A participant’s perspective on the April Study Tour to Reggio Emilia – September 2018

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Reflections on the April Study Tour

Deb Mannco-recipient of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship to Reggio Emilia, 2018

Before attending the study tour in Reggio Emilia, I wondered how the ‘Reggio’ approach could be seen through an Aboriginal lens and I thought about ‘how and if Reggio’ might align with an Aboriginal worldview.

I was keen to consider what aspects fitted with or challenged my own cultural beliefs and ways of teaching, learning and being.

My first encounter with Reggio was in Melbourne in the early 1990’s, when Carla and others shared their story. From that experience, I took away that Australian systems could not replicate ‘Reggio’ but that the philosophical and collectivist principles that guided Reggio’s teaching and learning were important values that we could learn.

I had no idea what to expect when I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to travel to Reggio earlier this year. I swung between a range of emotions such as disbelief, gratefulness, excitement, curiosity, nervousness and fear. Colleagues told me that I would have a great time and talked about the town, the food, the people but nothing prepared me for the strong sense of belonging that I felt when I arrived and connected with this unique place, the people and community of learners I met, it felt like home.

The similarities that stood out for me between Reggio’s approach and traditional Aboriginal ways included the expectation that everyone is valued and respected; that relationships are fundamental to developing strong communities that promote shared values for family, learning and teaching, work, life, and wellbeing. We collectively view all children as having additional rights to engage in research, collaborations, trial and error, observations, problem-solving and learning from the heart and to do so with the freedom that they need and deserve to enrich their educational experiences.

The educational landscape in Reggio closely aligns with Aboriginal Elders, communities’ and educators’ beliefs that our world is not limited to the here and now. Our worldview has always shared the belief that our cultural way of being, incorporates many languages and we teach our children to listen to the voices that make up our deep sense of being and connectedness.  We are among the first peoples who share the concern for the land, the sky, the water, the spirits and all life forces that we nurture from strong relationships founded in respect and responsibility to protect and sustain our cultural song lines, stories and rights that are uniquely created from our many languages. We share the same strength and resilience that Reggio has displayed in keeping true to their beliefs, as we continue to advocate for our right to creative and constructive lifestyle choices.  I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to allow us to be who we are and make the learning journey more comfortable for our children as they navigate the two worlds we now live in.

My take-home positives from ‘Reggio’ are:

  • the whole of community support which includes provincial government policy and funding
  • the limited regulations paving the way for explorations
  • the importance of providing more time, support and resources for collaboration, research and collective problem solving
  • the genuine respect and value placed on listening to the many voices and languages of children
  • the strong community focus and advocacy for equity, peace and self-determined education
  • the amazing learning environments
  • the freedom for educator’s and children to explore anything, anywhere, and more

My take-home challenges are:

  • how do we embed collective thinking and shared problem-solving in our profession?
  • how do we shift ‘systems’ to reclaim our cultural ways of teaching and learning that align in some areas with the ‘Reggio’ story’?
  • how do we rethink, rebuild, restore and reclaim an early years space that values and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and self-determination?
  • how do we revolutionise government intervention and funding to ensure the future is not history repeating the same mistakes?

I wonder if the origins of Reggio that were born from a peace and rights platform could be adopted everywhere? I hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are educated with these principles rather than the deficit ways our system and funding view our children, and I wish that our cultural knowledge was sustained and taught by the experts our knowledge holders and Elders as the Ateliers facilitate their speciality in Reggio Emilia schools.

I have come home with a new fire in my belly and a lot of unresolved questions and ideas that I am keen to explore.

In the words of Carla Rinaldi: “The most important gift that we can give to the children in the school and in the family is time”. Time is what I now need as I consider my experience and learnings. I look forward to creating spaces to further the conversations throughout KU, with Elders and in the broader community.

And from the Uluru Statement From The Heart:

“When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds, and their culture will be a gift to their country.”

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar dmorley says:

    Thank you Deb for sharing your insights into an Aboriginal perspective of Reggio. I can’t wait to see where this takes you and hope that you will bring us along on your journey. I know I’m hungry for new ways to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into our program and your vast knowledge and Reggio inspired experiences can only enrich what you have already taught us.

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