The Missing Link: Teacher Research and the Reggio Emilia Educational Project

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have been reflecting on the principles and philosophy of the Reggio Emilia Educational Project but I am going to make a concerted effort not to label my reflections as Reggio inspired. Yes, it is true, for many years, I have found the work of educators from Reggio inspiring but I am re-thinking since my last blog post: The Reword Challenge. In that post I shared this great little nugget of a video, Reggio in a Nutshell because I found it very useful to support my understanding and thought it would help others seeking to know more about the Reggio Emilia Educational Project too. Later I followed the conversation of a group of educators discussing the label “Reggio-inspired” in reference to the video on Facebook. After, reading their thoughtful musings about the often used and often misused term “Reggio-inspired”, I recognized that the term can lead us away from a more important “re-word”, RESEARCH. We need to be our own inspiration and to practice locally appropriate pedagogy implementing a curriculum that is co-constructed with others in our own contexts. With research I can create “Richmond Hill, Ontario” inspired practice that is my own educational project. Research is well situated on this word cloud of the principles of the Reggio Emilia Educational Project. It should be well situated in practice.


My practice involves teaching and learning with adults. I am often asked, as I was this past week, to support educators wishing to learn more about the Reggio Emilia Educational Project. Rather than focus on “doing Reggio” or “becoming Reggio” or even embarking on a journey of Reggio-inspired practice, I tried to turn worries and concerns into questions focused on research. During the time I spent with this team of early years teachers, we engaged in a visualization exercise using loose parts, where every component was a metaphor representing their own practice/project.


Each teacher was given a professional journal and a documentation book. I hope that when I return in couple of months they will be engaged in authentic, locally appropriate teaching and learning and see themselves as researchers. Research can seem a daunting task meant for the academic but action research can be for us all. Research should be the framework of the profession of teaching and learning.

Dewey quote

Research is a process used to examine questions and produce outcomes that form findings, which will advance knowledge, skills, or abilities about a particular issue or practice (Kellett, 2011). Research involves the collection of data and data analysis. Action research is a form of self-reflective inquiry that early years teachers can use to understand practice and improve practice. Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) is often credited with coining the term action research (Mills, 2011). The concept of “teacher as researcher” and the practice of action research call for those who teach to research issues related to their practice. Piggot-Irvine (2003) stated, “the word ‘action’ in action research is key. It is about making or implementing change, rather than investigating an issue. This process involves teacher’s willingness to commit to investigating a “problem” that needs to be explored, which should lead to the creation of a list of potential data sources that will support the investigation of the problem. Beverlie Dietze and I used this graphic in our textbook, Empowering Pedagogy in Early Childhood.

The process of action research


I realize after further reflection on the process of action research that ethics approval, as a formal process is not necessary when engaging in action research if the focus of the problem is connected to self and the question is about our own practice and not involving conducting research on children. From the collection of data to the action steps and analysis and evaluation, research is key to taking action and implementing change. By linking research to practice, teachers as researchers can become inspired by their own contexts and work. They create knowledge rather than receive knowledge or just take inspiration from others. To be Reggio inspired is not enough. It is a great start, but it is not enough.




11 thoughts on “The Missing Link: Teacher Research and the Reggio Emilia Educational Project

  1. Thanks Diane for this connection to the language of change. I have often wondered and at times cringed when I have heard educators say, “I’m doing Reggio.” This statement although encouraging as it may denote a shift in thinking may also position the approach as something we “do to” children. From my travels to Italy as well as in my own research and practice I have reflected on the work of Malaguzzi, Gandini and Rinaldi. I often wonder if in the translation by North American educators if the child has somehow been lost as well as the rights of the child. It is in this work the child is situated at the Center of thinking, pedagogy, curriculum, learning and practice.
    A call to reflect on the child in relation to our own way of being may be the focus of the two most recent releases by the Ministry of Education through How Does Learning Happen and Kindergarten Program 2016. In these documents the research of academicians as well as field work e.g., action research combined with practice looks at our interactions with children and families. It is in these interactions that we listen and observe the whole child in their context. From these acts of listening and observing, we draw on our experiences in relation to others. Also, we draw on our conceptual understandings of the child in relation to ourselves as researchers questioning the learning through multiple lenses. We give a voice to our wonderings through our narratives e.g., documentation. But I wonder if in this learning the shift comes from looking deeply at our relationships with the child, family, community and curriculum, that we take on a research stance that frees us to teach and learn.

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  2. I think I messed up my previous response so apologies if the same thing appears twice! I think you have absolutely nailed it by saying “It is not enough to be Reggio Inspired…” – you have perfectly summed up so eloquently something that has been itching me for a long time now. For me, Reggio praxis is research as you say; a combination of us researching the children researching their world ( a saying from the UK based project group 5x5x5. Thank you so much for writing this!

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  3. Thank you Diane. We could have a lot of discussion around your article! When I speak with teachers and directors who use the familiar Reggio Emilia terminology and rely on repeatedly referring to The Hundred Languages, etc. I’m left asking, “Where is this particular school or teacher in this flood of words and ideas? What have they discovered about young children and about their role in children’s lives?” I suppose that is why I encourage teachers to begin by using “Learning Stories” rather than work on elaborate documentation. It is research. It focuses on the child and requires that teachers really notice and think about what they see and yet it allows them the time to “be” with children. Elaborate documentation may build from that, but it takes a long time to develop the kind of skill and understanding which enhances relationships, rather than takes time and focus away from children. It took the wonderful folks of Reggio Emilia 30 years!


    • Thank you so much for your comment! I agree that it takes time to reach the point of elaborate documentation and that learning stories is a good way to begin especially if they can focus on children’s ideas and thinking processes!

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  4. I messed up posting the first time
    Just last week I heard the comment ” you Reggio people” and I explained I wasn’t Reggio I had never seen myself as Reggio. I am not a label and the children are not a type. I have however found like minded people I find interesting to talk to on a Reggio labeled page.
    Offering an inviting activity the provokes thinking from interesting objects all different sizes and textures and made from a variety of materials . The more the more a child thinks explores and examine the more a child think explores and examines ….then concludes Thinking leads to learning and more thinking about thinking which is where new ideas come from. ( tangled of spaghetti learning)
    A battery operated plastic toy doesn’t offer the same as intelligent playthings, yet both be played with. My wanting to offer an environment that stretches and interests and captivates a child’s imagination so the learning just happens doesn’t make me or my environment Reggio inspired .
    Any good practice is not simply a replication of someone’s else success story it taking the first steps to writing your own story


  5. Diane, again you provoke us to think about ‘the language and the landscape’ a phrase that you coined a while back. I agree that the term Reggio inspired has been thought and rethought about in many contexts, and by many educators. My inspiration comes from so many sources including from within. My passion is fueled and sustained by my thirst to think deeply about my practice and that requires action research and open mindedness. I am inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, Malaguzzi has touched my soul, impacting my being and my work. However, Malaguzzi is one of many who challenge my thinking (and you know who you are)! I am not trying to replicate anyone.


  6. Thank you Diane and all commenters. As a young educator, reading your thoughts (action research?) is so heartening and appreciated.

    Reading this post comes at a timely place in my life, where I am learning to branch out and be independent not just as a professional, but as a young adult. To develop the mental and emotional maturity to think for myself, like myself, know and trust in myself. To not simply settle for the answers that others provide, and not limit myself as a person or professional by necessarily viewing myself/my abilities as beneath my idols. I have dreams, hopes, and the most intimate understanding/responsibility surrounding my life that anyone will ever have.

    I hope this sense of self and agency is something I can inspire in the children and parents I work with and for.


  7. Thank you for this posting. I really enjoyed and agree with what you’ve written. There has been a lot more buzz about the Reggio Emilia Approach in the last few years than there was before. I’ve been “inspired” by the Reggio Emilia Approach for twenty years and tried desperately to show others how wonderful it can be, but finally I left all public and private schools to form my own preschool just so I could really delve into my passion, which is implementing aspects of the Reggio approach. Loved your posting!


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