Reflecting on the image of the child
For the educators of St Nicholas Early Education, a day to come together at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley as an entire agency to think, share, question and explore new ideas was too good an opportunity to pass up. The guest speaker at the first ever full day of professional learning was Kirsty Liljegren, consultant and lecturer of Reggio Emilia and the Teaching Director of Cornish College Early Learning Centre in Victoria.
Operations Manager of St Nicholas Early Education, Kerri Armstrong, opened the day by sharing how excited she was that the educators could attend together as “not only a room, a team or even a centre, but as an agency committed to the education for everyone working with children.” Both the Newcastle-West and Singleton centres were closed for the day so that all team members had the opportunity to reflect on their professional identity and leave feeling empowered and energised. This aim was well received with the Reggio Emilia approach capturing the full attention of the 40 staff who attended.
Reggio Emilia is an educational philosophy founded in Northern Italy. From a town of the same name, the ideas revolve around a set of guiding principles around how children learn. The importance of family, community, relationships and sustainability are some of its core values as well as highlighting the notion that parents, teachers and children are all equal in the learning environment.
According to Kirsty, being able to “see the power of the community and what that looks like with the participation of families and also the broader community” is a key factor. Kirsty placed great emphasis on what it’s like forming relationships with families and how they help the educators understand, gain knowledge and develop a picture of the child and what factors impact on the child’s learning. This point was echoed by Toni Warburton, Director at Newcastle West, who felt particularly inspired by the “the idea of flexible planning and collaboration with children as a means of really exploring children’s learning deeply”.
These ideas are innovative and inspiring and the main objective for the staff, according to Kirsty, was how these ideas could be translated into the educator’s unique contexts. There are many layers to the Reggio Emilia approach and when asked what was the main point Kirsty wanted the staff to take away from the training day, she replied, “for them to really reflect on how they see children. Reggio has been asking us to think about the image of the child for a while so I really want people to go away and see that children are capable often of more than we realise and how that can make a difference to their engagement around the culture of learning.
“I would hope that they would really reflect on their professional identity so that they see themselves as a practice-based researcher learning about how children learn – I want them to leave feeling excited to want to learn more. When we are excited about learning, it impacts upon practice.”
The overall tone of the day was one of excitement and empowerment. The educators were encouraged to interact with each other, question and challenge the information provided. This resulted in some deep group discussions about how these practices could look in the context of their centres and with the children in their care.
Project Officer in Early Learning for the Catholic Schools Office, Kim Moroney concluded “Kirsty Liljegren’s deep understandings of Early Learning and Reggio Emilia resulted in the delivery of a high quality presentation was a provocation for all, no matter the extent or depth of the participant’s experiences of and relationship with Reggio Emilia.
“The professional engagement and dialogue throughout the day was based on the image of the child, which is fundamentally crucial and important to all educators regardless of setting and context. As an educator who has studied in Reggio Emilia, I commend all those who advocate for the Early Learner as citizen.”