The Teacher Can Be Part of the Story
Many people feel like they are a teacher, but not always seen as a human being. This is because convention calls for the documentation of children’s progress to be objective. By contrast Learning Stories are an opportunity to humanize our role as teachers, to become part of the story based on our interactions with the child.
“Learning Stories are the way we can all do research and create communities of practice that help us grow as teachers and as human beings” – Tom Drummond
“Writing learning stories gives educators the freedom to share themselves, and take important steps to discover who they are as educators.” – Lorrie Baird
The Thinking Lens
Have you seen Learning Stories improve your abilities as an educator? It starts with knowing yourself:
- What captures my attention as the child explores and follow his pursuits?
- What delights me as I watch and listen to the child’s ideas?
- How am I reacting to this situation and why?
- What in my background and values is influencing my response to this situation and why?
- What adult perspectives, i.e. standards, health and safety, time, goals are on my mind?
- What leaves you curious and eager to engage?
Teachers and Children as Partners in Learning
A strong image of the child has to correspond to a strong image of the teacher. In Reggio, teachers are seen as learners along with the children. They are supported, valued for their experience and their ideas, and seen as researchers.
Sylvie’s story covered that of a young girl from Florida who moved to a colder climate. She didn’t like putting on all her new gear, and would get frustrated with her gloves. In light of this struggle, the teacher wrote a Learning Story about how they worked together to get the gloves on right, and would stop and try again when reaching difficulties. Eventually, Sylvie gained the confidence to help not only her teacher, but other kids too.
There was a lot of important language used during the story:
- “We reflected together”
- “We got to hold a team meeting”
The story made Sylvie feel confident, and the educator made the student a partner in accomplishing her own difficult tasks. The support given to Sylvie through her struggles showed her that it was okay to make mistakes and to get frustrated, but that it should never be an excuse to give up.
The baby would look at a book of pictures with the names of kids in the class every day. But then one day she began pushing the clothing from different cubbies and then reading the names of her friends. The teacher who wrote the story saw that Isabella had made the connection between the book and cubbies and wanted to document the event. It turned into a wonderful Learning Story that the child and her family could share forever.
The teacher pointed out the fact the child was sociable and liked to observe the kids and share their activities by calling them by name. She stated how proud she was of Isabella for reaching this critical milestone.
Alessandra, the educator, got to tell a bit about herself in the story, as she could relate as a new student struggling at a school where English is the first language. She even got a renewed look at her children who were also dealing with their own issues about going to a school where English is the primary language spoken. In this way, Alessandra got to share a bit about herself, which enriched the situation for all.
A Tool for Confronting Implicit Bias
The best way to utilize Learning Stories, is to not only use it to view the learning process, but also as a way of confronting implicit biases in ourselves. We can then confront it and be more conscious about it in our day to day lives. We may not even be aware of this bias until we make ourselves be conscious of it.
What can I be doing that could be impacting my response?
Example: Two teachers in a classroom. We foster independence and individualization in America, but we often don’t take other cultures into consideration. One teacher helps the kids with everything. While the other lets them work it out for themselves. Because one comes from a multi-cultural background, they may be wondering what the other teacher is doing, while the other teacher is wondering why the other teacher does it so. And this happens all the time.
“One of the most important things we can do to counter our biases is to be conscious and intentional. Get out of denial. Go look for your bias. Get humble. When you see it in yourself, slow down and ask: What assumptions and judgments am I making about this person? Based on what? How am I making this decision? What meaning am I making of this data? Am I only selecting for data that confirms what I already think I know? What am I missing? Should I ask someone else what they notice?” – Verna Myers
To guide your educators, never publish or give to the families a Learning Story until you get another person’s point of view. They may see something totally different and have beneficial advice as to how your response may contain biases you don’t even realize are there.
Adi and Hazel’s Learning Story
Julia noticed in classroom during morning rounds that Adi and Hazel had been filling all the hollow blocks. The teacher noticed how intent they were and went and gathered additional blocks. She thought they’d start filling them and stacking them, but instead they separated the blocks and filled them up just like the other ones. The teacher mentioned that it looked like they were packing to go on a trip, and then Adi and Hazel began making arrangements for their trip.
As the teacher watched, she started seeing things that she never noticed before. For one, they were both following their own goals. One child seemed to be filling up the blocks just to fill them, while the other was trying to find specific pieces to fill the holes. It made the teacher look at her own gender bias, as it is often said that boys were better at spatial reasoning. But instead, the teacher concluded, maybe boys were said to be better at spatial reasoning because we gave them more opportunities to do it based on their sex.
When writing stories, it is important to show these new thoughts and changes we wish to make with the parents. That way we show the families that we can progress and grow within the program.
“A child’s culture cannot enter a classroom before it first enters a teacher’s conscience.” – Wendy Lee
The first goal of anti-bias education is to support a child’s identity. Help children to be proud of who they are and where they come from. Then help them share it with the world.
During a snowstorm, Chang was the only student of the day, all other children stayed home. Chang got to be the teacher and taught the teacher about the Lunar New Year. The child taught how red means good luck and is important in her culture. She also taught Zach, the teacher, how to write the Chinese characters for happy and joy. The teacher ensured that Chang got to pick all the ideas and activities, and make sure he points out the various things that he learns and sees. We learn a lot about Zach the teacher too, because he made himself part of the story.
From this story we see that Zach sees children as competent and capable and we see that he follows the child’s lead.
You can learn a lot about everyone involved in Learning Stories. You learn about the child, the family, the community, and about yourself as an educator or leader.
Closing Questions to Consider:
How do you make time for the teachers to write the Learning Stories?
Julia’s school incorporated a flex time where they either come in late or leave early and take the time to write the stories. They also allow Learning Stories to be worked on during team meetings. You can even write stories containing more than one child, like a group of three. Put your mind to it, and you can accomplish a lot.
How do you write so many Learning Stories?
Don’t set quotas, instead, write when you are excited about something. Aim for one story per quarter for each child and they don’t even have to be long. Just show the value behind the story and how you are watching the children and their efforts at education grow.
Now, how will you become a part of the story?
This article is a summary of a webinar by Julia Koumbassa, M.Ed. Julia has been a director and educator for over 20 years, most recently at University of Michigan. She recently joined Educa as Director of Professional Services.