Thinking with Study in Early Childhood

Dr. Walter Kohan is a Professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.

In this conversation, Dr. Walter Kohan speaks with Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Dr. Fikile Nxumalo on the potentialities as well as the challenges of closely attuning to study as a practice and a concept within and beyond its institutional formations. 

Editors’ Note

“No time passed is good enough for my living,” Dionne Brand – a Black poet and essayist who lives in Toronto – contends, in response to Indigenous poet Billy-Ray Belcourt’s question “what if any, is the relationship between nostalgia and poetry?”. Unfolding on an episode of the Between the Covers podcast hosted by David Naimon, Brand continues: “I can only think of the future, the place where we might live, which would refute all that we are living; negate and tear up all that we are living. I am always living in the future…my work is to live in the future”. When we listen to Brand’s words as a pedagogist might, we are struck by the emphasis on ideation as a world-making tactic: to envision a future that refutes the neoliberal, settler colonial pillars of existing early childhood education because the future must be imperceptible; it is a requirement that the future be illegible to the white supremacist, humanist, developmental grammars of the present. A pedagogist, learning with Brand, is uninterested in creating a “better” future where better is simply a synonym for status-quo with a slight social justice flavour. A pedagogist is, instead, interested in discerning how and why different questions and concerns matter differently to specific educational experiences and responsive curriculum-making such that we might generate situated, responsive pedagogies grounded in the ongoing rhythms, politics, ethics, and flows of an early childhood or post-secondary education space.

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Returning to Re:

“The pandemic has left a mark on all of us in disproportionate ways. The prospect of re:opening from the pandemic, with all of its assumptions, complexities, and uncertainties, has caused us to pause and consider what re:opening actually means. We offer the prefix re meaning both “again” and “back” (Oxford University Press, 2021), as a way to consider our relations with/in histories and futures. The : after re intensifies this relationality by “amplifying what has come before it” (histories) and “directing us to the information following it” (futures) (Grammarly, 2021). The preposition re:, meaning “in the matter of,” “concerning” (Oxford University Press, 2021), draws us to the urgency of what matters and what concerns us in the now. Thus, we conceptualize re: as a liminal space/time between pasts and futures, a bumpy space where disaggregated research practices, theoretical frameworks and methodologies meet, resist and transform. Taking the preposition re: as a proposition, we engage Donna Haraway’s provocation to stay with the trouble of what concerns us and of what matters in conversation with Sara Ahmed’s incitement to build and ruin from/with/in this liminal space/time of re:.”

– From the 2022 York Graduate Students in Education Conference call for proposals

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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.


Sweet Sweaty Play

I always go back to the Girl on the Monkey Bars. I sketch scenes from the slow-motion film that runs before my eyes: torso swaying, hands desperately holding on, body weight shifting, muscles flexing, failing, succeeding. Her palms are sweaty. Irritated skin turns pink and then tomato-red. The Girl is in a state of perpetual discomfort of swinging legs and twisted elbows. The doctors (12) warned her: monkey bars are the playground structure heavily associated with injury. Nonetheless, she persists. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

1. Setting off.

This piece is written in solidarity with the Monkey Bars and the Girl holding one another. Each paragraph, each thought is a moment of simultaneously gripping on and slipping off. Each movement in the narrative is a disjointed and clumsy attempt to propel a piece somewhere (perhaps not towards an end, but towards an opening?), in a way that has a critical intention in mind, yet is saturated with multiple pulls, in the way limbs and muscles jerk in search of momentum. The essay is an experiments-in-the-making (for which I beg your forgiveness and invite responses of all kinds, but no hate mail please!) where I mix sketches with short vignettes and sprinkle on theoretical promiscuity.  

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

“Sweaty concepts”, writes Sara Ahmed (2017), come slowly, come out of bodies in discomfort, of pushing against the world in a desire to transform it. This piece of writing is also a partial view into my sweating with the concept of play in early childhood education.  How might we chip away at the universal image of a child at play? How might we warp the notion of “play” from a naturalized shape of public marvel (at playing children) to a distorted struggle that resonates against the public institutions of “good” teaching and parenting? What might become possible in early childhood education if we take up play not as yet another dress rehearsal of already existing social norms, but as propositions of constructing worlds (good, bad, ugly, and different), powers, knowledges? 

I now wish to make space on these pages for Sara Ahmed’s writing in a page-long excerpt from Living a Feminist Life because, firstly, the sustained space this quote takes in this essay echoes her very propositions of continued, strenuous working at something that matters. It is also a question of uncovering the circumstances and others (bodies and minds) that shatter or replenish my/your own experience and thinking. Lastly, I hope that you trace Ahmed’s writing as she does it: along your own skin, bearing all the weight of your situatedness. 

I write this piece as I work, alongside educators and children, in a playground space in a city in Canada’s ‘chemical valley’. It’s a stifling 340C by 9 am. The soft strap of the plastic face shield that I, like the educators, am wearing over the face mask captures the drops of sweat that want to get into my eyes. We collect rocks and sticks. We take off shoes, squeezing clay soil and the fuzz of the picnic blanket between our toes. Dust glues to damp skin. On Monday afternoon, the unescapable heat mixes also with the air horn alarms. It’s the refineries’ weekly emergency system testing in case of a chemical leak. If you saw our bodies strained, sweating, sticking, slowing, would you name us playing?

By trying to describe something that is difficult, that resists being fully comprehended in the present, we generate what I call “sweaty concepts.” I first used this expression when I was trying to describe to students the kind of intellectual labor evident in Audre Lorde’s work. <…> Her words gave me the courage to make my own experience into a resource, my experiences as a brown woman, lesbian, daughter; as a writer, to build theory from description of where I was in the world, to build theory from description of not being accommodated by a world. A lifeline: it can be a fragile rope, worn and tattered from the harshness of weather, but it is enough, just enough, to bear your weight, to pull you out, to help you survive a shattering experience.

A sweaty concept: another way of being pulled out from a shattering experience. By using sweaty concepts for descriptive work, I am trying to say at least two things. First, I was suggesting that too often conceptual work is understood as distinct from describing a situation: and I am thinking here of a situation as something that comes to demand a response. A situation can refer to a combination of circumstances of a given moment but also to a critical, problematic, or striking set of circumstances. <…> Concepts tend to be identified as what scholars somehow come up with, often through contemplation and withdrawal, rather like an apple that hits you on the head, sparking revelation from a position of exteriority. <…> Concepts are at work in how we work, whatever it is that we do. We need to work out, sometimes, what these concepts are (what we are thinking when we are doing, or what doing is thinking) because concepts can be murky as background assumptions. But that working out is precisely not bringing a concept in from the outside (or from above): concepts are in the worlds we are in. By using the idea of sweaty concepts, I am also trying to show how descriptive work is conceptual work. A concept is worldly, but it is also a reorientation to a world, a way of turning things around, a different slant on the same thing. More specifically, a sweaty concept is one that comes out of a description of a body that is not at home in the world. By this I mean description as angle or point of view: a description of how it feels not to be at home in the world, or a description of the world from the point of view of not being at home in it. Sweat is bodily; we might sweat more during more strenuous and muscular activity. A sweaty concept might come out of a bodily experience that is trying. The task is to stay with the difficulty, to keep exploring and exposing this difficulty. We might need not to eliminate the effort or labor from the writing.

Not eliminating the effort or labor becomes an academic aim because we have been taught to tidy our texts, not to reveal the struggle we have in getting somewhere. Sweaty concepts are also generated by the practical experience of coming up against a world, or the practical experience of trying to transform a world. 
<…> We should be asking ourselves the same sorts of questions when we write our texts, when we put things together, as we do in living our lives. How to dismantle the world that is built to accommodate only some bodies? (Ahmed, 2017, pp. 12-14)

1__2. Everyone is naked

In just a few paragraphs, Ursula K. Le Guin (1985) sets the stage for a feminist uprising:

They used to be called 
yaks, rats, poodles, sea otters, 
and other names which are now lost. 
She is a woman formerly known as Eve. 
Like them, she takes on namelessness 
in a refusal of certainty of knowing and being known. 
She and they crawl and swim 
and lay closely to one another. 
They and she touch, 
eat and become eaten, 
they taste blood and affect, in which fear and love 
are no longer distinguishable from one another. 

Play, we are often told, is difficult to define but is easy to recognize. This magic trick fools you only if you buy into the homogeneous images of shiny happy children playing. As if they were speaking about play, fellow admirers of Le Guin’s short story “She Unnames Them” (which inspired the above passage), Gough and Adsit-Morris write (2020, p. 218): “Naming is not just a matter of labeling existing distinctions. Assigning a name constructs the illusion that what is named is genuinely distinguishable from all else”. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

2. (Un)naming

What does (un)naming ask of us? Not to fall silent, refusing words that make up our sometimes-shared vocabulary. Not to reprise the move of a vengeful god who takes away the common language to stop mere humans from reaching heaven. Not to look up alternatives in a thesaurus (although tracing word origins, definitions and synonyms is infinitely fascinating). In thinking of language and power as inexplicably linked, we ought to consider naming + un-naming + not-naming as a feminist practice of thinking critically how, and at whom, violence is directed through words (Ahmed, 2017); to fiercely question constructions that purport to explain away but themselves ought to be explained (Pignarre & Stengers, 2011, p.13):

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

What might need (un)naming in early childhood education? What is “free play” free of? What are “loose parts” loose from?[1] What does “risky play” actually risk? Who is excluded from the mantra of “the right to play” (Article 31, UN Convention on the Rights of a Child) that adorns nearly every article and document concerned with play in the Global North? How might we move beyond sweeping generalizations that couple play and children’s so-called nature (as in “natural response”[2], or “natural curiosity and exuberance”[3])? How do we un-mechanize the X-marks-the-spot on the playground where an educator takes her supervisory stand?  

2_3. They are here. 

The opening vignette of Valerie Walkerdine’s Schoolgirl Fictions (1990) acts out for the reader moments of play in a nursery school that tightly weave gender and power discourses with Lego bricks. This play is volatile, spilling from the boundaries of classroom appropriateness into sexualized violence:

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

What I wish to gesture towards with the introduction of this very small piece of Walkerdine’s writing is the need for more complex thinking (and, consequently, more complex language, conversations, practices, documentations, ideas, etc, etc) about play in ECE settings.  Neither the binary categories of safe/risky, free/guided, nature/playground, outdoor/indoor, toys/loose parts, etc nor the non-critical adjectives like fun, voluntary, adventurous, constructive, etc are capable of grasping the complexity (and the darkness) of play, thus impoverishing its pedagogical and world-making possibilities. 

Moreover, failing to critically consider the taken-for-granted language of play may leave our educational practice impotent. Consider, for instance, the closed circuit of the “romanticized amnesia” (Malone, 2015, p. 6) of risky and nature play movement (see the works of Mariana Brussoni and Richard Louv). Here, we are told, the playing child’s development and well-being are under threat by lack of access to nature, parental fears (aha, the mothers are to blame!) or societal emphasis on safety standards that “smother” adventure (Vollmar & Lindner, 2018). While safety standards may dictate certain conditions for work and play, they are neither pedagogically instructive nor indestructible.  The work done by, for example, members of the Common Worlds Research Collective shows what play(ing) is possible when we refuse to be swallowed by bloated regulatory jurisdictions (whether safety or developmental), and instead work to agitate bonds that wish to capture the playing human.

Not only do I suggest that safety standards cannot constraint the pedagogical potentials of the work of educators and children in outdoor and playground settings, but that the destitute landscapes surrounding many childcare sites across Canada can be, must be, sites to think education politically. Plastic play structures, tarmac steaming in the summer heat, dirt and wood chips, chain-link fences, weeping mulberries and cedar hedges, shade sails, trike loops, and sand boxes are the very conditions that make us ask how did we come to think of a trike as a staple of early-year centers’ playgrounds? What do we enact when we insist that sand must stay in the sandbox? How might we care for the dandelions that spoil our lawns? What stories might we tell when we see the chain-link fence as keeping in, andkeeping out, and letting through, and springing back, and framing, and breaking, and, and, and…

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

3. Play and learn 

I favor the boldness of Erica Burman (2017) declaring: “there is nothing natural about play” (p. 254). By attending to how play is constructed in ways that reflect class privileges, neoliberal values, culture, Western rights-based world views, and regulation (of mothers and teachers, in particular), we, too can follow Burman in tracing how neither play itself, nor our management of it are benign or free. 

If we take pedagogical processes as subject-forming, then play-based learning[4] is, too, an ethical practice open to “ontological violence” (Todd, 2001, p. 435). This means that not only educators organizing “free play” (when distinguished from “guided play”, as in Danniels & Pyle, 2018, referenced in the CECE document above) is an oxymoron, but any suggestion that this play is indeed “child-directed, voluntary, internally motivated, and pleasurable” (p. 1) ignores entirely the political instruments that wish it into existence and the ethical questions such practice ought to raise. Thus, play-based learning techniques both delineate and produce the very activity they claim innate to children. They also are offered as a solution to a problem (learning improved through play) before asking a critical question: what and whom is it for? 

3_4. In business 

Within developmental discourses, play is paradoxically narrated as both children’s natural inclination and as their work. Declarations like “unstructured play is the business of childhood” (Canadian Public Health Association) echo the Progressive reformers’ ambition to “fix” juvenile delinquents by teaching them how to play (the right way) on newly-organized playgrounds (Hines, 2017; McArhur, 1975) and trope of the era commemorated in Maria Montessori’s utterance: “play is the work of the child” (in Mobily, 2018, p. 152).

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

4. Letting go

Reflecting critically on the offering of ‘risky play’ (normally defined as thrilling outdoor play with a possible occurrence of physical injury; see Sandseter & Kennair, 2011) easily reveals the end-product: resilience building, itself the nation state’s favourite trait in a neoliberal citizen committed to self-care. Within a broader context, the regime of resilience obscures suffering and marketizes endurance of Black and Indigenous people, women and children, and marginalized others (see Casco-Solís, 2019; Clay, 2019; Burman, 2017; Lindroth & Sinevaara-Niskanen, 2017). Within the discourses of play, we might ask to what (un)known dangers or crisis does risky play plan to govern children towards? How might play (particularly in outdoor settings, where much of the ‘risky play’ conversations are situated) be considered as more than means of developing harder (resilient), better, faster, stronger children? 

Sweaty play as a pedagogical project asks us to undo play as the last defense line in the project of an innocent child and that of a developing child. Accepted narrations of play as “free” or materials as simply constituting loose bits and bobs that are used “dependent on the children’s interests and imagination” (Dietze & Kashin, 2019, p. 83) blossom from the same child-centeredness that houses developmentalism and anthropocentrism (Land, et al., 2020). They ask us to either marvel at the beautiful play, or to subvert it, narrowly defined, in supporting determinacy of existing regimes and neoliberal futures. In defiance, we might think of play as experiences which conjure up something “that makes us new, that makes us into something that is neither one nor two, that brings us into the open where purpose and functions are given a rest” (Haraway, p. 2008, p. 237). So conceived, play requires a recognition of interdependence beyond a child, of releasing the tight grip and letting the body feel the pull of the next bar, putting the Girl’s world on the line. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021


[1] In asking this question, I repeat Cristina Delgado Vintimilla who blew up my world by uttering it in February 2020 at Responding to Ecological Challenges with/in Contemporary Childhoods: An Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Climate Pedagogies
[2]  Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, 2012. Online:
[3]  How Does Leaning Happen?, 2014. Online:
[4] As, for example, College of Early Childhood Educators (2018) encourages RECEs to do. Online:


Recollecting Practices of Attending and Creating Exposures: Conversations, Estrangements, Movements, Affected Intentions, and Risks

Exposures were introduced to us within the pedagogical project of becoming pedagogists through The Pedagogist Network of Ontario (PNO; formerly the Centre of Excellence for Early Years and Child Care) and the British Columbia Early Childhood Pedagogy Network (ECPN). Within these projects, although exposures might have seemed new to us, they were not a practice without a vibrant biography. Exposures emerged through the history of Cristina Delgado Vintimilla’s work as the pedagogista of the Centre for Excellence, and exposures were created as a concept in an earlier course taught by Cristina, the Role of the Pedagogista, at Capilano University[1]. We were invited by Nicole Land, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Randa Khattar, Fikile Nxumalo, and Kathleen Kummen to write an essay to re-enliven our experiences of past exposures. We were asked to think about exposures creatively and pedagogically by drawing on the connections that we noticed between the exposures that we participated in. 

As a group of past regional coordinators and research assistants who participated in projects that enact the role of a pedagogist in the colonial nation state of Canada, we situate ourselves in work that puts dominant practices in education into tension. We have seen how taken-for-granted practices seek to simplify, and to make educational processes less complex and more oriented toward implementation. As participants in these projects, we worked to amplify complexities towards envisioning contextual pedagogical processes that respond to our specific places and times. Specifically, as regional coordinators we worked alongside pedagogists to craft pedagogical projects that were grounded in their own and our shared pedagogical intentions, and that traced the histories and presents of particular organizations and places. When we began our roles as regional coordinators, many of us encountered the practice of exposures for the first time; we now sense our way backwards and forward through these memories of beginning to practice exposures.

When we use the term exposure, we attend to the living history of this practice as instantiated through Cristina’s thinking and pedagogical experimentation. In this essay we meet exposures and explore some of the ways we try to think with their practice. We think this practice through vignettes and imperfect remembering. We are attending here to the invitation of the practice of exposures as described by Cristina on the PNO website:

“Estrangement, refiguring, altering, being called by a sensing that can’t yet be made sense of are the generative instantiations that exposures offer to pedagogists, and that in turn pedagogists offer to their milieu.”

For this essay, we have come together again as current pedagogists and past regional coordinators to write about some of the exposures we attended and that we have (now) organized through a mixture of prospective and retrospective narratives. This collective retracing and recollecting of our experiences with exposures lead us to write this essay in a series of vignettes. For us, these vignettes are not narratives that add context to a point that we are trying to make. They are instead how we actively remember and how we move through these memories to make meaning of how we have come to know exposures. The way these vignettes read might at first seem strange. In a different way, we were surprised that this was the first time that we had collectively paused to revisit the exposures. In this essay, we try to move through some exposures in particular ways. One of these ways is through language. Each vignette has a form of beginning and we think that in reading, you will also meet us at a beginning where we were still holding onto an instrumental language that could not yet speak to the complexities of exposures. We first tried to evoke some of the naive movements of entering different vocabularies and experiences. Each vignette, then, in some ways sits with the discomfort and uncertainty of becoming as we move through those beginnings towards the questions and propositions that we now want to think with. We begin with the awkwardness of not knowing and trying to meet a  pedagogical experience even when we might have entered through more naive starting points such as preparation, necessity, frustration, anxiety, and busyness.

In relation to the time that has passed since the exposures took place, our recollections of these exposures convey the exchanges, moments, and encounters of these events in imperfect fragments. Thus, early in our discussions we moved away from revisiting exposures as documentation[2], as an archive, as an exposition of what we might have learned, or as an argument or set of intentions for engaging with exposures.Therefore we recognize the importance to delineate that we are not offering a definition of what an exposure is or what it should be (and we have come to understand that no discussion of exposures could follow from a logic of what exposures should be). In other words, we stay with both the messiness and discomfort of exposures themselves, and with what might emerge when we remember these exposures collectively. How we take up the series of events shared below is therefore more akin to how philosopher of ethical and political action, Alexis Shotwell (2016), proposes we think memory:

“we should think of memory as the relational and situated process through which we collectively determine the significance of the past for the present as a form of forward-looking responsibility”.  (p.48)

The vignettes that we think with throughout this essay revisit our exposures through memory, but also do something more. Instead of propelling the facts or experiential accounts of any exposure into the present, each vignette ends with propositions that re-work these memories as proposals for the present. Through these propositions we think about the conversations, estrangement, movements, affected intentions, and risks of being exposed. We hope to put these vignettes forward as a way of thinking towards how propositions make networks and how we engage exposures in the contexts of the PNO and the ECPN as projects for forward-looking responsibility that propose other pedagogical and curricular processes – and therefore other possible futures. 

In our experiences, exposures are events that complexify and broaden our imaginaries for thinking education, and necessitate that we craft different ways of enacting these imaginaries in our work with educators.  For us, the destabilization of familiar educational landscapes as the root of pedagogical experience creates the tethers of a network; not in homogeneity or comfort but through webs of questions that ask how we come together as pedagogists. Because an exposure can be an encounter with estrangement or unifying in how it alters, we wonder how, in our coming together and our divergences, we enact answerability toward our pedagogical and social imaginaries.

In this essay we wonder: What is it to be exposed?

How do we Attend to What an Exposure Proposes?

The Pedagogist Network of Ontario (formerly the Centre of Excellence for Early Years and Child Care) and the British Columbia Early Childhood Pedagogy Network have crafted various kinds of exposures over the past four years. Some have been local invitations extending the regional conversations and projects of a group of pedagogists already in close conversations. Other exposures have been large events for all pedagogists to come together across (what are often separate) networks. Since the beginning of the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic, many  events organized by other institutions and in other disciplines have been shared with us from our networks as invitations that might be of interest to pedagogists. When these invitations from the directors of the PNO and ECPN arrive in our inboxes, for us, they invite us to step outside early childhood education and remind us that pedagogy cannot be fostered and inspirited as an isolated discipline. 

Although some events trace outwards from the conversations and projects that the pedagogist networks have already proposed, when an email invitation for one of these ‘might be of interest’ exposures arrives we find it can sometimes be hard to immediately recognize precisely how it fits within a commitment to pedagogical work. This vignette begins with this moment because we think unrecognizability conveys some of what an exposure does and can be. Unrecognizability, we feel, traces the implications of exposures for pedagogists and students of pedagogy, through the experimentation of exposures, which Cristina has come to describe as “incorporating an idea into the present without repeating the present”.  Starting from a place of non-recognition  allows us to begin not from what we know or might expect, but rather from the uncertain. Other events that are shared by the PNO and ECPN trace outwards from the conversations and projects that the networks have already exposed. Here we might meet familiar concepts in strange ways or we might put the questions we hold dear at risk in the face of unfamiliar explorations of what our questions and concepts might do. 

As we began to revisit the series of exposures we participated in for this essay, Meagan and Lucy decided to think together about how we receive these invitations, what they ask us of us, and how they get taken up in daily life. We came to wonder, in the move from being exposed to the uncertainty of exposures, how, without careful attending to, exposures perhaps too quickly become another part of the narrative of busyness that often permeates educational contexts. Rather than first recognizing an opening of not knowing, it is sometimes the demand and too-muchness of pedagogical work and all that it is connected to that dictates how we respond to an invitation to be exposed.   

In coming together again as regional coordinators, through our conversations about engaging with exposures, we explored our responsibility to ‘show up’, to engage with and be vulnerable to those we are listening to and watching speak. As pedagogists, we must do more than take quotes and ideas and find places where they fit into our work, and instead ask ourselves, what can I do with this, how can I think this concept in ways that invigorate my pedagogical work? We (Meagan and Lucy) both recalled events that we could not find time or energy to attend. We recounted being overwhelmed with the amount of online content that had flooded our inboxes since the summer of 2020, when the academic world started experimenting widely with how to continue on when the majority of us were confined to our homes. In these times, we both remembered instances we had tried to make time for the compelling events shared by the PNO and the ECPN  as “might be of interest” exposures. I (Lucy) recalled unexpectedly finding time to attend an exposure at the last minute, by listening on the go with headsets, being struck both by the talk and the feeling of too-muchness that did not go away. I (Meagan) remembered deciding to go to one exposure invitation, but with earphones in while attending to piles of dishes and laundry. I was quickly reminded that this is not the disposition of a pedagogist when engaging with ideas. Within minutes, I abandoned the housework and began to actually listen to what was being offered.

As I (Lucy) have been thinking back to the various invitations to events that the PNO and ECPN have shared as part of the practice of exposures, and as I have been talking about these more with Meagan, I have been struck by Meagan’s proposal of what it means to think with a concept. In the above little vignettes on the thorny questions of pedagogical invitations entangled in multitasking and too-muchness, from similar starting points, we both engaged with exposures differently and our experiences in some ways put at odds what it means to attend to the proposal of each invitation and the unanticipated proposals of each event. This discord of experience, I want to suggest, offers an idiosyncratic proposal made from our two different ways of engaging with this event that is not instructive of how we attend or do not attend to pedagogical work. Rather it suggests the lived and messy ways that, as Meagan writes, we meet concepts and, as I would add, we come into contact with the proposal of a body of work or mode of thinking that is not recognizable in the terms of our own projects. What both of these remembrances of exposures and their invitations don’t quite reveal is how and why we have been affected by exposures, and why we might see the need to return to think with the nature of community, living together, and responding to proposals of other disciplines, projects, and places through the moment of an event, after the event has long passed.  

To answer this, we turn to a particular exposure through a shift in narrative. In other words, our interest is not to now look at a moment when we engaged with an exposure with proper and full attention and the ways we were affected. Instead we want to turn to a larger question introduced to us through the poetic, historical, literary, political, and pedagogical project of Dionne Brand where the public nature of the exposure brings us into the unavoidable intimacy of the work of thinking a concept.  

In December 2020, the PNO forwarded an invitation to the 2020 RWB Jackson Lecture: Dionne Brand with Rinaldo Walcott. We (Meagan and Lucy) remember this talk for the ways it spoke in a new register to the questions of what is attended to in public spaces and enactments, and how it addressed this work through problems of public memory. As we revisit this event together, our intention is not only to speak to ways of attending as ways of being affected because we think this skips over much of what Brand proposed we consider on that day. We also think it suggests the trouble of revisiting events only in terms of what they exposed us to personally. To work towards creating fissures in the dominant ways of doing education, as pedagogists and students of pedagogy, requires that we trouble some of the subjectivities that are created and (recreated) such as individualism and utility. Although often thought in terms of what is captured, known, or defined about a subject or their place in official narratives (history and state building), memory can be a work that destabilizes those dominant practices, as the quote from Alexis Shotwell in the introduction suggests and as we found and find in our conversations, as we took up memory as a social practice. For this reason we want to instead share a little more about where this conversation has taken us. We want to tell you a little about the proposals that emerged for us and a little more about the talk—about how Brand invited us to interrogate positions of innocence and what is protected through modes of forgetting. Putting these moments into conversation does not expose the ways we are affected by an event; yet, does it evoke some of the ways we continue to live with this work? On that day, in the conversation after her poem essay written in the voice of a black aesthetic, Brand (December 2020, emphasis original) as she does in this quote, spoke about the pandemic and the way she “never used [the word normal] with any confidence in the first place” (July 2020, para. 2). In this way, Brand links the problem of a protected and false status quo and the “fiction of innocence” to the delayed arrival of an urgent future (December 2020). She writes: 

We are, in fact, still in that awful normal that is narrativized as minor injustices, or social ills that would get better if some of us waited, if we had the patience to bear it, if we had noticed and were grateful for the miniscule “progress” etc … Well, yes, this normal, this usual, this ease was predicated on dis-ease. The dis-ease was always presented as something to be solved in the future, but for certain exigences of budget, but for planning, but for the faults of “those” people, their lack of responsibility, but for all that, there were plans to remedy it, in some future time. We were to hold onto that hope and the suspension of disbelief it required to maintain “normal.” (July 2020, para. 2)

Threaded together with other ideas from that day that we are still digesting, (in conversation, thinking, and praxis), is our wish to attend to what too-muchness generates. How do exposures ask that we engage beyond what we are ready for? How do we meet the words and thoughts of others through lived-study? How do we search out conversations that return us in good company to what we only glimpsed in our first encounter? Moreover, what is our responsibility as attendees and listeners and pedagogists to do the searching that keeps these conversations alive in our work?

What are the Dispositions/Subjectivities for a Pedagogist to Engage in an Exposure?

In the Toronto region, I (Alicja) was thinking with a group of becoming pedagogists, and regional coordinators who were involved in a pedagogical project that has been carried into the current Pedagogist Network of Ontario. In this group, we wanted to offer a radical event that would shock us and carve out the beginnings of an unfamiliar direction for thinking about early childhood education. In our bi-weekly discussions together, we wanted to seek interdisciplinary alliances and alternatives that could move our conversations forward in ways that might disrupt the status quo. We were guided by the following commitment (at this time in a piece of writing termed manifesto):

“we understand the role of the pedagogist as emerging from a particular tradition and yet it takes shape in relation to the contexts, questions, and contingencies in which each pedagogist works. The role of the pedagogist always responds to something but it is not determined by it. The pedagogist works in collective and collaborative ways because they live pedagogy as a common project. This is why we understand the work as avowing to a collective and ethical invention. The pedagogists’ modes of thinking are interdisciplinary. Non-compliance with what is already established and prescribed is the pedagogist’s modus vivendi” (Ontario Centre of Excellence for the Early Years and Childcare, 2019)

I volunteered to help with finding an exposure in the Toronto community for pedagogists. I proposed to go to MOCA (The Museum of Contemporary Art), a gallery whose existence and commitments propose a literal shaking up of Parkdale, an area in the midst of heavy gentrification. We were very intentional about becoming sensitized and responsive to the contextual place we were visiting. To orient ourselves before our visit, we (regional coordinators and pedagogists) read Ways of Following by Katve Kaisa Konturri (2018) who invited us to engage in attuning processes that follow art works beyond meaning-making, utility, or certainty. Going to MOCA, without a particular concept or closed purpose in mind – and rather with a collective commitment to move away from prescriptive practices in early childhood education (as mentioned in the manifesto), was a proposition for us to experiment with what it might look like to let go of utility, and to instead be open to the possibilities we might encounter. Because of this openness in our preparation, we focused on weaving our previous discussions about extraction and utility in early childhood education into conversation with the unknown that the exposure would present. In thinking with Konturri, we crafted the following proposition that was included in our written invitation: We are curious how we might ‘do’ ECE as an intellectually vibrant space by carefully thinking with exposures that are not only interdisciplinary in their content, but that do interdisciplinarity through their modes of expression, the ways we become implicated with their offerings, and the questions they require we cultivate together. It was important in this case, to include a link to the gallery that explored the histories of the building where it resided. We prepared to come to the gallery keeping in mind that this was space for transformation – one that previously served as an industrial factory, a radical art making space, and now a gallery that stayed with the trouble of being implicated in the region’s gentrification. 

On the day of the MOCA exposure, we (a group of coordinators, pedagogists and ECE’s) met together in front of the menu list on the first floor of the gallery where the exhibits were described and had to make choices about which exhibit to see. Along with being a regional coordinator, Lisa-Marie was also working as a pedagogist with a group of educators that thought with the cutting of trees at their childcare centre). With the desire to maintain collaborative dialogues that might trouble our specific contexts, we chose to visit the exhibit The Life of a Dead Tree by Mark Dion. Despite our intentions to think about our encounters with the gallery as ones that might estrange us from our comfortable pedagogical dispositions, we were not completely prepared for the way we were unsettled by the exhibit.  In order to let go of utility, we were confronted with it – and this gave us an insight into our participation in utility. Dion’s work simulated a tree lab, where hammers and pegs were used to pull out ‘invasive species’ that were later pinned in a live laboratory inside of an art gallery that Mark Dion called “The Bureau of Entomology”. We were uncomfortable as we witnessed a sterile account of ‘invasion’. While we prepared to let go of utility and to expose ourselves to openness, we witnessed a depiction of violently displayed extraction. This extraction shaped the conversation that we had as we sat together and reviewed our notes. In our conversation, we were struck by the questions that resulted from our engagement with the exhibit: Who are the invaders, and how are they extracted? This question stayed with me for quite some time, and the dead tree, its invaders and extractors, leaked into my Masters research project. Currently, I am looking back and thinking with the initial descriptions of MOCA’s relationship with gentrification, and how this question about invasion and extraction was so relevant to the space we were in.  

In coming together now, to reflect on exposures and what it might mean to prepare for an exposure, we realize that we never come to exposures with a blank slate. Our intentions and orientations configure our dispositions in relation to what we encounter in the exposures, and in the case of The Life of the Dead Tree exhibit, our initial intentions ignited the uncomfortable. How do we come to an exposure with intention while maintaining and fostering a sensitization and openness to what might emerge? What/how might we need to prepare for this kind of sensitization?  Thinking back to work as a pedagogist during that time, what would openness mean as a pedagogist with pedagogical intentions? 

What does an Exposure set in Motion?  

Picking up on Alicja’s discussion of the The Life of a Dead Tree exhibit, I (Lisa) revisited how I attended to the event both in the moment and now two years later. I recently went back to the photos on my phone to look for pictures and was surprised that I had only four. One photo was of the tree, the main attraction of the exhibit, and three were of text that described various concepts that Mark Dion was working with. My focus on the text of the exhibit did not reflect how I remembered engaging with it. The choices I made in documenting the event revealed what I now consider a wanting to be able to know and explain the exhibit in the words of the artist.  Coming together now, in 2021, as a group to think about these exposures I want to attend to that momentariness of the exposure in a different way. I notice how my focus on text is a form of enacting utility and extraction instead of prioritizing openness and being in relation, being vulnerable to the exposure. As I make the choice to re-attend to the moment by revisiting my photographs, I am oriented as a pedagogist in how I not only come to exposures but how I attend to them after once I have left the moment of the event and after some time has passed. For me this draws my attention to the temporality of exposures, how might we simultaneously embrace momentariness while being open to the concepts lingering in our pedagogical work.  

To be able to attend to a moment of an exposure, we must first attend the exposure, show up, and step into aspace of uncertainty and possibility. An exposure offers us a momentum and a temporality outside of the regular beat of early childhood education spaces. In the moment of an exposure there is a desire to still the momentum and capture the temporality of it by taking pictures and notes. I wonder what these methods of attending to an exposure make possible and what they make impossible for a pedagogist.

This MOCA event was my first experience of attending an exposure with the pedagogists. I was aware of my anxieties about a new experience. I had presumptions of what it meant to go to an art gallery, and how to be at an art gallery, and alongside my intentions and preparations for the exposure, I knew that experience was asking something more of me, but I wasn’t quite sure what.  Perhaps the uncertainty of what it was to engage with an exposure made the momentariness of it feel precarious, like stepping into the midst of something already in motion. When I think about this movement into an exposure, I want to notice the stories and histories that are already there, both in myself, the others I am with, the exhibit itself and the place we are located. This reminds me of Tim Ingold’s (2011) proposal that the storied world is

“ a world of movement and becoming, in which anything– caught at a particular place and moment – enfolds within its constitution the history of relations that have brought it there. In such a world, we can understand the nature of things only by attending to their relations, or in other words, by telling their stories.” (p.199)

An exposure invites us into stories already in motion, already put into motion in various ways by various actors, by the artist and the art, by the reading from Konturri that orients us to the exposure and by the hopeful intentions that the exposure will do something without necessarily knowing what exactly that something is yet. 

For me, reworking the memory of the exposure provides me a space to think deeply about how the stories present both on the day we attended and now, as remembering has muddied the concreteness of the event.  In the newness of this experience, I leaned on ways of engaging that upheld familiar modes of utility and extraction that inhibited me from considering the other ways I might focus instead on how my stories and the stories of the exposure intertwine and diverge. As a pedagogist, I am attuned to the pedagogical questions that are set in motion through a re-attending of an exposure.  How does tracing the movements and histories that bring us to an exposure disrupt utilitarian and extractative relations? How do our stories and our engagement with an exposure become part of its momentum? How do we ethically sustain this momentum by considering the stories we choose to tell, the stories we leave out and our implication in these choices? 

What if we Imagine Exposures as a Refusal of Passivity, and as an Active Composing of a Different Kind of Pedagogical Thought?
Exposures are more than passive events; they require not only an openness to something new and possibly unfamiliar, but also a vigorous doing with the ideas we encounter in being exposed. Because exposures are not professional development, where we might approach an event in search of knowledge that aligns with the already known rules of our profession, we must enter into exposures with a willingness to be affected and to engage with that affect to invigorate our pedagogical work. The ways we attend to exposures is an activation of our pedagogical commitments and intentions. Cristina Delgado Vintimilla reminds us on the PNO website that

“An exposure creates a space for “being with”—being exposed to— ideas or situations that have the potential to create alterations and “redistribute the sensible” (Ranciere), as well as its ways of participating in common/shared living.  Estrangement, refiguring, altering, being called by a sensing that can’t yet be made sense of are the generative instantiations that exposures offer to pedagogists, and that in turn pedagogists offer to their milieu”

In the London Region, we (Cory and Meagan) hoped to engage with local histories as a way of composing our pedagogical thinking and doing as always situated within the specificities and the histories of the places we live and work. We originally invited pedagogists to join us on a self-guided walking tour of London, ON which was curated by Hear Here London in July of 2019. Unfortunately, extreme heat advisories, risks of thunderstorms and possible tornadoes dictated that we postpone our exposure until September.

As we prepared for the walking tour, we knew that we would likely encounter narrations of the city of London that reinscribe the colonial histories of the homes and streets and old buildings we walked with. We wanted to think how we could expose and be exposed to particular narratives, but also pay careful attention to the ways in which decisions about which stories to make present and which to make absent is a non-innocent project in the country currently known as Canada. Often, our role as regional coordinators involved collaborative reading with the London pedagogists. In advance of the walking tour we offered a chapter by Fikile Nxumalo (2019) Presencing: Decolonial Attunements to Children’s Place Relations. Reading together was a practice of collective re-orienting around how and to what we pay attention to in our encounters with place. As highlighted in vignettes above, exposures are not static events, they have trajectories – befores and durings and afters – that resonate as exposures are prepared for, encountered, and taken up. We return to this point not to offer or insist on specific ways of doing exposures, but to continue to insist that these are not just ‘anything goes’ events, but ways of gathering that are specific to thinking as a pedagogist.

In our walk, we wanted to activate embodied disruption of the commonly celebrated capitalist and colonial stories in London, Ontario. We follow Nxumalo (2019) in wondering “what does it mean to tell and listen to these stories amid ongoing Indigenous dispossession and rampant capitalist colonial extraction?” (p. 162). During our walk, we asked pedagogists to think alongside us about whose and which stories were present and whose and which stories were absent. As regional coordinators, inviting the concept of present and absent stories into conversation with a curated walking tour meant refusing a passive engagement with that in which we encounter. In particular, we prioritized creating conditions within this exposure to re-compose our collective pedagogical orientations to notice and trouble the taken for granted stories that thrive in settler colonial places. In this sense, our exposure engaged with more than just the material act of walking with and listening to the curated stories of the city. It would have been easier to say this tour does not do exactly what we want it to do, so let’s find something else. Instead we said this tour might give us opportunities to activate some of the reading and discussions that we have been having regionally and centre wide. To stay with the complexities of rethinking colonial stories required resisting pre-scripted narratives – narratives of complacency embedded in quotidian encounters with the places and spaces we live – but also the curated narratives in experiences such as the walking tour. How might exposures activate a refusal of passivity, and what dispositions are required to compose and recompose pedagogical commitments in dialogue with the conditions of the 21st century? 

What is the Risk of Exposure?

In the Toronto Region, we offered an exposure in which we visited Jennifer Rose Sciarrino’s exhibit From Root to Lip, which showcased “a series of sculptures referencing biotic matter—seeds, spores, cells, pollen, bacteria and yeast” (Sciarrino: From Root to Lip, 2019). Prior to our encounter with Sciarrino’s art, we read Donna Haraway’s (2015) Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, which Sciarrino thinks with in the catalogue of her exhibit. Specifically, Sciarrino’s art laboured with Haraway’s notion of making kin by paying attention to less-than-seen biotic matter.

The invitation to participate in this specific exposure was declined by the pedagogists and only Toronto regional coordinators (Lucy, Lisa, Alicja and I, Lisa-Marie) attended. Our visit to the exhibit was brief and quiet. Each of us carefully stepped through the exhibit and spent time with each sculpture. Toward the end of our visit, we realized that the artist, Jennifer Sciarrino, had been in the room with us and we tried to eavesdrop on her conversation with another attendee. Unable to overhear or enter the conversation, we decided it was time to go. We walked down the street to a neighbourhood cafe to discuss the exhibit in relation to the reading and our ongoing pedagogical discussions in the Toronto region group. As we gathered together at the table in the cafe, we wondered why pedagogists did not attend this exposure: Did the suggested reading deter pedagogists from attending? Had pedagogists had enough of art exhibits? Was the interdisciplinary work of this exposure too foreign for pedagogists to imagine how it might extend the boundaries of their thinking in early childhood education? Or, had everyone’s minds veered away from pedagogical thinking and eased into summer vacation? 

Remembering this exposure as we write this collective essay, I (Lisa -Marie) notice how the loneliness of an exposure with no response is always a risk. When our offerings are not always reciprocated by a response we are left with questions about presence and intention. While we know our collective pedagogical work is buoyed by the commitment to pick up the frayed threads of dialogical tangents and weave them through multiple conversations, there is always a risk that the animate exchanges that pedagogy requires is rejected by those we offer it to. What is it to be a network when those who compose the network decline to gather around particular propositions?
The From Root to Lip exhibit made visible the generative co-becoming of less-than-visible lifeforms and the multitude of risks of being exposed. The risks of exposure – contamination, disorientation, failure, sensitization, frustration – are unavoidable and profoundly necessary. It is through exposure that making kin is possible; making kin, being vulnerable to the contamination of the less-than-visible itself involves risk. As Haraway (2015) notes “kin is an assembling sort of word” (p. 162), and in making kin with the less-than-visible, we have no guarantees of what these assemblages might be. More precisely, the risks of making kin and exposing oneself to co-becoming is that (pedagogists’) subjectivities are unknowably fostered, made and unmade in exposures, with no guarantees for predetermined outcomes. These precarious pedagogical relationships, like the life of the less-than-visible, are contingent on caring relations, on picking up the frayed threads left open. If we consider our pedagogical relations and connections within the network as a way of becoming kin, we know we must struggle to maintain these relations because as Sciarrino’s exhibit highlights and makes visible: “Making kin is perhaps the hardest and most urgent part” (Haraway, 2015, p.165). The risks of exposure and pedagogical inquiry mimic the biotic matter that Sciarrino (2019) describes as

“growing and moving, perhaps very slowly, and we are just catching them in a single instance of an otherwise longer transformation. I see these sculptures as curious metaphors, ready to animate exchanges with each other, including those visiting. Kinship outside of genealogy would require the conditions that sustain the individual to also be hospitable to the group as a whole” (para. 17).

So, perhaps the risk of exposure is less about loneliness and more about the uncertainty of being exposed to and exposing less-than-visible worlds. How do we attend to risky exposures – and what do we hope our exposures risk? How are our worlds always already populated by relationships that are woven together but also put at risk by collective vulnerability?

Recollecting Exposures, Together, Again

Our intention in this collection of vignettes is to revisit our memories of particular exposures in unfamiliar ways. This way of tracing, we offer, corresponds to the modes of experimenting we try to attend to with exposures. When we began going back to the exposures discussed in this essay and the fragments of documentation we had kept, we did not quite know how to describe the complexity of our various engagements and recollections of these exposures. However, we knew that a recognizable historical account of these events might pursue something quite different than the complexities of attending to memory as relational and situated processes (Shotwell, 2016). When we started writing this essay we did not fully realize the scope of the exposures within the The Pedagogist Network of Ontario and the British Columbia Early Childhood Pedagogy Network. As we recollected these exposures in the writing and conversations of this essay, we realized the significance of the questions we were grappling with in both our regional and large group exposures. We noticed the ways we relate to pedagogical work were altered through our engagement with the exposures. It is partly this realization that has led us to experiment in this essay with tracing how we carry the happenings of these exposures with us in our work and thinking now. The concepts explored in the vignettes above – conversations, estrangements, movements, affected intentions, and risks – were put in motion through our fragmented memories of the exposures, which revealed for us the ways that concepts and proposals made from memory do something new with the present. For us exposures have created proposals to think with others as a way of forward-looking responsibility that enable us to think beyond the boundaries of the familiar worlds of our classrooms, collegial networks, and the bannisters that support our everyday practices in education. In recollecting exposures, together again and again, we wonder how the practice of fragmented memory work continues to move our pedagogical work. As we come to what might be an ending in this essay – we offer in this conclusion as a form of beginning again – we want to return to our questions from the beginning of this essay: namely, what is it to be exposed? This is not a question that leads to any kind of conclusion, but in our vignettes instead we think about the dispositions we embodied to be exposed. How do we remain in the discomfort of conversations, estrangements, movements, affected intentions, and risks? What does this discomfort make possible towards pedagogical work? 


[1] We are grateful for Cristina for making herself available to us so we could learn more about the historical background of exposures as we were writing this essay
[2] We agree that documentation also does something more than revisit through memory. However, we do not see this essay as a work of documentation because for us documentation works towards a particular pedagogical project. Here, we are interested in how these exposures are part of this pedagogical work, but we don’t think we take up the exposures here in a way that furthers the pedagogical work of the network in a form akin to documentation.


Introduction to the authors and our work with exposures:
Lisa and Alicja first experienced exposures as graduate students through their work as assistant regional coordinators and research assistants with the Provincial Centre of Excellence for EarlyYears and Childcare. Now as PhD students and community pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, Alicja and Lisa continue to engage with exposures and weave them into their work. Alicja is also engaged in thinking with exposures through her ongoing work as a pedagogical coordinator with an itinerant school as part of a larger research project for pandemic times in Cuenca, Ecuador. Meagan is a PhD candidate at Western University in the Faculty of Education. Alongside Cory, Meagan was a regional coordinator for the London Region and continues to work with pedagogists in British Columbia and in post secondary education. Lucy was introduced to the practice of exposures when working as a regional coordinator in Toronto for the Provincial Centre of Excellence for EarlyYears and Childcare and. Lucy continues to attend to and explore the invitations extended as part of the practice of exposures as a participant in the post-secondary network of the Pedagogist Network of Ontario. Together with Lucy, Lisa-Marie was a regional coordinator for Toronto Region. Lisa-Marie is a PhD candidate at Western University in the Faculty of Education and continues to participate in the pedagogist network of Ontario. Cory is a PhD candidate at Western University in the Faculty of Education and was a regional coordinator alongside Meagan for the London Region.

Sweating the Fact(s) of my Body (+Mermaids) as a Pedagogist

In this essay, I talk about depression, self harm, suicide, and medical procedures. Please continue to read only if thinking with these experiences feels safe for you right now.

I learn a lot from the brilliant, bold, and generous activists and artists who bring Instagram to life. As I navigate through my feed (curated by Instagram algorithms) as a pedagogist, it matters to me to move slowly; to read the full caption of a post so that my thinking echos the energy an author has poured into their words, to try to notice all the complexities an artist weaves into their illustration, and to follow the histories, tensions, and moments that bring posts into (often difficult, sometimes adversarial) conversation with one another. From Aubrey Gordon (@yrfatfriend), a writer who, through profoundly sharp critiques rooted in fat people’s lived experience, envisions just ethical and political possibilities for relating with fat beyond status-quo medicalized and pathologizing paradigms, I have learned a short assertion that constantly treads around in my brain: “the fact of my body” (Gordon, 2021, para. 6).

Gordon wields this phrase in the context of believing, affirming, and holding space for fat people when they describe how they inhabit their flesh and how their fat bodies travel through their worlds while inventing, nourishing, and defying particular relations toward fat liberation. ‘The fact of my body’, as I understand it, is a proposition grounded in a political commitment to get to know bodies differently, beyond the neoliberal criteria we inherit (like body mass index, body image, food consumption, physical fitness, or blood sugar levels – and, in early childhood education in particular: child development). This is also an unapologetic assertion that bodies matter: they make and take space, they function and malfunction, they interject and can go unnoticed. To declare a body – and its unceasingly (re)living muscles, membranes, neurotransmitters, and skin – as a promise and a project is a pedagogical commitment that I hold close as a pedagogist and as a researcher. I care about how we relate and live fats, muscles, and movement with children. For me, what is especially compelling in thinking ‘the fact of my body’ is that Gordon is intentional in never jumbling her words to declare a body as a fact, where to be a fact is to be composed of certitude and stability. Rather, in upholding a body as a bundle of facts – materialities, experiences, politics, ethics, relations – fused together, Gordon brings bodies to life in the intervals between actuality and gospel, certainty and infallibility. 

Gordon’s proposal of ‘the fact of my body’ is deeply tangled, right now, with how I might engage in my work as a pedagogist confronted with the fact(s) of my body. I also need to emphasize that the context within which Gordon builds ‘the fact of my body’ is resolutely anchored in fat activism and fat liberation. I am a straightsize human and to think with Gordon’s proposal, I need to continually cite and answer to its ethical and political edges; ‘the fact of my body’ is not a benign concept to think with, but rather one that asserts the difficult existence of bodies within worlds intent on marking particular fleshed lives as unlivable. As I carry ‘the fact(s) of my body’ with me and begin to imagine what I might put into motion with this provocation while thinking pedagogically, I am reminded of Sara Ahmed’s (2014) work on ‘sweaty concepts’. “We need ‘sweaty concepts’” Ahmed explains, “because we need more descriptions of the patterns that are obscured when bodies are received by spaces that have assumed their shape. We might have to insist on giving these descriptions” (para. 8). This means that ‘the fact(s) of my body’ is a practice of sweaty, demanding endurance in continual conversation with pedagogy, a dialogue of repeatedly pushing the details that make my body into the public, taking seriously the questions my body can ask of education, and refusing to allow the situated facts that manifest my body to be subsumed into a more easily palatable category or colloquialism. For Ahmed, “a ‘sweaty concept’ might be one that comes out of a bodily experience that is difficult, one that is ‘trying,’ and where the aim is to keep exploring and exposing this difficulty, which means also aiming not to eliminate the effort or labour from the writing” (2014, para. 4). To sweat the fact(s) of my body requires that I resist resolving the messes of my body: the scars, the weight, the acne-prone skin I refuse to cover with makeup. It means knowing that to type these words on a screen asks something of my finger muscles, which need calories to maintain their motion and carbon to embody their existence. It means understanding the fact(s) of my body as a pedagogical question and patiently tracing how sweating the fact(s) of my body shapes how I might ask questions of curriculum-making as a pedagogist. As I turn toward sweating the fact(s) of my body as a pedagogical process, I want to share one final quote from Ahmed, which she offers in ellipses: “(I suspect not eliminating the effort or labour becomes an academic aim because we have been taught to tidy our texts, not to reveal the struggle we have in getting somewhere)” (2014, para. 3). The struggle, the hard work, of sweating the fact(s) of my body is never meant to be a ‘final’ project nor a straightforward one. What I share here is my attempt to sweat my body here, now. I hope that Gordon will not mind me tugging her words into conversation with Ahmed, and toward questions that I want to ask as a pedagogist with a body in early childhood education in what is currently known as Canada. 

My first instinct in sweating the fact(s) of my body into conversation with pedagogy is to ask questions of living well: how might we live well with fats in early childhood education? What is it to live well together with muscles and memories? What are the facts of my body that already shape how I can ask and respond with questions? This inclination toward ‘well’ as a tangible ethic for relations with human and more-than-human others is, to the best that I can trace of my own citational life, an orientation that I learned from the Common Worlds Research Collective. In particular, I have come to know ‘well’ within Donna Haraway’s work on my way to thinking with feminist science studies and pedagogy. For Haraway (2016), “each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game of living and dying well together on terra” (p. 116). From Haraway I learn that ‘well’ is an ethic nourished by complexity; to simplify or instrumentalize a ‘well’ relation is to strip it of its wellness. ‘Well’ is also a relation of precarity and risk, where ‘well’ does not ensure equity nor nirvana but instead functions as a verb that we must continually take the risk to participate in. I have also come to know ‘well’ through curriculum theory and collective projects (including the Pedagogist Network of Ontario) to support the role of the pedagogist in Canada. Living well is an absolutely critical question for a pedagogist to get to know over and over again. 

In 2020, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Kathleen Kummen, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Randa Khattar, and I presenced questions of ‘well’ by offering that “pedagogy, we want to propose, asks questions that work in the name of living well together: how do we create more liveable worlds for all?” (para. 6). Here ‘well’ grapples with creating more liveable worlds. This ‘more’ feels important to me because it underscores the situatedness and ongoing work of ‘well’. More does not function as a triumph, happening instead as a marathon. That ‘well’ and ‘liveability’ overlap in asking these particular pedagogical questions is a concern I want to spend time with as I sweat the fact(s) of my body. If liveability stumbles do well fact(s) of a body become unimaginable? If a fact of a body is unwell-ness, what possibilities for liveability survive? To action ‘unwell’ as a diagnosis, constraint, or obstacle to be tackled is a gesture that I refuse. Cristina Delgado Vinitmilla (2020) details how “pedagogy, for me, is interested in the creation of a life—not as a model or an ideal, but as an everyday practice that puts thought into action, that is interested not in prescribing a life but in working at a life, becoming studious of it, being interested in its different forms and formations in what it does and what it invites and in how we become of it. A life that is life-making” (para. 12). ‘Working at a life,’ as Delgado Vinitmilla proposes, sounds to me like a sister pedagogical project of sweating the fact(s) of my body. I want to carry the untidy struggle (following Ahmed) of sweating of the fact(s) of my body in their collisions with energetic pedagogical questions of living well together. 

How might I sweat the fact(s) of my body as a pedagogist? And even more pressing for my current worldings: how might I sweat the fact(s) of my unwell body as a pedagogist? I turn now to picking up this second question. I want to emphasize that where this essay travels next is not purely autobiographical. This is not a narrative recounting an illness nor a story that wraps up with a recovery milestone. It is grounded in the fact(s) of my body that have become fact(s) in the last two years. Some facts of my body are that I have major depression, I hallucinate, I have an unpredictable circulatory system, I needed help with nutrition, and I had an abdominal ligament surgically severed. I have cat scratches up my arms and my legs remember what they could do when I played hockey. I can eat all the kale I want but my body hates broccoli. I am a cisgender white settler. There are many facts of my body, but only some collide with pedagogical questions of living well together. These bodied pedagogical questions differ from autobiographical inquiries intended to diagnose an illness or understand a survival story. Instead, in thinking how the fact(s) of my body ask me to sit with particular pedagogical tangles, I am interested in asking questions about how my body orients me toward specific concerns, tensions, or politics. I want to deliberately attend to the fact(s) of my body that make questions of ‘well’ in ‘living well’ feel impossibly foreign and irrelevant. Put differently, I want to ask questions, as a pedagogist, with my body when living itself – remaining alive as a human bundle of cells – runs counter to my body’s numbness, actions, and ideations.
In her essay on life and ‘new ways of dying,’ Rosi Braidotti (2010) proposes that we need to reconfigure how we get to know moments near to dying. Asking why death or pain encounters some of us but not others, Braidotti offers “for no reason at all. Reason has nothing to do with it. That’s precisely the point. We need to delink pain from the quest for meaning and move beyond, to the next stage. That is the transformation of negative into positive passions” (p. 214). Getting to know my unwell body beyond logics of ‘reason’ (beyond self-growth or character building or nihilism), I understand Braidotti’s call toward ethics, to understanding processes of pain and unwell-nes as questions oriented toward affirming and inventing, as an initial mode of responding to questions of how I might sweat the fact(s) of my unwell body as a pedagogist. As I try learn how to sweat the fact(s) of my unwell body, there is a poem I re-read over and over, titled “so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid…” by Sabrina Benaim (2017).

so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid…

& I’m like, GIRL. I saw The Little Mermaid. even she did not want to be a mermaid. so, I guess my question is: is it just easier to look at yourself in the mirror if you are not human? does that make it easier to pretend you don’t have depression; because depression is exclusively human. if so…shoot…maybe i am a mermaid too. if being a mermaid means you’ve cried enough tears to drown your grasp of reality. if being a mermaid means you truly believe the grass is greener than the blue you are surrounded by. If being a mermaid means you never walk away from a person you love, because you can’t, because you have a fin. then yes, I think I am definitely a mermaid & every song I’ve ever sung has filled my lungs with sea, but I am not drowning – not like I thought I was, when I was human. (p. 45)

This poem changes the rhythm of my heart beating in my chest. In a good way – in a way that helps me to shake off the heaviness of the pinnacle of ‘wellness’ or ‘normality’ that I often feel is asserted as a goal for my body. Benaim teaches me that I do not have to become the idealized subject who traverses a ‘health journey’ toward becoming fully functional, productive, and inspiring in a capitalist world. There is nothing aspirational about being a mermaid; it is a sharp survival strategy. A way of living together with the sea without yet knowing the shape of living ‘well’ with the sea. A practice of re-inventing relations with my own body, muscles, legs, and lungs, where there’s a glimmer of a future made through the work of getting to know my body differently. To think like a mermaid is to ask questions of bodies and pedagogies that work like an errant semicolon in a sentence: requiring an unfamiliar pause as we trip over the strange cadence of the sentence in order to read the sentence for what its uncommon grammar creates. Reading Benaim’s poem alongside Braidotti’s writing on life and death, I learn that to sweat the fact(s) of my body requires disrupting the ‘quest for meaning’ that so often populates our stories of illness and instead intentionally resisting the neoliberal tropes we inherit around wellness, sickness, and healing. It requires refusing status-quo humanist narratives that profess personal resilience and courage, and working hard not to see my body as a failure or my life as a commodity. Braidotti (2010) suggests that “life is experienced as inhuman because it is all too human, obscene because it lives on mindlessly… Are we not in awe of this piece of flesh called our ‘body,’ of this aching meat called our ‘self’ expressing the abject and simultaneously divine potency of life?” (p. 208). What Braidotti names as the ‘divine potency of life’, I hear as Benaim’s drowning; the chasms between situated muscling bodies and the status-quo structures of subjectivity that prescribe our relations with biological flesh. Here I find a rift that sustains collisions of bodied vulnerability with being ‘well’. A mermaid, Benaim shares, cannot drown in the humanist scope of dictating how a body can be “well”. This is a very particular mermaid that Benaim casts and that I get to know in conversation with Braidotti, one who is intimately familiar with struggling to breathe within the ruins of the waters that surround her, and who finds practices of breathing that become possible when she resists knowing what it is to breathe. I want, now, to think with mermaids alongside my questions of sweating the fact(s) of my body. How pedagogists and mermaids become friends in getting to know bodies? How are mermaids and pedagogists already companions in conceiving bodies?

Returning to Ahmed’s (2014) sweaty concepts, “I want to write from the examples up, without following the concepts where they go” (para. 7). I want to sweat the fact(s) of my body as a mermaid pedagogist might. I want to think from the fact(s) of my (unwell) body up, pulling the pieces of my skeleton apart and balancing pieces upon one another to build a different backbone, a different heartbeat. I want to sketch and follow the very particular questions I might ask of “well” in education. Braidotti (2010) reminds me that “an ethical question has to be adequate in relation to how much a body can take. How much can an embodied entity take in the mode of interrelations and connections, that is, how much freedom of action can we endure?” (p. 215). This is incredibly important. This means that the questions I offer are grounded in a commitment to ask only what a (my) body can take. The stories, scars, and speculations that I think with are deeply bodied in that they write with the fact(s) of my own unwell body. In figuring out my practice of sweating the fact(s) of a body, I want to stress, with pedagogists, a proposal that our bodies matter as we think pedagogically. We cannot think pedagogically without the fact(s) of our bodies and how we sweat the fact(s) of our bodies steers us toward bodied pedagogical concerns and processes. Universalizing or decontextualizing the questions I offer will not succeed, and I invite readers to feel how these questions take up a life in conversation with the fact(s) of your own body. What I share now is a series of short questions that try to sweat the fact(s) of my unwell body as a mermaid pedagogist – or at least, as a pedagogist with a mermaid best friend. 

My body has seven horizontal scars on my left thigh. There are two blob-shaped scars as well. I created these scars by cutting and burning my skin, an act that psychiatry has taught me to name as self harming. Scars are amazing. Scars mark processes of collagen production and maturation, as my body repairs its skin from the marks my hands have made on it. Scars enact repair, and in their materialization scars inhabit my skin, getting to know both internal and outward layers of my body. Sweating my scars as a pedagogist makes me pay attention to the bodied terrain made within the work of repair – if to repair is to populate a bumpy keloid scar boundary, does that enact repair as a process on-the-brink; repair as a practice of edge-making and taking up residence in relations that traverse a seemingly human contradiction or border? If I ask how repair happens in a classroom, what modes of repairing might be perceptible? What if repair is not always a curative dance of tying insides and outsides together? What happens when we get to know repair as the work of building a mark, a mark that is made possible through an act that disrupts how an inside is demarcated from an outside? What are early childhood education’s scars, its acts of repair? How do we notice, ignore, or brush over these scars, and how they are sustained as scars? What scars matter in curriculum-making – and how?

A PICC line is a catheter that runs from a person’s upper arm through to their heart. I had a PICC line for many months, as we used it to carry nutrients to my body when I was unable to sustain my body through my digestive system. Each day, I received TPN (total parenteral nutrition) for hours and the proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins, and minerals that TPN ferried into my body kept me alive. This means that I was fed directly through my arm’s veins, a process I still think is incredibly provocative. All around us, in the medicalized and individualized ontology of bodies that dominates neoliberal worlds, is a discourse of nutrition as an act closely partnered with eating by chewing, swallowing, and digesting. My PICC and TPN require logics of contamination (a term I have learned from Alexis Shotwell, 2016) and travel that are imperceptible to dominant ways of nourishing a human body. This raises, for me, questions of entrance: the PICC entered my body in an unfamiliar way and then TPN relied on the pathways cohered by my PICC to enter into my body with nutrients. Entrance here is a collaboration, a coalescing, that functions only because it both holds together and is held together by the body it functions within. Entering is an act of sustenance. This differs from thinking entering as a performance of a singular entity arriving to, or announcing their presence within, an existing (even if it is changing) space. As a pedagogist sweating the fact(s) of my unwell body, this makes me care about the work of making an entrance. What modes of entry dot the borders of early childhood education? How do we pay attention to entrances? Where have we infiltrated early childhood education’s borders with a catheter that spans these same margins (whether this be an ethical catheter or an instrumentalized one)? What do we do with the scars that catheters leave? What knowledges, relations, and politics might enter into a classroom – and how? If entering is made in the collusion of materials and pathways, how can we answer to the ways we do and do not enact and support entering as a pedagogical proposition? And if entering is an offering of sustenance, what does it mean for a pedagogist to enter into the ongoing flows of life in a classroom?

Lithium, as a medication that I take each evening, has been in my life for 12 months now. Through at least five changes in antidepressants and antipsychotics, three involuntary admissions to a mental health hospital, and hallucinations that insist on lingering, lithium matters to my body as a dependable element that is in conversation with my neurotransmitters. My dose has not changed, nor has my ritual of ensuring that I give my oral lithium capsule a nice bed of carbohydrates for when it meets my stomach. Lithium augments my antidepressant, reminding me that the molecular complexities of my body are in constant and complicated relations. Sometimes lithium makes me sick. My doctors remind me often that psychiatric medications are finicky and it is not unusual to take a calculated gamble with many different combinations before the ‘right’ medications are found. As a pedagogist, sweating lithium as a fact of my body makes me tune into questions of promise. Lithium does a frustrating dance over the pledge of a promise, oscillating between promises of uncertainty, precarity, and patience made by psychiatric medicines, and the hope that, in an uneasy alliance with medications, I might one day gather together a different relation to life. Lithium makes a promise that declares no guarantees and that disrupts any teleological assurance of ‘wellness’ – and that refuses to understand the craters between an unwell or well body as black holes but rather understands this as the space of negotiating and bodying lithium’s promise into my life. With lithium I want to ask what the promises that zig zag through early childhood education are: what promises do we inherit, trust, and make? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we make these promises? Put differently, how do promises work in education and how are we implicated in the promises we proffer? How do our pedagogies promise? How does our curriculum-making converse with promises? Are promises an apt practice for envisioning a future in education? What modes of coming together in the name of pedagogy might the relational commitments of promise-making ignore? How does a pedagogist promise – or not? 

 Sweating the fact(s) of my unwell body as a pedagogist (who will not give up on living as a mermaid) is a project that I can build many more questions with. Whenever I hear a metaphor of stitching as a curriculum-making practice in education, I think of emergency room visits where doctors sewed my skin together from the cuts I had made. I am distrustful of the poetic beauty in stitching practices when my leg is always numbed before stitching to chase away stitching’s pain. As a pedagogist, this makes me think about anesthetizing – what flows of life do we make numb or dull in early childhood education? How? Why? I think many times each day about dying, seriously and curiously speculating what it might be like to no longer be breathing in this world. I have learned that publicly wondering about dying as a near, comforting possibility compels a conversation drowning in discomfort. Many of the familiar conventions we rely on for anchoring our conversations are imperceptible or fall apart when we refuse to skim over death as something abstract, destructive, or pathologized. I understand that in this Euro-Western, humanist neoliberal society, (human) death is a taboo topic, but when I sweat the fact(s) of my body dying as a pedagogist, what is most interesting to me is to notice how thinking with dying is profoundly disorienting: what questions might we ask when neither the living or well in ‘living well’ is trustworthy? What if we resist the desire to know pedagogy only through questions of living and instead follow the troubles dying interjects in the work of thinking pedagogically? How are living and dying in endless relation – and what do these relations lend to thinking life and death with pedagogy? (I want to acknowledge that this question is not new and owes to the work of researchers in the Common Worlds Research Collective and Climate Action Network who attend to and respond with precarity, pollution, extinction, climate change, destruction, and decomposing with human and more-than-human others in education). A final fact of my body that I want to sweat is that my brain has undergone ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation). Both treatments for depression mobilize pulses of energy to disrupt activity patterns and chemicals in my brain. They also made me forget five months of my life. This foregrounds questions, for me, of remembering – how do we remember in early childhood education? What do our modes of remembering make possible and unimaginable? 
I hold so much gratitude for Benaim’s (2017) poem, “so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid…”, and I want to conclude by re-collecting my experiment in sweating the fact(s) of my unwell body as a pedagogist alongside her words that punctuate the poem. Benaim writes, “then yes, I think i am definitely a mermaid & every song I’ve ever sung has filled my lungs with sea, but i am not drowning – not like i thought i was, when i was human” (p. 45). Perhaps as I do this messy, lived work of trying to sweat the fact(s) of my unwell body as a pedagogist, getting to know my body for the ways that it shapes how I need to ask questions of education might become a practice in not drowning. Maybe, in revisiting Braidotti’s (2010) caution that “an ethical question has to be adequate in relation to how much a body can take” (p. 215), I might wonder how mermaids ask pedagogical questions. What happens if a mermaid questions what pedagogies ask of us when the ‘well’ of our bodies is murky or the criteria with which we have been taught to understand the wellness of a body becomes unlivable? I want to continue to work to begin to create a speculative practice where sweating the fact(s) of my body orients toward fleshing the pedagogical questions that I, and my unwell body, propose toward finding ways to live together in education. In picking up this practice of sweating the fact(s) of a body, I am extending to pedagogists a proposal that our anatomies bleed into our pedagogical concerns and the pedagogical processes we participate in become possible only with our muscles.


Ahmed, S. [feministkilljoys]. (2014). Sweaty concepts. Retrieved from

Benaim, S. (2017). Depression and other magic tricks. Button Poetry. 

Braidotti, R. (2010). The politics of “life itself” and new ways of dying. In D. Coole & S. Frost (Eds.), New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics (pp. 201-220). Duke University Press. 

Delgado Vintimilla, C. (2020). What is pedagogy? Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, (1). Retrieved from

Delgado Vintimilla, C., Land, N., Kummen, K., Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., & Khattar, R. (2020). What would be possible if education subtracts itself from developmentalism. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, (1). Retrieved from

Gordon, A. [Your Fat Friend]. (2021). It’s time to retire ‘your’re not fat, you’re beautiful!’. Self. Retrieved from

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Shotwell, A. (2016). Against purity: Living ethically in compromised time. U of Minnesota Press.

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)

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.