Traces From Our First Parent Meeting

“What might a parents and families group look like that could support Northern Lights?”  Four of us started asking together -- a founder, a teacher, a parent new to the story of the school, and a student of Reggio. How could such a group do real learning together and stay open all along the way? What might its purposes be? How would this group be in relationship with the school, with teachers, with children, with the larger community?  How could we learn about possibilities for such a group beyond what any of us parents and families might have direct experience with?

How might we start?

Rather than coming to the families with an idea fully formed, could we bring together parents and family members over the summer to study the values of the school, to explore practices of Reggio-Emilia, Finland, and place-based learning, to think together about relationships among families and teachers and children, to start to know each other, and to start to create a group together?  Sure!

So where to start?

With all our asking about how to bring a parent and family group into being that doesn’t yet exist but isn’t arbitrary (that is, we want it to be rooted in the values of Northern Lights and in relationship with how our children are learning), the student of Reggio suggested a text we might learn together:

There are two ways that people think about walking on or moving forward. Some people think that to walk, you need to know where you want to go and how to get there. Other people, moved by sentiment or passion, by dreams or ideals, move toward something that they don't yet know or understand. They don't know what their final destination will be. So there are people who think knowledge should be before the walking starts and people who think that you learn as you walk. I think it is very important to have the courage to risk finding things out as you proceed. There would be no research and no researchers if people had to know things before they set out. Researchers are people who put themselves on the line.

When you walk this way, you run the risk of being moved by a dream, a utopian dream. We also know that utopian dreams in the last century have created major disasters, especially when they are accompanied by totalitarian ideology, fanaticism and fundamentalism. What is the purpose of a utopia? In my view, it serves to make you go on, to not stay still and inert, to not accept immobility as a strategy for life. That is why it is important to know how to move on and to accompany our walking with knowing how to ask. It is the walking that makes the road. When many people walk, they create a path. They orient themselves and find their direction by knowing how to ask questions.

~From Sergio Spaggiari (Director of the Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d' Infanzia - Municipality of Reggio Emilia), “THE PATH TOWARD KNOWLEDGE: The Social, Political and Cultural Context of the Reggio Municipal Infant-Toddler Center and Preschool Experience,” Innovations vol. 11, no. 2 Spring 2004.

She remembered that “walking makes the road” came to Reggio through a friendship between Loris Malaguzzi (Italian) and Paulo Friere (Brazilian).  So we went looking and read in a book Friere wrote with Myles Horton called We Make the Road by Walking:

Paulo: I think that even though we need to have some outline, I am sure that we make the road by walking.*  It has to do with this house [Highlander], with this experience here.  You’re saying that in order to start, it should be necessary to start.

Myles: I’ve never figured out any other way to start.

Paulo: The question for me is how it is possible for us, in the process of making the road, to be clear and to clarify our own making of the road.

*The phrase “we make the road by walking” is an adaptation of a proverb by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

~From Myles Horton [American educator, socialist, and co-founder of the Highlander Folk School, famous for its role in the Civil Rights Movement] and Paulo Friere [Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy], We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change (Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1990).

And since they sent us towards the poet:

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road-- Only wakes upon the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.

~Antonio Machado [Spanish poet], Campos de Castilla (1912).

Before we dove into talking about these texts, we asked: How can we talk with each other?

We tried on a communication agreement that we meeting organizers drew from some of our previous experiences in teaching, facilitation, and conflict transformation work.  Some people in the circle had tried on things like this before and for some it was new. Our conversations about it were full of long pauses with space for thinking and reflection and time for people in the circle to find their voices.

Here’s what we were trying on:


Be inclusive and allow ourselves to be welcomed.


Create space for listening as well as speaking. Each has the opportunity to be heard. Help build a shared group conversation where something emerges that wasn’t here before.


Ask questions from curiosity to clarify and deepen understanding. Share ideas; listen with care and resilience. Connect ideas discussed here to our own lives. Bring our own stories and experience without speaking for others.


Participants and educators share research, reading and experience with children to build awareness and knowledge. Connect what we know to our sources of information.


Multiple and differing points of view are essential to deepen our understanding. Conflict is welcome, and we will hold space for emotions. Notice our assumptions and check in about them: what we think we see in others might or might not be true for them. Be as open as possible, maintaining the right to pass if needed.


Get to know each other through what we share and how we’re different. Build a community of support with families, children, teachers, the school, and our larger community. Encourage one another.

Be discreet:

Outside the group we can share what has been said, but not who said it (unless we have permission).

With these agreements sitting among us, we were ready to investigate the idea of making a road by walking through the three voices.  Making a road by walking feels very much like what we are now trying to do together. We invited parents and families to investigate these texts together, with crayons and markers, with found natural objects from outside, and of course through conversation, to see what might happen. The parents and families had some ideas about the texts, and about the materials too.

We’re ‘walking through’ these readings, walking through the text.

What would it be like if kids were learning these ideas? A kid might actually BE walking around.

We need to learn from our strengths and weaknesses, drawing on the knowledge in the group.

Everyone has strength.

This work is tentative, open and wants to be welcoming.

We can set intentions, pace and timing, but can’t predict what will emerge.

The fun of going off-road

We’re going to make the road.

We’re asking questions together.

What about a fork in the path?

Are there only two paths? There could be more.

I grew up in the country, in a small school and there was one right way. In my work I’ve learned  it takes a village to do research. And there’s not just one way.

I think I’m a mix of these two ways.

When is it one (path) and when the other? With parenting I surely don’t know the road.

I think it’s important to know where you want to go.

What does it mean, ‘fighting fascism?’

I’m coming in with preconceived ideas.

     We all have preconceived ideas. Let’s surface them.

We are building the way (the school) by walking.

What will this experience mean?

This reminds me of when as a kid I went to a new school where they had poured sidewalks but then there were dirt paths in the grass from the places the people actually walked.  What would happen if we looked at where the (organic) paths in grass are worn and only then poured the walkway?

Where do the people go? What are the patterns?

When there is a deep groove for an existing road, how do you even know there could be a different path?  That is, learn new possibilities?

How are we going to meet new families who aren’t already here?

The risk is worth taking, to find something new.

We’re taking a risk, with clarifying and trusting each other.

I have faith in the school.

I can voice my concerns.

How will we make others welcome?

Who is/is not in the room with us?

How do we acknowledge our privilege?

How do we recognize how to make it safe (for all)?

As we walk, can we make a path that includes those that aren’t here yet?

Time will tell.

I’m super-curious, but this is not accessible to ordinary folks; the barrier of entry feels high.

If I come from a ‘traditional’ model, will I fit?

    We’ve all come from traditional schools.

This ties us back to the poem and the path known.

Utopia: is it too good to be true?

How would you know?

We’re all here for our little ones.

I want to hear learning stories.

Will they learn the basics as well?

Will he learn to read?

I want them to have the right tools and know how to use them, like a backpacker hiking. To be innovative.

I don’t want to come home to a backpack full of worksheets. They have more ways to make connections.

I don’t want him to not love learning.

Protect the wonder.

I need my kid to survive.

I want him to learn how to be in a community.

I have two kids, and they are so different from each other.

It’s hard to move kids from their current circle of friends.

Successful: what does this mean?

I trust that their hearts as well as their minds will be cared for.

Success for me is that my child will be happy to go to school.

There’s a lot of information available and a lot of it is not true. How do we learn to identify the real from the not-real?

I never learned how to learn (even though I was successful at school).

I want them to be able to have hard conversations.

What do you think and feel as you read this?  What feels familiar? What is new? What responses are arising in you?

Please join the conversation this summer!

This open group will meet regularly to begin to know each other as parents and families of the Northern Lights school community; to explore ideas about parents, families, teachers, and children, including deeper dives into Reggio-inspired work; to look at models for parent & family groups in the learning contexts that animate our school; and to give shape to how we might engage as parents and families with our school as it emerges.