Artists at the Centre


Nurturing the Enthusiasm and Ideals of new Teachers through reflective practices
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...."How are we making things better?" The learning curve for the rookie teachers is steep, but these are practices that have been part of their preparation, and demonstrate and celebrate the fact that everyone is learning.

Programs in our community that have begun to explore the Reggio Emilia approach have been engaging in sustained conversation about their practice and using these techniques. It is interesting to hear them speak about the transformation they have experienced. "We stopped saying, ‘That won’t work here’ and started saying ‘How could we make that work here?’ We realized that we were really good at justifying what we do. We’re getting better at questioning what we do." Each of these centres had a fresh look at the rules they had for controlling children’s behaviour. One centre discovered to their surprise that they had over twenty-five outdoor play rules. Another had close to fifty! In the process of discussion that included input from students on placement and new grads on staff, they realized that they had not been consistent with the rules, and that rules were often devised as a result of one incident. Over the next few staff meetings, they pared these down to fewer than five, and agreed to have ongoing discussion about rules, involving children and parents and students on placement. An outcome of this has been that the children are better behaved and spend most of their time enthusiastically engaged in collaborative activities. One centre reported a significant decline in the number of accidents. The teachers have found that rather than policing, they are able to use their time in much more meaningful and satisfying ways, talking to children and documenting their activity. Their focus is on the quality of their listening and their interactions with the children. This is consistent with what students and grads have learned in their ECE program. Moreover, attempts to take a fresh look at old practices can be aided by the perspective brought by a new grad. This gives them a meaningful context for application of their ideas. Although it can be unsettling at first to rethink and reconstruct, these educators are adamant that there is no going back. Their sense of themselves as professionals has grown.

Opportunities to hear veteran teachers talk about their ongoing development can help to combat the notion that teachers should not need to ask for help with teaching practice (Gratch, 1998). The transition from student to teacher can be stressful, especially if the rookie senses that she or he is supposed to know everything. Exploring not just the how but also the why with a new grad is a helpful provocation for all. The students on placement have come back to the college impressed with the atmosphere in these programs. "They are talking about teaching and learning all the time…and I was included", one student said. The subject matter of the dialogue has included other aspects of practice such as the physical environment, the schedule, and documentation. The sustained conversation is accompanied by an excitement that is palpable in these centres. These are educators who are engaged in what they are doing. Their hearts and minds and spirits are in their work. A supervisor in one of these programs was pleased with the integrity of the teamwork. In the past, the teaching teams in each room had worked together reasonably well, but each team was a unit unto itself. "Now, the centre is a community", she said.

This sense of community is spreading beyond the walls of individual centres. The teachers and supervisors in these programs have also been active participants in a series of free professional development sessions over the past four years, providing support to anyone in the community who is interested in sharing in the journey. These sessions were initiated by two members of the faculty at the college to provide the community with the opportunity to join in our exploration of the Reggio approach. Our students and new grads were excited about the ideas we were discussing in class, but most centres had not heard about Reggio Emilia. We did not want their enthusiasm....continued...

Karyn Callaghan is a professor of early childhood education at Mohawk College in Hamilton Ontario.

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