Leading Change and Developing Practice in the Early Years Environment

Reflections from my notes:  “The role of the teachers, the pedagogista, and the atelierista.  Which kind of relationship and strategies of collaboration.”

Study tour to Reggio Emilia, Italy.  October 2009

Playing with colour, light and photography in Reggio Emilia.

I remember being part of a discussion group facilitated during this study tour to Reggio Emilia where a heated conversation arose about the frustrations of working with other teachers who may not be as experienced in their roles or as familiar with their approaches of working alongside children as their counterparts were. There was much talk from the international group present about ways of trying to convince others to work in a different way, one often perceived as the Reggio Approach.  I have heard this argument played out many times since then when teams are frustrated when things are not quite going to plan.

In a sense, this ongoing battle is not about what Reggio is or is not but about how we as educators choose to work with each other and alongside of the children.    It is no doubt a familiar frustration to many when working in teams all holding different beliefs and personal understandings about early childhood and education.

A way to approach this dilemma differently (than the battle) is to listen to what they have to say, and to hear their perspective as one that is not at odds but one that could help us all to think differently.  It means believing that the other has something to say and offer.  Maybe it is not about trying to convince the other that ‘we’ are right, or that ‘we’ have greater knowledge but instead to find ways in how we could strive to become mutual co-protagonists in the learning processes of both the children and of ourselves working as a group.

Claudia Giudici gave an example of how she approached a situation with two new teachers working in one of the pre-schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

“In a discussion with two new teachers, I asked, ‘in which ways do you think children investigate colour?’  Their response was ‘the children learn the primary colours and of course they must learn the names of colours too.’ 

Of course, I knew that this was what nationally we are told but I knew that this was not the approach of the children as they are interested in the nuances of colour, the many shades and hues of colour, the communication of colour and its expressive contexts.

But, if I were to tell the teachers what they should do instead then I would deny them the opportunity to think and find understanding themselves.  Instead, with the atelierista, we made a proposal that activated opportunities for the two new teachers to observe the children’s exploration of colour, to record and document it and to present it so that together we reflect on the children’s approaches to colour in a real context. 

In this way we connect theory and practice in a way that develops and constructs meaning for the teachers and is not the application of another’s knowledge.  Often, pedagogisti work with the teachers on their questions, their strategies, their proposals of their daily encounters with children.  We spend much time reflecting and analysing these, not in isolation but together.”

The leadership action therefore of the pedagogista was not to tell, to model or to demonstrate but to generate the context that enabled the group of educators to observe, document and reflect upon their approaches to teaching and learning in their own contexts.  It was a much slower process but one where theory and practice was co-constructed and not just passively received.  It required of the educators a great responsibility to capture and record the very essence of learning and the contexts that enabled it to emerge.   In addressing the idea of developing practice in this way, far from being a passive or watchful approach educators are encouraged to reflect deeply on their own pedagogical actions and to choose in which ways to proceed (take action) and to make this choice not in isolation, but within a community of inquirers sharing and listening to each others point of view and researching ways of being better co-protagonists alongside young children in their learning.