Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Reggio-Inspired Spotlight: Simone Penner

Our February blog spotlight educator is Simone Penner. I actually met Simone on a Canadian study tour in Reggio-Emilia a number of years ago. I am so excited that she has been willing to share her story here. 

If you are interested in being featured on our blog, or know someone who should, please contact us at manitobarice@gmail.com. Please note, we are looking for educators at various points in their journey. We all have something to share.

About Myself...
I have been in the child care field since 1990 and during that time have seen many positive changes.  I was instrumental in implementing the emergent curriculum to a program who was implementing a theme based curriculum.  I then worked with senior administers at Balmoral Hall School to introduce one of a kind child care experience for 2-3-year-old girls. I have been the Director of BH Beginnings Child Care since it's conception in 2009.  The child care program is located in Balmoral Hall School, an independent day and boarding school for girls aged 2 years to grade 12.  The program is influenced by the Reggio Emilia pedagogy and I have been so fortunate to have attended a Canadian Study Group in Reggio Emilia, Italy as well as several NAREA conferences. 

Contact Information:
Simone Penner
Director BH Beginnings Child Care
Balmoral Hall School
630 Westminster Ave.
Winnipeg MB R3C 3S1
204-784-1600 ext 642
Instagram   BHbeginnings
Twitter @BHbeginnings

MB RICE: How and when did you become interested in RE?
Interestingly enough, prior to starting BH Beginnings Child Care in 2009, I was fully immersed in emergent curriculum.  I gained a passion for that while learning it with a student I was mentoring years prior.  She had an emergent curriculum project to complete and at the time we were a theme based program. 
When I interviewed for my current position as Director, I did some background research on Reggio Emilia. While I found it very interesting, with opening a new center I didn't really have a full appreciation of it until a few years later. I found I was then better prepared to really delve into the Reggio Emilia pedagogy and I began to study it in detail. In May of 2014, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a Canadian Study Group in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As you can imagine, being in the place where this philosophy was founded and seeing first hand Reggio Emilia centers and schools, I found a whole new appreciation their methods.  

MBRICE: What are your favourite aspects of the philosophy?
I really appreciate the belief that children are capable.  It sounds so simple but when I looked at my program and broke it down, I realized that we could be allowing the children much more freedom to explore. Although we had always encouraged independence, we had to change our mindset to allow the children even more opportunities to be independent. A very simple example of this is the time a teacher needed to put left over oranges as well as a half jug of milk in the fridge in the other room.  As he stood trying to gain the attention of an educator, I asked if he needed the items to go in the fridge. I suggested he give the oranges and milk to two 3 year old children who were close by and ask them to put them in the fridge. Of course, they were easily able to accomplish this task and they were so proud to have done it. This illustrates what I mean by changing our mindset to see the children as capable. 
Another aspect of the RE philosophy would have to be the collaboration that takes place between the educators. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has value. When we put our opinions and ideas together the possibilities are limitless. We have to learn to listen to each other and accept their feedback and opinions in a non-defensive manner. Just because someone has a differing opinion or idea, does not mean they disagree with you or think you have no value, it means they are an individual with their own creative mind. 

MBRICE: What books/resources would you recommend?

I love the book called Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal (Author), Lella Gandini (Author).  This book breaks down an project in simple forms and yet can be very deep in terms of the possibilities for exploration. 

Another book that is more of a study book is The Hundred Languages of Children The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflection. It is slow reading as you are studying more than reading but it gives a very clear picture of the Reggio Emilia method. 

MBRICE: What do you find challenging?
One of the areas I find challenging is trying to convey my first hand experiences with my staff. I have had to take baby steps and remember they were not in Italy with me. Learning the Reggio Emilia approach is a never-ending process that each person learns at their own pace based on their experiences and how they internalize their knowledge. When I returned from Italy, I had so many big ideas but I really had to step them back and go through a process with the staff. Otherwise they would be implementing things without the knowledge of why they were doing so. 
Learning the Reggio Emilia method is a process that is continually adapting and growing. As such, each educator is on their own path way and this makes it both interesting and challenging when we meet to collaborate. On occasion it is difficult to share your view point as the others may be taking what you are saying in a defensive or literal manner. As challenging as the process of collaboration can be, it encourages us to listen with open minds to each other. 

MBRICE: How has your teaching changed since you began learning about RE?
It’s pretty hard to narrow down the changes we have made since really studying the Reggio Emilia pedagogy. The biggest change that happened since I returned from Italy and had first-hand knowledge of their teaching method was to open the doors between the two classrooms to create a larger area for the children to explore. Previous to opening the doors, they children were mostly in their own room with their core educators and the children assigned to the same room. We no longer have duplicate centers in each class but rather more enhanced areas. The children are welcome to explore the entire center as well as gain stronger relationships with the all the educators and the children. We view the children as being capable of guiding their learning and this reaches to their decisions as far as their environment. 

Another change would have to be the realization that as a program, we were often beginning in the middle of a project and needed to step it back to the very beginning. For example, we needed to have time introducing items in their simplest form and then observing to see what the children's prior knowledge is. We tended to start off in a very big manner. I have attempted to bring the families and teachers together in a way that fosters our sense of community with in the program. Last year we held our first Whimsical Art Walk for the families. Each child made several artifacts there were complete with documentation of their thoughts on their project. These artifacts were creatively displayed in our park like back yard and the children took their families through to experience the art gallery. The event was amazing and provided a break from the parent's busy lives. I have to say throughout the entire event, I did not see one person on their phone.  Everyone was engaged with viewing the art and spending time with each other. 

No comments:

Post a Comment