Reflections from Reggio Emilia – March, 2019

Each year, our Teacher Education Program Cohort travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy to participate in a study group in the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre

Sandra O’Donnell, a graduate student from the 2018-2019 BJS TEP cohort shared the following reflections.

Simply being immersed in the city of Reggio Emilia was a transformative experience. Having the opportunity to tour preschool and infant/toddler centers was certainly a highlight! I gained a clearer understanding of progettazione and how projects can be revisited and shared amongst other classrooms. I remember one classroom beautifully displayed documentation offering pages of photos and text along with the children’s clay sculptures. The teacher explained to me how the children were investigating movement and the physical body. They initially expressed their ideas and discoveries in small groups, engaging in different movement experiences and further represented their thinking through clay and paper materials. The documentation represents months of exploration, which continues to evolve. This served as a reminder that children can construct deeper understanding and meaning in their work when offered ample time to explore with several different materials.

The 2018 – 2019 BJS TEP cohort with the great stone Lions of Reggio Emilia

Sonny Apodaca, another member of the 2018 – 2019 cohort shared these reflections.

Visiting Reggio Emilia, Italy was an incredibly invigorating experience. I felt inspired and excited the entire time I was there. The schools are each unique with their own defined identity and significant history that have helped shape it throughout the years. The schools are amazing! I left each one feeling more and more motivated with my head full of amazing classroom set-ups, provocations, and documentation styles. I am eager to bring many of these ideas into my own classrooms.

The teachers of Reggio Emilia, Italy were as inspiring as the classrooms and schools they have helped create. Every single person who steps foot into a Reggio Emilia school breathes life into it and every person is seen as equally important to the way the school lives and thrives in its community.

The teachers truly value the learning of children and see children as true protagonists in their own learning and discovery. Annalisa Rabotti, a teacher at the Nidi School, said that teachers must always listen deeper to what children are saying and doing. She said we need, “a listening that goes deeper, that hears children’s’ questions and builds new questions; that builds new elements of research. A kind of listening which is courageous, that dares, a daring kind of listening that isn’t afraid of change; a kind of listening which is capable of doing somersaults with our thoughts.”

Through my observations of the teachers and the schools in Reggio Emilia, they truly do exemplify and live this kind of thinking.

Along with this kind of thinking comes a deep value and significance placed on interdependence. Starting in the infant-toddler centers of Reggio Emilia, children learn and understand the value of relying on another person, as well as the value of being relied on and being viewed as a valuable resource for information or guidance. While observing the children of the Reggio Emilia preschools it is clear to see the confidence, joy, and autonomy they have in their own learning.

Teachers have deliberately decided not to problem solve for children and instead continually ask children to be brave and try on their own; the children do try and they try alongside their peers. They take risks in their learning, with the knowledge that if and when they do need help or direction, there is a teacher ready to learn and discover alongside them.

It seems to me that our culture and society often values independence over interdependence and this is often cultivated in schools by choosing to have children each complete individual school projects or tests, and children often have to sit in their own individual desks.

What stood out to me as being significant while in Reggio Emilia is that, through the cultivation of interdependence, children appeared to develop more independence and have more confidence in their abilities to accomplish their work. Through their reliance on their peers, teachers, and materials, the children were able to create deeper understandings and develop more confidence in their own significant capabilities.


To read more about the Study Group to Reggio Emilia, click here.

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Alumni Spotlight: Tiana Ibarra

Tiana graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2015. She is now the Right Start Program Manager at Early Childhood Options in Dillon, Colorado, which taps into her passion for professionalizing the early childhood education field. In addition to reading her perspectives below, we encourage you to check out other innovative programs in Colorado mountain communities that are using public funding to support early childhood education.

 

Where has your journey taken you since graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

I spent two lovely years teaching 3-5 year olds at Silverthorne Elementary School, part of Summit School District. I became a mother to my little boy, Sage, on May 8, 2017. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with him for four months. Upon returning to work, I accepted a position working for Early Childhood Options. The program I manage, Right Start, is a voter-approved, tax-funded initiative, designed to improve quality, availability, and affordability of early care and learning for Summit County families. Through this initiative, I get to work on issues of recruitment and retention of quality early childhood educators and family child care providers. After completing my Master’s Degree and Teaching Certificate through the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program, it is exciting for me now to get to support other educators in Summit County who are interested in advancing their educations.

How did your education in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program help prepare you for your current professional role?

My current role requires me to look at a great deal of data, which has not always been my strong suit. However, the BJS TEP taught me to think outside of the box, think on a grand scale, and think like an advocate. In my short time as Program Manager, I have brought in new systems and ideas. I have also begun finding new ways of marketing the Right Start Project, and I think I built my capacity for this type of thinking during my time in the program.

What brings you joy in your current professional position?

I love that I get to be part of helping teachers feel appreciated and helping them stay in the field they love. I also enjoy that I have a great deal of flexibility in my job, as the folks I work with are very open-minded. I can bring new ideas to the table, and they are always welcomed and encouraged, which helps keep me energized and dedicated.

What is your favorite memory from your time in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?

By far, I’d say my favorite memory was the trip to study in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It was the first time I travelled overseas, which was thrilling, and it was also incredible to see the schools in action. Leading up to the trip, we learned about many aspects of the Reggio Approach, and experimented with translating those ideas into our various practicum settings. The trip to Reggio Emilia provided us with the opportunity to see how the educators there implemented what we had been learning about. This truly empowered and inspired me!

Tiana and her colleague Amie enjoying Lake Como, Italy, during their personal cultural study days after visiting Reggio Emilia.

What professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

I am definitely most proud of graduating from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. That was the most challenging and rewarding year of my life, and sometimes I look back and cannot believe I did it. I completed the program while employed at a school in Breckenridge, which required a lot of traveling on my part. I had to stay organized, extremely focused, and take the experience one day at a time, but the program administrators and instructors were really supportive. It was crazy at times, but I feel so proud that I did it.

(left) While enrolled in the program, Tiana and her class of toddlers regularly went on excursions to explore the Breckenridge community, as shown in this photo. (right) Tiana, pictured with her husband, Justin, on her graduation day.

In terms of your professional life, what are you most passionate about right now?

I love that I get to be part of an organization like Early Childhood Options because they are so incredibly dedicated to the community. Through this job, I feel like I’m truly making an impact on the educators, families, and children in Summit County. I also have a dream of opening my own early education center someday, and I am learning new skills every day that I believe will help me make my dream a reality. I feel like no matter my next steps, I will be better prepared because of my time with this wonderful organization.

 

How Many Feathers Does it Take? A reflection from the 2017 Boulder Journey School Summer conference

Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Haley McPherson, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.

Many of the attendees at the 2017 BJS summer conference traveled from states across the US, including Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. We also had groups travel from other cities in Colorado, including Denver and Fort Collins. With this diverse group of individuals came an even more diverse set of theories, questions, practices, and most importantly, experiences.

We took advantage of this diversity among our community and spent two days reflecting and engaging in thoughtful dialogue with one another. Our hope, as hosts, was to offer experiences that educators from various backgrounds could integrate into their daily interactions in the field of education.

One strategy used was time for educators to ‘mess about’ with materials. The materials were offered as invitations, based on work that had taken place in the BJS classrooms and BJSTEP during the 2016-2017 school year.


“If teachers can join us in mapping paths into subject matter, they are on their way to being able to do so for children.” – David Hawkins

On Earth Day, 2017, a group of graduate students in the BJSTEP created a community pop-up event at the Boulder Farmer’s Market. The topic presented to the community was the dynamic interplay of Nature and Technology, especially as it relates to the connection with early childhood. As the graduate students interacted with the community at the Farmer’s Market, they observed children who, when presented with the materials, were determined to make a wiffle ball fly.

Community members playing at the pop-up event, April, 2017.

One of the invitations to play at the summer conference was inspired by this observation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo story below captures a collection of moments, experienced by Troy Byrne, a pre-primary teacher at the Children’s School in Atlanta, Georgia, as he experimented with materials presented in combination with a wind tunnel.

Troy shared his initial thoughts on the challenge as he began the process of messing about, “I wonder how many feathers it takes?”

He proceeded to test, changing the arrangement and number of feathers, until, at last, success!

Troy’s experience with the wiffle balls, feathers, and wind tunnel demonstrates the type of learning that can be offered to children and adults.

While this experience should be considered standard practice, it is more often thought of as a luxury. I invite you to think about why this is relevant to what we are doing in early childhood.

If we want to promote early childhood as a time for learning, experimenting, growing, and indulging, we should start with ourselves as educators. How do we experience learning, experimenting, growing, and indulging, and how do we translate these moments into our work with children?

 

Personal and Professional Impact: Reflections from Reggio Emilia

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Cassie Sorrells and Kacy Grady, 2016-2017 graduate students.

The week began on Sunday afternoon with a gathering at the International Centre Loris Malaguzzi to meet fellow conference participants. The nearly 200 conference participants represented teachers, administrators, researchers, artists, and even an actor. It was eye-opening to see how the Reggio philosophy drew professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions of the world. We toured the city, hosted by several kind volunteers from the organization, Friends of Reggio Children. Reggio Emilia is a beautiful Italian city; modern-day avenues form a hexagon around the old city, in the footprint where the medieval city walls once stood. The colorful buildings have been rebuilt and re-appropriated many times within the centuries since their founding, so that what was once a nunnery, today may serve as a local police station.

Part of the conference was dedicated to offering us hands-on experiences in several “Atelier” settings within the International Centre. One of the ateliers focused on Living Organisms and Life Cycles. During this experience, the atelierista illustrated the beauty in living things throughout every stage of their lives and how everything can be repurposed. There were beautiful displays of living organisms for us to observe and reflect on: decomposing foods (fruits, vegetables, bread) and plants of all varieties. We were invited to create a piece of artwork based on our reflections on the Atelier.

Another Atelier, Border Crossings, focused on the learning that occurs at the intersection of nature and technology. We were instructed to explore the area outside of the Centre, and return with images and materials that reflected that natural space. We used infrared cameras, projectors, light, plastic, and metal objects to create an artistic interplay among the materials of these seemingly disparate realms. Our first attempts were quite goal-oriented, and we abruptly found ourselves at a creative standstill. The atelierista offered us some insight: “As adults,” he said, “we often approach a project with a goal in mind. But it is the process, the creation that is the goal.” As we shifted our mindset to one that more accurately mirrored that of children, we found that our creation blossomed.

That afternoon we began our visits to the schools, an experience that everyone had been very much looking forward to. Participants were given the opportunity to visit several different contexts, each of which offered a unique example of the Reggio Emilia Approach in action. We gathered in small groups at the bus station, located near the International Center, and took buses to our school sites.

Salvador Allende, an infant/toddler facility, located on the outskirts of Reggio Emilia, is characterized by its extensive outdoor park. Upon first glance, Allende’s classrooms seemed strikingly bare. The typical Reggio use of vertical space was noticeably absent, and the only materials found seemed to be those being used for an investigation. Upon reflection and through conversations with the teachers, it became clear that this intentional simplicity encouraged deeper investigation. The simplicity of the classrooms was mirrored in the outdoor space. We were immediately struck not only by the natural beauty of the rolling landscape, but also by the total lack of man-made materials. This lack of materials, while creating an ostensibly simple landscape, did not detract from the complexity of experiences possible in the environment. One member of our group actually began crying as she observed the stunning willow tree, the free-roaming rabbits and ducks, and the unassuming swings made out of rope. Allende was a powerful reminder that the natural world can be a phenomenal provocation for learning, without our assistance or intervention.

                          

Iqbal Masih Preschool is located on the same property as the recycled materials facility, REmida. REmida promotes the idea that waste materials can be resources, and feeds these materials into many of the preschools in Reggio. The Centre collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials, obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discarded materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim of reinventing their use and meaning (REmida, 2012). It was inspiring to see the ways in which recycled materials can be offered as provocations. We reflected deeply on the idea that materials have multiple functions, and that every child can find a different use for the same material. This is a refreshing idea in a world that promotes the possession of single-use plastic toys.

(Photos provided by Sam Prince, who visited the Centre, and by Google Images)

Our four days at the International Centre were followed by two full days to explore Italy in any way we chose. Most of our cohort chose to branch off into small groups, exploring Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Milan. These days of travel were an incredible way to end an already life-changing experience. They provided an opportunity to further cement the strong bonds we had formed with our classmates during the course of the trip. Our group of six chose to explore Milan. We ate, drank wine, and explored this huge metropolis that is such a contrast to the sleepy town of Reggio Emilia. Although we were technically finished with the school related component of our trip, our conversations (typically held at dinner over incredible spreads of pasta) tended to spiral back to the themes and experiences we had gleaned from the study tour.

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The personal and professional impact of this experience is evident in the way our classroom practices have changed since we returned. Not only have we been able to draw upon the many examples of quality work seen in Reggio as inspiration for our daily provocations, we have also been reoriented towards the philosophy underlying our work. We have started circulating conversations around the idea of clearing out our playgrounds of all toys and “unnatural” materials, offering a space with only natural material provocations. In addition to its impact on our immediate practices in the classroom, spending a week in the company of such innovative and inspirational early childhood educators reminded us that the work we are doing is part of a larger movement towards a future in which children are seen and valued as true citizens of our world. We could not be more grateful for this experience.

 

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Blog authors, Kacy and Cassie

REmida Retrieved April 16, 2017 from http://zerosei.comune.re.it/inter/remida.htm

The Mosaic of Marks: Reflections from Reggio Emilia

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Sam Prince, a 2016-2017 graduate student.

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Sam Prince, a 2016-2017 graduate student.

My trip to Reggio Emilia was overwhelming in the best way possible. An abundance of important and thought-provoking experiences were packed into a very short period of time. In the days after leaving the conference one moment is sticking with me as being particularly remarkable.

On the second day of our conference, I attended a learning experience in one of the ateliers in the Malaguzzi Center. The setting: twenty educators situated around two small tables to spend open-ended time with a set of drawing materials. My tendency when confronted with a large group of unfamiliar people is to slip into the background as much as possible. I go out of my way to go unnoticed.

Early in my time at Boulder Journey School, Alison, Boulder Journey School Education Director, told us to run towards areas of dissonance. Messing about with open ended materials is an area of dissonance for me. Working in a large group is an area of dissonance for me. I fought my tendency.

To attain the right frame of mind, I had to ignore the atelierista, her assistant, and a translator who perused the room, scribbling furiously on clipboards and talking to one another.

I focused on the materials.

What were they meant for? How could I tweak their meaning? What could I create? What did I want to create? What had I never seen before? What seemed appealing to play with?

I let myself go.

I felt the teaching team gathered behind me. My concentration slipped in an out, fighting with slight anxiety and a whole new set of questions.

Was I using the materials right?  Was I not being loose enough?  Was I acting like I thought I should be acting instead of letting the moment simply exist?

Eventually a tap on my shoulder pulled me out of my own head. The atelierista in training and I talked. She asked me what I was doing and how it was going. It was inquiry disguised as idle chit-chat. She pointed out the colors I was using, the way the shadows were interacting with the page. I hadn’t noticed. We took turns exploring, using our hands to make shadows on the page.

Then a mysterious light appeared on the page, a reflection. We tried to see if it was her watch; not the culprit. A metal pen; nope. The atelierista joined in. She tried more objects that could possibly be responsible. Eventually, through some more experimentation, we realized my name tag had made the light. No language was needed. We shared ear to ear smiles, pointing at what we had figured out. No translator was needed.

At the end of the session we debriefed as a group. Someone asked about what had happened between me and the team. The atelierista included the following ideas in her response:

Documentation and observation are forms of caring. They are a way that we show people they are valued, that their process is valued. When we co-construct with someone we open ourselves up to great joy—the joy of discovering, of exploring, and of empowering. What happened there clearly was of great benefit to the person being observed. It was also of great value to the observer. It incites in both a feeling that reminds us why we are teachers. 

It is okay to not be good at something. Even teachers who have been in the profession for two and three decades aren’t good at everything. Running towards the dissonance is the only way to get better. If I had faded into the background, embracing my most base level instinct, the profound moment I had the fortune of sharing wouldn’t have been possible.  I would not have felt the overwhelming joy of discovery, neither would the teacher who co-constructed with me.

The trip to Reggio has been a time of great reflection for me. Over the course of this year I have been given multiple opportunities to evolve as an educator, from optional workshops to mandatory classes to insightful conversations with colleagues in passing. This year has been designed for me to grow. I’ve embraced it as much as I can. The trip to Reggio Emilia felt like a culmination in a sense, a time of realization that I am not the educator that I was nine months ago.

Below is a panel Sam created from photographs of the experience.

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