Mountain of Dao, Sea of Learning, Nature of Being...
PGCE 3-7 Course Leader, Suzanne Simpson shares with us what teaching means to her as she prepares for the next academic year.
Often, we're asked ‘What do you do?' when we meet new people. I've always found responding to this opener rather perplexing for a variety of reasons. Don’t we inhabit many roles and guises in day-to-day experience and - consciously or not - choose which combination of social masks are opportune, appropriate, or necessary – in flow with the rhythms of nature and the universe? All I can sincerely say is that I am on and am learning along The Way.
The values which inform how I think, feel, and behave - as a friend, relative, neighbour, passer-by, community member, woman of the world and professional in education (to name but a few of my constituent parts) - are not (even though they may appear or even feel so at times) incongruous. I aspire that the impact of what I contemplate, say, and do on a daily basis makes a positive difference to the environment which I both help to curate and – more importantly - share with everyone and everything around. Most particularly, I seek to enable and champion the empowerment of others. So, in answer to this amorphous question (it might sound overly ambitious and even exceptionally elevated to say this out loud, but) I strive that the collation of my efforts is a useful and constituent contribution in helping to make the world a better place – irrelevant of how modest that amelioration may be. An invisible map which charts the seas of social justice directs me; isn’t this - after all - one of the many shared reasons why we choose and commit to working in education?
From a very young age, I instinctively and profoundly understood that what people think and feel informs what they say and do, that environments and experiences which we inhabit, share, or co-create, alongside choices which are imposed, negotiated, or elected have the potential to impact across all aspects of life and for - at least - a lifetime. Developing the depth and breadth of and then sharing this (now historically and abundantly evidence based) learning and understanding is the foundation of my inspiration, aspiration, and motivation as an educator.
In mind, body, and soul, I am thankful to be a diligent observer. Attending to detail, listening to understand is key in all aspects of a teacher’s being and essential to my professional practice as a role model, a mentor, a coach, a leader, and a teacher educator.
Seeking to understand and being able to empathise with others; to discover the interconnectedness of our relationships with each other and our environments, and – not least - the world; to learn from the unique journeys of others - their difficulties, their frailties, their successes, their joys, their triumphs, their disasters, their ways of seeing and being in the world are – among so many things - both a privilege and an insightful opportunity to continue to learn and to grow for which I am ever indebted. My gratitude is abundant; I am ever vigilant that these lessons learned are put to good purpose.
In all my teaching experiences, creating a conducive, emotionally literate, and socially enhancing environment for children and staff (and occasionally families and carers) which creates the favourable climate in which to learn - and to evolve - has been and always will be an essential beginning. During the first weeks of the academic year with every new cohort, (regardless of age) the focus is to develop compassionate, trusted, and secure relationships; to uncover shared values; to set the scene for the unearthing of common goals through open, creative, and uncritical dialogue.
Curating rich and varied enabling environments is not simply a pedagogy informing quality early years practices; they provide and support opportunities for learning and development at any age and stage of life. We can discern from the extensive evidence base that people who are supported and trusted are more likely to experience and produce better outcomes.
Staff teams, trainee teachers and children with whom I've worked with and for over the years have heard the same aphorisms over and again: it is a privilege to be an early educator; educators play a pivotal role in the creation and evolution of our society. As educators and leaders (on any scale), the values which we model and teach inform the values which will serve to shape all of our futures. As Buddha said, 'the mind is everything what we think we become'. What kind of leaders do we want to be?
As I prepare for an induction session on professional conversations and holistic well-being for the next cohort of our PGCE trainees, I once again find myself deeply contemplating: what is the true purpose of education?