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

Keywords

Context 

Practitioners design a project based on the children’s lead, exploring ways to improve the experiences and outcomes within the settings outdoor space considering the Froebelian principle of “Unity and Connectedness” while exploring nature and its connections in the world around us.  

Introduction 

As part of the settings improvement plan the team highlighted the need to continue to improve the outdoor space to develop the children’s experiences and in turn outcomes. By reflecting on observations and the outdoor sections of floorbook, the team discovered areas within the outdoor space that could be developed giving a connected approach to the children’s learning as opposed to some of the seasonal fragmented experiences that had previously been observed. The team discussed that to follow Froebel’s principles we must as practitioners not only lead the improvement of our outdoor space ourselves but support the children to lead the changes as well. Following their ideas and learning interests enabled us to improve their environment in the ways they wanted, giving them ownership of their learning. 

Together with the children, using discussions and mind maps, we were able to identify two key areas to take forward following the lead of the children. These were growing and outdoor cooking. As the practitioners listened to the children’s ideas on what they would like to do, they realised quickly they would need to apply for funding for further resources to develop a growing and cooking area within the outdoor space at the setting. Together we researched the various options and decided the Food for Thought grant from Education Scotland was the best suited to the improvements we had in mind. With permission from the SLT the process began to apply for the grant and change the outdoor space, to promote more in-depth experiences for the children, supporting them to become leaders. 

Process 

As a team and with support of SLT it was decided I would take forward the application of the grant, being responsible to collate the team’s ideas, work out a timeline and support each of the practitioners with their individual leads within the project as it was turning out to be a larger than first thought development. In the beginning we had a team meeting to discuss the different ideas to take forward and I was there to support open communication between all the practitioners. I felt this was a key first step and a way to ensure each person felt heard and valued within the process. Discussing each person’s ideas while encouraging the practitioners to see other people’s perspectives as well as their own and always putting the children and their views at the centre of the project giving them freedom to determine their learning/play. 

While the practitioners were waiting for the resources to be delivered, they began to plan the growing space with the children, listening to their ideas and the experiences they were hoping for. The children began to draw designs and discuss it with the practitioners and myself, retelling cooking and gardening experiences they had done at home with family. On seeing this I really felt we were encouraging further connectedness within the setting and the families, supporting the children to have a further depth to their experiences as they were relating them to various places and times in their lives both in and out of the setting. 

 Selecting the space, the practitioners and children cleared the areas and swapped resources around, supporting each other to lead the way. Once the resources arrived the children and practitioners constructed them together and implemented some of the children’s ideas.  Huge changes were made within the outdoor space, creating a growing area with a polytunnel and raised beds as well as a kitchen area beside this where the children could transport their grown produce to wash and prepare for cooking. They were then able to plant their chosen seeds and investigate how to cultivate and grow vegetables and plants from seeds. The practitioners supported the children to research their seeds and what they required to grow, supporting the children to follow their own interests. At the planning meeting the practitioners discussed with the rest of the team ways to further promote the children’s interest by providing experiences indoors as well. In doing so, the practitioners showed stronger leadership skills following the children’s interests and connecting the learning throughout the setting giving the children the connected approach they had set out to. 

Throughout the whole experience the practitioners were recording observations and creating floorbooks with the children reflecting on our practice and the children’s learning, supporting the children to reflect on their learning and the skills they were gaining. I was able to hold informal meetings with the lead practitioners gaining feedback on the progress being made, supporting our next steps. I felt it was important that everyone was equal, and everyone’s voice was heard throughout the project as I am a firm believer that no one person should lead and for change to happen then everyone must be a leader. I was mainly there to assist and support the practitioners and the children with the change. 

During this time as the outdoor cooking area was also set up one of the fire trained practitioners did further CPD in order to support others within the setting to achieve their fire training, further highlighting the passion of the team to lead and support each other. At this stage I could see everyone working together to achieve the goals they had set out, as they encouraged and helped each other on this journey, highlighting to me the importance of everyone leading together. 

Findings 

As part of the informal meetings, we discussed the timeline of the project. Sometimes this was necessary as things didn’t always go to plan. It was good to come together and collaborate on how we could change things to bring everything back on track. I felt it was important for me to encourage the team, as during the stressful times tensions could be high and tough decisions had to be made to push the project forward to achieve the goals. 

Using the Leuven scale as well as observations, it was noticed the children who decided to participate continued to come back day after day engaging with the project build from start to finish, highlighting to myself and the team not only the enjoyment they were finding within the project but also the learning. They gained great life experiences and skills to further their learning. As the project continued to move forward it was noticed that more and more children became involved with families commenting on their children’s enthusiasm to come to nursery each day and continue with their garden, enhancing the connectedness between the nursery and families as they began to ask more about their children’s learning and comment further on the children’s learning journals. As well as this it was noted using observations and discussions with families how the children were on a continuous path within their learning. Throughout their engagement they were using numeracy and literacy, problem solving, woodwork skills, cooking and growing all while working continuously towards their goals. By involving the children so much and making them leaders of their own learning it engaged with them further than previously and supported them to have a more continuous experience within their outdoor play. 

At the end of this I had to submit an evaluation form to Education Scotland detailing the outcome of the experiences and learning the children had participated in relating to the grant funding we had received. Looking through notes of the informal meetings as well as the observations and floorbooks I could really see how far the outdoors had been developed and how passionate the practitioners and the children had been to achieve this in a short space of time. Putting emphasis on the practitioners and children as the leaders of this change. 

Looking forward with the children and practitioners there has been discussion to continue with the growing and cooking outdoors but to strengthen the experience further by creating our own compost to feed our seeds and plants as throughout the growing session there were lots of questions around compost and how we were feeding our seeds and plants. 

Final Reflections 

During the entire process, I feel I remained true to my Froebelian principles and values. Throughout, I have valued the practitioners and children, really encouraging them to engage with their individual leadership areas and pulling together as a team. Without the whole team approach the project itself would not have been as successful. By empowering them to lead I feel it has brought them together and has given us all an understanding of what great teamwork can achieve, which is one of Froebel’s main values.  This makes me feel I have further developed my Froebelian understanding of unity and connectedness not just with the children’s learning/interactions in the setting and the community but also the importance of this within the team. This is important to me, as relationships within the setting are key, everyone needs a sense of value and belonging and to feel their voice and thoughts are heard. 

Reflecting upon the Froebelian leadership course it has in turn reaffirmed the type of leader I would like to be. I have discovered in many ways my values and principles along with leadership values align with Froebel’s more than I had previously thought. Although I may not be a stereotypical leader in a sense, I believe that the leadership course has grounded me more as the leader I believe I ought to be – someone who values other peoples opinions and gives everyone the chance to lead, supporting our team to work united with the children, bettering the outcomes for everyone in the setting and our families as well. 

 

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Tracey Aitken
    Tracey Aitken
    29 Apr 2024 at 8:03 pm

    Congratulations and thank you for sharing your leadership journey, I almost felt I experienced your journey with you as the detail and the specifics reminded me of a similar project I lead a team to successfully embed at our centre, To read of your lead with Froebelian principles and inclusivity of the children is inspiring and influential . Its a joy to read the documentation of children’s voice was so empowering throughout your project, endorsing the unity and connectedness and shared ownership of the new community space at your centre.


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