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The 2021 issue of Voices of Practitioners features three main articles and a set of seven narrative essays from early childhood educators and administrators. This collection focuses on what we all have been learning about ourselves and our work over the past year and a half of overlapping crises in our nation and the world.
Two of our three main articles from this year are single-authored pieces written by classroom teachers. The first article is by Ron Grady, a teacher who works with 2- and 3-year-olds. Grady writes about how the toddlers and young preschoolers in his class engaged playfully in early literacy through play stories, similar to those described by Vivian Paley. He works in an early childhood setting that places value on having children meet academic standards, which can make teachers feel they have little room for children to play. Fully recognizing the need for 2- and 3-year-olds to play and to have agency in their play, Grady creates a “both/and” approach to his literacy curriculum. He found that the play stories created by the children were being used as legitimate texts and that these texts elicited key early literacy behaviors among the children. These positive findings resulted because play stories provide opportunities for future play, and because these child-created texts are so meaningful to the children.
Our other single-authored article is by Teresa Draguicevich, a teacher working with a multi-aged class of kindergartners and first graders. Draguicevich’s study focuses on building a strong classroom community across differences of opinions and experiences, a topic of importance both in early childhood education and as a microcosm of our own experiences in US society, where we as adults need to be better at listening to and working with those whom we disagree with. Her findings illustrate ways to
- establish trust as the foundation of being willing to hear conflicting opinions
- use objects as metaphors for complex social situations
- encourage collaborative play through a child-created theater production
- foster new connections and partnerships among children
Draguicevich concludes that children need support to see how they are different in some ways, yet share commonalities in others, and that early childhood teachers should be bridge builders to develop trust and perspective taking within a classroom community.
The third main article of this year’s issue is written and researched by a large group of teacher researchers including: Megina Baker, Stephanie Cox Suárez, Brenda Acero, Peggy Martalock, Denise Nelson, Jenny Hanseul Park, Annalisa Hawkinson Ritchie, and Natacha Shillingford. First, it is remarkable that a group of early childhood professionals this large coalesced to coauthor an article together. Fittingly, the article focuses on how and why they came together, and it provides a blueprint for how other groups might gather to build an online (or in-person) community of teacher researchers. Their study is framed by the value of inquiry through oral communication, the power of support over distance, and the importance of high-quality (but not necessarily elaborate) documentation to reveal insights and support changes in practice that serve the equity goals of the group. Their findings reveal three themes:
- Build trust within the inquiry group and with teachers they worked with. This connects to a major theme from Dragucevich’s work.
- Value experimentation and risk taking. This is a requirement for any practical inquiry that seeks to make lasting and original change.
- Lightness and joy. It is a somewhat surprising finding for research, and yet one in line with the joy that the young children in Grady’s class found with play stories, and a theme that is strong in a 2018 Voices article by Megina Baker and Gabriela Salas Davila, entitled “Inquiry Is Play: Playful Participatory Research,” about playful participatory research as a particular form of teacher research.
This year’s issue also marks a departure from our normal practice in that we are publishing a set of shorter narrative essays. These arose from a call we (the executive editors) made in spring of 2021, which was entitled, “What We Are Learning Through Hope, Worry, and Change: Being an Early Childhood Educator Today.” The challenge and invitation to the Voices audience was as follows:
For the past year, early childhood educators have been bombarded by overlapping crises: the pandemic, a renewed national recognition of persistent racial inequities, economic hardships, deep political divisions, and environmental degradation that is reaching a tipping point. These crises have demanded that those educating and caring for young children adapt in unprecedented ways.
For the 2021 Voices of Practitioners compilation issue, we are inviting practitioners to reflect on what they are learning about caring for and educating young children from these crises. Where do you find hope? What are your worries? Where have you changed, and how must we all change? Please share your story with the early childhood community.
We are honored to now share the stories of seven educators who answered this call. The stories bring forward voices from across the US (Massachusetts, Washington, DC, South Dakota, and California) and from a variety of settings (public schools, community child care centers, university early childhood education sites, and teacher education programs). The authors hold a variety of roles, including teachers, directors, and teacher candidates, and they position their identities from a range of cultural and family backgrounds.
Yes, these are stories and not what some immediately think of when they hear the term research. Yet in the spirit of Vivian Paley, in the narrative research tradition of Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, and in the personal essays on schooling and society by bell hooks, these narratives offer a window into classrooms with young children, early learning administrative offices, and higher education classrooms. This collection provides insight to the thoughts, emotions, and plans for action from a remarkable group of professionals. Each of these educators is indeed re-searching, or looking again, at their experiences over this last, very challenging 18-month stretch. As editors of Voices, we have taken it as our responsibility as advocates of teacher research to provide a venue to share these stories, which capture the kernel of what teacher research can and should be.
Another way to make this point is to reframe the reason for this call, which goes beyond the desire to hear from voices not generally represented. The ongoing global pandemics of COVID-19, racial reckoning, and climate change have been, and continue to be, a time where those in the field have had to improvise, experiment, play with their practice, and recreate. We all have needed to discard previously held ideas and adapt to new, rapidly changing circumstances. Thus, in very real ways, practice in early childhood environments has gotten far ahead of theory built from within the academy. It is, therefore, critical to hear from those in direct contact with children as we recalibrate the best ways to care for and educate young children and support their families and communities.
Each of these narratives is framed with an introduction written by the executive editor who read, shared feedback, and worked with the author toward publication. For that reason, we will not summarize the seven narrative essays here, but instead send you to that section of this issue to take your time with each of the pieces. At the same time, we do want to recognize this set of authors by name in this issue introduction. Accordingly, the seven authors are the following: Allyssa Smith and Michelle Palacios, who write their stories framed primarily through their perspectives as students in higher education; Natacha Shillingford and Allison Guerra, who each write from their perspectives as site leaders; and Larissa Hsia-Wong, Garnett Booker, and Kim Lee Ripley, who write drawing on their responsibilities as classroom teachers. This range of roles, personal identities, geographic places, and spaces in the profession provides readers with many lenses to examine and reflect upon common and unique experiences of the past 18 months. We hope you enjoy reading these new voices.
Thank you to all of you who submitted to this special part of the 2021 Voices of Practitioners compilation. Given its success and the number of submissions we received, we plan to launch a new call for reflective narratives in 2022. Please look for our next call for submissions that will be shared in January 2022, with a due date in early spring.
We hope you enjoy this issue, our 16th volume. We have certainly enjoyed editing and assembling it.
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.
Ben Mardell is a principle investigator at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has worked as a preschool and kindergarten teacher and currently works on the Pedagogy of Play and Children are Citizens projects. firstname.lastname@example.org