Maria LeRose, left, speaks with Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl. (photo from Janusz Korczak Association of Canada)
The second lecture of the “How to Love a Child” series, co-sponsored by the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada and the University of British Columbia faculty of education, took place at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre on Oct. 29. The topic was Janusz Korczak and the Importance of Listening to Children’s Voices in Education: Theory, Research and Practical Strategies.
Keynote speaker Dr. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl spoke at length on being mindful and caring towards children, very much in the spirit of Korczak’s own theories on how to love a child. Her best example was the classroom as the microcosmic world of children, where teachers’ attitudes towards their students play an integral role in their development.
Schonert-Reichl is a professor in the Human Development, Learning and Culture program at UBC and the interim director of the Human Early Learning Partnership. She has authored more than 100 articles and several books, and her focus is on the social and emotional development and the well-being of children and adolescents.
In her address, she talked about her own education and how she was seduced by the idea of giving children a voice in the classroom. So, she engaged them in decorating the classroom according to their own taste, and let them express their ideas. When the students saw that their opinion mattered, they became engaged. Schonert-Reichl realized that she was learning from her students by listening to them, hearing and heeding their voices, and this increased her pleasure in teaching them. She discussed further how teachers need to have compassion for the children and to never shame them.
Following the keynote lecture, moderator Maria LeRose, program consultant for the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education and adjunct professor at UBC in the faculty of medicine, coordinated a panel consisting of Robin Kaebe, Salma Rafi and Alexander Corless, Grade 6 students at Lord Roberts Elementary School, who answered questions from the audience. They spoke of how a teacher’s attitude matters; how children need to be heard and seen. Even a hello in the school corridor gives a child a sense of being and recognition.
One student said that the classroom becomes like a second family and that very important relationships are formed at school. Another appreciated school’s climate of comfort and safety. Another defined a teacher as “somebody who asks us what we want to do.” Also appreciated was the presence of suggestion boxes as a medium through which the children could express their thoughts and feelings.
Both Schonert-Reichel and LeRose addressed the fact that teachers also need care and understanding, as being a teacher is an often-demanding job that can cause burnout.
The panel discussion closed on the importance of parent-teacher communication, as that gives the child more confidence, acknowledgment and feeling of security.
Jerry Nussbaum, the president of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, opened the evening with remarks about Korczak and his various activities in the field of children’s rights and welfare, and he quoted Korczak: “Children are people whose souls contain the seeds of all those thoughts and emotions that we possess. As these seeds develop, their growth must be gently directed.”
Nussbaum mentioned the famous Korczak democratic court, held in his orphanage for the children by the children. Nussbaum concluded his address by thanking all the donors, speakers and volunteers.
The next and third lecture of the six-part series takes place in the alumni centre on Nov. 25, with Anne Cools, senator for Toronto Centre-York, and moderator Dr. Edward Kruk, associate professor of social work at UBC. The discussion will focus on current challenges in the implementation of the “best interests of the child” standard in Canadian jurisprudence, social policy and professional practice. To register, visit jklectures.educ.ubc.ca.
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz is a Vancouver-based author and a board member of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada.