There is no such thing as the perfect play-based environment.
As an educator I find myself striving to get to this perfect place. I have this image of what I think the perfect play-based learning environment should be. Vision is one thing but I don’t think there is a perfect example.
Sure, I do think there are some big building blocks that are needed in our learning environments to make them work effectively for our learners. We can all have these building blocks, but they will look different and we will be at different stages developing them.
What would the building blocks be?
Drivers of learning.
1. Educators who continue to learn and study. Inquiring into practice, asking those difficult questions and searching for answers. Trialling new ideas and reflecting individually and as a team.
2. Educators who have a view of Ākonga (learners) as positive. We develop positive learner identities. An absolute belief in students, that they are capable now as they are. We can make known to them their strengths and support them in developing these. To do this we need to have a non-judgemental attitude towards each learner. We need to get rid of bias. Behaviour is a smoke screen. Within every human, there is hope, promise and passion. It is our job to believe and to make that belief as concrete and obvious as possible.
3. An environment which is responsive to learners needs. Space belongs to all of us. Ākonga know how much we care partly because of our attitude towards the environment in which they learn. How space looks and is set up to operate is a big key. How we look after space and the care in providing interesting and suitable provocations. We communicate trust by allowing Ākonga to have the power to affect change in their school environment. For example, they can move furniture, put things on the walls, decide what they will learn. We notice and respond.
4. A community which has a clear vision of what education is. This might not be where it stands now, but how it could look. What is going to make a positive difference to the community? To get there will be painful because change is uncomfortable, but the right change is worth it. We want to set our communities free. I want our Whanau to love learning, to be healthy, confident and full of joy. It will cost me something to see this happen.
5. A learning community which emphasises values and dispositions. I was at a business innovation hui last holidays. I asked a director who offers programmes to young innovators, how young people were achieving. He said that they had many exceptional ideas, but that wasn't why they couldn't hire them, the problem was the young people didn't know how to make their ideas work. Things like organisation, self-direction, collaboration and values were lacking.
6. A learning community which values process over the product. In the process lies the learning. Education in the past valued uniformity, everything looking a certain way, paint colours the same, carefully displayed on the wall. Everyone producing the same type of writing etc. Focusing on individual learning leads to diversity. Diversity is to be celebrated. The process will be different depending on the learning goals of each Ākonga.
7. A collaborative working environment where the team is more important than the individual parts. It has taken me some time to really understand this. The journey in working as a truly collaborative team takes humility and authenticity. It is not easy, but when it begins to work it is truly amazing. Collaboration is like having a booster rocket. Individually we can only do so much, together things multiply.
There is no such thing as a perfect play-based learning environment. Please, feel excited, courageous, and empowered. You can do it. Keep going don't give up. Don't compare yourself with others.