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Living Stories

Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education


Susan Bernheimer

In Living Stories: Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education, Susan Bernheimer takes the reader into her journey with a group of nontraditional college students. Bernheimer’s struggle to find a meaningful approach to teaching the students about early childhood development and care is infused with the insights and wisdom that come from listening to, and valuing, the remarkable stories of her students’ lives. This book offers a powerful new road map for early childhood teacher preparation through a relational pedagogy that honors students’ life experiences and that leads to deep reflection and learning. The approach is embedded in students’ strengths and knowledge and is successfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student demographic. Bernheimer provides an inclusive model of education that builds upon the strengths of all students. 

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Chapter Eight. Challenges of a Relational Pedagogy


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Chapter 8


Challenges of a Relational Pedagogy

My work with women in poverty not only pushed me into new ways of teaching. It brought me face to face with unexpected levels of personal discomfort. Like my students, I was facing uncertainty and risk as I let go of known answers and searched for new ones. Facilitating learning within a dynamic and spontaneous classroom environment often confronted me with a level of insecurity I had rarely experienced as an instructor. Implementing this pedagogy was turning out to be far more complicated than I ever realized.

Shifting to a Relational Pedagogy

My new purpose of creating an environment for co-constructed knowledge meant reassessing everything I knew about teaching. The students and I would now be working together as partners in the learning process. It challenged much of what I had learned and practiced over the years in teaching college courses. It also meant finding ways to operate within an educational institution structured for a traditional ← 109 | 110 → pedagogy. The scope of changes to shift my approach to instruction often felt overwhelming.

Where to start? My beginning was recognizing that skills I had carefully mastered no longer applied: lectures full of data; being the authority in charge of what knowledge was of value; the expert everyone looked to for answers; and managing every aspect of classroom learning. I was now operating in the gap of redefining my...

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