Reggio Emilia – A Life Changing Experience

Travelling to Italy has been a life changing experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect. As an Executive Director, my mind first went to the accountability – how did they know their education system works? What did the statistics tell them about which components of the program worked best?

I had read about the programs at Reggio Emilia – their values and principles of education. As a team we had implemented aspects of these principles and had come so far on what we refer to as a journey to emergent curriculum. We had learned so much about this new way of thinking. Concepts such as “We are never at the end of the journey, but always on the journey” had become a common slogan. One moment of discovery leads to the next. So, I went to Reggio Emilia with confidence that Compass Early Learning and Care was on the right road and that we were pretty well on our way to establishing programs that embodied the concepts of “Education for Democracy” and “excellence in early learning and care” and “strengths based leadership”.


Children of Reggio Emilia working collaboratively to build their community.

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Children’s creations were displayed throughout the city of Reggio Emilia.  Young children create small and large compositions, as pictured here, using many different materials including clay, sand, pebbles, and beads.

What I found in Reggio Emilia was a way of life that was much deeper and richer than I could ever have imagined. Every person, every program, every building, every piece of equipment, every plant, every activity has purpose and value.  Everywhere you look, everything you hear reaffirms the shared values and commitment to their positive image of every child, educator, family, parent, and administrator.

Their intentional commitment to a community based on democratic principles and love of their culture is evident in the architecture of their buildings, the selection of their furniture, their organizational structure and their daily interactions. In short, I went looking for strategies and found a way of living that holds every person in high regard for their competence and their worth. A place where teachers and children are researchers, learners and collaborators who build a shared environment of discovery and wonder.

And what does this mean at Compass Early Learning and Care? It means that every day I ask myself if I am truly walking the talk. It means that every day I am finding new ways of living into my best self and supporting others to do the same. It also means I ask a lot questions about how our organizational values are visible in our programs and in our daily interactions. It also means we ask questions about how we demonstrate our value of families, our colleagues, our team members and others within and outside our organization. Upon reflection, I have realized that we have scratched the surface of implementing strength based practices and democratic principles, and there is so much more we can do to really embody these concepts.

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Strategic and operational planning gives us the opportunity to really listen to what our colleagues, employees, community leaders and funders have to say about how we do business and about our impact on the community. This year, 2016, we will embark on another strategic planning process. We will be mindful about how this process reflects the democratic principles of transparency, social democracy, collaboration and community, keeping in mind what we have learned in Reggio. This does not mean we will copy their values and practices, but that we will use them to create our own Compass Early Learning and Care story.

And so the journey continues…

Submitted by Sheila Olan-MacLean, Executive Director, Compass Early Learning and Care

Reggio Emilia pictures courtesy of The Wonder of Learning.

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