Many years ago, when I was doing my MA degree in Pen Green, in Northamptonshire, there was a framed drawing on the wall of the canteen. It depicted a woman carrying another woman on her shoulders, with the caption ‘We are all standing on the shoulders of giants’. The veracity of that statement has stayed with me because it is true. Subsequently, I discovered that Isaac Newton is said to have coined the phrase, saying “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Recently there has been a TV series about how those who have walked a particular path can support and influence those who follow, across many different walks of life.
We all have our giants. The people who shape us, influence our beliefs, people who make us think and who encourage us to reflect. In some cases these can be the great theorists of a field; in our early childhood sector it could be Malaguzzi, Vygotsky, Piaget, Montessori, Froebel, Bowlby, Winnicott….the list is endless. More recently, I think of people like Alison Gopnik, Wendy Lee and Howard Gardner to name just a few! In our studies, we have read, discussed and maybe been challenged by their research and insights and that has shaped the educators we become. We may remain fully convinced about that approach and never stray but more often, I think, we continue to grow, to be influenced and to perhaps change our thinking. Síolta (component 6.5) talks about how we ‘provide opportunities for children to encourage him/her to explore, to be creative and to use his/ her previous learning to make new meanings’. As we develop our experiences, I think we do just that as a community of early childhood professionals.
Sometimes it is an experience that lifts us up to see further. We have a chat with a parent and their viewpoint on a situation and their knowledge of their own child combined with our theoretical knowledge can provide a new perspective we hadn’t had the opportunity to consider before. We might hear a speaker at a conference/ webinar, and it is like the missing piece of a jigsaw falls into place. The new knowledge, combined with previous experience helps things click and we have a light-bulb moment that clarifies our thoughts and sharpens our vision. Our own colleagues and peers can give us that inspiration and knowledge that edges us higher on the shoulders of giants.
Reflecting on these experiences enriches us all and how we work with each other, the children and their parents. I read an interesting blog post on the Farnham Street website recently about this topic. It says ‘Innovative ideas have to come from somewhere. No matter how unique or unprecedented a work seems, dig a little deeper and you will always find that the creator stood on someone else’s shoulders. They mastered the best of what other people had already figured out, then made that expertise their own. With each iteration, they could see a little further, and they were content in the knowledge that future generations would, in turn, stand on their shoulders.’
To delve a bit more into this idea of standing on the shoulders of giants, the Scéalta team asked our Early Childhood Ireland colleagues for their thoughts on who had inspired them in their thinking around how they see children and how they learn and develop. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of posts about the giants whose shoulders we stand upon. Not all our colleagues come from an early childhood background, we are a very multidisciplinary team. So, some of the giants may surprise you: it could be educators, children or indeed a theorist. What will link them all, however, is how they impact ideas about play, pedagogy and practice! We hope you enjoy it!