by TIES Faculty Kathryn Ross, M.Ed.
In 2005 I was hired as head of school of a Montessori school in Denver, Colorado that incorporated some of the practices of the preschools of Reggio-Emilia, Italy. I had been involved in Montessori education for years, but Reggio was new to me. My need to learn about the Reggio educational philosophy lead me to The Institute for Educational Studies affiliated with Endicott College (TIES). TIES is not a Reggio-focused program, but I hoped it would give structure to my study. To my delight, I discovered a graduate program that embraced a research style that fit well with the ongoing research Reggio educators value as part of their practice.
Within TIES I developed a personal emphasis for my studies, embarking on an exploration of how two highly developed educational philosophies coming out of Italy – Montessori and Reggio – might work together. During the 18 months of the M.Ed. program, I joined with the teachers and children in my Denver school to experiment with ideas and projects, traveled to Italy to participate in a study group there, read stacks of books, and thought hard!
I found similarities and differences between the two educational philosophies. Educators from both traditions see a child who is active, capable, self-directed and striving for independence and connection – a protagonist in his/her own learning process. Both Montessori and Reggio teachers base their responses to the child on careful watching and listening. Montessori teachers speak of observation and Reggio teachers speak of listening, and although these are different stances, both imply that attention is paid to the child. However, Montessori and Reggio educators seem to have developed a somewhat different understanding of child development from birth to six. From that understanding of child development springs differences in how their classrooms function, how curricula are developed, how schools are structured and organized, and how families are connected to the school. My thesis for TIES described these similarities and differences, as well as how my school attempted to navigate them to support our children and families.
Today, ten years after my study, I continue to call myself a Montessori educator, but certainly one who is inspired by Reggio. I still find Montessori’s pedagogical materials dependably appealing and useful for children, her description of the planes of development children naturally move through feels right to me, and her vision of cosmic education is big enough to keep my interest for the rest of my life. I still find careful observation to be the sine qua non of good education, and now I have added the careful listening of the Reggio educators to my toolbox. I watch and I listen. I see the myriad ways humans learn, what Reggio founder Loris Malaguzzi called “the hundred languages of learning”, not only operating in children, but in myself.