It’s About Who We Are Together

March 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm 1 comment

posted by Alisa Algava ’08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

alisanephew“Students learn what they care about…” Stanford Ericksen has said, but Goethe knew something else, “In all things we learn only from those we love.” Add to that Emerson’s declaration, “The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil,” and we have a formula something like this: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them…”  ~Barbara Harrell Carson, Thirty Years of Stories

Last week at Bank Street I was lucky to see two very different educators speak about teaching and learning.  The first, Bob Pianta, is the Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and he shared his research about early childhood education.  According to Dr. Pianta, perhaps the best way to measure high-quality teaching is by actually observing teachers in the classroom, by noticing what they do that engages children to learn.  And, specifically, it is a teacher’s relationship and interactions with children that have the highest impact on their learning.

The second, Herb Kohl, is a renowned teacher and writer in the progressive education world who discussed what he has learned about schools throughout his life.  He talked about his vision of good schools as places where kids are able to comfortably be themselves with each other and with adults – on the playground, while eating lunch, at bus time, and in their classes.  He believes that teachers need to be people who inspire children’s imaginations, who enlarge their worlds.  And finally, he described his own mentor, the activist and philosopher Myles Horton, and how we all need someone who guides and nurtures us, and questions us, too.  In a spirit of love, mentors raise the most difficult questions in ways that allow us to grow.

At the small progressive school where I work, we believe in the importance of relationships, and always have.  Learning happens as children interact – with each other, with adults, with the physical and natural environments around them.  It is our professional and moral responsibility to purposefully guide this learning for our students so they develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically, artistically.  Both in philosophy and in practice, we must support and challenge each child to engage, to interact, to be who she is and to become who he needs to be.  And, in order to best meet the needs of our children, we have to open ourselves to new ideas and new experiences…teachers and parents and leaders must support and challenge each other, too.

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in December.  For the past 14 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI.  She has written 2 other postings for Bank Street’s Alumni Blog: Look Under Foot describes an eye-opening experience with the 3, 4, and 5 year olds at her school and Stepping into the River shares what she has learned from her own kindergarten teacher. Alisa loves learning.  She loves moderating The Alumni Blog.  And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: collaboration, dialogue, early childhood, leadership, our teachers, philosophy, school reform, social-emotional learning.

Take Your Kids Out for a Walk “Earth Hour” is Tonight (Saturday) at 8:30pm.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jo Ann Joseph  |  May 5, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    I, too heard Dr. Pianta at Bank Street. What he was saying seemed to have hit a nerve with some in the audience; that children have better outcomes in kindergarten when their preschool teachers have warm and sustained interactions with them, regardless of the educational level of the teacher.

    This statement thrilled me because it was at Bank Street that I became aware of the power of these relationships in teaching. This notion permeates all of the classes at Bank Street as well as the teachers and fellow students I met here. In a sense, BSC teaches those who come here to be that teacher Dr. Pianta describes and does not leave to chance that some people have it and others do not. It is ingrained in the culture and passed on to others.

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