- Question: If we are Reggio-inspired school, why did Liz and Noni go to Pistoia? Aren’t there study trips to Reggio? What is the difference between these two regions?
This is a great question and one that I truly didn’t know the answer to either before I left. We chose Pistoia on the strong recommendation of Joanne Pressman who has been to both regions and thought that Pistoia would be more meaningful for a couple of reasons. First, the tours to Pistoia are smaller and more intimate. The Reggio tours tends to be inclusive of 100 participants if not more at a time. Our group in Pistoia numbered 11 participants with two facilitators. Next, in Pistoia, we were allowed to take pictures of the schools and environments. We were asked to be respectful of the children and to refrain from taking full pictures of their faces – but we were trusted to use our discretion. Having the pictures now is incredibly helpful. These study tours can feel overwhelming as you pass from one school in the morning and one in the afternoon. The images and ideas could blend to together and lose some context without have the photo to remind us where we were and when. Study group participants in Reggio are not allowed to take photos.
Reggio is a very special place. But it has become known as a destination and with that comes more structure and commercialism. In their effort to include more and more visitors – which is a good thing because their goal is to share and educate as many others as possible – it has been suggested that the level of interaction and intimacy has changed as a result. I still would like to go to Reggio one day – but I feel as if the greater priority would be to send as many teachers over to Pistoia as possible over these next five years. Pistoia offers the same kind of Tuscan, Italian philosophy – without perhaps the big machine feeling of Reggio.
But there is even a little more to this story. On our first day of the tour, during our orientation with Donnatella Giovanni (Director of Education for children 0-3); she was asked to characterize the differences between what happens in Pistoia with her sense of Reggio.
She noted that there are lots in common between the regions: image of the child; the ways in which they work in collaboration with families; the ways in which they encourage teachers to share ideas and to create classroom and school environments that are aesthically beautiful and rich in materials. Where they slightly differ has to do with their areas of focus around the child (and this resonated for me and Noni based on our previous study of Reggio practice and documentation) – teachers in Reggio are guided to be somewhat research oriented. They focus on children’s cognitive thinking – rather a primary focus on the daily living experience of being together.
In Pistoia, there are support centers and services to support parents and even older children (ages up to 10 years). And because they are a smaller system of schools, they are able to be focused on shared objectives. Reggio is twice as big and has a larger coordinated structure that includes research and documentation. Due to its size and simplicity, Pistoia’s system, Donnatella suggested that it can be interpreted in a more facile way – what can be taken and adopted is easier because there is less organizational structure.
I will give you what I consider to be the best example I have of this. In Reggio, many schools (if not all) have a designated studio teacher or an “atelierista”. In Pistoia, there is no such position. All teachers rotate with their smaller groups into art studio spaces at different times. In addition, there is no extra teacher focused just on documenting process. Teachers pay close attention during their work – and create the documentation to help share with others about the people that live there at the school. With their documentation, their goal is to show the intelligence and curiosity of the children and teachers – so that the walls are like a book waiting to be read.
For the teachers in Pistoia, relationships are primary – the activity is secondary. I felt this observation resonated with me and how I work with our teachers at CNS. I have always tried to counsel them to pay closest attention to the authentic relationships that they have with the children and to worry everything else secondarily. And lastly for this reflection – when asked about the art studio teacher model and whether or not there are teachers in Pistoia who might be less comfortable than others working in their art studio spaces – and would they ever consider moving the children through the spaces and having designated teachers in each – their response what that the focus is always on the children – not on themselves. That adult preferences are always secondary. Sometimes here in the United States – and more closely at CNS – we have stumbled thinking about fully implementing the “Reggio model” because we lack the financial ability to hire that extra studio teacher. Now, having returned and seen how Pistoia has created a model that incorporates meaningful studio and creative art time without having that extra teacher, I am encouraged for how we might adjust our thinking here to broaden and increase the use of our beautiful studio space. It was as if a limit had been lifted and light came rushing in.
So now for me, I am left with an interesting question. Are we Reggio-inspired? Or have we adopted that name because Reggio was the first region we learned about? There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering that affliation – but now I feel that our inspiration truly comes from so many different sources that I begin to question how the walls of our school should represent our vision. We truly draw from the models in Reggio, Pistoia, but also from the work of Voices from the Land; from the Hawkins; from the great theorists Bruner, Vygotsky, and on; we also borrow from the traditions and learning of Montessori and Waldorf. So it is now for me a very interesting question for how we describe and then label our inspiration. Seems now limiting to just say that we are “Reggio-inspired”. Over the coming weeks and months I will be deeply considering this question and asking for input and advice from all as we begin to sharpen our identity and our sense of how we define ourselves and our philosophy.