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Date: 27-03-2024

Interview with Zsuzsa Laszlo: the ISSA Network’s Persona Doll learning community

Interview with Zsuzsa Laszlo: the ISSA Network’s Persona Doll learning community  

Over the last 15 years, Partners Hungary Foundation has been providing Persona Doll training for ISSA Members, resulting in a significant number of early childhood practitioners incorporating the dolls into their practice within the region. The diversity of participants engaged in ISSA Peer Learning Activities and Joint Learning Labs contributes significantly to the enriching experience of the training for the entire group. In this interview, Zsuzsa Laszlo, an experienced Persona Doll Certified Trainer, shares her valuable insights, providing a deeper understanding of this approach.

What is the Persona Doll method, and why is it meaningful?

The Persona Doll is a method for encouraging discussions about emotions and feelings among children aged three to eight. It offers a non-threatening and enjoyable means to address issues of equality, challenge stereotypes, and discourage discriminatory thinking in young children. The method also encourages critical thinking, fosters empathy, and empowers children to confront instances of unfair treatment.

Originating in the UK and widely successful globally, the Persona Doll method provides an efficient and playful approach to tackle stereotyping and promote equality. Designed for professionals in early childhood development, this innovative tool isn't only useful for addressing prejudice-related conflicts but is also effective in handling various conflicts among children.

The method centers around a lifelike rag doll (approximately 60 centimeters tall), endowed with personality traits by the professional, such as family background, characteristics, favorite foods, and belongings. This Persona doll "visits" the children, creating an opportunity for professionals to broach sensitive topics through everyday stories. This approach encourages discussions that might have been difficult to initiate otherwise.

The method aims to transform teasing and exclusion into attitudes of respect and care. To implement the method effectively, sessions should occur bi-weekly, and in the interim, professionals gather stories from the group's experiences that generate significant discussion or recurring problems (teasing, bullying, conflicts, etc.), situations where occasional verbal warnings prove ineffective.

An example of a story that generates discussion in the classroom is the following: A Roma girl who is new to kindergarten shares that in her previous school, she was told, 'I don’t like Roma.’ As the preschool children sit in a circle, they react with surprise or empathy, saying things like 'Wow, that happened?' and 'Oh, that’s very hurtful', but also 'They should be punished or hit'. While the preschool teacher facilitates the discussion, the children come up with ideas and try to find a solution for the new girl.

The Persona Doll method is specifically designed for preschool and primary school teachers but is equally suitable for teaching assistants, preschool and school social workers, as well as preschool and school psychologists.

What are some of the most unexpected outcomes or success stories you've encountered through using Persona Dolls in educational settings?

All of our stories are unique in their own way, but perhaps we can highlight stories where the Persona Doll method thrives independently within kindergartens. For example, at one kindergarten in the region, we initially started with just one teacher, and now there is a thriving learning community where teachers collaborate, plan together, and only come to us for support and mentoring when needed. We believe that true success lies in the autonomy of the Persona Doll, where its magic continues to flourish independently.

How do ISSA’s PLA and JLL contribute to the use of the method?

Our aim is to create a vibrant professional community within ISSA at two levels. Firstly, by offering Peer Learning Activities (PLA), we provide the basics for professionals who are interested but not yet familiar with the method. Through Joint Learning Labs (JLL), we establish a learning hub with intense mentoring and peer support, assisting individuals at all levels of practice and serving ISSA with a dynamic professional learning environment. We aim to build a community where anyone with a basic understanding of the Persona Doll Method can receive support, feedback, and peer mentoring. Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of professionals actively engaged in the field of diversity and equity within ISSA.

Being part of the ISSA Network has enabled us, to spread the Persona Doll approach across a diverse group of dedicated professionals internationally and to establish connections with organizations we might otherwise never have known about. It is almost a mini network we started.

What are the plans for 2024? Any opportunity for ISSA Members who haven’t done it yet to get some training on Persona Doll?

In 2024, we are offering JLL for practitioners who have a basic understanding of Persona Dolls. Together, we will learn, collect case studies, and offer solutions for a wide range of situations occurring in kindergartens. At the end of the year, we will compile a handbook based on these stories for the Persona Doll community within ISSA. Looking ahead, we aim to offer more training opportunities for those interested in experiencing the magic of Persona Dolls in the long run.

Learn more about ISSA’s Joint Learning Lab on the Persona Doll Method.