"Our Teachers and Their Students and the Students of Their Students"

Posted on 12/29/2023 @ 05:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Some of you readers may recognize the title above as words taken from the Kaddish D’Rabbanan or Rabbi’s Kaddish, which is recited at different points in a traditional service and following Torah study.


Much of what CAJE professionals do is continue their professional learning so they can teach it to others (school directors, administrators and teachers) so that they can teach it to their students.


A few weeks ago, CAJE’s Director of Early Childhood and Congregational Education Yehudis Smith joined a select group of early childhood professionals from around the world in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy for an incredible professional development opportunity.


Organized and facilitated by The Paradigm Project, educators, early childhood directors, and consultants came together for a week of learning, connection, and inspiration.

This quaint and quiet city in northern Italy was not picked at random. Reggio Emilia has emerged as a pioneering force in early childhood education, due to the visionary contributions of educator Loris Malaguzzi.


Originating in the aftermath of World War II, the Reggio Emilia educational approach challenges conventional norms by placing children as the primary architects of their learning journeys, emphasizing a young child’s unique ability to construct his own learning by following his interests and curiosities.


Educators are seen as collaborators and facilitators, working alongside children in a project-based curriculum that spans diverse mediums such as art, music, language, and so much more. (For more detail, see Loris Malaguzzi’s famous poem entitled, “The Hundred Languages” here.)


The concept of the environment as the "third teacher" underscores Malaguzzi's insights into the pivotal role of well-designed spaces in shaping and enriching the educational experience.


Fostering a holistic perspective that recognizes the interconnected roles of the child, educator, and environment, the Reggio Emilia approach has transformed early childhood education.

“Each child is unique and the protagonist of his or her own growth. Children desire to acquire knowledge, have much capacity for curiosity and amazement, and yearn to create relationships with others, and communicate.”


- Loris Malaguzzi

During this 5-day intensive seminar, this group of Jewish ECE professionals were honored to learn from a vast panel of educational professionals within the Reggio Emilia schools: educational specialists, teachers, art specialists, and even the school cooks. They also visited two preschools and infant-toddler centers in the area to gain a deeper understanding.


  1. Responsibility: All the adults in a child’s life - teachers, administrators, and parents - share a responsibility to promote a culture where children can grow and discover themselves. Every child is a citizen that has the right to dignity and a peaceful and happy education.
  2. Respect: As we observe children striving to build their own worlds, we must view each child as being competent in building knowledge and finding meaning in their experiences. Respecting a child’s capabilities is central to healthy development.
  3. Relationships: Children learn through their relationships with themselves, each other, their families, their teachers, and their environment.
  4. Intention: Children interact with their world through different modalities and are carriers of their own points of view. It is up to educators to create learning experiences that speak to each child’s individual and unique strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Reflection: Self-reflection is key in the professional development of educators and is woven into the fabric of daily teaching and learning experiences. It supports teachers in creating a responsive, child-centered, and inquiry-driven educational environment that honors the capabilities and potential of every child.


So what learning from Reggio Emilia should influence how early childhood is delivered in our Jewish schools?


From a systemic perspective, we must view it as a tool for advocacy on behalf of young children. Every teacher and director should understand that our Jewish children are citizens deserving of high quality and developmentally appropriate education, which is what the Reggio Emilia philosophy teaches.


From a school-to-school perspective, Yehudis will be sharing what she learned with all the directors to help them enrich their programs and empower them and their teachers with the tools learned in Reggio Emilia.


Finally, CAJE will be launching a Reggio-inspired network for directors and schools that would like to either learn more about Reggio or enhance the Reggio-inspired programs they already have.


A huge shout out to Margie Zeskind, Head of School for the Innovative School at Temple Beth Sholom, who will be a key partner in this endeavor, since she and her school have been pioneers in providing outstanding education based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy. 

“Our task is to help children communicate with the world using all their potential, strengths, and languages, and to overcome any obstacle presented by our culture.”


- Loris Malaguzzi