Coloring Outside the Lines

Written by
Mary Lou Santovec

Jan 2, 2017

Jan 2, 2017 • by Mary Lou Santovec

Research has shown that children of working mothers—especially those working professional jobs—fare better in self-confidence and self-esteem than children whose mothers are not in the workforce, noted Dr. Lisa Fiore, professor in the School of Education at Lesley University.

meta-analysis of 69 studies over 50 years conducted in 2010 found that children of working mothers, especially those who work at least part-time, tended to have less depression and anxiety and be high achievers in school. Data from the Pew Research Center in 2013 confirms that many stay-at-home mothers are poorer and less educated than working moms.

While the research may show that work is good for us, it's not all a bed of roses. Working mothers, like Fiore, know that it's not easy to balance those competing demands. She often brings her two children, a daughter (age 12) and a son (age 14), to work with her when the opportunity arises.

Stretching and growing in a career

Fiore earned her PhD at Boston College in developmental and educational psychology and a master of arts in teaching in child studies that led to teaching licensure from Tufts University. Her bachelor's degree was from Brandeis University in English and American literature with a minor in theater, because, she said, “I loved the creative side of things.

“The Tufts program looks at children as complete beings rather than vessels to be filled with knowledge,” Fiore explained. “It looks at children holistically. It's a very rich program and was a formative experience for me.”

Her love of creativity has seeped into her everyday work and earned her kudos from a somewhat unlikely source. Fiore, who is not a visual artist by profession, was the recipient of the Massachusetts Art Education Association's (MAEA's) 2017 award for Higher Education Art Educator of the Year. This year's conference, aptly entitled “Redefining the Arts,” brings together members of the state's professional association for art educators.

“How lovely we can continue to stretch and grow throughout our career,” she said of being nominated, to know that “it's okay to color outside the lines.”

After a stint in the classroom as an early childhood teacher led Fiore to explore other careers, including a job in publishing at the former higher education publishing company Allyn & Bacon, she completed her dissertation on the topic of anxiety and young children. “I've always known I liked working with children,” she said. “Children are brilliant and amazing.”

But she wasn't keen on the idea of being in the early childhood classroom on a permanent basis—hence, the career change. As an editorial assistant, Fiore spoke with professors about their work and realized “I could marry my love of teaching and children.”

So she returned to school to earn her doctorate and then joined Lesley University MA. The school, which opened in 1909 as a women's college dedicated to training kindergarten teachers, went co-ed some 10 years ago.

Fiore currently works with preschool and in-service teachers in both the undergraduate and graduate schools.

A sense of pride

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Fiore launched a campus group called Mothers in Academia after a book by the same name. She acknowledges that “it's hard to have meetings” because of all the demands on potential attendees' time.

She's also the director of the Child Homelessness Initiative, a five-year-old university initiative designed to raise awareness of homeless children, especially those who've experienced trauma and who might require counseling. The Initiative includes a “holistic and rigorous curriculum.”

Partnering with the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Initiative aims to both train undergraduates who will encounter these students as well as raise public awareness of their plight. As the Initiative's director, she has helped the school host conferences and speakers on the topic.

“Children are rendered more vulnerable because of their age, their size or their [lack of] ability to get a job,” she said. “The Initiative is a concrete way that people can get involved in the issue.”

And she's an editorial board member of the Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism, and Practice.

All of these experiences bring her “a sense of pride to be a woman in education [among those] who are making a difference,” said Fiore. There's a “power” created from working and striving together that's hopeful and energizing.

Art as an everyday practice

While she grew up with a mother who was an artist, it's Fiore's pedagogy where the arts play a critical role and led to the nomination for the MAEA award. “I use art in my pedagogy all the time,” she said.

Fiore is a proponent of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, which has a “fundamental respect for children's curiosity” and their “right to joy.” The approach values children as “strong, capable and resilient.”

Named for a town north of Bologna in northern Italy, elements of the Reggio Emilia approach have similarities to those of the better-known Waldorf and Montessori approaches. But Reggio Emilia emphasizes that children use “many different ways to show their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity.”

The approach utilizes “hands-on discovery learning” and is adapted to the needs of the community. The arts are a key component in the approach as well as “an everyday practice.”

“You can't walk down the street without noticing the beautiful esthetics [in Italy],” said Fiore of the country where the Reggio Emilia approach originated.

So how does Fiore actually balance life and work? Mindfulness, meditation and breathing are her go-tos. “Stop, take a breath and notice things,” she said. And Fiore recommends taking time for art. “Art is a wonderful way to focus time and energy in a nonjudgmental way,” she said.