A teacher’s governing role serves as the foundation of their student’s experimental learning in the room. Styles can range from traditional authority, which is about obeying and not questioning rules. It can be adult-driven rather than child-centred. Democratic leadership involves participation, respects its students’ opinions, increases cooperation and gives instruction only after consulting with the group. You may find that your teaching is in between the two styles, giving children commands at certain parts of the day and freedom at other times. If so, are you sending mixed messages to the children?
Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of The Reggio Emilia Approach, had a compelling influence on the world. He showed us what a democratic educational setting looks like, leading others into seeing the child as having rights rather than needs. He created space where students and teachers have an equal voice in a collaborative learning process, a space where children could build their own culture which is acknowledged by teachers.
Let’s look at where we are today in working with children and consider children having rights vs. needs. Is preparing them for the future a child’s true desire? Children are not telling us, “I need to be ready for kindergarten, I want to memorize math facts, I want to decide today what I want to be when I grow up.” What they show us is the craving for freedom to be who they are at that moment. They are calling for freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom in making decisions for self.
Malaguzzi gave the children in Reggio Emilia, Italy rights. The right to express themselves in a hundred ways! Rights in working together, rights for them to agree and disagree. The right to scaffold, to set their own rules, to decide to follow those rules and to hold each other accountable. The right to share ideas and to create those ideas. The right to get into conflict and determine how to move forward from it. To exist as this kind of leader, you are offering your students a higher level of education that thrives from interactions in a democratic community.
As a Reggio Inspired Educator, I strive to be diplomatic in my governing. I choose to sit in the pleasant times and in the unpleasant times. I choose to be sensitive in dealing with my students and gain a different perspective from them before giving my opinion. I choose to facilitate discussion on the experimental occurrences that happen organically and allow them to absorb what they are most connected to.
In doing this I get to witness the children’s capabilities to manage themselves. I observe their ability to still play and work with friends even when they recognize a difference in opinions. I hear them interact in heavy debates, spend time trying to convince the other of a different perspective and then decide if they want to continue playing in that manner. All of these experiences offer children the opportunity to practice fundamental skills for living in a community.
It’s important to recognize that for the adult to provide this style of leadership in the room it calls for its own practice. I am always working on becoming better at this. I have my own toolbox that I pull from to support me in staying present, being a good listener, putting judgement aside and being conscious of the conflicts and chaos that arise. I often apologize to children when I react quickly and revisit situations with them to give deeper consideration. I ask questions before deciding how to serve them best and I recognize that they are the expert of themselves and have the right to advocate for what they need or how they are feeling. Not every day is perfect for me, but those days when I feel “I could have been better” I follow the same rules I want for the children, I don’t judge and I spend time reflecting to discover what has surfaced within me.
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience” – John Dewey