Voices of Practitioners, Winter 2020: Introduction
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Nationally in the United States and globally, 2020 has been a most difficult year. So much has changed since our last issue of this journal, due in great part to our experiences with the global pandemic of COVID-19. Yet within this same year, we are facing with great immediacy the impact of climate change, which has led to the worst wildfire season in the Western US and the worst hurricane season in the Eastern and Southern states. This summer also saw the Black Lives Matter movement arise in a most powerful national way to protest the police killing of George Floyd and to reignite a conversation about racial justice that requires all of us to take action and create reforms that counter structural racism. Finally, in 2020, the citizens of the United States engaged in one of the most intense presidential elections in recent history. Deep political and social divisions in our nation will not easily be healed, and each of us must reflect on and confront our role in moving toward a more equitable and united nation.
As a community of early childhood professionals who works with and for all children and families, we must do our part to address our national challenges by engaging in continuous cycles of improvement in our teaching practices. As editors of this journal, we firmly believe that teacher research is a most powerful path to these changes. We must use teacher research to reach out to each other, to share our vulnerabilities, and to seek insight on how to do better within our profession. We must work across boundaries of place, orientation, culture, and experience. And we must recognize our own positions and the biases and assumptions that arise from our identities and lived experiences. For example, as a White, cis-gendered woman in a leadership position, I recognize my privilege and seek to amplify voices of the under-represented and minoritized. I and the executive editors of this journal also seek to support fresh pathways for communicating new insights that arise from the voices of a wider range of teacher researchers in early childhood education. One important pathway is through greater reliance on narrative and other arts-based approaches to the doing and the representation of our research.
Therefore, in this most difficult yet hopeful moment of our nation’s history, the 2020 Voices of Practitioners issue highlights the experiences of early childhood educators from different races, professional backgrounds, and life histories. The collection reveals new and divergent perspectives on how best to teach and lead, while also revealing many commonalities of our professional experiences as educators.
In this volume, you will read three new articles from this year:
- In Muddy Play. Reflections on Young Children's Outdoor Learning in an Urban Setting, Hannah Fruin writes about how she supports and extends children’s muddy play as part of a larger exploration of natural play.
- In Discovering the Brilliance and Beauty in Black, Patricia Sullivan explores children’s discovery of the brilliance and beauty of the color black as they befriend a family of crows.
- In The Toads: Refocusing the Lens, Amanda Messer delves into children’s understanding of spirituality as they experience the death of their classroom’s pet toads.
All three pieces focus on children’s learning in and through nature, a theme that resonates as the human race struggles to understand and address the global climate crisis. All three pieces are strongly narrative examples of teacher research, as these authors use forms of storytelling for their analysis and their representation of findings.
This issue of Voices also includes outstanding articles from our archives—articles we chose to highlight the diversity of educators who are conducting and presenting teacher research to share with the field. Each author draws strongly on narrative inquiry approaches, although in different ways.
The first of these articles is by Renetta Goeson, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, a Dakota Nation. Goeson uses her teacher research to explore the conflict between indigenous and colonizer cultures, as played out in early childhood curriculum and pedagogy in the Head Start settings on the Lake Traverse Reservation. At the time of her writing, Goeson was a Head Start director and developed culturally sustaining early childhood curriculum and pedagogy. Goeson’s writing most strongly embraces narrative inquiry, and her article weaves memoir, tribal history, and Sisseton Wahpeton art and artefacts to communicate the breadth of her findings and their impact. Andrew Stremmel’s commentary on Goeson’s work describes the strength of narrative inquiry for how she constructed and represented her inquiry. Stremmel also emphasizes how Goeson developed the culturally sustaining Sisseton Wahpeton Approach to early childhood education, a practice that rests on Oyate values including the sacred, honor, respect, and humility. Notably, Goeson was honored by the Obama Administration as a Champion of Change for this curriculum.
The next piece is written by Ying Liang, who is a Chinese-English bilingual educator. When she conducted this teacher research, Liang was a preschool teacher in a Chinese-English bilingual school in the United States, and in fact, this is a role that Ying still holds today. In this article, she lays bare her wonderings about how to replace teacher-centric expectations from her school and her own upbringing with a child-centered approach. The narrative strengths of this article are the clarity and freshness of the children’s voices and the authenticity of Liang’s own voice. Daniel Meier’s commentary highlights how urgent it is that early childhood education catch up to the inclusion of multilingualism in our practices and policies. Meier also emphasizes the power of narrative voice in Liang’s work, highlighting how using her own schooling is a touchstone for reflecting on teaching and learning. This leads to insights about what makes her work with children most effective.
Another of these articles drawn from the VoP archives is by Isauro Escamilla. Thematically, the article connects back to the nature-based work of Fruin, Sullivan, and Messer, all published as new works in this issue. Escamilla looks at how children learn about the natural world in an urban preschool by focusing on their artwork in the form of drawings, photographs, and paintings. His narrative voice, like Liang’s, is exceptionally powerful in portraying the lived experiences and inner lives of the young children he teaches. Like Goeson, he also draws heavily on a multimedia approach, with the visual arts playing a large role in the analysis and presentation his findings.
Finally, a collaboration by Chanelle Peters, Natasha Robinson, and Keisha Ellis looks at the power of mentorship that connected novice to veteran Black, women early childhood educators. Its striking narrative portrays the stories of the three experienced Black educators whom the authors interviewed. It also captures the voices of the younger educators, as they made sense of the stories from their elders. These stories capture much wisdom that likely would have been lost without this project to record and reflect on these life histories. A commentary written by the younger women’s teacher educators, Professor Paige Bray and Professor Emeritus Regina Miller, reflects further on the joy and positivity of these race-conscious professional friendships, making links to the work’s epistemological grounding in Black feminist thought developed by Patricia Hill Collins (2000) and the philosophical inspiration of bell hooks (1994).
Overall, the 2020 issue of Voices of Practitioners highlights the storytelling feature of well-written teacher research. Writing research based on an examination of our ordinary daily lives as educators in classrooms certainly demands a critical, systemic approach. So too does it ask us to reflect on our professional and personal lives, then frame that lived experience as a story that can matter to others. What is a well told story? One answer to this question is that it provides the reader with clearly drawn characters, a coherent plot, and a sharp-eyed focus on urgent details that bring scenes to life. These features help us see that the events described are real, and that the perspectives of these teacher researchers are believable.
Indeed, as a form of research, teacher researchers can take quite different approaches. These can range from the traditionally analytic to those that are much more strongly narrative accounts. While Voices has always been interested in narrative approaches, a majority of the teacher research published in VoP over the past 16 years has fallen on the side of the more traditionally academic: a kind of research that draws on forms of communication and styles of organization that echo scientific form. In contrast, all three new articles from this year, as well as the four articles drawn from our archives, embrace a strongly narrative tone.
As editors of this journal, we wholeheartedly encourage early childhood practitioners to pull on these kinds of narrative threads to help examine the weave of our classroom lives.
Begin by asking a question that really matters and then report on the powerful experiences that arise from that wondering. Write so that at its heart, teacher research communicates a story that can bring to life the perspectives of children and of ourselves as teachers and teacher leaders.
These varied perspectives lead to variety in our stories and storytelling. And so not surprisingly, the collection of articles in this 2020 issue showcases a range of approaches in how these teacher researchers have used narrative approaches. It is true as well that the strength of each article points back to how well the reader can understand the identity of each author. Because teacher research is a form of self-study, reflecting upon, critiquing, and unveiling our position, our biases, and who we are in the world must be central to this work.
Looking ahead to next year’s annual issue, we are interested in collecting a set of shorter examples of teacher research undertaken as narrative inquiry. Therefore, we invite you to submit a manuscript that might be written as a short reflection, that captures a key vignette, or that uses poetic or visual arts to capture moments and experiences in your early childhood setting. We invite you to submit such pieces to the journal, and please note briefly with your submission that you are taking us up on this offer. Our goal is that this new approach will allow us to share a wider range of voices, contexts, and experiences and to better highlight the narrative and artistic truth that teacher research can support so well.
If ever our nation needed a diversity of thoughtful, trustworthy, inquiring voices considering the democratizing institution of child-centered education and care, this is the year. As the 2020 issue of Voices of Practitioners demonstrates, we learn so much when we hear more from the voices of teachers and young children of our nation, and from around the world. Please join us in this journey.
Hill Collins, P. 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.
hooks, b. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.
Barbara Henderson is co-editor of Voices of Practitioners and the director of the Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership at San Francisco State University, where she is also a professor.