Linda Kroll, Board Member Interview

Interview with Linda Kroll, Professor of Education, Mills College, Mary and Richard Holland Chair, Oakland, CA

Contributed by Jane Tingle Broderick, ACT President


JTB:  Can you share a bit about your background and what led you into your chosen profession?

LK:   During my senior year in college I started working in a school with children who had emotional disturbances.  This inspired me to go to UCLA, and then UC Berkeley to get a teaching credential.  At that time in California, there weren’t any teaching jobs, but, luckily for me, the town of Vallejo had just passed a local tax override that would allow schools to hire teachers.

Things happen serendipitously! The principal I worked with at Loma Vista School in Vallejo was interested in the British open classroom.  He encouraged us to try mixed age grouping and open planning for teaching.  I taught at this school for 6 years, all but the first year in mixed age groups.  I taught third grade, 2-3, and K-3. It was very exciting.  The Loma Vista School was a Title I school with mostly poor African American, Filipino, and White children integrated.  The principal encouraged us to try things and brought in people to support us.  I worked with a wonderful, collegial faculty. When I think back, I was very lucky to have my first position in this school.

Having a good leader was so important for my development as a teacher and teacher researcher.  My teacher education had been very eclectic, since I transferred from UCLA to UCB in the middle of my program.  I got to work with Madeleine Hunter while at UCLA—she of objectives in teaching notoriety, Gary Fenstermacher, Charlotte Crabtree.  At Berkeley I worked with mostly adjunct faculty, all of who were great teachers and had an effect on my practice.  I remember very fondly Mark Lucas who taught our arts curriculum class.  I still have the pottery cat that I made in that class over 40 years ago.

My principal at Loma Vista School was a visionary.  He introduced William Glasser and reality therapy to us.  He brought Margaret Smart, an educational psychologist from USC to the Loma Vista School to demonstrate Piagetian tasks to our school faculty.  While I had studied educational psychology as part of my credential program, I had never seen the tasks performed with children and I simply didn’t believe what I was seeing!  I had always been interested in what my students were thinking, but my interest in constructivist theory was sparked then.

Over the next 6 years I continued to investigate Piaget’s ideas.  One summer I participated in a seven-week course at UC Berkeley entitled Piaget in the Classroom.  Another year, I spent time with a colleague identifying science curriculum that was appropriate for children at different levels of Piagetian development.  I used a collection of homemade Piagetian conservation and logic tasks to assess my students at the beginning and end of every school year. Most of this activity was based on my own readings and ideas; I still had relatively little experience with the actual writings of either Piaget or Vygotsky.  After teaching for six years, I took a sabbatical leave to return to graduate school at UC Berkeley where I determined I would study these ideas in a more systematic way.  At the same time I was very interested in children’s writing and was one of the first elementary teachers involved with Bay Area Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project, which fundamentally changed the teaching of writing in elementary school from “handwriting” to learning to write a variety of genres and which encouraged children and young people to discover their writer’s voice.   My dissertation was a neo-Piagetian analysis of children’s story writing.  My advisor was Paul Ammon.  My strong interest in human development and literacy development dates from that period and is still a strong interest of mine.  I remained a classroom teacher for another two years, experimenting with curriculum in writing and science based on what I was learning in graduate school.

While I was at UC Berkeley I was fortunate to work with Paul Ammon, the founder of the Developmental Teacher Education program, and to be privileged to assist in the development of this elementary teacher education program that based teacher learning in developmental theory. When I left classroom teaching I taught first as a graduate instructor and later as a lecturer in the School of Education at UC Berkeley from 1980-1988. My work with DTE was very important in framing my ideas about teacher education and the application of theory, particularly constructivist theory, both in my own teaching and in teacher learning.

JTB:  In my doctoral course on constructivist inquiry I use your book, Teaching with principled practice: Managing complexity for social justice, that you wrote with your Mills College colleagues. Can you share how you came to develop and use the constructivist principles in this book?

Six principles for practice:

  • Teaching is a moral act based on an ethic of care
  • Teaching is a collegial act
  • Teaching is an act of inquiry and reflection.
  • Learning is a constructivist and developmental process.
  • The acquisition of content knowledge and subject matter is essential.
  • Teaching is essentially a political act.

LK:  I came to Mills College in 1988. The faculty grew over a few years. Together we started developing what it is that we believed and practiced into a set of principles. We began with 4 “pillars”—constructivist developmental theory, reflective practice, teaching as a moral act based on an ethic of care, and colleagiality—all under the umbrella of achieving social justice and excellent outcomes for all students.  As our faculty grew and we worked together we refined and broadened our scope to include and make explicit first the political aspect of teaching and finally the importance of subject matter.  In the mid 90’s,we had the opportunity to write our own standards for the state to evaluate our program.  We used the principles to develop our teacher education program While this opportunity to write experimental standards lasted only five years and the many current changes in education surrounding state and national standards have forced our program to alter its stricter focus on these six principles, the essence of this program still forms the basis of what we do at Mills. We write our success by how many of our graduates stay in the field.  We have an excellent record—a recent survey found about 95% of graduates in the last 15 years still in education.

JTB:  Can you share about your research focus?

LK:   I have several areas in which I do research.  My dissertation was on children’s writing development.  I am still interested in this and in how we teach children to write.  Currently I am working on a project that investigates how teachers starting with the youngest children (infants and toddlers) through elementary school think about the teaching of writing with regard to voice, content and conventions.  Earlier, I examined children’s writing development in how they learned to write in different genres and how they constructed their idea of different genres (Kroll, L.  (1998).  Cognitive Principles Applied to the Development of Literacy.  In McCombs, B. & Lambert, N. (eds.), How students learn:  Reforming schools through learner-centered education.  Washington DC:  American Psychological Association). This work focused on the use of Piagetian and constructivist theory in understanding children’s writing development.

A second area of research interest for me is teacher learning and development.  I first heard about the schools in Reggio Emilia at my first ACT conference in 1991 in Northhampton, Massachusetts. The Hundred Languages of Children exhibit came to Mills College for 18 months, and then in 2000 I had my first opportunity to accompany other Mills faculty on a trip to Reggio Emilia, to the schools and research center.  While there are many amazing things to learn from these schools, I was primarily interested in how they supported the teachers in their own development and their own research.  The use of documentation and visual representation to reflect on one’s own practice and learning for both children and teachers became a vital part of my own teaching and my own research.  (Kroll, L. R. & Breuer, F. (2006, July and August). Learning to Teach Reading:  Preparing Teachers for Urban Contexts.  In L. M. Fitzgerald, M. L. Heston, D. L. Tidwell (eds.) Collaboration and Community:  Pushing Boundaries through Self-Study. Sixth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices.  Pp. 161-164.)

Related to teacher development and research, I also became involved in self-study (Self-study of Teacher Education Practices).  I just completed a book about self-study practice, which focuses on different ways to help student teachers and teachers take a look at their practice. Everything I teach, even in my development class, is about looking at children to see how they understand what it is we are trying to teach them.

In my teaching and writing I was always interested in Early Childhood, then K-3, and I have now have gotten interested in the use of play in preschool to promote self-regulation.  I am currently working with a colleague helping teachers work through the ways to help children with self-regulation.  It is still focuses on how teachers think about these things.

JTB:  Can you tell us about the ways you have been involved in service?

LK:              I was the ACT President from 2001-2003.  I was the President of the Special Interest Group (SIG) in the American Educational Research Association (AERA) for five years. I review articles for many journals. I was Dean at my college for two years and now I’m chair of the Early Childhood Program and will be Associate Dean in the upcoming academic year.  These roles don’t define me, but they are service, and each time I take on new roles I learn new perspectives.  I work closely with the laboratory school at Mills College, serving as an advisor in a multiplicity of ways.

JTB:  Anything else you would like to add?

LK:    A new area of teaching and professional development that I have been exploring and presented on at ACT recently, is the integration of art into Teacher Education. That is, using art to help pre-service teachers become better teachers by using art in their classrooms and practice. This ties in with teaching visual literacy, arts, and education.


Kroll, L. R. (2012). Self-study and inquiry into practice: Learning to teach for equity and social justice in the elementary school classroom. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Kroll, L. R. (2007). Constructing and reconstructing the concepts of development and learning: the central nature of theory in my practice. In Russell, T. and Loughran, J. (eds.), Enacting a Pedagogy of Teacher Education: Values, relationship and practices. New York: Routledge. Pp. 95-106.

Laboskey, V. K. and Kroll, L.R. (2007). Principles-Based Teacher Education: A Liberal Arts Contribution. In Bjork, C., Johnston, D. K, & Ross, H. (eds.) Taking teaching seriously: How liberal arts colleges repare teachers to meet today’s educational challenges in schools. London: Paradigm Publishers. 119-131.

Kroll, L. R. & Breuer, F. (2006, July and August). Learning to Teach Reading: Preparing Teachers for Urban Contexts. In L. M. Fitzgerald, M. L. Heston, D. L. Tidwell (eds.) Collaboration and Community: Pushing Boundaries through Self-Study. Sixth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices. Pp. 161-164.

Kroll, L. R. (2006). Learning to address issues of equity and access through inquiry in a student teaching seminar: A self-study. In D. Tidwell and L. Fitzgerald (eds.) Self-study and diversity. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. 133-152.

Kroll, L. R. (2005, November). Making inquiry a habit of mind: Learning to use inquiry to understand and improve practice. Studying Teacher Education: A Journal of Self-Study Teacher Education Practices. 1, 2. 179-194.

Kroll, L. R., Cossey, R., Donahue, D. M., Galguera, T., Laboskey, V. K., Richert, A. E., Tucher, P. (2005). Teaching as Principled Practice. Managing Complexity for Social Justice. Sage Publications.

Kroll, L.R. (2005). Constructivism in Teacher Education: Rethinking How We Teach Teachers. In Kroll, Cossey, Donahue, Galguera, LaBoskey and Richert. Principled Practice in Teacher Education. Sage Publications.

Kroll, L.R. and Galguera, T. (2005). Introduction to Principled Practice. In Donahue, Galguera, Kroll, LaBoskey and Richert In Kroll, Cossey, Donahue, Galguera, LaBoskey and Richert. Principled Practice in Teacher Education. Sage Publications.

Laboskey, V. K., Richert, A. E., Kroll, L. R. (2005). Principled practice in a world of standards: Some concluding thoughts. In Kroll, Cossey, Donahue, Galguera, LaBoskey and Richert. Principled Practice in Teacher Education. Sage Publications.

Kroll, L. R. (June, 2004). Using Inquiry as Pedagogy to Understand and Address Equity in Student Teaching Classrooms: A Self-Study in How Well it Works. In D.L. Tidwell, L.M. Fitzgerald, M.L. Heston (eds). Journeys of Hope: risking Self-Study in a Diverse World. The Fifth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices. Cedar Falls, Iowa: University of Northern Iowa. Pp. 170-173.

Kroll, L.R. (2004, April). Constructing constructivism: How student teachers construct ideas of development, knowledge, learning, and teaching. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 10 (2) pp. 199-221.

Kroll, L.R. and Ammon, P.R. (2002) Constructivism and teacher education: A vision, an overview and seven dimensions. Rainer, J. (ed.) (2002). Reframing teacher education: Dimensions of a constructivist approach. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishers.

Ammon, P. R. and Kroll, L.R. (2002). Learning and development in constructivist teacher education. Rainer, J. (ed.) (2002). Reframing teacher education: Dimensions of a constructivist approach. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishers.

Kroll, L. (1998). Cognitive Principles Applied to the Development of Literacy. In McCombs, B. & Lambert, N. (eds.), How students learn: Reforming schools through learner-centered education. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Kroll, L. and Halaby, M. (1997, May). Writing to learn mathematics in the primary school. Young Children. 52 (4) (54-60).

Kroll, L. R., Bowyer, J.B., Rutherford, M., and Hauben, M. (Winter, 1997). The effect of a school-university partnership on the student teaching experience. Teacher Education Quarterly. 24 (1) (37-52).

Kroll, L. R. and LaBoskey, V.K. (1996, summer). Practicing what we preach: Constructivism in a teacher education program. Action in Teacher Education. Vol. XVIII, (2). (63-72).

Kroll, L. and Black, A. (1993) Developmental Theory and Teaching Methods: A Pilot Study of a Teacher Education program. Elementary School Journal, 93 (4). (417-441).

Kroll, L.R., and Black, A. (1989). Developmental Principles and Organization of Instruction for Literacy: Observations of Experienced Teachers. Genetic Epistemologist, XVII, 4.

Black, A., Ammon, P., and Kroll, L. (1987). Development, literacy and the social construction of knowledge. Genetic Epistemologist, XV, 3-4.

Bye, T., Kroll, L. et al (1991). Planning Guide for English/Language Arts. 2nd edition. Vallejo City Unified School District.

Contributing author to Developmental Studies Center (1997). Blueprints for a collaborative classroom. Oakland, CA: Developmental Studies Center.


About Jane Tingle Broderick

I am an Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Early Childhood consultant. My research and mission focuses on teacher professional development with emergent inquiry curriculum, the role of materials and the environment in learning as inspired by my background as a visual artist and the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.
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