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What I’ve Learned: Rick van de Vusse, teacher

What does development look like for a Reggio-inspired educator? At Bear Park, an ongoing commitment to our teachers and their fulfillment as professionals is essential in order to provide the highest experience for our children and their whānau. On an individual level, it’s an opportunity for our staff to stay inspired and put new concepts into practice.

Bear Park Epsom teacher Rick van de Vusse recently visited Western Australia, with the opportunity to attend a conference and visit an inspiring school in Perth. Read on below to hear more about his experience:

intext-blog11Rick van de Vusse - In the same way that society and our environments are constantly growing and changing, the understanding of best practice in early childhood education is ever evolving. It’s for this reason that Bear Park, as a leader in its field, places a huge emphasis on providing and supporting staff to up skill and embrace ongoing professional learning. Recently I was fortunate to attend the 2015 Western Australia Childhood Education and Care Conference, as well as paying a visit to a local pioneering centre of education in Perth, Bold Park Community School.

At the conference, leaders in education from across the globe imparted their experience, thoughts and latest findings. Those attending were challenged and inspired in a large variety of areas. One of my favourite aspects of discussion formed around designing the best possible environments to cater to the diverse needs of children. The second concept that resonated with me was the idea of teachers becoming researchers alongside children, while expanding on their never-ending questions. Carlina Rinaldi, the President of Reggio Children and Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia sums this second theory up perfectly:

if they ask about leaves, show them the branch. If they ask about the branch, show them the tree. If they ask about the tree, show them the sky and the earth. If they asked about the sky and the earth, show them the universe.

At Bold Park Community School, I participated in a three-day study tour. The school caters for children from 18 months to 18 years, offering opportunities for all ages, with learning subjects interconnected to one another. In one class, where the children were between six to eight years old, they spent two years building a permanent, solar powered, insulated building. With the help of the community, the children took on official roles and learned skills from qualified builders, architects and accountants. They then passed these skills on to their classmates. All aspects of the curriculum were covered through this project, and each student had a crucial role – from writing grant-application letters to the council and using trigonometry to design the roof, to studying the contours of the ground to find the best building site.

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These subjects interwove with each other and were valued as they had real-world applications. The children in the class supervised each other, mentored
beginners and collaborated to construct something to a standard most adults would not have thought possible of children, yet alone themselves.

For Bear Park staff like myself, these unique learning opportunities provide huge inspiration and an opportunity for reflection on our own teaching ideas. Staying fresh, excited about education and up-to-date with the best practices, I am able to work more closely with my students, their whanau and the community that surrounds us.

Q: Can you explain further about why Carlina Rinaldi’s learning concept (mentioned above) resonated with you?

A: I interpreted her theory to mean never give an answer, and instead expand on the child’s question. To me, this sums up the ideal investigation, the ideal teaching method, and the ideal teacher.

Q: After visiting Bold Park Community School in Perth, what idea would you personally love to implement at Bear Park? Why?

A: Where do I begin? Bold Park in Western Australia has several fantastic, inviting 'wild spaces' within the school. The pre-school's wild-space was influenced by what the children said they wanted - hiding spaces, a hill, a mud pit, etc. There were also thousands of branches available to build with. My personal favourite was that a path was not built in the wild-space, so that children would create natural pathways. I love what this means physically, mentally and symbolically.

Q: What is one way that your own teaching methods directly benefited from these experiences?

A: One huge and direct benefit was a teacher class at Bold Park with Alise Shafer, visiting from California, which focused on meta-cognition. The importance and brilliance of asking conceptual questions and finding 'the moment of complexity' in an investigation influenced and supported us to delve into a discussion the children had about imagination. How does one answer 'What is imagination?'

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