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By: Norah Fryer

I have known and learned from Stuart Shanker for 10 years. I feel fortunate to have been to be influenced by Stuart, and I share his belief that our ability to engage in respectful, trusting and reciprocal relationships is at the heart of our understanding of how to provide children with a safe, secure and positive social environment.

I want to share one of my experiences with all of you. I was recently involved in a Professional Development (PD) day for early childhood teachers in New Zealand. I was asked to share my understanding of Stuart’s work.

Condensing what I have learned from Stuart over the past 10 years was almost impossible to do in an hourlong presentation. As you can imagine, these teachers were very interested in the ‘inter-brain’ explanation, which Stuart uses to illustrate the importance of respectful, trusting and reciprocal relationships in early childhood development. So I decided to use just one slide and share with them the following comment from Stuart:

“We are in the midst of an extraordinary understanding of the importance of a teacher in the early years of a child’s life. Whereas early years educators were once seen as little more than substitute caregivers, they are now being recognized as ‘the guardians of a society’s future well-being’.” (I asked the teachers to write down their first reaction to that comment). “The more we learn about the development of the brain in the early years of life, the better we understand how the teacher plays a critical role in the development of the core neural systems that underpin a child’s mental and physical health throughout their lifespan.”

Each teacher had a copy of Stuart’s Five Domains and I suggested that they explore the personal aspects that could be involved with the five domains – within their contexts for living and learning. My final question to the teachers was, “What scientific knowledge would you need to have to understand the science underpinning human development and learning?”

Approximately 250 teachers attended this PD event and I received 240 responses! When I arrived home with the large bundle of notes, I decided that if I truly respected the effort of the teachers I would peruse their answers right away, even though I was tired from a very long day. Before I had even gotten through a quarter of them, my emotional tiredness disappeared! I was in awe of how the very brief outline that I provided on the scope of Stuart’s work could have been transformed into, not just their personal “actionable knowledge” but their deep connection with how meaningful the concepts surrounding self-regulation are. Here is one comment that you may find particularly interesting: “Deep selfreflection leads to self-awareness. And being mindful of our daily emotions must precede our daily self-reflection of our personal daily behaviour — not just our ability to create a physical environment for learning.”

The more I share Stuart’s work with practising teachers, the more I realize how eager teachers are to become involved with Stuart’s work and how far ahead of his time Stuart really is.

Norah Fryer, as an advocate for teachers, children, and families, continues to put retirement on hold to embrace her interests in life-long learning; seeing the importance of trusting relationships within safe and secure environments. For over forty years she has been a member of teaching teams who have collectively had the courage to think differently, imagine, invent and try out different ways of supporting learners. Norah has discovered that the true meaning of ‘holistic development’ is to value the uniqueness in everyone.  When collaborative people create and share new experiences, it opens up many interdisciplinary opportunities, not only to enhance and support individual learning, but to encourage us all to embark on our own exciting life-long journeys of discovery. Norah Fryer currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand and has spent many years working as a Professor at Rangi Ruru Early Childhood Education College, in Christchurch, NZ. In 2014, Ms. Fryer was the recipient of the Queen’s Service Medal for services to early childhood education. 

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