“Learning Stories” in Practice
Wendy Lee
Director, Educational Leadership Project Ltd
ELP provides professional learning opportunities for teachers in the ECE sector in New Zealand.
Over the past two decades, ELP has provided professional learning for teachers interested in the
application of Learning Stories in many countries including England, Germany, the USA, and China.
Wendy’s passion for ECE resulted in her becoming national President of the Kindergarten Teachers
Association and then, as a mother, her strong advocacy for the role of mothers and children in
society led to community work and ultimately to her role as a Councillor for the Rotorua District
Council. Wendy's strong belief in life-long education, social equity, and the key role of the ECE
sector in achieving this, led to her increasing collaboration with Professor Margaret Carr over a
range of ECE research projects emanating from Te Whāriki. Her determination to provide all ECE
teachers with practical tools that are deeply embedded in the principles of the Whāriki is reflected
in the development and application of Learning Stories for both assessment and professional
Wendy talks about her initial reluctance to embrace Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s national
early years curriculum framework, saying that when she “looked around the world” she
saw that school curricula tended to water down early childhood and that they were just
a translation of a school curriculum pushed down into early childhood.
Reflect on the curriculum you are most familiar with and how this may/may not apply.
Wendy says, “I am not preparing children for school. I’m preparing children for life.
What does that mean to you?”
Wendy says, “In the process of Te Whāriki and the fabulous gifting of the bicultural
frame, no longer was math, science, social studies, art, music, etc., the front frame (but
rather) this lovely socio cultural frame of wellbeing, belonging, contribution,
communication, exploration . . . empowerment, holistic education, and engaging
families and communities.” How does this differ from most approaches?
In which ways does this better serve a child’s preparation for life?
Wendy tells us that the process of Te Whāriki took five years to develop, and then
another ten years to understand. Which lessons does this teach those of us interested
in affecting real change in early childhood?
Wendy says that “the old observation style” of assessment tended to focus on “deficit,
meaning the things a child cannot do so that we can “fix the child.” How might this
approach harm children?
For many adults charged with the responsibility of “assessment,” it shows up as a
chore. Wendy says that Learning Stories “bring back the enjoyment, this
companionship of being with children . . . Let’s make assessment not something that
sits outside curriculum, (but rather something) that is woven into the fabric of this
place.” Can you think of how this approach might make assessment more useful for
educators, parents, and children?
Wendy advises teachers to imagine that they are the parent of the child who they are
assessing. How will it make them feel? If the answer is not positive then that’s a sign
that there is “some little deficit sitting inside there.” How might this approach, which
celebrates the strengths of a child, create a better learning environment children and
their families?
How might this approach create a better teaching environment for ECE professionals?
Wendy talks about “funny moments” when a teacher would run toward a parent to
share a Learning Story and the parent would turn away. Why do you suppose a parent
who isn’t familiar with the Learning Stories approach might turn away?
Wendy talks about “lovely stories” of parents trying to run away with their child’s
portfolio of Learning Stories thinking maybe she couldn’t, but they desperately wanted
to take it home. What does that tell you about the power of the Learning Story
Wendy says, “If you write a Learning Story, first and foremost, who is the Learning Story
for? For the child. Your first and most important person who reads the story, and who
you read the story to, is the child. And hopefully, the story is read and reread.” How
does this differ from the typical assessment tool of report cards?
Wendy says that another key “audience” for a Learning Story is “the community.Deficit
oriented assessment methods are typically considered confidential. How might this
kind of transparency transform the educational experience for both children and their
Finally, Wendy says that Learning Stories are for a child’s family, and that family
members are even encouraged to write their own Learning Stories about the child.
What impact might this have on children and their families?
Wendy says, “What we're trying to say to teachers is bring your Learning Stories to the
heart of what you do. Put your energy, your heart, and soul into this work because this
is the transformational work. These stories will live long after you've gone. And these
stories… I know many of these stories will be read by these children as grandparents to
their children.” Reflect on how different this approach is to the conventional approach
to assessment.
Wendy says, “If you look for the best and find the best, we know that's transformative.
We know that, actually, when you start writing about that child in a different way, and
you keep reading the stories and reading the stories, these things change. Because if
you're going to focus on that, it's going to grow - whatever it is.” How can you apply
this principle, today, in your work with young children?
Wendy reiterates that, “Reading, and rereading, of stories is a very important part of
the process of Learning Stories.” Why do you think this is so important?
Wendy says, “If you start to put Learning Stories into systems and structures, you lose
the magic and the power of the story. For example, as soon as I hear someone saying
something like, "I've got my ten children, and I have to do ten a month," I go, “Problem.
Big problem here.” What is this big problem?
Wendy offers several examples of actual Learning Stories. Think about a child in your
life and try writing a Learning Story, remembering to avoid deficits, and staying focused
on positives.
Read it (and reread it) to the child.
Share it with other adults in the child’s life.
How has this process affected your relationship with the the child?
What are your big takeaways from this talk?
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Tom "Teacher Tom" Hobson is an early childhood educator, international speaker,
education consultant, teacher of teachers, parent educator, and author. He is best
known, however, for his namesake "Teacher Tom's Blog," where he has posted daily for
over a decade, chronicling the life and times of his little preschool in the rain soaked
Pacific Northwest corner of the USA. For nearly two decades he was the sole employee
of the Woodland Park Cooperative School, a parent-owned and operated school, knit
together by Teacher Tom's democratic, progressive, play-based pedagogy. He has
authored two bestselling books, consults with organizations about his "Family Schools
program,” and inspires early years audiences around the world at major education
conferences, both virtually and in-person.
Teacher Tom also enjoys sharing his approach through online e-courses for early
childhood educators and parents, and via international ECE conferences. In 2020, he
co-hosted the epic “The Play First Summit” with Fairydust Teaching, attracting more
than 75,000 participants from over 100 countries. This year he is thrilled to be hosting
and producing Teacher Toms Play Summit all on his own.