View, Talk, Listen, and Grow

Apr 28, 2023
Melissa Butler

The question of, “How might young children today respond to episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?” was an early wondering explored through observation of children and teachers watching episodes in classrooms.

This question led to other questions, such as: “How does watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood impact educator practice?,” “In what ways might older children engage with MRN?,” “How are educators outside of classrooms engaging with episodes?,” “What other kinds of value and impact might grow from a study of episodes?”

Our questions have grown exponentially due to the diversity of contexts, approach, interests, and experiences of educators in our Educators’ Neighborhood community. Through our ever-expanding questions, we’re also growing a vibrant playground for HOW we notice and discuss episodes in community.

One note: Many educators share full episodes (or clips) with children, youth, families, and/or other educators in their work contexts. That said, our primary purpose is not (and has never been) asking educators to share episodes with others. Our focus is on educator learning in community inspired by various resources, including Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes.

Why do we watch and talk about episodes?

There’s much to learn from studying episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and there are a number of Fred Rogers Institute resources for helpers, including Fred Rogers’ Methodology of Beingness, notes from educators on The Importance of Slowing Down, ideas for Encouraging Curiosity (among other newsletters from Hedda Sharapan), and access to search the Archive for your specific questions and interests.

Although watching episodes and reading resources on your own is a fine way to learn, we’ve discovered a particular potency when educators gather together to VIEW episodes, TALK, and LISTEN to the perspectives of others.

Here are excerpts from educators about the value they find from episode-based discussions with others:

“Our conversations about episodes inevitably lead to deeper thinking about content, pedagogy, and intention in relation to the use of episodes, and the ways we can elevate our teaching as an extension of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I can feel the ways I am revitalized as teacher (and human) after [discussions] because I have taken the time to process and reflect thoughtfully with educators who help me to grow.”

“Seeing episodes from perspectives other than my own has been so valuable. Educators from other contexts notice things that I may not, and I draw inspiration from those educators as they share how they are using MRN in a formal classroom and how I might translate it to an informal setting.”

“The nuances a pre-K educator notices and wonders about vs. a secondary/post-secondary educator, and how often times there is a common intersection!”

“Being able to verbally exchange noticings and ideas with others who feel similar, but see different things during discussions creates and recreates a shared experience that expands on an individual's experience.”

“It is so interesting to hear the perspectives of so many different folks in different contexts. This allows me to take an aggregate look and realize our work touches and is similar in so many areas.”

“I love hearing what others notice, what matters to others in their viewing, how that corresponds or differs from what I notice, from what matters to me. Learning best happens in groups. The sparks of illumination and insight that come from dialogue with others about the episodes are of immeasurable value!”

How do we watch and talk about episodes?

As our Educators’ Neighborhood community has grown, we’ve been gifted with expanded examples of how educators connect with episodes and the ways they explore episodes in their contexts. We’ve also been gifted with learning alongside many educators over the span of multiple years, and the opportunity to revisit some of the same episodes over and over again during these years.

Grown from the simple question, What do you notice? as a prompt for inviting episode-based conversations, we’ve expanded our Episode Talk playground to include various ways to nudge and nurture how we view and discuss episodes together.

And it is a playground. We experiment. Some of what we invent is intentional. Much is accidental and of beautiful surprise. Here are a few examples of lenses and frames we’ve explored during this school year:

Notice. Wonder. Connect.
After viewing an episode clip, the discussion is framed in three consecutive layers: 1. What do you notice? (Sharing of description only); 2. What do you wonder? (Share questions big or small, but no answering); 3. Connect (Share opinions, interpretations, judgments, memories, ideas for application). This foundational process supports the clear distinction between description and interpretation, grows a safe space for all voices to be heard, expands the depth of what the group notices in an episode, and ensures that a single person’s initial interpretation doesn’t cloud the group’s collective learning.

Open vs. Closed
An open inventory lens is an invitation to notice anything. A closed lens invites a narrowed frame to look for something specific. This might be noticing for camera angle, vocabulary, kinds of questions, soundscape, eye contact, song integration, transitions, or any number of highly specific (and deep) aspects of an episode. A closed focus might also include noticing for a concept or theme, such as curiosity, solitude, trust, belonging, hope, leadership, listening, citizenship, etc. It’s often helpful to begin with open inventory and then try a closed frame with others who’ve looked for different (or the same) things.

Listen only. Watch only.
An opportunity to play an episode clip with only the audio (no video) or, play an episode clip with only video (sound off) is quite revealing. My original rationale to try “listen only” was to increase a focus on what is said during an episode clip. The idea for video only (no sound) came from two Kindergarten teachers who wanted to hear what their students thought about “How People Make Erasers” (from Episode 1578) before they played it with the sound on (note: the students did NOT think the video was about erasers!). There’s a lot of potential for learning with this shift of frame, and it’s a lot of fun.

What’s NOT there?
This is an interesting frame to use once a group has quite a bit of practice describing and connecting with episodes. It invites noticing an episode clip for what is not present… what is not said, what Fred doesn’t do in the scene, what the camera doesn’t do, what doesn’t happen with the sounds/music, what decisions were made in writing and production for what does not show up on the screen during the episode. I’ve witnessed powerful observations and conversations emerge from this frame.

This is a sampling of flexible ways a lens might shift to view episodes, or a frame might shift to talk about them. Nothing here is prescriptive or formulaic or known. This is about the play of it, the ongoing learning of process, how a community grows together by following questions to find new ones.

Our aliveness in learning is nurtured by our wonder. Wonder as seed, as roots, as branches, as sky.

A single question about the timeliness of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—Does it matter now the way it mattered before?—oh, how far this question has grown, how many new questions it has seeded, and how we get to keep learning and growing, held in the knowing that our questions are possible now only because of what was offered to us once by Fred Rogers when he asked: Won’t you be my neighbor?


Melissa A. Butler is a Senior Fellow in Teaching and Learning with the Fred Rogers Institute. Find her: here and here.

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