The Development of Transformative Teaching: Exploring Pedagogy for Infant/Toddler Teachers in a Community College Course

Project Category: Preparing a Highly Qualified 0-3 Workforce 

Sujatha (Suji) Venkataraman, MA
Adjunct Faculty, Education
San Mateo Community College District

Introduction: This research examined how transformative teaching, a pedagogy that emphasizes critical thinking and inquiry, could become part of an infant/toddler teacher’s framework, and thus influence the growth of infants and toddlers.  Unlike transactional teaching, which focuses on rote memorization and the mechanical application of formulas, transformational teaching emphasizes critical thinking and discourse.

Ukpokodu (2009) attested that, “Transformative pedagogy forces the professor to ‘walk the talk”’ (Discussion section, para .17).  By teaching my community college students in a transformative style about transformative learning, I was actively practicing what I was teaching.  Through compassion and vulnerability, I provided safe environment for students to actively engage and reflect in their learning process. The use of meaningful assignments and discourse in this pedagogy allows students to develop metacognition.  The goal in this style of learning is to cultivate a set of lifelong skills through active and attuned interaction.

Methods:  Participants included 19 students between the ages of 20-49 years who were registered in the Infant/Toddler Environments course at Skyline College. These students came from varied geographic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds: South America, Iran, Mexico, Pacific Islands and East Asia.  96% of these students were studying towards their AA degree and working in ECE field as substitute teachers, infant/ toddler teachers, or directors. The remaining 4% were working as private nannies or as EMTs. The following activities were implemented to introduce the Transformative Learning process, with different reflections shared after every step.

  • Created a poem about ‘values’ that their immediate family and friends saw in them.
  • Made a collage as a representation of what life is and who they are.
  • Used photographs as an analogy to look at the environment and people through assorted lenses –“Provocative Nature of Art”
  • Wrote a narrative story connected to a theme that reflected their life experience on various issues; power, privilege or oppression. Shared their stories with a partner and dialogued how these impacted their cognitive, emotional, spiritual wellbeing and other areas of their life. (First their professor narrated her own story that affected her self-esteem and education as a young adult.)
  • Attended a short lecture on the transformative learning process.
  • Completed the process with a visual art representation of what they learned about themselves.

The seven guidelines from the “Infant/Toddler Program Guidelines” (CA Department of ED) and the three focus group topics (Empathy, Executive Function, and Communication) from the Simms/Mann Institute’s “Building the House Within” informed the focus of the project.

Three questionnaires were completed during different time frames, focusing on their knowledge on Infant/Toddler environment, its influence on the focus group topics in children, and student’s pre and post knowledge about “transformative learning.” Interviews were conducted on the focus group topics, with questions created by the class members. Journals were based on humble inquiry (asking in an unbiased, non-threatening manner) prompts on a variety topics, including thoughts and emotions.

Results: The initial questionnaire fielded during the first week of class revealed that 31% of the students knew “very little” about transformative learning in adults and 41% knew “some.” 45% of students knew “very little” about executive function skills in infant/toddler work and 25% knew “none.” The students were optimistic about the class: 82% believed that the class would provide additional knowledge about infant/toddler behavior.

Upon completion of the class, 67% “strongly agreed,” 11% “moderately agreed,” the rest 22% “mildly agreed” that they learned about themselves from the transformative learning process. One student stated, “I feel revived, alive and empowered.” The transformative learning process changed the relationships between the students. This class probably brought everyone closer together because people opened up so much to each other,” stated one student.

This style of learning also changed the way that the majority (67%) of the class saw themselves as an infant/toddler caregiver. 72% of students reported that they had a noticeable change in their understanding of empathy in infants and toddlers, and 83% agreed that “caregivers who maintain transformative learning as pedagogy can provide a rich environment for infant/toddler’s growth in all domains.

Discussion: Transformational teaching is a developmental process, which makes it an effective pedagogy for both adults and children. Art, storytelling, and visual imagery were employed as transformational teaching techniques, and these transdisciplinary approaches were indispensable to the process. The students were empowered when they realized the importance of transformative learning and its direct impact on the wellbeing of infants and toddlers. Students reported several “aha” moments, and one student asserted that, “The process reminds you that you’re human. We get so wrapped up in the behaviors of others, that we channel our thinking into what’s “wrong” with them. That’s one of the biggest flaws in the infant/toddler (and child care in general) field.”  Though this teaching style, the class was able to shift their focus onto the “whole child” instead of finding faults with parenting styles or their coworker’s caregiving skills.

Limitations of the study included variance in student participation as follows: Of the 19 students, 68% completed 100% of the course work, 21% completed 80%, 11% completed less than 50%. 45% knew little about the topic ‘Executive Functions’, 27% knew nothing. No follow up was conducted to see if the concepts from class were implemented with children.

In the future, I would conduct a longitudinal study on the development of executive functioning in infants and toddlers with two research groups – one using transformative learning in their pedagogy and the other not. To measure outcomes, I would use journals and questionnaires, which were useful in providing both qualitative and qualitative data.

Suji Venkataraman
PO Box 612, La Honda, CA 94020


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