Early Childhood Teachers’ Thinking and Reflection within their Communities of Practice
This multiple-case study investigated teachers’ thinking and reflection about their interactions with children in three early childhood (EC) centres. Located within a constructivist-interpretive paradigm, the study used video-stimulated recall interviews as the primary data source. Teachers’ interactions with children were video-recorded and used in group interviews with the teaching team to uncover teachers’ thinking and reflections at the time of the interactions and their individual and collective reflections on the episodes. Group interviews enabled insights into teachers’ thinking and reflection to emerge, which would be unlikely in individual interviews. The study drew upon several theoretical constructs, including reflection-in- and -on-action (Schön, 1983, 1987), interactive thinking (Mitchell & Marland, 1989), communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) and the literature on professional learning communities to understand teachers’ thinking and reflection and how these were mediated by the team. The study found that children are central to teachers’ thinking about their interactions. Teachers held extensive knowledge about individual children, and their emphasis on relationships and being responsive to children provides empirical evidence of relational pedagogy (Papatheodorou & Moyles, 2008) and of teachers’ engagement with the philosophical underpinnings of Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996). The study also found teachers were less able to articulate their thinking and reflections about their own teaching intentions, use of teaching strategies, and the theories and principles influencing their practices. These findings are represented in a model of EC teacher thinking, using a mat or whāriki as a metaphor for teachers’ thinking. The model presents a whāriki that, woven from broad, robust child- and curriculum-focused strands and narrower, weaker teacher-focused strands, has gaps and thus, is weakened. The thesis argues that the child-centred discourse evident in the data is reflective of a broader early childhood education (ECE) discourse that backgrounds teaching, and that greater attention to teaching and to teacher thinking is necessary to strengthen teaching and learning in ECE settings. The study revealed how each case study team operated as a uniquely framed and patterned community of practice, providing empirical evidence of the usefulness of Wenger’s (1998) community of practice model for understanding how teaching teams mediate individual teachers’ thinking and practices. Concepts from professional learning community literature informed analysis of teachers’ engagement in collective reflection about their practices, resulting in a contribution to this literature from an EC perspective.