Transforming End of Year Celebrations

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REAIE recognises that 2020 represents a year of crises and acknowledges that educational settings have had to face the challenges of COVID by being responsive and creating adaptive pathways. It is now time to rebuild, critically reflect and develop a ‘new normal’.  So, what will we transform?

Transformation begins when we critically reflect both individually and as teams on the dominant discourses that shackle critical thinking, innovation and change.  This blog will focus on “change, or the possibility of change, and about the change that might be wrought by telling ourselves a different story about early education. But not just about any change” (Moss, 2014, p.7), this blog is about transformative change.  Alfredo Hoyuelos writes in this study of Malaguzzi’s ethical stance, “According to Loris Malaguzzi’s ethical conception variability or change is an invariable element of life change should be understood not as the transition from one state to another but rather as the permanent state of human existence not the permanency of pre-established ideas, but the permanent capacity to modify and change behaviours as a function of the essential variability of the human being one of Malaguzzi’s teachings is to avoid getting caught in any cage even if it is made of gold” (Moss, 2014, p.9).

Before we can begin to transform our mindsets about end of year celebrations, we must look at what we have done in the past and ask ourselves, why have we celebrated in this way?  Did we inherit a legacy that has lost its meaning and is no longer relevant? Is the way we celebrate inclusive? Does it honour our image of the child? Do our celebrations respect children rather than objectify them?  What are our reasons or justifications for celebrating in this way?  Does our end of year celebration align with our values and our philosophy statement? Who are we listening to?

As Carlina Rinaldi says, “listening is not easy. It requires a deep awareness and at the same time, a suspension of our judgements, and above all our prejudices, it requires an openness to change” (Reggio Children, 2001, p. 81). The pedagogy of listening is an essential aspect of ongoing quality improvement. So, who are we listening to? We often hear people justify their pedagogical decisions with comments such as, ‘the parents love it’, or the ‘children love it’.  Do you ever hear the statement, the educators love it?  Are educators being listened to?  Who is asking the educators?  Or does the leader or the owner of the service decide?  Are you an educator working in a service who purports to be an exceeding service because it engages with families and the community, yet staff opinions or perspectives are drowned by “the parents love it” retort?  This justification could be very disempowering for educators and children, and it does not serve the intent of this exceeding theme.  Is this democratic?  Are some decisions more related to power than others?

Graduation ceremonies seem to have replaced the nativity play as the new dominant discourse in early childhood. Let’s problematise graduation ceremonies for a moment by posing a few questions:

  • Are graduation ceremonies an extreme example of a ‘push down curriculum’? If early childhood practitioners are advocating against the phenomena of ‘the push down’ curriculum and advocating for the preservation of childhood, are graduation ceremonies counter-intuitive?
  • What is the intention of graduation ceremonies?
  • Why are children dressed up in academic gowns and hats? Does this ritual objectify children?  Do they want to be dressed up and objectified in this way?
  • How does this celebration honour the cohesion of groups when it seems to focus on individual ‘achievement’?
  • Is this neoliberalism at its best? Where the families are consumers, and marketisation and commodification thrive? Think graduation certificates, academic hats and more.

Celebrations are not neutral.  Any approach to celebrations implies choices and values.  Choosing how to celebrate might mean having the courage to try new things, to celebrate in collaborative ways, to serve the values laid out in the philosophy statement and fulfil intentional teaching objectives.  Celebrations should be decided on collectively through exchange and debate.  This process of collaboration is essential to ensure that practices are in line with declarations made in advertising and marketing campaigns.  While many services declare on their websites and marketing material to have a strong, positive, competent and capable image of the child, they then objectify children in celebrations at the service.

Critical reflection, one of the principles of the EYLF, involves closely examining all aspects of pedagogy from different perspectives.  This process of thinking occurs collectively and collaboratively in Reggio Emilia, rather than individually. Dialogue and debate are democratic processes which draw on existing knowledge to create new knowledge.  The constructs or values that support this process are those of adaptability, uncertainty, research, open-mindedness and an attitude of creativity and innovation. Many services have suffered from practices of inertia, year after year doing the same old thing.  Celebrations are just one aspect of this inertia.  To work differently requires letting go of outdated practices and overcoming the inertia. “Alvin Toffler said in 1970, in a book called Future Shock, that illiteracy in the 21st Century will not refer to the skills of reading and writing, but to the inability to learn, unlearn and relearn. Collaborative creativity is at the heart of this educational transformation to ensure this kind of illiteracy does not occur.” (Kelly, 2020, p.31).

Educators in Australia should critically reflect on their practices and ask themselves:

  • Do our celebrations create a sense of belonging and make children’s learning visible?
  • Do our celebrations serve the values that we have embedded in our philosophy statement?
  • How do we ensure that our celebrations are culturally inclusive?

Maybe this year, some services will let go of the templates and ceremonies that have dominated the end of year celebration landscape and work with colleagues to critically reflect on and transform end of year celebrations?

© Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange. (Volume 3, No. 1).

To quote this blog, please use the following referencing citation.

Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE), (2020). Transforming End of Year Celebrations.  REAIE Blogs, Volume 3, No. 1.

References:

Kelly, R.  (2020).  Collaborative Creativity:  Education for Creative Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Brush Publication Inc. Canada.

Moss, P. (2014) Transformative Change and Real Utopias in Early Childhood Education, Routledge, UK

Rinaldi, C. and Krechevsky, M (eds.) (2001) Making Learning Visible: Children as individual and group learners. Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Reggio Children. Italy: Reggio Children

 

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