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These are our stories: Affording children and teachers’ voices in participatory research

Carys Jennings, Curriculum Tutor at The Open University in Wales

Choosing a mixed-method approach as the basis for my EdD journey was a moral as opposed to a methodological decision, based on my own values and beliefs. If I was to explore the lived lives of the participants, then their voices had to be front and centre of the work (Clark, 2017; Rinaldi, 2001). Being of a social constructivist persuasion with a belief that researcher-led collection and interpretation of the data is unable to capture the reality and complexity of early development and education generally, the perfect solution appeared to me to combine the triangulation of pupil, teacher, researcher in a co-constructive fashion. Children are after all – as stated in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – considered the experts of their own lives; and teachers have long since been encouraged to become research active (Greany, 2015).

Teachers often give reasons for their lack of engagement in research activities. These can include time, the disinclination to engage, and knowing that what is being researched has meaning and relevance to their own practice (Yu, 2011). As part of the education reform journey in Wales, the teaching and leadership standards now include the expectation for teachers to become active researchers to inform their practices (Welsh Government, 2019). Therefore, inviting pupils and teachers to share their stories as part of my own research zone of proximal development journey is timely.

The rhizomatic nature of a qualitative research methods such as the Mosaic approach (Clark, 2017) requires a sound knowledge of early childhood and the mechanics of education provision: warts and all. Rinaldi (2001), in her discussion of the practices of the Reggio Emilia approach, highlights the importance of the pedagogy of listening. Encouraging children (and educators) to find meaning in what they do, asking them the how and why questions, helping them reflect on what they encounter and what they experience (Rinaldi, 2001) leads to a wealth of evidence. Interpretation is key – but that of the storyteller (the children and teachers) not that of the data gatherer (researcher), as each story is as unique as a thumbprint.

‘Interpretation is key – but that of the storyteller (the children and teachers) not that of the data gatherer (researcher), as each story is as unique as a thumbprint.’

Many teachers’ practice and pedagogy are akin to Bronfenbrennian, Vygotskyian and Laeversian thinking, recognising that children’s wellbeing and environment are influencers on their development. If we want to understand what constitutes effective pedagogy through research and we expect teachers to become active researchers of their work, including teachers’ voices regarding their pedagogical decisions should be part of the conversation. Conversely, if we include children in the discussion, the impact of their teachers’ vision on them needs to be included. Participatory research is a maze with myriad twists and turns to navigate. Once trust is established, support is given and a clear understanding of the research aims are shared, the rich tapestry of data is woven. We as practitioners and researchers also need pause points, providing time to think and reflect on the importance of children’s voices, and making their real lived experiences clearly visible within our practices. If the aim of educational research is for findings to inform practice, with a view to making improvements in teaching and learning (Getenet, 2019), for me this can only be done when their stories are told in their own words.


Clark, A. (2017). Listening to young children: A guide to understanding and using the Mosaic approach (3rd ed). National Children’s Bureau.

Getenet, S. (2019). Using design-based research to bring partnership between researchers and practitioners. Educational Research, 61(4), 482–494.

Greany, T. (2015). How can evidence inform teaching and decision making across 20,000 autonomous schools?: Learning from the journey in England. In Brown, C. (ed) Leading the use of research and evidence in schools. Institute of Education Press.

Rinaldi, C. (2001). The pedagogy of listening: The listening perspective from Reggio Emilia.

Welsh Government. (2019). Teaching and leadership standards.

Yu, K. (2011). Exploring the nature of the researcher-practitioner relationship in qualitative educational research publications. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 24(7), 785–804.