Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Victoria Damjanovic

September 13, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 3 Episode 7
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Victoria Damjanovic
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Victoria Damjanovic talks to us about inquiry-based learning, childism, and the agency of young children. Tori is known for her work in the areas of early childhood development, teacher content and pedagogical knowledge, and equity in early childhood education. Dr. Damjanovic is an Assistant Professor in early childhood education and early childhood special education in the department of Teaching and Learning and Educational Specialties at Northern Arizona University.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Aug 16). A conversation with Victoria Damjanovic. (Season 3, No. 7) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests. DOI: 10.5240/876F-7D7C-2989-801A-BC99-J

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In each episode I talk with a top education researcher or an expert educator about what they have learned from years of research and experiences. In this episode, Dr. Victoria Damjanovic talks to us about inquiry based learning, childism, and the agency of young children. Tori is known for her work in the areas of early childhood development, teacher content and pedagogical knowledge, and equity in early childhood education. Dr. Damjanovic is an assistant professor in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning and Educational Specialties at Northern Arizona University. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite drink. And join me, your host, Lindsay Persohn for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Tori, thank you for joining me, welcome to the show.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Thank you for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

So from your own experiences in education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Victoria Damjanovic:

how I ended up where I am today. So I think there were two experiences that really began when I started working on my PhD. And at the time I had very young children. I have three children of my own. And they were three, five and seven. So they were in those preschool, kindergarten and early years of schooling. So the first moment that really stood out to me was kind of this juxtaposition between preschools in the area in which we lived. And I was starting my schooling, and I'm learning about, you know, different pedagogies and I would drop my son off at preschool, and I would see one thing, and then I would go also and work in Headstart schools in the area, that was part of my job at the time. And I was really struck by the differences and the two schooling contexts. So I would drop my son off at what would probably be characterized as a white middle class type of school. And he would be greeted by the teacher and asked what he would like to eat and what he wanted to play with. And there was a lot of conversation. I would then go and work to support teachers that were working in a head start school, and there would be 20 children and one teacher. It was very directive in the ways in which they spoke to children, not because they were bad teachers, but because they were just trying to kind of grapple with their setting. So the children were kind of ordered around a little bit. And it really started me thinking about the ways in which schooling looks and this idea of achievement gaps, and all of those things and then looking at these two very different ways in which children the same age were being schooled. And then at the same time, my children were entering into the public schools, and just seeing how different they are from preschool settings. And that that was really kind of a moment that that's leading to work that I'm doing now, you know, 10 years later. So that was the first thing. And the second thing, I took a class that Dr. Jolyn Blank, had there was about the project approach and that led me to going up to the University of Illinois for a workshop with Dr. Lilian Katz, while I was doing my PhD work. And that was life changing for me in a way of really getting to experience and see a different approach to learning and really this idea of inquiry based teaching and learning for teachers and children and that workshop and working with those other teachers working in the field, working with faculty members from various universities, really kind of shaped a lot of my research that I'm doing today.

Lindsay Persohn:

You know, it's always amazing to me how, how much one experience can shape who we become as thinkers, as researchers and as people. Certainly I've been to workshops in the past that have changed my thinking particularly after having these really, as you describe the these kind of stark observations, these differences in settings that lead us to the research we do, the work we do, and how we want to support children and other educators in the world. So I really appreciate those stories, Tori. And so what do you want listeners to know about your work?

Unknown:

Well, that's another difficult question. But I mean, I think I'd like to share kind of where I've been and where I want to go and more questions that I have now. I found just like with, you know, most people say like, the more you learn, the more you seem, you want to know about a topic. And there's certain things lately that have been resonating with me, which really kind of goes in to talking about political climate as well. So a little bit about my research, I have three primary kind of pods of research. And the first area is

Victoria Damjanovic:

So Tori, you've mentioned several about content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. So really looking at the ways in which teachers engage with children to constructs. And actually, actually, many things you said, teach different content areas, but also the ways in which children engage in the content within inquiry based teaching and learning. So that's kind of my first area. And the second area is looking at communities of practice, and the role of helped me to make a connection. You mentioned the agency of documentation in teacher learning. So I've been doing a lot of work, my dissertation started that work, in looking at communities of practice, or professional learning communities, and the ways in which those help teachers or children. And I think a lot particularly curious podcast don't help teachers, and what makes them effective or ineffective. So I've done quite a bit of work on that. But what I have really gotten into the last few years, is really about the agency of teachers. And I got this, maybe it's just looking at these areas but it's a phrase by Rochelle Gutiérrez, or not even a phrase, it's a way of thinking and knowing is this idea of dimensions of equity. And that's how she has framed a lot of her work. And so what I've been looking at is these a sort of sinking feeling that not only are children in same ideas of content and pedagogy and professional learning communities but by looking at access, power, identity, and achievement of teachers and children, and the role of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice schools, often terribly repressed, right, from their within classrooms and within learning communities. So that's a lot of kind of different areas. But what I've really been become kind of fascinated with with different research groups interests, their engagement in school, but the same things that I'm working with, I want to find ways in which we can support teachers that are working with children in authentic ways, without the barriers that are created by ableism. And what I mean by that is, if you look in the news, or happen to teachers. And it creates just this, in many you see anything in school, the focus is through a deficit lens. Everything is about children being behind, they're not on reading level, we've lost years in learning. And what I see a places, of course, not all places, but this real feeling of lot in the classroom is that agency of children is taken away, because they are not able or they are behind. So I've become really interested in that and working with teachers to navigate that when administration is coming down on just total oppression, right, when teachers can't teach in a them telling them, these are the things that they have to do. So I feel like teachers are torn between what they feel like in their heart they should be doing and what they're told to be doing. And this idea of children as incapable is really way that makes sense, and they can't meet the needs of kids. bothersome to me. And you know, I, I really feel like teachers are getting burnt out and they're leaving the field, because they're forced to teach in a way that is not conducive And kids can't express themselves in ways that are to young children. And so there's this constant kind of clash. And I heard a speaker last week that I I really loved and they said there's not a teacher shortage, we need to stop using the term teacher shortage. There's a teaching familiar or interesting or relevant to their lives. It's mass exodus, meaning that we have wonderful teachers that want to teach. The stats, this is in Arizona, where I'm at we graduated 700 new teachers in the state. However, teachers are almost like it's all done for the theater of school, rather taking jobs in other fields, because they don't feel valued. They're put under an immense amount of pressure from administration, from parents, from policymakers, and that impacts children. So it's really, you know, how can I how than the actual learning. So you've made me think about that do we change this narrative and through research and through practice, because there you know, it really has to be on both ends. So that has been a lot of my thinking. And then also, I really want to disrupt these ideas of childism and in ways I never have before. And there's another term, you putting forward new ideas or different ideas on children's roles, agencies and positionality in schools in the community. So that's kind of where I've been and what I keep going back to. I've just started a new research study that's mentioned that I would love for you to just to kind of say a really focused on supporting teachers that are working with children that are historically marginalized children and their families. And that marginalization can be ableism or ageism, or race, ethnicity. There's so many different little bit more about for us, because you've mentioned umbrellas that falls so.

Unknown:

Well, I don't have an answer to the second part. But when I say childism, I'm really talking about the ways in which ableism, you've mentioned racism, you know, terms that adults and societies view young children. So and that varies from place to place, right how we view. However, in the US, there is a predominant notion that children are incapable. that I think listeners are going to be quite familiar with. But Children need to be told what to do, they need to be told what to think. And, you know, what does that mean? You know, when I work you also mentioned the word child ism. And I'm hoping that with teachers in the classroom, my students, we talk about, for instance, having children sit and do worksheets all day, and then they're complaining about their behavior. And well, how you'll say a little bit more about that help us to understand would you like it, if I had you sit in this classroom, we're here for an hour and a half, and you don't like sitting here for an hour and a half. So really, sometimes we forget that one the term and, and what we can do in relation to that. children are people, that's the first thing, but two children really do have brilliant ideas, and are, I think, much more capable than many of us feel that adults feel they are. And you'll see this a lot framed in different ways, you for instance, the new Don't Say Gay bill. That whole notion is set on the idea that children are incapable of understanding, having conversations and curiosities about things, which clearly is not the case. I've worked with threes and fours. They are very capable. They're very aware, they're aware of gender stereotypes. They're aware of different race and color. And when we hush them and don't let them speak, they're already learning like something's wrong about this. This is a taboo topic when it really doesn't have to be so you know, this idea of child ism and also going back a fits in with agency, right? So when we look in classrooms, we don't let children do things because we don't feel like they're capable of reading that book, or they're not capable of moving around freely in the classroom, they have to be dictated. So really like moving away from that and having children be agentic in the classroom. And having opinions and stances on things, I think is really, really important, not just for children, but I think teachers as well, because sometimes teachers are uncomfortable with children having agency in the classroom, because they've been trained or taught that children moving around in the classroom is bad teaching. So if you go into a preschool classroom, you'll hear phrases like crisscross applesauce, you have to sit crisscross, if you're not sitting crisscross, you're not listening, or put a bubble in your mouth, which I find oppressive and somewhat derogatory in nature. However, that's how they've been taught to teach, and that's how their experiences in school were. So it's really how do you kind of shift that into looking at new ways to teach. And when children are happy and engaged in a classroom, it makes management easier, and teachers are happier with their jobs. But there's a lot of contention there. Because there's a researcher in early childhood, Jennifer Keys Adair, and she's done a lot of work in South Texas, on Latinx schools, predominately Latinx schools and going in and taking a snapshot of classroom life and then asking teachers, parents, administrators, what they think about it. And what they found is they think what is good is when children are sitting and doing exactly what they're told, which, which says a lot. So.

Lindsay Persohn:

The idea of taking a snapshot of school and kind of asking folks, what does this look like to you? What are what are the appearances? Because again, I think that relates back to what we were saying earlier about the performance of school, right? And what it's supposed to look like. It's supposed to look like quiet, calm kids, who don't ever push back, right? They say they say yes, and they do it. But that's, I would venture to say, that's not the way of the future. Is it? You know, you also hear anecdotes like, how can we expect kids to follow our directions when we expect them to be independent adults, right, when we're not apprenticing them into decision making, critical thinking, conversations. You know, when you're saying the crisscross applesauce bubble in your mouth, I have found in my work with kids, no matter what age, even young adults, as my students, when you explain why you have a particular expectation, it's much more effective than just giving a command related to that expectation. If we teach young children that we're going to be quiet while someone else is talking, so we can hear what they have to say, right, that's a that's a much different message than the directive of close your mouth, right, put a bubble in it, any of those things that you might hear said to young children. So that really helped me to make some connections around what I have found in my own teaching practice to be some of the most effective ways to approach our own expectations is really in sharing the intent of that expectation, and then letting kids negotiate that, right? Helping them to think through why does this guideline of society or this this expectation of school exist, rather than just expecting them to shut up and do it.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Right. And I think to you know, it really is, what is the true goal of school? What what do what do we really want children and young adults to get out of school? If we want children to be thinkers, problem solvers, activists, then we are clearly going about this the wrong way. For instance, teaching in silos, right? We do math, and then we do literacy, and then we do science. That's not how the world works, no job silos things like that. And that's, that's one thing. That's why I was so drawn to the idea of inquiry based teaching and learning, because it infuses content in real world experiences. You know, it puzzles me that, you know, what we expect out of students is to be these critical, dynamic thinkers when we don't, we don't practice that in the school space.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right. And in fact, in many school spaces, we actually discourage that kind of thinking, that divergent thinking critical thinking, asking questions, exploring alternatives, you know that that is the era we live in with standardization of education, rather than opening up to inquiries, interests, questions.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Well, I think one other thing, and this is just because it's been in the news, which is this idea of that these children have lost these years from COVID. And, you know, I've read the articles about, you know, how much literacy we've lost and how much math we've lost. But then it makes me think, well, if they were learning in authentic ways, and they really learned the material that we wanted them to learn, we wouldn't have that learning loss. However, if you're rote memorizing information for a standardized test, that you forget, because that's not how we're wired. There is going to be learning loss. So I think the learning loss speaks to more about the ways in which we engage in school versus just the I'm not saying that COVID didn't have an impact. Of course it did. But I think it begs some other questions as well.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah I would totally agree with that. And my next wondering would be, will we ever have an opportunity to explore alternative avenues when it comes to educating kids. And I think that by and large in a lot of public school spaces, I'm afraid we're gonna keep on keeping on with the systems that haven't served kids very well and haven't served teachers very well, and certainly haven't attracted many new folks to the profession, right, because of, you know, lack of agency, and I call it being a three dimensional human. You know, I think in so many classrooms spaces, neither teachers nor students are really allowed to do that. And I think that's, as you said, that's more that's a comment on the systems and the structures, not the people who are trapped in them.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Right. Yeah. Right. Yeah, I think, you know, I hope, you know, the idealist in me is that, you know, here's the thing there are, there are schools that do exist, that are doing this work that are successful, but it's not infiltrating into kind of our public school system. So, you know, that's what I think so great about like podcasts like this and other entities in that is that merger of research and practice. Because if we keep publishing in, you know, journals that teachers aren't reading, and then it doesn't help, or a faculty aren't in the classroom, seeing what's going on. It's really difficult. And I think, you know, being in two different teacher education programs, what we try to teach in our in our coursework, sometimes is not apparent in, in the classroom, and teachers, even with the best intentions get sucked into the system very quickly, they try to come in and be agentic. And, you know, try new things. And they're really kind of like, Hey, that's not how we do things here. So there's got to be a breakdown there of getting the people really want to see change, again, if the goal of schooling is just to have followers that do what they're told, then we're right on target. But if our goal is to, in fact have critical thinkers, then we we do I have to make a massive change.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, I, I would agree with that. So Tori, given the challenges of today's educational climate, we've certainly touched on a few of those, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Victoria Damjanovic:

Well, I think teachers are downright now. Right? They people aren't, like I said, mass exodus, leaving the field, lack of pay fear of what they teach in their classroom because of political influence on teachers and children or, or parents that might be you know, in fearful situations, because of the media. For teachers, I hope that they stay in the field. And I do think I do think with everything going on, I am hopeful that there will be a change. I think there are a lot of states that are really trying to improve pay, at least as as an initial step. I think people realize the value of teachers. It's just, you know, it seems like more from a political end, they're being squelched. And you know, I really hope that the, you know, when it comes down to it, it's really about children, and they need to do what's best for children. I think that's a scary place for them right now. I feel like, you know, teachers, like I said before, I think they know what they need to be doing but they're unable to do so. And I think, you know, finding creative ways, I've always told like new teachers or pre service teachers find ways to infuse multiple content areas into into the system in which you are told to teach. But I think, you know, really, the importance of being there for children to support children it's a scary time for them to finding ways to give them agency in the classroom, not just for their sanity, but but for teachers as well. I think that it's a little thing that makes a big difference. But you know, that that has to be the focus right now is doing what's best for them. And then hoping that that things start to really shift because otherwise, I'm not sure we're going to have many teachers left in the field.

Lindsay Persohn:

I've had some of those those same fears myself, but I love what you said, I think the you know, in many small ways, during a school day, we can make a small shift to give students more agency. And in doing that, I think that that helps to kind of I think of this like loosening the fibers of the structure of school and creating just a little bit more wiggle room. Right. And then we see oh, that was really positive and productive, which leads to uncovering more new ways that we can provide students with a little bit of agency and I think, then you begin to uncover the structures that allow for increased agency, right? Because we can we can give kids those, if they need scaffolding into choice making, decision making, critical thinking, we give them those those bumpers, right we give them those guidelines without telling them exactly what to think or what to do. But instead, we are giving them just some guardrails to help them to feel safe and making those decisions, particularly if it's new for them. Because I would venture to say that for lots of kids, having choices in school is a new thing for them to be without the directives each day is would be a new experience for some kids. So I really appreciate that. I think that idea of finding agency, and again, I think of it for children, and also for teachers, I think that and past guests, in fact, Danielle Dennis comes to mind said, teachers have more agency than they realize. And I think it's so important for us to keep sort of pulling up those threads until we find that wiggle room, you know, the differences that really make a difference, and allow for a bit more flexibility, freedom and independent kind of thinking in schools.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Yeah, I think so you brought up such a great point about letting children practice and setting some boundaries, because what you will typically hear is, oh, I tried that, and it doesn't work. Well, if you've you have children that have never been able to make a decision before for themselves, they don't know how to do it, just like anything else they have to practice. So you know, even starting small, it can be one little bit of your day, I think you'll see the change, and you'll see the difference, and you give them guidance, and then you keep expanding on it. I'm gonna go back to something that Jennifer Keys Adair said she was keynote somewhere. And it really is something that really struck me. One of the things that she talked about, we view children and certain people as subhuman. And if you do certain things, you get to become human. And that really struck me because I started thinking of early childhood spaces in that, hey, if you get on reading level, then you get to do this. If you if you do this.... so what's happening is we squelch agency, by ability. But what happens is that line, if you go to college, then you'll be successful. We keep raising the bar, so people don't ever achieve personhood, which I think you know, in the classroom speaks volumes, right? Teachers are the same way teachers have to find their own agency, and doing things that make them feel good about their classroom space and, and meeting the needs of children, but then also allowing for children to do so in that same space.

Lindsay Persohn:

Very well said and certainly, we will put a link to the resources and the scholars you've mentioned here, we'll put that in the show notes and on your guest page as well. So Tori, I thank you so much for your time today and I thank you for the work that you do in the world.

Victoria Damjanovic:

Well, thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Lindsay Persohn:

Dr. Victoria Damjanovic is known for her work in the areas of early childhood development, teacher knowledge, and equity in early childhood education. Specifically, her research explores in service and pre service teachers content and pedagogical knowledge, communities of practice, and the role of documentation in child and teacher learning in early childhood contexts, through dimensions of equity. Her work has appeared in journals such as Early Childhood Education Journal, Social Studies and the Young Learner, Numeracy, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Professional Development and Education, School and University Partnerships, Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education, Kappa Delta Pi Record, and The Teacher Educator. Her work has been funded by the US Department of Education. Upon completing a bachelor's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas, she worked as a behavior analyst for young children diagnosed with autism while working on her master's degree in development and family studies. After earning her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Florida, Tori led the exemplary teacher educator laboratory preschool at USF for six years. Dr. Damjanovic is currently an assistant professor in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education and the Department of Teaching and Learning and Educational Specialties at Northern Arizona University. For the good of all students Classroom Caffeine aims to energize education research and practice. If this show provides you with things to think about, don't keep it a secret. Subscribe, like, and review this podcast through your preferred podcast provider. I also invite you to connect with the show through our website at WWW dot Classroom caffeine.com where you can learn more about each guest, find transcripts for many episodes, explore episode topics using our tagging feature, support podcast, research through our survey, request an episode topic or a potential guest or share your own questions that we might respond to through the show. You could also leave us a voice message or a text message at 1-941-212-0949. We would love to hear from you. As always, I raise my mug to you, teachers. Thanks for joining me.