Recently I was in Reggio Emilia on a study tour of the Municipal schools. This was my first time visiting the schools and hearing from the educators who live and teach there. The trip was a wonderful experience. I have studied the work of Reggio Emilia and have been inspired by many of the principals in my practice with children from ages three to twelve years. The experience of visiting Reggio Emilia was a sensory overload of information and insight, but the one idea that stuck with me the most during the trip was the Reggio educator’s view of professional development.
Here in the U.S. professional development takes the form of a class, seminar, or conference educators attend to satisfy our states hourly requirement for continuing education. This method promotes an idea that professional development consists only of educators taking classes and learning information that is plugged into our practice or that all of our practice is based only on acquiring information that tells us what to do in every situation with children.
In Reggio Emilia there is a different view of what professional development is. Professional development takes place in the learning center with the children. This opportunity is viewed as a privileged place for professional development. Professional development is viewed as a never-ending process for the teachers as they contribute to new learning experiences and projects with the children.
A quote from the book We are all Explorers talks about this relationship saying, “The fundamental goal for teachers professional development is teachers growing into a new relationship with children based on listening, observing, valuing, and responding to children’s expression of interests, feelings, and ideas.”
Fundamentally, all of the actions we take in the classroom are a part of our professional development and the skills we learn as we enact our practice form this development. Just as the children are learning to construct their own knowledge and understanding, educators are doing the same process when working with children. Therefore, insights come from our education in working with children. Professional development is not about doing what is right or wrong it is about embracing the process of learning that changes day-to-day and year-to-year.
Professional development also includes the work we do outside of the classroom with other educators in our programs. Professional development is happening during meetings, collaborations, and by creating documentation. By connecting the work of the classroom through documentation and reflection we bring the professional development process full circle.
One of my greatest learning experiences in our field came from the weekly meetings I had with other educators while sharing documentation of the children’s work, talking about the path forward, and being challenged to take the work to another level.
Another aspect of professional development is reflection. Journal keeping is a valuable tool for professional growth. Educators who take some time each day to write a few pages about the experiences in the classroom and put on paper their thoughts and feelings about those experiences, will be able to learn so much about the classroom in which they work and contribute to their own self-care.
Our field is one that requires emotional labor. As educators we many times place the needs of others above our own. Part of professional development is taking time away from the classroom to do the things you love. I noticed in Reggio Emilia that the educators were dedicated and passionate about their work, but had a life outside of the school. The more we pour into our self-care the more we can pour into our work with children and the learning community. This is true professional development.
What does professional development mean to you?
How do you enact your own professional development?