What Will Your Bird Look Like?

By Hana Hutchings and Nicole Simpson-Tanner, Preschool Teachers

One day in the Honeybee classroom, Lucia brought a creation to our reflection meeting that she had made using paper, tape, glue, and a small piece of wire. She proudly held up her work and announced, “It’s a bird!,” and one of the other children in the community responded quite matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like a bird.”

As teachers, we saw this moment as an opportunity for the children to think about what it means to belong to a learning community. We wondered how we could help them celebrate diversity of thought and to challenge the idea that there is one way a bird can look. After all, looking at something and having a different idea or perspective than someone else is an everyday experience. The more practice we have navigating this concept, the more strategies we have that help us stay connected to those we love and those around us.

So, the next day, we invited the entire community to make birds. Birds of wire, cloth, paint, and so much more began to emerge. Our classroom became filled with birds of all shapes and sizes and looks. One child remarked at the reflection meeting, “None of them are the same!”

Our beliefs about learning are visible not just in the questions we asked the children but also in the environment. Our classroom has open-ended materials, we share tables and spaces, and the children have a strong presence in meetings. They are active participants in the community, and this creates a sense of belonging. As teachers, we document their learning with photography and transcription, and amplify voices and moments by placing them on the walls of the classroom. We all have a daily role and a sense of agency toward learning, meaning making, and understanding.

We know that each of their birds tells us a little bit about who they are. We want children to feel safe and brave enough to share at meetings and to be respected by their community—and to not experience any shame in the important discovery that their idea may not be the same as their friends'. We know they can move past that necessary discomfort. “It doesn’t look like a bird” could have stayed a moment of tension but instead we played with it until we reached connection. Children will always bring new perspectives, solutions, and possibilities if we listen. When we value diversity of ideas over uniformity, everyone’s ideas matter, and we all belong.

Recently a Honeybee parent asked us an exciting question: “What might the future of education be?” It is an unanswerable question that holds many implications for our everyday teaching practices. We can create an environment where children are asked to pay attention to their assumptions and to stay curious. We can foster empathy in moments of disconnection. We can play together to find new ways of belonging.

We believe that the practice that we provide for children inside our classroom gives them authentic learning experiences in democratic living. We believe that the stories that they develop about who they are and what their role is when they meet conflict, exclusion, intolerance, and injustice can be defined by the conditions of the power systems around them. That these small “It doesn't look like a bird” moments are foundational to their emerging identities. That we may be talking about birds now, but the practice and skills they are learning will be applied to other areas of their lives as they grow.