My Froebelian Leadership Story

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Project summary:

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


In this report my aim is to describe how I facilitated colleagues in my setting to
co-design a short inquiry into a specific aspect of practice. I aim to report my own
learning from this process, with a focus on my leadership role ‘in development’ as
well as future opportunities and challenges for practice.
My current role is head teacher of a large primary school in Midlothian council. I
took up my position at this school in August of 2023. We have a large nursery as part
of our provision, able to accommodate 64 learners. There are two senior early year
practitioners and eight early year practitioners as well as two learning assistants.
At the end of last session there was a conflict within the staff team that was being
managed through the resolution process. There was a meeting within my second
week in which I assessed that what might be needing addressed were relationships,
and empowerment. I felt a divide between staff members and a lack of direction.
Looking back at this moment I believe that what Laloux (2016) describes as the
‘contradiction of Green organisations’ had occurred, where the nursery staff were
experiencing a disconnection from our values and the reality of day to day
practice, resulting in disappointment and confusion , being driven by a continued
hierarchical, pyramidal organisational model.

Reflecting on my own Froebelian leadership journey I remember the power of being
asked to locate myself in my practice whilst undertaking the Froebel in Childhood
Education course. I felt that this would be a good way to facilitate a degree of unity
and reconnect, to recognise commonalities and reflect on shared principles.
As a leader at the beginning of a journey in a new setting I was questioning how to
give agency as well as nurture and build relationships and felt this exercise of
location would aid me in also developing a clear, co-created and ‘shared vision’
based in kindness and hopefully be practitioner focused and practitioner led.
Taking time to look inwards, Reflecting on what shaped our own ideas and values
about early childhood practice. A common theme that ran through this dialogue
was relationships and the importance of building these is.
I then asked us to look at some of our practice using evidence and research based
reading to do some sustained shared thinking around the importance of play.
It was encouraging to note that staff mentioned the quote;
“Play at this time is not trivial, it is highly serious and of deep significance,” as a
statement that resonated with them.

It felt natural at this point to keep learning and look outwards at Froebel’s principles
and practice today and read Helen Tovey’s booklet on this subject. We agreed that
the key principles of Froebelian practice were relevant in our setting and worth
engaging further with.
Building further on our reading of the importance of play we worked in pairs and trios
to evaluate our environment and our spaces. We focused on some key everyday
areas and evaluated the experience of the child in these spaces. Here staff
naturally began implementing next steps. It was an organic experience which I
found myself needing to allow to happen in the moment or immediately following
an observation, as this made sense, as opposed to waiting to implement change to
allow it to be measured. Together we took the key areas of Dramatic Play, Fine
Motor Play, Music, Art, Science/Nature and thought about resources we needed
and actions required.
One area we were particularly keen on digging deeper into was block play and this
became the main focus of our inquiry into our practice.
We assessed our block provision and felt that we did not have enough
understanding to implement effective change.

We agreed to rearrange our schedules to give ourselves some longer periods of time
after school to do a ‘deep dive’ into blocks.
Firstly we explored the history of block play, and the ways in which block play
supports learning. Staff noted
● That the unit blocks we use are 110 years old
● They allow for abstract/logical/symbolic thinking
● They promote fine and gross motor development
● The variety of mathematical skills that can be explored and developing,
including mapping, size, positing, size, fractions
● The symbolic possibilities
● Social and emotional development
● The predictability of blocks
● The sustainability element
● The open endedness to blocks

Secondly we explored the system of the unit blocks, the stages of block play and
schematic development. After this session a member of staff created a stages of
block play poster for the nursery and another colleague displayed the names of the
blocks with pictures. I believe this demonstrates agency within the team and is
evidence that staff were taking ownership of the learning and area.
As a group we recognised the holistic nature of the blocks and how children are
able to explore how things fit together.
Next we explored the role of the adult in the setting up of the block play area,
accessories and risk assessment. Staff noted
And we agreed we needed to change our current set up. Staff recognised that we

● A protected space
● To present the blocks ‘beautifully’
● More blocks
● To develop some rules
● Make sure the mathematical relationships are displayed
● To begin using ‘returning’ as opposed to ‘tidying up’
● To review use of accessories

After this session the team began engaging the children in conversations about the
environment, what was important to them in the nursery and planned to use this
information to begin a change of the environment in January.

Finally we explored scaffolding, observations and talking with children about their
structures. We agreed to have some of these key open ended starter statements
up in the nursery for easy reference for practitioners.
I felt that the work we had undertaken had brought the team together and
refocused us on a shared goal. I wanted to explore this further and so asked the
team to read Chapter 10, ‘Adult Roles and Relationships’ from Bringing the Froebel
Approach to your Early Years Practice (Tovey).
‘It is the adult who shapes the ethos and expectations of the setting, fosters the
relationships and enables children’s learning’
Is a quote that resonated strongly with me and caused me to reflect on my own
leadership journey and how Froebelian principles are aligned with who I am, with
how I want things to be. I wanted to explore this with the staff further.
As a team I asked staff to think about how we want to work together, and what we
want to achieve.

I also asked how we want to be with each other.
Our January In Service day was dedicated to room layout and resources. Our home
corner became the heart of the room with 2 entrances leading towards mark
marking and the story corner/small world areas.
We set up a large creativity workspace, brought the woodwork bench in from
storage and gave our blocks the space and labelling it needed to emphasise the
mathematical concepts and allow children more space to build.

After a couple of weeks, we read another chapter from Bringing the Froebelian
Approach to your Early Years Practice (Tovey) . Chapter 5, ‘Resources and how
they are used’ was chosen by the senior practitioners as it focuses very much on the
work we have been undertaking.
We read about Froebel’s gifts and occupations, noting ‘the law of opposites was an
important principle for Froebel’ and also ‘wholeness and unity’.
We reflected on multi purpose workshop areas and noted how we now provide this.
We talked about the importance of open ended resources, and thought about
these in relation to our home corner.
We discussed woodwork and what we might need to do to facilitate this . We also
thought about clay and introducing this.
We ended by working in four groups to mind map ideas to enhance or bring the
following to our nursery

● Clay
● Sewing
● Woodwork
● Open ended resources in home area

Each mind map is passed to the next practitioners taking over an area as we move
through our rota and we discuss at our weekly meetings where we are on our
journeys in these areas.
I hope that In this report I have been able to describe how I facilitated colleagues in
my setting to co-design a short inquiry into a specific aspect of practice, namely
block play.

Through the process I feel I have learned a lot about the team I am working with,
where strengths lie, as well as areas we might need to focus on. I believe that more
was going on than an inquiry, that this has been a process in self evaluation, team
building, and a start to exploring values. I believe that as we move forwards
together, Froebelian principles will continue to be explored, and Froebelian
Leadership will continue to be my focus and the lens with which I use to evaluate
myself and manage change across the setting and the school.

Comments from other network members

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