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The meaning of classroom community: Shared images of early childhood teachers

John William Nimmo, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study describes teachers' shared meaning for the concept of "community" within early childhood classrooms at a school committed to community-building. Nine early childhood teachers at a progressive private school in western Massachusetts were the principle informants for this study. The qualitative design of this study was guided by the rationale and method of multi-vocal visual-ethnography. The primary method of study was a series of interviews: semi-structured interviews with individual teachers, video-reflective interviews with teaching teams, and a series of large group video-reflective interviews which provoked cultural "outsider" reflections. These "outsider" interviews involved the Massachusetts teachers' discussion of videotape from Italian early childhood classrooms, and conversely, Italian teachers' discussion of videotape from the Massachusetts teachers' classrooms. The analysis of the data was based upon grounded theory, using the constant comparison method to construct a set of themes that represented the teachers' thinking about community. Four themes, which convey a complex understanding of community in early childhood classrooms, were found and discussed: first, teachers sought to balance the tension between issues of inclusion and exclusion; second, teachers conceptualized community as a reflection of the qualities of unique individuals; third, the teachers constructed images about the transmission and development of community over time; and fourth, teachers thought about community as involving an integration of freedom and structure. The teachers used the metaphors of "boundary" and "ownership" to express the dialectic between individualistic values and the building of community. The findings show that the teachers' thinking was influenced by, but not contained by the dichotomy between the individual and the group that is found in philosophical, cultural, and developmental ideas in North American society. Furthermore, the teachers recognized the potential for young children in a group setting to participate in, and contribute to the building of community. A theoretical framework is proposed for future research concerning classroom community.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Social structure|Philosophy|Educational theory

Recommended Citation

Nimmo, John William, "The meaning of classroom community: Shared images of early childhood teachers" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9305876.