Reflections, provocations and wonderings – September 2018

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The courage to teach and learn

Karen Szydlik – REAIE Professional Learning Coordinator


On writing…

The time to write my section for the newsletter comes around quickly. In my role as professional learning coordinator for REAIE I hope that what I write each time will strike a cord and provoke something within you, the reader. Perhaps you will disagree with my stance completely and then feel more committed to your own position. Perhaps nothing I say resonates at all, or perhaps I say something that supports your current thinking…the possible ways to engage and the possible responses are numerous. It helps, when I write, if I imagine you, the reader, reading these words. Perhaps you are in your office reading on the screen, perhaps on the bus on the way home reading on your phone, or maybe tucked up in bed on the iPad on a rainy weekend. To imagine the reader helps me to create a connection – a virtual relationship. It helps me to create a third space where we can interact. It helps also, to imagine my words falling on friendly ears. To imagine a harsh or judgemental reader strangles any creativity and to hold the image of the intelligent reader/educator, open, listening, reflective, challenges me to push further, dig deeper and research more widely, in an effort to take us further on this learning journey.

On subjectivity…

The truth is, I have no idea where my words will land with you. I can only hope that you will engage with the words, but I have no control over your engagement. As Carla Rinaldi said in Reggio Emilia on my very first trip there over 20 years ago, “I am responsible for what I say, but I am not responsible for how you hear it”. And herein lies something of which I am certain…we each hear and interpret the message through our subjective lens. This lens is created through a lifetime of reading, listening, experiencing, learning, thinking, seeing and wondering…hence we all hear differently through our subjective ears if you like.

And so, as a writer, there is a degree of trust in how the words are received and a degree of vulnerability in putting these words out into a public forum. I see this vulnerability in teachers as they enter into the realm of public documentation and I see it in those who engage in conversations about the educational project of Reggio Emilia in public forums.

This honouring of ‘the subjective’ which stands in stark contrast to the perceived superiority of ‘the objective’ in my own learning journey, is one of the things that so attracted me to the ideas from the teachers of Reggio Emilia. And while it may be a relief to embrace the subjective, it is not so easy to shake off the objective, just because we see a new, even preferable way of being and acting in the world. For example:

We may want to enact democracy and collaboration in the school, but many of us were raised in the era of the cult of the individual and these lessons cast long shadows.

We may want to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, complexity and confusion but we were raised in an environment of templates and outcomes and objectives and planners, these habits cling to us like moss on a stationary stone.

Many of us may want to emulate the rich poetic language of the educators of Reggio Emilia but our education system may not have encouraged this language but rather the language of science and numbers and facts was rewarded.

Many of us might want to be brave and philosophical and write optimistically and hopefully and from the heart like Malaguzzi and others, but we have been schooled in the style of grant applications, summaries and the cut and paste of report writing.

And many of us might wish to take the road less travelled and be the dissident voice, the advocate, the squeaky wheel, and push for transformation but we have learnt that this is often a problematic road not necessarily supported by our colleagues.

That Malaguzzi and the educators of Reggio Emilia are courageous seems to be not so often recognised.

On research…

Lately I have been dipping back into books from Reggio Emilia that I have read and owned for some years. It is as though I have never read them before. I am not the same person who purchased those books 10, 20 years ago. I am changed. At the moment because of my own research in my studies, I am drawn to all things about presence. I am intensely curious and on high alert for all things about presence and so when I dipped into “children, space, relations; meta-project for an environment for young children” (Ceppi & Zini, 1998) the other day I was surprised and excited to see so many references to presence. Likewise, the committee, staff and Challenge editors are on high alert for all things ‘transformation’ in the lead up to the REAIE Conference in Perth in July 2019,’ Landscapes of Transformation.’ Anything connected to transformation jumps off the page into our line of sight and even if we have known the text for some time it is as if we had never seen it before.

I think this is the same in our role as teachers as researchers. Once we have identified the area of research; spirals, native plants, kindness, numeracy, welcome, it is as though it is everywhere: in our daily work/ life; the movies we see, the books we read, the conversations we engage in, and so we are researching.

Working at the head office at REAIE in Hawthorn, Melbourne, means I am in the delightfully privileged position of having the English language resources that we sell about Reggio Emilia at my fingertips, and the samples of the books we sell, line the shelves of our office for visitors to scan before purchasing. I can search for a quote, find golden words from an author or treat myself with sumptuous images. So, it was somewhat of a surprise to discover very recently, a book I’d not heard about before. On hearing that Carolyn Pope Edwards, renowned academic and author of Bambini and co-editor of The Hundred Languages of Children had died, I did a google search to find out more about her death and her life. I found a list of books she had authored and one I had never heard of before ‘Loris Malaguzzi and the Teachers.’ It seemed that while it recounted a series of experiences in 1990, it had only been published in 2014. It was akin to finding a pot of gold as I trawled through the text coming across words from Malaguzzi previously unknown to me. The style of writing – transcripts of conversations between Lella Gandini, John Nimmo, Vea Vecchi, Tiziana Filippini, Paolo Strozzi, Sergio Spagiarri, Laura Rubizzi, Marina Castagnetti, Magda Bondavalli and Giulia Natari – means the reader has a strong sense of the culture of discussion and collaboration. This book is evidence of listening, respect and action. It is at times brutally honest. It is a powerful example. But I wonder would I have seen this so clearly ten years ago?

On change…

Each of us is quite simply where we are, in our understandings of the educational project of Reggio Emilia in what is a deeply layered and ‘gently complex’ way of educating our youngest citizens. Gregory Bateson (1980) says that “Language commonly stresses only one side of any interaction” and so devoid of any images and not having had the experience of being in the room with these educators in 1990, my imagination and subjectivity fills in the gaps.  I create a possible temporary reality, a semblance of what I think I now know about the culture of the schools of Reggio Emilia.  This evolving reality will change as my experiences and understandings further alter the lens through which I engage with this educational project, and just like the documentation of children’s learning on our walls this understanding will one day be a memory and a trace of what I once knew.

This too is one of the things which drew me to the thinking of Reggio Emilia…that truth and facts and knowledge are slippery, that the documentation captures what was known then. It is evidence of what was known then; in that moment…it is not the end. It is part of the process.

Likewise, the materials that REAIE produces, the website, The Challenge journal, the professional learning events, represent what we know now, they too are dynamic and will change and morph as our learning and understandings change and morph.

Jan Millikan, REAIE’s founder and First Director, has been to Reggio Emilia too many times to count, she sits through lectures, from beginning to end and she says she learns something new every time – not that she has heard it for the first time but that she hears it differently.

What does this mean for the way we teach children I wonder? What does this say about the way we provide research opportunities, the way we create spaces? Do we acknowledge that the children come to that experience changed each time, with different knowledge; changing the lens of engagement?

When I began this piece, I didn’t know where these words were heading, nor what it would reveal. That is part of the fun and the adventure of writing, connecting thought to thought, weaving words, reflecting, digging into texts. As I said before, I am never sure where these words will fall, if they will resonate with you or not. But I hope that they have provoked some thinking and created a space for you to reflect and engage with what you currently know and how you came to know it. Perhaps now you have created a metaphoric space for something new. Thanks for coming along for the ride; I’ve enjoyed your company.



Bateson. G. (1980). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Toronto: Bantam Books.

Ceppi,G. and Zini.M (eds). (1998). Children, space, relations: metaproject for an environment for young children. Italy: Domus Academy Research Centre.

Edwards, C.,Gandini, L.& Nimmo J.(Eds.) (2014 ). ‘Loris Malaguzzi and the Teachers.’ Dialogues on collaboration and conflict among children, Reggio Emilia 1990. Lincoln, Nebraska: Zea Books.

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