Thoughts on Creativity by Loris Malaguzzi


We are fortunate to have befriended Harold Gothson from Stockholm, Sweden.  Harold visited St. Louis for a conference in our early years working with the St. Louis Reggio Collaborative, we have been with him in Reggio Emilia several times and he has worked with us in Vermont.  A few summers ago, we visited him in Sweden and also Gunilla Dahlberg.  The Swedes have been good friends of the educators in Reggio Emilia since the 80’s and founded the Reggio Emilia Institute in Stockholm in 1992.  Harold gave us a film produced by Carlo Barsotti entitled, “The Man from Reggio Emilia.” I just watched this charming film and feel as if I have been following Loris Malaguzzi around town and on his travels.  It turns out that this film was made right around the time that we lived in Reggio Emilia in 1991-92.   We know many of the people in the film who have become our friends. And, they look the way we all did roughly 25 years ago.  I feel I have been in a time warp. 

I was so fortunate to live in Reggio Emilia when Loris Malaguzzi was still very involved with the schools.  He was very much a presence, especially at Diana School, and I was lucky to attend many meetings small and large with him and the teachers.  He died January 30th, 1994, just as the film was being completed. 

The film shows many endearing and also tough sides of this brilliant man, the founder of the Reggio Approach.  He says of himself, “I have a huge ego and I don’t like to loose a fight! I like to win!”  Carlina Rinaldi, President of the Reggio Children foundation, speaks of the challenges and rewards of working with him.  Vea Vecchi, atelierista for many years at the Diana School and author of Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia, says that she enjoys fighting with him “marvelously well!” Their arguments are not personal, rather they entered into deep dialogue about ideas.  

Watching this film and listening to Malaguzzi speak reminded me of his list of beliefs about creativity that was part of an interview with Lella Gandini in 1990 on the meaning of creativity. We printed them in the epilogue in the second edition of In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia.  Here are his thoughts…good ones to ponder as we all have leisure time to relax, let creativity into our own lives a little more, and nurture and renew ourselves for creative work with children when fall returns.


As we have chosen to work with children we can say that they are the best evaluators and the most sensitive judges of the values of creativity. This comes about because they have the privilege of not being excessively attached to their own ideas, which they construct and reinvent continuously. They are apt to explore, make discoveries, change their points of view, and fall in love with forms and meanings that transform themselves. 

Therefore, we do not consider creativity sacred, we do not consider it as extraordinary but rather as likely to emerge from daily experience. This view is now shared by many. We can sum up our beliefs as follows: 

1.      Creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty but a characteristic of our way of thinking, knowing, and making choices.

2.      Creativity seems to emerge from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of personal resources including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known. 

3.      Creativity seems to express itself through cognitive, affective, and imaginative processes. These come together and support the skills for predicting and arriving at unexpected solutions.  

4.      The most favorable situation for creativity seems to be interpersonal exchange, with negotiation of conflict and comparison of ideas and actions being decisive elements. 

5.      Creativity seems to find its power when adults are less tied to prescriptive methods, but instead become observers and interpreters of problematic situations. 

6.      Creativity seems to be favored or disfavored according to the expectation of the teachers, schools, families, and communities as well as society at large according to the ways children perceive those expectations. 

7.      Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields of doing and understanding. 

8.      The more teachers are convinced that intellectual and expressive activities have both multiplying and unifying possibilities, the more creativity favors friendly exchanges with imagination and fantasy.

9.      Creativity requires that the school of knowing finds connections with the school of expressing, opening doors (this is our slogan) to the hundred languages of children. 

Often when people come to us and observe our children, they ask us which magic spell we have used. We answer that their surprise equals our surprise.  Creativity? It is always difficult to notice when it is dressed in everyday clothing and has the ability to appear and disappear suddenly.  Our task regarding creativity is to help children to climb their own mountains. No one can do more. 

From Malaguzzi, L. (1998). History, ideas, and basic philosophy. In C. P. Edwards, L. Gandini,, & G. Forman (Eds). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia Approach-Advanced reflections (2nded.;pp.49-97. Westport, CT: Ablex. 


Student Designed, Energy Efficient Home Under Construction

Rendering of 2 student designed Habitat for Humanity homes, Middlebury, Vermont. Image from Middlebury College

Rendering of 2 student designed Habitat for Humanity homes, Middlebury, Vermont. Image from Middlebury College

We are proud to be a part of an exemplary, real world project that has taken off at Middlebury College. Ashley is the chair of the Building Committee for Habitat for Humanity in Middlebury, Vermont. At some point in the summer of 2017 he had the idea that college students in an architecture class could design houses for Habitat for Humanity using their skills, innovative design ideas, and class community to support them. Ashley’s friend and architect, John McLeod who practices architecture with McLeod Kredell Architects teaches a class that Ashley thought would be a perfect choice. This month, construction has begun on this student designed home. Much of the rest of this post draws on an article posted in the Newsroom on the Middlebury College website.

John McLeod, assistant professor of architecture and a partner in the firm McLeod Kredell Architects, has worked alongside groups of undergraduates since February 2018 on a project that will place an Addison County family in their own energy-efficient home by the end of this year. A second Habitat home, also designed by students, has been permitted for the same site and will be built in the coming years.

“I had high hopes and expectations for this partnership and this undertaking, and I have to say it has even exceeded them,” said McLeod. “It is so gratifying for everyone involved. It is a win-win-win-win for the students, for Habitat for Humanity, for the families [who will be moving into the homes], and for the community at large.

“We are bringing to bear all of the motivation and energy and talent of a number of Middlebury College students in service to thoughtful, appropriately progressive design of affordable housing in this county. To me, it’s part of what architecture is about and should be about. And for the students, this has been a real-world experience about one of the most fundamental aspects of life, which is shelter.”

Energy efficiency and care for the environment were major concerns for McLeod and his students. After all, as the architect remarked, Middlebury College and McLeod Kredell wouldn’t have it any other way. “We are designing and building these two houses to the highest performance standards so both the impact on the environment and the operating costs to the owners of the houses will be minimized.”

House A, at 1,100 square feet, will contain three bedrooms, while House B, at 900 square feet, will contain two. Both will have a full bathroom, a laundry space, and an electric heat-pump system, and each house will meet Efficiency Vermont’s highest energy standards.

McLeod has been pleased with the motivation of his students, “who are learning on the job and essentially doing the work of professional architects and designers on this project. They have risen to the occasion time and again”—whether it’s been meeting deadlines, doing the research, putting in the hours, or appearing before the town’s Development Review Board—“and met every challenge along the way.”

And unlike a formal classroom setting with quizzes, papers, and exams, here the motivation is a real building project. “It’s a real house for a real family with a real budget. Habitat for Humanity is a real client, and there are real neighbors and real permitting authorities. We always expect students to rise to the occasion in an academic setting, but for them to do it in a challenge that brings together academics with the needs of a real-world community . . . that’s going to have a lasting impact on them and their future success.”

In an interesting twist, McLeod’s business partner, Steve Kredell, is working with seventh graders from Burlington’s Edmunds Middle School to design and build an 8-foot-by-24-foot storage shed in sections that will be assembled later this spring on the site. The outbuilding is for bikes, lawn mowers, and garden tools, and it will sit between the two houses and be shared by both Habitat for Humanity families.

Take a look at this short video to listen to students and to witness their engagement and dedication to this real project that will house real families in need in energy efficient, beautiful, small homes. So proud of Middlebury College for taking the lead in so many ways.

Student plan for roof framing of one of the Habitat for Humanity homes. Image from Middlebury College video.

Student plan for roof framing of one of the Habitat for Humanity homes. Image from Middlebury College video.

We're All in This Together: Bill McKibben Speaks About our Planet in Crisis


Last weekend was reunion weekend at Middlebury College.  We were hosting good friends so we decided to attend many of the programs even though it was not an official reunion year for either Ashley or me.  On Saturday morning, Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, spoke to a large crowd of Middlebury graduates of all ages.  (This post references comments made at that talk given Saturday, June 7th, and an article from the Newsroom link on the Middlebury College website that covers a talk given by Bill McKibben on April 4th, 2019, also at Middlebury College.)

Bill McKibben published the first book on climate change for a lay audience, The End of Nature, 30 years ago when he was 28 years old.  Since then he has published 11 other books and worked tirelessly to wake people up to the science of what continuing to burn fossil fuels is doing to planet earth.  Together with seven Middlebury College young alumni, he founded, a global grassroots movement to address climate change. He’s been on the frontline of environmental activism in the United States and globally.

One thing I learned at the talk, which was new to me, is that fossil fuel companies with their team of scientists have understood the reality of climate change since the 1980’s, and yet have had the money and power to perpetuate what McKibben calls “the most consequential lie in human history, given the stakes.” 

The other thing that I learned is that we have the technology to power the planet with sun and wind and battery storage.  That solar panels are built ever more affordably and with smarter and smarter technology.

“This is a timed test, and time is passing really, really quickly,” said McKibben. “It’s a test human beings may not pass. Climate change isn’t a negotiation of the usual sort, in which politicians or activists might work toward compromise. Physics don’t compromise.”

We can be inspired and moved to action ourselves by the youth all over the world who are becoming leaders in this movement and this fight because they see that adults have failed and because they dearly want a future. The youth movement, inspired by the actions of 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, span more than 100 countries and 1,500 cities, and organized students to gather in the streets and at their state capitols to call for action on March 15, 2019.

The president of Middlebury College, Laurie Patton, has likened McKibben to a “quiet prophet” at work on behalf of the planet. “Being a prophet means waking people in a single sentence,” said Patton. “Bill does that, again and again, and he wakes us up through love.”

Despite the long odds, despite the changes already under way and inevitable as the planet warms, McKibben isn’t giving up the fight.

“We are messy creatures, often selfish, prone to short-sightedness, susceptible to greed,” McKibben writes in the closing pages of his latest book, Falter. “In a Trumpian moment with racism and nationalism resurgent, you could argue that our disappearance would be no great loss. And yet, most of us, most of the time, are pretty wonderful, funny, and kind. Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me.”

We left this powerful talk thinking, “Now what?” What do we do? Bill praised Middlebury College numerous times in his talk for being an international leader in moving the campus toward net zero energy consumption. Also for divesting from any investments in fossil fuels.  The movements of protest and calling for divestment are making progress.  Bill McKibben told us that globally 3 trillion dollars have been divested from fossil fuel companies. 

For the future, for our children, for our grandchildren, we must speak up and take the actions that we can, living on the planet ever more lightly and gracefully. We are reading Falter and encourage you to as well.  We just joined (It’s easy, just go to the website and sign up and you will be informed.) We can all continue to join the swell of people of all generations nationally and internationally who understand what we must do to save our one wild and precious planet.  



The Thrill of Beginning to Write

Delilah, age four, writing names of her favorite birds.

Delilah, age four, writing names of her favorite birds.

I have been captivated of late by early and emergent writing because of the schools and teachers that we work with and because of our grandchildren. 

Our four-year-old granddaughter, Delilah, has been writing letters and words with such strong motivation and determination over the course of the last month…it’s what she wants to do more than almost anything else. 

I spend a lot of time with Delilah and her brother Asher, pulling out all of the art materials that we have in Boston or Vermont, or traveling, wherever we happen to be together.  Both of them have loved painting and drawing since they were toddlers and that has been a joy to witness.  

Last weekend, Delilah came to visit for a few hours.  First we played Bird Bingo, (her version), and then she suggested that we each choose three of our favorite birds.  I asked if she would like to draw the birds and she did.  

Sitting down with her favorite bird game pieces in front of her, along with colored pencils, colorful and black sharpies, and oil crayons, Delilah said, “First I am going to write my name.  Then, I am going to write the names of the birds so people know what birds they are.  You tell me the letters and I will write them.” She had chosen the Splendid Fairywren native to Western Australia, the blue tit native to Europe and Great Britain, and the Emperor penguin native to Antartica.  You can imagine, writing all these names took some time! 

I was surprised that Delilah wanted to take on this big project, but she did not hesitate.  She was determined, focused, and so excited that she was writing so many letters that meant something! The names of her favorite birds.  

I gave her the time, the space, the materials, and my attention.  She chose what to do.  It was thrilling to watch her write. 

Message Center. St. Michael School, St. Louis, Missouri

Message Center. St. Michael School, St. Louis, Missouri

The University of Vermont Campus Children’s School composed a piece of documentation that explains their approach to supporting children’s emergent writing as well as a framework that they reference that is also referenced by NAEYC (Puranik & Lonigan, 2014).  

The framework of is composed of three domains: conceptual knowledge; procedural knowledge; and generative knowledge.

Conceptual knowledge refers to the function of writing. Young children understand that writing is purposeful and that print carries meaning. 

Procedural knowledge refers to the mechanics of writing letters and words…learning letter forms and sounds, as well as learning and using motor skills and tools. 

Generative knowledge describes the understanding and ability of children to write phrases and passages that convey meaning. Children can express themselves in many ways including composing stories; dictating for adults to record; authoring as a group; note writing, creating lists, and sending messages. 

Four and five-year-olds working on messages and books, Principia School, St. Louis, Missouri

Four and five-year-olds working on messages and books, Principia School, St. Louis, Missouri

In addition to the framework, Puranik & Lonigan explain each stage, name it, and illustrate it with examples by children.  (At the Campus Children’s School, they used work by their students to illustrate the stages.)  The stages are as follows: Drawing and Scribbling; Wavy Scribbles and Mock Handwriting; Letter like forms or Mock Letters; Letter Strings; Transitional Writing; Invented or Phonetic Spelling; Beginning Word and Phrase Writing; and Conventional Spelling and Sentence Writing.  

Yaebinkim, T. (2017). Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. Young Children.

Yaebinkim, T. (2017). Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. Young Children.

Print rich environments as well as opportunities to write names, lists, observations and messages in areas of a classroom or at home all promote children’s confidence and skill in writing.  

One of my favorite areas of the early childhood classrooms in Reggio Emilia, Italy are the Message Centers. The year that we lived in Reggio and I was a fellow at both Diana School and La Villetta School, I had the chance to observe how these areas worked and to witness stories emerge.  Children and teachers had mailboxes fashioned in different ways at different schools. There was a table or desk with several chairs and many organized materials…colored pencils, fine line pens of different colors, a variety of types and sizes of papers, collage materials, envelopes, bird and other stamps.  I have two favorite stories from that year among many others that center around messages.  

The first is about a message composed by Guilia who was a student in the Grandi class which is equivalent to our kindergarten in North America. Guilia concentrated for a good part of the morning on her message with words and illustrations made with colored pens on two small pieces of white paper. The message read:

Guiia Cuoro

Guila Guilia Mondo

Guilia Stella

Guilia Nuvola

Gulia Luna

You may be able to guess the translation:

Julia heart

Julia Julia world

Julia star

Julia cloud

Juila moon

Gulia put this message in her own mailbox.  I understood that it was a poem that she had made for herself. I was so struck by this poem where she identifies with and speaks from her heart to the whole cosmos.

Guilia was five-years-old.  No one taught her to or asked her to write poetry.  Actually, no one taught her to write.  (The Italian language is so phonetic and consistent that it is much easier to learn to write than English!)  In fact, even though they do not explicitly teach reading or writing in the preschools of Reggio Emilia, a very large percentage of the children leave the schools reading and writing.  

Another story is about three children also in the class of the Grandi, Luca, Agnese, and Carla. 

Luca loved Agnese and wrote her this message…except he couldn’t write very well so he asked Carla to write for him.  (This is encouraged by teachers…asking peers who are skilled in some area to help.)

Here is the translation:

Dear Agnese, 

I am too in love with you but sometimes you make me mad because you play with others and I don’t like that because then, who am I supposed to play with? I can never tear myself away from you! Tomorrow I will marry you and run after you with my black cape. 

With many kisses, 

Dicated by Luca

Written by Carla

Agnese responded in this way with a written message::

Dear Luca,

I can’t marry you the day you said because I am too little! Right? And also, I am never going to get married because it doesn’t suit me. I will play with you but I don’t like all your kisses. I would like a lot less. One day I will invite you to my house. 

Respond with another message and I will answer you again. 


All these messages are written with what Carlina Rinaldi might call artful letters. They are on colored tissue paper written with many colors of pens, with drawings and some collage.  They are beautiful. 

These are examples of what can occur in schools where communication, relationships, and aesthetics and poetics are valued and form part of the the fabric of the culture of the school.  Maybe these stories are uniquely Italian, but I like to think that they are uniquely human.  I believe that young children will choose to write difficult words such as Splendid Fairywren if the context supports them. I believe that children who are five will write poetry and love letters on beautiful papers if the culture supports them wherever they are.

What might our framework be for this? What might we learn from the poems, songs, and love letters of children? 

Birthday message from children at La Villetta School.

Birthday message from children at La Villetta School.





A Celebration for an Exceptional Educational Leader: Dr. Ena Shelley


I met Dr. Ena Shelley, Dean of the College of Education at Butler University, on April 10, 2006.  What a lucky day for me.  Ena called me, I remember, at The College School to invite me to come to Indianapolis to speak with the Indianapolis Reggio Collaborative. The minute I heard her kind voice on the other end of the line, I knew that we would become friends.  That first visit led us into a rich and beautiful professional relationship and a warm and dear friendship.

Ena brought teachers and professors from Butler University a number of times to visit our schools in St. Louis and to attend conferences that our St. Louis Reggio Collaborative hosted.  I returned to Indianapolis and instead of staying in a hotel, Ena invited me to stay with her.  We traveled to Reggio Emilia together on a Professor and Student Study Tour. 

In 2008, I left my teaching position at The College School and Ashley and I launched Cadwell Collaborative, our consulting business for curriculum development and school design.  From that moment on, Ena became a way paver for both of us.   She provided us with many beautiful and memorable opportunities that have become milestones in our careers.

I told Ena that I dreamed of teaching a university course with her and she made that happen three times.  In 2011 we co-taught Living the Questions: Learning for the Future, focused on the fundamental principals and practices of the Reggio Approach.  In 2012 and 2013, we co-taught A Field Study in Early & Elementary Educationat Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Ena hired me to be a consultant for the new Indianapolis Public School Butler University Laboratory School from 2010-2015 working with Ron Smith and his faculty as well as the Butler faculty who taught courses on site.  This long term consultancy provided me with confidence and time to grow into and understand how I might best work with teachers and administrators. 

In 2010, Ena spearheaded an initiative to renovate and redesign an old Georgean elementary school on the Butler campus to be an innovative center for the Butler College of Education. Butler hired HOK, Gyo Obata, and Ashley Cadwell to work on that design.  Ashley and HOK authored a presentation on 21st century pedagogy and school design that was noteworthy at the time and a reference point for school architects today.

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Last Monday, we attended the retirement celebration for Ena at Butler in the new College of Education building (a different one than HOK and Ashley designed but including many of their design principles).  I conclude by quoting some of what Ena said at her retirement celebration and much of what she wrote in her last column as dean before she retires.  There is so much wisdom here for all of us.  May we all continue to dare greatly, find joy and humor in life and in our work, listen to the children around us, and reach for the stars together.  

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

From the Newsletter Transforming Education by Ena Shelley

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Winnie the Pooh, author A.A. Milne.  

At the end of May, I will officially retire after 36 wonderful years at Butler University. I began my teaching career as a kindergarten teacher and Winnie the Pooh was present in several ways in my classroom. When I read this quote, I thought how perfect it was, sort of like a bookend to a career of learning that has filled my heart and soul with joy. If you have read the work of A. A. Milne, you know that his characters speak words of wisdom about lessons in life. I am taking this opportunity to share with you some of the lessons I have learned over the years along with a request for action that I offer as a “provocation” or opportunity to consider.

Lesson #1: Heroic work with children of all ages happens in schools and other learning institutions like museums, community programs, and hospitals every day! Through the years when I have encountered those who share their perspective that schools are failing and that the “system” is broken, I invite them to spend time with me in schools. Many times, I have found these individuals are relying on what they have heard or read but have not actually engaged with the people doing the hard work.

Provocation: How do you share your stories with others? Could your students write to policymakers or create videos of their own version of the evening news with a spotlight on “good things?” Can you invite into your setting those individuals who hold a less than positive view of education and engage them in thoughtful, ongoing dialogue?

Lesson#2: Future educators are sitting in today’s classrooms. The teaching profession is still a noble profession and is the foundation of a democratic society. As educators, we must encourage students who could be great teachers.

Provocation: I share this with you as something I have actually done numerous times when recruiting students into education through the university admissions process. We have an event with the prospective students and their parents at the Butler Lab School. I ask the parents to close their eyes and with a show of hands or a nod, indicate if they are worried about their child selecting education as a major, if they are worried about the salary of a teacher, if they are concerned about all of the challenges, including safety, teachers are facing. Each time I have done this, at least 95 percent of the parents indicate their concern. Then with their eyes still closed, I ask them to remember a teacher who positively impacted their lives. I ask them if they can picture the teacher in their mind, hear their voice, and remember what the teacher did that made a significant change in their life. Then I ask them to open their eyes, look at their child, and realize that their child can be that person in the life of someone. This is when it seems to “click” for them—YES, they want their child to be that person in the life of others. How can you create your own version of lifting up the profession by reminding others that behind every person is a teacher(s) who made a difference?

Lesson #3: Find the joy in what you do every day; even on the hardest days good things have happened—pay attention! When I student taught, one of the best things my cooperating teacher had me do was write down three to five good things that had happened during the day.  She told me even on the days when you felt like nothing went right, good things had happened. I still do this even today and I believe it is why I still love teaching. Don’t get caught up in negative talk because that spiral is an endless one-way road to being hopeless.

Provocation: If you don’t already keep a journal with positive notes, start one. Or, what if at the end of the day or end of the class period you ask your students to share good things that happened? The old saying “It is all in how you look at it” was best lived out in a conversation I had one day with a second-grader. I noticed his shoe was untied and I mentioned it to him. His reply was “The good news is the other one is fine.” Oh the wisdom of children—pay attention to them!

Lesson #4: In my role as Dean of the College of Education, I have learned that you surround yourself with incredible talent, develop a shared vision, and then run the race together, asking your peers what support they need and then provide it to them. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, described thriving organizations that had solos but also played harmoniously as a symphony. Ensure that individuals are thriving and developing their unique talents but always be mindful that they play a part in the larger organization that is the symphony.

Provocation: Are you playing a solo or do you see your role in the larger symphony? Is there someone who seems isolated in your organization who you could engage to work with you and others? Do you have a shared vision so you know what musical score you are playing?

I know that the COE will continue to DARE GREATLY and it has been my honor to be on the journey with you.  I also want the College of Education to remember, there is NO FAILURE, there is ONLY LEARNING.  When something doesn’t work out, it was a gift, a lesson, to guide you to the next step. May all of your steps be pavers to continued greatness.

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School