Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Teachers Who Support Reggio-Exploring Their Understandings of the Philosophy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Teachers Who Support Reggio-Exploring Their Understandings of the Philosophy

Article excerpt

Introduction

One of the issues confronting teachers who wish to make use of educational innovations is how they should be implemented. Fullan (2001, p. 51) reports that the key to successful initiation and implementation is a deep and shared understanding of the innovation and its degree of fit with the new sociocultural and political context. According to Fullan, factors affecting initiation include existence of, quality of and access to innovations; advocacy from central administration; presence of external change agents; community support/apathy; and existence of policy and funds. Critical to successful implementation are the characteristics of change as well as both local characteristics (district, community, principal, teacher) and external factors (government and other agencies).

One innovative Italian philosophy that is widely regarded in Australian long day care and preschool settings is Reggio Emilia (Reggio). Supporters of Reggio distinguish its philosophy through its advocacy of the image of children (New, 1997) as being rich, strong and powerful (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998; Hendrick, 1997). Proponents typically argue that it is against the Reggio philosophy to develop a list of specifications; however, Fleet and Patterson (1999) note seven important principles underpinning Reggio, including respectful and authentic communication; children influencing curriculum decisions; and the importance of the environment. Ideally, these are translated into practice using small group collaborative learning and long-term projects (Edwards, Gandini & Nimmo, 1994) and especially where visual arts is a primary medium for children to express their thoughts (Kolbe, 2001).

Within the original philosophy, Reggio was applied only to infant/toddler and preschool settings. In Australia it is now being introduced into primary schools as well. It is crucial, therefore, to examine the rationale for such an expansion. Nevertheless, there appears to be a dearth of research literature documenting either why primary teachers are interested in Reggio, or specifically what influenced their decision to support it--both of which, as Fullan (2001) suggests, are important if initiation and implementation of Reggio are to be successful in the primary setting. Moreover, as the review of the available Australian studies has shown, there is little critical account of the factors relating to the initiation and implementation phases (Bourke, 1998; Doig & Larkins, 1997; Studans, 2001 ; Trotter & Capp, 2001).

As a first step within the Australian context, this study seeks to examine whether primary teachers committed to the practice of Reggio:

a) have a deep understanding of the philosophy;

b) distinguish between the original and their own sociopolitical and cultural contexts; and

c) report utilising this knowledge in their practice.

Methodology

Sample

Forty-seven primary teachers who had attended Reggio conferences sponsored by Macquarie University's Institute of Early Childhood in the past two years were contacted. They were asked to complete an enclosed questionnaire and asked about their willingness to be interviewed. Those who did not respond within the two weeks were sent a 'reminder' postcard.

The questionnaire was divided into two sections and comprised 21 questions overall. The first section consisted of background variables including teaching history; conference attendance; teaching background; and first contact with the philosophy. Closed questions allowed respondents to circle the most appropriate choice.

The second section was headed 'ideas about Reggio Emilia'. A list of 14 barriers to successful implementation identified in the literature was presented (for example: availability of suitable teaching materials, access to consultants, finding time). Respondents were asked to rank each item on a five-point Likert scale, with one being a 'major negative impact' and five a 'major positive impact'. …

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