The school is an avan-guard kindergarten located in Iceland in a residential area in the city of Kopavogur. The kindergarten has adopted the Reggio Emilia model that is hailed as a successful approach to early child hood education. The communities around the kindergarten are multicultural and so are the preschool students who are currently enrolled in the school. The Kindergarten is headed by a head master (principal) who is assisted by a vice principal. In addition to these two there is the Special Needs coordinator. These three are expected to attend every single department meeting at the school. The departments are headed by two coordinators and each has 6 teachers and 30 preschool students. The parents have formed a parents association and appointed their own representatives to the school. The school holds two teacher-parents meetings twice a year during which parents are presented with newsletters to inform them on what they children are doing. The school keeps in touch with various institutions around it for educational purposes. These institutions include other kindergartens, elementary Schools, Social Service, 2 universities in Iceland, The Icelandic Teachers Association, SARE ( Reggio Emilia Association in Iceland) , parks, Cinemas and The Sport Academy of Elliðavatn. The school has an Icelandic, math and science, music, Gymnastics and workshop laboratories. Racism, child abuse, withdrawal, environment (sustainability and respect), children with special needs and parent discontent are the potential challenges and threats that the kindergarten’s system is addressing.
Curriculum, Pedagogy and assessment
The curriculum in use at the kindergarten is designed in such a way that it is largely dictated by the emerging interests of the children. This is in line with the Reggio Emilia model of education and this curriculum is referred to as an emergent curriculum (silvertonfamilies, n.d., p. 2). However, it does not restrict itself entirely to the interests of the children but it also captures particular and vital interests of the child’s family and immediate community. The curriculum through its contents forms a critical link between the child, teacher, child’s family and the community. It is therefore exploited so as to enable the child to easily synthesize ideas and concepts that are crucial to his or her development. Take for instance the child’s ideas and concepts as pertains to cultural diversity. Singing – one of the child’s interests – is assimilated into the curriculum in the form of a topic and a project that will help him or her in this important aspect of social development. Participants sing songs from their different cultures that entertain the rest of the school. This in turn creates awareness of cultural diversity in the school and in addition fosters an appreciation of one owns culture and that of others. Thus cohesiveness is promoted and the threat of racism in the school taken care of.
The curriculum through allowing for such like topics and projects can thus be thought of as summing up the individual cultures represented at the kindergarten to make a bigger and whole, which is coherent and inherently promotes cohesiveness in the kindergarten and the surrounding community. Television and in particular animations (cartoons) is another topic and project in the emergent curriculum that is important in helping the children identify those among them with special needs and subsequently teach them how to interact with them. These animations also help the special needs children with their needs and assist them in integrating with the other students and the rest of the community. Thus children with special needs don’t feel segregated from the rest of the school and community. The universities in relations with kindergarten construct such animations. Food, television, music, drawing, colors, painting, talking, writing, toys, imagination, hygiene, safety, environment and culture are among the topics covered in the emergent curriculum in use at the kindergarten. To match this curriculum is a documentation process that is aimed at monitoring or assessing the progress of the child. This too is in line with the Reggio Emilia model of education (Education, 2010, p.2). The documentation includes the words that the child uses while in various situations as well as pictures of the child’s different experiences. Once such documentation is made available it forms the contents of a newsletter that is to be presented to each parent at the teacher-parents meetings that are held twice each year. Through the newsletter the teachers and parents can assess the progress of a child so as to determine future strategies that involve the child in order to maintain or enhance his or her development.
Another significant importance of the documentation process is that the teacher can reflect and subsequently determine how well he or she is playing his or her role as defined by the Reggio Emilia approach. The teacher under the Reggio Emilia pedagogy plays a number of roles. First, the teacher co- explores the learning experience with the preschool students. The teacher provokes ideas, problem solving and conflict resolution. The teacher then gets ideas from the children that he or she assimilates into the curriculum as either topics or projects. This will later be explored in the course of the curriculum. He or she organizes the classroom and materials in a way that they are accessible and interest the child. It is the responsibility of the teacher to organize the material in a way that it aids the child in making thoughtful decisions. The teacher uses pictures, video and sound recording devises to document the progress of the child. The teacher then aids the children in discovering the connections that exist between learning and experiences. Next, the teacher assists the preschool students express the knowledge they have through projects and talks about the projects with parents and other teachers. Finally, the teacher enables the children to discover the connection that exists between home, school and community.
The projects the children engage in, first, can be gotten from the ideas and interests of the children or they can be provoked by the teachers. They can be introduced by the teachers after knowing what interests the children. Also, the length of the project should include overtime. The overtime is suitable because it allows for discussions on new ideas and it is the period to negotiate, induce conflict, do a revisit, look at the progress made and to see the movement of ideas. Besides, the projects should be concrete, personal from real life experiences, imperative to the children, vast enough to diversify ideas and rich in interpretive and representational expression. The pedagogy adopted also proposes techniques and strategies that are to be used to effectively teach the children in the various laboratories available in the school. In the math and science laboratory the children count objects and identify items that are presented to them. Also include are nature walks within and outside the vicinity of the school during which the preschool students collect objects that they later count and study. Reading story and fairy tales books, storytelling and spelling are the strategies and techniques adopted for teaching children in the Icelandic laboratory. Singing and playing of various instruments available in the music laboratory is effective in teaching the children about music. In the Gymnastics laboratory the children are taught simple and fun exercises to do. Modeling and paperwork are simple activities that are effective in teaching the children about construction in the workshop. The children should in addition be encouraged to be imaginative through the teachers help.
Surrounding and environment
The kindergarten holds the view that a child is an entity that delves into continuous research activities aimed at developing knowledge and an understanding of the world around him or her. This view is in line with the Reggio Emilia approach to early child hood education. On the basis of this view the kindergarten has done a customized design of the child’s surroundings so that they catalyze the thinking process of the young one as well as play the role of a 3rd teacher. Two factors that the kindergarten keenly considers in carrying out the design of the child’s surroundings are the size of the projects the children will be involved in and the intimacy between the children. The interior design of the classrooms includes wall sized windows and mirrors mounted on the floor, wall and ceiling. Thus, the classroom is defined as a space that is filled with opportunity that stimulates the child thinking process. This definition of the classroom is strong evidence that the kindergarten has adopted the Reggio Emilia model. The kindergarten has also provided the preschool students with lots of material to aid them in their research. The material is aesthetically pleasing to the child so that he or she is attracted by it. The material also comes in different colors, which is good for the child’s exploration purposes. Furthermore, the kindergarten ensures that the material is revisited throughout a series of projects that make up the emergent curriculum of the children. This revisiting is encouraged because it helps the children discover and explore different possibilities attached to a single piece of material. Of importance to the school is the sustainability and respect for the environment. Thus in its choice of playing materials for the children are recycled items such as milk containers and pasta containers.
Languages of the school
According to the kindergarten, the child can and wants to communicate with his or her surroundings, which is a reason why he or she is mostly delved in continuous research. In addition, the kindergarten is of the view that a child can communicate in a hundred different languages and these languages are either spoken or unspoken. It has further subdivided the languages into three classes namely expressive, communicative and cognitive. Languages in the expressive class are those that the child uses to express him or herself. Languages that fall in the communicative class are those the child uses to communicate with the world around him or her. Languages that fall in the cognitive category are those that the child uses to recognize and understand the world around him or her. This approach to language as it applies to the child is strong evidence that the kindergarten has adopted the Reggio Emilia model. All of the languages in these categories whether spoken or unspoken aid the child in building knowledge and an understanding of the world around him or her. Thus, the kindergarten seeks to unite and develop this multiple languages for the direct benefit of the child. This objective is also in line with the Reggio Emilia philosophy for early child hood education. According to the kindergarten, talking, singing, music and plays are examples of spoken language that the child is engaged in at the kindergarten. Innovation, construction, building, writing and science are according to the kindergarten examples of unspoken language used by the children.
The kindergarten sees itself an organization with its main objective being the development of the child. The school believes that the child is the protagonist of his or her own development. Thus, the school believes in an emergent curriculum heavily influenced by the interests of the children. The kindergarten also realizes the importance of integrating into the child’s curriculum topics that capture special interests and critical issues that are of concern to the families of the children and the immediate community. However, this integration is done in a manner that does not distort or negatively affect the objectives of the curriculum. The school’s view of the teacher is that he or she is a co-learner with respect to the child, he or she is a guider and finally he or she is the means through which the child’s thinking is provoked. The kindergarten strongly believes that the child’s surroundings should take up the role of a third teacher. Another of the ethos of the school is that teachers as well as parents should be able to assess the progress of the child. Due to this, the kindergarten has adopted a documentation procedure in line with the Reggio Emilia approach. The kindergarten is a strong believer that cultural diversity should be embraced and not used as a tool for propagating hate and discrimination. The kindergarten’s relations within the school and with the outside world are maintained in a manner such that beliefs and attitudes that may negatively hinder the child’s development are kept away. The children are natured in a way that they not only appreciate their own culture and race but also equally appreciate those of others. Another ethos in the school is the sustainability and respect for the environment. This is why the school proposes for the recycling of items for use as playing materials and for activities captured in curriculum projects.
Relations with families and community
The kindergarten maintains healthy and cordial relationships with families of the children and the surrounding community. Maintaining their relationships at this state is clearly important to the development of the child. To achieve this, the kindergarten operates strictly under known ethics and has adopted an ethical decision making model. Ethics, according to the Macmillan English Dictionary ( 2002, p.470), are the principles by which you decide what is right and wrong. Ethics form the basis on which a person or an organization determines which action is fit to take as a response to the various situations which they encounter (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 2010, p.2 ). Ethics constitute the standards of behavior that promote proper coexistence in a community or a society (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 2010, p.2). It is the case that a decision making process founded on ethics promises good decision making. It is therefore imperative for an ethical person or organization to match its standards with a proper ethical decision making model. The ethical decision making model in place at the kindergarten is the five steps of reasoning by the Josephson institute of ethics. The first step in the ethical decision making model is clarification. During clarification you identify clearly what is to be decided, formulate alternatives and options and then weigh each of the options by determining the ethical principles and values of each (Marshal, 2007, p.1).
The second step in the ethical decision making model is evaluation which includes various tasks (Marshal, 2007, p.2). The first task in the evaluation procedure is to identify which of the options from the clarification step require a sacrifice of ethical principles. The second task is to ensure that you can make the distinction between solid facts and something else e.g. desires, theories, beliefs etc. The third task in the evaluation procedure is to weigh the credibility of sources to avoid biasness and selfish gains. The fourth task in the evaluation procedure is to weigh the effect of each option on the stakeholder. The third step in the ethical decision making model is to make a decision and it includes a series of steps to be undertaken (Marshal, 2007, p.3). First, determine what is false and what is true then determine the consequences likely to follow a particular decision. Based on your conscience evaluate other feasible alternatives. Determine which values are significant to the decision making and which are least important. Determine the biggest beneficiaries and losers of a decision undertaken. Visualize what the situation will be in a worst-case scenario. Determine whether a change of goals or methods can result in a loss of ethics. It is important to ascertain as a person whether the way you treat others is pleasant and if you would enjoy the same treatment. In addition, you need to judge whether you would be happy if your way of thinking were published in the media and whether you would be happy reasoning or doing whatever you in the presence of your children. The fourth step in the ethical decision model is implementation and it comprises of two tasks (Marshal, 2007, p.4). Developing a plan to aid in the implementation of the decision reached should be the first responsibility. The next issue to consider is how best the implementation processes could reduce risks as well as cost and instead maximize the benefits. The fifth step in the ethical decision model is monitor and modify and it comprised of three tasks (Marshal, 2007, p.5). First, you will have to come up with a way through which you can monitor the effects of the decision. Next, you will also at this stage need to be prepared to revise the plan or if needed explore a different course of action (Marshal, 2007, p.5). Finally, at this stage you will have to keep yourself informed as well as make use of the information. Distorted and unhealthy relationships will affect negatively the development of the child and in future, this will explain the child’s friction and contempt with society. Proper relationships mean that the child feels secure and thus can freely communicate and say what is disturbing him or her. The parents have formed an association and selected from them representatives who are available to discuss important matters e.g. new topics parents feel are important and need to be integrated into the children’s curriculum. Teacher-parent meetings occur twice a year and the children are given newsletters to take to their parents. The school keeps in touch with various institutes in the community that help it on educational matters. These include other kindergartens, elementary schools, social service, 2 universities in Iceland, The Icelandic teachers Association, SARE (Reggio Emilia Association in Iceland), parks and Cinemas. This is important in a number of ways first, knowledge sharing and integration. Secondly, it helps development of the school through enabling acquisition of qualified staff and monitoring and implementation of changes in Reggio Emilia programs in Iceland. The school in an effort to maintain their relations at this state is also is flexible in its cousine, that is, it accommodates dishes from the different cultures. This shows an appreciation of the other cultures which in turn strengthens the bond between the kindergarten and the community around.
Leadership and structure
The organization comprises of the head master principal, vice principal, special needs coordinator and a number of departments each with 2 department-heads, 6 teachers and 30 children. The headmaster is assisted by the vice principal in running the school and the both of them coordinate and manage the Reggio Emilia program that is currently running at the school. They are qualified personnel with an in-depth understanding of the Reggio Emilia model and who constantly keep in touch and consult with the SARE (Reggio Emilia Association in Iceland). Good leadership is important in the kindergarten as it helps to bring the staff together and lead them to achieve the set goals (The Teal Trust, n.d., p.1). A good leader means that right decisions will be made through an ethical model and thus promoting development. There are various leadership theories that have been put forward that are applicable in running an organization successfully (Swlearning, n.d.). The Contingency leadership theory was developed by Fred Fiedler and it supposes that, by addressing leader-member relations, task structure, and position power, you are at the same time attending to the effectiveness of a leader. The path-goal theory was developed by Robert House and it stresses on increasing subordinate motivation through taking into account their ideas and making it clear to them how they can perform at their best. The theory applied by the two principles at the kindergarten is the leader-style theory that was developed by Vroom and Yetton. It guides leaders in making suitable decisions and provides a measure of the extent to which subordinates can be included in the decision making process.
The advantage of this style according to the article “Leadership theories: An overview” is that subordinates are committed to the organizations objectives and it encourages leader-subordinate interaction (p.1). The interaction is important when you consider that the two principles are the ones with the expertise on running and managing the Reggio Emilia program. This interaction happens during the various department meetings that are held in the school. At these meetings new knowledge is imparted on the teachers and their effectiveness in their roles is sharpened. To understand the operational structure in place at the school it is important to realize that the kindergarten it is viewed as an organization. An organization is a social unit of people who work together systematically to achieve collective goals (WebFinance, 2010, p.3). The Kindergartens sole aim is the development of the child. Organizational theory in an organization is undertaken to identify the themes that propel problem solving, maximizing efficiency and productivity and taking care of the needs of the stakeholders (Barzilai, n.d., p.1). The theory of organization is known to involve three main subtopics, which include organizational, group as well as individual processes. These subtopics put together work to device an organizational structure or culture where the individuals in the organization are motivated and understand their roles and work together in groups with proper communications channels and leadership (Barzilai, n.d., p.1). The organizational structure in place at the kindergarten is solidly founded on the Weber’s bureaucratic classical theory. The Weber’s bureaucratic classical approach to organizational theory considers an organization as a component of a society and has four underlying principles. This approach as discussed above enables the kindergarten to be more aware of the society or community it is in. This is important when you consider two challenges facing the kindergarten.
The first is the sustainability and respect for the environment and the second is the cultural diversity in the surrounding community. The Weber’s approach has four underlying principles which are predictability and stability, rationality and democracy, structure and specialization (Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, n.d., p.9). Through predictability and stability the kindergarten accurately determines the direction and success in implementation of its Reggio Emilia Program. Rationality and democracy is important especially on debates about the children’s welfare especially when parents and the community is involved. Among the school ethos is the fact that it doesn’t lock out the opinions of the parents and the surrounding community. The structure at the school captures ensures that needs are exposed and also provides a channel to address them. For instance, matters about children with special needs will be addressed to the special needs coordinator while issues concerning a teacher’s effectiveness will be raised with the principle or vice principle. Specialization as also been captured at varying degrees at the kindergarten. For instance, the teacher’s role is clearly known and thus it is expected of him or her to perform accordingly. The curriculum can also be viewed as a form of specialization as it is more child-interest oriented.
School development and policy
School development and school policy is an important issue at the kindergarten. Development at the kindergarten is a continual process that seeks to address the challenges that arise in its operations. Needs to modify the school policy in place arise from the needs of parents and community, consultations with the SARE (Reggio Emilia Association in Iceland) and emerging trends in early child hood education. The school policies in place at the kindergarten work to ensure that standards and proper development is maintained. To develop future policies the kindergarten has adopted the culture of knowledge integration. Knowledge enables the putting together of different opinions as well as ideas into a common logical structure (Clemens, 2004, p.4). By achieving knowledge, integration an individual or organization is able to, first, make use of available knowledge to formulate solutions to address various problems or challenges that they are facing during growth (Clemens, 2004, p.3). Secondly, knowledge integration helps to expose underlying assumptions and inconsistencies through reconciling conflicting ideas (Clemens, 2004, p.5). Knowledge integration helps an individual or organization to identify areas with incoherence, uncertainty and in disagreement; it does his through synthesizing different perspectives (Clemens, 2004, p.6). Weaving of different ideas together knowledge integration achieves a whole that is better than the total of its part (Clemens, 2004, p.7). One of the developments in the school is that the teachers undertaken a number of courses in the local universities that have enabled them improve their practice. The courses are crisis intervention critical thinking and personal development.
Crisis intervention knowledge has been discovered to minimize distress and maximize problem solving ability both of which are considered positive outcomes in regards to crisis coping and handling (Advameg, Inc., 2010, p.2). Thus, the teachers know how to conduct themselves when being faced with a crisis hence it does not spill over to the children. Critical thinking is an important tool for problem solving and it imparts an individual with a number of skills. Critical thinking skills are aimed at helping an individual or organization act purely objectively and rationally (Kurland, 2000, p.1). According to Kurland the characteristics of critical thinking are rationality, self-awareness, honesty, open-mindedness, discipline and judgment (2000, p.1). Continuous Personal Development (CPD) is a process through which an individual identifies short and long-term goals and develops a continuous development plan that will guide him or her in achieving the goals. Knowledge in CPD is important in helping an individual achieve the goals he or she has set.
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