Teacher research is increasingly recognized nationally and internationally as a critical part of early childhood professional development and noted for its role in advancing knowledge about teaching and learning. This section of Voices of Practitioners highlights the wide range of early childhood teacher research initiatives and inquiry communities through brief summaries. They include contact infroamtion for educators interested in learning more about specific project goals and methods. Action and Reflections is an ongoing series in which we will post new projects as we receive them.
San Francisco, California
The Dolphin class is using the potty just outside the door, and I hear sobbing from the hallway; a tone in the lead teacher’s voice makes me cringe. After a moment of hearing the crying escalate I jump up and ask the teacher, “Can I give you a hand?” He nods in an exasperated manner, returning to the bathroom where a couple of children remain. I follow the class as they head back to their classroom. Lily is in her mother’s arms, sobbing. She is sad because her mom has come to school to help with building “haunted gingerbread houses” and now she’s leaving, while Lily must stay. Her mom seems to feel guilty and doesn’t know how to extract herself.
At first I try to distract Lily with jokes and silliness, but this strategy isn’t working today. When we get into the classroom Lily’s mom keeps trying to get her to “push her out the door.” Veronica pushes her out instead, causing Lily to burst into hysterics. I ask Lily to help me start getting the tables ready for lunch, and finally convince her to smile as I joke about not knowing whose lunch box is whose. “Does this “Frozen” lunch box belong to Billy? Oh, I know this “Star Wars” one must be Sarah’s!” She cracks a smile and helps me wipe tables down. A couple of other girls want to clean tables too; this sets Lily into tears again. Just then the lead teacher returns. Discovering Lily is still crying he says, “You need to stop crying. If you don’t stop crying your mom won’t be able to come back because you can’t handle it. Get it together.” 4-year-old Lily often has a hard time rebounding from sorrow, which frustrates her teachers. I feel deeply sad for her in this moment because I know that hearing this only makes her sadder. This is not how I want children to be treated.
When I experienced moments like these early in my career, instinct told me that this abuse of power was not the best way to work with children. However, I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to the offenders. Now, as an emerging leader and scholar I feel passionate about building a culture in schools where young children and their teachers experience transformative collaborative learning. Creating that culture begins by standing up against small injustices, though in this instance I didn’t have the authority to reprimand or coach the teacher. I felt frustrated.
Through my reflective practice I began to wonder: How did we get here? Where has the legacy of John Dewey led us? Why is it so important for preschool teachers to “control” young children? Why does it bother me so much? In order to unravel some theoretical and emotional tangles I decided to retrace the philosophical roots of progressive education. I wanted to know what Dewey and Vygotsky would say about how and what to teach young children. I set out to examine four quintessential texts, looking for themes to support my epistemological assumption that children are competent and my ontological precept that, as human beings, children deserve to be treated with respect.
Through close readings of Experience and Education (Dewey 1938), Mind in Society (Vygotsky 1978), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire 1970), and Actual Worlds, Possible Minds (Bruner 1986), I identified three themes that resonated with my personal philosophy of education: freedom, reflection, and the role of social-historical contexts.
My parents divorced when I was 8 years old, often leaving my siblings and I to fend for ourselves so our parents could work. Through my own reflective practice I’ve come to realize that I place tremendous value on children’s freedom because of my experiences as a child. I was able to cook, clean, shop, and move about my neighborhood largely unencumbered by adult regulation. This taught me to be self-sufficient and creative. I had to solve my own problems and create my own systems for survival and organization. In reading Dewey (1938) I was moved to consider the balance between freedom and control. My emphasis on freedom in my own childhood has sometimes led me to allow children in my care to do things like climb very tall trees, cut apples with a sharp knife, wade into the ocean in their clothes, or cover the entire classroom in a giant maze of masking tape. What Dewey offers is the warning that freedom needs to be balanced with purpose, causing the responsive practitioner to think in the moment, “Is this meaningful? If so why?” (Dewey 1938, 69). He also illuminates a central conflict in early childhood classrooms frequently presented to me when I discuss the importance of children’s freedom: just because children have freedom does not mean adults are subject exclusively to children’s will (58). Dewey argues for a reciprocal relationship between teachers and students, much as Freire argues for the “humanization” of both the “oppressed” and the “oppressors” (1970, 44). In comparing these texts I realized the struggle for control between children and teachers I often witness stems from an inherent need for freedom and humanization. Because of the factory-like model of larger child care programs (for-profit and subsidized), teachers are both the oppressors and the oppressed. How can teachers support children’s freedom if they themselves are oppressed? Considering preschool teacher’s wages, levels of education, and social status, it becomes clear that teachers as well as children need liberation.
Through my graduate studies I’ve become nearly addicted to reflective practice. There is a feeling from the experience that is so hard to describe—a rewinding sensation, a moving and shifting moment in your mind, a disequilibrium as you play and replay your thoughts until suddenly a new idea emerges and you snap the bear trap shut on it. Dewey (1938, 87) and Freire (1970, 51) reveal reflection as crucial to thinking, and Bruner succinctly sews reflection to Vygotsky’s theories as “. . . a means for turning around upon one’s thoughts, for seeing them in a new light. This is, of course, mind reflecting on itself” (1986, 73). From Vygotsky I glean that reflection is not just valuable to the child, but essential to the practitioner who must determine the zone of proximal development of the child (1978, 85). With the notion of reflective thought as essential to learning and teaching, Freire’s definition of “praxis” as “. . . reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (1970, 51) becomes an integral term for use in my philosophical lexicon. I wonder, if I can help teachers see the hegemonic forces that require them to teach children in dehumanizing ways, will they be able to synthesize theory into practice?
If we heed Bruner’s ontological assertion that we live in a time of “unspoken despair,” then certainly it is time to move beyond developmental theory that is now taken as unquestioned science (Bruner 1986, 135). Ultimately each early childhood milieu and zeitgeist is informed by the socio-political context in which it emerges. As Vygotsky illustrates, the child’s move from “interpersonal” to “intrapersonal” processes (1978, 57) is shaped by the family culture, and thus by the surrounding society. In our contemporary era of terrorism, Ebola, school shootings, and civil unrest in towns like Ferguson, Missouri, it’s easy to assume a pessimistic worldview. For Freire, this is boiled down to his assertion that, “World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction” (1970, 50). In reading Dewey (1938) and Bruner (1986) it’s clear that the negotiation between teacher and student reflects our wishes for society as a whole. What world do we want to live in? The democracy that is our legacy as Americans? Or the possible world in which we solve big problems that will save humanity from extinction? We don’t get there by shutting children down because they are sad. We get there through imagining what is possible.
In conclusion: Futurelessness
After the incident when Lily was told to stop crying, I offered the staff a copy of Dan Gartrell’s The Power of Guidance: Teaching Social-Emotional Skills in Early Childhood Classrooms (2004), and made a concerted effort whenever possible to spend time modeling mindful communication in each classroom. There are still many times when I hear teachers making threats to children as the teacher did in that moment. However, I have come to realize that the oppression many preschool teachers face causes them to behave this way. They are inside the system and cannot see the forces that create it, and so they follow the script as it was given to them. But this “doing what was done to us” mentality of punishment and threats is not what will support the generation of saviors I believe we need.
My worldview was shaped by the experience of growing up in the 1980s, during an era that offered the dichotomy of excess and perfection; I default to a skeptical and sarcastic disposition. One of the great joys of working in early childhood education is the opportunity to reject the nihilism that is so easy for me to fall into, and witness the simple beauty of newly-discovered cracks in the sidewalk, or the sensation of running barefoot through very tall grass; the deep feelings of empathy or joy reverberating from children in play. It is a luxury to temporarily steal this perspective back from children when we know too well the possibility of futurelessness (Bruner 1986, 148) is real. We owe it to children to support their freedom, to think thoughtfully and deeply about their learning, and to examine the context in which we are teaching them for rips in the fabric of society. We are counting on them to beat back the tide of futurelessness, to sail against the current toward the horizon.
For further information, contact Heather Posner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Bryant, Heidi Ingram, and Debra Murphy
The Cape Cod early childhood teacher research group began in the fall of 2011 with four members. Our current three members include a Head Start teacher, a family child care provider, and the early childhood education professor who introduced teacher research into the teacher education program at Cape Cod Community College, where the first two graduated from several years ago. Both teachers completed a teacher research study as an assignment in the practicum course prior to graduating. We have held monthly meetings since November 2011 at the college, and our enthusiasm even takes us through the summers.
We started with a small group to make it easier to get off the ground. After the first year, one of our members very reluctantly left, for personal reasons. We talked about opening up the group to more members, but felt it would significantly change our dynamics. In the end, we decided to keep it small because we thrived on the relationships in our close, tight-knit group. We learned that you do not have to have a large group for it to be effective. Recently we have been writing up our work to extend the influence of the group to other practitioners.
Each of us conducts our own teacher research inquiries at our sites; we then come together to share and discuss our research. We proceed at our own pace; when we complete one study, we begin a new one. We use a simple protocol in our meetings, discussing our questions, relevant literature and research, methodology, and findings. Everyone has equal time to present their current data and ideas, and we offer feedback to one another. Thus, each member contributes resources and insights into each teacher research inquiry. For example, we bring in professional articles that are relevant to our own research or that of another group member and discuss the way these relate to our own theories of learning and teaching.
We stay in the group for its concrete professional and personal benefits. As members state,
Since our original studies, we have pursued many teacher research studies. Our teacher research focuses on critical issues in our program. Two examples of our teacher research studies include the following.
Working with this group has become a vital part of our work with young children and their families. We are able to bounce ideas off of each other and offer support, not only from different viewpoints but from different experiences as well. As one member states,
It makes you really look at what is going on instead of just saying, “Oh, this is just how it’s going to be. It’s never going to change.” It gives you the opportunity to try to change it and to talk to others about your research and realize that you are not alone.
Teacher research offers teachers agency to solve our own problems in the classroom. Through the opportunity to share what we have discovered and learned from each other our teacher research group provides both professional incentive and means to improve our performance as practitioners. We expand our knowledge of a situation or topic that affects our everyday classroom experience. In turn, we aid the children and families we work with through our focus on children’s growth and work toward improving aspects of the classroom such as curriculum and relationships with children, parents, and the community.
It also directly benefits teachers’ own well-being. As one member relates,
Seeing the benefits of teacher research makes you want to do it. It is being proactive to fix something or work toward something. It’s like helping yourself in your own life, your own aura, your own mental sanity.
For further information, contact Debra Murphy at email@example.com.
María Paula Ghiso
Too often, professional learning is structured by a top-down model where educational knowledge is constructed outside the classroom and transmitted to teachers, who must then implement the required program or content. Practitioner inquiry disrupts such prevalent arrangements, providing opportunities for teachers to theorize their practice and investigate issues they identify as important (Cochran-Smith & Lytle 1999; 2009). The goal of such research is not merely to critique existing educational arrangements, but to take action and construct alternatives more conducive to children’s flourishing (Campano 2007; 2009).
For the past three years, I have collaborated with teachers in a multilingual school district in a large northeastern city through professional development courses we have restructured along an inquiry-based model. The courses focus on investigating the languages and literacies of children and families, and how educators might learn from and include such cultural and linguistic funds of knowledge (Moll et al., Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992) within school contexts (Moll et al., Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992). The group is intentionally composed of individuals from different institutions, age groups, and job descriptions. This inspires dialogue, allows us to better learn from one another, and fosters inquiry into interrelated issues affecting immigrant families that extends beyond an individual classroom. For example, early childhood educators working with English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers who span the elementary grades can together reinforce the need for shared advocacy for students. At times, our inquiry groups have also included high school teachers, creating a platform for investigating learning across the grades, delving into overlaps and divergences in academic practices and expectations, and exploring how intergenerational networks might be a resource for multicultural learning. The courses provide structures to support such collaboration, a dimension often difficult to encompass within the demands of a regular school day.
The meetings entail discussing educational literature, participating in pedagogical experiences about language and literacy learning (including Spanish-language experiences, which foster better understanding of how children with emerging proficiencies in English navigate the curriculum), and jointly examining data in the form of children’s work and teacher practices. The goal is to create a climate of dialogue where teachers’ own professional questions are honored and collectively explored. The following examples provide a window into this inquiry-based work.
These undertakings constitute only a subset of the varied projects and issues the teachers have researched, and the ongoing directions we continue to explore. It is heartening to see educators across a district working together in communities of inquiry to think creatively about early childhood educational practices in support of diverse children and families.
For more information, contact Maria Paula Ghiso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 2009–June 2010
Math and Science Inquiry Project (MSIP) consisted of a group of seven early childhood educators focusing on aspects of math and science learning for young children. The group formed in September 2009 and was coordinated by Drs. Judy Kysh and Daniel Meier of San Francisco State University. It was funded by a grant from the Center for Math and Science Education at San Francisco State University. The group was composed of three teachers from a campus-based preschool (who work with infants to preschoolers), two preschool directors,a kindergarten teacher, and a community outreach coordinator at a local children’s museum.
Each project member received a stipend for participating in this yearlong inquiry group. Group members also received complimentary copies of two texts on inquiry/teacher research. In addition, they attended a mathematics education conference at Asilomar, California, to provide additional background on current mathematics instruction.
The group met once a month for two hours. Each project member brought a piece of the data from their particular math/science inquiry focus that they conducted at their sites. Two group members who teach together collaborated on their data collection. Project group meetings included discussion of key ideas and methods from our two inquiry texts.
The group meetings served as a way to focus on issues of data collection, data analysis, development of peer support and feedback, and final research project dissemination. Each participant wrote a short report on their inquiry project at year’s end. Six members of the group have submitted a proposal to the Teacher as Researcher Special Interest Group at the 2011 Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).
The term research-based practices often refers to the practice of teaching based on theories and philosophies rooted in a scientific understanding of children’s early development. But as theories become more abstract, so too do the researchers developing them. Educational research thus moves farther away from the practical classroom applications of the theory. In order for there to be research-based practices, there needs to be practical research.
One form of practical research comes from practicing teachers. Teachers who reflect on their practices and consider the implications not only for their own classroom, but for others as well, can make unique contributions to the field of education. By collaborating with other reflective teachers, teacher researchers gain insights about the minds of the children they teach and about methods of improving classroom practices.
It is in this vein that the Reflective Early Childhood Educators’ Social Seminar (RECESS) was created. A collective of reflective teachers of young children in the Chicago area, we dedicated ourselves to improving the quality of education in our classrooms. Through visiting each other’s sites and conducting regular meetings, RECESS members shared teaching experiences to gain a greater understanding of children and how they learn.
Each member of the group investigated a particular focusing question in his or her classroom. When we met, we focused on one of these questions. We shared stories of our classroom experiences as they related to the topic of inquiry and raised questions based on these stories. As we discussed the questions, group members gained insight not only into the investigation presented at the meeting, but also into their own question as it related to the topic.
After each meeting we wrote up the stories we shared and the summaries of our discussions and posted them to our website at http://sites.google.com/site/aeraarsig/Home/action-research-world/recess, where they can be accessed for review.
Here are some examples:
For more information, contact Jeff Daitsman at email@example.com.
The teachers at the Kent State University Child Development Center, a laboratory school for children 18 months through kindergarten, are engaged in teacher research with children and families about the nature of relationships formed in the outdoors. The context for this research is a campus full of hills, trees, and gardens and an adjacent wetland area with a variety of plant and animal life, creeks, ponds, and woods.
The goals of our project are to understand the child’s approach to natural outdoor spaces, to engage families in dialogue regarding the value of nature experiences, and to support preservice teachers’ knowledge of the integrated learning opportunities when children explore natural spaces on campus, in the wetlands, on the school playground, and in their own neighborhoods.
The following are some of our findings:
As the children document their encounters in the outdoors and represent their findings through drawing, painting, and other forms of expression, they begin to understand the connectedness of all living things.
These teacher-and-child research projects depend on a support system for conducting teacher research with children. Teachers have studied teacher research methodology, including framing the question, observing and documenting, interpreting, and communicating findings. They have organized themselves into critical friends groups, small groups of teachers exploring a particular aspect of the schoolwide nature studies—for example, two teachers are studying
the ways toddlers and preschoolers communicate their findings to each other about the birds that feed just outside their windows. Other aspects of the support system include resource people to support the process of teacher research and time for study together.
One of our research projects was published in the July 2009 issue of Young Children (“We Need a Way to Get to the Other Side: Exploring the Possibilities for Learning in Natural Spaces,” by Galizio, Stoll, and Hutchins). We also share research projects with families and visitors by displaying collaborative hallway panels that communicate the importance of outdoor explorations for young children’s learning.
For questions about this project, please contact Carol Bersani, Associate Professor, Director, Kent State University Child Development Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the past three years, the Lee Academy Pilot School, a pre-K through grade 5 Boston Public School, has partnered with the staff of the Making Learning Visible Project—a research project of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—to promote learning communities among children and adults. During the 2009–2010 academic year, instructional coach Marina Boni of the Early Childhood Division of Boston Public Schools joined our effort. We are focusing on how to best support conversations and storytelling among the 3- to 5-year-old children in the school’s early academy.
Our guiding inquiry questions are,
Every other week, Marina or Ben Mardell and Mara Krechevsky, staff of the Making Learning Visible Project, facilitate a discussion among the six preschool teachers and two kindergarten teachers during their common planning time, a forty-five-minute period during the school day. Teachers take turns bringing a question about their practice and a related artifact to these meetings. For example, a teacher who wondered what questions to ask to extend his students’ conversations brought a transcript of a conversation from his class. A teacher wanting to refine her prompts to promote storytelling brought a videotape of her eliciting a story from a child.
The protocol guiding our conversations includes the following steps:
Each session builds on the preceding session’s conversation. Teachers report on strategies related to the previous meeting’s topic that they have tried, and they discuss new questions that have emerged.
Kindergarten teacher Erin Daly feels that the time to reflect at the end of the conversation, even if only a few minutes, is very valuable, giving her a chance to plan how she can move her practice forward. Preschool teacher David Ramsey appreciates the chance to talk to colleagues about teaching and learning.
Building knowledge and influencing practice through collaborative teacher research requires a culture in which teachers are accountable to themselves and each other. The facilitators, Marina, Ben, and Mara, support this culture in several ways. As noted above, we bring teachers’ ideas and practice to the forefront by beginning each session with teachers’ descriptions of how they have tried to support conversations and storytelling in their classrooms since the last meeting. We reproduce the teachers’ insights in several documents (for example, a list of prompts for supporting storytelling) and bring these documents back to the group for feedback. We check in with the teachers—individually and as a group—to see if there are ways our work can better support their teaching.
Given the multiple demands teachers face, helping them focus on one topic is a challenge. However, real learning comes when teachers have opportunities to carefully track, collect evidence, and reflect on one aspect of children’s learning over time. It is a process for which teacher research is well suited.
For questions concerning this project, please contact Ben Mardell at email@example.com.
For more information, visit Making Learning Visible: Understanding, Documenting, and Supporting Individual and Group Learning at www.pz.harvard.edu/mlv. See also Project Zero & Reggio Children’s Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners (Cambridge, MA: Project Zero, 2001).
Information about the Lee Academy can be found at http://boston.k12.ma.us/leeacademy/index.html.
Isauro Michael Escamilla
Located in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco, California, Las Americas Early Education School is part of the San Francisco Unified School District Child Development Program. Our school provides a nurturing educational program inspired by the project approach, an academic philosophy that embraces children’s interests as the starting point for in-depth study of specific topics through multiple media: reading, writing, drawing, field trips, and creative arts such as painting, collage-making, music, and movement.
Reflecting the ethnic, economic, cultural, and linguistic tapestry of our city, our school includes a multiage preschool program for children ages 3 to 5, a mainstreamed special education preK program, and an educational after-school and summer program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. We aim to provide an environment-based curriculum using our school garden to connect nature, outdoor learning, and academic success. In our classrooms we offer children a rich variety of materials to explore and represent their ideas and emergent understanding on a variety of topics; in the process they create their own knowledge, with teachers offering support as needed at specific points of the learning experience.
Our staff has a commitment to support children’s interests and curiosity by listening, observing, and documenting. We document their theories, ideas, and feelings through stories, photographs, dictations, audiotaped conversations, and drawings. We believe that when children work and play in small groups they are better able to explore and understand concepts of literacy, numeracy, nature, and the creative arts. Besides ensuring the safety of the children and their social-emotional well-being, we believe that one of the most important and challenging roles as teachers is to present children with thought-provoking questions or situations that encourage them to expand their emergent analytical thinking.
Preschool head teachers Isauro Michael Escamilla and Mary Lin graduated from the master’s program in education with a concentration in early childhood from San Francisco State University, and consider teacher research an art as much as a science. Both are experienced teachers with a personal interest in pursuing the underpinnings of teacher research as a pedagogical tool to guide their own professional growth. Some of their work with children has been published in Learning from Young Children: The Art and Science of Teacher Research (Meier & Henderson 2007), Young Children (Escamilla 2004), and more recently in Teaching Young Children (NAEYC 2010).
The other teachers in our program have different levels of expertise and knowledge about the inquiry process and systematic documentation of children’s learning experiences. Our inquiry group, described below, has provided the right context to share experiences, find answers to common questions, and more importantly develop the habit of collaborative reflection as a strategy to gain a better understanding of our role as educators of young children.
Our teacher research inquiry group
Our monthly teacher research team meetings help us further our understanding of the research process as it relates to documentation of children’s learning experiences based on classroom projects. These meetings, supported by professor Daniel Meier, provide the pedagogical framework needed to reflect on practical day-to-day decisions about children’s interests, and possibilities for inquiry based on those interests and activities. We hope to provide an on-site pedagogical forum to further our understanding of our role as educators and to improve our skills as critical thinkers and teacher researchers.
Our inquiry group is composed of two head teachers, two associate teachers, and two assistant teachers. All teachers are bilingual and speak Spanish, Cantonese, or Mandarin. We have different levels of expertise in the field, with a range of four to almost 15 years in the classroom.
We consistently meet approximately once a month for an hour and a half to discuss the progress of our class projects and the content of assigned readings. In order to create a common experience we decided to read the book Learning from Young Children in the Classroom: The Art and Science of Teacher Research (Meier & Henderson 2007) as a way to reflect on our job as educators, develop a common professional language, learn specific data collection strategies, and further our understanding of classroom based research. From the outset, each teacher received a copy of the book; a teaching journal to keep up with the development of class projects, observations, and pedagogical reflections; a notebook for note taking during meetings; a calendar and folders;and one digital camera per room in addition to a tape recorder and a computer.
An important aspect of our inquiry group is the relaxed atmosphere and flexible formality of our meetings, with teacher researcher Isauro Michael Escamilla serving as group coordinator. Our meetings are not mandatory for the staff, but have become a forum where we can present to colleagues our ongoing projects, samples of children’s work, emerging documentation panels, and the challenges we face to move projects forward. During these meetings we get constructive feedback, ideas, or strategies and we set new goals for the next meeting. More than anything else, these sessions have provided a framework to acquire a common language and the opportunity to learn or redefine the meaning of terms such as observations, reflective practice, pedagogical reflections, teaching journal, documentation of children’s learning experiences, classroom-based inquiry, and active listening, to name a few.
Our inquiry group explores a wide variety of topics. For example, in a recent meeting teacher Mary Lin focused her attention on an emergent interest in writing from a small group of kindergarten-bound children, and the strategies that teachers could use to help these children become proficient in holding different writing tools.
Throughout this richly documented project—which included photographs, teacher reflections, children’s dictations, and writing samples dating back several months—Mary Lin discovered and confirmed that strategies are subject to differences in cultural beliefs, the involved adults’ personal upbringing, and each child’s skills, age, and dispositions to learning. She shared specific activities that helped children gain a more meaningful understanding of the writing process. Some of these activities were sensory, such as when she gently traced letters and other shapes with her fingers on the children’s backs while they simultaneously wrote down the same letters or shapes they were feeling (and reading) with their bodies.
Other examples included writing in the air and manipulating playdough or sticky foam to engage the children in creative writing. She discovered that “playdough and sticky foam lead children to the sensory exploration of the abstract concept of letters, as the children represented the letters in a more concrete manner by manipulating, bending, and twisting the sticky foam to form random and letter-like symbols that had meaning for the children.” She explains the influence of teacher research on her teaching:
The parents and guardians of the children who participated in this particular writing project shared that they observed great improvement in how their children held their pencils, crayons, or markers. Lin’s coteachers Edwin Serrano and Sahara Gonzalez also noticed an increase in children’s motivation to write, either with a marker on paper, a stick in the sand, or with plain water and a paintbrush on the walls in the school yard. Suddenly, writing became an enjoyable, stress-free activity for both children and teachers. The inquisitive nature of project-based learning and teacher research opened multiple perspectives on how to best support our young learners to develop a disposition to engage in real or imaginary writing. In this context, Lin and her coteachers promoted an optimal environment for creativity, laying a solid foundation for learning to take place.
Some of the projects we are currently working on and that are still in different stages of development are:
Reflecting on our teacher research
In our first 18 months, our teacher research inquiry group has accomplished several objectives in accordance with our original goals. Some further questions we would like to reflect on, regardless of our topic of investigation, are:
Although most of the staff have embraced the principles of teacher research and the role of the teacher as observer, recorder, and interpreter of children’s learning experiences, the premise of teacher research still remains thought-provoking. Perhaps this is because it contradicts the common perception that teachers are not deep thinkers and theory-makers. In many ways, teacher research breaks the stereotype of teachers as holders of knowledge and children as recipients of information; it encourages critical thinking along with self-reflection as common teaching practice. In any case, one of the themes that has emerged from our discussions is how to listen to the children and to ourselves, which has led us to the exploration of a pedagogy of listening within the teacher research context. The more we explore this topic, the more we discover that the traditional roles of teacher and learner as opposites tend to blend; the inquiry process helps us understand that these roles can and should be interchangeable.
Being a part of this group makes us feel a responsibility not only towards the children, but also towards each one of our members—when we commit to carry out a specific task, most of us tend to follow through and come fully prepared to the next meeting. Moreover, these gatherings may also count as professional growth hours to fulfill SF CARES requirements in order to obtain an annual monetary stipend. Professor Meier is also investigating how staff might be able to gain a college credit for professional development through local colleges and universities.
The success of our teacher research group at Las Americas Early Education School is in great measure the result of a staff-driven idea, as opposed to a top-down mandate. In a way, just like children, we are creators of our own knowledge. However, these opportunities for professional growth would have been more challenging without both the administration’s support and funding from the Preschool For All (PFA) program, which is part of the First 5 San Francisco initiative. Our current site manager, David Hollands, has expressed that our group provides a unique scholarly forum for teacher-initiated inquiry, in-depth observations, and interpretations and discourse, which only improve the teaching/learning experience of both teachers and students. Funding for substitutes has been possible through PFA and the First 5 San Francisco initiative, allowing our group to meet for more time.
In a recent staff meeting, Hollands outlined the expectation that our expanded support will provide more opportunities for enhanced class project developments, field research, innovative data collecting strategies, and field trips to exemplary schools in our area. He added: “The teacher research group . . . has been central to our faculty’s team building and core competence. The individual and collective professional development of this diverse group of educators has been impressive and will continue to evolve.”
Teaching can become quite an isolating profession; our teacher research group has made it possible to create a community of educators brought together by the need to make visible their voices, ideas, and learning journeys, with the ultimate goal of offering young children meaningful educational experiences.