Storyteller, March 2011
“We think of a school for young children as an integral living organism, as a place of shared lives and relationships among many adults and very small children. We think of a school as a sort of construction in motion, continuously adjusting itself. Certainly, we have to adjust our system from time to time while the organism travels on its life course.”
-Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education education-
Dear Families and Friends,
These words should sound familiar. They are present in our hallway as part of the Statement of Values panel created by the teachers, pedagogista, atelieristi and some of the children enrolled in our school in the 2010-2011 school year. Helping to establish a sense of identity and community in our entryway, the Statement of Values panel is an important element in our environment.
Malaguzzi’s words reflect the fact that he was a “systems thinker.” He deeply believed in a holistic, ecological worldview, recognizing a fundamental interdependence between all phenomena (Capra, 1996). Like other supporters of systems theory, Malaguzzi subscribed to the belief that individuals function within a network—or web—of life. This contextual perspective explains living organisms in terms of their environment over time (Capra, 1996).
Recently at PPS, we have experienced a change in the composition of our faculty. Some of you, whose children have been directly impacted by the change, are already aware of this shift, but I think it is important for us all to know what is happening within our small community of children, families and educators and to understand the recent change within the context of our system.
For this purpose, I would like to share with you here in this newsletter a communication I generated for the teachers in January of this year. (Each week I compose a Weekly Journal that I email to the teachers and to Karen. The WJ is a form of documentation that includes a timely reflection, announcements/reminders and a weekly calendar.)
The following is the “reflection” part of the January 23, 2012 Weekly Journal:
“. . .We think of a school for young children as an integral living organism, as a place of shared lives and relationships among many adults and very small children. We think of a school as a sort of construction in motion, continuously adjusting itself. Certainly, we have to adjust our system from time to time while the organism travels on its life course.”
As I commented at our meeting on Friday, it was definitely the case that much of my time and energy the past week or so was devoted to meetings with parents, listening to their concerns about their children–and about their lives with their children. The topics included readiness for the world of kindergarten, re-shaping sleep patterns, toilet learning, becoming a parent who sets reasonable limits for children, private school admissions, and preschool class placement for the coming school year. This list does not include all of the questions posed by the prospective parents visiting as part of our parent tour groups on Thursday, as well. On Friday I was feeling a little worn out, but I also appreciated the experience of partnering with parents and learning with them as the first educators of their children.
The above reflection is rich with both personal and professional development possibilities. However, in this Weekly Journal I would like to reflect upon an additional intriguing facet of our lives together this January, 2012—one that also offers special challenges and learning possibilities for me– and for us all. Our “living organism” has, since the close of the previous school year, added four “new” educators to its faculty. In September, Liz and Leigh joined the Sunflower/Dandelion team. Since the start of Summer’s child care leave, Sarah has recently become a member of the studio and of the Rosemary/Cherry Blossom teams, and we have welcomed Lori as a specialist teacher, working with small groups in all classrooms. The addition of new colleagues to our community brings us potential sources of fresh inspiration and learning—but also poses some challenges for the collaboration process.
While our transformation is not particularly unusual in the life of schools as organizations, at this particular point in our collective understanding of Reggio inspired work and at this point in our relationship-building process as a faculty, the dynamic feels different to me than at previous crossroads when new teachers joined our community.
I believe that this may be due to the fact that a core of us have now been studying and researching together for about four years, have supported the learning of an additional cohort of teachers who joined us at the beginning of the previous school year, and we are now, collectively and individually, entering a new phase in our own understandings of this beautiful approach. Together, many of us experienced the Wonder of Learning Exhibit and numerous other learning tours and professional development opportunities—not to mention our “day to day living” as an essential part of our learning process over the previous four years. (Karen, Laurie and I have been collaborating for the past five years. Karen has many stories to tell based upon her knowledge of the history of our program since 1999. Laurie started teaching at PPS in about 2005.)
As Malaguzzi described, “. . . we are a sort of construction in motion,” and, “we have to adjust our system from time to time. . .” So, how do we go about adjusting our system to welcome wonderful new collaborators to our community? Looking back at the past five months, I offer this brief list of some of our strategies: warm greetings in the mornings and introductory articles in the Storyteller and Weekly Journal; orientation meetings and professional development readings; participation in team meetings and the preparation of environments; personal email messages and private feed-back meetings; brief conversations between colleagues in the hallway, classrooms or Library; shared observation of children’s learning in reflection meetings, in the studio, in the garden and at the snack table; collective analysis of documentation and the co-creation of planned possibilities; individual reflective practice and spoken reflections in Friday faculty meetings; composition and sharing of the Weekly Journal; understanding and flexible responses to a colleague’s individual personal and professional challenges—and, shared moments of surprise and wonder as we observe the children’s play.
All of this daily living together as educators of young children is a part of the process of building relationships with one another and is essential to the collaboration that is of primary importance to our work with children and parents. This process is a slow one—but it sometimes feels like we have to hurry because there is so much work that we want to accomplish. We get excited about our ideas and the ideas of the children and our colleagues. I would like to remind us all (and myself, especially) that “working in the Reggio way” cannot be rushed. We should not feel hurried or act impulsively. Collaboration takes time. It requires that we communicate with colleagues often, regularly—and with carefully considered intention. It requires that we have a collective sense of our purpose as teams and as a larger community. Sometimes it requires that we curb our enthusiasm just a little to make sure that we are in sync with one another, with children and with the “big picture.” It means that we have to ask questions to clarify our understandings. We have to know what we are doing—and why (New, 1998).
Sometimes collaboration demands that we resolve our differing perspectives through respectful dialogue—and with humor. Successful collaboration also depends upon our ability to appreciate one another’s strengths and our capacity to learn from each other as effective “social constructivists.” Collaboration means that we have to be really good listeners and thoughtful observers of children, parents and of one another. Colleagues who have come more recently to our school must consider that a whole lot of professional development and “daily living together” has taken place over the past (almost) five years. Those who have been a part of our PPS culture since we began our Reggio inspired journey must also be understanding of the “learning curve” for colleagues who have recently joined our community.
For me, as our pedagogical coordinator, I feel a renewed responsibility and commitment to listening, observing, guiding, and to nurturing professional development with intentionality. I appreciate the support of colleagues in scaffolding the learning of the friends who have joined our faculty in recent weeks and months. I also have a new appreciation for the role of documentation in holding the history of our journey over the past five years. (If only we had more wall space and could display more of our documentation panels, making visible more of the learning that has taken place since 2007.)
As the PPS organization “travels on its life course,” we have to acknowledge the “over time” element at work in this process and allow ourselves time to reflect, communicate and collaborate. Ultimately, this effort will move the work forward.
I think you already knew all of this. . . Just a reminder.
It is my hope that this March sharing of the January 23rd Weekly Journal gives parents some insight into the challenges related to the collaborative nature of our work at PPS. We have a wonderful faculty at Palisades Preschool. The collective level of education in the field of early childhood education is outstanding and the dedication of each member of our faculty to continued learning–and to children’s learning–is exceptional.
I feel very fortunate to be working with this group of very caring and talented educators.
In addition to offering an “inside” perspective to the state of our collaboration at PPS, I also hope that the Jan. Weekly Journal excerpt gives parents some context for the present adjustment of our system as we accept the departure of one member of our faculty and welcome a new teacher to our community.
As you continue to read the newsletter, you will see our renewed welcome to Liz Kuo, Lori Gregorio and to Leigh Johnson. Change is not easy, but with the understanding and support of the whole community, our little organism “travels on its life course.”
Wow! What a lot of fun! We want to thank all those who participated in this successful fund-raising event and those who made it happen: Judy and Russell Tyler, Laurie and Oliver Cornell, Julie and Tim Smith, Kim Egan, Rich Lin, Lauren and Matt Wolf, Susan Dickinson, Mary Ann and Darren Hereford, Carol Roberts, Shana Grein, Jennifer and Alan Acree, and Brett Lavinthal. Thank you!!
PPS Day at CPK
The California Pizza Kitchen at 210 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica invites the PPS community to have lunch or dinner on Friday, March 2nd, AND 20% of each check will be donated to our preschool. You must submit a flyer to the restaurant with your meal purchase. Karen and Nancy will have the flyers available during the week of Feb. 27.
On Friday, March 9th, our faculty will welcome several local educators to our site to meet with us and to tour our site. We have, ourselves, taken advantage of many opportunities offered by other schools in our area (and beyond) as part of our own professional development and look forward to sharing our work with colleagues from other schools. (The preschool will remain open as usual.)
Coming up on Friday, March 23rd, children are invited to return to school from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. dressed in their pajamas to enjoy games, songs, stories and a pizza dinner with their teachers. Meanwhile, parents are invited to “have a night out!” Karen will be selling $35 tickets for this small fundraiser.
Kindergarten Readiness & Information Meeting
Parents who would like to discuss the topic of kindergarten readiness and who are interested in general information about local kindergarten programs are encouraged to meet with Nancy on Thursday, March 22nd at 9:15 a.m. in the Library or Parish Hall. Please RSVP to Karen if you are able to attend. Thank you.
Sign-ups for the March 30 Conferences will be available from teachers the week of March 19. Please let us know if you will need an alternate date. These will be our last formal conferences of the current school year; however, you are welcome to make an appointment for an additional meeting in late April or early May if you have any questions or concerns about your child. Teachers will share children’s individual portfolios that include documentation of small group experiences from the past several months.
Teachers will also have marked the Desired Results Developmental Profile for each child and can share that information as well.
A Renewed Welcome
Sunflower teacher, Liz Kuo, completed her Master of Arts degree in early childhood education last spring from Mills College and joined the PPS faculty in September of 2011. She has experience working with toddlers and preschool age children and has been a lovely addition to our staff this year.
Lori Gregorio began working with children at our school in January, 2012 as a music and movement specialist and has more recently accepted the role of classroom teacher in the Sunflower room as Liz’s teaching partner. Lori has taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in the San Fernando Valley and in Santa Cruz and is working on her Master of Arts degree in Human Development at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. Her thesis is about the benefits of gardening for young children. We are pleased to have Lori sharing her many talents with us!
Leigh Johnson came to us in September, 2011 as a co-teacher working part-time with both the Sunflower and Dandelion rooms. The children love her! Leigh has a Master of Arts degree in Sculpture and certification as an early childhood educator. She has taught at Growing Place in Santa Monica and is the mother of college-age children.
- March 2—PPS Day at CPK
- March 9—Educator Tour from 9:30 to 12:30
- March 11—Daylight Saving Time begins
- March 12—Preschool closed for professional development
- March 23—PJ Night from 5 to 7 p.m.
- March 30—Preschool closed for Parent-Teacher Conferences
- April 6 through April 16—Preschool closed for Spring Break
- April 17—Classes resume
Preschool Mission Statement
Our mission is to serve our community by offering a preschool experience for children and families that celebrates diversity, creativity and kindness. These values are embedded within a rich child-centered curriculum that provides individuals and groups with opportunities to investigate, explore and express themselves through meaningful play.
Pictures from School Events
Pictures courtesy of Mary Ann Hereford!