History of Michigan Inspirations

Michigan Inspirations Vision Statement and History

Vision Statement

Michigan Inspirations, a Reggio Inspired Learning Community, is a passionate and purpose-driven group of educators with a mission to reach out to others of like hearts and minds.   Through research, study, and professional development initiatives, we dedicate ourselves to deepening our understanding of the Reggio approach and enriching our practice in ways that are personally rewarding and professionally meaningful.


November 18, 2011, a dedicated group of Reggio-inspired early childhood educators gathered at UM-Flint to share a meal and discuss the possibility of forging a collaborative relationship of professional development, research and sharing.  The atmosphere was charged with excitement as we introduced ourselves to one another, shared a lovely meal, and then held a discussion about our possible future function and direction.  There were 25 teachers, students, private center owners, and administrators in attendance on that cold, snowy evening and nothing could have kept us from that meeting.

We desired to create a group open to all who would like to learn more about the Reggio approach and we wanted to encourage anyone who was interested in deepening their understanding and practice to join us.   We continued to meet that first year, hosted by a different participating program each month, to have dinner and conversation and to share our documentation, excitement, and struggles.  We began to forge relationships of trust with one another and looked to one another for professional guidance and collaboration.  It was wonderful to be able to resource one another as we each began to work outside of our comfort zones and go deeper into our understanding of the Reggio practice.

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In the spring of 2012, many of us took a trip to visit Chicago Commons.  The train trip afforded many opportunities for UM-Flint teachers to talk with teachers from Lansing Community College.  As we toured programs and processed what we were hearing together, our bonds of trust grew stronger.   Many of us had been fortunate enough to have attended the last Wayne State session, when Margie Cooper had outlined the work of the collaborative, Inspired Practices in Early Childhood Education.  As we traveled, we brainstormed about how we could incorporate what we heard about the work and structure of this group into our own collaborative.  The collaborations between us helped to further our connections and trust in one another and for many of us, were the most valuable parts of the trip.

After some discussion and communicating by e-mail, we decided to create a Steering Committee comprised of one administrator and a teacher from each of the schools in our group.  We set a date for our first meeting and began to think about agenda items, location, and our vision for the future of our group.

Saturday Morning Steering Committee in St. Johns

In August of 2012, the Steering Committee met in St. Johns at a satellite location of Lansing Community College to further define our goals and purpose as a group and to plan for the coming year.   Our colleagues from Central Michigan University, Lansing Community College, University of Michigan Flint Campus, Building Blocks, Fenton World of Wonder and Okemos Nursery School arrived and we began to dream together about what we wanted to see happen for our group in the coming year.  We decided that we would choose a book study for the next year around which we could hold discussions and share dinner and conversation with one another.  We chose Beautiful Stuff:Learning with Found Materials, by Lella Gandini and Cathy Weisman TopalWe also chose a research question for the year to help us to begin to look deeper together.  Our question was, “How do we balance teacher-initiated ideas with student-led interests in the classroom?” It was at this meeting that we decided to change the name of our group from Mid-Michigan Voices for Learning to Michigan Inspirations: A Reggio-Inspired Learning Community

In the fall of 2012, taking the next step in reaching out to Reggio-inspired educators all over the country, Michigan Inspirations launched a three part professional development series, with the themes of “Context, Creativity, and Community”.  We wished to continue to offer high quality professional development opportunities to teachers who had long attended the Wayne State series through the Merrill-Palmer Institute, which had sadly been discontinued.  We were thrilled at the response to our first seminar, “Exceptional Contexts, Inspired Environments”, which was packed to the very last seat on December 1, 2012.  Our speaker, Brianne Bongiovanni of Bambini Creativi in Kansas City, Missouri, presented a powerful and heartfelt story of her personal context and the journey that led to the creation of her remarkable school.

We continued the series on February 2, 2013 with Cathy Weisman Topal, co-author of Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials.  As we continued to probe deeper into the research question we had set for the year, Cathy taught us about the use of materials and helped us to consider the basic components of making marks and using tools with young children. The hands-on portion of the workshop was especially beneficial, as it really helped participants connect with the processes of revisiting and re-representing their work.

On May 19, 2013, we finished our series with a seminar led by Nora Thompson, former director of Galileo Early Childhood Center in Mason, Michigan and Membership Coordinator for the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.  Nora helped participants deepen their understanding of family involvement and community through stories and activities in her workshop.  She also brought a panel of parents from the Galileo School to talk with us and answer our questions, which was quite powerful.

During the summer, we met with staff from London Bridge Children’s Services to discuss their professional development model and how we might progress in our growth as a learning community. The annual summer retreat was held at the home of Marcia Rysztak.

Steering Committee Retreat
Steering Committee Retreat

During the 2013-14 season, we chose to study Ann Lewin-Benham’s book, Twelve Best Practices of Early Childhood: Reggio and Other Inspired Approaches.  Each school chose chapters to focus on for the school year and we held small group discussions during our bi-monthly meetings where members could share and collaborate with others interested in the same topics.  At the end of the year, each school presented their research and documentation of their chosen focus from the book to the entire Michigan Inspirations group.

We were honored to begin the seminar series for the 2013-14 year with Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini, dscn0041
dscn0027 dscn0060dscn0047who presented about the emergence of style in the painting of young children and the use of clay as a tool for research.  It was wonderful to welcome Cathy back and to meet and learn from Lella Gandini herself.  The room was packed and the session was amazing, ending with many book signings and photos with our presenters.

February 22, 2014, we experienced “Bodyness” with Simonetta Cittadini and Juan Felipe Calle.  Simonetta is a founding NAREA Board Member and established L’Atelier School in Miami, Florida.  Juan is an educator/musician from Columbia and is the atelierista and pedagogical mentor at L’Atelier.  Together they shared documentation of their work with the language of the body with young children and also led the participants in a remarkable exploration of paper with their bodies.

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Our series for the year finished with Karyn Callaghan, President of the Ontario Reggio Association and artist/musician Jason Avery, of Hamilton Ontario’s Artists at the Centre.  Karyn reminded us that true pedagogical documentation involves the ability to seek out other perspectives.  Jason shared documentation of his work of over 11 years with the many children who visit his classroom from day to day and the impact of that documentation on their sense of belonging.

In June 2014, the Michigan Inspirations group made their first trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy. The Study Tour included a tour of a cooperative preschool in Reggio as well as a tour of a Reggio-inspired preschool in nearby Cavriago and a special three day conference at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre.   It was an amazing and life-changing opportunity for our educators to experience first-hand the work of the Reggio educators.  It was the trip of a lifetime for many of us, and the impact of the experience will enrich our work for many years to come.  Relationships, which were already close, got closer on the trip and excitement to implement new ideas mounted.

During the annual summer retreat on July 23, 2014, the idea of a two or three day institute with Margie Carter and Deb Curtis was discussed and plans began to hold this in 2016.  The book study for 2014-2016 was their book, Learning Together With Young Children.  Six dates were established for center tour, dinner and book study at one of the centers participating on the steering committee.

Seminars for the 2014-2015 program began on October 10-11, 2014 with Ann Lewin-Benham on “The Twelve Best Practices for Early Education.” An informal dinner and discussion was held on Thursday evening with the Steering Committee, followed by the Saturday morning seminar open to all. p1040137p1040144

May 2, 2015, Susan Kempton presented “The Atelier of the Word:  Connecting Children’s Rich Talk to Print”.  She is from Denver and the author of The Literate Kindergarten and Let’s Find Out.


Diane Kashin, from Acorn School in Ontario, Canada and the author of many books, ended the seminar series in June with “Making Learning and Thinking Visible”.

At the August, 2015 retreat, the dates were established for the continued study of Learning Together with Young Children and plans for the June 2016 Learning Institute with Carter and Curtis began.

The two seminars for the year were:  Brianne Bongiovanni on “The Mystery of Materials:  The Magic of Loose Parts on October 10, 2015.  Sarah Felstiner from Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle presented on February 27, 2016 on “Taking the Leap:  Planning an Emergent Curriculum”.

The Study Institute was held from June 2-4, 2016.  The institute, “Exploring Teacher Transformation and Renewal” with Margie Carter and Deb Curtis and assisted by Wendy Cividanes, and Debbie Lebo, was inspiring and plans for continued study in communities of practice are underway for 2016-2017.  The book we will study is Reflecting in Communities of Practice by Carter and Curtis.  Five dates were set for the studies and two seminars are being pursued.

Our core group of schools established a Steering Committee and sent the following representatives:

University of Michigan-Flint                          Della Becker-Cornell, Mary Lynn Gottler, Denise Graham

Central Michigan University                           Margaret Desormes, Cheryl Priest

Early LCC, Lansing Community College         Lydia Saldivar, Dayle McLeod

Early LCC/LCC Retired                                     Marcia Rysztak, Jane Bobay

Okemos Nursery School                                  Renae Slaton

Building Blocks School, Highland                  Suzanne Gabli, Jennifer Young

Fenton Public Schools World of Wonder       Linda Mora, Laura Wagonlander

Community Member                                      Shelly Humphries

Function of the Steering Committee:

Our Steering Committee is comprised of administrators and teachers from each school with the function and purpose of determining the focus and direction of the work of the collaborative for the upcoming year.  Some of the specific functions of the group are, but not limited to:

  • Hold a summer retreat to review the past year and set the calendar for the upcoming one
  • Propose professional development days open to the public
  • Define work teams and their functions
  • Frame a research question for the coming year for collaboration of the work teams at our meetings
  • Choose a book for study that we will discuss at our meetings
  • Discuss the possibility of hiring a consultant to work with the schools on our research
  • Connect with and support NAREA
  • Work toward Study Tours to Reggio Emilia