A Letter From Carol Anne Wien
For years, I have taught graduate courses in the Faculty of Education at York University on the Reggio Emilia approach and on pedagogical documentation. I watched some grad students grow enchanted with the concepts, values, and dispositions towards others considered in these courses, and saw them taking these ideas into their teaching contexts and creating change in the quality of teaching practice offered to their communities. They were among the innovators and creators who invigorate education. One would tell me how altering the form of questions to children led to a true conversation that revealed children’s astounding thoughts. Another redesigned her entire kindergarten classroom in a mere few weeks and began teaching a new way. Others began inquiries that opened up their classrooms to fabulous thinking, both metaphoric and scientific. Others found studio work as research with materials productive, and most began documenting and studying their documentation in ways that opened us to perceptions and interpretations we had not previously seen. Some wrote theses and dissertations of exceptional beauty and quality of thinking.
As I approached retirement in July 2014, I wondered if there was some way these students who showed so much capacity to create might have a forum in which their professional contribution could be carried on, continue its impact on the field. I hoped too that those creating such wonderful contexts in the field might have a community to help sustain them. At that time, I conceptualized and wrote up, with the participation of the instructors here, this study course of 6 emergent curriculum modules, and the instructors listed here agreed to teach and facilitate them. I feel I was but the messenger, for our debt is most assuredly to the Reggio Emilia experience of the past 50 years. Yet we have re-interpreted their practice, and understood it in our own way, adapted it to our own contexts.
The most beautiful result, to my mind, is the development of empathic responsiveness that arises in educators. As their tenderness, empathy, and aesthetic awareness for children and families (and themselves) increases, educators become more authentic, more attentive (less based in routines and scripts for action), and more appreciative of the intentions of young children. And such teaching becomes self-sustaining. A beauty of relations develops and I have been profoundly privileged to watch the growth and accomplishments of those who continue this work.
These instructors have all engaged in extensive graduate course work with me and excelled in it, or been close colleagues with whom I frequently presented and published. There is, of course, no monopoly on deep understanding of the Reggio Emilia experience, nor on the capacity to create from that understanding, but this is one group of instructors in whom such understanding is assured.