Teachers Share, Learn and Reconnect: Winter Staff Development Day
By Andrea Hart Rees, Teacher
The Bing teachers exchanged interesting information and dynamic conversation at Bing’s winter quarter Staff Development Day. The gathering provided opportunities to explore fresh ideas and methods and to discuss them as a group, as well as to reconnect with our history, with our classrooms, and with one another as teachers.
The morning began with a video documentary, Not Just Anyplace, showing the evolution of a renowned municipal nursery school in the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia. (See Impres-sions of Reggio on page 24.) It all started with a group of parents building a preschool for their children after World War II. Under the leadership of Loris Malagucci, parents and teachers came together to discuss and debate the best way to satisfy the interests of parents and children. They posited that all children have the right to an exemplary educational experience beginning at a young age, and that the families with the greatest needs should be given the highest priority for placement in these schools. The community would be involved in major decisions and would support the schools. To fulfill these principles, the schools hired well-educated teachers who viewed children as strong, capable learners in need of guidance. To this day, the Reggio schools uphold the same high standards, and citizens do their best to fulfill the needs and rights of children and families.
Our Own Origins
After the documentary, discussion of the 40-year history of Reggio Emilia quickly turned to Bing’s own 40-year history and how it affects what we are today. Teachers who count their time at Bing in decades shared thoughts about the school’s history with those who count their years at Bing on one hand.
One historical difference between Bing and Reggio is that Bing was built in part as a laboratory school for Stanford’s psychology department and was created to serve children of the faculty, staff and students as well as the general public. To make the school accessible for all families regardless of financial means, it also serves an outreach population. One of the school’s missions is to meet all of the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and communicative needs of young children. The school also offers training for undergraduate and graduate students. It was launched through support of many sources, including a grant from the National Science Foundation and a matching fund from Peter Bing and his mother Anna Bing Arnold.
Like the Reggio schools, Bing remains true to its roots, continuing to serve as a laboratory for research and student education, while providing excellent education to as many young children as possible in the Stanford community and beyond. It has also maintained its original educational approach, which resembles Reggio’s in a number of ways. Both programs employ caring, educated teachers who believe that children come to understand the world around them by perceiving and exploring their environment. As educators, we view ourselves as guides helping children to observe and understand the world, as well as one another. We are constantly learning better ways to help children tap into the resources around them and to understand one another. We are also constantly observing children, trying to perceive the unique qualities of each, then sharing our observations with parents.
Although the staff conversation about our identity as a nursery school was called to conclusion when lunch had arrived, the feeling that we are still very much connected to the proud foundation set 40 years ago stayed with us much longer.
The day later provided an opportunity to examine compelling topics in early childhood education when teachers broke into small groups to discuss articles we had all read as background. Topics ranged from documentation of children’s experiences to the magic of everyday moments to the special rights of children with different needs. Teachers sat clustered around the staff’s patio table, around the children’s patio tables, even on the carpet of the story time areas, engrossed in intense but respectful debate. When we came back together, we took turns recapping our group discussions with the staff as a whole.
Show and Tell
We finished the day by sharing current developments from individual classes. Teachers showed photographs of their children engaged in activities, copies of stories told by children, and documents shared with parents about classroom events. After a day spent thinking about method, practice and theory, it was nice to return our focus to the children we know and love.