On Display: Marisa Benakis' Reflections on Dr. Lilian Katz's Keynote Address

Today is a special treat for me as a blogger.  I have the opportunity to feature a colleague who I both respect and admire. 

Marisa Benakis is in every way my critical friend.  We are both FDK teachers (though from separate boards-she works in the York Catholic District School Board) who are passionate about early years learning.  Together we attend conferences, courses, workshops, and just about anything that would improve our growing understandings of developmentally appropriate pedagogy.  

Marisa Benakis is also a graduate student at York University.  Today I will be displaying her thinking about Dr. Lilian Katz's Keynote Address from a conference that we both attended last month.  A Keynote Address that we continue to chat about and reflect upon... 

Dr. Lilian Katz, Marisa, and I.

Co-Constructing Contexts for Meaningful Engagement
Charles Sturt University
March 2nd, 2013

Keynote Speaker:  Dr. Lilian Katz

Written by: Marisa Benakis

As we sit in the designated auditorium room, you can feel the excitement in the air – perhaps this is due to the collection of individuals gathered together in fulfillment of a common passion, or perhaps it is the eager anticipation of the speaker we are about to encounter. Dr. Lilian Katz approaches the podium and the room falls silent. Simply upon appearance, it is apparent that this woman is rich with experience and knowledge and I think to myself, I hope that at the age of 81 I am still eager to learn and share my passion with others as she so vigorously does.

Dr. Katz takes us through ten principles concerning the learning and education of children. As we journey through these principles, I am captivated by a common thread – the notion of dispositions. Dr. Katz describes dispositions as habits of mind, with intentions and motives. Dispositions cannot be taught but we can in fact model them in our daily lives. Dr. Katz clearly distinguishes between skills and dispositions by informing us that “You can have reading skills and you can have the disposition to be a reader.” Furthermore, some dispositions are inborn (e.g., protective dispositions), while others are learned. 

  •       All children have the disposition to make sense of their environment as best they know how
  •       The overall goal of early education is to help children develop the disposition to examine what’s around them
  •       Ultimately, the goal is to cultivate the lifelong disposition to go on learning (which in my opinion Dr. Lillian Katz exemplifies in all that she does)

As reflective practitioners, we must ask ourselves, can the dispositions we want children to possess, be seen by them? Dr. Katz reminds us of the importance of being genuine with children – it does not serve children well to be phony and talk nonsense to them. It is my position that if we possess an image of children as strong, capable and equal to ourselves, this image would project itself in all our interactions with children.

Some additional noteworthy points addressed in Dr. Katz’s discussion include:
  •       “The single most predictor of a child’s future is not IQ but social competence” – and social competence is not something that can be instructed
  •       Young children need extensive experience of continuous contingent interaction and this is tied to neurological research
  •       To be interested in something is to lose yourself in something outside yourself – interest must be slow and focused, not necessarily exciting. Interest is satisfying, not thrilling

The tenth principle addressed by Dr. Katz makes an impressively accurate statement. Enjoyment is not the goal of education, it is the goal of entertainment. When education is done well, we enjoy it – it’s a side effect. It is my position that if we start with the children at the centre of our thoughts and we allow them the opportunities to develop their dispositions and get lost in their interests – then enjoyment and fulfillment are sure to be the results.

As the collective exited the auditorium, a wave of excitement reaffirmed itself across the room. One could not help but dialogue about all that had been discussed. In fact, the weight of Lillian words danced throughout my mind long after I had left the conference. The combination of her depth of knowledge, exuberant passion and her honest candor made for a magical morning that I am certain all those in attendance could attest to.  Thank you to Dr. Lilian Katz for your lifelong disposition to keep on learning and sharing your learning with others.         

 I look forward to turning the spotlight on Marisa again soon, and thank her for sharing her learning on the blog.  Thank you also for continuing to push my thinking...

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