By Margaret Power
College of Education

Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce leaders Scott Miller and Bill Corley visited the Indianapolis Public Schools/Butler University Laboratory School at IPS 60 on Monday, Sept. 10. Miller is chamber president; Corley serves on the chamber board of directors and leads its initiative to increase graduation rates in Marion County public schools.   

They spoke with College of Education Dean Ena Shelley and Lab School Principal Ron Smith about the Reggio Emilia model and belief system represented in the magnet Lab School. Shelley explained the unique community partnerships behind the Lab School, which has support from the private Butler University, the public school district IPS, corporate donor PNC Bank, a private donor, and St. Mary’s Child Center, a non-profit agency.

Corley and Miller took a tour of the school and visited classrooms where the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy are on display. Smith explained that students’ artwork and projects that decorate the walls of the classroom instead of teachers’ bulletin boards or displays as in traditional schools.

“At the beginning of the school year, the walls look a bit bare,” Smith said. “But, by the end of the school year, they have been filled with artwork and displays made by the children, which document the learning and strengths of each child in the class.”

Lab School teacher and Butler COE ’11 graduate Mary Ellen Estridge spoke with Corley and Miller in her kindergarten classroom about her experience working at the Lab School in a variety of areas. Estridge described the Lab School as being very relationship-focused as well as focusing on a culture of respect for students and their abilities. This respect has become a part of the school culture with all stakeholders, including parents and community members and starts with the way Lab School teachers interact with their students. 

Estridge, Shelley and Smith explained how the Reggio Emilia philosophy helps encourage children to be creative and curious. Corley added that teaching adults to have curiosity is difficult, and that to have dynamic, out-of-the- box thinkers in the business place, natural curiosity must be encouraged from a young age. 

When asked by Corley what the hardest part of her job is, Estridge said, “The hardest part of being a new teacher was building culture because it is an ongoing process. It takes a long time to do successfully.” 

Corley and Miller said that strong leadership toward building a positive working culture is the key to success in both education and business.