My Froebelian Leadership Story

Project author:

Project summary:

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


The aim of this project was to evaluate and adapt a Primary 1 environment to better suit the needs of the ever-increasing cohort of learners as well as develop the relationships between colleagues working together for the first time, with varying understandings of Froebelian principles and who bring different levels of experience from a variety of contexts.

After completing my Froebel in Childhood practice course in another local authority in 2019 I felt my
practice and values fundamentally changed forever. Froebelian principles and values have since focused strongly in the forefront of all I do, and I have spent time searching for the right setting in which to put into practice what I had learned- I felt unable to do where I was at the time. Something I have picked up on since completing my first Froebel course is the willingness for early education settings to adopt these principles and I have often found the opposite can be said for school settings- even Primary 1 where play-based settings are now becoming more common. I have now found myself in a setting where play is valued wholeheartedly so much so that we have play based environment throughout the school- from nursery to P7. Being a brand-new school, all staff have been at the heart of developing the vision, values and aims centered around play, as well as creating a shared understanding of play throughout all ages and stages of the school setting. For the last two years I have been a Primary 1 teacher in this setting, where we have a large open plan environment. This year, however, we have seen a large increase in the number of learners coming to our setting and this has resulted in 96 learners, spread over 4 classes, placed in an environment which was originally designed for 50 learners over 2 classes. It was our task, as a group of colleagues who have never worked together before, to figure out how to set up and establish a safe and nurturing environment that meet the needs of all learners, provided a high-quality environment for play, and did not compromise our school values and Froebelian principles.

As expected, the process of designing our environment and figuring out how we incorporate our vision of free-flow play into an already full and heavily structured school day began well before the previous school term had ended. Our headteacher was extremely supportive and encouraged our team to follow a free flow approach in whatever way we saw fit. Her distributive leadership style left us with the confidence to believe in what we were creating as well as feel secure in the knowledge that if we made mistakes along the way that we were still supported and could make changes to ensure our vision worked in the long term. Scottish Government (2016) said: “A culture of initiative and collegiality within which learning is always the prime focus embodies the kind of distributive leadership which is the hallmark of our most dynamic and effective schools.” For me personally this approach was wildly
different from other headteachers I had worked with previously, and the confidence and ability to take
more risks (Bruce, 2011) and challenge ideas that I felt from this approach inspired me to speak up,
share ideas and feel intrinsically motivated and committed to the journey we were about to embark on.
As the longest standing member of the P1 team the new members of staff initially looked to me for
guidance, asking about what we had done the previous year (with 3 classes, 75 children, in the same
open plan space), what had worked well and what could be improved on. I was very self-aware of my
own leadership during this time, and immediately felt able to share my experiences and opinions but to not overshadow others in my team. I was in a position of leadership and did not consider myself a
natural leader at the time. I knew from my own experiences, Froebel’s guidance and working with
children that a central value to my practice is the building of relationships based on mutual trust and
respect (Tovey, 2016) and for each member of the team to feel they had something to contribute and
that their contribution was valued by others. As a team we seemed to naturally fall into a democratic
style of leadership between us. It made sense since we were all working together in shared space to
allow multiple people to participate in the decision-making process (Senge, 2006). We talked, debated,
disagreed at times but did it all with a shared desire to give our children the best possible start to their
school career. We work as a team because of our shared values and our commitment to play, all of us
understanding that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is
the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” (Froebel, 1826/2012). We set out to allow our children
to have as much free-flow play, both inside and outside, as our school day would allow. We set up a wall space to have daily reflections together, as well as being responsive to the needs of our learners and provide experiences related to their interests in the moment. We strived to encourage creativity, both in ourselves and our children and most importantly to start where learners were- “at the stage, be the stage” (Bruce, 2011). This ended up being true for us too- taking each day as it comes and reflecting on our practice. My leadership moments have come during this process where we have tried to incorporate some of Froebel’s occupations, such as block play, sewing, clay and paper folding, into our environmentshowing staff how to set up these areas, explaining the importance of why they are there, but then ultimately allowing each member of the team to take on an occupation and develop it alongside our learners. I like to think I have been supportive and helped my team to find their own passion, use their creativity and develop new skills this year.

One of the most valuable discussions to have come out of the Froebelian Leadership course for me
personally, was when talking with other practitioners who also work in open plan spaces with large
numbers of children. In many cases to gain back a sense of control by the adults the first thing to do is to stop the free flow play, this came up in multiple scenarios from many practitioners on the course. At the end of the day, it seems that large spaces, and then those spaces with large amounts of children in them at the same time, do not work for small children.
This scenario also became true for my setting unfortunately. Due to safety concerns, lack of parental
support and uncertainty around the quality of play being displayed the discussion to take way the free
flow play eventually came up. I knew how important it was to have the support of our community of
parents because as Froebel (Froebel in Lilley 1967) argued “any nursery or school should be in close and living relationship with people lives.” Therefore, there was a need to make some changes and
compromises within the setting. Taking on the feedback from parents, children and reflecting on our
own practice, we created smaller ‘zones’ within our open plan space and made smaller sections and
spaces to break up the vastness of the space. The children move around these spaces within the week.
We have compromised and created free flow play within a boundary and have also managed to retain
our responsive planning to the children’s interests. This has, in turn, created a more trusting relationship between both parents and teachers as well as children and teachers.

In terms of my leadership role across this setting this year, I feel I have grown in confidence to speak up when there is something important to say especially when that comes to advocating for the learners in my care. I have found my voice amongst like-minded individuals who all share similar values and I believe that there is a lot to be said for the environment we are in- this goes for myself and my children. I have been able to find self-belief and stand up for what I believe in by being in a supportive and nurturing environment and that is what I want for my learners too. They needed to feel safe, supported, nurtured and included. The passion and commitment between fellow Froebelian leaders and practitioners on this course have been inspirational. The sense of community and camaraderie from people from all walks of life, in different parts of the world, all with the same shared values provides a strong sense of being able to take on local authorities and governments to come around to a more Froebelian way of thinking and working which I think would be of huge benefit to so many learners.

Bruce, T (2011) Early Childhood Education. 4th Edition. Hodder Education, Banbury.
Froebel, F (1826/2012) The Education of Man. Ulan Press, Russia.
Lilley, I. (1967) Friedrich Froebel: A Selection from his Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scottish Government (2016) National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education, 2016 Evidence
Report. Available: [Accessed: 19 Feb 24]
Senge, P,M (2006) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Random House Business, London.
Tovey, H (2016) Bringing the Froebel Approach to Early Years Practice. Routledge, Oxfordshire

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

Add a comment