Culture needs to be created…not transported!

Many years ago I began hearing about the amazing educational approach in Reggio Emilia, Italy. I found the philosophy and ideas of Loris Malaguzzi and those who worked with him, truly inspiring. Over time I reflected on these ideas and along with other theories and approaches, they helped to shape my way of working with children and the culture of our service.

For seven years I was the Director of a community based long day care centre. When I first joined the team, the centre was already on a journey – improving their environment, critically reflecting on their documentation. The centre had a beautifully written philosophy that said all the right things, but that was all too similar to any other philosophy. It took time, but eventually the centre evolved into what it is today – a place that has its own unique culture.

Our passion for nature play, risk taking and bushwalking often caused other educators to ask “Are you a nature kindergarten/forest school?” And we would respond “No, although we are inspired by them. We are passionate about our children having a connection to nature in an Australian context.”

Our desire for natural, timber toys and quality art materials and resources often evoked the question “Are you a Steiner preschool?” To which our response was always “No, however we are inspired by aspects of the Steiner Philosophy

Our deep respect for the capabilities of children and our commitment to documenting and reflecting on the experiences of children often sparked the question “Are you a Reggio centre?” Our response was to clearly remind people that was impossible, as we were in Australia and not Reggio Emilia, Italy!

You see, the thing about culture is that it needs to be created, not transported! It is neither possible nor meaningful to simply pick up and transport the culture of another service or another approach. When I hear services claim “We are a Reggio Centre” it really irritates me. Although you can find that your philosophy closely aligns with the approach in Reggio Emilia, our Australian way of living and being makes it simply impossible to say that any service is a “Reggio centre”

Your culture should be unique to your service – it should be something that truly identifies you. It is your attitudes, your environment, your policies, your community

Over time, our service developed its own very obvious culture and identity. It became known as a place that embraces nature play, getting dirty, going on excursions into the community and kids simply being kids! Our philosophy became a document that was no longer just nice words on paper, it became a blueprint for our service. It told all who read it what they could expect, what we valued, who we were. It guided our practice and underpinned our decision making.

Our culture became what defined us.

Nicole Sheehan
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