By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. This will be the first of a series of blog posts about the recent experience in Adelaide, South Australia shared with my friend and colleague, Cindy Green. We were brought to this beautiful, remarkable city to present a series of four workshops for EChO, the Early Childhood Organization of South Australia. We were thrilled to share the button inquiry and the agate experience with these passionate and committed early childhood educators. It will take many hours of reflection and dialogue to unpack the impact of our experience. While we were there to present and facilitate professional learning experiences for others, for us it was a learning journey of enormous magnitude. We thank Lisa Burman for inviting us to Adelaide on behalf of EChO and welcome her description of professional learning as “wonderful uneasiness”. Going across the world to a new context was exhilarating and a little scary but we welcomed the challenge, knowing that whatever we would bring to the group in terms of new learning, we would leave with so much more. We often found ourselves in a learning pit of new ideas, thoughts and concepts and indeed experienced the wonderful uneasiness of cognitive dissonance. While our suitcases were full of buttons when we arrived in Australia, we soon found in our wanderings, that Adelaide had much to offer us. When we found the Button Bar – a place with more buttons than we could ever imagine under one roof, we realized the importance of seeing teaching and learning as reciprocal. The Button Bar became our metaphor, for in this city we would learn so much and go back to our contexts full of new perspectives, knowledge and understandings about early childhood education and professional learning.
While Cindy is preparing a blog post about our visits to four inspiring Adelaide schools, and a blog post about the button inquiry experience is also forthcoming, I thought I would begin the series with one of our initial “aha” moments which took place during the first agate experience workshop. During this workshop, we began to understand how EChO structures professional learning and saw the enormous potential for the levels of support offered to educators. The workshop was part of the Re-imagining Childhood Project, which supports learning teams from various sites in embracing the principles of the Reggio Emilia Educational Project. Professor Carla Rinaldi was an Adelaide Thinker in Residence in 2012 to 2013 and the result of her tenure there is that any Reggio-inspired educator has access to this amazing document – Re-imagining Childhood. The Thinker in Residence program brought leaders in their fields to work with the South Australian community and government in developing new ideas and approaches to problem solving, and to promote South Australia. As Adelaide’s Premier explains in the forward to Re-imagining Childhood, “South Australia has a rich history of leadership in education, especially in the early years. Realising the potential of each and every child and their learning is our perennial responsibility. The late Fraser Mustard, a former Thinker in Residence, left an indelible mark on this State through his focus on the early years”. In our own province of Ontario, Dr. Mustard, who was Canadian, has also left an indelible mark and we are still working on fulfilling his legacy of creating community hubs in schools.
When educators arrived for the agate experience that took place on Monday, May 23rd, the learning teams at each site sat together and at each table they were supported by their critical friend, assigned to facilitate the development and growth of the team over time. Since Cindy and I use the term “critical friends” to describe our relationship we were thrilled to observe the friends in action.
When we noticed that at least two of the critical friends had large sketchbooks at their tables we were intrigued and asked questions. The books are used for documenting professional learning and shared with the members of the learning team who add their thoughts and reflections. These “documentation books” are inspired by Claire Warden’s Floor Books which are big books, used to consult children so that they are listened to and consulted during the programming cycle. Seeing how the same idea can be applied in a professional learning community struck us like an epiphany. We could see the value of these books to support perspective taking, an important part of Reggio-inspired practice.
Using these documentation books to create visual representations of professional learning is powerful. While I have experimented with sketchnoting before it was a new concept for Cindy so I showed her my Pinterest board on the topic. We then had a fascinating discussion about the process of visual reflections and immediately made our way to the fabulous Rundle Mall to purchase our own documentation books. Cindy has used hers to document our time at the four Reggio-inspired sites that we had the privilege and honour of visiting. We are so excited to share these reflections, which were made richer and deeper by way of the visual reflections and look forward to many hours of thinking about how we can translate our Australian experience to our own contexts.
The ‘Reggio Approach’ in other parts of the world, outside Reggio Emilia only makes sense if we are capable of re-inventing it, if we are capable of understanding the context we work in, the values in which each culture believes, and then compare these with what Reggio has been capable of creating in its own specific context, and with its own resources. Howard Gardner 2012