Saturday, October 13, 2018

Let us Wonder Together

This week I found myself redesiging the JK-Sk classroom. While I was in the room, I kept my ears on the children's conversations and my eyes on their experiences. As I often do, I was listening for possiblities to move in new directions.
I glanced over at few children who were erecting a structure in front of the projection screen. There was no conversation between them as they were focused on their task. I couldn't help but marvel at the shadows that were being cast. In fact, even Oliver's glasses were distinguishable on the screen.
I made my way over to them.
"Your shadows are amazing!"
The children looked at me as if to say, "Would they be anything short of amazing?"
Then, I posed a question.
"Do your shadows do the same work as you?"
They did not respond to my question. Instead they turned to the screen to reflect on their shadows.
They moved their arms up and down and jumped.
Oliver turned to me and said,
"They do the same as we do!"
I questioned him about the size of his shadow in comparison to his actual size.
He looked at the shadow and thought about my question.
However, he did not respond.
I knew this would be a point to return to once I prepared the documentation.  I would address the question when he could reflect on the photo.
The next day, I printed a poster sized print of this picture and presented it to the class.
I told the children why I'd taken the photo and I also mentioned the intial question I had asked Oliver and his classmates.
"Do our shadows do the same work as we do?"
The children assured me that they do.
I then asked a few other questions.

"Do our shadows wait for us when we wake up in the morning?
Are they always with us?
Can we always see them and if not are they still there?

Once the group dispersed, I asked Oliver to reflect on the photo to see if he could answer my previous question.
"Why does your shadow seem larger than you?"
He looked at me with a question in his eyes.

And so we begin a new journey of wondering together.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Expectations and Reality

It’s been a busy and exciting summer at Reggio Kids.  We hosted educators from abroad and home and supported schools in their journey toward being Reggio inspired!
We thank them for placing their faith in our abilities to assist them along the way as they transform their thinking around working with children and their environments.

Change, is both a daunting and rewarding process that takes time and commitment to begin and sustain.

As I answer questions about our work, I am constantly led back to my most important piece of advice.  There will be a great divide between your expectations and reality. Defined expectations will leave you disappointed. Instead think of it as path that appears to have an end yet when you get there it veers right and then left, it goes upward toward a mountain peak and then down toward the river bank. This is a Reggio inspired journey.
There is no end that you are working toward. Instead, it as a great adventure with no final destination. It is all about the ride. Just when you believe you are a master, the children will make you the student. Therein lays the magnificence of transformation!
Yes, our schools have rich environments, a loose part studio, beautiful playgrounds, walls lined with the echoes of students both past and present but do not let that fool you. We also have great struggles that an inherent in the everyday life of running daycares.
Stay focused, take heart in knowing you are working toward a better way of being with children!
As you fall into September:), set a few goals for yourself and see where you land!

Make you own music and buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Outdoor Classroom

The Outdoor Classroom

There is much to be considered when we look at the possibilities of what can happen when the classroom is brought outside and loose parts are provided.
Beyond the traditional structures that limit children to climbing and sliding, loose parts can spur children to new levels of thinking and engaging.
Instead of accepting what is being offered by stagnant structures, children are prompted to create their own structures, contraptions, and expressions of creativity.
Given the span of a child’s imagination the possibilities are endless.
The teacher’s role is to facilitate and lend support when materials are offered.
Preparing provocations is always a good idea.
The outdoor classroom is directly linked to continued experiences and projects that take place indoors.

In the hands of young children,
a set of tubes become a vehicle, tree cookies transform into a train, while another child uses them to make her family.

Combined materials transform into school buses, cars and lemonade stands.

Children discourse, argue design, negotiate possibilities and support one another.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Leave Behind the Best Part of Yourself

I’m often conflicted about finding the best way to “train” teachers or at best to inspire them. I use the word train loosely because after all can someone be trained to think in a Reggio inspired mindset?
 When teachers are surrounded by rich environments full of loose parts, endless art supplies, STEM materials, ramping equipment and past work for reflection, yet still find nothing to do, then I concede that the cause is lost!
At the end of the day, inspiration, motivation and a desire to leave your students and school the best part of yourself has to be intrinsic. No one can inspire an unmotivated person, no matter how much they are prodded or pushed. This is not a teacher skill but a life skill; to push to new levels, to maximise talents and dispositons, to want to be the best version of who you can be.
The teachers who master this are the ones that are remembered by their students long after the facts fade: the teachers who make everyday worthwhile, who are as much learners as they are educators.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Leonardo DaVinci

A few months ago I was in Indigo looking for a few new books to read and I happened upon Walter Isaacson's book,  Leonardo DaVinci.
Since I love history, I decided to add it to my cart.
I was curious to learn about his life.
Little did I know that I was about to be inspired by a man who lived over 500 years ago.
Leonardo left mankind richer, not only because of his famous Mona Lisa but because he was history's greatest creative genius. His life journey was to know everything there was to know about the world and how humans fit into it.
So what does this have to do with a blog on Reggio inspired work.
Here's the thing. 
 Leonardo was not a university graduate. He was the illegitimate son of a notary. He was self taught.
Most people know him as a painter but the truth is he didn't really like to paint at all.
He was an engineer, scientist, mathematician, builder of flying machines, designer of theatre props, hydraulics systems, and
war machinery, he dissected cadavers to learn about the anatomy and workings of the human body...
He had the ability to make connections across disciplines, art, science, technology, humanities and he combined them with imagination which was his recipe for genius, (much like children as described in the poem The Hundred Languages of Children).
In the words of 
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple,  
"He (Leonardo) saw beauty in both art and engineering and his ability to combine them was what made him a genius!"( p.3)
Leonardo's pursuit of knowledge and curiosity were insatiable; to know simply for the pleasure of knowing, and to gain expertise in areas that supported his pursuits.(much like children)
He made endless to do lists of all the things he wished to explore and find answers to. He was an avid reader, he sought out experts and posed questions to quench his thirst to know it all (children ask questions all the time).
Although he respected theory he relied more heavily on experience and testing the theories(the process by which we work in a Reggio inspired school).
Leonardo was a keen observer, with a sharp eye for detail. 
In his own words, "Look carefully and separately at each detail...If you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with the details of  them, and do not go to the second step until you have the fist well fixed in memory." pg 179. 
(observation if the foundation of good practice)

Reflecting on 
 Walter Isaacon's summary list on what we can learn from DaVinci brings to mind many of the practices and ways of being in our everyday life.
 from DaVinci (p.519-524)
Be relentlessly curious. 
Seek knowledge for its own sake.
Retain a childlike sense of wonder. 
Einstein wrote, "You and I never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.". 
Observe and wonder why.
Start with the details.
See things unseen, delve deeply.
Go down rabbit holes.
Get distracted
Even when you are exploring one thing don't be afraid to branch off if something else catches your attention.
Respect facts
"We have to be fearless about changing our minds based on new information!" 
 Have an idea, devise an experiment to test it. If the theory is flawed, seek a new one!
Sometimes ideas or work need to simmer.
Let the perfect be the enemy of the good
Should you let go of things before they are perfect? Leonard took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa-had he note died chances are he would have continued to perfect her.
Think visually
See things in your mind's eye.
Avoid silos
Know that the mind wanders across all disciplines-"art is a science and science is an art"
Let your reach exceed your grasp
Learn why some problems will never be solved.
Indulge fantasy-let your imagination soar!
Create for yourself!
"Genius starts with individual brilliance. It requires singular vision. But executing it often entails working with other. Innovation is a team sport. creativity is a collaborative endeavour."
Make lists- of all the things you wonder about and what to know.
Take notes-leave a trail for others to find and learn from.
Be open to mystery-not all things may have a definitive answer.

So let us all be like DaVinci and encourage our students and ourselves to maintain the DaVinci that is in all of us.
Thank you Walter Isaacson for your wonderful book.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Attraversiamo-Crossing Over

 The Italian word, Attraversiamo, crossing over, pacts quite a punch when it is applied to the art of teaching.
The time has come for educators to consider crossing the bridge that holds, on one side, the traditional practices of educating and on other the new world of engaging in a learning journey with children.
The walk across may be challenging.
Let us consider that as you cross you will encounter wind, rain and slippery conditions. These forces impede your crossing. Similarly the conventional mindsets of teaching will press on you to keep your traditional roles as the rulers of your classrooms.
Relinquishing what is familiar is difficult. 
Most people don't like change especially when everything seems to be working fine.

So why do it?

We do it because children deserve the best of us.
If this is not why you chose to be a teacher then you are in the wrong profession.
A teacher is foremost a learner, even after she earns her degree.
Read the Hundred Languages of Children to nudge you across that bridge.
You won't be sorry.

Cross over to a way of thinking about education that is in line with a new world.
Be the teacher that every child hopes for when they assigned to a new class at the beginning of a school year.
Host the classroom that gives each child a voice.
Showcase bulletin boards that are full of children's experiences, highlighting individual and group thinking and not reproduced copies of ducks.
Think of your students as rich in potential, capable, and worthy of respect.
Give your students a voice instead of shushing them at every turn, allow laughter and joy into your classrooms.
This is your starting point.
Attraverso (cross) and I will meet you on the other side!
I invite you to come for a visit and witness a new way of being with children!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Next Step

The Next Step

Let's discuss the "So What"
It is here that teacher's must think deeply about "what" will make the topic choice a rich and meaningful project. So many ideas float around in a day and its impossible to pursue them all. We must look for ones that will leave the children enriched.
We look at what we hope the children will gain on the journey.
If we can validate the choice then the topic is worth exploring. That is the so what.
 Like the children, each time we encounter a topic we expand our knowledge base.
The So What of the community project
In order to thrive everyone must feel connected to other people. 
Communities are part of life.
More that just a place to live it is a place of people, voices, shared space, rituals and customs. Coming form the Latin term  meaning "with gifts" the term suggests a general sense of humanity, reciprocity and a shared practice of doing good for others that comes from working together for a joint purpose.

If we give credence to the old African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” then we can
understand the impact that community has in
helping us raise our children.

Children need more that just supportive parents. As they branch outside the home they require a larger support network to grow into healthy citizens.

It is a child’s right to expect the community to provide them safe neighborhoods, adults who are good role models and dedicated teachers and politicians who keep children's rights at the forefront.
When children feel a connectivity to their
community they are more apt to develop a sense of civic and social responsibility. They build trust, learn to resolve conflicts peacefully and have a genuine sense of caring for others.
Given this premise we move forward to engage our children in this exploration.

The initial provocation to build a community left us with a good base to begin our work.
We had many questions and thoughts to plot out a plan of attack.
What forms of the Hundred Languages would the children use?

What would be addressed first?

As we move along in sharing our work, I'd like you to bear in mind that no project is ever linear. It does not follow a direct path. We often find ourselves going in circles, returning to a previous thought sometimes weeks after the idea was initially addressed and explored.
The framework for the community was up and the discussions continued among the children and teachers.
After each of the children added their homes we began to add elements such as street signs, people, vehicles, and community building.
While we worked the children demonstrated a sound understanding of the physical elements that come together to make a community.
When we begin to work with the children on their questions and thoughts around a topic we call this the "Now What."

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Beginning of a Class Project

Over the course of the last few months, I've received many emails asking me to post the evolution of a class project.
I'm sharing this one in hopes that it helps those who are struggling with finding their path.
I must stress that this is only our way of working and it should be used as a guideline if it fits your practice.
Most school years, project topics present themselves quite readily. However this year, there hasn't been much buzz about one particular area of interest. There are many smaller experiences floating about as well as our work on the changes in the season and all that it presents.
We decided that a provocation was needed so we decided to see if we could somehow expand our inquiry into what makes each of us unique. The children had already made their portraits and addressed what makes them special.

 We considered the possibility of inviting the children to consider how each of them fit into their community.
Communities are made up of individuals all working for a common purpose. Each person brings their own talents and skills to the table.
However,  before we could delve into the work we would first have to see WHAT  their understanding of community was.
WHAT is a community?
As expected the children offered the physical aspects of a community.
It's where we live.
It's the places we go, church, school, grocery store, community centre, daycare...
This was our launching point.
The entire classroom was cleared of furniture and the children were invited to create the  places that make up our community.

You will notice that I have highlighted the WHAT. This is the first part of your work as a teacher.
What is the topic choice?
What do the children know?

This will lead into the SO WHAT
Now that you have a topic you must validate the choice you have made.
So what will you do with the choice.
So what comes next?
If you can validate the WHAT with the SO WHAT your project will take off.

Had the children not responded to the teacher's invitation, this project would not have taken flight.

To enhance their structures, we added drawings onto the overhead projector.
Finding the space for all their ideas is challenging and this is a great way to boost the work!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Learn One New Thing Each Day!

People, especially teachers, should wake up each day charged with the desire to learn or experience new things.
This keeps life interesting and helps us to become the best version of ourselves.
When we stop seeking, inquiring, researching and reinventing our perspectives, we grow old, dull and complacent.
Complacency is a teacher's downfall. Days, months and years of repeating the same experiences, rolling aimlessly from one day to the next and never finding joy in the moment makes a dreary classroom.
We see this in the teachers who flutter from one job to the next. They are the lifeless, the disengaged, seeking environmental change to motivate them.
The truth is that these grasshoppers lack internal commitment to their craft.
Children are children and the work is the work  no matter where you hang your hat.
It's astonishing to see how many "teachers" lack the ability to form meaningful relationships. This is a core flaw, not in teaching skills, but in a person's foundation.
Without relationships there is no meaningful exchange between teachers and children.
These types of educators bring little to their classrooms; they do not seek new knowledge or experiences. They are doldrums. 

There is a simple recipe to to making "Teacher Pie"
Mix a dash of anticipation for each new day.
Throw in a cup full of excitement.
A pinch of attention to detail.
A sprinkling of inquiry.
A heaping tablespoon of care.

Bake at high heat for a lifetime of learning and inspiration.

Happy Harvest Everyone!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

I often wonder when I look at Instagram, Facebook and blog posts how much is authentic and how much is smoke and mirrors. I know firsthand that teachers face many challenges in working in a Reggio Inspired context. The smoke and mirror happens when the fundamentals are missing. Not only is the understanding of the guiding principles and processes involved falling short but the ability to BE a teacher is falling short. The question is, is it happening at the college and university level? Why aren't graduates ready to delve into their work?

Let us consider that to know a practice, trade or skill you must live it. Only a surgeon who has performed open heart surgery can teach another how to do it.  This must also be the case with teachers of teachers, not only those who educate us in colleges and universities, but also those who seek to support teachers through workshops, courses and mentoring. They should have been or be practitioners of what they are seeking to teach. Only those who work in the trenches can know the challenges and how to face them. This, however, is just my opinion and I am a small grain of sand on a vast beach!
There are many considerations when it come to managing a classroom. Beyond providing enriched environments, provocations, supporting ongoing projects, daily experiences, documenting…. teachers are charged with daily routines, orienting new staff, mentoring student teachers, supporting children with specials needs, managing children who are stressed and struggle with self regulation, consoling new children and keeping abreast of the mountain of policies and procedures mandated under the Child Care and Early Years Act.

How do we go beyond the smoke and mirrors?
Let me begin by saying that any teacher, whether an ECE, elementary or high school teacher must have a deep and abiding respect for childhood while having the same dispositions she seeks to support in her students:
·         thinking and communicating with clarity and precision;
·         listening with understanding and empathy;
·         creating, imagining, and innovating;
·         thinking flexibly;
·         responding with wonderment and awe;
·         thinking about thinking (meta cognition);
·         taking responsible risks;
·         striving for accuracy;
·         questioning and posing problems;
·         thinking interdependently;
·         applying past knowledge to new situations;
·         remaining open to continuous learning;
·         being able to engage in conversation;
·         forming meaningful relationships.
She must be joyful, laugh easily, and be able to find humour in the chaos. She must have a strong VOICE! Learning does not happen in silence.
It is not easy to manage and support authentic inspired processes.
However, it is effortless to snap a photo of a child engaged in what looks like a beautifully inspired experience and then manipulate the document to suit the need to produce pedagogical documentation. I believe this happens more often than not.
Meaningful exchange between children, and children and teachers requires uninterrupted time, tranquil settings, and respect for process. The final product is not what we seek.

Yet, time is a teacher’s nemesis. How much of the day is dedicated to “work”? 
Routines, breakfast, lunch, snack, toileting, nap and prepping for outdoor play especially in winter takes up 2/3 of the day leaving an hour or two at best to do “the work.” 
Somewhere in between she has to prepare and post documentation, discourse with their team and gather thoughts and plans on how to proceed the next day. At any given time she may be managing well over 10 experiences and projects.

There is hope!
Here are a few tips for good practice;
1. Visit authentic settings. Not necessarily those advocated by a workshop host who may have a tie to particular settings but one you have researched. There are some hidden gems out there!
2.  Read articles, find workshops that are given by people who have lived the practice they share. This is not to say that there are not excellent professors who host exceptional workshops or who speak at conferences. They are part of the learning journey! Do not insult your intelligence when you make a choice about what to attend.
3   Take your work home. There is no way to avoid it. Authentic practice takes time which is not easily gained during the business of the classroom;
4.       Have a strong voice, converse with your students not just at them;
5.       Work as part of a team-no man is an island and good practice needs support;

The journey is long.  Do not rush to the finish line because you will never get there!

Happy trails my friends!