Occasional Paper Series
Facilitating Conversations on Difficult Topics in the Classroom:
Teachers’ Stories of Opening Spaces Using Children’s Literature
Mollie Welsh Kruger, Susie Rolander, and Susan Stires
Educators have long extolled the brilliance of Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) and her exploration of how books can serve as both mirrors and windows for children—mirrors in which children can see themselves and windows that widen their world. What if we broadened her formulation to include the realm of conversation? We assert that books are the base and what follows is the possibility of rich, deep conversations in classrooms.
For this edition of the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series, we invited educators to share stories from their practice: times when they utilized children’s literature and conversations to address real life; the difficult topics that children experience through the mirror of their own experiences or the windows of their peers, communities, or world.
As guest editors for this issue, we (Mollie, Susie, and Susan) are strongly influenced by Bank Street College, an institution that values the intersection of academic learning and the real world. In fact the credo states, “The mission of Bank Street College is to improve the education of children and their teachers by applying to the education process all available knowledge about learning and growth and by connecting teaching and learning meaningfully to the outside world” (Mitchell, 1951).
This edition underscores these beliefs. These stories are the stories of educators who have tried, and sometimes stumbled, and are showing us their vulnerabilities. In each story, there is profound learning from the conversations that emerge from books.
Read the Full Essay Full PDF of OPS #44
Susie Rolander began her life as an educator in Sonoma County, California, teaching and learning from amazing kindergarten students in a school where 20 different languages were spoken. In the dual-language program, Susie taught her students exclusively in Spanish while another teacher taught the English portion. (Her students didn’t even know she could speak English!) After moving to New York City, she studied at and graduated from the Literacy Program at Bank Street Graduate School of Education. For ten years, she worked in a New York City public school as a literacy specialist, where the most delightful part of her job was connecting students with books. She has instructed and learned from graduate students at Bank Street for the past 10 years, first as an adjunct, and then as faculty. Consistently, her students’ favorite part of class is when she reads aloud a children’s book to end the class.
As a faculty member of the Graduate School at Bank Street College, Susan Stires taught writing, reading, language, and children’s literature courses. She was also a lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a staff developer in New York City schools, following 30 years as an elementary school teacher. Along with a book, With Promise, she is the author of numerous chapters and articles on working with young students for whom literacy is often compromised. In her retirement, she has been providing literacy support at Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education, which was founded by her daughter, Anne Stires, in 2010.