Parallel Voices Commentary—Professional Development: A Communal Approach
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Laura Latta’s article captured my attention on professional and personal levels. Professionally, I have a great deal of admiration for how she approached the children’s learning, the thoroughness and thoughtfulness with which she conducted her research, and the level of respect she afforded the learning process of dual language learners. Personally, I enjoyed reading the article because her respect for the children, their families, and her bilingual colleagues leaps off the page. I wish I had been part of such a class in my youth. I am a bilingual speaker of Spanish and English with Spanish as my first and only language until I was 5 years old. Neither my family nor my personal experiences were valued as I grew up in school classrooms. Quite the opposite, my family, my language, and my life experiences were considered irrelevant and bothersome at times. The children in Laura’s classroom developed as dual language learners with support that valued their experiences, their learning preferences, their voices, and their families as cultural strengths. This level of respect for children’s learning, their lives, and their rights to a supportive and well-rounded education is a beautiful example of the possibilities that should be available in all classrooms.
The right of children to have an atmosphere of respect, as well as to have their families included in their education, is stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and is written about by authors such as Douglass (2011), Jeynes (2011) and Pushor (2014). Yet strangely, children’s right to a well-rounded and respectful education is rarely written or spoken about in everyday encounters of professional development, teacher training, or teacher conversations. Laura’s curiosity, and the fact that she sought the perspective of her bilingual colleagues, researched what was known from the perspective of dual language learners, included the children’s families as resources, and kept the children’s voices at the center of her research and in modifying her classroom practice creates a powerful learning environment for everyone involved.
This article provides a look into the workings of a teacher’s inquiry process. Her growth and understanding as a teacher is based on her ability to see and hear the children in her classroom with a newly acquired perspective on children’s roles in their own learning. To gain an understanding of the children’s learning needs, she had to place herself in a vulnerable space for an educator. Being open to new ideas and being aware that she had to challenge her usual way of approaching her teaching is a courageous step. Working in our current culture as an educator, there is an expectation that teachers know exactly what children need to learn. Teacher inquiry, as Laura explored and experienced it, requires stepping into a space of vulnerability that provides an openness to explore what is not known or understood. In inquiry work, even with a research question in mind, you do not know what you will learn. As teacher researchers, we are not aware of what we do not know; through listening, paying attention, and gathering data we seek a new perspective. Laura has gained new understanding about her teaching and, most importantly, about how to support the children in her classroom. Her sharing this knowledge with the rest of us is a gift. As fellow educators, we follow her on her journey and gain insight into the world of children’s learning and of the educator’s learning, of not knowing, teaching, and the relational environments that nurture children in classrooms.
Inquiry requires a certain level of courage and vulnerability, because at its core, it requires being open to new learning.
The lessons Laura learns are not linear or easy to capture. Through her research she shares how the children become disengaged when not given a role in their own learning. As she tries to make sense of this realization and discover how to move forward, she notes that she had to return to the literature. This is where she discovers the pedagogy of listening (Rinaldi, 2006). Moving between the literature, the trial and error of her classroom practices, and listening to the children forms the basis for creating of her new instructional role as the year evolves. Laura acknowledges how her research and the deeper relationships that grew from it added new layers to her identity as a teacher. She became more flexible and multi-dimensional. Her questions began to focus more on the children as capable co-constructors of knowledge. She learned to individualize instruction, take the children’s perspectives into account, and acknowledge that while she knew a good deal about language acquisition and development, there was still more to learn. She sums up her learning by saying, “I was able to pair my knowledge of pedagogy with the children’s responses to generate more meaningful child-centered activities and lessons.” In this co-creation the teacher and the students gain control of their own learning. A final and most beautiful lesson learned and shared is the use of resources that the children and Laura experienced. The resources she found from friends, family members, and fellow teachers were powerful examples of how learning in the classroom grows to include others. She provides evidence for how deeply connected and meaningful learning will travel outside the classroom, and then redoubled in strength, make its way back in.
Inquiry requires a certain level of courage and vulnerability, because at its core, it requires being open to new learning. As educators of young children, our current educational climate and its heavy focus on assessment makes being open to new learning a challenge. The challenge is real. As educators we live and work in a culture that expects us to know everything children need to know. Openness to learning navigates us to undertake more research which, especially when we apply teacher research, reveals even more how much more we have to learn. This path requires patience and courage, yet clears a space for learning that lets us see new aspects of our teaching and of our professional and personal identity. This cycle of ongoing inquiry is a good place to be as a teacher, although it takes getting used to. We need more examples of how educators navigate this unknown, how they place children at the center of learning, and how they reach out and use their human capital and societal resources. In other words, we need more examples of how we reach out and rely on one another to learn.
Douglass, A. 2011. “Improving Family Engagement: The Organizational Context and Its Influence on Partnering with Parents in Formal Child Care Settings.” Early Childhood Research and Practice, 13 (2).
Jeynes, W. H. 2011. “Parental Involvement Research: Moving to the Next Level.” School Community Journal, 21 (1): 9.
Pushor, D. 2014. “Teachers’ Narrative Understandings of Parents: Living and Reliving ‘Possible Lives’ as Professionals.” Journal of Family Diversity in Education, 1 (1): 40-57.
Martha Melgoza is a director at Skytown Preschool in Richmond, CA. She encourages educators from the K–20+ system in the US, as well as globally, to reach out to her and join forces to define new inquiry and research projects. Her main interests revolve around teacher collaboration with families, reframing early childhood to better see the child through a lens of respect, bridging the transition for children and families into kindergarten with more ease and humanity, and other topics that deeply affect educators. Please reach out at [email protected].