Tom Drummond on Connecting to Children in ECE

An Amazing Trove Of Materials To Support Improved Teaching Practice

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Tom Drummond

Tom Drummond is an emeritus professor in early education, based in Seattle. We first met him in 2018, when he gave us a touching and heartfelt interview on learning stories and the power of storytelling.  And more recently, he hosted a very popular webinar of Connecting To Children.

Tom has been a thought leader in learning stories, connecting to children and a number of other aspects of teaching practice.  Drawing on his almost five decades of professional experience in the US, he has developed training modules you can download for use at your centre.

These modules are all Creative Commons, meaning they are free to use and duplicate in any way you wish. They’ve been road tested by more than 1,000 educators, tweaked and improved and their feedback is glowing. Many have said the experience was profound, life changing and transformative for them as teachers, educators and people.

Tom’s webinar for Educa on Connecting To Children described the ideas behind these materials in details.  This article is a summary of the ideas presented at that webinar. Watch a replay here, or see the links below.

Connecting to Children – a year-long study with peers

There are four essentials to the Connecting To Children of:

  1. Expressing warmth,
  2. Effectiveness with young children as a parent or as a teacher/care provider
  3. Playing responsively, talking informatively, and
  4. Attending to dispositions to learn, e.g., nurturing taking initiative, cooperation.

Each is contained in its own study guide.

Watch the webinar on connecting to children here

The Connecting to Children course

Each of the four modules has 10 assignments for the participants. There’s also a step-by-step guide for a key educator to lead their team of staff in a 45-minute weekly meeting. That’s where participants bring the results of assigned investigations in their daily encounters with children and discuss what they’ve found.

For example, one week’s assignment has staff write down 40 things they hear adults tell children – such as approval and disapproval responses. Then they look into the research. Staff might then decide for themselves which habits they would like to change. An idea is instead of saying ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ to children, they could try to invent different things to say or use non-verbal communication.

Changing Automatic Behaviors

“The aim is to become aware of your automatic behavior. Try changing what you do. And then recording again at a future time to check on what you have been able to change. The challenge is to demonstrate to yourself and to the children and families you can be positive and authentic with children – truly connect with them,” says Drummond.

“This is constructivist education. It’s not anybody telling anyone what to do. You have to figure out what to change and try it out. The challenge is for each person to discover their path for themselves. If we want the children to learn to discover their world, we ought to treat adults that way, too.”

Making performance visible

What prompted him to create the resources is his disappointing recognition that college for educators wasn’t available for everyone. College can be a “great place for learning and teaching but it’s not reaching most of the adults who care for children”.

“When I took classes in college I rarely learned anything that changed how I actually acted [at work]. I copied what other people did or operated out of habit.”

As well, the penny dropped for Drummond when he attended a presentation by Howard Gardner of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Gardner wrote the 2011 book The Unschooled  Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. That author says the real test of how someone understands a concept, skill, theory or knowledge domain is the “extent that he or she can apply it appropriately in a new situation”.

Applying What You Learn

It made Drummond consider how he could take the idea of a “performance of understanding” to staff in early learning services. They could work together to learn as they worked and show they could actually apply it in their own way.

“A Performance of Understanding requires the learning to go beyond what they have been given to create something new by applying and building on what they know … show understanding in an observable way to make their thinking visible to those who care,” he says.

Evolution of the resources

So how did Drummond develop the resources?

He says: “When I started working with young children in the 1970s, my major learning experiences were not very pleasant, like being able to get Johnny out from under the table or children screaming. It’s the difficult children that taught me the most, but I wouldn’t want to have those events collected in a portfolio. The study of essential performances is a different way of talking about learning to get better with children.”

As an educator of educators, Drummond videotaped hundreds of beginning and advanced students working with children.

“We had two remote control video cameras and hanging microphones through the room that I could select. I was taping people for an hour and 40 mins a day for a lot of years including taping myself, which isn’t very pretty. I wouldn’t want to show those tapes to anyone.

“The students and I would analyse the recordings to see what we could learn from the children we all knew together.”

Published in 2011

The Tom Drummond training resources were written over many years, in the form of a guide and handouts that can be worked on over the course of a year.  These resources were made available to everyone in 2011.

He recommends services spend 40 weeks comprising four ten-week studies. With breaks in between, the course would take about a year.

“If you think about it, how long does it take to change to become better at something as important as becoming the person you want to be? All learning takes time, and the best way to learn is when you study your own practice, make changes that you value, and enjoy the support of other people doing the same structured projects at the same time,” says Drummond.

He suggests the documentation participants build in their studies and their Performance of Understanding is robust enough for college programs to accept them as recognition of prior learning. That goes a long way to making education more affordable for the early learning sector.