Report on the Third Annual NAREA Summer Conference
Advocacy, Diversity, and Alliance for the Rights of Children: Teachers, Children, and Families as Co-Researchers
Santa Monica, California
June 28-30, 2007
By Teresa Acevedo, NAREA Board Member and Communication and Information Committee Co-Chair
The Third NAREA Summer Conference, “Advocacy, Diversity Alliance for the Rights of Children: Teachers, Children, and Families as Co-Researchers,” was hosted in collaboration with Mary Hartzell and her thoughtful, creative staff and families at the First Presbyterian Nursery School in Santa Monica, California. The conference marked the expansion of collaborative contacts in individual, group and multiple cultural contexts.
The Santa Monica sea breeze set a gentle tone and sparked a vibrant hope-filled mood. An atmosphere of cooperative and enthusiastic thought offered temporary sanctuary from the 12-year grip of a U.Seducational reform based on diminishing inquiry. A seventy-two hour challenge to “stretch the mind” – in a manner that constituted forward thinking, planning and acting – was issued.
On June 28, 2007, many conference attendees opted to participate in a study tour of three schools in the Santa Monica area: First Presbyterian Nursery School, New School West (NSW) and Evergreen Community School. The schools tours provided powerful testimony of philosophy, theory, and values in vivo. They were a professional development experience unmatched in traditional thought and practice; we saw values and the image of child, family and staff claim their place in education and learning.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Carlina Rinaldi, an executive consultant for Reggio Children and professor at the University of Modena and Reggio, who offered “a rare treasure” of contemporary thought and educational interpretations, and created an atmosphere of contemplation, while urging us to turn ideas into action in our everyday lives and learning. Interspersed, throughout the conference, in both large and smaller, intimate group settings, Carlina addressed many vital issues and notions, which have immense impact in early childhood education theory and practice in a trans-cultural society:
Here are some excerpts from my notes during Carlina’s dramatic, provocative and moving presentations:
- The “image of the child” has a strong link to pedagogy and politics. When we speak of the image of the child, it includes the image of the teacher, center and community. Program measures of quality and success of children, which are based on measures of outcomes, of attendance and paper work completion are the result of choices concerning political and social values.
- Children are citizens of society who have a menu of rights – the right to creativity, to make mistakes, to confront problems, develops abilities, develop relationships, to discuss problems and experience the joys of their choices and theories. What is our responsibility to make this a reality in our education and learning? This is a political and social choice – we choose what gives meaning to an image of competent learning and competent living. How will you choose to be part of the discovery of life alongside children? This is not an objective; it is an attitude.
- Co-researchers are integral to the concept of the image of the child. Researchers may evoke an image of white laboratory coats, science and objectivity and exclusive realms of work in higher establishments, i.e., universities. In Reggio, research has a connection to collecting information about something unknown. Error, fragility, theory, wonderment and uncertainty. Being uncertain is not being insecure; it is an openness to a feeling and an invitation to research. What is the norm and rule we understand and know? Children are born researchers, searching for the meaning of self in relation and others. Play is research connected to thinking! Always asking why. If we listen to children, we will renew our pleasures of doubting and the value of the researcher, because it is impossible to learn without love and love without learning. In the spirit of research, how do we re-claim the right of being a teacher as a philosopher? Reggio is a philosophy of thinking and living.
Presentations by North American Educators
Equal in force were the presentations by North American teachers and theorists, capturing and re-threading the context of learning experiences, documentations, questions, practice, and interpretations:
- “Evolutions in California Early Childhood Contexts”
Presenters: Ellen Khokha, The Growing Place, Santa Monica CA; Susan Bates, Carmelo School, Carmel Valley CA & NAREA Membership Coordinator & Liz Fairchild, Child Development Division, Neighborhood House Association Head Start, San Diego CA
- “Evolutions in the Inclusion of Children with Special Rights”
Presenter: Sharon Palsha, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NC & Barbara Acton, Childhood League Center, Columbus OH
- “The Language of Dramatic Play: Looking into Children’s Play Culture”
Presenters: Mark Mabry, Director of Admissions, Ring Mountain Day School, Tiburon CA & Carolee Fucigna, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher The Nueva School, Hillsborough CA
- “Young Partners in Learning: The Development of Two and Three Year Old Children as Mentors in Co-Learning and Research”
Presenters: Dawn Kenney & Gillian Brune, Director, Mentor Graphics Child Development Center, Wilsonville, Oregon
- “Parents as Protagonists: Two Short Stories”
Presenters: Sandra Phillips & Alma Cortes, Lead Teacher, The Accelerated School, W.M. Keck Early Learning Center, Los Angeles CA
- “The Calendar: A Child’s Perspective”
Presenter: Amy Bice, New School West, Santa Monica CA
- “Reggio Meets the Beaders of Khayelitsha, South Africa”
Presenters: Dorothy Yumi Garcia & Tom Harding, Art Aids Art, Altadena CA
- “Imagination, Dreams & Realization: Our Journey through Castles”
Presenters: Kristie L. Norwood & Jesus Oviedo, Chicago Commons Child Development Center, Chicago IL
- “Reggio-Inspired Projects within Standards-Based Classrooms: A Texas Teacher Education Program Shares the Reggio Approach as Inspiration for Change”
Presenters: Martha Foote, Texas A&M University, Commerce TX, Sheri Vasinda, Allen Independent School District & Jennifer Cheatham, Garland Independent School District, Garland TX
- “An Exploration of Natural Materials with Young Children”
Presenter: Laura Woods, First Presbyterian Nursery School, Santa Monica CA
- “Infants, Toddlers and Teachers Researching Materials Together: A Journey of Understanding”
Presenter: Andrea Sisbarro, Boulder Journey School, Boulder CO
- “Superheroes and Bad Guys: Possibilities for Making Meaning in a Media Intense Time”
Presenter: Jaime Jacobs-Rossfeld, Evergreen Community School, Santa Monica CA
Perspectives from Conference Participants
Excerpts from “Insights, Reflections, Provocations, and Curiosities”:
- Carlina gave each of us far-reaching, deeper interpretations of listening as an eloquent tool for our lives and for the children and families we touch. Each session I attended offered meaningful provocations.
- A tour of schools combined with Carlina – and in Santa Monica-what more could you ask for! Thank you for a truly educational experience.
- I welcomed the forming of relationships. Inspired, renewed and taking away ideas and a deeper way of thinking a stronger commitment, and conduit for the rights of children.
- I enjoyed the reflection groups it gave time to process and enhance my learning for each day. I felt it was a good way for a newcomer to retain their newfound knowledge.
- I like the practical details of the schools. I was inspired by all three schools.
- I have been to multiple NAREA conference and always enjoy the experience.
- This was absolutely enriching, enlightening experience that will never leave my memory. My mind has expanded and therefore it is not the same. I am not from the West Coast and I wonder why people from Mexico were not acknowledged as participants in the conference. I wonder how this made them feel?
- The “Calendars” presentation gave a whole new interpretation through the ideas and thoughts of children and their lives.
- “Inclusion” presentations were relevant to my classroom.
- I think all the presenters were inspirational for the most part, gave fluid information to continue to reflect and construct new concepts. The beaders were so amazing and pulled so many things together for me!
- I would love to see Carlina expand the on her material.
- I am used to having a paper with details of the presentations. I wish Carlina, who is a powerful speaker, had the usage of a power point or handout to accompany her presentation. Pictures would have been beneficial for me, especially for the first time a this conference.
- We need to see videos of children engaged in the programs, as they were not present on the tour.
- More small groups. More hands on. The tours of the schools were great. I need more opportunity to hear and ask and learn about ways people have been able to create Reggio inspired schools in spite of obstacles.
- I think canceling the small group discussions at the end of Friday was a disservice to those who learn more from the comfort of participating in a small group of people who had built relationships from the prior meetings.
- Provide handouts- the professional development initiative handouts were helpful.
- Provide a roster of participants.
- Reduce the amount spent on orientation-most people have gone over the schedule.
- Noticeable moments of organization challenges including technology.
- Wrap-up on day one was redundant of the small group reflections.
Excerpts from “Comments on Future Topics”:
- infant and toddler presentations
- sessions on standards-based classrooms and how Reggio applies to older children
- workshops on administration issues in early childhood programs inspired by Reggio and mentoring ideas for new teachers
- an emphasis on diversity as it relates to Carlina’s Innovations article on “The Teacher as a Researcher” and how to re-organize our own personal and cultural limitations
- documentation as a process and not just a product
- more teachers to share their documentation
- directors sharing their experiences in leading/supporting teachers and their work especially as it relates to transforming “traditional” schools into Reggio inspired schools
- how the atelierista works with the classroom teachers
- more on inclusion of children with special rights
- how NAREA supports the development of networks that build partnership, policy, and data
- more parent information and participation