donate to the local community – organizations, citizens, etc
* we talk about community
* we develop empathy, and problem-solving skills
* we empower
* we teach “team work”, working together, supporting each other
* we teach and support inter-dependence
* we teach about personal strengths, celebrating the differences
* we teach students to respect each other’s differences
* we teach students to be aware of their own personal strengths and viewpoints
* and … ?

Many years ago I had a preschool class make handprint bookmarks. We later went on a walk to the local library and we donated them. The librarians gave out the bookmarks to visitors.

This activity was so inspiring that it became an ongoing event. We left valentines, lucky shamrocks and decorated baskets of Easter eggs on the doorsteps of our neighbours. We went “trick or treating” but instead of getting treats we gave out goodies to those who answered our knocks. (By this time those at home during the day would be watching for our weekly treks.)

One young man had been in a serious accident and after weeks or months of being bedridden was able to make his way to the door. We heard that on one of his first excursions we were handing out something special. Apparently he cried after we left – the reward for his efforts was the smiles of a group of young ones! Community.

In another classroom, with a group of eleven-year-olds, one young lad had troubles fitting in and was just that odd man out. One day, after “R” had already been sent out to the hallway because of some unwanted behaviour, the teacher was having troubles with a piece of tech equipment and she asked the class, “who can help me out?” In unison, the class responded, “R!” They knew that “R” was the tech wizard, they knew his strengths, his gifts, his talents. They knew who to turn to. Community.

How do you build community within your classroom and local community?
How often do you bring the children together to share their perspectives?
During conflicts do you encourage each participant to verbalize their goals and viewpoints as well as to actively listen to the other person?
While focusing on the individual child’s development do you also plan for community as a whole?

What else can we do to build community? To strengthen the understanding about community? To utilize the Fire of Truth? To develop a better understanding of and a more complete picture of the Truth?

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