What are they thinking?

I often pass a new building on my daily walk. On several occasions I’ve seen workers painting over tags that have appeared overnight on a formerly pristine white wall. Recently, in response to a painter’s nod, I commented ‘That’s almost a fulltime job’. He replied with considerable feeling: ‘I’ve got no time for the mongrels. If I caught them I’d run them over. I’d set them on fire mate’.

I was shocked, in part because he felt free to make that comment to a stranger. His perspective was a powerful reminder that my personal world is relatively rarefied, isolated from such views. There is no one among my friends and acquaintances who would feel that way. However, there are many people out there who would share his sentiments.

A centre-based education and care service, outside school hours service or family day care home is not typically a rarefied environment. It would be highly unusual for a service to not have in a service community a broad range of views among educators, staff, and particularly families, about a variety of social and political issues.2.4

The painter may be a dad. If so, his children may attend a service or a school. If they do, I wonder what his views are about quality and the role services play in children’s lives. What might he think about issues related to social justice and children’s rights and how those are enacted in services and the broader community? We could guess, and we might make assumptions based on his reaction to people who scribble amateurishly on the walls of new buildings, but we wouldn’t really know unless we asked him.

Do you know what families who use your service really think about what matters in their child’s experience? I emphasise the word really, because often we only ask superficial questions – similar to asking ‘How are you?’ as a courtesy and not because we really want to know the answer.

If you have a robust genuine relationship with families, one in which communication is frequent, two-way and meaningful, you will have an idea of how much they value the service, but do you know what it is they value? Do you know where they stand on issues related to quality, social justice and other children’s wellbeing?

How much do they understand about the complexity of your work?

What about families with whom you have a more superficial relationship or little relationship at all? What do they think?

How can you find out the answers to the questions above?

I wonder if in both our personal and professional lives we resist, maybe at times sub-or unconsciously, finding out what people’s views are when we suspect that they may be very different to ours and that we might find them confronting or even offensive. In other words, perhaps we don’t really want to know. If I’d known how he would reply, I wouldn’t have spoken to the nodding painter.

Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

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