On Inaugurating and Sustaining the Work of a Post Secondary Institution Pedagogist: Collectivity, In-Betweens, and Having a ‘Why’ – an interview with Bo Sun Kim

In Issue 2 of the PNO Magazine, we – Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land – interviewed two Ontario post secondary pedagogists, Paolina Camuti-Cull and Olga Rossovska. As we spoke about during our conversation, a pedagogist situated in a post-secondary institution works to reimagine practicum as a space for reconfiguring how the education of future educators unfolds. Post-secondary institution (PSI) pedagogists are in ongoing discussions with early childhood educators, students, and faculty members. In their conversations, PSI pedagogists are concerned with how, together, this gathering of people, histories, and intentions might create innovative practices relevant to both children and students’ relations and responses in a situated education space. The role of the PSI pedagogist is a complex and often difficult one as it requires the ability to think pedagogically within an in-between space: in-between the context and situations of those who are being educated to become early childhood educators (future) and the context of those who are already established early childhood educators who, alongside children and families, inhabit the everyday practices, modes of thinking, and rhythms of early childhood spaces (inheritance and present). In this in-between, a PSI pedagogist works to creates an ongoing and emergent dialogue between inheritances, presents, and futurities, and – through that dialogue – PSI pedagogists are called to activate collaborative processes that can create situations and experiences that engage students and educators with the proposition (and inherited reality) that early childhood education is a pedagogical and creative space, rather than simply a service or space for compliance. This in-between asks post-secondary pedagogists to constantly navigate how early childhood education becomes a pedagogical space, where students’ lives and responses are inseparable from children’s lives and responses. This nourishes a special kind of collectivity and a commitment to understanding and enlivening pedagogy as a layered, complex, and extremely consequential shared undertaking. 

In this interview, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land speak with post-secondary institution pedagogist, Dr. Bo Sun Kim. Bo Sun is the first post secondary pedagogist in Canada, as she started her role seven years ago. In this conversation we engage with Bo Sun’s thoughts around the question of beginning this kind of work, and what pedagogical and curricular considerations and situations she had to work with as she began her practice. 

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Bo Sun, can you please share with us your views on how the role of the post-secondary institution pedagogist is concerned with creating otherwise possibilities for practicum? We are thinking in particular about how you began this work many years ago and how you continually negotiate many beginnings as your work shifts and changes, where you are both figuring out the contours of your work and getting to know the relations and practices that currently surround how practicum happens in a particular space. What did you attend to when you started this work? Why? What inheritances were you working with or interrupting? Why?

BO SUN: I began my work as a post-secondary pedagogist in 2015 at a university institution located on the unceded territories of the LíỈwat, xʷməθkʷəỷəm (Musqueam), shíshálh (Sechelt), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and SəỈílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations of what is currently known as British Columbia, Canada. This university has a closely connected child care centre where many education students participated in practicums under the mentorship of experienced early childhood educators.

At the beginning of my pedagogist work, I turned to the question, ‘what constitutes normal?’ and, ‘what legitimates a truth in our practice?’ With these questions, I began to discern how the educators that I was working with perceived pedagogical practice as it should be, rather than taking time to ponder why. Amid these understandings of ‘good’ practice, I noticed that how a teacher, children, lunchtime, curriculum, and pedagogical narrations should be are all examples of so-called, status-quo rigorous practice. These instances create a particular way of living and relating to each other.  

When I joined this space, there were already ongoing curriculum projects where each teacher was working on their specific curriculum project. At the time, a curriculum project meant working on the curriculum topics in which children should be interested. The central role of the educators was to follow the children’s interests and make visible children’s understandings on curriculum topics. Pedagogical documentation merely represented children’s ideas and how much they knew about the topics. There was an assumption that everything had to come from children, and ideas that come from the children were good and important. In this romanticized way of seeing children, the curriculum was understood simply following children’s lead and their interests. Making comments on each other’s work and ideas among the children was not encouraged unless complimented. The collaboration among educators was not asked for or sought. I wondered what may have inspired everyone to work in such an individual and isolated approach. The educators’ withdrawal was rationalized in the name of independence, autonomy, freedom, and respect for one another’s work. Nonetheless, this was problematic to me as it prompted an unhealthy separation and isolation among educators and increased pressures for individual achievement.

I soon recognized how much this understanding of both ‘rigorous pedagogy’ and individualized ‘curriculum inquiry’ had influenced the way educators perceive the practicum students and their relationship to the student teachers. Student teachers were required to do their own inquiry project independently of the project already taking place in order to demonstrate their competency of being independent and autonomous.

Therefore, mentoring practicum students was frequently perceived as an additional and burdensome task to carry on top of educators’ regular obligations and responsibilities.This emphasis on thinking pedagogically as a singular, dispersed, egocentric project created disconnections among the educators and the student teachers, and discontinuity in how curriculum inquiry unfolded in the space.

I invited the educators to reflect on their pedagogical approach to curriculum because pedagogy activates curriculum, and their relationship with practicum students, and then ponder on the aspirations of this sort of practice. I emphasized that the intentions of our educational practice revolve around how everyday decisions and orientations intimately correlate with the particular dominant discourses around the teacher’s image, and culture, of early childhood education that we inherited at this institution. 

My intention, in pulling our attention toward ongoing insular practices and status-quo dominant discourses was to disrupt the image of a teacher as an expert who ought to demonstrate that they can work independently to be qualified as an exemplary educator. Instead, I wanted to offer the idea that we might challenge outdated normative assumptions and implications about curriculum approach (child-centred and individualistic) and practicum – and the relations between curriculum and practicum.

I asked: “What does it mean to work with curriculum inquiry?”, “What does it mean to collaborate with others?”, ” How can we work differently with practicum students?”, and “How can we cultivate continuity in curriculum rather than breaking up an inquiry topic into developmentally appropriate bits to leave the topic intact?”

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Bo Sun, it seems that you were working hard in attending to two situations. On one hand, you were trying to disrupt notions of individualism and autonomy as ‘best practice’ and on the other hand you were provoking an understanding of a kind of epistemological hierarchy between educators and practicum students. It seems to us that both situations were intimately related to the questions of recognition and legitimation you spoke about at the outset of our conversation. We wonder, how, as a post-secondary institution pedagogist, did you understand and initiate initial, intentional steps to rethinking how collectivity matters and happens with educators and students? What has to be put at risk, and why, so that we might be able to think in the company of others within a practicum context? As we read your response to the first question, it seems that you were inviting educators to think outside logics of recognition and compliance and to consider pedagogical work as collective acts of re-invention. Along these lines, we wonder: When we hold collectivity as a pedagogical intention, what must we re-invent and refuse in the academy (both in terms of placement classes and non-placement classes, and within a child care centre closely connected to a university)? 

BO SUN: To my educators, I proposed the significance of rethinking how we engage the work of curriculum inquiry by asking “how do we understand curriculum inquiry?” To think carefully about how we do curriculum inquiry requires different pedagogical approaches from curriculum-as-plan conceptions, and refusing these mechanistic, routine, lifeless understandings opened up an initial conversation regarding how educators and the centre (and institution) understands curriculum inquiry and educators’ pedagogical relationships, including those with practicum students.

Through the conversations I had with educators and a program director, many things became of urgency to us. One was our recognition of the long history early childhood education has of representational logic, the tradition of representation and reproduction, and the practice of transmission in curriculum (Olsson, 2009); the second is how this representational logic is deeply embodied in our practice. To abide by representational logic is to uphold the separation between the subject as the knower and the world as the known. The world becomes the object of perception and discovery as if knowledge of the world pre-exists apart from us. Approaching curriculum based on the search for pre-existing and self-evident information implies that the role of the teacher is to transmit this knowledge and to dictate who and how children and educators can be amid a world that values the certainty, predictability, and universalizations of representational logic. Educators are to stress scientific ‘knowledge’ to children – this  the reproductive function of status-quo education in Canada. 

As Liselott Olsson (2009) argues, the logic of representation has remained very prominent in Euro-Western early childhood curriculum. It depicts a way of thinking that perceives the world as an independent cosmos. The (stable, instrumental) curriculum encompasses all ‘worthwhile’ knowledge reflecting the world. From this perspective, curriculum topics become substances for children’s learning which children come to understand when seeking to grasp the actual world. 

Akin to many other poststructuralist scholars, my pedagogical ethos (the pedagogical approach that I commit to) concerning this idea of representationalism is firmly against it. To concede having a valid and objective representation of reality can be the primary cause of many restrictions. The educators and I discussed how this logic (intentionally) limits a myriad of ways of knowing the worlds and our existential possibilities. 

The idea of a child in terms of development theories formulated within the discipline of developmental psychology sets forth universal age-related stages that continue normal child development and suggest that every child learns in a predictable, linear progression regardless of context. It represents a certain kind of subject who has the inherent potential to pursue one’s separate development, and education is reduced to the pursuit of individual development. The curriculum is carried out in such a fragmented way based on the areas of development, so learning becomes a separate and isolated activity. To break away from this logic of representation which names a separation between the world and ourselves, educators and I pondered how we could displace the solitude and docility that currently governed curriculum inquiry in the space by centering solidarity and multiplicity at the heart of our work. I proposed that educators might acknowledge curriculum as not something previously determined but, instead, as an invention. Curriculum as being composed with the material and social worlds of which we are already a part—seeing the life of the curriculum topic continually in flux.

resting thought by Sarah Hennessy Ⓒ 2021

To speculate how collectivity matters and happens in our curriculum, I brought my educators to think with David Jardine. Jardine underlines the vitality of curriculum as choosing a rich and generous topic to encompass all those who venture in, despite differences. His scholarly work on curriculum values what every participant brings into this venture of doing situated curriculum. With Jardine, curriculum’s potentialities of becoming value the multiple, various questions and experiences that individual participants express as enrichment and articulations to this work of curriculum. Educators, student teachers, a pedagogist, and families are also part of this venture as each person’s work is taken up as appending to the richness of the topic. In this regard, Jardine considers a curriculum inquiry topic as a place where we all find ourselves living in.

Jardine’s (2006) profound insights into the curriculum aroused further dialogue on abundant curriculum possibilities. He reminded us that approaching curriculum in abundance is a “way we carry ourselves in the world, the way we come through experience to live in a world full of life, full of relations and obligations and address,” (p.100) evoking us to seek and cultivate the kinships that connect us. Rethinking our pedagogical relationship through kinships opened up a different way of living and engaging with each other. I began to notice educators’ growing desire and curiosity about the pedagogical opportunities possible when working and thinking together as a team, as they realized that each person could bring a different way of seeing the world. The challenge was learning how to work together with differences without seeking an ultimate consensus; we resisted ultimate consensus because we have learned that complete harmony often conceals and silences tensions, disagreements, and divergences that nourish what it is to think pedagogically together (Delgado Vintimilla, 2014). 

Although most educators seemed to be motivated and excited about working collectively on curriculum inquiry, in the beginning, some educators shared difficulties expressing or offering different ideas or perspectives, feeling troubled that it might offend or upset colleagues, students, management, children, or families. It seemed that there was already a pre-established ideal relationship they wanted to pursue. I often heard from the educators stating, “we need to build our relationship first and then we can do this together”, “it is hard to work with her because I don’t have a relationship with her yet.” Or, “we cannot start creating a curriculum before we build a relationship with children,” as if everything could be or should be done only once the relationship is built. 

Rather than assuming that creating a relationship is not a prerequisite for what must happen before, I wanted educators to see relations as generative encounters with others or shared events with reciprocally transformative influence. It is through these connections with others that we become and continue to become who we are. To think differently about our relations with others we turned to Donna Haraway who writes of refiguring relationships through the idea of relationality; relations as a process of “becoming with.”

Some educators and students also shared that they struggled to think through engaging with each other’s thoughts, as they did not have much experience working collectively and responsively in a dialogue where they encountered their differences, which sometimes creates tensions, discomforts and disagreements. Here, we heard reverberations of the individualist, monotonous, application-oriented approaches that representational logic declares in education. We also noticed the influence of “rigorous” teaching meaning the implementation of pre-set curriculum and consensus meaning the at-all-costs absence of difference. Taking inspiration from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (poststructual philosophers), and Taylor and Miriam Giugni (common worlds scholars), I addressed collectivity as an opportunity to assemble or bring together, highlighting the reconstructive desire of our thinking and gesturing toward the productive potential of what we collectively composed in our messy work of thinking curriculum and pedagogy. Being responsive to each other’s ideas and thoughts was the process of taking risks. It took courage because, occasionally, it put educators in vulnerable situations. After all, being together/bringing together requires responsibility and responsiveness. This means that we might disagree with each other from time to time and need to work with disagreements and conflicts. However, slowly, educators started appreciating each other’s company and the opportunities of thinking and working – and sometimes agonizing – together as they began to experience that relationships are constituted and reconstituted in an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and stories. Haraway mentions how negotiating differences is difficult and risky emotional work, and we wanted to hold her assertion that thinking collectively is also a place of productive tension based on differences, where working in the muck of these differences might generate innovative thoughts and potentialities. 

Working collectively with each other and having a space for pedagogical conversation and engagement also changed the way educators related to practicum students. Practicum students often joined in curriculum meetings with educators and were invited to participate in each space’s curriculum inquiry. The educators seemed delighted by their contribution to the inquiry project. The educators often shared how much they appreciated different ideas and perspectives the practicum students brought to the curriculum inquiry and how children and educators missed them when they finished their practicum. Practicum students are no longer seen as people who just come and go just for the practicum to be done. Instead, they become co-participants who live and work together  with us on living, ongoing, unfinished conversations to which we are venturing together for better and richer understanding of the topic. Educators and the practicum students often asked if the student could go back to the same centre for the next practicum, which results in creating a back-to-back practicum to embrace continuity in curriculum and relationalities among the practicum students, educators, and the children.  

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Thank you Bo Sun. There is so much that you are offering here and that we would like to relate to and think further. As a pedagogist you are inviting educators to unsettle taken-for-granted ideas regarding the ways we come to know and the ways we relate to each other. Through this unsettling, you have invited educators to consider and engage with ways of knowing and relating that might be less based in egocentric practices, sovereignty, and control (we think these are themes intimately related with what you shared in the above questions). We noticed that you are carefully working with thinking  and activating pedagogical processes that take up relationality from a variety of perspectives. In doing so, as you have shared with us, you have been thinking with multiple companions in curriculum theory and beyond. We appreciate such diversity and at the same time we find ourselves wondering about it. We wonder because we find ourselves having an ambivalent response: on one hand, we appreciate such rich conversation, on the other hand we wonder if one needs to be careful with how we relate to our conversations with educational and interdisciplinary interlocutors. How do we enter in interdisciplinary dialogue so that such concepts can actually be read pedagogically? Or, so that those concepts can activate questions and processes and not risk falling into a kind of rhetoric or empty intellectualization? With this in mind, we are wondering what it is about these scholars’ thinking that draws you to them in this work of building collectives with students and educators? As a post-secondary institution pedagogist, how do you relate to these bodies of work when creating an interdisciplinary conversation that is first and foremost a pedagogical conversation that will involve educators and students? 

BO SUN: As a post-secondary institution pedagogist, I believe that education needs to engage with real-life, moving beyond acquiring skills and developing competencies. In that sense, education needs to be concerned with the pedagogical transformation of the self (Todd, 2015). With this in mind, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work are inevitable if we seek to work with real-life matters and concerns, as our languages of education activate what we value and enact in education. To think with interdisciplinarity calls for us to critically reflect on the languages that are present and privileged in both the overarching and situated early childhood context, and think about whom we want to bring into the conversations to produce other possibilities in the early childhood curriculum.

For example, while inheriting dominant configurations of curriculum as children’s  acquisition of more and more skills and knowledge from a developmental psychology perspective, to think curriculum as responding to and being responsible for the worlds is about manifesting who you are as an educator and where you stand to enter a social-material fabric that is entirely relational (Biesta, 2006). Thus, early childhood curriculum must be understood as bearing and creating educational and pedagogical values and engage with philosophical questions such as what we want for our children, ourselves, and the worlds of which we are part. I often ask my educators and students to engage in a question, “what is the purpose of education?”, “what is the purpose of early childhood education?” Taking an invitation from Biesta (2006), without engaging with values and the task of education corresponding to our current time and place, it is impossible to come up with pedagogical visions and values that would orient ourselves for the educational task that we collectively want to pursue. A pedagogist needs to draw attention to how our relations and dialogues might perceive and respond to ongoing ethics and politics of education. In line with this, I refuse to draw on conventional ethical norms and instrumental relations with a predetermined notion of correct or appropriate relationships. Instead, I pay attention to creating conditions and situations where educators explore the curriculum with children to respond to the world in singular, situated ways. This means that educators need to work with various theories and philosophies that might make not taken-for-granted conversations and curriculum approaches possible. This means that we need to acknowledge the ethical consequences of presencing different theories because reality is invoked and materialized depending on what ontological and epistemological position we take (Jones & Jenkins, 2008). As pedagogists, we need to take seriously how different ways of understanding pedagogical practices offer further planning and other unfoldings with very different ethical implications.

For this reason, as you mentioned in your question, we need to be careful about how we enter an interdisciplinary dialogue, considering the purposes and intentions of those involved in contributing to any interdisciplinary piece. And the pedagogical process is “intimately related to pedagogist’s subjective dispositions towards the worlds” (Delgado Vintimilla,n.d). For me, the conversation starts with asking why a particular theoretical concept matters in this context and what it means to work with the specific theory in this particular situation. We also see ourselves, a pedagogist and educators, as one of the organisms intra-acting (Barad, 2003) with other organisms in a pedagogical event, paying attention to what we compose and generate together. In other words, interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary for new possibilities and relationalities. This makes interdisciplinarity a companion on thinking pedagogically because first, it puts in question our taken-for-granted way of practice and what is familiar, a linear path of following a principle of dichotomy that plays a repressive role in education. Second, it provides the opportunity to create otherwise, inventing and experimenting with what emerges from the interdisciplinary conversations.

For example, a few years ago, I worked on an inquiry project, Hello,Oopsie!, with educators and 3 to 5 year-old-children. Our Hello, Oopsie project presents what might be possible, what emerges, and what can become when we shift our pedagogical and ethical approach through interdisciplinary dialogue. The project was first initiated as educators shared their concerns about a fish who came to the center as a gift from a parent. The children were excited about the presence of the fish and showed a great deal of attention, and even gave him a name, Oopsie. The children gathered around Oopsie, watched him swim around the volcano in his little aquarium, observed his movements, and fed him. However, as time went by, their initial excitement and interest started to fade. Oopsie would still swim around in his little aquarium, as he has always done since he first came. Eventually, Oopsie’s aquarium had become more of a background or a decoration of the classroom. Oopsie was not recognized or remembered most of the time, and it seemed that no one was responsible for Oopsie being excluded. Only the educators paid attention to Oopsie from time to time for feeding and maintaining the freshwater. While the rest of the educators felt it was not a big deal since it happened pretty often, one of the educators expressed discomfort at how quickly Oopsie became invisible. This conflicting feeling towards Oopsie sparked a heated conversation among the educators concerning our relationship with Oopsie to human relationships with fish. 

We recognized that fish had been part of humans’ life for a long time, being bound together with the lives of other beings. We encounter fish in a dentist’s office, department store, restaurants, pet stores, streams, rivers, or oceans. It is impossible to disentangle and separate human and fish entangled lives here on the west coast. As Meyer (2010) writes, “we routinely consume and use as part of our daily experience. Everything that we come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of our existence” (p. 85). We recognized that these entangled relations with a fish called for more responsible and responsive pedagogy in our context. I often heard educators and practicum students saying, “we don’t want to continue on this because the children are not interested in the topic anymore” or “we are following children’s interests,” as if everything has to be based on what children want and their interests, rather than considering how our ethical responsibilities entangle with life and pedagogy, and name what is pedagogically and ethically valuable for pursuing. As a pedagogist, I thought it was essential to engage with the children-fish relationship to disrupt this child-centred pedagogy deeply embodied in early childhood education – and, I wanted to search otherwise for other ways of responding with Oopsie and his newfound neglect.

In that sense, the inquiry project with Oopsie was “to present a proposal intended not to say what is, or what ought to be, but to provoke thought” (Stengers, 2004, p. 994) in order to consider our (educator, student, child, community) ethical possibilities and responsibilities within this early childhood pedagogical context. This is what marks our project as a curriculum inquiry project and not a different kind of project: we paid attention to what emerged from encounters, connections, intra-actions, and situations that create otherness in curriculum, rather than relying on our prior knowledge or discovering an eternal truth about worlds. The inquiry with Oopsie was concerned with us in the process of mutual engagement and transformation as we affected and were being affected by everything else. More than anything, the presence of Oopsie provoked us to recognize and contest exclusions inherent in our relationships between human life and the lives of more than human agencies, reimagining inclusion, and thinking “beyond a celebration of individual children’s differences and individual children’s experience of awe and wonder” (Taylor, 2013, p. 78). Introducing the work of Affrica Taylor and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw helped us to work hard to avoid to falling into doing something according to “prescribed moral codes” (Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019, p. 6) but to pay attention to ongoing relational practices with the fish and our children. In this inquiry project, we wondered what might happen if we think about Oopsie through the concepts of responsibility and responsiveness. We asked: what story(ies) we might be able to offer through our relations with the fish, challenging essentialist ethical norms and generating new forms of ethical responsibility beyond humans?

Todd (2015) argues that encounters with others (human and non-human alike) bring transformation in us. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of our lives to others, human and non-human like, we started our inquiry project with a question proposed by Todd (2015), “could we not start to rethink what it means to live well together without a blueprint of what counts as the common good’ produced prior to our actual encounters with others with whom we share the world?” (p. 54). 

In drawing attention to the trouble that existed with Oopsie as part of a curriculum inquiry, we encountered uncertainty and unknowability of where this would lead us related to our thinking of pedagogy and curriculum. We knew that, with Oopsie, our inheritances of representationalism, individualism, universalism, continuity, and consensus failed. We focused on how we might live differently with Oopsie in ways that offer new ethical possibilities in our pedagogical context. We turned to scholars both in and beyond curriculum theory, choosing who to think with by following how the provocations they offer might contribute to or complexify our pedagogical or curricular commitments. The quotes and questions from interdisciplinary scholars, such as Affrica Taylor, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Gert Biesta, and Sharon Todd, called us to contemplate the specifics of how we would approach and respond to humans and more-than-humans relations, and to nourish pedagogies situated within everyday life interactions which broaden the possibilities of existing with others – a question that reciprocally grounds our curriculum inquiry work with educators, students, children,and families. 

Working as a PSI pedagogist means bringing transformation to our pedagogical life, committing to the creation of a space of plurality and difference where being different is not seen as inferior to what is dominant (constituted as normal) and of a space where the encounters with otherness and difference is a real possibility. However, working with plurality does not mean that all pluralities are good or worth pursuing; it is not about making collage or bricolage by just adding different pieces, which might make us fall into relativism that creates more isolation among ourselves. Instead, working with plurality means, as a pedagogist, placing a dialogue at the center of pedagogy. It is a process of sharing experience and being connected with other beings who cannot work without taking the liveliness of others into account. Concerning this, a pedagogist should pay attention to creating those situations in which one shares or participates in creating a shared pedagogical commitment. However, a shared understanding should not be seen as a condition for making collective commitments. It is not that we first need to come to a shared understanding, and only then can we begin to coordinate our actions for dedication. On the contrary, it is the dialogue and collaboration in motion that produces collective commitment.


Journaling as a Choreographic Practice

When a pedagogist, who has inherited situated stories from education, encounters the concept of journaling, particular thoughts might emerge as to what this practice is allowed to be in the company of developmentalism and neoliberalism as dominant discourses. Journaling might be known as a mode of nurturing a familiar culture where learners begin to reflect and write in companionship with decorous and ameliorating logics as a means to become successful neoliberal subjects who are fluent in society’s language of capitalism.  Journaling might also be known as a dwelling to conceal one’s inner, most personal thoughts that tell the story of this writing practice as a mere means to work through feelings and document gratifying experiences with hopes to increase neoliberal happiness. As a pedagogist writing this essay, I wonder if I can set in motion an unknown, yet hopeful trajectory for journaling to become something else, a vibrant place to respond and move in rhythm with contextual, curricular encounters alongside educators within the space between what should be private and what could be public?

As a pedagogist, my journaling practices have evolved in response to encounters and exposures over the years. For me, journaling has become a process of creating micro-documentation pieces each day (Delgado Vintimillia & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2021) that work with the particular concepts that I encounter in my work. I cling to this daily pedagogical practice as I experience tension when neoliberal temporality seeks to tell me a story about how journaling is too challenging to commit to in response to a world that values logics of productivity and easiness. I respond to this tension by thinking about journaling as an alternative practice that creates pedagogical space to reveal other alternatives that complicates the taken-for-granted in our collective lives within early childhood spaces.  

Within this essay, I propose the possibility of thinking about journaling as a choreographic practice. To think about journaling alongside choreography, I offer the concept, correspondence as a triplet: co-respond-(da)nce, to think about the intimate and collective encounters that can unfold in response to a conceptual journal. Co as noticing the Other and thinking alongside a collective presence.  Respond as taking up particular encounters with hospitality and intentions to dwell with the almost or what could be. (Da)nce as moving in rhythm with what is encountered by complicating its existence and responding to tensions to set particular curricular trajectories in motion while being in relation with the present.  I also invite us to dwell with the concept of choreography as a means to begin a conversation as to how journaling can become something different. The word, choreography, comes from the Greek words: khoreia meaning “dance” and graphein meaning “to write” (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2021). In the ensuing thought provocations that I come to as a pedagogist who thinks alongside early childhood educators, I attempt to create space for us—educators, pedagogists and scholars who choose to come into companionship with this archival process —to encounter the beauty and tensions that can come from taking up journaling as a choreographic practice.

To begin this conversation, I want to acknowledge that I take up the process of journaling as a political venture. I am not called to take up particular concepts because they simply resonate with me and provide space to entertain those who read my offerings. Rather, I am called to take up these concepts because they address something in response to my pedagogical orientations which situate my gaze to attend to particular noticings. According to Manning (2009), “concepts are events in the making.  An event in the making is a thought on the cusp of articulation—a prearticulated thought in motion” (p. 5). I take up concepts in my work not to achieve a dominance of understanding, but to grapple with what is potentially living within the pedagogical unfolding and its unrecognizable existence as it comes forth. Therefore, concepts are not responded to out of familiarity, but when I notice a tugging, a potential shift or a flickering of an alternative life that responds to the multiplicities of temporality and creates space to interrogate what is allowed to exist within the realm of normality, so that otherness can not only be imagined as an alternative, but also a possible, worthwhile reality. Journaling then becomes a nourishing place to reciprocally encounter and complicate what is seen, heard, or felt in curricular processes.  These processes live within being and moving; being in relation with botherings and hopes for livable futures and moving when there are openings to enact ethico-pedagogical micro-movements. Journaling becomes an act of resistance in the presence of developmental and neoliberal narratives because of its archival capacity to hold onto and remember alternative stories that make it possible to imagine different ways of thinking and living. 

Journaling also becomes an act of invention that has the potential to incite curricular processes where ways of living otherwise are coaxed beyond the cusp of existence and perceptibility; an otherwise that creates space to think about fluid identities while dismantling fixed perceptions of who the Human is allowed to be and what it means to live a life well. Taking up journaling as an act of resistance asks us to hear unfolding conversations between encountered moments and our pedagogical orientations. Are these moments seeking to fracture and erase our situated commitments? If yes, we come into relation with tension as we wrestle within this space of the in between. It is in this dwelling that inventive movement is conceived by this union. This inventive movement does not necessarily work with elimination of such discourses, but rather creates space to insert inventive disruptions that have the capacity to tear apart threads of dominance in collective life.     

After a particular concept creates a pedagogical marking on my existence as a pedagogist and collective work with educators, I begin to thoughtfully choreograph an arrangement that entices the concept to continue to become.  This choreography is not a blueprint of future dance steps or what is known, but rather a labouring process as I think with what is unknown, sometimes through the process of un(knowing). Manning (2009) invites us to think about how

the appearance of choreography signals a reaction to a movement that seems to have been known in advance. Yet nothing here is known in advance.  What moves is a feeling more than a direction. The feeling can be harnessed into a repetition—a choreography of sorts. But what emerges in the first instance is an openness toward moving, a movement moving. (p. 14)

My desire to activate, disrupt, and implicate is what moves me within the conceptual movement. This desire for movement creates conditions for ruptures in my thinking to unfold as the dance with educators is about to begin.   

In the process of pedagogically perspiring to nurture my pedagogical gaze, I am gifted with several conceptual journals to share with educators, at the end of each week. From here, I grapple with making a pedagogical decision as to what journals to offer. What compositions work with the tensions and uncertainties of the educators? What composition is most significant and capable of enacting a shift? I take up our centre’s in-the-making collective orientations to guide me in making the decision as to what arrangement(s) to gift back to educators that work with co, respond and (da)nce in a more complicated way.    

Sharing a particular conceptual composition creates conditions for educators to implicate the choreography with the concept.  As an opening for the concept to be put into conversation with other concepts and encounters that are pedagogically potent to educators emerges, I attempt to situate the myriad of contextual connections and tensions that begin to come forth, with the intent to orient the concept to a particular becoming. In complicating the responses that emerge from educators, our correspondence can continue as we grapple with what that concept does and can do within the making of our collective life. As this collective life lives within the making, fragments of thinking, unfamiliarity, images envisioned by differing orientations and their uneasy presence become known to its dwellers. Tensions begin to exist in the decision making when deciding what to nurture further within the emerging correspondence.  Ideas are taken up over others, creating messy relational moments alongside the juxtaposing notion that all voices should be sought and heard. Encounters with perceived impossibilities might stall this slow work and provoke a revisiting of the correspondence’s initial conception. 

In a way, the relation between educators and a pedagogist can be similar to that of a relation between dancers and a choreographer. In response to a conceptual provocation, a choreographer may begin to craft a piece with the intent to implicate those that come into relation with the dance or art. I wonder if this process is similar to the process of arranging a journal piece as a pedagogist?  After sitting with the composition in the making, choreographers might offer it to dancers or colleagues, giving space for the very ethos of the dance to be exposed. The dancers may implicate the arrangement with their own orientations and ways of moving their body. This dance then becomes a conversation much like what can unfold when pedagogists and educators come together to work with a particular concept. This conversation brings messiness and tensions to the relations.

Manning (2009), offers us a seemingly distressing and perilous, yet generative image of pedagogical dependency within unfolding conceptual choreography: 

We take a step. My step leads me forward, but before I can step I must call on you to move almost before my own displacement. It is this almost-before I must communicate. This silent question takes the form of an opening. (p. 14) 

Within moments of dance disequilibrium, vulnerability is revealed, creating conditions for courageous acts of co-labouring (Delgado Vintimilla & Berger, 2019, p. 189-190) to become incipient and for weaving struggles together. As thoughts of fragmentation are spoken, others are called upon to take up these loose stitches by working at weaving what is present, yet unfamiliar. In this grappling, the limits of language are pushed, creating space to think about relational dance possibilities within this dialogue. An attunement to the following questions can nurture our emerging dance in curriculum making as a (de)activating process: In the name of what are we dancing together? What are we seeking to activate within displacement? How will we encounter what lives beyond the initial choreography with gratitude? In other words, how will the unfolding dance implicate the choreography? Taking up these questions creates space for pedagogists and educators to make decisions as to what concepts can continue to be danced with and choreographed into their collective life. Slowly attending to what is influencing these decisions creates openings for ethical and political conversations to contaminate the unfolding process. In this process, we risk overlooking what demands our attention and taking up concepts that have little pedagogical significance. To carry forth these ethical and political conversations, a labouring culture must be nurtured where fixed identities can become dislodged, concepts can continue to become in response to contextual encounters, and status quo grievances can be spoken to set in motion a new imagining of the otherwise that can exist in early childhood education. Within this labouring culture, an attuned gaze makes it possible for me to notice a particular concept’s reemergence within a different packaging of dominant discourses or ways in which lively, pedagogical concepts can become arrested by these narratives of dominance.  Oftentimes, situating conceptual journals alongside others, offers me provocations to put concepts into conversation with each other, which adds layers to their (co)existences. At the same time, concepts might not continue to be nurtured when they become pedagogically stale and are unlikely to incite generative movement. Delgado Vintimilla & Berger (2019) urge us to think beyond this precariously invigorating image of work always in motion and call us to think about the possibility of dancing in the absence of movement: “Laboring demands that we collectively experiment and work at it, as well as let ourselves be disappointed, troubled and even exhausted in the birthing of the multiple possibilities that a common project might bring” (p. 192).  This act of labouring then creates space for movement to be responded to and exhaustion to be taken up in the name of something. 

From the dance of ballet, we are offered the concept of adagio, “a music term used for slow, sustained movements” (APTA, 1998).  This concept creates space to labour within the slow work of living the dance and nurturing space for it to contaminate the curriculum, ethos, and relations, much like the process of thinking with pedagogical documentation. Manning (2009) calls us to think about how this actualizing and curating process might invite less micro-movements in relation to the concept and require nurturance from novel conceptual choreographies. Manning offers that

In the preacceleration of a step, anything is possible. But as the step begins to actualize, there is no longer much potential for divergence: the foot will land where it lands. Incipiency opens up experience to the unknowable, follow-through toward concrescence closes experience on itself. Of course, this closing-in is always a reopening toward the next incipient action. (p. 7)

Within such closings, there are always new beginnings; beginnings that have already begun or beginnings on the cusp of becoming that call us to dance within the messiness of togetherness alongside a particular concept when journaling as a choreographic practice lives within pedagogy in the making. Taking up the imperfections of a fragmented, conceptual dance creates space to weave together new realities and engage with the performative nature of journaling as movement with others that nurtures the beginnings of (un)doings and what could be possible within collective life.


I would like to acknowledge that taking up journaling as a choreographic practice is possible in companionship with others.  It is here that I would like to acknowledge the educators with whom I work and my past and present managers for co-creating a studio with me where we can dance together.  I would also like to acknowledge with sincere gratitude: Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Nicole Land, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Randa Khattar, Erin Manning, Justine Chambers, Carlina Rinaldi and the Pedagogist Network of Ontario for complicating and enriching my image of journaling as a choreographic practice.


On Becoming a Pedagogist: Brief Thoughts on Pedagogical Documentation

In January 2020, we gathered together with a group of pedagogists for three days to intensify our attention towards pedagogical thought and curriculum making, and to enrich the possibilities for the role of the pedagogist. To do this, we created a series of pedagogical and curricular processes that enabled us to collectively and actively think with the concepts and metaphors that shape the pedagogists’ emerging understandings of their role. We also invited a poet, a photographer and a visual artist to intersect their artistic processes with our thinking, as well as share their work, metaphors, and interests. Through these encounters, our interests and intentions were to intensely enact interpretative and trans-formative practices.

During the gathering, we created spaces for provocative and collective thinking and doings, carefully documented these thinking and doings, and curated provisional narratives that propelled further thinking and doings. We submerged ourselves in collective listening through visual note taking, photographing and videotaping the different processes, projecting those images on the walls, writing detailed individual fieldnotes, and sharing and collectively interpreting fieldnotes1. These different trajectories moved us to create the documentation below.

In the documentation and during the gathering, we used the metaphors of stitching, as acts that form and deform pedagogical and creative processes. Pedagogists placed their pedagogical energy in the processes of collectively making and doing, inserting something that is threaded by a living memory within a present. For us, stitching was not only a language to think pedagogy. It was also a way to: thread some of the loose ends that remained from a year of virtual meetings, make a mark in our collective (and challenging) journey, and create new lines to bring texture to our dialogues, and insist on what emerges as significant. In other words, stitching gave way to ‘compose around the specificities of becoming a pedagogist.’ Inspired by textile artist Susan Brandeis (2019), stitch by stitch, mark by mark and line by line, we created contours and temporary outlines to our collective and pedagogical orientations:

Lines that bend or curve with sufficient angle or curvature, or overlap in their pathways, eventually cross and enclose space, forming shapes distinguishable from the surrounding space. Each shape has expressive potential, largely determined by the combination of its external boundary (outline or contour) and its interior markings, shadings, or coloring (fill).

(p. 101)
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Digital documentation design by Tatiana Zakharova and Malvika Agarwal

We approach the practice of pedagogical documentation as the driving force of inquiry and curriculum making. As a practice, documentation is shaped by a generative and ongoing dynamic between the traces of what we have defined as pedagogically significant within a process (Rinaldi, 2005), and the different propositions ideated on the basis of that which we found significant. In other words, as pedagogists engage in pedagogical documentation, they are moved by a set of pedagogical questions, concerns and orientations that help discern and give value to what happened at the same time that they propel into cultivating new forms of knowing, acting and living (through questioning, experimenting, fabulating, enacting, inventing trying out, daring, figuring out, stumbling to name a few). Hence pedagogical documentation is both retrospective and prospective.

The retrospective aspect of documentation, as Italian pedagogista Carla Rinaldi notes, can sometimes be misunderstood as a representation of what happened. However, pedagogical documentation is not simply a final narrative of what was done; it is instead a narration of the different trajectories and processes that are thought through and partially interpreted.

The prospective aspect of documentation engages the practice of projecting via ideation. The intention is to purposefully activate certain ideas/possibilities through material, interpretative and speculative processes of curriculum making. Acts of ideation compose situations that stich something different in the curricular fabric of an early childhood centre. Pedagogists ideate because they are pedagogical projectists (a translation from “progettisti in Italian) who are interested (as being in the midst of things) in curriculum making as that which enables new and alternative relational fields (ones that are less based in managerial logics, less human centric and less individualistic).

Finally, and as a way of insisting, documentation, for us, enables and enriches our abilities to pedagogically envision. This means a practice that proposes inventive processes within an educational setting without fully knowing, without fully seeing, yet, moved by pedagogical prospective(s) that face and engage with a future that we cannot predict, and yet, a future that we can story.


Brandeis, s. (2019). The intentional thread: A guide to drawing, gesture, and color in stitch. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Books.

  1. Sarah Hennessy, Tatiana Zakharova, Malvika Agarwal, Adrianne Bacelar de Castro, Maureen Cullen, Kelly-Ann MacAlpine, and Rocio Gujani co-laboured with us in the enactment of each encounter, in gathering the documentation, and in stitching this pedagogical documentation.