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