Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Pedagogical Documentation

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

As many early childhood educators in Ontario are considering their return to programs across the province, we, as a profession, are at a crossroad. To be at a crossroad is to be at a point where you have to make very important decisions. Will you go bravely into this new world of child care post pandemic? We are at a point of time, where we have to think not about going back but going forward. COVID-19 offers us opportunities to rethink and reframe practice. The pedagogical approaches of How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (HDLH?) can provide a framework to view practices. These interdependent approaches support the key foundations of learning: well-being, belonging, engagement and expression. These four foundations provide the conditions for learning. They too are interdependent and should not be considered in isolation. Now, more than ever, we have to consider children’s health and well-being. Now, more than ever, we need to think about pedagogical documentation from the perspective of social justice. We need to make visible the experiences children have had and will have in this brave new world. We need to tell their stories.

One important role of pedagogical documentation is to make visible the lives and experiences of young children, too often sidelined and discounted in our culture…(Pelo, 2012, p. 175)

I began this series of the pedagogical approaches of HDLH? at the start of the stay at home order. I have presented the approaches  in the order that they appear in the document. The first post, Responsive Relationships, was followed by the second, third and fourth posts, Learning through Play, Exploration and Inquiry,  Educators as Co-Learners and Environment as Third Teacher. This is the fifth post in the series. It is my hope that when I publish the sixth and final post, Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry, it will coincide with a slow, careful, equitable and healthful return to life outside the house. Each post includes a PowerPoint, a video and handouts connected to the approach featured. In this post, I ask you to consider this question; what will be your story as you return to practice? What will be the traces that you will leave as you rise to the challenge of returning, reopening and recovery.

Teachers must leave behind an isolated, silent mode of working, which leaves no traces. Instead they must discover ways to communicate and document the children’s evolving experiences at school. They must prepare a steady flow of quality information targeted to parents but appreciated by children and teachers ~ Loris Malaguzzi

Seneca College Newnham Campus Labschool

Now more than ever, we need to share the intertwining stories of children, families and teachers. To do that, we can turn to the pedagogical approach of pedagogical documentation which is seen as “a means to value, discuss, and make learning visible” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 16). I believe that it will take courage to document when programs reopen. It is bravery that I don’t have to demonstrate. I am no longer working with young children. I have difficulty putting into words, my admiration for practising early childhood educators who will step forth at this time. An early childhood educator recently expressed to me that it was her fear that social distancing in a toddler room could not be managed. All I could think of saying in response was, “you will rise to the challenge and do what is best for the children in your capacity as a professional early childhood educator”. I know that I will be inspired by all the early childhood educators who demonstrate their capacity and competence in their navigation of the new landscape that is and will be early learning. I am already so inspired by the words of one early childhood educator, Priscilla Gatley, who bravely shared her reflections about returning and reopening. About documentation, Priscilla writes:

Another thing we will need to consider is how documentation will look. We have not seen these children for months, if ever, so we will need to consider ways in which we can tell stories about connection in a time where we can feel very disconnected. Normally, we would be spending lots of time with the same children on a consistent schedule which allowed us to document their experiences and relationships in a somewhat predictable manner. Now, we may be with them on a very inconsistent basis so we will need to find ways in which we adapt and think “outside the box” of what we once knew documentation to be. The use of the internet and technology will become very important as we find new ways to document children, which is something that can feel foreign in the world of early childhood education.

Digital documentation is part of this brave new world. You will want to provide families with that steady flow that Malaguzzi speaks of and with families being limited with access to the environment, using technology makes sense. However, you will need to make it meaningful for the documentation, to be pedagogical. According to How Does Learning Happen? (2014), “pedagogical documentation is about more than recording events – it is a means to learning about how children think and learn” (p. 21). Now more than ever, we need to focus on the view of documentation as “a way of listening to children”. Documentation will help “us to learn about children during the course of their experiences and to make this learning visible to others for interpretation” (p. 21) .

Seneca College Newnham Campus Labschool

Deeply listening is key. Pedagogical documentation is about moving beyond simply objectively reporting of children’s behaviour, pedagogical documentation helps to find meaning in what children do and what they experience. I find, the words in How Does Learning Happen? (2014) particularly insightful in this unprecedented time. Pedagogical documentation is:

  • a way to value children’s experiences and include their perspectives;
  • a way to make children’s learning and understanding of the world around them visible to the children themselves;
  • a process for educators to co-plan with children and with families;
  • a means of sharing perspectives with parents and colleagues (p. 21-22).

When families and others are invited to contribute to the documentation and share their own interpretations, it can provide even more insights that children, educators, and families can use as you return and heal in a shared recovery. Pedagogical documentation is an ethical practice. Pedagogical documentation is an essential part of the practice of early childhood educators. To learn more about pedagogical documentation you can download this PowerPoint presentation.

Understand that pedagogical documentation is not designed to give you all the answers to every question that you have during this difficult time. Tiziana Filippini, in this handout is quoted as saying that documentation is not about finding answers, but about generating questions. What might be the generated questions that emerge from the new landscape?

Pedagogical documentation connects to all other pedagogical approaches and the four conditional foundations of learning; belonging, well-being, engagement and expression. Pedagogical documentation is an important approach at this time. Pedagogical documentation:

In my experience, it is not necessarily something that educators feel comfortable about. Meaningful documentation is not always a featured part of practice. Often, documentation is just a recording of observations without deeper reflection on what is meaningful. In one of the workshops that I facilitate on pedagogical documentation, I share this video from Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children. I invite participants to write down words that they don’t hear every day and relate to the ones that are identified in the video. I wanted to demonstrate that learning about pedagogical documentation requires going beyond the every day. Take a look at the video and identify those words or phrases that you don’t think as commonplace. Then compare it to the list I generated below.

Making Learning Visible a project from Harvard University’s Project Zero has some amazing resources on pedagogical documentation to support your professional learning. Click on this link for a page of resources including the following downloadable tool.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted Ann Pelo from a book chapter available online. As the world deals with so much more than a pandemic, pedagogical documentation from the perspective of social justice is a very important consideration for early childhood educators. Click here for the chapter called: At the Crossroads: Pedagogical Documentation and Social Justice.

In closing, I leave you with these words from Ann Pelo (2012):

Documentation is a verb, a way of being in relationship. So, too, attention to issues of social justice is a way of being in relationship that honours identity and culture and that demands action. Pedagogical documentation, embraced fully, carries us to the crossroads and calls us to live in authentic, vulnerable, transformative relationship with children, their families, and each other (p. 190).

I invite you to share your reflections about pedagogical documentation as it relates to our brave new world. I know you will rise to the challenges.


4 thoughts on “Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Pedagogical Documentation

  1. Thank you for another Professional Learning resource. Each one has provided such valuable and in depth information supporting Early Childhood Educators as they reflect on their practice and plan their return to programs. Thanks for initiating meaningful conversations.


  2. Thanks Diane. Another thought provoking article that supports teachers to move forward in their practice and their thinking. We here in New Zealand have emerged from Level 3 where children were in bubbles of 10 and are now in level 2 where school is back with the children. Yesterday saw our first day back when the children were all back. I work with 3 and 4 year olds and knew it was impossible to self distance so we decided very early on not to burden ourselves with that expectation. Thankfully we were supported by other peoples understanding in this. As we had kept in contact with all the children each day, the children just seemed to fit right back quite smoothly. Lots of playing to be observed! It seems that we will be moving into Level 1 next week so we are reaping the rewards of great leadership, “going early, going hard!” AND receiving the message “Be kind”.


  3. I just participated in a webinar where images and video were shared of a school’s first week back. How brave and generous those teachers were in sharing their experiences, which encouraged the participants in our own journeys, and inspired me to document and share when we return in a few weeks. Followed by my reading of this post today the experiences fit together in a synergistic way.


  4. Pingback: Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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