Introduction: Getting Things Right for Teachers
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This issue of Voices of Practitioners demonstrates how some early childhood educators have made teacher research a central and continuing part of their daily practice. As we reviewed the articles for this year, we noticed that each of the educators in our 2019 issue has taken a long-term inquiry stance in their work, in part as evidenced by these authors’ earlier teacher research publications. Fitting within the trend, new author Laura Latta frames ongoing inquiry as the central theme of her work, a point that “Parallel Voices” author Martha Melgoza emphasizes in her commentary.
As editors of Voices of Practitioners, we believe that teachers’ inquiry into their classroom practices is one of the most humanizing approaches educators can take. When educators use teacher research to improve their understanding of highly specific and often puzzling events that unfold in classrooms and schools, they build relationships and better understand others’ perspectives. This path allows teacher researchers to build practices based on social justice as it allows us to recognize how differences in race, gender, economic class, primary language, and dis/abilities continue to play out as structural inequities that we have a responsibility to change. At its heart, this approach to teacher research is an on-going journey of inquiry, not an endless chase to swap out skills that could somehow increase the efficiency of the technical aspects of our work. Instead, this approach to teacher research seeks to improve what Allwright (2003) calls the “quality of life” in our classrooms.
At its best or most humanizing, inquiry work trusts teachers to use their own insights and to focus on deeply situated understandings.
At its best or most humanizing, inquiry work trusts teachers to use their own insights and to focus on deeply situated understandings over technical quick fixes. Taken from this liberatory approach, teacher inquiry in early childhood education has encouraged traditionally marginalized educators within the hierarchical structure of school systems (Escamilla & Meier, 2018). Teacher researchers then express their voices in two ways, both as educational research and as improvement of the life in classrooms. Teacher research framed as educational research provides classroom teachers with a way to express themselves in more traditionally higher-status settings as knowledge creators and lends a more universal focus to their message. Teacher research framed as cyclical improvement of daily practice addresses the quality of life in classrooms and makes a local and immediate impact for children, families, and teachers.
Early childhood school leaders must, however, provide the supports educators need to carry out situated research. Supports might include built-in time for teachers to reflect, read, write, and engage in inquiry in collaboration with other practitioners. Other supports might include materials and technological equipment, as well as opportunities to publicly share their research work to inspire and be inspired by other early childhood educators. Working together in these ways as teacher researchers, we can search for more just and equitable early education experiences for children and families, question the status quo of inequities and injustices, identify meaningful problems arising from our daily pedagogical practice, and find real solutions.
As we meet these goals, teacher research in early education will positively alter society’s perception of early childhood practitioners from mere recipients of information—the technical implementors of scripted curricula and mandated policies—to that of intellectually engaged change agents in their own right. This emerging identity in America of early education teachers as critical thinkers, theory-makers, and researchers is especially important for early childhood teachers of color who can forge a new professional identity as a result of their sustained habit of reflection and self-study (Escamilla & Meier, 2017).
Overall, teacher research allows schools to “get things right for teachers” (Allwright, 120), and this is a goal that naturally includes also getting things right for the children and families we serve. As teacher researchers improve the quality of their relationships, their ordinary interactions with children, families, and colleagues, and their teaching-learning exchanges, then being a teacher becomes so much more right.
Allwright, D. 2003. “Exploratory Practice: Rethinking Practitioner Research in Language Teaching.” Language Teaching Research 7 (2): 113–41.
Escamilla, I. M., & D. Meier. 2018. “The Promise Of Teacher Inquiry and Reflection: Early Childhood Teachers as Change Agents.” Studying Teacher Education, 14 (1): 3–21.
Mosso-Taylor, S. 2016. “Humanity, Heart, and Praxis.” In Courageous Leadership in Early Childhood Education: Taking a Stand for Social Justice, eds. S. Long, M. Souto-Manning, & V. Vasquez. New York: Teachers College Press.
Barbara Henderson, PhD, is the director of the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at San Francisco State University and a professor of elementary education with an early childhood specialization. Her research interests include practitioner/teacher research, self-study research, participatory research, and narrative inquiry. Barbara is one of the founding editors of Voices of Practitioners, NAEYC’s journal of teacher research, established in 2004.
Andrew Stremmel is professor in Teaching, Learning and Leadership at South Dakota State University. His scholarship focuses on teacher action research and Reggio Emilia-inspired, inquiry-based approaches. He is an executive editor of Voices of Practitioners. [email protected]