You can’t be a ‘Reggio’ school. I am not a ‘Reggio’ consultant. There is no such thing as ‘The Reggio Approach’ in Australia.
In September, I’m hosting a 2 hour seminar for educators and parents who are interested to reflect on the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy.
Problem is, choosing to host this event carries an in-built ethical dilemma.
For those not familiar with ‘Reggio’, it is the often used shortened name many educators use to describe a system of schools in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy that has captured the world’s attention since Time Magazine nominated their centres the ‘Best Kindergartens in the World’ in 1990. Since then, interest in these schools has grown exponentially as people have traveled, listened to and learnt from the ever-evolving story of education emanating from this city, its children and its educators. [For more information, and access to Reggio Children publications, a great place to start is the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange.]
So what could possibly be problematic about hosting a seminar that brings this educational project into focus?
Here’s my problem.
I’m not from Reggio Emilia, Italy. I’ve never taught in an infant toddler centre or preschool in Reggio. I’ve met many educators from Reggio Emilia, but I couldn’t claim close friendship with anyone who currently works in this magnificent system of schools. I am not a pedagogista, atelerista or an Italian speaker. I cannot speak on behalf of these educators (not one little bit!). I cannot tell you stories from their settings first hand. I don’t know what it means, feels, looks like to live out my practice in the context of the city of Reggio Emilia. I cannot ‘explain’ Reggio to you and I most certainly cannot teach you how to be a Reggio school.
Great credentials, eh.
This matters because a most provocative stance these educators seem to take, is a distinct resistance to any notion that education can be imported, formulised and transferred like a product from one setting to another. They refute the possibility that education can be removed from the specificity of its context, its culture, its children. From years of reading Reggio Children publications and listening to their educators, I believe it would be an offense to the very principles that underpin this project if someone were to attempt to offer a definition or formula to make ‘Reggio’ more accessible to others.
Problematically – so often when people come to seminars about ‘Reggio’, a formula and answers is exactly what they’re looking for. Perhaps, pausing here with a personal story, might bring this closer to home.
I work as an Education Director with Blue Gum Community School. Imagine one day we discover someone, who we did not know, is traveling around Australia offering professional learning seminars on how to be a ‘Blue Gum’ inspired school. Now imagine we find out this person has only been to visit our school once, has taken some photos, follows us on Instagram, and has (from those ‘takings’, and without permission) built a summary, a definition and a framework to explain our ‘approach’ to others – a simplified version of Blue Gum – packaged so other people can import our practice, and call it their own. Feels icky doesn’t it. The only thing that I can imagine that would make that worse is if the people, ‘taught’ by the presenter, walked away thinking, “Oh this is easy, we can totally be Blue Gum.”
This is the problem right!? A seminar about Reggio… by an educator not from Reggio… attended by people who want to ‘be’ more like Reggio… a bit of an ethical mess.
Despite this messy landing place, it is of huge importance that these stories from Reggio Emilia’s educators be read, considered, listened to and reflected on – not so they can be copied or simplified, but so that the thinking of these educators can find influence and give hope to our own educational projects. And so, yes I am still hosting a seminar on September 12 in Hornsby NSW.
I want to make it really clear what I am doing and what I am not doing, by offering this seminar for Australian educators.
Perhaps I should start with what I am not doing. I am not offering a seminar to explain, define or simplify Reggio Emilia’s educational project. You will not walk away from this 2 hours with information about ‘how to be’ a Reggio school or with a formula for an approach to be implemented. [As an aside, if you ever see a professional learning seminar that offers this ‘in the name of Reggio’, I would contest the very ethic and validity of the event.]
What I am doing is inviting you to join me for an evening as I share my interpretations and responses to these schools from my particular perspective. I will be offering my take on an ‘overview of the project’, as understood through wide reading of publications from Reggio Emilia and through years of listening and learning from the stories and questions of thinkers from Reggio Emilia, as shared at various conferences and events in Australia.
In focus for during our time together will be considering the ways Reggio Emilia offers us a lens for reflecting on the purpose of education, the nature of our role as educators and the magnificent capacity of children as thinkers and influencers in the world.
The best outcome I can imagine, out of our evening together, would be that your interest in the Reggio Emilia Educational Project would be piqued and that it would draw you into your own study and encounters with these marvelous thinkers and beyond.