November 10, 2006
Honoring Amelia Gambetti, Reggio Children International Exchanges Coordinator and Liaison for Consultancy in Schools, Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d’infanzia Advisory Council, Reggio Emilia, Italy
I would like to say a few words that come from my heart. I believe that I am who I am because of you. I think that all the courage and strength, the wisdom and the anger, my spirit and my soul, my willingness, my wishes and my hopes come from all the teachers and the directors, from all the educators I have had the privilege to encounter in my life here in the United States.
As you know, there is another part of my life in Italy. The part of my life in the United States that began in 1992 has given me the privilege and honor of meeting many, many teachers who work in their schools, who spend their daily life facing struggles and problems but also the pleasant episodes of life. I was hired as a teacher in the schools of Reggio Emilia when I was nineteen; I am 58 now. I have been in 44 different states and I have visited more than 250 programs in the United States. I believe that I am who I am because of what you all have taught to me and continue to teach to me. So I am very, very grateful to be a teacher and a learner at the same time, and to have the privilege to collaborate with you all. Thank you all very much.
While I want to share this award with you all, I also feel a great deal of gratitude for the experience from which I came and to which I belong… the experience of the Reggio infant-toddler centers and preschools. I also feel gratitude to Reggio Children, which has given to me the opportunity to travel around the world and to meet so many people. I want to share this award with Carla Rinaldi, who couldn’t be here tonight but has been an important and essential presence in my life. I also share this award with Loris Malaguzzi, who played many roles in my life. He literally taught me almost everything I know because I started to work with him when I was nineteen; in fact, he was the one who interviewed me. During our lives, Malaguzzi and I have been colleagues and good friends. I think that there was this incredible and powerful connection between our style of living life and work.
I remember in 1992, Malaguzzi couldn’t believe that I was going to leave Italy for the United States. It wasn’t because I didn’t like working in Reggio; I was curious about life. I was also very interested in the questions asked by visitors who came to Italy, especially those from the United States, and I began to ask Lella Gandini about the United States. Lella and her husband Lester have strongly supported my encounter with the American culture and my life here. I developed a love for your culture and an interest in your culture, and Lella and Lester have always been by my side, helping me. But I remember how hard it was to leave Italy for the first time. My colleagues in Reggio Emilia were not angry with me but they were not happy that I was leaving. Malaguzzi was not happy either but developed a curiosity about my life in the United States. Before I left, he said, “You go there but then remember, you have to come back because this is your place. You have a responsibility and I have taught you many things. Now you have to continue to give your contribution to your work not only there in America but also here in Italy. When you are there, you will tell me many stories about your work.”
This was the beginning of the communication between Malaguzzi and I when I lived in the United States. As you can imagine, the first letters that I wrote from Massachusetts were full of enthusiasm but also discouragement, frustration and sadness. Those were my feelings. I would like to share with you a letter that Malaguzzi sent to me and that Lella translated. I think it says many things about the vision that Malaguzzi had about my life here in the United States. Lella will read it to you.
October 12, 1992
I now know better what you are putting together while you are taking things apart. Understand, to take things apart is necessary when you seek to transform or, better, to create. Here is what you are doing: you are growing. With your determination, your heart, your ups and downs of temperature, I believe that you will truly succeed in the enterprise of transferring the concepts of Reggio. Your letter, written with spontaneity, is very beautiful. It carries your soul, indeed, your stories, narrated with sincerity. Lella has explained to me what you have been doing since you landed in the States but I think that only you will be able to tell it. Your people are here yet George Forman and Lella, and the friendship and the appreciation you will find there are an extension of those people. You have, by now, become a citizen of the world. We will certainly help you. We will see that you have what you need. I already worked these things out with Sergio and Carlina. If all goes well, the material you want will get to you by an American teacher, who is part of a new delegation here and returning soon to the States. While cheering you on, I give you an affectionate hug. Give my greetings to George, our people and my good fortune to accompany you.
I’m sure that Malaguzzi is proud of all of us together here tonight. Thank you very much.
I am honored and humbled to share the podium on this wonderful occasion. In honoring Amelia Gambetti, we honor the thousands of teachers and administrators throughout the world who have been willing to take the risks involved in questioning their previously held beliefs and practices, and engaging in a process that pushed them to change their thinking and behavior with children. It is those legions of teachers, and the children and parents whose lives have been enhanced by Amelia’s work that come to mind tonight. At the same time, I simply marvel at how much this one-woman change agent has actually accomplished, working intensively with schools and teachers. I remember fearing in 1994 that there were simply too few Reggio educators available to carry Malaguzzi’s message to the world effectively. I was so wrong. Every social justice movement that has effectively changed the world – and I consider dissemination of the Reggio approach a social justice movement as did its founders – began with a few committed individuals.
Our topic is multiple perspectives on standards. Among us, there are diverse perspectives but each of us also has many perspectives on standards. These are my multiple perspectives. Standards remind me of the rhyme about the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. “When she was good, she was very, very good; and when she was bad, she was horrid.” This is not a familiar phrase to our Italian friends, but one I am sure they can understand. At their best, when standards are good, they not only protect children from harm but also enhance their quality of life. At their worst, if standards for practice are too low, children can be endangered or expectations of their competence can be too low. Standards themselves are not good or bad; they are more complex.
There are several types of standards: program standards; professional development standards for teachers, which include standards for ethical conduct; and early learning standards for children – what we want children to learn, the content of the curriculum, or the skills and knowledge we want enhanced by children’s participation in the program.
In June 2006, the theme of NAEYC’s professional development institute was standards. (Some early childhood educators actually boycotted the conference because they find the topic of standards so abhorrent, which frankly is a reflection on our field that I find disturbing.) Barbara Bowman (2006), the opening keynote speaker, made two key conceptual points about standards, with which I agree:
• Standards always exist. They are either implicit or explicit. If they are explicit, they can be discussed rationally, debated or discarded; people can agree or disagree. If they are not explicit, they still exist. Teachers may have differing views of children’s competence and expectations for their learning. Some may underestimate children but without explicit discussion of standards, these views are less likely to be challenged and changed.
• Standards are an equity issue. Standards for programs and professional teachers address issues of inequity across various funding streams and serving diverse groups of children. Early learning standards make explicit high expectations for all children. Low expectations for children of color or poor children are a standard – they are the wrong standard but very powerful and influential, especially if they are not explicit.
In Reggio Emilia, all three types of standards exist, although they are not written in detail (like NAEYC standards of various kinds) nor are they enforced like licensing in the U.S. Nevertheless, they are incredibly effective.
Reggio program standards
The Reggio program standards include: the image of the child; education based on relationships; two co-equal teachers; the role of parents; projects; documentation; environment as third teacher; the presence and role of an atelierista and pedagogista, etc. Documentation itself has standards for what it is and how it is used.
Any NAREA member can recognize a Reggio Emilia-inspired school anywhere in the world, just as you recognize false advertising when a program says, “We do Reggio.” Many of us have visited schools in Reggio and Reggio-inspired schools in the U.S., Australia and other countries. Picture them. They look different from the Ecole Maternalle in France or even good schools in the U.S. because of the standards used. Just because the Reggio program standards are so high does not mean they don’t exist.
Reggio professional development standards
These include the work of the teacher as researcher; working collaboratively with other teachers and parents; the power of documentation as a teacher education tool. Again, professional development standards place high expectations on teachers.
Reggio early learning standards
The analogy may appear weakest here because, compared to the U.S., Reggio Emilia has nothing like our pressure to produce child outcomes. According to a recent survey by the International Reading Association, Italy even lacks the concept of emerging literacy that pervades our standards and practice here.
I actually think that early learning standards are necessary as tools to educate teachers about what learning goals are achievable and challenging for children within different age ranges (that is, what is developmentally appropriate). But I also know that they can be used badly. Here again, high standards for children’s learning that exist in Reggio have influenced world views of the competence of young children – their ability to solve problems, work collaboratively, represent their learning, and the list goes on and on.
In short, I think it is precisely the existence of such high standards of practice, professional development and early learning that has made the Reggio Emilia approach to early education so influential throughout the world.
Bowman, B. 2006. Standards: At the Heart of educational equity. Young Children, 61(5).
This presentation was based, in part, on “Reflections on the Relationship Between Documentation and Assessment: An Interview with Brenda Fyfe” by Lella Gandini and Judith Allen Kaminsky, published inInnovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange, Volume 11, No. 1, Winter 2004.)
First, let me say thank you to Amelia Gambetti for always setting the highest standards for herself and for those of us who have worked with her and learned so much from her example and consultation. She expects performance outcomes but her assessment of our work is always part of the learning process, not a stagnant outcome but an urgent message of support for ongoing learning.
When I think about the issue of standards and early childhood education, I reflect on these high expectations of our colleagues from Reggio Emilia. They inspire us to bring forth the strongest possible image of the child, the teacher and society. I think of Carla Rinaldi’s plea for the pedagogy of listening that asks us to learn from and with the young child. It cultivates a disposition to think beyond what is already known about children’s learning, beyond the confines of a pre-established curriculum and standards. It sets the expectation that teaching and learning with children is a process of research that can lead us into unknown territory and insights.
Unfortunately, in many school systems today, the emphasis on standards, goals and predefined outcomes has resulted in an unintended narrowing of our views about learning. As a result, a de-emphasis or no emphasis is placed on the thinking of the child in relation to the curriculum, much less the thinking of the child that may appear unrelated to the curriculum goals driving instruction.
In his book Schools that Learn (2000), Peter Senge writes, “States become preoccupied with establishing standards and measuring student outcomes through tests. Educators focus their attention on techniques and strategies to respond to the policymakers’ mandates, often narrowing the curriculum and increasing the emphasis on rote learning” (p. 281). Even when pre-kindergarten teachers do not have such direct mandates, there is often tremendous pressure that comes indirectly from parents, colleagues in the elementary grades and the community at large to rush children through a curriculum of procedural knowledge and skills. Teachers who are feeling this pressure often become more teacher and curriculum centered. They feel they have no time or encouragement for a negotiated learning process where children’s ideas are given serious consideration. There is no place for questions and uncertainty, especially at the early primary levels where high stakes testing is imminent. The concepts of a responsive curriculum and negotiated or co-constructed learning (Forman and Fyfe, 1998) are certainly not supported in many school systems today.
But I want to tell you about a case that runs counter to this pattern. A few years ago, I was privileged to be on a dissertation committee for an elementary school teacher from Texas. Her name is Sheri Vasinda (now Dr. Vasinda). Her doctoral study demonstrated that the Reggio Emilia inspired practice of negotiated learning could be successfully implemented in an American standards-based elementary public school third grade classroom. She used qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to document a collaborative process of learning involving children, parents and the teacher in the context of a high stakes assessment environment. She found that an emergent curriculum provided authentic and meaningful opportunities to address state learning objectives. “The children’s questions and interests also enriched the predetermined state curriculum,” she states. Furthermore, her experience and her study verified that negotiated learning was not detrimental to standardized test scores. There was no significant difference in the Texas Assessment of Key Skills in reading and math test scores of these third graders as compared with their peers in traditional classrooms. She notes, “The findings of this study suggest that there is a place for emergent curriculum, the voice and choice of children and parents, within the context of a standard-based and high stakes assessment classroom in the United States” (Vasinda, 2004).
Dr. Vasinda presented her dissertation study at the annual conference of the Association for Constructivist Teaching held in St. Louis in 2004. Carla Rinaldi was the keynote speaker for the conference that year and chose to attend Sheri’s presentation. At the end, Carla enthusiastically stood up, clapped, said “Bravo!” and then went on to express her appreciation and admiration for the quality of the work presented.
As a teacher educator, I have given a lot of thought to what I think we need to be doing in teacher preparation programs, both at the individual teacher preparation level and at the school system level, to produce and sustain teachers like Sheri Vasinda. Over the years, I have come to realize that if we want new teachers to be interested in how and what children think, then we must put much more emphasis in our teacher preparation programs on the study of children’s ideas. There are now many excellent teacher education programs that have shifted in this direction as a result of inspiration from the preschools of Reggio Emilia.
A standard (or goal) that we have put into our early childhood degree program at Webster University is that candidates must demonstrate competence as teacher researchers through the ability to observe, document and analyze children’s ideas, learning processes and actions. Here is one specific example of a particular change that I made several years ago to support pre-service teachers in this direction. I decided that when conducting student teaching and practicum observations, I would document and give much more attention to the children’s behavior and words rather than the student teacher’s behavior and words. I would document children’s responses to the student teacher’s directions and interaction, but I would also make a point of trying to observe and document small group interactions and/or an individual child’s approach to solving a problem when the student teacher was working with other children. In my debriefing conversation, I would ask the student teacher to study my documentation with me. Together we would wonder, question and interpret. I found that this shift in my supervisory behavior supported the curiosity and wonder of the student teachers about children’s thinking. They were less concerned about the mechanics of their teaching (meaning how smoothly the instruction had progressed and how well children followed directions) and showed more concern about what the children said, did and meant. As the semester progressed, the students’ daily journals showed more detailed observations of children’s comments and work. More attention was given to reflection on documentation and interpretations of children’s thinking. I believe that I was helping pre-service teachers to come to the realization that responsive teaching requires this kind of daily study of children’s expressed thoughts – that planning involves a negotiation between curriculum goals, and children’s ideas and theories, not just their interests.
Now I know that this kind of responsive teaching will quickly go by the wayside when new teachers go into school systems where they face the pressures mentioned earlier. New teachers as well as seasoned teachers need support systems to help them deal with the widespread pressures that Senge described. It is critical for practicing teachers to have support systems that enable and encourage them to listen to children, to seek to uncover the children’s beliefs about the topics to be investigated, to share and probe their theories and ideas. In St. Louis, we have been able to develop and maintain such a support system for a group of teachers for over 14 years now. It began in 1992 with a grant from the Danforth Foundation. At that time, we formed a study and professional development network among teachers from several schools in the metropolitan area. Today, the St. Louis – Reggio Collaborative, a group of three schools and faculty from Webster University’s School of Education continue to support the study and celebration of children’s thinking that is made visible through observation and documentation.
This year, Webster faculty members have formed a new professional development partnership with an urban public school district, Maplewood Richmond Heights, to establish such a support system for its early childhood teachers. Jennifer Strange, one of our adjunct faculty members, is a key player in this project. She is providing 2-3 days of on-site consultation per week for these early childhood educators, who are negotiating public school standards while attempting to study and implement concepts and values of the Reggio Emilia approach. This professional development project is being supported by a pool of funds coming from ARCHS (a state organization that supports quality initiatives in early childhood education), the school district and Webster University. The school district is working on a bond initiative that will help to sustain and expand the project in the future.
On another level (beyond my university context and a local school district), I am concerned that even in our own profession, we must do more to counter the negative effects of the standards movement. I am concerned that some of our documents on best practice in the U.S. still have the tendency to narrow and limit our image of the child, boxing them into predetermined expectations about learning. The heavy emphasis on goal driven instruction and assessment is not balanced with openness to going into uncharted territory with children. I agree with Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (Beyond Quality, 1999), who plea for balance when it comes to combining frameworks of normalization (standards or developmental scales) and openness to meaning making that goes beyond or outside the boundaries of standards and scales. This involves the use of multiple frames (curriculum goals, developmental progressions and open ended questions about learning and thinking) for examining children’s learning and making meaning. We can use pedagogical documentation to re-think the meaning of “assessment,” to question our certainties about what is significant learning and what is not.
Here is an example. In the latest edition of Preparing Early Childhood Professionals (NAEYC, 2003), Standard #3 addresses the importance of observing, documenting and assessing to support young children and families. At first reading, it appears that this standard is very much aligned with Reggio’s emphasis on the ongoing and integral nature of documentation and assessment in the learning process. The NAEYC document indicates that teachers demonstrate their understanding of this standard “by embedding assessment-related activities in curriculum and in daily routines, so that assessment becomes a habitual part of professional life” (p. 33.). The document goes on to emphasize “alignment” – “good assessment is a positive tool that supports children’s development and learning, and that improves outcomes for young children and families” (p. 33). The basic concepts described in this document are sound, but I am concerned about what is not stated. For example, there is little or no discussion of the importance of using documentation to help children to self-assess. There is no mention of using documentation with children to reflect on their own learning or to think about their thinking. There is no mention of interpreting and reinterpreting, in order to develop (with the children) theories that give meaning to events and objects in their world. Rather, this NAEYC document places emphasis on using observation and documentation “to capture each child’s unique qualities, strengths and needs” (p. 33). There is no mention of using documentation to study children’s ideas, current schemas or theories, no talk of using documentation with children to help them to ask good questions (Forman, 1989).
The social constructivist approach that our colleagues from Reggio Emilia practice encourages us to go beyond identification of qualities, strengths, needs and interests. The teachers in Reggio Emilia “seek to uncover the children’s beliefs about the topics to be investigated. Their study goes beyond simply identifying the children’s interest. Their analysis reveals the reasons behind the children’s interest, the source of their current knowledge and their level of articulation about its detail.” (Forman and Fyfe, 1998).
Documentation offers a common platform for discourse and, therefore, enables collective reflection by teachers, children and parents. Reflection is a critical part of the learning process. Documentation makes it possible for teachers, children and parents to look together at learning, to reflect on experience and think about its meaning. Today, more and more teachers at the elementary school level are involving children in collecting examples of their best work to be included in portfolios. The portfolio is used as a tool for assessment discussions with parents. The child’s involvement in choosing the “best” items for the portfolio is certainly a self-assessment process. Some teachers encourage a peer support process wherein a small group of peers consult with the child in question to share their perspectives about the quality of the work to be included in the portfolio. The teacher’s role is to help children to express their autonomous voices, but also to help them remember standards of quality that have been studied and agreed upon. A good teacher scaffolds the self and peer assessment process in terms of curriculum goals, but is also open to new perspectives or standards of quality that children may bring to the discussion.
In my School of Education at Webster University, we have adopted a quote from Pablo Casals as the mantra for our work in teacher education: “We must all work together to make this world worthy of its children.” I believe that one of the ways we must work together is to establish dynamic standards for early education, standards that continuously open rather than narrow the pathways, processes and outcomes of learning for our children. They deserve nothing less.
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., and Pence, A. 1999. Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives. London UK: RoutledgeFalmer (p. 36).
Forman, G. 1989. Helping children ask good questions. In B. Neugebauer, Ed., The Wonder of It: Exploring How the World Works. Redmond WA: Exchange Press.
Forman, G. and Fyfe, B. 1998. Negotiated learning through documentation, discourse and design. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, and G. Forman Eds., The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education (2nd edition). New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation (p. 240).
Hyson, M. (Ed.). 2003. Preparing Early Childhood Professionals: NAEYC’s Standards for Programs.Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (p.33).
Senge, P.; Cambron-McCabe, N.; Lucas, L.; Smith, B.; Dutton, J.; and Kleiner, A. 2000. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Field Book for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York: Doubleday (p. 281).
Vasinda, S. 2004. Reinventing Reggio Through Negotiated Learning: Finding a Place for Voice and Choice in an American Standards-Based Elementary Classroom (Doctoral, Texas A&M University).
I believe that some in the U.S. incorrectly assume that early childhood educators in the schools of Reggio Emilia do not have to be aware of educational standards. But it is a question of defining the meaning and the function of such guiding principles, standards or guidelines, and considering them as a given once and for all. I’d like to offer some historical perspective on Italian early education standards.
In Italy, after the establishment of free preschools for young children (3 to 6 years of age) in 1968, a national committee designed Guidelines (Orientamenti per la Scuola Materna) that were published in 1969, with the intent to guide the educational process. At the regional level, regulations about space and safety were carefully designed and enacted along with the 1968 law. The regional governments were also given the responsibility for the regulations regarding adult/child ratio, the space and the caregivers’ qualifications when the law establishing infant-toddler centers was passed in 1971. By then, some of the regions such as Emilia Romagna and Toscana had already started progressive programs in various municipalities.
In 1972, Loris Malaguzzi succeeded in obtaining a favorable vote from the City Council for the official regulations that he had designed for the preschools of the municipality of Reggio Emilia. Those regulations introduced for the first time the presence of two teachers per classroom of 30 children (ratio 1:15 to be lowered later), the presence of the atelier and atelierista, the organization of a pedagogical team, professional development of teachers and the participation of parents. The intent to offer harmonic development of all potentials for all children was clearly stated.
In 1989, the Italian national government introduced a new set of guidelines for preschools. Although Loris Malaguzzi did not directly participate in the work of the National Committee, his thought and practices are, in part, reflected in this new set of guidelines. The topics cover fields of experience, such as body and movement; discourse and verbalization; space order and measurement; messages and forms of communication; things, time and nature; and myself and others. In Malaguzzi’s discussion of those guidelines, he drafted a further set of guidelines that he entitled, Fields of Experience and of Knowledge.
In the late 1990’s, Italian educators and administrators entered into dialogue and discussion with their European colleagues about the definition of quality, albeit “good quality” in early education. More specific guidelines were drafted and enacted to create “quality indicators.” A variety of such guidelines and handbooks have been produced, especially with regard to infant/toddler care and education. What follows is a list of such quality indicators, presented with ample description, produced by a committee of educators and administrators and published by the municipality of Trento.
• Image of the system and accessibility to parents
• Environment and space as a stimulus and a resource
• Activities, objects and materials for children
• A system of relationship
• Educational work: collegiality, professionalism and pedagogical support
• Documentation as communication and assessment
• Relationship with parents and family participation
• Continuity, connection with other services and inclusion of diversity
• Balance between cost and benefits
In conclusion, a more basic question was raised in considering the attempt to define indicators of quality. This critique continues to develop in the discussion among European leaders in education, such as Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg along with Carlina Rinaldi in Reggio Emilia, regarding whether it is worthwhile and even possible to define indicators of quality (or standards) that cannot be universally objective and valid indicators of outcomes. Rather, educators should engage in critical inquiry with one another and with parents directly involved on how to understand development, knowledge and learning. An essential tool for this respectful process of understanding is pedagogical documentation. Pedagogical documentation assists educators and parents in reflecting on the perspective of the young child in each particular context and gives the possibility to assess the work in process there. (Dahlberg, Moss and Pence, 1999 and Rinaldi, 2006)
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., and Pence, A. 1999. Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives. London UK: RoutledgeFalmer (pp. 87-158).
Gandini, L. & Edwards, C., Eds. 2001. Bambini: The Italian Approach to infant/Toddler Care. New York: Teachers College Press (pp. 221-223).
Rinaldi, C. 2006. In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. London UK: RoutledgeFalmer.
I feel very connected to the many important things have been said here tonight. I would like to add a few of my thoughts and then I would like to ask for contributions from the audience, especially from some colleagues and friends of mine so that we can continue our ongoing dialogue about these important topics in the schools in the United States, with which I work and cooperate. First of all, I made a connection in terms of standards, expectations, tests, preparation of children and preparation of teachers. In my opinion, this is an important aspect that was mentioned by Lella, Sue and Brenda, which I would like to reinforce.
Another connection I made is in terms of standards and the image we have of the child. In which way can standards be connected to an image of the child that is seen more, a child with needs instead of rights, or rights instead of needs? In which way can standards be connected to an image of children seen as powerful and capable in thinking and building knowledge? This is another big question mark, I would say.
Then, as Lella said before, in Reggio Emilia, we have standards, too. I remember early in the ’80s, following guidelines that came from the central government, we, in Reggio Emilia, studied together those guidelines and created what we called fields of knowledge, in terms of self-identity, construction of interactions and relationships, body movement, numbers and measurements, reading and writing, environment and nature, color and shapes. I remember when we, as teachers, discussed at great length the responsibilities that we had. How many responsibilities do teachers have to support and provoke children’s learning? Are teachers always prepared to do it? Are teachers always open to do it? What about guiding or imposing from above? What about collaborating with children and becoming partners in learning?
I believe that the aspect of fields of knowledge and the teachers’ responsibilities are closely related. Especially if teachers support and provoke interests when they work with children…if they bring in important topics to be discussed and they facilitate situations, in which children participate. In this way, children can find their own strategies and their own theories. In this way, children can become aware of the power of their thinking. When a child learns the power of his or her own thinking, the child is capable of solving problems. I would say that this child is not only prepared to go to another grade or to continue to study but is also prepared to solve the even bigger problems of life.
I think that what is also important in our work in Reggio Emilia is that we have intensely studied the pedagogy of listening…following different experiences with the children; observing, interpreting and documenting them. All of these processes have taught us how to assess situations not only among adults, teachers and parents but also with the essential contribution of children, and the strong consideration and awareness of the power of their thinking.
Remarks by Mary Hartzell, First Presbyterian Nursery School
One of my concerns is that, in our country, we think and react from a fear-based perspective and a perspective of deficit. This perspective does not have its origins in the trust and confidence of children and their minds. I believe that we need to find a way to work with things we don’t like. We cannot be afraid of them. This is very important, particularly now because of the research related to young children, attachment and brain development, which lays the groundwork and the scientific foundation for children’s learning through relationships. Relationships wire the brain for continued learning. So if we’re looking at standards or ways of learning that disconnect children to relationships, we, in the early childhood profession, have to stand up and say, “No, this is not the way children learn. Science supports this.” We cannot let the fear filter down from the top and affect us in our decision-making.
Remarks by Margie Cooper, Inspired Practices in Early Education, Inc.
Standards from another perspective: What about standards of experience, to which children have a right? Instead of standards that teachers must enforce on families and children, what about the rights that children have for standards of resources and standards of quality teachers who have been supported, in terms of their growth in working with children? I often wonder whether something is missing in our profession that used to be so prevalent, which was older teachers helping younger teachers learn how to be with children. This doesn’t have so much to do with the development of intellect or the development of social responsibility or the development of the physical body. It has to do with the development of a happy day. But what happens if teachers are uncomfortable with children, are afraid of children, are keeping children at a distance? I believe we will have a very problematic future, if we don’t build this kind of mentoring back into our profession.
Remarks by Ellen Hall, Boulder Journey School
I’d like to talk about an experience that I had on Tuesday, when I went to two remarkable schools in Atlanta, Georgia that are part of an Inspired Practices in Early Education professional development project: Grant Park Cooperative Preschool and St. Anne’s Preschool. The standards there are phenomenal. In these schools are two groups of teachers that are working together and I think they have it right. They put the children first, they watch the children and the rest comes. I want to give a big hand to those schools and to all the other schools in the contexts that you all represent. “Bravo” and continue the wonderful work. Think about the children, put the children first, put them in the center and everything else will fall behind.
Concluding Remarks by Jennifer Strange, Webster University, NAREA Co-Chair
By being here tonight, we are all change agents. Every day in our work, we act as change agents, whether we’re in the classroom with children or at the university level, whatever our positions may be. But it’s not enough. We want high standards for the children in this country. But as I realized the first time I went to Reggio Emilia, we want high standards for the children of the world. So we have a great deal of work to do.
Together, we are empowering exceptional education.