Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.3, 341-347
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 341
Using Story as Sites of Dialogue, Disillusionment, and
Development of Dispositions to Support
Inclusive Education
Michelann Parr, Terry Campbell
Schulich School of E ducation, Nipissing University, North Bay, Canada
Email: {michelap, terryc}
Received April 10th, 2012; revised May 11th, 2012; accepted May 29th, 2012
This article reports on an ongoing action research project regarding stories and dialogue that can be used
as experiences of difference and diversity, and their impact on the classroom environment/community and
the teacher. Over a period of ten years, the researchers have engaged a total of 2400 teacher candidates,
through their language and literacy course, in a discussion of what it means to be different and how these
values and attitudes impact what happens in the classroom. Using children’s literature as a starting point,
teacher candidates are encouraged to make connections between read alouds, reader response, critical lite-
racy, and how this ultimately transforms their knowledge, values, and zones of comfort in both the teacher
education classroom and the regular classroom.
Keywords: Inclusive Education; Teacher Education; Story; Literature; Language and Literacy
What Can We Do? Our Questions,
Our Tensions
Teacher candidates enter our classroom with varying levels
of comfort with regard to individual difference, diversity, and
equity. As are many teacher educators, we are often plagued by
the question of “What can we do?” which not only suggests the
vagueness of how we train teachers for diversity, but also the
wonder of whether this is something that we can do within the
context of a single course/program, given the assumptions, pre-
dispositions (values and beliefs), and experiences of our teacher
candidates (Garman, 2004; Pollock, Deckman, Mira, & Shalaby,
Our teacher education program does not screen for what
might be considered to be ideal teacher dispositions; acceptance
into our program is based primarily on grades, with some space
reserved for special populations. In fact, while we recognize the
importance of prior dispositions and experiences, we feel that
by critically examining such dispositions in relation to context,
prior experience, and possible misperception, we can support
our students in developing more positive attitudes and ideally
essential teacher dispositions that will allow them to foster the
core principles of inclusive education. We operate under the
assumption that “an unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato)
and that we can create environments that foster learning at the
level of our learners, regardless of setting (UNESCO, 2009).
It is our belief that in order to be truly effective as teacher
educators, we must model and teach in a way that fosters and
expects sensitivity and acceptance of difference and diversity.
We discuss, at length, discourses or ways of being, reinforcing
that every student brings a unique set of strengths, needs, prac-
ti c es, and dispositions t o the classroom (Parr & Ca mpbell, 2007).
Regardless of whether we align with the concept of “cultural
capital” (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) , “funds of kn owledge” (Moll,
Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992), “ways with words” (Heath,
1983), or “discourses” (Gee, 2004, 2012), they all arrive at the
same conclusion: “teaching students as opposed to teaching
curriculum requires us to make our classrooms places where all
students’ experiences and values are considered relevant, va-
lued, and important” (Parr & Campbell, 2007: p. 80). Without
explicit acceptance of these ways of being, we are overlooking
a critical success point for many students. If we simply teach to
the White middle class curriculum, we will have many students
who are as excluded from the curriculum as they would be if
they did not attend school at all.
Transforming (that is, improving) attitudes and beliefs about
diversity is not something that is easily accomplished. In fact,
there have been studies (Haberman & Post, 1998; Levine-Rasky,
2001) that have gone so far as to suggest that teacher candidates
should be screened upon entry based on their ideologies and
predispositions, suggesting that diversity training is only useful
for those who are open, self-aware, self-reflective, and com-
mitted to social justice (Garman, 2004). We do not engage our
students in diversity training; instead we continually ask our
selves: “What can we do?” and “How can we provide experi-
ences for our students that will enable them to explore, examine,
and develop the dispositions needed to work with diverse
In research into our own practice, as we search for answers to
these questions, we are guided by the following practical ten-
sions (Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Pollock, Deckman, Mira, &
Shalaby, 2010):
How do we encourage our teacher candidates to search for
actionable steps that they can take in their own classrooms
and schools?
How do we, in our classes, encourage our teacher candi-
dates to question the power of an individual educator to
make a difference?
How do we engage our teacher candidates in questioning
their own personal readiness to become the type of educator
who can successfully navigate issues of difference and di-
versity in their own lives and classroom practice?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Education:
Constructing a Disposition of Difference
Transforming teacher candidates’ dispositions first requires
us to examine what is meant by diversity, equity, and inclusive
education, ultimately developing what Howard (2007) has re-
ferred to what Howard (2007) has referred to as a disposition of
difference. Because we teach elementary education in Ontario,
our definitions are drawn from the Ontario Ministry of Educa-
tion (2009) who defines the terms diversity, equity, and inclu-
sive education in the following ways:
Diversity: The presence of a wide range of human quali-
ties and attributes within a group, organization, or society.
The dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited
to, ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity,
language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion,
sex, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.
Equity: A condition or state of fair, inclusive, and re-
spectful treatment of all people. Equity does not mean
treating people the same without regard for individual
Inclusive Education: Education that is based on the prin-
ciples of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Stu-
dents see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their
physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in
which diversity is honoured and all individuals are re-
spected (p. 4).
Consistent with UNESCO (2009), our goal is “to eliminate
exclusion that is a consequence of negative attitudes and a lack
of response to diversity in race, economic status, social class,
ethnicity, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation and abil-
ity.” We recognize that “inclusive education is not a marginal
issue but is central to the achievement of high quality education
for all learners and the development of more inclusive societies.
Inclusive education is essential to achieving social equity and is
a constituent element of lifelong learning” (p. 4).
But despite teacher awareness, acknowledgement of what is
right and fair, and intent, inclusive education continues to be a
philosophical and conceptual ideology and set of guidelines, as
opposed to a way of being in many classrooms. This is not to
say that we should not be aiming for the goals of inclusion, but
that regardless of how we dialogue about diversity, equity, and
inclusive educati on, we still have a long way to go. The challen-
ge in education is not simply to be aware of the policies, but to
find a way to put these ideologies into practice in a way that
will “stimulate discussion, encourage positive attitudes, and impro-
ve educational and social frameworks” (UNESCO, 2009: p. 7).
We have found through our many encounters with teacher
candidates that experiences of story and literature can stimulate
discussion and allow students to examine their predispositions
in a non-threatening environment. What follows is a description
of how we initiate a dialogue of discourse with our teacher
candidates and the types of discussions we have with them with
regard to the use of story in our classrooms. Our hope is that
they will in turn bring these texts into their own classrooms in
relevant and sustainable ways. While we can aim for policy and
guideline change, probably the greatest impact we will have, as
teacher educators, is with individual teacher candidates. It is
through these types of discussions that we hope to impress
upon our teacher candidates that it is indeed possible for just
one educator to make a difference.
Our Context: Our Dispositions as Teacher
Between the two of us, we have 25 years teaching experience
in elementary education. The philosophies and orientations to
text that we bring to our teacher education classrooms are
largely shaped by our encounters with literature and children in
the field. About inclusion, individual difference, and the need
for ongoing discussion and experience, they have taught us
much. Today, we teach a combined 240 teacher candidates
through our language and literacy course every year, meaning
that over the past ten years, we have had these conversations
with close to 2400 students, many of whom accept jobs in in-
ternational settings. Our course runs for 66 hours over two se-
mesters; we encounter the students bi-weekly for two hours
each, allowing us time to read, respond, discuss, and experience
how children’s literature can make a difference in our lives and
those of our students.
As teachers of language and literacy, we do feel that it is not
solely the role of the Multicultural Education, Special Educa-
tion, or Educational Psychology courses to discuss issues re-
lated to diversity. Hence, we weave discussions and experi-
ences of diversity into our classroom discussions and activities
on a daily basis. We accept our role in exploring, examining,
and furthering attitudes and beliefs about diversity—we insist
that diversity and individual differences are something to be
celebrated and embrac ed as opposed to to l erated an d excluded.
We do, however, find it difficult at times, in a predominantly
White middle class, female, teacher education program to get
across the impact of diversity as it is reflected in ways of being
in the world that are not simply difference as a firm grasp of the
obvious (e.g., race, gender, religious affiliation). Over our ten
years of teaching in teacher education, we have found that story
can provide our students with critical cultural experiences that
allow them to explore their own ways of being in the world and
talk about them in supportive and non-threatening environ-
ments, always in an effort to understand their students and their
diverse ways of being.
Our goal, like Howard (2007), is to encourage, explore, and
facilitate the development of the following teacher dispositions:
A disposition for difference: teachers who are culturally
competent and comfortable in their own skins, and able to
negotiate effectively across multiple dimensions of differ-
A disposition for dialogue: teachers who embody, and mo-
del for students, the capacity to engage in conversation
rather than wage war across differences;
A disposition for disillusionment: teachers who look be-
yond the barriers of their own culturally conditioned reali-
ties, ultimately allowing themselves to become disillusioned
with assumptions, perceptions, and misperceptions;
A disposition for democracy: teachers who challenge the
dynamic of dominance and work to give their students a fair
and equitable chance of success in life.
Stories as Exploration and Encounter: New Places,
New People, New Ideas
Stories are powerful. They are a journey and a joining. In a
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
tale we meet new places, new people, new ideas. And they be-
come our places, our people, our ideas. Jane Yolen
Story is one way that we can stimulate conversations among
students, teachers, families, even communities. We can exa-
mine critically what is happening in narrative literature in an
effort to understand what is happening in our worlds. We can
expose ourselves to different worlds and different places that
allow us to think differently, being mindful of our ways of be-
ing in the world as well as the needs of others. And through
story, we can encourage our teacher candidates to think, ulti-
mately putting the world, as they know it, in jeopardy (Dewey).
In order for us to stimulate these types of discussions, we
must first ensure that we are selecting stories that are accessible
and relevant to the lives of our learners. We do not shy away
from provocative or “risky” literature as this is where we often
see the most dissonance and then the greatest shift in awareness.
We feel strongly that many teacher candidates need to be
nudged away from the assumption that children’s books are
meant to be cute, entertaining, and light, and that children’s
books should always be happy and make us all feel better. Life
is not always pretty, so why do we expect stories to be? We do
not espouse stories that are cynical and despairing, but neither
do we avoid texts with strong issues that make us think and
give us something worth talking about. In order to find stories
that stimulate deep discussion, we look first of all for a text that
is well-written. This means it needs to tell a good story that
takes place in an authentic setting, has characters who are con-
vincingly real, is told with a unique style, and is presented in an
appealing format (for example, the illustrations enhance the
story, the book is an appropriate size and shape, and has well-
designed pages and typography). In addition, the overarching
theme that gives rise to conversation about important issues is
integrated into the story seamlessly rather than appearing as an
overly moralistic lesson.
Story allows us to establish the issues, discuss them, and then
come up with a way to address them. Envisioning story as a
cultural space and experience allows us to move beyond “talk-
ing about diversity” to experiencing diversity. Students engage
in dramatization of stories, debate among characters, journaling,
walking around inside a character’s head to get at the heart of
their thinking and response to situations, things that cannot wait
until they are in the midst of a real life experience. Story can
provide teacher candidates with an opportunity to plan and
rehearse issues and scenarios they might encounter some day
with real students. Further, through story, teacher candidates
can try on a stance, examine it, and reflect upon it, all of which
are critical dispositions when working with students, particu-
larly diverse populations.
Stories as Interrogative and Critical Spaces: Our
Places, Our People, Our Ide as
Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart and try to
love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books
written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers
which cannot be given you because you would not be able to
live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions
now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live
along some distant day into the answer. Rainer Maria Rilke
I believe that good questions are more important than an-
swers, and the best childrens books ask questions and make
the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to
disturb someones universe. Madeline LEngle
The stories we describe below are offered as spaces that allow
us to explore, examine, discuss, and revise what is meant by
difference, diversity, equity, and inclusive education in our
classrooms. We know that our concept of self as a literate being
shapes who we are in the classroom and how we interact with
our students. By juxtaposing our own stories with children’s
books, we can try to “understand what happened and why”
(Meyer, 1996: p. 1). These new stories, the ones that come to be
at the intersection of personal self and story can become, if we
allow them, a kind of primary text in classes, enabling us to
uncover our unspoken assumptions; examine the contradictions
between our pedagogies and our experiences; complicate our
understandings of literacy, learning, and teaching; integrate our
examined experiences into our working conceptions of literacy
and learning; develop intimacy and build community. They also
provide us with a sense of our own authority to resist and revise
the powerful culture of schools (Wilson & Ritchie, 1994: p. 85).
Each time we return to a story or introduce a new one, we
anticipate great discussion, we expect some resistance and
some disillusionment, and we know that each new question will
disturb someone’s universe, but we hope that our students will
be patient and travel their way gradually toward the answers.
We know that without this dissonance, it is unlikely that our
students will step outside their own perspectives and views to
consider those different than their own. We know, though, that
in order to be truly effective in diverse classrooms, teacher
candidates must understand, with sensitivity and respect, who
they are and how that influences their relationships with stu-
dents. Further, it means “being open to the voices in books”
developing critical insights, and moving toward “the goal of
creating classrooms that uncover the hidden possibilities for our
students” (Meyer, 1996: p. 129).
Classroom Communities as Storied Spaces: Our
Principles, Our Experiences
Our literature set reflects texts that foster different ways of
thinking and being, different ways of seeing the world, and
different ways of acting and reacting (see Table 1). The stories
we describe below are a starting point only. The challenge for
us lies in how we present and discuss the identified themes with
students. Ultimately, what works best is what gets them talking,
digging beyond the surface, and eventually navigating their
selves, their students, their communities, and their worlds. It is
our belief that teachers who have these sorts of stories at their
fingertips can use them when relevant to disrupt the realities
and universes of their students in a positive way. We apply the
following guidelines to ensure that our encounters with litera-
ture become storied experiences:
Introduce the story: Talk about concepts to establish a pur-
pose for listening; ask for expectations or make connections
to the title or book cover.
Read aloud for pleasure, interrupting the story only when it
is relevant to the overall experience (e.g., getting students to
think like a character or picture themselves in a given situa-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 343
Table 1.
Children’s literature that fosters storied experiences (starred titles are
highlighted below).
Community, risk taking, and collaboration
The Dot and Ish by Peter Re y nolds
Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt
Stone Soup by Jon J. Mu th
The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth*
Hooway for Wodney W at by Helen Lester*
Dont Laugh at Me by S t eve Seskin and Allen Shamblin
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
One by Kathryn O toshi
Learning differences
Frederick by Leo Lionni*
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima*
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco*
Through the Cracks by Carolyn Solomon
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Race and c ult ural diver si ty
Nokum is my Teacher by David Bouchard*
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hama naka
Skin Again by bell hooks
Am I a Color Too? by Heidi Cole and Nancy Vogl
Language d if ferences and arrival in a new country
Marianthes Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki*
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Emotional differences
Michael Rosens Sad Book by Michael Rosen*
Through the Forest by Anthony Browne
Jenny Ange l b y Eve Bunting
Monster Mama by Liz Rose n berg
Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Wild
Socio-economic diversity
The Hundred D resses by Eleanor Estes*
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
The Can Man by Laura E. Williams and Greg O rman
Religious di versity
Old Turtle by Douglas Wood*
Winter Lights: A Season in Poems and Quilt s by Anna Grossnickle
Global awareness
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khandra
Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams
The Orphan Boy by Tololwa M ollel
The Compos i tion by Antonio Skarmeta
All Kinds of Children by Norman Simon
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Making it Home: Real-life Stories from Children Forced to Flee by
Beverly Nadoo
After reading, discuss the me ssage s/theme s teacher candidate s
hear in the story, the connections they make, and reflections
on how they can apply the stories to their own lives.
Extend the reading by discussing how these stories can be
experienced in the classroom with students of all ages in
order to build community, teach principles of inclusive
education and inclusive societies, ultimately fostering glo-
bal awareness (see Table 2).
Building a Community that Fosters Risk-Taking and
Principle 1: All students have a right to be valued, contribu-
ting members in our classroom community.
Frederick by Leo Lionni, is a timeless tale about field mice
who work to gather food and supplies that will help their com-
munity weather the long, harsh winter. They work day and
night, all except Frederick who appears to be dreaming. When
queried by his comrades, however, he suggests that he is gath-
ering supplies—colours for the winters are long and gray, sto-
ries for we’ll run out of things to say, and words that will
transform realities. Readers are asked to be patient, to suspend
judgment, and then to decide whether Frederick’s supplies are
as worthy as his peers. In a room of teacher candidates, the
opinions are varied. Many see his value as critical to the well-
being of the community, many are indifferent, and many feel
that he’s lazy and not offering anything of substance to the
community. In fact, in dramatizing the story one year, a group
of teacher candidates voted Frederick off the island indicating
that, “his contribution of colours, stories, and words were not
enough to balance his consumption of food and supplies.”
Those who do see the value of Frederick’s contributions re-
cognize the less concrete, but nonetheless essential value of
artistic and creative expression—in this case, poetry. The text
allows us to discuss the nature of contribution and comfort to
be who you are in a community, without an expectation of con-
Coping with Bullying
Principle 2: All students have a right to feel included and
Table 2.
Principles of inclusive education fostered by storied experiences.
1) All students have a right to be valued, contributing members in
our classroom.
2) All students have a right to feel included and welcome in our
classroom community.
3) All students have a right to feel th at they have something unique
to offer.
4) All students have a right to bring their culture to school every day.
5) All students have a right to a right to speak a n d be heard,
regardless of the language they use.
6) All students have a right to “just be” in our classroom without
feeling excluded as a result.
7) All students have a right to empathy and understanding and
protection against all forms of cruelty in our classrooms.
8) All students have a right to express and live their spiritual beliefs.
9) All students who need it have a right to special education and
individualized programming without feeling excluded.
10) All students should consider needs, wants, and rights different
than their own.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
welcome in our classroom community.
Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester recounts an inter-
esting tale of being bullied and bullying. Wodney is a rat who
struggles to pronounce the letter r; as a result, he is the victim
of teasing and bullying. In the end though, when a new rodent
enters the scene and starts to bully the bullies, Wodney’s di-
fference transforms him into a hero. Throughout our program,
students discuss the issue of bullying in the classroom, on the
schoolyard, even cyberbullying, always from a theoretical, “talk
about it” stance. But one year, we found that one of our cohorts
(groups of forty students) was knee deep into a bullying situa-
tion and few of them even recognized it. Here, we chose our
literature wisely, looking for a text that would allow us to “talk
about the issue” but also to allow students to experience it from
a character’s perspective, thus providing a hypothetical situa-
tion that would allow us, and them, to discuss bullying and the
various roles played by those involved.
Following a read aloud, teacher candidates were asked to re-
enact the story, focusing on relating to characters and walking
around inside their heads to get an idea of what they were
thinking (Clyde, 2003). In the end, this text allowed teacher
candidates to step back from their cohort experience and exam-
ine their personal biases, behaviours, and perspectives—all of
which suggest that storied experiences enable us to see the fa-
miliar and the experienced in dif ferent ways.
Acknowledging Our Right to Learn Differently
Principle 3: All students have a right to feel that they are a
valued member of the community with something unique to
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima tells the story of a boy nick-
named “Chibi” (small boy). At school, he is an academic and
social outcast. The narrator of the story—an anonymous class-
mate—describes Chibi as being unable to learn a thing or to
make friends with the other children. He was “left alone in the
study time… left alone in the play time… always at the end of
the line… a forlorn little tag-along.”
This story evokes a range of responses from teacher candi-
dates. Some state initially that they don’t like the book. They
think it is too strange, and that children will not like it. Some
are able to identify with the character of Crow Boy; others are
able to empathize with his isolation due to his difference from
the other children. Upon discussion and after revisiting the
story, some of those who initially disliked the book extend their
opinions, recognizing the value of the story “because we have
all known Crow Boys, and will probably encounter Crow Boys
in our future classrooms.”
Valuing Race and Cultural Diversity
Principle 4: All students have a right to and bring their cul-
ture to school each and every day.
In Nokum is My Teacher by David Bouchard, a young boy
questions his grandmother, his Nokum, about life beyond their
reserve and beyond school. He wonders about his displacement
into the “White man’s world” and why it is that he has to learn
their way and their things in their way. Really what he is inter-
rogating is a fundamental issue faced by many students—Why
is the learning at school valued more than the learning outside
of school? Who made these decisions?
The story allows us a glimpse into the thoughts of a student
who has not yet discovered his place in a world that he consid-
ers foreign and unfamiliar. The questions he asks are critical for
our teacher candidates to consider. How will they accommodate
these students in their classrooms? How will they help them to
belong, and most importantly, how will they help them to bring
their culture and their home literacies into the classroom? Our
discussions with teacher candidates often circle around the con-
cept of teaching students first and curriculum second, helping
teacher candidates to realize that in order to teach curriculum,
they must indeed see and understand their students first and
then make the curriculum meaningful and relevant to their lives
both in and out of school.
Working with Language Differences and Arrival in a New
Principle 5: All students have a right to speak and be heard,
regardless of the language they use.
Marianthes Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by
Aliki is based on the author’s own experiences emigrating to
the United States from Greece and attending school with very
little English. The story is told through the voice a young girl,
Mari. She is apprehensive on her first day in a new school, but
her mother assures her that she will be able to “look, and listen,
and learn” and that “a smile is a smile in any language.” In her
classroom, Mari expresses herself and tells her story through
painting. This story almost always elicits an emotional reaction
from adult listeners in our university classroom, especially in
those who are immigrants or chil dren of immigrants.
Beyond that, they all recognize the potential of this text to
stimulate discussion among children and to lead to awareness
of multiple perspectives. For children, this story in our experi-
ence is usually taken at face value. If they have not experienced
speaking a different language from those around them, they
understand what it is like to be the “new kid” in various situa-
tions. From there, they can extrapolate to the experience of
being unable to speak the dominant language in a new group.
Respecting Emotional Differences
Principle 6: All students have a right to just be in our
classroom without feeling excluded as a result.
Michael Rosens Sad Book by Michael Rosen (illustrated by
Quentin Blake) opens with a drawing of a smiling face, under
which it says, “This is me being sad.” The author explains that
he is really sad but pretending to be happy because he thinks
people won’t like him if he looks sad. The book goes on to
explore the feelings of sadness; including when they become so
overwhelming he can no longer pretend. “Sometimes sad is
very big,” he says, and the drawing above is grey and brown,
with a very small figure walking with hunched shoulders. We
learn that he is sad because his son Eddie died (even though he
really loved him). Then he remembers things like laughter,
playing together, and candles on birthday cakes. The text ends
without words, just a picture of the author contemplating a
brightly lit candle.
Teacher candidates recognize the importance of addressing
real life issues such as death and sadness, but many worry about
the possibility of bad timing—what if a child in the classroom
has recently experienced a death in their family? Wouldn’t a
text like this one be too painful? We have deep discussions
about this issue. Most conclude that it is crucial to know your
students, and that it is always a judgment call. During discus-
sion, we consider the opinions of well-known authors on the
subject of death. Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 345
Terabithia for example, said that there is no perfect time to
discuss the reality of death, and that if we leave it until a death
has occurred it is too late (Paterson, 1989).
Appreciating Socio-Economic Diversity
Principle 7: All students have a right to empathy and under-
standing and protection against all forms of cruelty in our
Eleanor Estes’ (1944) The Hundred Dresses is a children’s
“classic” which continues to resonate for many school children.
In this story a group of schoolgirls, including a popular leader
and an increasingly conscience-stricken bystander who goes
along with them, taunt Wanda Petronski. Wanda lives “up on
Boggins Heights, which was no place to live” and “always
wore the same faded blue dress that didn’t hang right.” Every-
day as she’d make her way to school, the girls would ask
Wanda how many dresses she had to which she would respond
that she had one hundred dresses hanging up at home. The
girls’ merciless teasing eventually causes the family to leave
The girls realize what they have done by the end, but, as one
grade four student once remarked, “It’s horrible, cause they
can’t do anything about it.” This story is particularly troubling
in a beneficial, thought-provoking way, since it offers no tidy
solution. This is the sort of story that students do not forget; it
can be a touchstone when related topics or situations arise.
While most teache r candidates have not encountered this story,
they comment that it is still realistic after all these years and
certainly a situation they feel they will encounter at some point
in their teacher careers. The story itself offers multiple oppor-
tunities for discussion—what it means to bully, the impact of
socioeconomic status, the resilience of a human spirit, etc.
Embracing Religious Diversity
Principle 8: All students have a right to express and live their
spiritual beliefs.
Old Turtle, written in poetic parable style by Douglas Wood,
with gorgeous watercolour illustrations by Cheng-Khee Chee,
explores the meaning(s) of God from the point of view of vari-
ous creatures and natural beings from rocks, stars, and trees to
fish, birds, and mammals. As their choruses escalate into a loud
argument, wise Old Turtle speaks up, to eloquently express
how God is. He goes on to tell about the immanent coming of a
“new family of beings,” who naturally must learn the same
truths about love and “the beauty of all the earth.”
Whether or not teachers find themselves in a school setting
where religion is openly practiced and taught, this book shows
us how we can address spiritual truths in a secular way. This
book can stimulate profound discussions about the wonders of
nature, the place of human beings on this earth, and yes, about
the nature (and existence) of God. Reading this book to our
teacher candidates often evokes a range of reactions, particu-
larly to the use of the word God throughout and whether this is
appropriate in all school settings. They take it quite literally and
often assume that Wood is referring to a specific God instead of
many. Many teacher candidates can see the value in such a
story but readily agree that they would substitute the word God
with a non-spiritual term that would reduce the risk associated
with privileging one religion over another. It’s interesting to
hear year after year the same reaction, despite increasing mul-
ticulturalism. It seems that instead of bringing more diversity in
terms of religion into a classroom (which is beautifully pre-
sented in Old Turtle), we are more content to shelf stories that
have spiritual themes.
Including Learning Differences in Meaningful Ways
Principle 9: All students who need it have a right to special
education and treatment without feeling excluded.
In The Junkyard Wonders, Patricia Polacco writes and draws
from her personal experiences growing up with dyslexia and
struggling in school with reading, math, and being teased until
she encountered a teacher who “changed her life” by helping
her realize her inner genius. The junkyard wonders are an
“oddly brilliant group of misfit kids” who have been excluded
from “regular classes” and placed into a “special” class. It is
into this “special class” that the book’s central character, Trish,
is placed when she attends a new school.
Teacher candidates invariably find this story moving and in-
structive about what it can be like to be labeled or categorized
and how very important it is to discover and capitalize on the
strengths of their students. Despite the “special” class, Mrs.
Peterson created an inclusive environment, one that valued and
welcomed individual differences, and ensured that each stu-
dents found something meaningful and authentic in the cur-
riculum. She ignited in her students the love of learning and
appreciation of the diverse wonders of each student. Ultimately,
The Junkyard Wonders also celebrates the profound difference
that a single caring and informed teacher can make in the lives
of students like Trish. And while they realize that it will not be
easy, and that they will indeed struggle along the way, they also
realize that it is possible.
Developing Global Awareness—Learning about Self in
Relation to the World
Principle 10: All students should consider needs, wants, and
rights different than their own.
Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams and
Khadra Mohammed is a story about two young girls in a refu-
gee camp set somewhere in the Middle East. When workers
drop off clothing for the refugees, each girl takes one sandal
from the pile only to discover that the matching one belongs to
another girl. They are able to work out a way to share the san-
dal and as a result of their interaction, develop a friendship.
Against a backdrop of surviving war and living in extreme dif-
ficulty, the young girls discover a humanity in each other. Ac-
cording to one teacher candidate, “The stunning images evoke
so much emotion that readers are able to sense what the main
characters are feeling without reading the words.”
Responses to this story are invariably emotional. Upon re-
flection, discussants in our education classrooms conclude that
this is a strong text that can help to address awareness of global
issues and what war means on the individual, human level: “As
parents and educators, we often think that young children are
not able to see and process controversial global issues and
should be shielded from them. This book offers an opportunity
to explore the idea of a refugee camp through a story that has a
resolved ending.”
Stories as Inclusive and Reconciling Spaces: Our
Practices, Our Visions, Our Transformed Attitudes
Here we return full circle back to our initial question. What
can we do? We finish the year with The Three Questions by Jon
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 347
J. Muth, a children’s storybook based on Tolstoy’s The Blind
Men and the Elephant. In this story, a little boy is puzzled with
what he feels are three very important questions: “When is the
best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is
the right thing to do?” He searches out the answers among his
friends, finding no satisfaction. He decides to visit Leo, the
very wise turtle, to see if he can answer his questions, but alas,
finds himself first digging a garden and then saving a panda and
her child. In the end, the boy is presented with the following
Remember then that there is only one important time, and
that time is now. The most important one is always the one you
are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one
who is standing at your side (Muth, 2002).
Ultimately, through all the work we do with our teacher can-
didates, this unifying principle is the most critical. We want
them to know that what is right, and what is fair, is ensuring
that all students have a fair and just chance to succeed. This
means that teachers must have the tools to foster the principles
for inclusion we have cited above, recognizing that this does
not mean that every single student is treated the same way; on
the contrary, it means that all students’ differences are cele-
brated. The stories we have described above show how this can
happen, and also what happens when we ignore the differences.
Through stories such as these, we help our teacher candidates to
see that inclusive education is not about physically including
students in classrooms or buildings, but is instead about making
them feel welcome and valued members of a classroom com-
Storied experience enables us to open the doors to the de-
velopment of the dispositions of difference, dialogue, disillu-
sionment, and democracy, dispositions that will continue to
develop through ongoing dialogue with students in the class-
room. These insights and dispositions are crucial for contem-
porary classroom teachers in inclusive environments. Stories
such as these encourage us to adopt multiple perspectives and
understandings, so that places, people, and ideas that were once
new and unfamiliar become our places, our people, our ideas.
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