• Suzanne Axelsson

The teacher as water

Water is many things...

for a start it comes in many forms... liquid, gas and solid... A flexibility to meet the needs of the climate/situation. I think this is something we need too as educators... sometimes we need to be solid and rigid, to create the safety, the routines and the well-being that comes with that, but equally we need to flow like liquid to soften those sharp edges that cause friction, and to create well-being by slowly shaping the landscape, and just as important, we need to be invisible and allow the learners to get on with their play and explorations. How much we spend in each of these three forms will depend on our mutual relationship with their children, their current capabilities and their capacities... and sometimes we need to be all three at the same time!


"Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it" Lao Tsu


We need to be simultaneously soft and strong. To be sensitive to the learners' needs, wants and potentials with the response-ability to empower them. This is why I prefer to be a play-responsive educator... it requires me to be flexible in my response-ability, and to have strength in my responsibility.


“Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” Wallace Stevens


Teachers also have a tendency to take the shape of its container... which is fine if the container is a system based on social justice, but sadly it is not... yet. This means we need to start thinking about the container ourselves and redefining its shape - so that bias and prejudice are not excluding, belittling or oppressing the learners in our care in any way or form.


“Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine.” Slovakian Proverb


This means as teachers/educators we have the enormous potential to create change. We are interacting with learners... we have the opportunity to inform them of all the stories, to use their voices, to be able to make fully informed decisions, to create safe and brave spaces that has the potential to heal the wound currently inflicted on social justice.


“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Ryunosuke Satoro

Togetherness, collectivity, a community of learners. Play and listening are the perfect tools to create an ocean of change. Building relationships based on trust and respect.


“Water is always working, reorganizing the land.” Tim Palmer


As educators we need to be continuously thinking about the physical space we work in, how is it meeting the requirements of the children/learners? Do all children feel represented? Does it feel safe for all children? Can they feel brave there? Is it accessible for all children? Does it appropriately challenge? Does it inspire wonder, curiosity and joy? What knowledges can be discovered there? Is there space for the imagination? The third teacher can enable or hinder, empower or disempower children. How do you shape the classroom landscape?


“Water, in all its forms, is what carries the knowledge of life throughout the universe.” Anthony T. Hincks


Being aware of what knowledge is being shared is important, that all stories are being shared and not just the dominant one. Is there space for questions? Is there space to explore all perspectives? Is there time to search for these?


“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” A. A. Milne

“No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” Taoist proverb


If we don't slow down, look closely and listen deeply then we are not going to notice what is truly happening - the curriculum will be taught at the pace it has been dictated, sluiced through concrete channels at the correct angles that promote the pre-set speed.

Well-being is not found here.

Trusting that children will learn is necessary, and being their guide in that process is important - they are the boat floating down the stream. If the speed of the water does not allow for autonomy, or forces them to paddle to survive, then we have created a destructive educational system.

Creating rivers, lakes, oceans that provide adventure, calm, challenges and flow and that entice the learner to paddle to discover more surely must be a better way to educate?


“Water in the boat is the ruin of the boat, but water under the boat is its support.” Jalaluddin Rumi


As water we sustain. Sustain the play and learning, the well-being, the respect, the sense of value - for some children we need to help create that, as they have not been sustained adequately in this outside of the educational setting.


“Like roots finding water, we always wind up moving towards what sustains us.” Mark Nepo


Teachers as water. We can create the play and learning flow that includes all the children. We can sustain the cognitive development of each child through their well-being. Well-being is based in autonomy, being valued, mutual respect and being loved... (by parents, family, friends and the professional love of educators). As educators we have the power to create change - as a single drop carrying the minerals to add to the stalactite/stalagmite over time or together like rain soaking the parched lands turning everything green and waking up all the life there.


“I understand that everything is connected, that all roads meet, and that all rivers flow into the same sea.” Paulo Coelho


Together we are stronger.


Water is also filled with magic, possibilities, learning, play, joy, risk, wonder...

All this, teacher as water, connects to the Original Learning Approach.


(all quotes found here)


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