Teachers' Voices: A Reflection on Learning Tour Experience

March 29, 2019

Front: Myrna Gatchalian, Ihuoma Iheukwumere, Quennie Cacayorin
Back: Saima Yaseen, Jenny Hawkins, Laura Rocha, Donna Tumamak

To support their practice in the Reggio Emilia Approach, seven of our preschool teachers from the Judith Baker Child Development Center (JB CDC) and Yerba Buena Gardens Child Development Center (YBG CDC) participated in a two-day learning tour at the First Presbyterian School in Santa Monica, CA entitled, "Materials & the 100 Languages of Children in a Context of Learning: Listening, observing, interpreting and giving visibility to building knowledge of children & teachers," back in February. They reflected and shared about this meaningful experience.

What was your biggest take-away from the learning tour?

Ihuoma: It was a wonderful experience visiting the First Presbyterian School in Santa Monica. It is the rare occasion when are able to interact with peers who share the same philosophy guiding their teaching practice. We came away with a shared confidence and healthy admiration for the work we do and the opportunities given to us by SOMACC to practice this way. As we strive to be better and do better, we value what we have to offer to children and families. No longer overlooking our amazing qualities because we are distracted by validating our process to others. We look forward to working with our classrooms believing in our competency and skills to educate a whole child.

Quennie: My biggest take-away from the learning tour was that you can expand your skills when you speak with other people. You can also develop your listening and speaking capabilities, as well as expand your ideas and knowledge. You’re able to learn a lot and you may get things out of your environment. You also learn to talk to other people and develop your confidence.

Saima: Collaboration! It is very important for a team to collaborate to be successful. When I say team, it means everyone who is working directly or indirectly on a same project; they work together to meet their goals and get the tasks done. One of the biggest take-away for me was to include not only children, but parents and the staff (not only teachers but administration, kitchen staff and other people who work directly or indirectly with the children), as well. It was visible that they all work together very well and use all the resources available. I am trying to use the resources around the school and helping my team to learn this skill slowly but surely. For example, we are asking the person who refills the gloves dispensers to save us the empty boxes for a project in the classroom.

Myrna: They have a strong community relationship, from the director of the school, to the heads, to the faculty, staff and families. I really admire their meaningful collaborations in order to succeed. Their Parent Association makes a strong contribution to the life of the school. The natural materials were part of their environment and accessible to the children. The school was rich in these resources and everybody is part of these learning.

Jenny: The learning tour at First Presbyterian illuminated for me the power and vital importance of engaging our children in a collaborative problem solving approach to education. It was amazing to see the ways teachers, parents, and the community worked alongside the youngest learners to explore meaningful experiences and solve real world problems. It was also deeply inspiring to hear Amelia Gambetti share the philosophy and work of the Reggio schools. I was especially influenced by the depth and beauty of the learning that can happen when education is approached in a holistic and inclusive way. 

Oftentimes as an educator I want to help children and families, I want to contribute to a wonderful school, but I feel bogged down in the many day to day challenges. There is never enough money, never enough time, never enough help, too much paper work, too many obstacles that fall in our paths. Goals can sometimes seem impossible. This experience left me with a much wider vision of what is possible- what is possible in our day to day learning with children, what is possible in the lives of families and of our school, and what is possible in the future of our world. I saw the beautiful experiences that the community in Reggio and at First Presbyterian made happen. I saw experiences in which a group of learners posed questions, and worked through challenges to achieve together. It gave me chills to imagine how those kinds of experiences could empower the lives of children into the future. What would we achieve if we really believed we could do it?

As an early childhood educator, what personal commitment did you make as a result of your experience?

Ihuoma: To be the change I wanted to see in the world. In this instance, to value the work I do and make a greater impact on how the children do. Changing how I think about my work, has changed how I feel and what actions I take in the classroom to the benefit of the children and families. The result of this change is children feeling supported to try new things, take healthy risks and solve problems which gives them a solid foundation for their own learning and development.

Quennie: As an early childhood educator, I’m able to continuously learn from multiple sources of knowledge throughout my career. My commitment includes challenging myself. I will use every opportunity to learn all around the classroom and the school, and with each child. Participating in professional development, trainings and workshops can further my education and knowledge. I will be a teacher who will continue to learn and will model the importance of learning to the children.

Saima: Active listening is the key to understand your students. By paying close attention to their conversations and interactions with each other, you can learn about their interests and be able to support their ideas.

Myrna: My commitment on this experience is to impart to my colleagues what I’ve learned from the training and to further expand my knowledge by researching, reading and attending classes, too.

Jenny: We live in an increasingly complex and often divided world where people regularly feel separated and non-empowered. Imagine what the world could be like if each of us had those early experiences of overcoming challenges together, and of the sense of what is possible? As a result of my experience during this learning tour, I feel a renewed commitment to the importance of early education. I want to do whatever I can to make a little piece of that empowered learning experience a reality for every child, and every family, and every community. 

How have you been applying what you have learned in your everyday work in the early childhood education field? In your classroom? With children and families?

Ihuoma: It has allowed me continue to seek a variety of opportunities to support children in their learning. Persisting despite the challenges to make those opportunities available and celebrating each milestone.

Saima: I am trying to include parents as much as I can. Two weeks ago, we invited a parent, who is an architect, to do a workshop related to Lego structures as we were building Lego structures to create A Lego City in class. Also, since the children are interested in robots, we are asking the families if they have any kinds of robots at home, even as simple as a robot vacuum. They are invited to bring them in class and talk to the children about them.

Myrna: I’ve been sharing my learning experiences with my teaching team, children and families. We always involve our parents to be a part of our projects and activities. We are exploring the different parts of the Yerba Buena Garden as part of our research and learning. We introduced the “forest” in the garden and we will be asking our children meaningful questions about it.

Jenny: In my everyday work at YBG CDC, I have been sharing the ideas I encountered mainly with my teaching team, but also with families in our weekly email updates. For instance, on the learning tour I had a very poignant experience in learning through natural materials. During the process of trying to plan and create a simple design, I encountered a number of problems, emotions, and relationships. It really put me in touch with the ways we learn, and how we can support each other to learn. As a result of that experience, teachers in my classroom are looking at the ways children learn through experiences with materials. We are documenting some of these processes, including them in small group work, and looking for ways to invite families to join in these experiences. I also saw a variety of ways that ordinary environments can support learning. Inspired by that idea we have now introduced a lovely platform in our block area, created by our handyman, Simon, that will support children to create more elaborate structures that they can continue over time.

SOMACC teachers with Amelia Gambetti, Reggio Emilia Liaison and Reggio Approach consultant