Paper submitted to the 9th ERNAPE conference, Lisboa, Portugal, 4-6 September 2013 ‘MOVING MOMENTS’ FOR SCHOOLS, PARENTS

AND CHILDREN: Critical lessons from a case of resource innovation in the Netherlands By Elise Sijthoff, Merel Meijers, David Kranenburg, Frederik Smit and Shanti George


Abstract: Experiences of mobilising families, communities and schools (in the best interests of children) are full of everyday challenges from which useful lessons can be learnt. This paper provides a case study from the Netherlands of the different perspectives of various professionals involved in preparing and using a family activities calendar that is intended to bring teachers and families together in order to provide effective support for children. The narratives of three reflective pedagogical practitioners (who are also reflective parents) are woven together by an anthropologist to capture their varying experiences with the family activities calendar and their perceptions of parent teacher relationships. The case study illuminates the real life challenges with which schools and parents have to contend, and the pragmatic responses to these challenges that become necessary for successful collaboration between families, schools and communities. At the same time, the analysis goes beyond everyday events to issues of children’s multiple literacies, self awareness and active citizenship. The case also highlights methodologies that can be used to bring everyday experience and knowledge – whether of reflective pedagogues or reflective parents or primary school children – into a formal forum, for sharing and exchange of critical lessons. 1. Introduction ‘We are social beings… this fact is a central aspect of learning,’ asserts Etienne Wenger (2007:4) in an acclaimed book on everyday practice. He continues: ‘Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to… growing up as a girl or boy… Knowing is a matter of… active engagement in the world… …our ability to experience the world and our engagement with it’ (ibid.). Wenger contrasts this broad vibrant view of knowledge and learning with the reality of children regimented into classrooms: ‘To assess learning, we use tests… where knowledge must be demonstrated out of context, and where collaborating is considered cheating’ (op. cit.: 3). Instead, Wenger asks, ‘what if… we assumed that learning is… a fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply sociable nature as human beings capable of knowledge?’ (ibid.). The present paper offers a case study of an attempt to introduce ‘social learning’ and ‘life-broad learning’ into the everyday realities of primary school children in a city in the Netherlands. ‘Life broad learning’ (Larsson 2000) encompasses life in its full remit, beyond fragmentation into narrow sectors, by relating formal knowledge to everyday experience. Although ‘life-broad learning’ was introduced in the context of workplace learning, the present case applies the concept to the daily lives of children in school as well as to the ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 2007) that support school children on an everyday basis. This paper argues that ‘moving moments’ can be used to articulate children’s experiences at home, at school and in the community around, and describes one attempt to capture ‘moving moments’ through a family activities calendar distributed in schools as a means to link developments in the classroom to life in the home and neighbourhood. The description ‘moving’ highlights the physical liveliness of primary school children and their active cognitive potential, as well as the social and emotional nuances evoked when the word ‘moving’ alludes to something that touches hearts. ‘Moments’ measure 2

time (as with the 9th ERNAPE conference theme of ‘learning from the past, reviewing the present and preparing for the future’). Moments are the fleeting particles of time from which hours and days and weeks and months and years and decades are constructed, as the past gives way to the present and this moves on to the future. ‘Moving moments’ can also refer to the times when children travel from their homes to schools at the beginning of the day, and when the process is reversed at the schoolday’s end. A day measures the earth’s full revolution on its axis, and human technology has tried to capture this by creating clocks and watches that tick through the moments. A year represents the earth’s journey around the sun, and calendars and diaries transpose this onto paper or screen using days and months as reference points. The family activities calendar discussed in this paper attempts to use time structured in these ways to span the routines and life rhythms of children at home, at school and in the wider civic context. The calendar is thus a resource that builds on wider academic and practical interest in partnerships between schools, communities and families. This paper was written around the perceptions and experiences of three reflective pedagogical practioners who were differently involved in the production and use of the family activities calendar over the last few years. Their varying perspectives were elicited through long individual interviews, after which they came together for a focus group discussion that compared and contrasted their viewpoints. An anthropologist conducted the interviews and the focus group discussion, and has written the present paper that weaves together strands from all of these into critical lessons. The three pedagogical practitioners tell their stories in section 2 below. Next, section 3 presents some creative tensions, generated by their different viewpoints, that were explored during the focus group discussion. The wider literature is then consulted to contextualize the findings, in section 4. Here the implications of using the methodology on which this paper is based, as a means to share the experiential knowledge of practitioners and parents and children, is discussed as a conclusion to the paper. 2. Three pedagogical practioners within a community of practice The celebration of learning as a social phenomenon, with which this paper opened, was quoted from Etienne Wenger’s landmark book on ‘communities of practice.’ These communities, he argues, are everywhere (2007: 6), including in the workplace: ‘Workers organize themselves with their immediate colleagues… to get their work done. In doing so, they develop or preserve a sense of themselves that they can live with… they create a practice to do what needs to be done’ (ibid.). Wenger’s social theory of learning draws on ‘situated experience’ as well as ‘social practice’ and identity (op. cit.: 13). The three stories about pedagogical practitioners that now follow will echo all these themes. The pedagogical resource developer. Elise Sijthoff developed the family activities calendar to coordinate planning of the school year with the involvement of parents in schools and children’s activities in and out of school. She owns a publishing company 3

and has put considerable effort into making the calendar attractive and friendly to children, using lively illustrations (Sijthoff 2012). She has earlier successfully developed a pedagogical resource titled ‘The Class Moves’ intended to enhance classroom learning through physical activity, inspired by Vygotsky’s writings (Sijthoff et al 2012). The calendar represents a further step that bridges the distance between school and home, and acts as a common space on which to note down planned activities across different environments. The calendars provide spaces for children to express themselves as well as for parents and teachers. The classroom pedagogue. Merel Meijers joined the teaching profession some five years ago as a mature professional interested in learning partnerships between home and school. She works part time as an independent pedagogical practitioner and has herself developed a resource that brings teacher, parents and child together around a table. The Dutch term for this resource translates approximately as ‘Learning Gains.’ On various occasions in the school year, a child sits with teacher and parents to chart – using the ‘Learning Gains’ resource -- where he or she is now in terms of various components of learning (including social skills) and what can realistically be achieved in the coming period. Merel sees this resource as complementary to the family activities calendar developed by Elise. Merel has worked in partnership with Elise in recent years to pilot the family activities calendar within her classroom in a Dutch city. Merel’s contribution as a classroom pedagogue is best illustrated by the development of the ‘Wishes’ notepad designed by Elise and her team as an accessory to the calendar. The notepad – with tear off sheets -- is intended for children to express their wishes for specific activities and outings: what would a child like to do, where, when and with whom? Children in Merel’s class of nine to ten year olds report back to Merel on specific activities and excursions that they have enjoyed, and this is recorded on a sheet from the notepad with photos of the child and the place visited or the activity undertaken. Most excursions are to local sites and events, and Merel sees this as knitting children’s lives into that of the community, an essential part of what she describes as ‘active citizenship.’ Other children can take home one of these sheets from the notepad and say, ‘Look, Mama and Papa, Sanne went here last weekend, can we go there too sometime? It’s not far from the city centre. The entry tickets are two euro each.’ The ideal is then that the family gathers around the calendar and negotiates about dates and times:
Next weekend is Grandma’s birthday and we will be busy preparing for it, but how about the weekend thereafter? Well, I will be playing in a football match that weekend, but you and Mama can go where Sanne went, or if you wait one more weekend all three of us can go together.

The mobilising pedagogue. David Kranenburg initially began his career as a teacher in a classroom, but soon moved to school management and has been the principal of various schools in the town where Merel lives and works, including schools where the family activities calendar has been tried out. After two decades of school management (and while still maintaining a part time job as principal of a school that is under construction), David has crossed the line between school and community by setting up a national foundation for ‘active parenthood’ in the same town. This foundation works not so much 4

directly with parents but with schools, to increase school openness to parental involvement and participation. The foundation’s mission is facilitated by pressure on schools from the national Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to involve parents more. David sees schools as having undergone an important change that needs to be taken further:
My experience is that until quite recently schools were determined to keep parents outside their gates. Of late, this has changed, and schools are ready to allow parents in. This is so that parents can help the schools with various chores and activities that the schools decide on. Additional helping hands are useful now with the budget cuts in the educational sector, so the schools are opening doors to parents, on the school’s terms. What I would like to see is more of a dialogue, not just on what parents can do for the school but what the school can do for parents, especially the most marginalized parents.

To further this vision, the foundation has developed various pedagogical resources to work with schools on parent involvement. One example is a ‘school flow chart’ that encourages dialogue between school staff and parents as co-experts. The broad context of the foundation’s mission is that of ‘active citizenship’ whereby schools and families contribute to social partnerships that are embedded in the neighbourhood and beyond. For David, the family activities calendar complements the resources developed by the foundation. At the same time that the foundation works with a school on dialogue with parents, the family activities calendar binds individual children and their families to the school. David sees a strategic opportunity within present national policy to advance resources such as the family activities calendar within schools:
Official inspection reports express some disappointment at school achievements in the area of ‘parental commitment,’ which is now high on the agenda of the Ministry of Education. Official indicators have been developed to measure parent participation in schools -- indicators like a clear school policy for parental involvement, adequate information for parents, a welcoming attitude towards parents when a child is admitted to school, stimulation of educational activity in homes, parent participation in additional educational programmes in school, and regular feedback to parents about their children’s development. The evidence is that schools are not doing well on these indicators. What is more, schools have been given additional funds by the government to advance parental participation. Next year, when a review is due of school achievement on this front, the schools may have to return the money if they cannot demonstrate good progress. Resources like the family activities calendar may now prove a godsend for the schools, allowing them to claim some achievement in terms of these various indicators, demonstrating that they are operationalizing their policy through such resources -- using these resources to keep parents informed, and welcoming parents of a new child with the gift of a family activities calendar through which dates and routines can be mutually agreed on and parents can be kept informed about their child’s development.

All three pedagogical innovators described above are also parents of children who range from pre-teen to young adults. The first example of a community of practice that Wenger provides is that of a family (2007: 6). Elise, Merel and David take part therefore in 5

multiple and overlapping communities of practice. Although they participated as pedagogical professionals in the interviews and focus group discussion on which this paper is based, they occasionally referred to their experiences as parents. Merel for example contrasted her own keenness as a classroom pedagogue to involve the parents of children in her class with the attitude of teachers in her son’s school who were resistant to parental involvement. Elise reflected on how even affluent Dutch parents like herself had not been made sufficiently aware of the contribution they could make to their children’s formal education. David illustrated the conscious importance of time in a child’s life, by describing his pre-teen son’s first act on receiving a calculator intended to help him with maths homework. This first act was to calculate the number of hours of his existence over the twelve years of his life! The value of ‘life broad’ learning referred to earlier in this paper clearly applies to pedagogical practitioners who are also parents of children, as much as to the children themselves. 3. Creative tensions around the family activities calendar The different perspectives of the three pedagogical practitioners described above did not seamlessly reinforce each other, despite large areas of agreement and cooperation. They came to the focus group discussion from very different professional entry points. This was the case for example on logistical issues, where Merel and David as members of school staff underlined to Elise (as a developer of pedagogical resources) the imperatives of the school’s annual cycle -- Elise might be focused on producing as attractive and user friendly a calendar as possible, and might be susceptible to hiccups within her production unit, but the family activities calendars must be in schools before they reopened after the summer break for the new school year when teachers began a fresh school cycle. If the family activities calendars arrived in November, two months after schools reopened, or even in October, the momentum of the school year would have accelerated too far beyond the initial starting up for the calendars to be easily taken on board by teachers under pressure. The calendars, based on respect for time, must themselves fully respect the structuring of time in the school year and must therefore be timely in their arrival. A related organizational issue was the increasing sense among school teachers of being heavily burdened, of their struggles in the face of ongoing budget cuts, of unsympathetic assessments of their pupils’ and their own performances, of fingers pointed at them in connection with various social ills, and of a barrage of programmes directed towards them that only increased their feeling of oppressive workloads in addition to what they saw as their main professional goal which was to improve the scholastic abilities of their pupils. In order to be effective in such a context, any pedagogical resource that is introduced into schools has to appeal to teachers and give them the feeling that it will make their lives easier and not still more difficult. Elise has responded to such feedback by trying to make the calendar as user friendly as possible, a resource that beleaguered teachers will perceive as easy to work with and that furthers their own goals. Merel’s creative use of the calendars within her classroom suggest that they can be a helpful


resource for teachers. Merel has many suggestions on how to render the calendars more classroom friendly. Less clearly evident are the complex processes of change within schools and within the wider structures in which schools are embedded. Take, for example, complicated relationships around educational change as differently approached by David and Elise. David’s perspective as a mobilising pedagogue was that environments receptive to parents had to be built within schools before resources like family activity calendars could be introduced and effectively used. Elise’s view as a creator of pedagogical resources was that that well designed resources could reorient interaction within schools towards the desired cooperation between children, teachers and parents, and could thereby render school environments more receptive to parental participation. Merel felt that processes of change were not linear or one way; the enhancing of parental involvement within school environments did not necessarily need to precede the introduction of new pedagogical resources, nor should such resources necessarily spearhead changed relations between schools and families. The arrows depicting change within schools moved in both directions, and environments and resources were interactive, since processes of change were multidirectional and could be mutually reinforcing. Merel however underlined that these processes required some sort of guiding ‘frame,’ without which there would be little effect in introducing new pedagogical resources. Another creative tension can be described as that between the universal and the specific. Elise, in developing the family activities calendar, visualized one within every home in the Netherlands that includes children. She described her pedagogical resources as ‘Hema products’ (Hema is a popular chain of budget department stores in the Netherlands), with immediate appeal to teachers and parents – ‘Oh, that would be so useful, just the thing for us,’ as consumers exclaim on a visit to a Hema store when they spot some new product that is mass produced in response to a widely felt need. At the same time, Elise was aware (especially after Merel’s experience with the calendars in her classroom) that the more specific the calendar was the more appealing it would be to schools and families. The calendars produced for Merel’s school were custom designed, with particular mention of the school’s name, and pictures of the staff, as well as reference to the name of the town and with photos of key local politicians (such as the alderman for education) and of the friendly neighbourhood policeman among others. To render the calendars even more engaging to parents and children, some versions of the calendar were custom designed for every home, with photos of each child as well as pictures of the parents in that child’s copy of the calendar. Merel sees this as essential for parental involvement and active citizenship. Paradoxically, the custom designing that made the calendars more effective as a pedagogical resource, by rendering them more appealing to families, can also slow down the process of production and delivery, risking late arrival and lack of synchronization with the school year (as described above). The cost of production would rise along with the time required to custom design calendars. Elise is trying to use the web shop


approach to address some of the logistical issues around custom design of the family activities calendar. Customized design could be specially important in acceptance of the calendar by the more marginal families, for example low income immigrant families. Parents who are not literate in the Dutch language or who have limited literacy might yet feel accepted by the school if they see their photos along with their child’s on a family activities calendar gifted to them by the school, and might be motivated to encourage their child to use the calendar to coordinate between home and school. The calendar with its user friendly illustrations and simple wording could help to further basic literacy and communication for such parents. The illustrations on the calendar are multiracial, reflecting the reality in many Dutch classrooms, including Merel’s. Custom design, in the sense of incorporating specific features of the local environment, gains further importance in the context of the active citizenship to which all three pedagogical practitioners refer when discussing the family activities calendar. ‘Active citizenship’ – like ‘parental commitment’ – is a term that has been increasingly invoked in official guidelines to schools and in public debates over education in the Netherlands. Such references to active citizenship usually centre around transmission of mainstream Dutch ‘norms and values’ to the children of immigrants. The three pedagogical practitioners described in this paper use ‘active citizenship’ instead to refer to children being aware of their civic environment and experiencing a sense of security and belonging within this environment. To facilitate this awareness and security, the calendar evokes specific spaces and individuals in the town where Merel’s school and David’s centre are located, as well as pictures of major political figures at the national level. The three professionals disagree among themselves as to which political personalities should figure in the calendar and where, but they are agreed on use of the calendar to ground children in their spatial environment and civic context, and to orient children to the structured passage of time over the course of the day or the month or the year. When ‘active citizenship’ is invoked in the context of the calendar, it is clearly with a small ‘a’ and a small ‘c’, i.e. not citizenship with reference to macro processes around electoral politics but citizenship in terms of micro-processes within everyday life and the daily environment – the public library where membership is free for school children; the public swimming pool; the neighbourhood health centre; the local police station; city hall where the aldermen and mayor take decisions that affect the daily life of town residents… In other words, the three pedagogical professionals are referring to interactive citizenship and the constitutive networks that support children and their families. 4. Conclusion: primary school children and multiple literacies ‘Social learning’ within ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 2007) and ‘life broad learning’ (Larssen 2000) have so far provided general frameworks that orient the discussion in this paper, based on the experiences and perceptions of three pedagogical practitioners, with reference to the role that a family activities calendar can play in undergirding everyday citizenship in homes, schools and neighbourhoods.


Wider literature illuminates various issues that have arisen in our discussion of pedagogical resources that can facilitate positive relationships between families, schools and communities. To focus specifically on primary school children in the context of the family activities calendar, what sort of ‘social learning’ is being encouraged? Itcan be argued that use of the calendar will advance not just the basic literacy and numeracy required to negotiate the days of the month or the months of the year, but the social literacy involved in mediating between relationships, everyday contexts and the civic environment. ‘Social literacy’ is a broad term (e.g. Lankshear et al 1997). It can be better grounded in the realities of school children’s lives by staying close to debates on their multiple literacies, for example Paakkari and Paakkari’s (2012) discussion of health literacy as a learning outcome in schools. Their arguments provide us with perspectives on literacy as more than reading and writing. Instead, literacy in the wider sense
requires that students can validate themselves as knowers with regard to their own lives; they become able to reflect on… their own lives and to create their personal meanings through such reflection. Moreover, they should be conscious not only about themselves but also about the others, and the world beyond (Paakkari and Paakkari 2012: 136).

Their discussion then goes on to relate this broader conception of literacy to critical thinking, self-awareness and citizenship, drawing on extensive literature. In particular,
Self-awareness as the ability to reflect on oneself in general covers being able to become conscious of one’s own feelings, needs, motives, values, attitudes and experiences (cf Lund, 2009)… They may, for instance, become able to separate their own hopes and wishes from that of their parents or friends, and through that strenthen their own internal voice (op. cit.: 138, citing Baxter Magolda 2001: 94).

The present paper has thrown light not only on children’s daily realities but on the teachers and parents and broader pedagogical communities that constitute major social influences on children’s lives. The paper is therefore also about the multiple literacies of various adults and their critical thinking, self awareness and citizenship. Such issues gain in importance in the plural multi-ethnic societies we live in today. The methodology used in the present paper, eliciting the different perspectives of three reflective practitioners (Schon 1983, 1987) through long individual interviews followed by focus group discussions, could be further employed to extend the discussions around the family activities calendar – and the social and pedagogical issues it tries to address – to primary school children both within the classroom and outside it in their various environments, and to their parents, within a multicultural democracy.


Cited references: Baxter Magolda, M.B., 2001, Making Their Own Way – Narratives for Transforming Higher Education to Promote Self-Development, Sterling: Stylus. Lankshear, C., J.P. Gee, M. Knobel and C. Searle, 1997, Changing Literacies, Levittown: Open University Press. Larsson, S., 2000, ‘Lifelong and Life-Broad Learning,’ Chapter Five in R. Gerber and C. Lankshear (eds) Training for a Smart Workforce, London: Routledge. Lund, I., 2009, ‘An Exploration of Self-Awareness among Shy People,’ in Young 17:4, pp. 375-397. Paakkari, L., and O. Paakkari, 2012, ‘Health Literacy as a Learning Outcome in Schools’ in Health Education 112:2, pp. 133-152. Schon, D. A., 1983, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, New York: Basic Books. -----, Educating the Reflexive Practitioner: Towards a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions, San Francisco: 1987. Sijthoff, E., 2012, ‘Bonding through Movement,’ in F. Smit (ed.) Brug naar de Toekomst: Partnerschap Ouders, School en Buurt [Bridge to the Future: Partnership between Parents, School and Neighbourhood], Nijmegen: Radboud University. -----, S. van der Pol and W. van de Erve, 2012, Wenskalender 2012-2013 [Wishes Calendar 2012-2013, the family activities calendar], Amsterdam: Fysio Educatief. Vygotsky, L.S., 1978, Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. UNESCO, 2006, Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Literacy for Life, Paris: UNECO. Wenger, E., 2007 (fifteenth printing), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge University Press. About the authors: Elise Sijthoff is a producer of pedagogical resources at Fysio Educatief in Amsterdam, and also the initiator of the network WISHES (Working Internationally for Social Develoment and Health in European Schools and Families). Merel Meijers teaches in the 6th grade at the Polygon School in Almere in the Netherlands and is also a consultant on parental involvement and active citizenship in primary schools. David Kranenburg is director of the newly opened Foundation Active Parenthood in Almere in the Netherlands, and is also the principal of a ‘star school’ that is presently being established in Almere. Dr Frederik Smit is a senior researcher at Institute for Applied Social Sciences at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, and founded the Expertise Centre Parents School and Neighbourhood at this Institute. <> Shanti George is an anthropologist, an independent reseacher and advisor, who focuses on children’s issues. She is currently based in the Netherlands, and has experience in research and practice on three continents. 10

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