I recently had the remarkable privilege of spending a week at Colegio Hebreo Tarbut, a Jewish school for children 6 months old through high school in Mexico City. Tarbut is an established school but is relatively new to Reggio inspiration (starting its fourth year). What struck me was how well situated the school is to make this journey. Its pedagogical leaders are all onboard and deeply engaged. The school has invested in support for teachers and has hired pedagogists and atelieristas (studio teachers) for both preschool and elementary divisions. I was there to help the teachers and pedagogical leaders of the preschool and the elementary school consider their next steps forward. Their spaces are ready to accommodate the expansion of possibilities we talked about while I was there. Their teachers are earnest and open to change. The relationship between children and adults is respectful and loving. The pedagogical leaders are committed to taking on the formidable task of facilitating change while educating themselves. And, amidst it all, the children are thinking big.
Outside the classrooms there is a small grove of pomegranate trees (a new sight for me!). The pomegranate, I was told, is one of the most highly symbolic fruits in Jewish culture and traditionally a subject of study at the school around the Jewish New Year. The teachers at Tarbut are working in various ways to move from old scripts (teacher-led lessons) about pomegranates to research with children. One morning in the “Innovium,” an open room for exploration, preschoolers engaged with pomegranates in a highly physical and emotional way. There, in the darkened room, they danced their shadows in front of giant projections of pomegranate seeds, explored pomegranate seeds and their shadows using an overhead projector, and used a digital pen to explore the seeds closely. Afterward, in a brief meeting, the atelierista for science, technology, and innovation invited the children to articulate their observations, ideas, and emotions around their experience “inside” a pomegranate. In this way, they engaged the reciprocity between emotion/imagination and intellect.
At another time, I accompanied a second grade class to the pomegranate grove, where the teacher led a discussion about the trees. Two bilingual second graders, O. and D., offered to translate into English what the teacher was saying to the rest of the class. In the process, they lost the task in a delightful way as they thought aloud:
D: Each leaf has its own place. This leaf can’t go there, because God wanted it to be here.
Me: Why did God want it to be there?
D: Everything has a purpose.
Me: What is the leaf’s purpose for the tree, do you think?
D: Well, without the leaves, we can’t breathe, and without we breathing we can’t breathe out, and the oxygen we breathe out…not actually oxygen, it’s carbon dioxide…the trees breathe carbon dioxide, so it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Me: How did you know that?
D: I learned it ten days ago. Well, months ago.
O: These two leaves feel the same because they’re made of the same seeds. Yesterday, we came here and one (fruit) fell on my head. We opened it , and the seeds are edible! It opens because the holiday is coming.
Me: How does it know the holiday is coming?
O: Good question! It was born to know that. It knew how to make it to this tree and to know when to hatch, like an egg.
D: Actually, this tree, even if you can see him move, he’s alive, and so he knows about that. He knows when to open and when to close.
Me: But how does he know when the holiday is?
D: Well, good question. God actually made the trees. He made them know .
I see the pomegranate’s opening when it “knows to” as a metaphor for our collaboration at Tarbut. Much as the pomegranate’s skin splits and starts to open as the fruit ripens on the tree, we instigate a similar “blooming” when we seek to make changes in our mindset (and not just in our practice)… a splitting and falling away of old scripts and old images of how teaching ought to be. What’s revealed is a new way of seeing learning…children’s learning, and ours. What’s gained is a new image of possibilities. Where “activities” once were, there can be exploration and documentation. Where toys that can be used in only one way once were, there can be dialogue with materials. Where socratic questioning once was, there can be conversation for the co-construction of theory. Where “lessons” once were, there can be deeper learning through exploration and research.
I am so grateful to have been a witness to these moments and many others during my week at Tarbut…and to have collaborated with this amazing learning community as it opens to new possibilities!