St. Margaret’s Preschool Teachers Reflect on Extraordinary Professional Development in Italy

Eight St. Margaret’s Early Childhood Development Center teachers spent 10 days in Italy this summer, closely studying the world-renowned Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. As the preschool prepares for its first day of school on Monday, the teachers already have Reggio-inspired curriculum ready to greet the youngest Tartans.   

The Reggio Emilia approach is a leading philosophy to early childhood education that recognizes the child as an active learner taking charge of his or her own inquiry and understanding.

“The St. Margaret’s preschool philosophy aligns closely with the Reggio Emilia approach,” ECDC director Cris Lozon said. “The chance to deepen our expertise at the source was an extraordinary professional development opportunity.”

The faculty’s attendance in the Fourth Annual Reggio Emilia International Summer School was funded by a generous preschool parent who believes deeply in St. Margaret’s educational philosophy. Joining Dr. Lozon on the trip was Assistant Director Tammy Pipitone, classroom teachers Carole Magaldi, Lore Fredette, Debbie Herrera and Isabela Valle, art teacher Lillian Sauceda-Whitney, and Motor Development Specialist Shelley Harmon.

The faculty took on a 10-day itinerary full of professional development. The days included lectures at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre, and often concluded with workshops and classroom observations at different Reggio Emilia schools around the city that lasted well into the evening. Afterward, the faculty would meet for dinner and, as Dr. Lozon says, “the conversations would just continue from the classes to the dinner table.”

One of the points of emphasis was a deeper understanding of “planned possibilities,” a concept in which the teacher serves as a researcher alongside the child within a context the teacher and child explore together.

“The teacher facilitates the play by asking questions and listening to how the child is thinking,” Dr. Lozon said. “The teacher provides new materials based on the knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices and discussions with the child.”

This is a progression of “play with a purpose” that St. Margaret’s already implements, in which the teacher sets up an environment with learning goals in mind and allows the child to explore independently.

“The paradigm shift occurs when both teacher and child are learners and researchers,” Dr. Lozon said. “The child researches the object, activity or discussion, and the teacher researches the thought process of the child and facilitates the development of the child based on close observation.”

St. Margaret’s educators further grasped this method of teaching through activities the teachers participated in from the child’s perspective. One “planned possibility” in Italy was a workshop dedicated specifically to food. Under the guidance of a Reggio Emilia instructor, called an atelierista, the preschool teachers explored different learning possibilities through fruits and vegetables. They viewed the food underneath a microscope, cut it up, painted with it and discovered other exploration possibilities.

Other workshops were dedicated to activities such as clay, paper and even nature.

“By providing these activities, they allowed us the experience of what the child goes through,” Dr. Lozon said. “While we were exploring these concepts, the atelieristas would question us a lot—but they would never tell us what to do.”  

Upon returning to St. Margaret’s, the preschool faculty immediately went to work implementing what they learned. The preschool was awarded an interdisciplinary grant to pursue a science and gardening life lab curriculum, and the writing of the curriculum was influenced heavily by the Reggio Emilia approach. The children will learn concepts of science, technology, engineering, art and math through different planned possibilities in St. Margaret’s on-campus garden.

In addition, the preschool faculty spent professional development time last week collectively studying the work of Reggio Emilia. Mrs. Valle, Mrs. Harmon and Mrs. Herrera shared a demonstration lesson on plants using digital microscopes and lenses, allowing teachers who did not travel to Italy to experience some of the Reggio Emilia practices.

Dr. Lozon called the trip the most extraordinary professional development she’s had in 30 years in education—and has already noticed a similar impact among her fellow educators in the ECDC that will soon trickle down to the students.

“The teachers have been meeting every week,” Dr. Lozon said, “and they have put together some amazing ideas that will be implemented this school year.”
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