Documentation and the Image of the Teacher

Almost any teacher will tell you that pedagogical documentation is invaluable.  Inside and outside the classroom, it has a tremendous number of uses encompassing everything from assessment to curriculum development to perpetuating the cycle of inquiry.  In many ways, honest and meticulously collected documentation can become a sort of guidance system for the trajectory of learning.  When it directly involves the students, the process of documenting can be not only rewarding and useful, but extremely enjoyable.  The finished product can be used for students to reflect on their past experiences; for teachers to plan new and exciting investigations; for parents and other members of the learning community to gain an insight into the everyday experiences of the children they know and love.  No matter the audience, documentation enriches and reflects the everyday realities of young learners.

In a sense, pedagogical documentation creates a more tangible version the image of the child.  But what we often forget is that, when reviewed en masse, documentation also has the potential to paint a picture of the image of the teacher.

Just like works of art convey glimpses of who the artist was and what they believed, pedagogical documentation can demonstrate the values, interests, and commitments of the educators who create it.  When reviewing my own documentation over the past few years, I can’t help but notice obvious threads that connect the way I write from one piece to the next.  Many of these trends have only become apparent to me in hindsight.  For example, I discovered that tend to structure my documentation in the form of a cohesive and chronological narrative, almost like an episode in the life of a particular child.  Many of the situations that I choose to document tend to be very brief (even momentary), but provide an indication or overview of a larger trend of learning.  Because of the location of our school, our documentation often focuses on explorations of natural places, wild living things, and seasonal change.  When reviewing the pieces of documentation produced by other teachers, even within our school, it is abundantly clear that every teacher documents a little differently.  Whether or not we recognize it, each teacher has their own style of bringing their students words and interests to life.

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On the most basic level, documentation creates a running record of the prepared learning environment and the effort teachers have expended for the purpose of enriching the lives of their students.  If done frequently, it can function as a catalog of activities, provocations, gifts, and projects teachers had a hand in.  Documentation also speaks not just to what teachers choose to include, but also what they choose to exclude from the final product.  The end result shows where teachers place educational emphasis, and which investigations they feel are the most relevant or interesting to their students or their intended audience.  On an even deeper level, elements that might seem insignificant (e.g. narrative voice, word choice, photographic techniques) can speak to teacher’s impressions of what the primary purpose and who the main audience of their documentation is.  The fact that Reggio-inspired documentation has no specifically designated form or medium further contributes to the visible role teachers play in its production.  For some teachers, pedagogical documentation takes on an infographic quality through the inclusion of diagrams, timelines, and charts of student interest.  For others, it more closely resembles art or poetry, designed to appeal as much to the heart as it does to the mind.

Because is it such a subtle and accurate indication of the decisions teachers make and the work that they do, pedagogical documentation has another purpose that is often neglected.  When collected in large quantities, it can provide evidence for the efficacy of the educational techniques we implement.  Years of documentation depicting the successes of diverse and profoundly unique children have the potential to illustrate exactly how important teachers are in the growth of collections of students.  This body of proof has a variety of practical implementations.  When presented to other teachers, it can provide ideas and inspiration for changes to their own programs, or it can solidify their commitment to the way they currently conduct their classrooms.

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But it has the potential to be equally powerful in influencing the hearts and minds of other movers and shakers in our society, such as politicians, lobbyists, and non-profit organizations.  To me, documentation is the greatest indicator of precisely how important teachers are not just in lives of their students, but to the general fabric of the communities they support.  Scientific studies and surveys can convey honest and unbiased trends that are invaluable to the creation of educational policy in our nation, but meticulously crafted documentation can function in an entirely different and equally relevant way.  Unlike clinical studies, honest documentation humanizes learning and emphasizes not just the product yielded by our educational system, but the relationships formed and the direct impacts that teachers can have on the cultivation of responsible, confident, and caring citizens.  While years of data have the potential to change the status quo, it is my personal opinion that the story of a single child can be powerful enough to shift entire cultural paradigms.  Logic has the power to motivate the mind, but empathy carries the potential to move the heart.

As my co-teacher is fond of saying, “everything is about relationships.”  Documentation is undeniably essential to the everyday function of a Reggio-inspired classroom, but the reason for documentation is so much deeper than its practical uses.  While it can sometimes feel like a hefty responsibility, the right to record and reproduce the formative experiences of their childhood is a privilege and honor students bestow upon their teachers.  In so many ways, the right to document is a shining endorsement of the confidence students have in their teachers to recreate the epic history of how they became who they are today.  Pedagogical documentation is not just a manifestation of the image of a child.  It is an honest depiction of the mutual respect that exists between Reggio educators and the students they teach.

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3 thoughts on “Documentation and the Image of the Teacher

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  1. Loved this : “Logic has the power to motivate the mind, but empathy carries the potential to move the heart”. Totally going on my posts. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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