Early childhood offers us the opportunity to view humanity in its rawest form – the joys, sorrows, desires are expressed through words, body, play, and creative expression. Cuffaro (1995) teaches us that in early childhood classrooms, we begin to learn to live in community, practice democratic living, and experience, enact and build essential understandings of the social world. In early childhood classrooms where play is encouraged, facilitated, and observed, the essential tensions of our culture are played out. These spaces offer perceptive observers an opportunity to understand how gender identity, development, and relationship shape teaching and learning (Chu, 2014; Katch, 2002; Paley, 1986). The inquiry described in this article stems from the observations of an astute, wise, kindergarten teacher named Eric, who was dedicated to being “vitally present” in relationship to his students and whose capacity for presence was challenged by a young boy named TJ.

Author Biography

Miriam B. Raider-Roth is an associate professor of educational studies and educational and community-based action research and the director of the Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Culture at the University of Cincinnati. Her research focuses on the relational context of teaching and learning, children’s and teachers’ conceptions of their relationships in school, practitioner action research, and feminist qualitative research methods. She is the author of Trusting What You Know: The High Stakes of Classroom Relationships (2005) and “Bridges to New Knowledge: Culture, Religion and Identity in Teacher Professional Development” (in press). She currently studies how relational learning communities contribute to teachers’ transformative learning in professional development settings.

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