Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Education

School

School of Education

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Yvonne Haig

Second Advisor

Mrs Suzanne Sharp

Abstract

Reggio Emilia, an approach to early childhood that was developed in a Northern Italian city of the same name, is highly regarded as acknowledged by educators and researchers world-wide (Gandini, 1993). The Reggio Emilia philosophy is distinguished by the presentation of an image of children as being strong, rich and powerful learners (Hendricks, 2004; Millikan, 2003). This approach is marked as being adopted and adapted to suit particular cultural and educational settings. These situation sensitive approaches are noted as being Reggio Emilia inspired.

This qualitative case study investigated how the professional role of four early childhood teachers was impacted by the implementation of a Reggio Emilia inspired approach in a mainstream Western Australian context. As part of the investigation, the factors that facilitated the change process and those which inhibited it were identified.

The study was conducted in two schools, one private and the other government. The study participants were four pre-primary teachers who were implementing a Reggio Emilia inspired approach in their pre-primary settings. A school leader from each of the study schools was also interviewed. Qualitative data collection methods included observation, semi-structured interviews, field notes, reflective journals and document analysis. Data were analysed using thematic analysis procedures.

The study found that as the teachers engaged with the Reggio Emilia philosophy, they were challenged to change their pedagogical practices which, in turn, impacted on their professional role. These changes were found to conform to the Reggio Emilia approach as described by Fu, Stemmel and Hill (2002). While the factors that influenced the change process differed across the two cases, there were commonalities. The first of these was the influence of the school’s policies and governance. In one of the cases, the lack of support from the school leadership team, processes and policies impacted negatively on the change process and the teacher involved. In contrast, in the second case, a supportive leadership team and a whole school approach facilitated the change process.

The second factor found to support the change process was related to internal teacher qualities of commitment, knowledge, self-belief, resilience and self-reflection. These qualities were identified as influencing both the changes the teachers made in their pedagogical practices and in their professional roles. The study found that the internal factors were interrelated and supported the teachers to both undertake and persist in the change process.

Finally, it would seem that a weakness in some facilitating factors can be compensated by strengths in others. This was evident in the first case where the teacher was working in isolation and largely without the support of the school leadership, yet with high levels of commitment, knowledge, self-belief, resilience and self-reflection was able to resist considerable pressure to conform to a teacher-driven approach requiring more direct teaching. In the second case, even though a number of the teachers reported the negative influence of low levels of knowledge and self-belief, the change process was sustained through collegiate support and strong school leadership.

The findings of the study are relevant to those who are engaging with, or seek to understand the implementation and impact of a Reggio Emilia inspired approach in a different cultural, social and political context. Of particular note, is the recognition that pedagogical change impacts on the role of the teacher. Further, that the change process is either supported or impeded by the key factors of school policy and governance and internal teacher characteristics. The findings further suggest that the positive influence of these factors can be increased by professional learning, networking and access to collegiate support.

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