I've just returned from London England and as I often do when I venture into the world to explore new cities and cultures, I can't help but stop to reflect on our educational practices in comparison to our European colleagues.
As I meandered through the streets of London and into the many beautiful parks, countless museums and cathedrals, I couldn't help but feel a little envious of the richness of learning possibles that exist in this beautiful city.
Imagine children sitting in the National Museum sketching artifacts, and children running through parks filled with monumental tributes to past Kings.
My mind was racing with the what ifs for new projects and experiences.
I was again reminded that we can not bring home that which does not belong to us but we certainly can learn from it.
Before leaving on my trip I ran across several articles that more or less held the attitude of
"not caring about the Reggio Approach" because it has nothing to do with our context.
It's a powerful statement to make because we must be mindful in remembering that the discovery of this treasure sparked a wave of change in education.
Had I never encountered this unique system, I may never have reached the deep level of understanding that I have for the culture of childhood, nor would I ever have been able to propel my schools to reach the level of richness they now enjoy.
I am Reggio inspired however I am first and foremost a direct result of the many years of hard work, research, relationships and experiences that I have had both as a teacher and a person.
So whether you follow a philosophy or have your own perspective, the one common consideration is that dedication and hard work bring great rewards. Educators are limited only by an unwillingness to educate themselves and their acceptance of the status quo.
As a leader I can accept effort but not complacency.
So I say be fearless, make mistakes each one will open a new door and take you in new directions that give you a better understanding.
Expand your mind, read books and articles. Record your journey so that others may learn from it.
At the end of your story you may have been launched by what the world calls Reggio or other philosophies but the road you traveled and lived will be your own.
Teachers often ask for ways to document children's experiences, a method that isn't too complicated and doesn't take days to produce.
Is there a right way to get the work done?
The truth is there is no right way or wrong way and each teacher must find her own process.
However I can offer these two handy words; describe and interpret.
Begin by describing what is happening in the experience using both words, pictures and video.
Consider these terms;
explain, illustrate, portray, depict and tell.
Next consider what the child may have been thinking during the experience. With older children this is sometimes evident in conversation.
With younger ones you may be making some assumptions.
Once you have done this, take the information and attach it to a learning objective, or developmental milestone.
Remember that posting documentation validates the children's contribution to the classroom. It lends a voice to their shared experiences and life at school.
Even if you can't find an objective or milestone, trust me learning is always happening.
In the end try not to be overly stressed by the need to produce university grade documents that many times no one reads except you and your colleagues.
Unlike daycare where parents come into classrooms daily, schools only have a few parent nights a year.
So who is reading all that documentation?
However, the power of documentation cannot be overlooked. It is a point of reflection and provides educators with the next steps in supporting children's learning and thinking as well as being an excellent method to track children's development.
It's a beautiful sunny day. The classroom is infused with splashes of light. It seems to follow the children about the classroom casting shadows, catching colors, playfully inviting them to discover new things-perhaps a rainbow machine.
Herein lies the key to meaningful relationships, sharing extraordinary experiences, and making meaning of everyday living with children and colleagues.
The ability to transcribe and translate what we observe children doing and thinking comes from our ability to listen.
To see beyond the obvious is directly linked to the art of listening.
How can a teacher, whose day is filled with "busyness" master this skill?
Relationships are the key to a meaningful experiences and they are based on the ability to engage in the art of listening, respecting and caring for another.
Here are a few tips.
Take a moment before the children arrive and be thankful for the gift of teaching, gratitude motivates.
Observe your environment and make any necessary modifications to accommodate the needs of the classroom-remember it is a living space that will foster or disrupt relationships.
Greet the children when they arrive and depart; acknowledging someones presence validates them.
Slow down, the day is not a race, there is no quota for the amount of experiences that need to be documented or completed. Give yourself, and the most importantly, the children, time-
time to work, reflect and design. This is in itself is the act of listening.
Do not insult children with false praise. They don't need to hear, "that's nice, great job, and wow look at that." all the time.
This type of superficial praising can be detrimental and foster the desire to always need validation instead of finding it from within.
Instead engage in meaningful discourse that honors their intelligence, just as you would with a good friend.
Showing children we are interested in them,
sitting with them while they work, taking photographs and documenting is the act the praising.
Validation is praise!
Here are some suggestions for comments which lend themselves to acknowledging and validating the children's efforts and indirectly give praise.
You've spent a lot of time working with the clay. Can you tell me about your work.
This is such an interesting structure. You've added so many different elements.
Can I get you another loose part to add?
Is there anything I can do to help?
Would you like to label your work?
Should we save this for tomorrow?
At the end of their time with you, your students should leave your classroom richer in mind and spirit, motivated to continue on the journey of learning, and fortified with the belief that they matter.
Is the ability to draw, paint and sculpt innate or learned?
That's the question we are continually asking ourselves as we see exceptional pieces of work coming from the children.
How do they go from scribbling to pieces of work like the one in this post?
We have witnessed children with parents or grandparents who are artists draw well beyond what is expected of their age.
Is it then assumed that the talent is inherited?
On the other hand, we have witnessed children with no artistic talent in the family produce equally exceptional work.
There are those who say anyone can be an artist, they simply need passion.
Perhaps with instruction, practice and perseverance this might be true.
There is no doubt that some people are born with a natural inclination toward artistry. However no one is born knowing how to paint or sculpt without instruction. Just as a pianist is not born knowing how to play the piano.
It is from this perspective that we changed our thinking many years ago and moved from the idea that no instruction was necessary for children when we consider the nature of art.
However, they must first go through the stages of experimentation and development. This cannot be rushed. The key is knowing when the time is right to move to new levels of working.
As Reggio Kids approaches its 14th birthday, I can't help but reflect on our remarkable journey.
We have seen hundreds of children grow through our schools, shared extraordinary learning stories, forged authentic relationships and embedded ourselves in the community.
We have helped to raise future generations.
What will their calling be; lawyer, doctor, scientist, business owner, engineer, artist, dancer...
We know we have contributed in some small measure to their life journey.
Our commitment was not to fill their cups with facts but to support habits of mind that would remain with them forever.
We thank them all and bless them on their paths.
We will continue our work seeking to better our understanding of the world of childhood, remaining the place where they can tinker, discover, marvel and wonder!
What will the future bring Reggio Kids?
It is in the unknown that new discoveries are made!
We are currently in the process of designing a place where children can tinker, negotiate and invent with a vast collection of loose parts from all over the world!
Thank you to the educators who shared and continue to share our vision and in particular a heartfelt thank you to the three women who have been with us since the beginning, Rosa, Sabrina, and Mary-the best tinkerers of all!
Your contributions to our schools have been and continue to be immeasurable!
Each day brings new possibles, discoveries, discourse, and collaboration.