The analysis of the data shows that teachers’ agency is associated with different ways of action in which teachers display their personal, educational, and social resources to carry out the purposes they consider pertinent. To implement the ECE program, the teachers, who have been trained in EE, received training and pedagogical support from the Bogota Education Department in the pillars of ECE related to play, art, literature, and exploration of the environment and in the forms to realize it in the classroom. From this, teachers turn to creativity to develop their pedagogical action with their own resources and in the heterogeneity that characterizes them.
In this sense, teachers are not subjects determined by mandatory policies, but rather actors who, within the structures, seek transformations. Teachers implementing the program generate a variety of actions. Teachers have managed to position their thinking, empower themselves, and struggle with institutional constraints to take forward their initiatives. Our findings provide evidence of teachers’ agency in different forms as they interact with school communities. The forms of agency can be read through the following four categories that are in alignment with the contexts of identity proposed by Holland et al. (1998):
Teachers positioning themselves. Teachers are aware of their agency, a capacity that defines their identity as early childhood educators.
Teachers Negotiating. Teachers as agents resist, negotiate, or adapt creatively to what happens in the schools.
Teachers Authoring. Teachers recognize the possibilities of action and make decisions related to the visibility and mobilization of the program within the schools.
Teachers creating new figured worlds. Teachers’ agency produces transformations in schools.
Teachers positioning themselves
The early childhood teachers hold a renewal discourse that explicitly places them in a different position from that occupied by the other teachers of the educational institution. For them, the current focus on the integrated development of children has led to an understanding of the non-cumulative character of their education and the value of including their interests and needs according to their own rhythms and moments of development. Teachers learn from experience the importance of these conceptions and enact the changes that occur in their own ways of understanding (Ball, 2008; Opfer & Pedder, 2011). Teachers consider that ECE does not require, as it is traditionally conceived, “to prepare children for…” nor specific steps or requirements to be filled. It is an education devoted to children, that assumes its place as a social actor. Teachers express their work by assuming a distance from the school they have known, in which they have been trained. In the following excerpt, Marcela shares an experience of a collective drawing exercise with the mandala that allows children to go beyond the identification of colors, to underline the processes of interaction and the meanings of coloring for them.
To perform an activity such as a mandalaFootnote 2 allows for the intimate identification of every child in the drawing, they customize the colours and the meaning given to the drawing, while simultaneously recognize that they are next to others who also provide colours and meanings. Thus, developments associated to affective, social, motor, cognitive, artistic, communicative and expressive characteristics are promoted, surpassing experiences associated to a traditional educational paradigm that focuses on learning from a guide the primary and secondary colours. Children’s mandalas are exhibited to make visible their work and to represent the group’s unity (Interview, Marcela).
Al realizar una actividad como colorear permite que cada niño y niña se identifique de manera íntima dentro del dibujo y en esa medida personalice los colores que utiliza y el sentido que le da al dibujo, pero a la vez lo invita a reconocer que se encuentra junto a otros a quienes también debe otorgar colores, características y detalles. En esta medida involucra desarrollos asociados a lo afectivo, lo social, lo motriz, lo cognitivo, lo artístico, lo comunicativo y lo expresivo, superando así, cualquier experiencia de aquellas que ubicadas en un paradigma educativo tradicional se centran exclusivamente en el aprendizaje de los colores primarios o secundarios a partir de una guía. Las mándalas de todos los niños y niñas fueron expuestos en una de las paredes del salón, buscando visibilizar su trabajo y representar con esta composición la unidad del grupo (Entrevista a Marcela).
For teachers like Marcela, the concepts and practices proposed by ECE focus on the interaction that enables a closer and affective construction of the teacher–child relationship. This interaction led teachers to recognize that working at the rhythm of children and recognizing their singularities connected meaningfully to them. These ways of recognizing themselves as early educators are coupled with the needs for change; they experience in relation to their peers' conceptions of them. In the social imaginary, preschool education tends to be equated with maternal care that anyone can carry out (without the need for training) and with activities that are fundamentally affective and, therefore, of little or no significance to the school. A teacher reports her conversation with a co-worker after the policy program is presented at a meeting.
It was necessary to introduce (in the school) ‘what is early childhood’. The prevailing conception was that nothing was done with young children and that the only thing we did as teachers was to play. At our first presentation, when we explained what we do, a teacher colleague said, ‘it is good to know what you do because I thought that you did nothing. (Interview, Maria).
Era necesario presentar, ¿qué es la primera infancia?, por la falta de reconocimiento que había tenido, porque la concepción es no hacen nada, solo se la pasan jugando y no tienen ni idea. Cuando hicimos nuestra primera presentación, me marcó tanto lo que dijo una compañera de primaria, porque ese día, les contamos qué era lo que hacíamos en primera infancia y ella dijo, “oiga pero que bueno saberlo”, porque yo pensaba que ustedes, no hacían nada. (Entrevista a María).
For Maria the school is not organized around areas of knowledge, but around the pillars supporting early childhood education: play, literature, art, and exploration of the environment. For teachers like María, implementing this idea involves important changes in their way of being and doing things. What we found is that teachers manage to take projects forward and make these pillars as the basis of their work. Likewise, in the following excerpt Emilia reflects on the meaning of playing and concludes that playing is not an instrumental activity in ECE and that it may well be a purpose in itself and a mediation for children's learning, in which learning is playing and playing is learning.
Children learn when they play, they don’t play to learn; and so, why deny these spaces they need that makes them happy? When children play, they communicate spontaneously, investigate, they choose with whom and what to play. When they play, there is planning, role setting, and playmate relationships. Playing implies thinking about others and requires communication, agreements and being respectful. The setting of playing is the space for interacting, thinking with their peers how differences are resolved. It is also a space for citizenship, autonomy, identity, coexistence and learning. (Interview, Emilia).
Los niños aprenden cuando están jugando, no juegan para aprender, entonces ¿cómo negar estos espacios de juego que ellos necesitan, y en los que están felices?. En el juego los niños ponen sus saberes frente a los de los otros, se comunican espontáneamente, indagan, eligen con quienes jugar, a qué jugar. Durante el juego hay planificaciones, establecimiento de roles, relaciones con los compañeros de juego. El juego está sujeto a pensar en el otro y exige intercomunicación, creación de acuerdos y respeto por estos. El juego es el espacio de relación, de pensar con su par cómo se resuelven las diferencias, es un espacio de construcción de ciudadanía, autonomía, identidad, convivencia y aprendizaje (Entrevista a Emilia).
As Emilia reports, playing is a central aspect of the world of childhood (Shree & Shukla, 2016; Wood & Attfield, 2005). It is part of the child relationship with the people and the environment, with objects and spaces. By playing, children represent the constructions and developments of their life and context (MEN, 2014). As can be seen in the previous excerpts, early childhood teachers convey a discourse and practice with a sense and conviction of the importance of their endeavor, as actors in charge of generating transformation, regardless of the particular contexts in which they work, because their agency allows for education to add value to the child’s development.
Teachers’ negotiating: resistance, negotiations, and adaptation as forms of agency
School organization occurs in a school space and time that serve as a substrate for culture. The idea of space is structured around both a physical and a symbolic space containing teachers and children, and it has been somehow imprinted in how the behavior a given culture inhabits and belongs to that place. It is rare for the school to reflect on the meaning and sense of space and the way things are located. By doing so, ECE teachers contravene, negotiate, or resist many preconceptions of themselves.
The use of time and space in school is orderly and disciplined. The resistance is identified within relations of power and domination as a way of actively opposing that course of time and use of space. Thus, teachers use strategies of resistance that accompany their decisions to work with the needs of the children. Discipline and conventional order of schools are transgressed with the arrival of the initial level of education. Hallway silences are enlivened by the songs of young children.
The teacher asks children to get ready to go to the library. Autonomously children begin to organize in couples to go and just as they start walking, two girls start singing a very emotional song. As they walk, the other children join the singing, so that the group is heard in unison, drawing the attention of everyone in the halls. (Field-Journal).
La profe les pide que se organicen para ir a la biblioteca. En ese momento, de forma autónoma los niños y niñas comienzan a organizarse por parejas para dirigirse a su destino y apenas empiezan a caminar hacia la biblioteca, dos niñas dan inicio a un canto muy emotivo de una canción de su preferencia (probablemente de uno de sus programas de TV favoritos). A medida que avanzan, todos(as) van uniéndose al canto, de manera que, a unos pasos del salón, el grupo se escucha al unísono entonando aquella canción que tanto los emociona y que por supuesto llama la atención de todos(as) en los pasillos (Diario de Campo).
This event transgresses one of the main concerns of teachers related to school organization: discipline, inside, and outside the classroom, as order and as silence. Transgressing the school routine is not easy; according to a teacher “the traditional way is the most expeditious although not necessarily the best.” In general, traditional schools naturally and unquestioningly assume certain regulations––such as those related to silence when walking through corridors––without asking themselves what they intend to mobilize educationally and to whom they are directed. For 3- and 4-year-olds, making sense of these regulations can be quite difficult.
Moving away from routine school practices may worry teachers if they are not attentive to the meanings of the activities. The strategy of classroom projects helps break up with the student-sequencing requirement for learning and shows a resistance to planning, which, although it seems improvisational, is a permanent adaptation to the educational needs of children. Both preschool children and children from an upper grade can be together in spaces where common interests sustain them according to their rhythm, attention, and desire.
I shared the classroom project, how we worked and so on. I shared many of the things I did in preschool, he [another teacher] shared with me his experiences, we work together on activities, first-grade children along with younger children. (Interview, Marcela).
Le compartía el proyecto de aula, como lo trabajábamos y todo. Muchas de las cosas que yo hacía en preescolar se las compartía, él me compartía sus experiencias, trabajamos juntos en actividades podíamos hacer trabajos revueltos digamos, los niños de primero con los de transición. (Entrevista a Marcela).
Teachers with their theoretical foundation and with the newly setup concepts have introduced into the school a will to engage in a constant reflection that leads them to the path of action based on children’s interests, many times by improvising actions (Holland et al., 1998; Matsui, 2021).
The school space, referring to the material and symbolic built environment (building, facilities, furniture, walls, corners, gardens, etc.), is not neutral, expresses values, and serves as a context for student learning, contributing to their education. The infrastructure available for young children is precarious in these institutions: without green spaces, without comfortable and spacious fields, with no possibility of mobilization, sometimes with dangerous staircases, without properly sized toilets, and with lack of air and poor ventilation.
Facing these precarious situations, teachers have carried out initiatives and projects to alter the physical space symbolically and make it suitable to the educational activities, without this being a limiting factor for their practice. For example, in one institution, the furniture was removed and placed against the walls to allow for an open classroom through which children could move freely. Already they had learned what these spaces meant and were prepared with their attitude for the activities without much language or orientation.
I suggest that teachers use the ‘ludoteca’... it is not only the space and the walls... we move many ‘ludoteca’ objects to the classrooms...my purpose was to motivate other teachers, to say ‘we can’, ‘this can be done’. If spaces are not given, then we must seek alternatives. The principal stated, ‘this space can’t be modified because the education district rules do not allow changes in its infrastructure use’ then I gave her other ideas, so that we could use that space as we need it. (Interview, Melody).
Yo sugerí que nos quedáramos con la ludoteca, …la ludoteca no solamente es el espacio y las cuatro paredes…también nosotras trasladamos muchas cosas de la ludoteca a las aulas. …entonces la tarea mía fue motivar, encaminar a los otros maestros, decirles vamos, que sí podemos, esto se puede hacer, que los espacios no se dan, entonces busquemos alternativas para su uso en el aula. La rectora decía: “es que este espacio no lo puedo modificar porque a nivel de infraestructura no se puede hacer el arreglo pertinente según la norma establecida”, entonces yo le daba a ella, otras pautas u otras ideas, paras que pudiéramos llegar a concretar en particular ese espacio que necesitábamos tanto en el aula y para el nivel” (Entrevista a Melody).
The flexible way that the space is reconfigured stands out in this school. Educational experiences determine the elements and resources that occupy the space as it is filled with sense and meaning. While the classroom disposition with its tables and seats may be used to respond to a specific activity, this is not the permanent space array.
Teachers have also introduced important changes that are related to scheduling and planning. Collective planning performed by early education teachers is not a ‘straitjacket.’ What is planned is not necessarily done; however, the intentions of the developed actions are not suppressed. Teachers are committed to finding a plan to meet children's needs in a way that is neither rigid nor with unrelated, loose activities.
Now we do it (planning) as a conceptual map, and it seems to be working; it is the most appropriate for them… we have restructured ourselves in many ways and many times this year. (Interview, Emilia).
Ahora lo hacemos (planificar) como un mapa conceptual, y parece estar funcionando; es lo más apropiado para ellos… nos hemos reestructurado de muchas maneras y muchas veces este año (Entrevista a Emilia).
Sometimes the topic of planning is imposed by the institution and teachers reject it and propose alternatives that they deem more appropriate for them and for the children.
We do have a planning, but not one that strangles the fun and opportunities for children to express themselves; when necessary, planning can also be abandoned, because there is no guarantee that it works. (Interview, Marcela).
Nosotros sí tenemos una planeación, pero no una planeación que estrangule la diversión y las posibilidades de los niños de expresarse, para nada, la idea es que la planeación se pueda abandonar también cuando sea necesario, porque es que no hay garantía que funcione. (Entrevista a Marcela).
The planning that provides a step by step to achieve specific teaching and learning purposes does not help teachers like Marcela. For her and other ECE teachers, there are less linear and more enriching alternatives that allow them to select, organize, and propose activities, taking into account the needs of the students, the conditions of the classroom environment and the axes of pedagogical work. In short, there is a time and a school space that shape interactions and communication between those involved in ECE. In this way, the activities, routines, and practices with the children are permanently negotiated to respond to what the teacher considers to be their educational needs (Sorin, 2006).
Teachers’ creative adaptation
The creative adaptation can be considered what Jeffrey and Craft (2004) call “Teaching creatively” as “using imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective” (p. 79). Creative teaching implies that students take the initiative in their learning through the strategies deployed by the teacher, giving up control and encouraging innovative actions. Many teaching strategies contribute to this: exploration methods, use of humor and empathy, participatory methods, and stimulation of the imagination, among others. For the teachers, in this study it involves creating alternative ways of doing what the school plans and organizes, without opposing or resisting, but rather adapting. The following record show how space is inhabited physically and symbolically by children, accepting its limitations but favoring their experience:
You only need to enter the classroom to find that there is an intention in the arrangement of the elements: micro spaces inviting to read, to play, to represent, to move, to music appreciation and to senses delight. The space is dynamic and versatile; one day books, toys, a gym and a small theatre, a form of learning corners open to exploration throughout the day may be arranged; next day, the space disposition is transformed by adding a table with different objects. The generation of multiple exploration options encourages respect for diversity on children’s rhythms and interests. (Field-Journal).
Basta con entrar al salón que ocupan habitualmente los niños y niñas para encontrar que hay una intencionalidad en la disposición de los elementos con que cuentan: microespacios que invitan a la lectura, al juego, la representación, el movimiento, la apreciación musical y el deleite de los sentidos. El espacio se transforma, es dinámico y versátil, un día pueden estar dispuestos libros, juguetes, un gimnasio, un teatrino, una forma de rincones pedagógicos abiertos a la exploración a lo largo de la jornada, otro día, a esta disposición se puede sumar una mesa con objetos vinculantes, que buscan incitar un recorrido por el conocimiento. Todo esto, posibilita el respeto por la diversidad en los intereses y ritmos de los niños y niñas, desde la generación de múltiples opciones de exploración que quedan abiertas (Diario de Campo).
The creation of enriched environments for teacher–student interaction stimulates attention to the interests and needs of children and the appreciation of the different possibilities of knowledge that they carry and can build. On the other hand, the work of teachers around curriculum planning involves the work carried out by the school that preschool teachers adapt to include their initiatives.
All the time we work transversally, and we have a quite consolidated curriculum grid; it is renewed in annual work-tables, according to the expectations and needs of the community. We are part of that large machinery gear, of the institution, we are, I might say, the pinions, the force that gives momentum to the rest of the institution including other grades. (Interview, Melody).
Total, todo el tiempo hacemos transversalidad, es, una malla curricular bastante consolidada, cada año hacemos unas mesas de trabajo donde vamos renovando, según las expectativas y las necesidades de la comunidad, … este trabajo es conjunto, tiene que ver con toda a institución, somos parte de ese gran engranaje de la maquinaria, de la institución, somos, diría yo, los piñones, la fuerza que le da impulso al resto de la institución incluyendo a los demás grados. (Entrevista a Melody).
According to Jeffrey and Craft (2004), innovation, ownership, control, and relevance are characteristics that were used in research in primary schools from 1990 that focused on the creativity of the teacher and the nature of their creative teaching. Melody speaks of this creativity, regarding curricular planning.
Teachers’ authoring. Teacher making decisions and acting in their contexts
In these public schools––where the program is implemented––in comparison with private schools, early educators face problems of precarious early socialization of children, because they are born and grow up in spaces of scarce social and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1993) compared to that possessed by other groups in society. This starting condition is transformed into a challenge by teachers, who are concerned with issues, such as participation, among others. They look for alternatives so that children’s voices could be heard when they become participant agents in their learning process.
I do not lecture; we do the class together. I'm frustrated if children do not participate, but if I do something and they get involved in the story I feel good, because they already proposed, and my leadership gradually lessens. (Interview, Maria).
Yo por lo menos no trabajo la clase magistral, para mi todos hacemos la clase, si los niños no participan, me siento frustrada, pero y si yo empiezo a actuar y a hacer algo loco con el tema que estamos viendo, y ellos se meten en el cuento, que chévere, ya me siento bien, porque ellos ya propusieron y yo voy como menguando mi liderazgo (Entrevista a María).
As Maria affirms with regard to reading, her leadership gives ground to the participation of children in processes that actively involve them throughout the development of the planned activity, starting from the interaction with the educator. The observation of a teacher’s day at work evidences the flow of activities, oriented toward instilling in the children a sense of participation and a relational way of looking at things. The teacher develops a sequence that become richer and deeper in accordance with their conceptions of child’s development.
All the children have arrived. As a welcoming ritual, they sit at their places…they begin with a dialogue about the day before by asking questions about what they liked the most and what they liked the least…Then, there’s a reading: the teacher choses a story—which I later found out was related to a dialogue previously held with the children—while they get ready to listen, without the teacher’s instructions. The reading begins, some of the children ask questions, and always with an open attitude, she answers…the teacher manages to capture their attention through voice changes, gestures, and movements that complement the story…Once the reading is over, some space is given for reflection about the story: what they liked the most and what they found interesting. They leave the classroom for some physical activity…the teacher reorganizes the classroom space turning it into a gym. Before entering, they take off their shoes and grab a gym mat. First, relaxation, paced breathing, exercises that bring to mind the book that was read…and she asks them to imagine, while still lying down, how the story goes, and so, the story is retold based on what the children are saying. The memory of the places evoked helps them prepare the gym space…Once the gym is all set, the teacher enacts the movements of the characters in the story and invites the children to follow her lead. As she works on the gym, the teacher also works with the musical instruments (drum, triangle, tambourine, maracas, and claves), associating them with the reading…At the end of the day, the teacher opens up a dialogue about what they have done during the day and what they have learned, with the reading as guiding thread of activities. (Field-Journal)
Todo ello se ve reflejado desde el inicio de la jornada cuando los recibe (a niños y niñas) en la puerta y los dirige al aula en donde se encuentran para realizar un saludo colectivo, como ritual de bienvenida todos se sientan en su silla…y comienzan a desarrollar un diálogo respecto a lo que hicieron el día anterior …se indaga sobre lo que más les gustó y lo que menos les agradó…Usualmente se inicia con una lectura, la maestra toma un cuento que tenga que ver con algunas de las situaciones que se nombraron en el primer diálogo, para este momento las y los estudiantes se preparan, … para realizar la lectura; es decir, la docente no tiene que dar la instrucción …La lectura empieza, …se van aclarando dudas y respondiendo preguntas que van surgiendo, la maestra siempre se mantiene en una actitud abierta…siempre escucha y da una respuesta…es todo un espectáculo pues la maestra logra captar su atención, interactuando con voces, gestos y movimientos que interpreta de acuerdo a la historia…Al finalizar la lectura la maestra realiza un espacio evaluativo -si se quiere mirar así- sobre la misma, para ello realiza preguntas por lo que más les gusto y o que encontraron interesante. Posterior a la lectura los niños y niñas salen a clase de Educación Física…la maestra reorganiza el espacio transformándolo en un gimnasio. Antes de entrar, se quitan los zapatos y entran a la colchoneta. Primero, relajación…respiración…ejercicios que despiertan la imaginación y la creatividad…, trae a la memoria el libro leído, las situaciones allí vividas, los personajes identificados, los sonidos realizados y…así reconstruye la misma a partir de lo que sus estudiantes van diciendo. Cuando comienzan a conversar sobre los lugares y como eran estos termina el diálogo e inicia otro momento, el gimnasio. Para instalarlo la maestra retoma lo que el grupo venia narrando respecto a los lugares de la historia y los asemeja con alguna parte del gimnasio; …con cada lugar nombrado, una vez montado todo el gimnasio la maestra inicia el trabajo con movimientos indicándoles a sus estudiantes qué personaje son y retomando de la lectura lo que hacían para que las niñas y los niños puedan simularlos; en general este momento se enfoca en el trabajo corporal. Junto con el gimnasio la maestra trabaja los instrumentos musicales, … tambor, triángulo, pandereta, maracas y clave…asociándolos con la lectura. Para terminar la jornada la maestra genera un espacio en el que dialogan sobre lo que hicieron durante el día, sobre lo aprendido y la lectura que resulta ser el hilo conductor de las actividades (Diario de Campo).
This teacher created alternative ways of organizing activities, times, and spaces with meaning. Teachers use their intuition and their children’s needs at every moment. This way of thinking and acting invites them to make decisions on a permanent basis, becoming protagonists of the educational process and responsible for the consequences that this entails in the school.
When I talk about intertwining the situations that happen in the classroom, and pursuing that everything has a harmonious relationship, I do it from what I know, from my teacher background. I have no single answer to early childhood education, I think the only recipe is willingness, zest and love for what you do, and that’s all. (Interview, Silvia).
Cuando yo hablo de entretejer las situaciones que suceden dentro del aula, y buscar que todo tenga una relación armónica, también lo hago con conocimiento de las teorías, de lo que yo sé, de mi bagaje como maestra, de lo que puedo poner, esa herramienta en la mano, para decir, “esto nos puede funcionar en este momento”, yo no tengo una respuesta única para educación inicial, pienso que la receta única es la disposición, el gusto y el amor por lo que se hace, es eso (Entrevista a Silvia).
It means that teachers like Silvia freely assume to be themselves in the sociohistorical circumstances in which they act; they talk about themselves and are aware of the important role they play in children’s development. Teachers’ authoring can be recognized as the key resource through which teachers make sense of their work. The teachers make efforts to maintain and develop their professional identities.
Teachers creating new figured worlds
The actions of teachers with preschool children have brought "winds of change" to the school, in the line of "another order," as one of the teachers names it. This new order is accompanied by changes that contravene the figured world, considered natural among those who live in the school. This figured world becomes natural in terms of the rites, actions, activities, rules, and practices that are situated spatially and temporally, that the actors involved understand and share (Urrieta, 2007). In this way, their lives within that world make sense because they are interpreted in the light of shared meanings (Holland et al., 1998). The characteristics of these new figured worlds created by preschool teachers can be expressed as follows:
The democratization of the relations established by the actors
This democratic perspective opposes the trend that persists in most schools predominantly authoritarian, hierarchical, and homogeneous (Harber, 1995; Moss, 2021). The teachers' agency allows this “other order” to transform the conceptions of social relations and the ways to establish them.
It is a ‘different order’: friendly and fostered among all. It does not require yelling and challenging looks. Undoubtedly, it teaches children how to build relationships of solidarity, with respect, recognition and acceptance of everyone. It is ‘another order’ that invites them to be there, autonomously, according to their interests. (Interview, Emilia).
Este "otro orden", diferenciado, amable y propiciado entre todos, es uno que no requiere gritos y miradas desafiantes, de manera profunda ello evidencia que los niños y niñas luego de esas relaciones pensadas de manera diversa, tienen un disfrute diferente por las dinámicas institucionales, haciendo uso de otros principios de autonomía relacionados con sus intereses (Entrevista a Emilia).
In this same sense, a teacher proposes the teaching of sign language, as alternative, with the purpose of making the school inclusive, or at the least, to teach the children to understand each other from the difference as a valuable trait of democracy building.
The teacher involves sign language as a method of inclusive education, for the students to be prepared to interact with any person, in any condition whatsoever; she uses this language constantly throughout the day (Field-Journal).
La docente involucra el lenguaje de señas…como método de educación incluyente…considera que es una herramienta que le proporciona a los estudiantes con el fin de que estén preparados para interactuar con cualquier persona en cualquier condición; dicho lenguaje lo usa constantemente durante la jornada (Diario de Campo).
The above records show the variety of strategies teachers put at the children’s disposal in order to create democratizing spaces during learning, socializing, and the child development process. The ideas of participation as action imply a deeper consideration of agency in teachers and social actorship and open up alternative mechanisms of inclusion and the concomitant expansion of the concept of democracy in classrooms and schools.
The recognition of the subject as the protagonist of the school activity
Teachers seek to move from a focus on content to a focus on the subject who learns. In this way, the pedagogical approach and school activities are centered on the child and her interests. This movement alter the teacher–student power relationship and propose a new balance of school relations and the educational process.
The richness of project-based work lies in the variety of possibilities that may be presented to children to enrich their learning process because it avoids routine, promotes curriculum integration, collective construction; it helps to adapt to time and place in which it develops, and allows recognizing the child as a subject of knowledge that fully develops. (Interview, Melody).
La riqueza del trabajo por proyectos está en la variedad de posibilidades que se le puede presentar a los niños y niñas para que enriquezcan su conocimiento pues evita la rutina, favorece la integración curricular, la construcción colectiva; permite adecuarse al tiempo y al lugar en el cual se desarrolla, y permite reconocer al niño como sujeto de saber que se desarrolla integralmente (Entrevista a Melody).
This recognition of the children allows them to occupy a space that is warm, cheerful, lively, and, as opposed to other school spaces, a place where they can be happy. The education of children is potentiated when teachers understand that students learn more and develop better if their interests are used as basis of the educational activities and if they manage to understand the meaning of such activities.
Participation as a resource for the construction of active subjects
Early childhood teachers feel committed to a perspective that seeks the construction of new subjects. In this sense, participation is an indispensable mechanism for giving children a voice and thus contributing to their development as autonomous subjects. Teachers are open to change, in their interaction with children, in a sense contrary to what is reported in the literature in relation to the resistance they put up against it (Ball, 1989).
…children express themselves; they feel comfortable and know that they are a legitimate other when they are heard and have time to talk about their cat, their mom, their aunt, or a trip to the pool. (Interview, Marcela).
El espacio de encuentro de dejarlos expresarse es sentirse cómodos en su lugar y saber que eres otro legítimo cuando se te escucha y tienen el tiempo de decir que yo puedo contar que mi gato, que es que mi mamá, que es que mi tía, que fui a la piscina (Entrevista a Marcela).
For this teacher, children’s participation is a priority for the pedagogical experience and she is willing to reinforce it in all the areas in which she works: play, literature, exploration and the artistic expression.
In every experience with the children, the teacher makes sure that their voice is being heard. So, while the group is gathered around a series of abstract paintings, located at the centre of their circle, a simple question like “what do you think these images are about?” makes the children raise their hands immediately, asking to speak, while those who cannot restrain themselves start out brainstorming on what each image incites in them. (Field-Journal).
En cada experiencia con los niños y niñas, las maestras garantizan que su voz sea escuchada, así, mientras uno de los grupos se encuentra alrededor de una serie de pinturas abstractas ubicadas en el centro de su ronda, resulta cautivante apreciar cómo una pregunta sencilla: ¿de qué creen que serán estas imágenes? hace que las manos de los niños y niñas se levanten rápidamente pidiendo la palabra y algunos de ellos sin poder contenerse, empiecen a expresar la lluvia de ideas que cada imagen les suscita (Diario de Campo).
The teacher in her process of continuous reflection generates more appropriate alternatives to promote child development that not only allow content learning but also propose renewed actions that benefit children on the way to construct themselves as active agents in the social world.
Parental involvement in the school
Through the incorporation of parents into school life, teachers break down the walls of the school. Parents maintain a permanent interaction with teachers, which is not a common feature within the public school. Parents' knowledge of children's schoolwork and their participation are essential to promote a meaningful development. Epstein's model recognizes the significant role of collaboration between teachers, parents, and community in promoting student development (Epstein, 1996). The work with the family demands that teachers explain to parents the meaning of their work, their purposes, and the need for them to understand that what is important is the well-being and development of their children.
During a short meeting with some parents, Marcela manages to mitigate their anxiety by clearly saying: what is important is not that they come out reading and writing, but that they have enough tools to do so better and with more comprehension skills; that they leave with the basics. Do not expect them to come out reading and writing, like you might have. Your children also read their environment, they read others’ feelings, and speak about themselves or their classmates clearly; and that is also a gain. (Field-Journal).
Durante una reunión con padres de familia Marcela intenta bajar la ansiedad que les genera el proceso de lectoescritura diciendo que los niños, se llevan las herramientas, ellos se llevan las bases, pero que no esperen que salgan leyendo y escribiendo de manera convencional. Mire que es un niño muy hábil para leer el entorno y lo describe a la perfección, mire que el niño lee también los sentimientos del otro y te habla de sí mismo o del compañerito con claridad y eso también es una ganancia (Diario de Campo).
In summary, preschool teachers, through the program that integrates children aged 3–4 into school, report that it has been possible to mobilize changes in school life. These teachers are giving shape and meaning to educational and school change and thus contributing to improving the lives of children in schools and in society.
A limitation of this study is that the teachers who participated in the process joined voluntarily and therefore had a good disposition toward the implementation of the ECE program. Given the great diversity of schools and teachers in a city like Bogotá, the question remains open as to what happens in those schools where there is resistance to the implementation of the policy. In this same sense, we focus on analyzing the possibilities rather than the difficulties. Therefore, future studies could focus on the difficulties in the implementation processes.