BSS Encounters Reggio
In 2002, the faculty and administration of the Junior School began their intensive work on a 5-year strategic plan (2001-2006) that identified ‘Enriched Curriculum’ as a primary plank. They began to ask themselves just what exactly was meant by the term enriched. It seemed that everyone had a different understanding. Seeking clarification, they began combing through available research articles, studying and discussing together.
At the same time, the Junior and Senior Kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2 teachers discovered an older article in Newsweek (1991) that identified the Diana School in Reggio Emilia, Italy, as the best preschool in the world. Intrigued, they began to explore the work and publications of the infant toddler centres and preschools in Reggio Emilia. It seemed that there were schools in North America that had been influenced by the work undertaken in Reggio and so BSS began a series of visits to various sites, and sought to attend conferences that featured ‘Reggio’ in their literature. The faculty began meeting together every week to discuss their research and look at their own classrooms and teaching practice through this new lens.
In 2003, we sent the first of many groups of BSS teachers to a one week study tour in Reggio Emilia. Seeing these extraordinary schools first hand, and attending lectures by the teachers and pedagogistas in the city was essential to our transformation.
We reorganized the curriculum leadership structure of the Junior School to reflect this new attitude of research and created the role of Strategic Program Leader, identifying two individuals to lead a study of the concepts of ‘integration’ and ‘inquiry’. Led by these leaders and the Principal and Vice Principal the faculty began to meet weekly to share the reflections and results of our literature review and classroom experiences.
By 2004, we realized that the research being done in the JK-2 group and within the faculty as a whole was indeed the same thing. Our understanding of the concepts of ‘inquiry’, ‘integration’ and ‘enriched’ had evolved significantly and were embodied in the fundamental principles of the ‘Reggio Approach’. We saw potential for this approach to inspire our inquiry work with our community from JK right through to Grade 6.
We were intrigued, perplexed, challenged and curious about this work. Something quite extraordinary was taking shape and it was clear that the School, the students, teachers and families would never be the same.
Brief History of the Schools of Reggio Emilia
After the end of the Second World War, the families of Reggio Emilia were driven by an intense desire to create a better world. The mothers in particular sought to begin this transformation by providing their children with an enriched and enriching experience in their early years. The power of this optimism and the fire of this determination infused the creation of the first infant toddler centres and preschools.
Under the inspired direction of Loris Malaguzzi, a brilliant young teacher and pedagogue, work emerged over the next 40 years and with the participation of families, teachers and children provoked the emergence of a philosophy of possibilities. The expression of this philosophy, founded upon the fundamental principles of relationality, reciprocity, and transparency gave birth to what is now known as the ‘Reggio approach’. At the centre of this approach is an image of the child that is focused on rich competencies and complexities and one that honours the child as a citizen with full rights of participation in her society.
This image of the child is reflected in the work of the children, teachers and families of the infant toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emilia. Generously shared by the educators themselves through exhibits (Hundred Languages of Children 1988-2007, Wonder of Learning 2008-2013) publications, conferences and lectures we have all been given opportunities to enter into our own dialogue with these experiences. The approach is reinterpreted all over the globe in other settings and contexts, each one a unique expression of the principles. The teachers at BSS are inspired by this work, challenged by this approach and seek to understand the relationship between its fundamental principles and our all girl context in Toronto, Canada.