Jean Clandinin

JEAN CLANDININ

All right, I’m Jean Clandinin and I work at the University of Alberta in the Center for Research for Teacher Education and Development, an idea that Dean Bob Patterson initiated at my university. 

The idea for thinking about school reform in a different way comes, I think, out of my experience in working in schools.  When I work in schools, um and have worked in them as a teacher and as a school counselor and now as a teacher educator, um I’ve watched a number of reforms come and go in—in schools. And in some long-term work that Michael Connelly and I have been doing at uh—at Bay Street School, work that we started in the context of my doctoral program, um we got involved with trying to look at a school that was being reformed um around uh the whole issue of race relations, a new school board policy.  And we got involved in the school um, and spent time with the teachers and—and the administrator. And we’ve stayed in that school over the—over the long-term. So we’ve been in one way or another, connected with that school over—over 20 years now. And what occurs to us is the province and uh of Ontario and as the school district goes through the reforms is they pay so little attention to what’s happened there before. They pay very little attention to—to the teacher’s intentions, to what we would call the teacher’s narratives of experience, to the children and families there to—of experience, and what we see is kind of reform being dumped down um from above and—without any regard for what’s already there and for the history. Um, schools have a whole institutional kind of narratives, the people who live in it, the teachers, kids, uh parents have a—have stories and have narratives of experience. And for us that—that’s disregarded so our sense is that not only is uh, um something dumped down from above, kind of thinking somehow if you tell people to do it this way they’ll do it this way, um but also a—a real sense that uh—that the history of the people and of the—the institutions aren’t attended too.  Um, and so that’s a real—that’s how we’ve come to start to think about school reform from a more narrative perspective and it’s not what we see in the reform literature which really is pretty much focused on strategies and implementation plans and—and what you can do to kind of change in the short-term, in the long-term. It really depends on—on the stories people are living and telling, we think.

We really want to—to listen to—to um—I’ll tell you a story.  Um, it—one of the things that—that we paid attention to at Bay Street School uh as we watched these new reforms come in, and we just started to pay attention to how things were done.  So we looked at how hallways were painted, um the way teachers interacted the decision-making kind of models and processes with—that were there. But we also paid attention to little things. And one of the little things that we attended to was the—was what was called the “Discipline Bench.”  And when we first arrived at Bay Street and we arrived with a new principal who had been given this policy to—to implement, um the—the punishment bench was where kids got sent when they had to be sent out of their classroom. And it was almost always full of kids who were out of their classrooms. And Phil, the school principal, um had a lot of difficulty with that. And um, he gradually started to—to change that, so that when kids got sent out they didn’t sit on the bench, they came and sat in his office and he gave them something to do. And then gradually it—it changed so that the bench just became a place you sat down when you arrived and took your winter boots off um, and sat on.  So over the years—so it was—you know, it’s little things like that that we attend to in addition to attending to the stories that—that people are telling about the school, the stories that are being lived out, the way hallways are being decorated. And it’s very interesting to watch that over the long-term and to see how it shifts, not all at once but very slowly and uh very gradually.  And if it is shifting all at once and suddenly you just know that um there’s going to be a great deal of conflict and upset and not much good is going to come of it.  So that’s what we think about it. 

I started out as a—as a teacher and as a school counselor and I did my Master’s Degree at the University of Alberta in the Ed Psych Department and at—what I was really interested in—so while I was working as a teacher and a counselor in the school, I was really interested in—in children and kids who basically were on the margins for whatever reasons, the bad kids.  Um, and I really wanted to—to think about um what was happening to them and what they’re experience of school was.  In Ed Psych at that point, um to do that, I really had to do in my department something that was a very um measurement oriented um and so, you know, it got framed and re-framed around the whole question about, so you could study kids who are going to have problems reading because that’s one of the things that—so the study ended up being a very measurement oriented. But I wanted to study experience. Um, when I went back to start my doctoral work, I still wanted to study experience. Um, I wanted to understand what teachers’ experiences were. I wanted to understand what teachers’ new and how they lived out that knowing in their—their classroom practice. And it was that that led me to—to narrative, to story because that seemed a way to—to understand experience um and the best way for me to understand experience. I don’t know if it’s the—THE best way, but it became a way for me to do it.  So it was that kind of interest in what people were experiencing that led me to narrative, not um a particular interest in literary theory or—or story telling, or whatever, but just trying to understand. And so often when people try and tell you about their experience, they’ll tell you a story and I found that really often in the work that I did with teachers when I was in school with them and when I have been at the university and I hear it all the time in my student teaching uh classes. Journals are full of stories. 

Well, first of all, I think that—that what teachers know uh makes all the difference in a classroom, so I think that that as—as teacher educators and as uh educators, as people who are concerned about what’s going on in schools, um we have to attend to what teachers know. I mean, that’s just—that’s just basic. And um b—really for me teachers are the most important uh, uh part of—of a school in terms of shaping what’s going to happen. We play around in our work with talking about the ‘in classroom’ and the ‘out of classroom’ place and uh the ‘in classroom’ place is where teachers knowing and what they know really shapes the kinds of context, the kind of experiences that—that children are going to have uh to a large part. So I think that it’s that knowing that we need to attend to. I think when teachers go to the ‘out of classroom’ places, like the staff room, the hallways, their professional development days, uh there’s a—they sometimes have a different um—they—they are expected to know differently, so they’ll talk differently about what they—about what they know.  So for me that teacher knowledge is just kind of basic, the understanding.  If we want to—to think about kids and learning, uh we need to think hard about what the teachers know. If—for me as well, when we played with this notion of—of teacher knowledge, we’ve come to look at it as uh very experiential knowledge that comes out of all of the life experiences that teachers have from their early childhoods, from their own school experiences, from what we teach at the university, from what they learn living in life, and that’s kind of the—uh, how everything gets shaped by this very experiential knowledge. We also look at it as really contextual knowledge so it depends.  (interruption)  So the—the notion of—of teacher knowledge, teacher knowledge is both personal in the sense that it comes out of all of the experiences that teachers’ have and how they make sense of those experiences. How they—those experiences are mediated by other experience that they have. But it’s also contextual. And so, I think when we think about teacher knowledge, um it makes a difference, the kinds of context that teachers find themselves working in.  So if there’s an institutional context where there’s one kind of knowing in practice that’s valued, that really shapes the way practice happens in that teacher’s uh classroom.  So context makes a really—really big difference. And it’s not that you can predict what particular practice will be called out by any particular um situation, but you can sense over the long term the—the way that—that knowing will be shaped by the—by the context. 

It’s—it’s interesting um to try and make the idea of uh, uh how different school contacts um draw out different kinds of ways of knowing.  Um, I wrote a paper last year and I started with Janice—Janice Huber whose uh a wonderful former doctoral student and elementary school teacher who—who works closely with me. She wrote a—she wrote a piece about her experience working in a school that was very much a personal knowledge kind of piece. And in it she talks about uh her images, the metaphors, the way that shaped her practice with children.  She told stories of particular practices in a—in a classroom that she engage in.  Janice’s knowing is—is very relational, uh it’s very much uh—her teaching is—very much builds on what the children know. She values um, uh circles of support and literature-based reading and those kinds of programs and she thinks all the time about the meaning that—that children are making of a situation. And I imagined for her two different schools and how those two different schools. One I think I called Blueberry School which really had a—a story of school which was very much a—a story of uh, of achievement and that everything was kind of geared toward achievement. So the test results were posted in the school, um the uh—there were spelling lists and—and names of kids who had achieved in spelling, everything was very competitive, classroom against classroom, and I talked about that as basically the story of achievement.  And then a story of—of learning at a school, I think I called it Strawberry School or something. Where very much it was about how—how we nurtured each child, we tried to build community in classrooms, where we talked about children in relation with each other and how it was much more cooperative kind of venture.  And just try to imagine Janice in both of those schools and what would happen to her. And it’s interesting in conversations with Janice, she talks about imagining herself and she says she doesn’t have to imagine very hard because she’s been in schools that are like that and how in one school she really--in this school where everything is about achievement, she found herself really withdrawing and moving out of that and trying to still do what she thought was important in the classroom, but really burrowing into the classroom and not wanting to be part of what was happening outside. And in the other school feeling like it was a place that really uh she could be part of it and could shape policies and—and uh felt valued and supported in what she was trying to do.  So her practice didn’t so much change as—as she really just had a different sense of who she was and what knowing was valued in that—in that kind of two different varied contexts.

 In teachers as curriculum planners, um we really talk a lot about the teachers and the children as co-creating knowledge in—in the classroom and so it’s there knowledge that’s the important knowledge that we need to attend to in the classroom.  That’s a view that I think uh very John Dewey and kind of—kind of view about what it means to—to create knowledge. It doesn’t mean that um—that there aren’t stake holders in education and other people who don’t have a say in what education should look like and that there shouldn’t be policies and that there shouldn’t be uh textbooks, or just the knowledge of the disciplines. I mean, it’s—it’s all there. But it’s how the teachers and children living together kind of make meaning around that. And that’s the kind of knowledge that hasn’t been as attended to and hasn’t been as valued. It’s like the knowledge that’s out here is somehow suppose to get in here and shape what’s happening.  And for me that’s—that’s a part of it but it’s not the most important thing that happens for me in the classroom.  For me in the classroom it’s how the kids and teachers come together and make meaning, construct knowledge, whichever language we use to talk about that.

That’s interesting. Um, I’m not sure I’ve thought really about advocacy. I think what I think about is that if we really want to make a difference in schools, that’s where we have to focus our attention. Not on making uh teachers be or kids be what we think they should be because I’m not sure any of us can—can really make someone else be something that they’re—they’re not going to be. That’s one of the problems with reform is we keep assuming that we can bend and shape teachers into uh what we want them to be. But I think we need to really attend closely to teachers’ lives and help them attend closely to their own lives so that they’ll be thoughtful about the kinds of—of knowing that is in their practice.  And I think unless we start to do that, to make places and spaces for them to do that in a really thoughtful, non-judgmental way, I’m not sure we’re going to get real change. I think that’s what teacher educations about, both pre-service and in-service and professional development. And that’s what school reform should be about. Really it’s all a question of teacher knowledge. And I suppose that there’s a way of thinking about that as advocating for teachers um, but really it’s asking us to think quite differently about teacher education and school reform, which are really questions of teacher knowledge if we’re serious about it. 

The notion of re-imagining professional lives uh comes out and I suppose it’s connected to—to my real interest in—in um the need to break out of the boxes that have been created for us. And one of the things that—that I think happens for all of us as teachers, is that we kind of learn that there’s—there’s this—there are some stories we can live as teachers.  School is this way and so we kind of construct our lives in that. It’s kind of a box that we make um for ourselves. And somehow we have to kind of break out of that—that box and I think we can do that by thinking about imagination. And so trying to say, “How could we do this—this otherwise?” What are all the resources, what new metaphors could we use?  Um, how could we think about a teacher in a—a very different way then uh—then the way we—we’ve thought about a teacher’s life.  And I guess that for me part of the work is—is really trying to help all of us do that, to break out of the boxes and to really think about a life differently. Not as this is what teachers do and this is how we have to do it, um but how might we think about this differently? How might we re-imagine it? And it would mean, of course, that—that everything would change because we’d start to think quite differently about our own stories, about the knowing that’s important in our teaching, about what—how we think about children, about how we relate with our colleagues and our peers about how we think about kind of uh growth and developments.  And if you start to—to open up education and schooling and to re-imagine what that might be, you know, I—I think really the—the skies the limit. We’re in kind of a box in education right now and it’s not a box that lots of people find comfortable so there’s lots of edginess about getting out of it.  Of course, things like technology are going to in some way force us out of it, I hope, I think.

When I started my—my doctoral work in 1978, uh as I said, I’ve been a—a teacher, and a school counselor and um I’ve been in schools a lot of time and I—so I came to it a little bit later then—then most people do. And I was shocked to find out that there was just an emerging field called teacher thinking that before that the teachers have really been pretty much seen as—as, you know, empty boxes but you could just kind of do anything with them. If they were talked at all, it was mostly about it all.  It was mostly in terms of traits or qualities, that they should have a sense of humor and that they should be this and that and have cognitive complexity. And um—or that they were, you know, what went wrong with implementation, it was always because a teacher didn’t do it well enough. And it was all that literature on the teacher—teacher proved curriculum. And I, of course, was thinking of myself.  I was thinking about my colleagues who uh were um being described in that way and I was—I was actually quite shocked and horrified, but there was this kind of new field called “Teacher Thinking,” just starting to—to happen. And Frema Elbass and Michael Connelly had just started to do some work on uh teacher practical knowledge. And I was just enchanted by this and thought it fits so well with—with what I wanted to do.  That’s only 20 years ago. Um, that’s—that’s a really new field of research. I think that we’ve come a long way uh in those 20 years.  I think that people are—find it much more comfortable now to talk about teachers as—as holders as knowledge, uh, as knowledge that is personal and that is practical—practical. Um, but that’s—that’s very new.  Um, I think there’s lots that we don’t understand yet about how context, particularly institutional context, shape teacher knowledge and I think we need to attend to that much more closely then we have. And that’s kind of one big area that I think we’re just started to get into. I think that when Michael and I started to—to our work, we talked about teacher knowledge as—as emotional, as uh—um—as moral, um as—as practical, as personal, as embodied. Um, we didn’t talk about uh teacher knowledge as—as spiritual and I think that increasingly um people are feeling that we need to—to acknowledge the spiritual dimension in teacher knowledge, whether or not it’s the—a sign of the times um and that people are searching for—for some other way to—to be connected, but I think that there’s a spiritual side that we need to pay attention to.  Um, so there’s that hole.  You know, I’m not sure we quite understand all of the dimensions of it yet um and then I don’t think we understand about the relationship between context and—and teacher knowledge and that whole interplay. And then there’s the connection between teacher knowledge and teacher identity um, which is something that Michael and I are just starting to play around with.

In terms of teacher identity, um teachers often talk about uh, a sense of—of who it is they are.  Um, in the stories that other people tell of them, teachers want to know uh what stories their principal tells of them, what stories parents tell, how do the children tell stories about me.  And—and so there’s a lot of questions um and they ask, you know, “Who am I as a teacher?”  And particularly when they’re in conflicted situations, they’re asking them that or when they’re feeling hat they’re losing who they are because their in a school that’s not supporting uh their practice and their—and their knowing. Um, and so we started to really listen hard to that and part of the work that Janice Huber, Carol Waylynn and Michael and I have been doing is really trying to look at those stories that we tell of ourselves over time and how they’ve changed and try to go back to, you know, old journals and old lesson plans and old artifacts of one kind and—or another that we have in our memory boxes. And trying to see, “So what story was I telling then,” looking back at the cards and letter that we all keep as teachers.  And what stories are being conveyed to us in those. And so we’ve started to try and get a sense of this as—as what we’re talking about now as kind of the story to live by or maybe the stories to live by, given that ‘we think’ identities shift and change.  It’s not something fixed. But it’s kind of like our knowledge is. It’s also experiential, I think, and contextual.  Our identities probably are as well.  We’re trying to play with that. We find that’s a question that teachers are asking us a lot when we have conversations, our questions of the ‘who ness.’  Uh, “Who Am I?” in those multiple ways. 

That connection between the identity work and portfolios is really interesting. I—I did the keynote speech at the portfolio conference in uh at Radcliff a couple of years ago with Nona Lyons and wrote it around basically the—the question of how a portfolio constructed over time in a teacher’s life is really a way of thinking about their story to live by.  And the stories that we tell in our portfolio say a lot about who we are. Those are portfolios that are really kind of the growth portfolios, not the ones that you might take with you to get a—a job, um, but the ones that you construct over—over time.  And teachers do some wonderful work around that.  I was introduced to the idea of portfolios um and teachers portfolios really um this school there’s a wonder—was a wonderful school principal there called uh Sue McKenzie Robley and she came out of dance and when she came to be the principal, she wanted the teachers to start to develop portfolios. And that got me thinking about those—the connection of that and how they really were a demonstration of identity. I made a portfolio when I had to go up for um my appointment to full professor.  I don’t think anybody on the sear—or on the review committee knew quite what to do with it. But for me it was such a powerful experience to have to go back over my years of—of being a—a teacher educator and look at all of the kinds of data that there were and to try and say, “How is this a story to live by? How does this say who I am as a teacher educator?”

One of the interesting things that I—that I realized about trying to make a portfolio for myself is I went back and I realized that I really do try and make communities wherever I go. And so I’m always searching for ways I can—can make a space where I bring people together. And, you know, whether or not it’s student teachers in a cohort group that I’m working with or whether it’s the center where I try to establish a community of—of young scholars who are graduate students and—and faculty, or whether it’s—it’s uh just kind of in a school where I try and work with people to get them to—to uh start to think about being in a community together. Now very often communities cut across our more institutional borders. So in my uh university, we have departments and I’m, of course, trying to reach out and form communities across departments. And quite often that gets me into kind of tricky ground. Um, so it’s not always the most uh comfortable place to be is trying to uh bring people together. As I put together my portfolio, I started to realize that’s what I was doing. I don’t think I’d been quite as aware that community was that important to me.  And I started to wake up to that.  It’s been wonderful because now whenever I feel like um, there’s—there’s trouble coming and why are people so unhappy about that?  I understand now and I say, “So, I’m the one who’s causing this—this uh tension and this disruption because I’m the one who’s trying to make a community.” It doesn’t stop me, I’m just more aware that I’m going to run into this.  And I’m the one who’s causing the tension, whereas before, I think I might have been uh happier to say, “Well, they just don’t understand what, you know, how important this is and they don’t understand what I’m trying to do.” Uh, but I’m more willing to say—and I’m more knowing now and I start to do that—that tensions going to be part of it.  And so I’m just a little more awake having gone through that.  So, that’s one of the—the things that I can talk about.  There were, of course, other things that I learned about myself doing that, some of which lead me to change. Uh, others that didn’t.  But it was a wonderful reflective kind of look at how I tell my own story. And that’s how I think about portfolios now with uh the student teachers that I work with who I also try to organize into cohorts that stay together over several years, which causes all kinds of trouble in an institution.

When we became interested in thinking about um the context in which teachers work, the language that was—that was available to us in the literature really was thinking about school culture. And school culture for us seemed like something more fixed and unchanging, like a school had culture, people had a culture. And we wanted something that had a little bit of more—more sense of fluidity, more sense of—of change.  People now are playing around with things like culturing and uh, um they’ve turned it into a—a verb. Uh, so but we started to say, “OK, so what would we think of it as?”  Both Michael and I uh grew up uh on the prairies and uh landscape has always been really important to us. Uh, a sense of space, and place, and time uh, has been important.  And so for us it became a metaphor uh that helped us think about uh what was the landscape in—in a school knowing that it was made up of people, places, and things, knowing that it was moral, knowing that it was uh intellectual and so we were looking for a—a term or a metaphor that was expansive enough. Maxine Greene in one of her early books that talks about landscapes of learning, so we were influenced by her work. Um, but that’s how we started to think about it. So if we started to imagine schools as—as having a professional knowledge landscape that teachers lived within, um what would that—how could we think about it? We wanted to think about it as a storied landscape so it was a place full of stories. We wanted to think about it as—as um having different kinds of places which is where the in and out of classroom place came from. We wanted to be able have it to be a large enough metaphor that we could really work uh thoughtfully about what the context would be.  It’s been help—very helpful to us in the last few years to have that notion with us.

That whole sense of connection between theory and um—and practice in theory and teacher knowledge, is—is really interesting to me.  When I talk with my students about it because I think it has an important place um, I mean, I think when I first started to do some of this work people thought that it was whatever it is the teacher said, whatever it is the teacher knew, was, you know, was perfect and wonderful and—and that was all. That’s definitely not what I’m talking about. But it’s not that you start first over here with someone else’s theory and apply it to your practice. You start from what it is you know and have a conversation with that. How can that theory inform what it is I know?  And so it’s a different starting point.  They’re both still in play the whole time, but it’s a very different way of thinking about that relationship, much more in Dewey and language uh dialectical kind of relationship.  And when I talk to students about it, it’s much more conversational so I think about um having teachers reflect—or myself reflect on what it is I know and then having a conversation with someone else’s theory whether it’s something from uh literary theory or whether it’s uh, uh historical theory, or whether it’s—it’s someone’s theory about how uh—how children learn.  Um, I think we need to have many conversations, but we always start from “This is what I know and this is how that theory can inform mine.”  So imagine is more as a conversation then as an application of knowledge. 

I think when I think about equity, I—I’ve been thinking harder about it recently.  I—I’m working on a study right now in an intercity classroom with Janice Huber and Karen Waylen. Karen is uh grade ¾ teacher and Janice is working with me and we’re both Janice’s in the classroom with Karen 2 ½ days a week.  I’m there a half a day a week.  And what we’re interested in looking at is how um—how teachers uh have—and schools have a story of school and how there are different stories that children tell of school and that their parents tell of schools. This is an intercity uh classroom. It’s very multicultural. There’s a very large proportion of first nation’s children, um Native American children, many uh refugee children, many kids who are in the language we use now, mixed race, and so it’s a very—and—and, of course, lots of poverty. Um, and I think uh, you know, when we started to do the work, we really uh thought that—well, we knew that there were questions of equity and—and fairness um because the school is not so beautiful, it doesn’t have as many wonderful resources and parents aren’t able to buy as many things for the school ad so I think we started to see the issues as we listened to the stories of the children and the parents tell us with—with really new eyes. We’ve really started to hear uh what school feels like uh to them. And these are—are kids who are eight, nine, and 10 years old. They’re little kids and yet they’re already negotiating um places for themselves that um are quite different then—then uh I think kids who—who come with more privilege.  Uh, they—they have wonderful stories to tell.  The responses that they—that they often get from our society are, including the schools, are very difficult and I think trying to help them negotiate lives, making spaces uh for them to—to really um be able to cu—become who they might be.  That has been really informative to me. So I’ve been thinking about it very hard overt his last year and I’m thinking about it in the context of these children’s lives and I’ve come to know them really well. And because I’m there in quite a privileged way in a sense that I don’t really need to worry about how they’re going to do on a Grade 3 achievement test that many of them are going to write, I can just be thoughtful with Janice and Karen uh about what’s happening to them in terms of their lives and school.  I think we—I think that the work we have to do in our society and in our schools is huge around trying to make schools more socially just kinds of places.

I think for me it’s—it’s probably—now that I—I see it more close up, I think I’ve always believed in—in kind of a social justice kind of agenda, I think that’s been with me for—for quite a long time, um but I think I understood it in a more abstract kind of way. I understood it um kind of in a big picture kind of way. I didn’t understand how it got played out and lived out in so many moments in children’s lives. Um, and I think I understand now how much more it’s built into all of the interactions that the—that the children have. So I think—Maxine Greene in—in releasing the imagination, uh talks about kind of seeing big and seeing small. And she talks about seeing small is when you see from a distance and its kind of way out there. Then she talks about seeing big—I think I’ve got the order right—when you see kind of close up.  Maybe it’s the other way around in her book, but I’m—what I’m seeing now is I’m seeing it close-up and I’m seeing it in the daily lives and in the—in the moments. Last night I gave a fireside chat in division B and I told the story of my experience with—with a little girl being denied something that shouldn’t have been denied. But it was just kind of in a second and a space was closed for her.  And I think that it—it’s in all of those little moments and that’s what I’m seeing uh much more clearly now.

The story is of a little girl um who I’ll call Corrina, and that’s a pseudonym.  Uh, Corrina—I had arrived at school and uh—early at lunchtime for my kind of regular a half day, and Corrina was—was in the office sitting at the secretary’s uh, uh chairs with another child. And uh, I was on my way into the staffing to get a cup of coffee and um I sat down beside Corrina and this—this other child and—so Corrina’s kind of sitting between me and—and the other boy, who was a much older boy. And I wasn’t really thinking about why they were in the office, that wasn’t part of my—I just know her, she’s in the class. She’s a wonderful child and I—I love her and uh she was sitting there and we were looking at a Bearnstein Bears book that the other boy had. And Corrina asked if I would go to the classroom and get her book and I said, basically, “The doors open, you can go down and get it.”  And she stood up and it was without my even awareness, what she’d done was instead of going to get the book, she’d gone to check with uh, um the principal or the school secretary, or someone.  And she came back and sat down and she didn’t have the book. And I looked at her and I said, “Well, where’s your book Corrina?”  And she said, “They said no.” And I thought, “All right, um this isn’t, you know—like why for this child isn’t this OK?”  And—and what I did was, of course, stood up, went to the classroom with her, got the book, and we sat down and—and read her book. And I started to think about why that was so important for me, which was a very un-me like way to react. I have to say that, you know, to do kind of—in some way, even if it’s a small moment of public resistance, I knew that she’d just been told something and that I was going against it. But I started to think about Corrina and how in those moments we shut down a space. Why shouldn’t a child have a book to read?  Uh, why shouldn’t she go to the room when I could see other children were coming and going from uh the rooms?  And I started to think about places where—where children belonged and—and where they didn’t.  And—and Corrina’s a child of mixed race and um she’s lives in a fragmented family situation and I was thinking that—that this had something that—that we need to do, but in that moment she’s denied a space, she’s denied being able to do something. That was a little thing to do that was available to other children.  And uh—and so for me it’s those kinds of moments and I’m thinking, “Where does—where does Corrina—how does she tell her story?  How does she feel that she fits in the—in the school? And who am I in her story?”  So that was the story where I—I just tried to play with one of the moments because that was a nothing moment, it was, you know, a Friday afternoon and uh in the middle of winter.  Um, it was lunchtime and I’m thinking, you know, we’re—we need to be more—more thoughtful about all of those moments where we shut down spaces instead of opening them up.  I think that’s about equity. 

For me portfolios are amazing at any level and I do see them as very much growth portfolios. I do see them not as a, uh, uh kind of a finished product, but as always a work in progress. It’s always something that we’re working on in much the same way that we’re always learning and figuring out new things.  So for me they’re a wonderful opportunity for children to see their own learning for their eyes.  They’re a wonderful way for teachers to do that. They’re a wonderful way for parent to see kind of learning over time um, when you can go and---and go back in uh and make links back to—to something earlier. Sue McKenzie Robley, who I mentioned is the principal who—who got me interested in—in portfolios uh has—had uh a wonderful process established at—at the school with the teachers and the parents and the children, where the children would share their portfolios uh with the teacher and the parents at the same time.  And then immediately after that, everyone would sit down and write a reflection.  So the children would write reflections, and the parents would write reflections, and the teacher would write reflections on what they’d seen. And then they’d talk about the—the reflections on the—on the process. It’s a wonderful uh kind of experience. Sue insisted that she and the teachers would all keep portfolios as well about their own learning and they would share them with each other in the same kinds of—of situations. So teachers’ portfolios were available um to be shared. No one ever had their portfolio without them there with it because it’s—portfolios aren’t something that you can make sense of without the portfolio maker in the conversation. I’m influenced very much also by known alliance work on portfolios and portfolio conversations over time. And so that’s been important.  Novice work is mostly with student teachers. Sue’s work is mostly uh with children but she tried to integrate them across all of the people.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see parents’ portfolios?

The tricky part for me is I’m not sure there’s ever an end um because I think that we need to—to think about portfolios as being something that really are works in progress and so when I think about works and progress, you’re almost always in the midst always. Um, so there’s not a kind of a place where you’re done and finished, so I think portfolios for children need to stay with them um over time and they need to—I mean, they get very big. Um, but I also think that it gives people a chance then to see what’s happening over time. In some ways they’re kind of like an organized memory box and I think that—that when they’re the most powerful is when they’re—they’re reflected on at different times so that you uh reflect here and then, you know, your—you go hear. It’s not kind of in a line but that’s how I’m making it look. But then you go back and reflect again on—on that piece and then you move and then go back and reflect and do some reflecting and writing and looking back over time. And I think we need to do that, we need to capture things over time rather than at a moment. Although, if you try hard enough at the moment, you can figure out all the pieces that came before and where it’s—it’s going to.  But for me, the portfolios that really are the important ones are the ones that let you see uh a history, um a narrative being constructed over the long term. 

Well, there’s—there’s a very powerful notion around uh—that people use in terms of thinking about critical friends. And that’s someone I think who’s suppose to uh kind of um take a hard look at—at what it is that you’re—you’re trying to work on.  It’s popular right now in action research and some of the self-study work. And for me um I have kind of funny way of thinking about that. I actually just need friends; I don’t need any critical friends.  Um, and for me response is a much better way of thinking about it. Response implies that there’s a relationship out of which uh something is coming. And so we respond, uh we have a responsibility. It’s connected to the—response and responsibilities are closely connected terms.  So you try and understand what the person is trying to figure out and what the person is—is trying to say.  But it’s in the context of this relationship and this responsibility that we have between us. And criticism doesn’t necessarily imply a relationship and response does for me. I think that when a friend uh offers me response to what it is I’m working on or what it is I’m thinking about, I take that very seriously.  Um, I—I think about it in the context of how my friend knows me and how uh she or he understands what I’m trying to work on. And it’s that response that very often shapes what it is I do.  Helps me see something new, helps me figure something out. But it doesn’t come to me as criticism; it comes to me in the sense of uh, relational response. And that’s what I need in terms of my research, in terms of my practice, in terms of teacher education.    

I think that sometimes we assume that our stories are the same stories that everyone lives and tells and I think that as I’ve thought about my work with student teachers and as I thought about the research that I’m doing now in this intercity classroom with children and—and their families, I think I’ve—I’ve really been much more thoughtful about how different stories can be and how cultural difference shapes those stories, how it’s—cultural has shaped my story. Um, and I think I’m more thoughtful now to not assume uh that everyone has a story that’s similar to mine. I think that—that um a cultural is—is an amazing shaping force uh and I think that we’re mostly unaware of it.  And I think in my kind of privileged uh kind of European uh background and heritage; I have assumed sometimes that my story is everyone’s story.   And I think that it’s the waking up to and really listening closely and really attending closely to the diversity that will enrich all of us, I think if we continue to act as if um we have the answers and we know uh and assume everyone is like us, that we’ll miss many possibilities. Uh, and so I think that—that we need to be thoughtful about that, we need to be thoughtful and this, I suppose, is a little bit of a soap box. I think we need to be thoughtful about the children and families who come to us in Canada, in the US and who enjoy in many ways uh, a great privilege.  We also need to be really thoughtful about uh the children and—and families and teachers who work in uh—in different countries um where they work under and live under much harsher kinds of—of situations.  Um, and I think that—we’re as uh—as a world, as a global community, we’re going to really need to be thoughtful about some of the issues or else we’re going to have some kind of, you know, morality bounded by geography.  And we’re going to say, “Well, we’re going to try and do something in this part of the world.” But I think we can’t—we can’t afford to do that.  So I don’t know if, you know, in the—in the close-up I think I’m figuring out a lot in terms of trying to attend to the diversity of stories.  And in the large picture I think I’m probably just waking up to a world that really is and yet how interconnected it is.