Responsive Relationships: Expanding Our View of Reciprocity

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. and Rosalba Bortolotti, RECE. What does it mean to be responsive? The dictionary defines responsiveness as acting quickly and positively. We often speak of responsive relationships in early childhood education. Our province’s early learning framework, Early Learning for Every Child Today was based on principles that included Principle 6: Knowledgeable, responsive, and reflective educators are essential. In our province’s pedagogy, How Does Learning Happen? the role of the educator is described as multidimensional and suggests that “the best educators, first and foremost, use a warm, responsive, and inclusive approach, building positive relationships with children, families, colleagues, and communities” (p. 19). Reading these documents reveals many connections to the Reggio Emilia Approach which views relationships as fundamental. Lella Gandini (2003) who we both have had the pleasure of learning from in person, speaks to every child being seen in relation with the family, other children, the educators, the environment, with community and the wider society. We work within a system of relationships, which are all interconnected and reciprocal. When we value relationships in our learning environments whether they be outside or inside they can become a place of active, inventive, communicative, and documentable living where learning can happen in different ways. The environment where children, educators and community come together is a place for reflection and a space of well-being for all. Active engagement is possible for educators, children, families and community because there is certainty of being listened to as ideas are shared. When inviting the exchange of ideas and building on these ideas, theories and dreams result in respectful, trusting and responsive relationships.

Respect, trust and responsiveness are characteristics of our relationship. We (Rosalba and Diane) have been friends for decades. We share a mutual, never-ending quest to deepen our understanding of the Reggio Emilia Approach. We have journeyed to Italy and we have engaged in reflection responsively together and with other cherished friends. Another way we have characterized our friendship is as reciprocal. Reciprocity can be defined as the practice of exchanging things for mutual benefit. We exchange ideas, reflections, thoughts, dreams, recipes and support with each other.

Sometimes we challenge each other but we welcome that uncertainty because of our relationship. The tension that it produces acts as a stimulant, prompting us to be responsive to consider what we have read in How Does Learning Happen? and how it reconciles with our practice. On page 27, in connection to creating a sense of belonging the document suggests that we establish and maintain “positive reciprocal relationships with community partners to support meaningful participation” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). Hopi Martin has challenged us to reflect on the Land as Our First Teacher in relation to the Reggio principle of the environment as the third teacher. We are welcoming the cognitive dissonance created as our thinking has expanded to deeply consider Indigenous perspectives. Examining multiple perspectives is a challenge we would like to accept. Carlina Rinaldi reminds us that:

Listening is an active verb that involves giving meaning and value to the perspectives of others.

We are recognizing how connected the Reggio principles are to the work that Hopi is doing with the York Region Nature Collaborative in building relationships that are responsive and reciprocal with the land and with Indigenous communities. We look forward to Land as our First Teacher: Maintaining and Establishing Relationships on April 27th and April 28th. The intention of the conference is to be a beginning of a process of learning to include Indigenous peoples and the land in our hearts, minds, and actions.

Lake St. George – Location for Rhythm of Learning in Nature 2019

We understand that this is where our journey together will take us next. We look forward to continuing the reflection during the week that is the Rhythm of Learning in Nature this summer, August 19th to August 23rd at beautiful Lake St. George, in Richmond Hill, Ontario where we will continue to consider the importance of truly being responsive and reciprocal in our connections to the land and with Indigenous communities. We are grateful to our mentors Lella Gandini and Hopi Martin as we work and play together within a system of relationships, which are interconnected and reciprocal. We hope you can join us on the journey.


3 thoughts on “Responsive Relationships: Expanding Our View of Reciprocity

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful post, Diane and Rosalba. I wish I could attend Land as Our First Teacher, it sounds revelatory. I’m going to try to make a trip up to your neck of the woods for Rhythm of Learning in Nature, but it is so close to the start of our school year that it might not happen.

    I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately about environmental education and its relationship to Constructivism. Piaget wasn’t completely sold on Vygotsky’s idea of learning primarily resulting from interactions between agents in an educational environment. But in many ways, I think nature education creates a bridge between Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories. By keeping “the land in our hearts, minds, and actions,” as you so aptly put it, students can develop a social relationship with their world. In many ways, the land is our first and wisest More Knowledgeable Other.


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