Professional Development – Reflections from the Reggio Emilia Study Tour

Professional Development – Reflections from the Reggio Emilia Study Tour

Earlier this month, 1-2 Educators from each of our centres were given the opportunity of a life time – travelling to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend a study tour on the philosophy. Once in Italy, the team explored the principals and practices of the Reggio Emilia approach with a large network of like-minded individuals.

Our team explored multiple Reggio schools and early education services, engaging with Reggio Educators and attending talks and hands-on learning sessions. Each Educator got personally involved in many projects and participated in different learning experiences and approaches.

Our team have kindly shared their personal reflections and learnings from the tour.

Jarrod – Operations Director

“Wow, what an incredible honour to guide our team on a journey of professional development, exploring the principals and practices of the Reggio Emilia approach. Embarking on a learning journey with an inspiring and dedicated team was incredibly humbling and empowering. Throughout our time in Reggio, we were challenged, rewarded and enthused by the day to day practices and the time the teachers spend collaborating to develop further opportunities for the children . The trip filled my mind with wonder, inspiration and questions, or better yet, hypothesising!” 

The key takeaway learning for me in which I am continuing to unpack and explore is the concept of meaningful documentation, team collaboration, expectations of the children, the physical environment and our approach to a detailed curriculum.

Re-launching Experiences

Throughout the tour I was lucky enough to spend time at a number of infant toddler centres and preschools. In these visits, we were able to observe the practice of re-launching with children.

‘Re-launching’ is the process of asking the child what they want to do, where they want to go and finding out how best the teacher can continue to extend an interest.

I specifically recall observing two preschool children painting a mural in the Atelier, and was captivated by their creative flare unravelling before me. The children spent twenty-five minutes on this mural, engaged in mind and body. Whilst it appeared as though the children had finished their masterpiece, the Atelierista conversed with the children, causing them to eagerly begin painting again. I couldn’t resist asking the Atelierista what discussion had taken place. She explained that the art experience was re-launched with simple questions such as:

“I can see you have used the blue paint, but what happens if we mix the blue with the yellow paint? I wonder what would happen?”

I immediately reflected on our practice across our services and instantly took myself straight back the basics of:

  • Having high expectations for children
  • Asking relevant questions
  • Encouraging each child to push the boundaries to explore the world together
  • Collaboration It was clear the educators and teachers in Reggio take the time to find ways to extend an interest by brainstorming, hypothesising and challenging each other to be the best teacher possible and to guide the learning to greater realms.

Meaningful Documentation

Upon entering all centres in Reggio, you were confronted with an enormous amount of meaningful documentation.. It ranged from displays on walls, on tables and other abstract places within the rooms and centres.

At one centre I explored, the centre project was based around stair cases, yes stair cases! The atelier was filled with 3D sculptures, paintings, drawings and models of the centre stair case. The stair case had real meaning! It represented the flights the children climb, the structure that connects the children together. The children explored shadow, architecture and even numeracy! For example, on one platform of the stair case there was a light projector, projecting numbers on every step to encourage maths concepts.

Definitions

*Atelier – Municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia possess a space called the Atelier. The Atelier is a place where children can experiment and create with many different types of media and resources. The Atelier promotes exploration, experimentation and self-expression. It allows for mistakes, plans, evolution of ideas and collaboration with peers – providing children with valuable life skills.
*Atelierista An Atelierista is an Early Education teacher with an arts background. They are responsible for creating projects and introducing new concepts to the children to spark their inquiring mind, their creativity and to develop a new explorative way of learning.

Mary – Educational Leader at Point Cook

What inspired me the most…

The trust the Reggio Emilia teachers had for the children in their care – Everyone was equal and possessed equal ability to contribute to a program.

The respect these teachers and children had for their learning environments and resources – This respect was clear because the learning environments were so well presented and thought through. The teachers were incredibly passionate about each learning opportunity.

The documentation process The Educators consistently forward planned with all teachers and children. The documentation of project work was also always clear and visible in each room, with detailed documentation of how a project began and then evolved.

Eloise – Director of Maidstone

My key learnings and insights…

How much time the Reggio Educators utilised – This included the time they gave the children, the time they took to research, investigate and reflect with each other and the children.

The return of ‘structure’ in daily programs  Structure was used to help the children to learn, achieve and be social with themselves and their peers.

The emphasis on children being ‘citizens of the present’ The Educators believed that children should be involved in the now and not the future.

The value of children as intelligent, competent learners Educators need to take the time to observe where children will take their learning, whilst also getting personally involved in the investigations with the children. Here, Educators can intervene immediately to teach and guide the children without waiting until the next day or planning a later lesson.

Bec – Director in Training

My time in Reggio made me realise…

We really need to BE with the children To be attentive, intuitive and mindful of every child. We need to slow down, investigate further and think outside the standard realm of understanding.

We must equally value the individuality of the student and the teacher – This includes appreciating the wealth of knowledge we as Educator’s bring to the class room.

We must remain authentic and holistic in our approach to teaching.

We need to showcase all documentation – And accept that it’s about the content rather than the quality.

The study tour sparked a joy and eagerness to discover new ways and opportunities to learn with both my team and the children. I have come home inspired to be really connected and invested in what we do as Educators.

Kat – Educational Leader at Maidstone

My time in Italy exploring Reggio Emilia was a lifetime experience that I will continue to embrace in my every day practices. Being surrounded by so many passionate people allowed me to reflect on my teaching styles and how I can improve the simplest things I do each day.

Learning experiences that stood out for me…

The use of small learning groupsAfter morning meetings, children were separated into small groups to participate in meaningful learning experiences and project work. These small groups were so much more than a functional tool – they provided culture, vitality and and endless network of possibilities. Importantly, small group work empowered each individual child and allowed them to be more involved in meaningful learning opportunities.

The benefits of having an Atelier space – The services in Reggio always had an Atelier space – allowing children the opportunity to learn a diverse range of topics and skills and providing them the opportunity to express themselves through many different materials and languages. At Maidstone Explorers, we are so eager and enthusiastic to involve the children to be part of creating Atelier spaces in our centre. Since being back, I have involved a small group of children in discussions regarding the creation of our own Atelier. We have brainstormed what an Atelier is and what we would need to create one in our centre. This included the children sketching ideas of what they thought the Atelier would look like.

Veronica – Director of Abbotsford/Richmond

There are multiple things I think should be reflected on and considered as a result of our experiences in Reggio Emilia.

Community involvement in children’s projects – The children explored the city of Reggio Emilia as part of their learning. They regularly went out into the community, with a large number of projects being linked to things around the city. The children are seen as citizens of the community from birth and their voice is heard and prevalent. In Reggio, there was a culture surrounding the community’s responsibility to educate. I believe this needs to be unpacked and used in the Australian context.

The voice of the teacher – It is so important teachers offer their experiences and consider the intent behind their teaching. Whilst it is ok for the learning experience to change based on a child’s interest, my experiences in Reggio reminded me that the intent behind our teaching must always remain evident.

Additionally, critical, collaborative reflection was an important part of the Reggio teaching process and something that should be built on within our centres to extend on our programming ideas.

Amy – Director of Point Cook

“I still pinch myself at the thought that I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go all the way to Reggio Emilia in Italy and attend the international study tour, exploring the Reggio Emilia approach to education. The whole experience not only exceeded my expectations but completely blew my mind.”

The child as a competent, capable individual –Throughout infant toddler centres, preschools and schools it was very inspiring to watch the children learn through wonder and enquiry within beautifully set up environments and with a variety of materials, meaningfully handpicked for each learning opportunity.  

The respect for environments and resources – Both children and teachers had inspiring levels of respect for their surroundings. 

The teacher as ‘researcher’ – Teacher’s forward planned, setting clear intents and hypotheses prior to implementing learning opportunities for children. 

The value of time and quality relationships – These values were extremely predominant and has helped me reflect on this in my own service. 

Project Work – Project work was very well executed in all environments. Learning was always visible, including each child’s interpretation. The intended direction of the project was always evident as was the child’s role as an active protagonist of each learning process.  

 

Thanks to our passionate team for their reflections! 🙂

A quote by Loris Malaguzzi-

‘Teachers are like explorers using maps and compasses, they know the directions but they also know that every year the terrain, the climate, the seasons, the children can add new directions and that the order of times and problems can change. Destinations are important and must not be lost from sight but more importantly is how and why we reach them. That is why it is essential for both adults and children to be able to retrace their steps, or rather their knowledge processes, through an attitude of recognition made possible by observation, documentation and interpretation.’

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