Our Visible Work: Community and Collaboration in an Educator Inquiry Group
Early childhood education has recently been heralded as the cornerstone of a brighter future for the United States, playing an important role in the healthy development of our youngest children (Perry, 2015; Bornfreund, 2015). However, the teachers of these children face multiple challenges in the profession, including unlivable wages, low morale and high teacher turnover. At the time of this study, it was reported that nearly half of all early childhood educators qualify for some form of public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid (Whitebook et al., 2014). In addition, these teachers report feeling isolated in their practice, with few professional development opportunities that encourage collaboration with other educators in their communities.
This dissertation answers the call for research that focuses on collaborative inquiry-based approaches to professional development with early childhood educators. In this study, a group of nine educators met on a monthly basis for one year. The workshops were facilitated by the participant-researcher of this study, who used a design-based approach to explore how this group of educators engaged in collective inquiry, made meaning of educational theory and research, and supported one another in this setting. The data sources included audio recordings of the workshop discussions, written artifacts from the workshop activities, interview recordings with three case study participants, and field notes and memos.
This paper describes how this group of educators engaged in thoughtful deliberations and reflections to think about their own early memories of learning and how these experiences are linked to the kind of teachers they are today. During these conversations, the teachers revealed the kind of progressive social justice work they were doing in their classrooms and communities. This study demonstrates how a group of educators from a diverse range of classroom cultures and pedagogies can come together to form a network of support and collaboration, what Gorodetsky and Barak (2008) define as an “edge community of practice.” This dissertation concludes with a set of recommendations for designing situated professional development workshops for early childhood educators.