Our teacher story. Our stories are part of our professional journeys and our beliefs about professionalism and how we enact our own practice.
The voices of early childhood educators have power. Our ability to make visible our practice is one of the best tools for advocacy that we have. To tell a story that is short, touches on emotions, and shares a value or belief about the importance of the work – has impact on parents, communities, and policy makers alike.
Telling our stories can take a little practice, here are some tips to keep in mind...
Identify an experience that you had as an educator that resonated with you.
Reflect on what made that experience so important – connect that importance to a value you have about education –in my case the value of trusting children and honoring their space and time to process a situation.
Develop a brief introduction to your experience that situates your story – often this is a little bit about the content of the story.
Make sure to remove any identifying factors to protect the child and demonstrate your professionalism.
Close your story with the main point that you are trying to illustrate.
Helping others to see the intention and complexity of our daily practice is part of what supports us on the road to being seen as professionals.
Our strength is in embracing complexity over simplicity
How we present stories, changes how others perceive us. In the past, we have stumbled over our words and some catch phases that we have shared, thinking they were a strength, has actually harmed our professional image and impacted the importance of our work, as well as our professional visibility.
The phase I worry about the most, is the one I hear most frequently when I ask, "Why early childhood education?"
“I love children”
In that simple, well-meaning statement, we dismiss every professional skill that we worked so hard to build.
We must acknowledge that somewhere in our past or present, we have used the phrase, loves children. We need to break the habit of using this phrase. It shows a lack of reflective practice. The ability to articulate what you do is so much more than a single value that fails to capture the depth of our work.
When we share that phrase with parents, with our community, we dismiss our skills as a single attribute---basically we are saying, “If you love children, you can do this job.” However, we know that quality experiences for young children, experiences that intentionally nurture socio-emotional, physical, and cognitive skills through environments, thoughtful experiences, and interactions require great skills. Early childhood educators then reinforce those intentions with reflective practice, thinking upon the needs of children, what might come next in scaffolding children’s learning. It is a whole professional cycle of planning, observing, assessing, and reflection that makes intentional early childhood educators everywhere.
We must take care in the words that we use and the values we convey when we speak of why we come to the work. By reflecting deeply on our intentions and practicing how to articulate why we make connections with children, we advance our professional voice and help to break the cycle of assumptions about what it takes to care for and nurture children from characteristics to skill sets.
What phrases do you think impacts our professional practices?
Applied knowledge is the act of learning through hands-on experiences. It is a concept that takes education out from behind the desk creating classroom communities of practice. In communities of practice, individual and shared meaning moves beyond the school into community and society. Learning, as a dynamic process, therefore becomes ever changing responding to the dynamics of our ever-changing world. An applied learning journey leads to a very different classroom experience from the test driven, direct instruction models that most teachers are forced to adopt through policy mandates. Our ability to be engaged citizens of the world is not based in filling in a bubble on a standardized test.
Our ability to be citizens, actively engaged in our society, advocating for continuous learning, and improvement of our society is based on critical thinking skills. Our ability to make moral decisions that support a societal greater good is found in a consciousness that is both deeply personal and inherently social.
Our greatest challenge in education lies in the development of critical thinking. When critical thinking is minimized by standardization of education, it begins to wear down our concept of community. Our sense of community is further eroded by our ability to customize our experiences. Customization of experiences further undermines critical thinking as we further weaken a muscle that never needs to negotiate counter-narratives to our beliefs.
Our ability to respect differences, negotiates meaning, and acknowledges the deeply personal nature of each person’s experiences, within a social content is one of the foundations for lasting change/citizenship. When we dichotomize an issue to two polar opposites, we loose perspective. Polarization is the opposite of critical thinking – it is the unexamined acceptance of a belief.
To increase our visibility, we must tell stories that reveal the complexity of early childhood education and the deep and profound ways that children make meaning of their experiences.