You may have noticed that in the blurb up top I refer to education that is “Reggio inspired” rather than “Reggio”. While that may seem like a very small detail, I believe it’s a hugely important distinction to make when speaking about my classroom. In fact, it's something that I’m conscious of mentioning every single time I describe my classroom to others. As far as I’m concerned, the only actual “Reggio” classrooms out there are the ones actually in the Reggio Emilia region. The rest of us, who are inspired by the magnificent work they do with students, can’t, and in my opinion, shouldn’t, lay claim to that label.
To me, adding the “inspired” after Reggio, suggests a level of critical thinking and analysis that I feel is crucial before adapting the philosophy to your unique set of learners. While I am a huge fan of the Reggio approach and truly believe it benefits students, there is an inherent danger in blindly taking on educational philosophies “just because”. I’m delighted that Reggio seems to be “in” right now in many Kindergarten classes, but also worry about the motivation behind this and why educators are suddenly embracing it.
Yes, the aesthetics of your learning space are at the forefront of a Reggio inspired program, and rightfully so - the concept of your environment as the third teacher is a very important one. However, simply putting wicker baskets and mason jars in your room and calling it Reggio isn’t enough, nor is it really the point. Sharing photographs on social media sites such as Interest is a double -edged sword for teachers. While I personally don’t use it, I do recognize that it allows for a great deal of idea sharing and inspiration that can be beneficial in our field. However, in some respects, it can lead teachers to simply recreate something because they like the way it looks rather than thinking deeply about if, and how, it will actually benefit their students. This can, and sometimes does, put sole emphasis on the physical appearance of our classrooms over something of equal importance, such as how we speak to our students. I think all of these elements are important in a Reggio inspired program. Transforming your physical space to a Reggio inspired room is great (and important!), but it’s not all there is to Reggio. Reggio is a rich and meaningful approach to education that comes with some incredible ideas about the image of the child, the role of the teacher, and the sort of learning opportunities presented to students – these things have nothing at all to do with wicker baskets. The idea that Reggio is only about bringing in natural materials and making things look pretty is a vast oversimplification of what I consider to be a rich and effective teaching philosophy. I challenge any and all teachers who have thought about how Reggio would work in their space to look into these concepts, and move beyond just the appearance of your classroom.
I want to take a quick moment to clarify my intentions with this post. In no way am I trying to criticize others and the decisions they make in their classrooms. I recognize that all teachers (myself included!) are part of an ongoing journey and constantly have areas for growth. These reminders, to think critically and question everything, are just as much reminders for myself as they are for other teachers.
So, how can one be Reggio inspired?
Let’s immerse ourselves in learning as much as we can about Reggio concepts, but never forget to look through a lens of critical thinking. Perhaps you’ll come across something that resonates with you. That’s great! But don’t stop there. Your students are a totally unique set of individual learners and perhaps some thought needs to be given on how to implement these ideas in a way that’s tailored to them. Rather than adopting ideas just because it seems like the thing to do, ask yourself why, ask yourself how it would benefit your students, ask if it’s what they need. If my very patient teaching partner had a nickel for every time I said “Let me just play devil’s advocate for a second here”, she’d be a millionaire. I’ve think that questioning ourselves is so very important in the teaching field. Imagine taking a stranger on a tour of your classroom – could you justify the decisions you’ve made in your space? And no, “I think it looks pretty!” is not a justification. Student success should be at the forefront of the choices we make. So take Reggio ideas, be inspired by them, think hard about them, and put them into place in a way that works for you, and most importantly, your students.