By Jeannette Lutter-Gardella
I was able to attend a Documentation Lab in the early spring with Marshall Anderson, kindergarten teacher at Friends School of Minnesota. As the assistant head of school, my role is to support teachers and provide the resources they need to do their jobs as an aspect of ensuring the strength and vitality of the overall educational program.
For many years, Marshall and I have been in dialogue about the Reggio-inspired concept of seeing children as capable. We have explored how to provide sustenance and guidance on children’s journey of discovery about themselves and the world around them. We have supported each other to increase and deepen the practice of listening to children, following children's interests and identifying ways to document what the children are learning, in order to inform what might come next.
Yet, for twelve years we have struggled to maintain an intentional and focused practice of reflecting on children's learning as it is happening. School is a busy place packed with the unexpected and fluid nature of many small bodies moving in time and space. The urgent can crowd out the important and, before we know it, we are on the downhill side of the school year and summer is fast approaching.
At the Documentation Lab I somehow experienced time being stretched out in a thoughtful and deliberate process using a protocol (Documentation Lab Protocol) through which to view and think about children's learning. The protocol promoted a lively and robust dialogue as we explored and mused over a series of pictures documenting the dramatic play of a group of preschool children. It was fascinating to hear others’ thoughts and questions and, equally intriguing, the silence the protocol required of the presenting teacher. It created such a deep curiosity and openness for seeing possibilities. It brought to mind a reoccurring mantra... All teachers deserve this time, all children deserve this reflective "gaze"
“A gaze which...sees the resources and potential of each.”
(referenced multiple times in the reflection from the NAREA Conference:
Ideas in Motion, by both Cagliari and Soncini: https://www.mnreggio.org/Blog/6111777).
Most profound to me was the realization that I, the administrator, need this time with teachers. I need to see what teachers notice, what they hold and what they wonder. The Documentation Lab has fortified my role in ensuring there is collaboration time for teachers during school, to embed the seeing and wondering into our weekly schedule. I want to elevate the learning journey between the teachers and the children, to commit more fully and deeply to the power and promise of what comes from observing, collaborating and documenting. Part of my responsibility is to provide an administrative "gaze" of understanding and honoring the reciprocal nature of teaching and learning.
The Documentation Lab was a wonderful experience and reminder of the power of collaborating and thinking together about the capacity of children to learn and to teach each of us everyday.
I encourage teachers and administrators to come to any one of the Documentation Lab gatherings that will be coming up, resuming in the fall. The meetings are free, held in various locations around the cities and you can participate fully, whether or not you bring student work. Joanne Esser can provide further information (firstname.lastname@example.org). The dates will be announced on the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota website.