Chloe and Nikki’s story

Chloe: Well this is my first year out from university. Prior to the project, I didn’t really have any knowledge of Reggio Emilia approaches except for a little learnt in University. In April this year, part-way through this CRP research project, I was selected to go on a study tour of Reggio Emilia, Italy, to study the classrooms and talk to teachers, pedagogistas and ateliers. The trip was really inspiring. We were so excited to come back and change the site environment and professionally develop the other educators. We have changed our preschool environment to embed Reggio Emilia education principles.

Nikki: When I completed uni in 2012, I went straight up to the APY Lands as a teacher. I managed early years learning at the site. I was there two years, and I wasn’t planning to leave, because I loved it. But I was applying for positions just for the experience, and I was offered a permanent teaching position, so I couldn’t really say no. So I very sadly left the Lands and came to Kangaroo Children’s Centre as a teacher first, and then as Director. I’ve been the Director for two and a half years now and I’ve made my own ‘family’ here.

We touched on the Reggio Emilia approach at uni, and on the Lands we heard about it a little bit. And when Professor Carla Rinaldi connected with our site here, I went down that path. And then Chloe and I went to Italy, which was amazing, and we learnt so much more. But I’m still on the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much to dive into with the Reggio approach.

We have 100% Aboriginal children and families here. And we’ve had a wait list for ages.; we’ve been full for five or six years. Over 50 percent of our children are three year olds. At this site, the ‘hundred languages’ is huge, because we have so many kids who are pre-verbal. So, they talk to us through paintings and play, and even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, they’re acting it out. We have lots of children who have experienced trauma. So we’ve all trained in trauma-informed practices and, since the training, you can see a massive difference. Every kind of behaviour is a type of communication, so staff have been developing their pedagogy of listening. We’re trying to do the same with families as well. And there’s lots of families involved here. So we do brainstorms and things like that. We listen to their thoughts and their values.

Chloe: Being Aboriginal, I’m a familiar face for children and families at the centre. My identity as both community member and teacher allows easy relationship building and getting children and families involved.

For the action research, we focused on improving oral and literacy skills though embodied artistic learning. We intentionally looked at the classroom setting and environment and what we were doing to target learning outcomes. Before the project, as a first-year teacher, I was kind of just setting up play or doing ‘whatever’, but going through the project, I have put on a researcher’s hat to examine my own practice and see the benefits for the child’s learning. It made me think and act intentionally about play environments and linking this to learning through culture. I have learnt now to set up the environment to target the children’s interests. And I now I ask myself, ‘How am I connecting them to their culture?’

The action research has given me confidence to be a positive leader and a positive teacher to other staff. Being first year out, only 23 years old, I felt they maybe they wouldn’t take me seriously or respect my opinion. Leading pedagogy changes to teachers who’ve been doing it for 10 years, I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything. But everyone’s really supportive of it. At staff meetings we give them updates and talk about what we’ve learned at the PD day, so they can see what we’re doing differently. They were on board with what was happening and interested in asking questions. But I think it was mostly myself and Nikki who were implementing it. I think that’s something that we would do differently next time. It wasn’t their fault, but next time we could delegate roles a bit better maybe.

Prior to the project, we weren’t using props in learning to the extent we are now. We’d have a station set out, it might be on insects and we’d have a book on insects or something, but we weren’t really present with the children in that space we just kind of let them go. But we noticed a difference when we’d actually sit with them. Obviously, our question was about their oral language, because our concern was the 33 kids on speech support. So we thought, let’s sit down, let’s bring the book to life and see how it goes.

We searched high low for the props. We looked online and we just picked all the little colourful birds from different websites. For one story we collected bits and pieces from the bush garden, like bark for a boat, sticks for people, or sticks for a fishing rod.

I think the children’s learning and their wellbeing has changed dramatically, and it’s really obvious. We intentionally picked kids to focus on whose wellbeing was a bit up and down, two kids in particular. They are communicating more now and it also gave a voice to the children who are pre-verbal, which is lots of our kids. You know, sometimes they might feel left out, they might not be communicating with other groups of people. But when we’re in a group and we’re using the props, the packs that we made for the Dreaming stories, they are able to have a voice and that has changed their wellbeing. And it has made other kids look at them differently as well. Like, ‘They can be involved. We can talk to them, we can play with them’. It was 100% successful. We’re definitely got to keep doing it.

I think as a first year teacher I know that I have a lot to learn and now I see myself as a researcher. I was able to reflect on my practice and also embed new practices that I’ve learned from working with academics and educators and other sites. I learnt so much. So it’s changed in such a positive way how I see myself as a teacher and the teacher that I want to be as well. As I said before, I’m close with a lot of the families and children that we have in our care because I’m Aboriginal and I’m at all their community events. So I am a familiar face for them. But in saying that, the project helped me to understand how I can involve them more and how I can give them a voice and how beneficial that is to their child’s learning. It’s about casual yarning and making them feel comfortable and safe in the environment first.

The project will definitely have a positive impact on my future practice as I now consider myself a researcher. I feel like any problems or issues or barriers or challenges that occur in the site that I’m at, whether it’s this one or a different one, I’m able to put my researcher hat on, get to the bottom of it and make sure our practice and our environment and everything in the kindy is a place where children feel safe and comfortable to learn and be connected to their culture. I think I’ve learned so much. I still have so much to learn, but I’m going to keep going and do this again next year.

Nikki: We’re definitely going to continue this. We saw such a difference in a relatively short time that we’re just so excited about the possibilities of spreading it out over the whole year next year and getting more of the staff involved, and delegating a bit. So, we’re excited now to get everyone onboard and continue on next year.

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