So, this week I want to explore a different kind of topic, but one that is just as important to Reggio Emilia-inspired educators as are books, articles and blogs. I want to talk about self-reflection and self-inquiry, two essential values in Reggio education. I’ve come up with five questions that I use to reflect on my teaching more deeply, but I am sure there are hundred of inquiries I could list and other educators have used to approach their teaching thoughtfully and mindfully. Below the main question, I have listed specific inquiries for delving deeper into the self-reflection.
What is my image of children?
Image of the child is a buzz-phrase in Reggio Emilia circles and it’s easy to start using that phrase unconsciously. But Reggio is anything but unconscious. It is the single most intentional educational philosophy I have ever encountered. I have always believed (and experienced) that educators with a well-developed capacity for introspection are the most compassionate and effective teachers. Having a compassionate and humble awareness of who we are (strong, powerful meaning-makers ready to make a difference in the world) allows us to offer that awareness to children (strong, powerful meaning-makers hungry to understand the world).
- How do I really see children?
- What role do I believe I need to play in a child’s life and what does that look like on a daily basis?
- How do I behave right now towards the children in my care and what image of children does my behavior reflect?
- Where do I see areas for improvement?
- Who would I need to be to genuinely embrace an image of children as strong, powerful learners with their own ideas?
- What would I have to give up if I saw children in this way?
What is my image of parents?
There has been scant attention given in traditional preschools to creating community through building strong bonds between parents, children, teachers and staff. But these bonds are essential if parents are to feel supported, children are to experience school as an extension of home, and teachers/staff are to be deeply connected to the families with whom they work. To make matters worse, American educators have traditionally viewed themselves as the child experts and parents have generally gone along with that view. Educators’ ways of seeing themselves and parents necessarily impact choices, attitudes, communication, problem-solving and relationships. Reggio Emilia inspires teachers to shift their image of themselves from experts to a researchers/co-learners. It also inspires teachers to adopt an image of parents that is genuinely supportive of families and ensures that a loving community grows within the preschool experience and continues even after the families have moved on.
- How do I view parents in the context of my school?
- What roles do I see parents playing in their child’s life, in the school and in the community? Do I believe that parents are handling their roles well or that they are lacking somehow?
- When I find myself judging parents or their parenting, how do I handle that? Do I speak negatively about them to co-workers? Do I offer support? Do I reevaluate my concept of “good” parenting?
- How would I need to shift in order to fully embrace the idea of parents as essential to the school’s successful functioning?
- How would I describe my ability to mindfully listen to parents?
- How would I describe my ability to collaborate with parents during problem-solving sessions?
- How do I handle philosophical differences with parents regarding the education of their children?
How do I support the meaning-making capacities of children?
Children must first engage in the world in order to make meaning of the world. They must use all of their senses to explore and discover what is available to discover. When children are not appropriately supported in their meaning-making activities, their engagement in the world may become atrophied or, at the very least, limited. Viewing the environment as the third teacher is one way the Reggio Emilia approach encourages children’s meaning-making. Ateliers and tinkering studios with lots of loose parts also supports meaning-making. There are as many ways to create the conditions for children to make meaning as there are teachers.
- Do I perceive children as meaning-makers?
- In what specific ways do I observe children making meaning of their world? How do I respond during these moments?
- What strategies do I use to support children’s meaning-making in the moment and in their long-term projects?
- In what specific ways to I engage parents in their children’s meaning-making?
- What are some of my habits that might interfere with children’s meaning-making? How can I shift from those habits into more supportive behaviors?
- How can I educate parents to be more supportive (or less interfering) of children’s meaning-making?
In what ways am I aware “of the perception the children form of adults and their actions?”
Interestingly, adults often do not consider that children form perceptions of them. This seems to be an issue of adults’ image of children: that a child could have an interpretation of or intuition about an adult is surprising to some. Indeed, children have many insights about adults and must learn, through trial and error, to navigate the various personalities they encounter. As a parent, I am uncomfortably familiar with those moments in which the way I am treating my child does not reflect my values. Often, the discomfort I feel comes from a sudden awareness of how I must appear, in that moment, to my child. Teachers, like parents, must strive to be aware of their behavior and state of mind as they engage with children. Reflecting on our instincts about children’s perceptions of us is essential to relationship-building. Asking ourselves how we might appear in the children’s eyes and what we might need to adjust is an act of love (to the children and ourselves).
- Am I aware that children have a particular perception of me? On what do I think they might be basing this perception? Do I feel positive about how I think they perceive me?
- In what ways can I get support from my co-workers regarding children’s perception of me? Are they willing to give me feedback and am I able to absorb it non-defensively?
- If there is something about my actions that I believe is causing children to form a negative perception of me, where can I turn for compassionate support in shifting this behavior?
- Am I aware of the ways in which children are impacted by their perceptions of adults and adults’ actions?
- Do I trust children’s perceptions of adults? Do I give value to their perceptions as a valid source of feedback?
How seriously do I take the need for documentation and collaboration as learning, reflection and assessment tools?
I view documentation and collaboration as inseparable. A commitment to documentation necessitates a commitment to share and collaborate about that documentation with the children, colleagues and parents. Reggio Emilia educators frequently assert that the idea of a teacher alone in the classroom is an outdated idea and very ineffective. We must join together for support, but also to challenge one another’s ideas and create ongoing discourse. When I went to the bi-annual conference at Richmond’s Sabot School at Stonyfield, I was intensely curious about one question (which I asked again and again): Is your collaboration messy, uncomfortable and emotionally unsettling sometimes? The consistent answer: absolutely! Each educator I questioned gave her own story of times when he or she felt intense frustration during collaborative staff meetings. However, each person also indicated that this process was (and still is) significantly instrumental in moving their school toward an educational philosophy that more accurately reflects the school’s values.
In The Hundred Languages of Children, Carla Rinaldi writes that “documentation as visible listening can help you to understand and change your identity; it can invite you to reflect on your values. Listening also means welcoming uncertainty and living in the zone of proximal development.” Listening is a key value in Reggio Emilia education, even though it can be challenging at times. Mindful listening asks us to open our hearts, drop our defenses and, basically, to love as best we can in the moment. Creating a visual document of our listening enables others to see that we have heard them and that we are responding to them. This is an act of love. Creating documentation also requires reflection, opens the door to collaboration and allows for true assessment. Again, these things are acts of love and that is really what we are here to do.
- What does documentation mean to me and how do I currently use it to construct curriculum, build relationships and reflect on my teaching practice and the children’s learning?
- During collaboration with others, do I often feel I must “give up” my own perspective if someone vehemently disagrees with it? How do I assert myself while maintaining compassion and a focus on the school’s goals?
- Do I have personal tools for practicing the kind of humility that allows me to hear other people’s points of view and to possibly be changed by them?
- Do I view listening as a value in my classroom? If so, what are the ways in which this value is reflected there?
- How do I handle the strong emotions that arise when someone disagrees with my ideas? How do I handle things when someone else has a strong reaction to my ideas?
- What do I do with my judgments of another? How do I work with judgments in a way that is compassionate to myself and the other?
These inquiries and self-reflections are just a few, but they are enough to prompt deep conversations among educators. We need these kind of conversations. They help us maintain our sense of wonder about ourselves, the children and the world. They keep us on our toes in terms of who we are with the children and families. They make us live into who we really are: powerful co-constructors of knowledge working alongside powerful co-constructors of knowledge.
© Shelley Welch, TeachReggio 2016