The second in a series of posts about what we all – regardless of location, curriculum and age level – can learn from the philosophy, practices and people of Reggio Emilia.
There is a powerful certainty that underlies everything the educators in Reggio Emilia do and say. There is an incredible clarity of purpose behind all actions, all words and all decisions. This clarity is unifying, and gives educators strength as they work together to teach in a way that is actually much more difficult than traditional, teach-from-the-box or from-the-planner approaches. This clarity makes it very easy to help new parents understand their approach, their methods, their beliefs about the capacities of children and the parenting styles that are compatible with these beliefs.
The source of this sense of purpose is easily identifiable when the history of the Reggio Emilia approach to education is explained and illustrated to you. It can be traced back to the emergence from the horrors of World War II and the determination of a group of villagers that schooling, for their children and future generations, must have the rights of children at its epicentre. Over the years, this conviction remains just as strong. But, it has also expanded into additional beliefs about the competence of children and the quality of education that they deserve.
There are no grey areas in this, no confusion and certainly no fluffiness.
The schools you and I work in, though, are often prone to such weaknesses – philosophical gaps, indecisiveness and differing practices. We believe we are unified by the fact that we work at, for example, an IB school. Yet, even then, we find ourselves at odds with our colleagues, we even work with colleagues who don’t really believe in what they’re doing, and therefore don’t really do it – whatever it is (something we also struggle to reach a genuine consensus about!). These inconsistencies are sources of weakness – they hold us back in terms of what we are able to do with and for children – but they also make it too easy for parents to pick holes in what we do. We are unable to give parents real explanations because we may not really be sure of what we’re doing, or what we do may differ so much from person to person, from grade level to grade level, from year to year that any explanation may simply be untrue.
Beyond this, though, is the sense that many of our schools lack any kind of genuine ethical stance or purpose beyond teaching some kids of some people who can pay us to teach their kids. This is something that has bothered me for some time as I look around at the world and question the impact of education on society. I think its high time our schools traced back their origins to seek some kind of moral purpose and, if there isn’t one, engage with the whole community to develop one. A real one. Not a collection of fluffy throw-away sentiments in a mission statement.
Perhaps these questions might help:
- In what ways are we, and the surrounding community, better because of the existence of our school?
- What are our shared beliefs about life and what we hope for the future?
- How much of what happens inside the walls of our school is affected by what happens outside the walls of our school?
- What do we hope the impact of our school will be in 50 years time?
Having the privileged of being in a number of schools and classrooms provides a lot of insight into the teacher personality and how teachers teach. For whatever reason we assume that talking ‘at’ students means they are listening and learning. Research shows that this could not be further from the truth. We need to be mindful of how much we talk ‘at’ students. One person in the room should not be doing all the thinking and talking. It is our responsibility to set the scene for learning, provide a stimulating experience and allow students to lead the conversation and thinking. And if we’re doing our jobs properly, we are capturing and connecting the ideas and thinking swirling around.
We have put this to the test and have had teachers use a timer to measure the time spent talking. This has made teachers consider the talk time when coming together.
Let’s consider a few things first:
- Not every adult in the room has to speak to validate why they are there (if you’re in a co-teaching situation);
- Say what you need to and let students get on with it;
- Use a visual so students can clearly see what you mean;
- Be clear about the learning focus and purpose;
- If there are clarifying questions, let the students go and address the questions in the mean time.
All pretty obvious things, right?!
Talking for 30-40, hey even 20 minutes while students are on the carpet/desks is a real time waster. There is no better way to turn their enthusiasm for learning off. A lot of those behaviour problems will disappear if we engaged our students more and let them drive their learning. We need to give them the time to do that though.
This is where the speaking ‘with’ students comes in. A wise teacher will set the learning, work the room and have conversations with their students. What an opportunity to learn more about what they are thinking while creating excitement and energy for active learning.
While I understand how simple this reminder is, we need to be mindful of the time we use when setting the learning up for our students.
Have a solid structure in place that allows learning to be more fluid so it can flow. Develop clear systems and expectations that in turn create a culture of empowered learners. This will build more independence with our students. Invite students to take authentic action by giving them time so that they have an opportunity to lead their own learning. This requires a lot of trust. Let them go!
Aim for 10 minutes, say what needs to be said and then hand it over to them. Simple!
A more positive post….. and feeling so much better because of it.
Sam and I ran a Time and Space workshop at Mt. Scopus last month and we shared that anything good we have ever done has come out of a negative situation. We were always able to turn things around to make it work for us. This is another example of turning it around…
We all know meetings are part of any workplace. And there is a place for meetings as they are important – that’s if they are done the right way.
We have a morning briefing every morning. Time: 1 hr and 15 min a week, not including 5 minutes either side. This is just for morning briefing, not including all the other countless meetings.
Today, the Administration were off campus on school-related business and I was asked to ‘run’ the morning briefing. I have been sensing the tension and frustration regarding these meetings as they are seen as dead time.
Time to value time.
I opened the meeting up by stating how important the morning is to prepare, greet students and ease into the day. The morning time sets the pace and tone for the rest of the day. I asked if there were any announcements; however, if anyone wished to share something, it had to have two or more of the following:
- Affect 50% or more of the people in the room;
- Impact teaching and/or learning;
- Be something that would make the day run more smoothly;
- Be something that we really needed to know.
No one had anything to say. Meeting was closed after 60 seconds which meant we have 14 minutes to just get on with it.
Teachers were in their rooms setting up for the day, as they should. Teachers were greeting and acknowledging kids as they came to class, as they should. Teachers were putting pieces of student work up on display, as they should. This is how precious mornings really are. We get to all the things that we missed the day before or prepare for the first lesson or that meeting in period Two.
I was able to catch up with the Year 3 Teachers and talk about real teaching and learning during this 14 minute window we had ‘dug out’ for ourselves. Everyone’s energy had shifted because our time was freed to do the things that are important. By valuing how we use time we were able to create the space to talk and share.
We need to keep asking ourselves – “Why are we doing this?”
As a school we are going to look at the effectiveness of the morning briefings. A good leadership team will listen, a great one will do something about it. This leadership team is willing to address these meetings. POSITIVE.
If we can’t explain the purpose and it doesn’t make sense – change it. Focus on the things that deserve your attention, time and energy. Your teachers will not only respect you, but follow you!
A really big part of the “bubble up” curriculum is putting the PYP subjects and strands in student language. This empowers them to know what they are talking about. A group of our students did this and then created the above document. Students need to know what each strand means if they are going to be deciding whether it connects to their learning or not. Very useful when students take control of their learning. They will then have to justify not only the “what” but the “why!” Why does this connect to my learning. Now we have movement which deepens understanding and empowers learning!