Why I don’t peel bananas
Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, gave a speech in 1993. It is entitled “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins.” You can read it in its entirety here but here is the very end of it that always springs into my mind when I explain why I encourage children to solve their own problems.
“It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold. Those who have the image of the child as fragile, incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from this belief only for themselves. We don’t need that as an image of children. Instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strengths.”
Malaguzzi explains in the beginning of this speech that every one of us has an image of children that affects how we speak to, listen to, interact with, or design environments for them. In earlier years, when I first began to redesign classroom environments, I quickly realized that simple things like not allowing children access to paint on a daily basis had a lot to do with my belief that they were not capable of handling paint. I didn’t know what they might do with the paint, and that made me uncomfortable.
This was a visual I stumbled across online that summed it up pretty good.
I was going to have to step outside of my comfort zone and risk stepping occasionally into chaos if I was going to learn about play-based learning, about Reggio Emilia, about designing the classroom to be “the third teacher”.
And so I learned. And it was hard. I made mistakes. Sometimes it was chaotic. But I’ve made great strides when it comes to my teaching practice and I know a lot more now about children and how they learn and how they develop than I ever did before.
This past week, my daughter came into my classroom for her Career Development “Take Your Kid to Work” Day. At the end of the day, we were discussing how her day went and I asked her what she thought the hardest part of being a teacher was. She said it was “knowing what to say and knowing what to do when a child comes to you.”
I said, “You’re right, that is probably the hardest part. Every child is different and every time they come to you, it could be any one of a hundred different things. But you know what? It all comes down to one thing: what you believe about children. I believe that these children are all capable, competent, intelligent and able to learn. And that belief is woven into every sentence I speak, every look I give a child, every one of my reactions and behaviours every day. When you believe this about children, you will always know what to say or how to respond to them.”
As I spoke the words aloud, I realized that Malaguzzi was right — it was all about my “image of the child.” I’ve learned to see children as not only capable and competent, but as citizens with rights who come to school with pieces of their world attached to them. They are sensitive and unpredictable, strong and beautiful. They each have their own path, and a teacher’s role is to tread lightly along that path with them, taking care not to step on their potential, their sense of worth, or their desires and dreams.
When you believe in children, you believe they are capable of learning many things. Many of these things have not been invented yet. Much of what they will learn in their lifetime has not even been imagined yet.
So there it is. I believe the children are capable of learning to peel their own bananas.
That’s why I don’t peel them anymore.
Cathy Baker View All →
Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy
Thanks for this, Cathy. I’ve always known that our vision of the learner is the foundation of our work as teachers. Thank you for sharing the beautiful transcript of the Loris Malaguzzi seminar. I will need to post that one in my office.
I’ve written about how teacher over-preparation is actually damaging to children based on the work of Pak Tee Ng (http://blog.donnamillerfry.com/ossemooc-2/learning-from-singapore-pak-tee-ng-and-the-focus-on-teach-less-learn-more/) so I was very interested in this part of the transcript:
“Overactivity on the part of the adult is a risk factor.
The adult does too much because he cares about the
child; but this creates a passive role for the child in
her own learning.”
It seems that we have well entrenched ideas of what school should be, and what teaching should look like. Even though the Reggio Emilia approach is not new, it is challenging to shift to a view of the learner as competent, capable, creative and curious. We tend to be in a system where the prevalent belief is that children need to be fixed to conform with average developmental stages in all things related to school.
Like Aviva, I thank you for reminding us of the importance of shifting our view of the learner in order to become better educators.
I love this, Cathy! It’s so true, and my teaching partner and I have many similar conversations each day. Strangely enough, I just posted a blog post before I read yours, and it connects to the same topic: https://adunsiger.com/2018/11/18/standing-on-the-hill-alone/. It’s about building independence along with knowing that children are competent, capable, and responsible enough to solve their own problems. Thanks for sending this message out there again. It’s one that we all need to hear!