Anticipating “The Wonder of Learning”: Creating Strategies for Teachers to Encounter the Exhibit

“What is unique about human learning is its dedication to possibility. When we human beings learn, the act of learning carries us beyond what we have encountered and propels us into the realm of the possible. The human learning process is not simply about acquiring knowledge about what we have encountered: it is dedicated to “going beyond the information given.”

– Jerome Bruner, “The Pursuit of the Possible” in The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children exhibit catalogue

After years of hard work and effort by our colleagues in Project Infinity, The Wonder of Learning exhibit arrived in Greenville in January 2014. One of the challenges for each of the schools in the project was making choices about the ways in which educators could anticipate and encounter the exhibit. For The Nest, this is an ongoing conversation among teachers as we strategize together the most meaningful ways to we can create personal and school-wide connections with The Wonder of Learning exhibit.

At The Nest, as with other schools in the Project, we began talking about the arrival of the exhibit last spring and our informal conversations continued through the summer. In August 2013, during our 2nd annual Nest Teacher Retreat, the discussions about the exhibit became more concrete. At this time, the leadership team began to articulate for teachers the potential for the exhibit to influence our work with children. Many of our teachers had limited familiarity with the Reggio philosophy at the time of the retreat. This made supporting our teachers in gaining an understanding of how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to encounter the exhibit so close to home a challenge for the leadership team.

As the 2013-2014 school year began, Sarah Liebold (the pedagogical coordinator from St Anne’s) surveyed the teachers at St Anne’s regarding their preliminary intentions for encountering the exhibit. With Sarah’s permission, I shared a similar survey with the teachers at The Nest. The document, entitled “Preparing for The Wonder of Learning Exhibit”, asked teachers to think about and respond to inquiries like:

    • What section of the exhibit do you plan to study?
    • Who are the colleagues with whom you will do this [study the exhibit]?
    • What initial projections do you have about connecting your study to experiences with the children?
    • What opportunities for visiting the Exhibit in Greenville (i.e., NAREA Winter Conference, overnight & day trips to the exhibit, May initiative at the exhibit) interest you and why?

At The Nest, we were struck by the possibilities these questions could spur in teachers’ thinking and the potential their own encounters with the exhibit could bring to our school community.

Each school in the project was encouraged to read the article “The Exhibit Seen as a Tool for Professional Development and Documentation” by Vea Vecchi. Shared readings have become an important pedagogical strategy this year at The Nest, so the challenge to read Vecchi’s article nicely dovetailed with our efforts at ongoing, school-wide pedagogical growth. Teachers at The Nest read Vecchi’s article in December and participated in a shared reading discussion in mid-January. The discussion was rich, with teachers sharing their thoughts about the process and purposes of documentation. Teachers were also invited to compose short written reflections on the reading in an effort to deepen and personalize their connections with the reading. Two of our first-year teachers took this invitation to write reflectively about their thinking about the shared reading:

I think sometimes we forget that what we document of student experiences/processes is indeed a choice we are making, whether we are conscious of that decision making process or not.  Sometimes it may be catch what catch can because of logistics, but there are choices we make and it leads to the question, what do we as teachers deem “important” enough to document?  What isn’t at first viewed as “important’ but may actually be helpful/powerful to document?  (ie- maybe focusing too much on “experience”/curriculum documentation and not documenting the fact that one of our youngest children is able to take on and off her shoes and socks, and those of her classmates).  – Stephanie Feinman (toddler educator)

This article resonates with me in the way it creates an analogy between the process of documentation as it compares to the labyrinth of possibility in a child’s mind. Different points of view amongst a variety of educators creates endless variety in the way an experience is displayed and documented. This is interesting to me, because it mimics the way the experience happens itself: a narrative that could turn in any direction, full of different possibilities. – Rachel Clark (infant educator)

With Amelia Gambetti’s recommendation at the January 2014 Project Infinity Steering Committee meeting, we are preparing for our next school-wide shared reading: Loris Malaguzzi’s introduction to The Hundred Languages of Children exhibit catalogue. The Nest teachers are receiving Malaguzzi’s introduction in February in anticipation of shared reflection and discussion in mid-March.

As members of the Project Infinity Pedagogical Team (which is composed of pedagogical coordinators from each of the Project schools), Mandy and I are participating in an on-going basis in the “Involving Project Educators” subcommittee. In this group, pedagogical coordinators from Atlanta-area schools share their thoughts about how to support teachers in encountering the exhibit. Discussions within this subcommittee, with support from teacher responses to the “Preparing for The Wonder of Learning Exhibit” exhibit questions, have provided direction for the leadership team of The Nest to work with teachers to create their individual plans for encountering the exhibit. During the “Involving Project Educators” subcommittee meeting in February 2014, we generated a list of questions to encourage teachers to think critically about the exhibit while drawing connections to their work in their schools. We also planned for small group encounters with the exhibit. Teachers from The Nest will visit the exhibit in late-March and mid-April along with small groups from GPCP and St Anne’s. We are looking forward to the opportunity to encounter the exhibit and engage in dialogue with educators from two Project “sister” schools.

An important tool for our “remote” exploration of the exhibit is The Wonder of Learning exhibit catalogue. The book is always available at the school and was offered to teachers in support of their making choices about how they would like to encounter the exhibit. Each teacher was asked to use the exhibit catalogue to help them select a specific section of the exhibit for deep exploration. We have also made teachers aware of The Wonder of Learning website which will provide additional support for teachers’ explorations of specific sections of the exhibit.

Mandy and I visited the exhibit together in late January to help us to determine strategies for efficient and effective encounters with the exhibit. As we walked through the exhibit together and talked about it, we came to the decision that the “Dialogue with Materials” section of The Wonder of Learning could be especially helpful for all of our staff to explore with some depth.

Now that the exhibit has arrived in Greenville, teachers from The Nest will be encountering the exhibit in a variety of ways, including attendance at the NAREA Winter Conference, attendance at the May initiative, and various day-trips to the exhibit.

As we develop these strategies for encountering the exhibit in ways that are meaningful and relevant for teachers at The Nest, we are becoming more conscious of how the development of strategies increases the overall depth and quality of our work as a school. Making choices about supporting one another professionally is a good exercise in the act of making choices, which we are increasingly aware is a key component to living an authentic life as a school that is inspired by the “Reggio way”.

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