The logistics email that participants received set the stage for the Twelfth NAREA Summer Conference: “Get ready, because we are going back to college with early days, presentations in auditoriums, intellectual discourse, plentiful coffee, and campus food! The conference will take place on the Ryerson University Campus.” From June 23–25, 2016, 380 educators from 6 countries, 27 U.S. states, and 7 Canadian provinces gathered in Toronto, ON for an intense three days of discourse, dialogue, and exchange inspired by the educational project of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The conference featured Reggio educators, Moira Nicolosi and Giovanna Cagliari. With their ever-present interpreter, Leslie Morrow, Moira and Giovanna invited participants to encounter the children, families, and educators of Reggio Emilia each morning in profound plenary sessions.
The first day began with warm greetings from NAREA and the Ontario Reggio Association. On behalf of the local hosts, Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation welcomed the group to Toronto with this eloquent message: “I would say that we have a vision for my people – our people – and we are determined to see that vision a reality. It is a vision of unity, of respect, and of enlightenment. I was told you were visionaries as well – people who see the world as it is but do not accept it must stay that way – people who see the potential of what could be…”
The first day’s plenary session was entitled “Experiences, Contexts, Theories, and Values: Dialogues on the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia,” which established an historical foundation for the values of the educational project in Reggio Emilia. Moira told the audience that she had read in the Toronto guidebook that the word Toronto means “a place of encounter” and that we would adopt this as our guiding thread during the next three days together. Then she said, “What we would like to try this morning is to look at the idea of theory, practice, and shared meaning.” The speakers used a strategy of offering participant’s questions that served to frame the viewing and discussion around the videos that they shared. This strategy of framing documentation allowed the speakers to go deeper into their own theories. The videos entitled “It’s a Whale” and “A Fragment of a Day in School” were viewed, discussed, and reflected upon. Giovanna reminded us, “It’s important to have dialogue and to create together what we mean by words and listening.” The speakers concluded the session by circling back to an essential principle that they had spoken of earlier in the day: the value of participation.
“Absolutely loved the presentations from the educators from Reggio Emilia. Moira and Giovanna did an amazing job with sharing their work and I especially really appreciated their presentation on documentation and how they went through the process at their schools. It never ceases to amaze me how central their image of the child is to everything they do in Reggio Emilia! Bravissima!” – 2016 NAREA Summer Conference participant
The organization and offerings for each day were varied and complex. The mornings were dedicated to plenary sessions with the featured speakers and the afternoons were filled with a variety of breakout and atelier sessions. Having breakout sessions throughout the campus gave everyone the chance to see beautiful Ryerson University and enjoy the spectacular Toronto weather.
The afternoon sessions were designed for small breakout sessions, a request from past participants. Five sessions were offered over the course of the afternoon, and each participant could choose one. “Meeting the Exhibit” was geared toward those who had been to the exhibit multiple times and was another opportunity to hear from the Reggio educators. “Beyond Preschool” was a session exploring what Reggio-inspired education means after age four. It was facilitated by Jennifer Kesselring, a NAREA board member. The debut of NAREA’s “Dialogue for Quality Video Series” offered an opportunity for discussion. It was supported by video interviews of Vea Vecchi and facilitated by Carol Anne Wien, a former NAREA board member. “Culture of the Atelier” was a discussion group supported by the Innovations article, “The Atelier: For a Richer and More Comprehensive Knowledge of New Cultural Visions” by Vea Vecchi and was facilitated by Nora Thompson and Marla McLean, 2016 NAREA Summer Conference atelier facilitators. Finally, the Innovations article, “An Active Attitude of Listening as the Premise and Context for Every Educational Relationship” by Marina Mori supported the “Educational Relationships” session, which was facilitated by NAREA board members Jeanne Goldhaber and Susan Redmond. In addition to the breakout sessions, participants could choose to visit the “The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit, which stayed open until 6:00 p.m. the first two nights of the conference.
The first day concluded with an informal “meet and greet.” Approximately, 20 educators gathered in Piper’s Pub, across from the exhibit venue, for fellowship and exchange.
The second day was grounded in the notion of the circularity of knowledge between children and adults. Moira shared, “We are not educators who teach children. We are educators who are with children. The themes of the morning are the strategies and methods that make possible this value of participation.” Throughout the morning, the Italian speakers offered the group interpretations of the teacher’s role of observation, documentation, and participation in Reggio Emilia through the use of videos, photographs, and dialogue.
“I find this conference was so close to my experience of the Canadian Study tour in Reggio Emilia last year-minus the cultural experience of the city of Reggio Emilia. The presentations are really deep and thoughtful.” – 2016 NAREA Summer Conference participant
Educators from Bishop Strahan School, Rainbow District School Board Kindergarten Program, Algonquin College Early Learning Centre, Jacob Hespeler Childcare Centre, Compass Early Learning and Care, and Schoolhouse Playcare Centre of Lakehead, Inc. shared the contexts of their schools and centers during the afternoon. In addition to the virtual school tours, a session with the featured speakers was offered for those following the “Beyond Preschool” track.
Many participants entered on the last day pulling suitcases behind them, but eager to hear Moira and Giovanna speak on the topic of “Beyond the Linearity in Teaching.” During this time, the speakers shared work with primary school children. They invited participants to experience further evolutionary processes in the creation of children’s theories and reminded us that children’s intuitions are very close to scientific research. Moira said, “This seems like a simple thing, but it requires very deep listening, whether it is listening to children’s open words or other forms of expression.”
Emanuela Vercalli from Reggio Children joined the group and gave an update from Reggio Emilia on the past and present exhibitions, publications, and professional development opportunities. As Emanuela concluded her talk, she referenced the “Reggio movement” and encouraged everyone to participate.
As they wrapped up the morning, Moira and Giovanna shared one last thought, “Our hope is to try to contribute to the construction of a school, a city, possibly a world inhabited by the rights of all.” Encouraged by their words and the beautiful video, “A Journey into Rights,” participants were invited to atelier sessions, where they had the opportunity to work with their hearts, hands, and minds. Local artists and atelier facilitators offered experiences with storytelling, fiber arts, drama, and wire.
It was with great pleasure and appreciation that we welcomed our colleagues from Reggio Emilia, Italy, Giovanna Cagliari, Moira Nicolosi, and Emanuela Vercalli. We offer thanks and deep gratitude to the educators and families from Bishop Strahan School, Rainbow District School Board Kindergarten Program, Algonquin College Early Learning Centre, Jacob Hesper Childcare Centre, Compass Early Learning and Care, and Schoolhouse Playcare Centre of Lakehead, Inc. for all they did to prepare for and host the conference. Our hope is that the time spent at Ryerson University, participating in the ongoing study of the Reggio Emilia educational project and reflecting upon the responsibility of early education, will serve to support everyone who attended and that each participant will continue to “see the potential (of education) for what it could be.”
We believe the following words from these 2016 NAREA Summer Conference participants accurately reflect our collective thoughts:
“This conference was very informative. I took more notes than I ever have at a conference. Location was great. Could have been a weeklong conference.”
“I was overwhelmed in a good way! Just listening to the keynote speakers was amazing. Their passion and love for children was evident in every presentation!!”
“I was in Italy in 2002, and the time spent with the people from Italy was reminiscent of that experience. Leslie is a phenomenal interpreter. The understanding of what was said made the conference excellent!”