My Froebelian Leadership Story

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Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early earning and childcare community


I approached the Froebelian Leadership course from the point of view of an Early Years Practitioner with no specified leadership role but who wished to promote a Froebelian approach within the setting. A large consideration in regards the difficulties I encounter in trying to promote a Froebelian ethos in my setting are largely due to my local authority not having the same situation of focus on Frobelian principles and practice as other local authorities in Scotland – as an example, there is no Froebel Lead, which appears to be an aberration. This difference became glaringly evident during online conversations with other participants on the Froebelian Leadership course who described their workplaces, in which the local authority supported and promoted Froebel Flagship Centres, put in place Froebel Strategic Leads and funded practitioners to access the Froebel in Childhood Practice Certificate. In contrast, I am the only Practitioner within my setting who has completed any Froebelian training and although my local authority did at one time fund the Certificate course, this has not been the case for several years, excluding those who do not have the means to fund the course themselves. My own Froebelian leadership role is complicated due to the fact that I do not hold a leadership position within my setting and I have to tread a fine line so that I do not overstep my professional relationship with colleagues, particularly as I am a relatively new practitioner, working in a setting where some staff have worked many years. Additionally, those long standing staff can feel disillusioned due to a feeling of having ‘seen it/ done it all before’ or feel that new ideas are just the latest fad bought into by the local authority and this can sometimes be a tricky barrier when trying to introduce new concepts or different ways of working.  

 As part of my conversations with colleagues I spoke to a range of different practitioners – Early Years Practitioners, Senior Early Years Practitioners and the Early Years Centre Manager in order to gauge a range of different views from different leadership levels. I asked a small number of open ended questions in order to gauge their level of knowledge of Froebelian concepts and principles and any perceived barriers in including these within their own practice, with additional questions asked as the conversation developed. During these conversations, a common theme emerged that although there was a general interest in Froebelian practice generally, there was an admitted lack of knowledge around the principles and how practice linked with theory. As an example, there is a general feeling that block play is a good experience to offer within a nursery environment due to the opportunity for children to be creative, to work together with others, to experiment with scientific/mathematical concepts etc. However, colleagues described less knowledge around the purpose and names of the different types of blocks and the progression through different stages in block play for example. The same applies for other areas, such as transient art, where the benefit is observed but the concept behind it isn’t widely understood.  There has been training offered previously around various aspects of the Nursery environment, including  block play, but these have been stand alone sessions with no follow up in order to embed this into practice and so areas within the Nursery are developed without any knowledge of the background theory.  

Froebelian practice is often described in the sector as ‘best practice’ but colleagues described a feeling of fear around it. Some perceived it as being complicated and difficult and of requiring lots of knowledge. One spoke of being perplexed as to how Froebelian theory, originating as it did in the mid 1800’s, could be made relevant to a modern day viewpoint. One colleague I spoke to, who has had experience of many settings, spoke of a lack of shared ethos or common practice across the settings within our local authority, leading to very different experiences in each Nursery.  One spoke of visiting Nurseries which had a Froebelian ethos and being impressed by it but not being able to envisage how it could be implemented in our setting which has various complicating factors (children with behaviours which are destructive, children with sensory needs which places restrictions on the resources which can be offered within the Nursery environment, the staff team working around long periods of staff absence, and staff being stretched due to several children needing 1-1 support). In addition, each cohort of children accessing the Nursery have different levels of need and therefore the approach has to be evaluated and amended depending on the children attending the Nursery. Staff across the sector have described a feeling of ‘fire fighting’ due to the demands made on the service and one colleague described feeling that any impetus to develop their own practice had stagnated due to this. Despite all this, from my own observations of my colleagues practice, I believe that much of the practice within my setting is inherently Froebelian, particularly the high quality interactions and relationships between the children and staff as well as the experiences and resources offered within the Nursery. What could be developed is staff’s knowledge and application of theory in order to embed the ethos. 

Therefore, my own leadership role could be described as one in which information sharing is a key element – sharing my own knowledge and helping to break it down to make it relevant to existing practice. The leadership style this approach most closely resembles is participative leadership  – where the leader facilitates change by sharing information and encouraging discussion from all members of the team. While seeking to promote a Froebelian ethos, other staff could hopefully look to me as a source of information and a facilitator of conversations. This could be extended to the children, linking in with them having ownership over their own learning and experiences within the Nursery. It could also be extended to the parents – during my Practitioner Inquiry Project, an outcome which I hadn’t anticipated was the level of interest from parents in regards to who Froebel was – extending the level of information available to the parents/carers so that they feel more of a connection with what is going on in the Nursery would contribute to the overall Froebelian ethos.  

In terms of how my own leadership could develop in the future, a colleague close to retirement made it clear that despite a general interest, at this stage in her career, she wouldn’t be interested in completing any long term or in depth training. Another colleague would be interested in completing the Froebel in Childhood Practice Certificate but the lack of funding available means that she is unable to access it. During my Conversation with the Early Years Centre Manager, it was indicated that there is an intention within the Early Years Department to identify gaps in knowledge of theory and to look at providing training across the board but it was mentioned  in several of the conversations I had with colleagues that any training provided cannot be stand alone training which ‘makes the link and moves on’ but needs to be ongoing conversations, breaking the information down to link with existing practice. It was suggested by some colleagues that an ‘in house’ approach would be appreciated, perhaps taking the form of conversations during staff meetings or as part of in-service days, in order to share knowledge and to promote a Froebelian ethos within the setting and that I could take a lead in this. 

The conversations I had with colleagues which I initiated as part of this course were very informative as to their level of interest in learning more about Froebelian principles and theory. Frankly, I had expected less interest, given the current stresses of the setting, and in the sector at large and had felt some trepidation when starting the conversations. It is heartening that, despite the ongoing strains which staff are facing, that they still seek to develop their own practice. This whole process has suggested several avenues to explore in terms of developing the settings ethos and in developing my own Froebelian leadership.  



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