Welcome to the Innovative Teacher Project (ITP). Like the citizens of Reggio Emilia, Italy, ITP strives to create a culture of dialogue and research in Northern California that promotes the pleasure of inquiry among children and adults. The cornerstone of the Reggio philosophy is an image of the child as competent, strong, inventive and full of potential – subjects with rights instead of needs. At ITP we offer opportunities for others interested in supporting the potential in children to collaborate, formulate personal interpretations, hypotheses and ideas about teaching, learning and living.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Creativity and Innovation in Education: Reggio Emilia Approach & Italian Design

On September 14th the Innovative Teacher Project, along with La Scuola and the Istitudto Italiano di Cultura San Francisco, hosted a day-long seminar featuring Claudia Giudici and Michele Zini. Claudia is a pedagogista and president of the Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centers, Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Italian architect Michele Zini is an expert in Reggio Emilia inspired school design and a partner of ZPZ Partners. These two speakers wove together the principles of the Reggio Approach with the latest design concepts, creating an intertwined tapestry of children and the world that they shape and are shaped by them.

I'd like to highlight a couple of different threads that resonated with my own thinking, research, and teaching path. Michele Zini began by framing his work around the idea that school is the environmental fabric for learning, like a matrix. Where the threads of spaces are flexible, reversible, and can change. Where furniture, just like materials, becomes a protagonist to children. All aspects of the environment impact a child's experience in a space from the soft quality designs (color, light, acoustics) to furniture and its placement and scale in a space. Michele emphasized looking at design in a holistic sense, introducing the idea of multisensoriality. Utilizing different materials, grains, textures, colors, and light sources to support a poly-sensorial environment. Allowing one sense to activate another sense creating a subjunctive experience, unique to each child. I've always felt that aesthetics matter but never so much as after hearing Michele speak. Spaces should move you, move you to act, to create, to dream, to think, to reflect, to excite and calm. When I look at my own context and other contexts, I am always drawn to what moves me. Nothing moves me more than the voices of children reflected in the spaces they live, play, and learn.

Claudia Giudici presented images shining light on the child, both in the context of the school space and as seen in society. As she spoke, I imagined threads, almost like rays, emanating from the child connecting them to the world. I saw the threads of society, research, rights, creativity, potential, quality of life and experience all weaving together creating a richer image of the child. I was particularly moved when Claudia framed the image of school as a place for children to discover themselves. A place where learning is not separated into subjects but where the paradigms that exist in our own education and thinking are discarded. A place where the Hundred Languages are embraced, and we watch as children pursue their own potential and exchange competencies with peers, parents, and teachers. When we truly begin to think of a child as extraordinarily capable and surprising, we begin to question everything and open ourselves up to the moments of awe.

Claudia reminded me a child is a cultural construct. We work from theories about children that are not fully explained and we as adults hold tight to implicit and explicit theories about children. And yet most theories describe what a child is missing, not able to do, what he or she has but is not able to show. Other theories focus on the the ideal child and so we interpret these theories and use them to educate young children but we miss the point. We miss the moments that go beyond what theory tells us is true. The truth lies in the child, inside the infinite possibilities of their flexible minds which is shaped by learning and the result of interacting with the environment. All these thoughts come together and simply start to unravel some of the ideas I hold dear, opening my mind and practice up more. The tapestry of childhood is complex and as an educator I like to think I hold the various threads of each child, observing and supporting as the threads knit together.

"Children, with the privilege of not being too attached to their own ideas-while constructing and reinventing them continuously - are the most suitable to abstract, to change their points of view, to discover, to fall in love with the transforming forms and meanings, are also the most sensitive estimators of the values of creativity." Loris Malaguzzi 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sometimes It Just Takes Time…

This past spring The Innovative Teacher Project had its sixth or seventh roundtable event at The Nueva School. I have been attending roundtables for many years and have always been excited to have them at Nueva, as they are such a valuable piece of professional development for both the attendees and for the presenters. What has always felt different for me, though, is that my context extends through eighth grade, and that for a long time, my teaching partner Kirsten and I were the only ones at my school who shared any study of the educational practices in Reggio Emilia.  It made events such as roundtables even more important as they were opportunities for us to be around a critical mass of early childhood educators and talk with/learn from colleagues with similar issues on their minds. 

But about three years ago things began to change. Nueva generously supported my first study tour to Reggio in the summer of 2010. There was a new first grade teacher, Megan, and she came from a school in SoCal that had been Reggio-inspired.  My new teaching partner, Chelsea, had done her training and student teaching in a Reggio inspired preschool. The new Lower School Head, Emily, came to one of the Nueva ITP roundtables and was surprised and pleased to learn how much her ideas about education aligned with those in Reggio Emilia. It felt as if there was a small group building with whom there could be Reggio focused conversations.

Presentations about my study tour to the rest of the Nueva faculty and community continued to raise awareness. A presentation on Malaguzzi’s idea of the environment as “the third teacher” at the beginning of the last school year when everyone was setting up their classrooms stimulated conversations with colleagues from middle school humanities to the school nurse. It felt very moving to see how these ideas that have meant so much to me, touched others in such diverse contexts within the school.

A certain “dream come true” was achieved last February when three of us from Nueva traveled to Italy to attend Reggio Children’s Winter Institute—a study tour specifically focused on current initiatives with older children at the school in The International Center and in the broader city.  The special value of attending a study tour with other members of your school community had been emphasized to me in previous conversations with Susan Lyon, but now it was so apparent. It’s about the conversations that happen afterwards regarding your own context. It’s about the collaborative reflections. It’s the pleasure of seeing something you care about addressed or underlined by a leader at your school. It’s about something that feels more sustainable and NOT just what Grant Lichtman calls a “high amplitude, low frequency” kind of professional development event. This new energy has spurred the development of a new, small study group in early childhood at Nueva, focused on inspirations from the work being done in Reggio. Patience and time is definitely called for sometimes and I am looking forward to this new path we are now traveling.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Ever-Changing Lens

Admittedly, I have been absent from attending the Innovative Teacher Project events regularly for some time as I've been focused raising two young boys. I have reemerged from my self-imposed break to attend most the Roundtables this year. It has been exciting to see the schools I visited more than five years ago. No matter how many times I visit a school I come away with a different gem of an idea, thought, or visual that I take with me that I didn't have before. I leave feeling inspired, grounded and present in my work. Each time I see a school I am different, I see the school through a new lens as I am continually evolving as an educator, teacher, director, and mother. When I began attending Roundtables, about thirteen years ago, I was an unattached graduate student and now I'm a married mother of two. I am not the same educator I was thirteen years ago. In the peak of my involvement in the ITP I was directing a school and now I direct and teach at a small program out of my home.  My lens is continually changing through the context in which I work, the families and children I serve.  I continue reflect on what I see and hear from others which shifts my own thoughts, work, and practices. When I express why I want to return to Reggio again I am greeted with the same question; why would you go to Reggio more than once? For me it's an easy answer, I am different, my lens is different than it was back in 2003. The work both here and in Reggio are continuing to evlove and grow so returning to the familiar to see it anew has immense value in my own journey. I look forward to my ever-changing lens continuing to drive my learning, collaboration, and practices with colleagues and the families I work with.

The ITP blog's purpose is to share individual and school experiences in relation to the Innovative Teacher Project. Educators from participating ITP roundtable schools will be contributing to the blog as we move into a new school year, reflecting on the experiences this year and looking forward the roundtable's return in the spring.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hello World!!

I am excited to launch the Innovative Teacher Project (ITP) Blog. ITP has been a platform for professional development for the past 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. ITP began in the early 90’s when the founder Dr. Susan Lyon and Mills College hosted “The Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit from Reggio Emilia, Italy. Last year, Dr. Lyon decided to focus on other elements of her work in education and named myself (Heather Morado) as the ITP Executive Director.

ITP’s goal has always been to offer professional development opportunities (monthly roundtables, seminars and special conferences) for educators, professors, administrators, and parents interested and inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education. ITP’s hope with these professional offerings is to allow time for the exchange of ideas and opportunities for collaboration, and to move away from the isolation that is often felt by educators in schools and classrooms.

Over the years, we have learned that sharing our work allows us to find deeper connections and inform our practice. The ITP blog is a vehicle for ongoing professional development and like the monthly roundtables will be a collaborative effort from the network of educators and schools. 

To find out more about ITP please go to our website (http://www.innovativeteacherproject.org/

Relaxed Alertness

A few weeks ago I attended an evening presentation on Creating Citizens of Tomorrow in Our Schools Today: Lessons from Reggio Emilia presented by Susan McKay, who is the director at the Opal School associated with Portland Children's Museum. During her presentation there were several thoughts that stood out as I listened and reflected on my own work with the families and children. Within the context of re-imagining what schools could look like Susan McKay talked of classrooms striving for "relaxed alertness". I was struck by the combination of words as in my own classroom my co-teacher and I have been noticing this state of being more and more but didn't have a name for it. It was simply the moment of when every child is engaged. The moment we look at each other and smile, knowing there is the perfect balance where inquiry, playfulness, and listening co-exist. We know that in that moment the conditions for co-construction and learning are optimal. During these moments you don't want to move on to snack or another transition. You simply want to maintain and extend that moment for as long as possible. As the year has progressed these moments of "relaxed alertness" have become more frequent and prolonged. It sometimes comes as quite a surprise to see this state of "relaxed alertness" come to pass in a classroom of toddlers and two years olds. We all try to provide environments where the children are engaged and playful. I begin to wonder...is it the children's maturation that has allowed this to happen more often? The comfortability in the school setting? Their security in their connections to their teachers and friends? A combination of all of these? I think about the conditions where this "relaxed alertness" can thrive and how can I cultivate it. As I stay present in my own pondering I encourage the dialogue to continue...What does relaxed alertness look like in your educational setting? What are the conditions you see it emerge? How do you achieve it within yourself?