Exploring Froebelian Leadership in Practice

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Project summary:

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



I currently work as a Principal Early Years Officer at a local authority Early Learning and Childcare Centre. Our centre is registered for up to 137 children and many of our families reside in SIMD 1 or 2 postcodes and many of our families do not have access to their own outdoor space. We have a staff team of 34, which consists of support for learning assistants, early year’s practitioners, early learning and childcare assistants and a senior leadership team. Currently we have 6 staff who have completed their Froebel in childhood practice qualification with 3 more undertaking it during this cohort. I have previously participated in practitioner inquiry project and wanted to use the Froebelian leadership course to help me support the team to embed the Froebelian principles they have learned further with their team members who perhaps had not undertaking any learning or had any Froebelian knowledge. I wanted to enable team members and children to lead a short test of change around our lunch time routine through leading environmental, pedagogical and inclusive practices to support the children within our setting. 

Agency/ownership of inquiry process by colleagues (and children/families) 

The Froebelian leadership course was a prompt for me to revisit and consider my own leadership skills and how this project could allow me the opportunity to further develop my role as a leader, as well as consider the challenges that I might encounter along the way. In this role and in previous settings I have always sought opinions and advice from others on my leadership style, using tools such as the SSSC leadership 360 analysis tool. ‘Leadership Capability Feedback tool is designed to help frontline workers in social services and other public services, such as health, reflect on their leadership capability and identify strengths and areas for development’ (SSSC, Online). 

I found myself displaying many different leadership roles during this project. As a participatory leader, also known as a democratic leader, I involved my team members in decision making, valued their input and encouraged them to take a lead role.   A participative leader values the knowledge of the whole team. I ensured I gathered the opinions of the whole staff team including our Modern apprentice, early year’s practitioners and early learning and childcare assistants. While leading the project I was mindful to show active listening, looking at everyone’s perspectives, while providing solutions to move forward. I did, however acknowledge that like Froebel, that mistakes were inevitable, and as a leader it is my responsibility to reflect with the team in order to achieve our aim and learning from any challenges. Like Frobel, I felt my leadership was clear and the expectations of embedding the principles in just being “What we do” was mutually agreed by the team. 

As a Transformational leader within this project my role was to keep the team and the children motivated, provide praise and encouragement and support, especially in times of challenges. I will use the data that I gather to provide a story of the inquiry projects journey. 

Distributed leadership was an important element of the inquiry project to be successful. As a senior leader I am not on the playroom floor every day, therefore it would be pointless for me to suggest many changes that I would not be there to implement. I offered our team some reading around slow pedagogy that would support the time and pace of the day and asked them how they could use this research to lead an element of change within the playroom. 

One of the challenges to this project has been stepping back and allowing the practitioners within the playroom the ownership of the inquiry process, as naturally I would tend to take the lead role on these type of projects. One of the benefits of doing this, enabled the team to be much more solution focused, rather on me just offering a solution. 

Realising the ambition states that it is important that practitioners have a shared pedagogy. 

 “It is important then that practitioners understand and develop a ‘shared pedagogy’. Having a shared understanding of pedagogy will enable practitioners to provide appropriate support, at a suitably challenging pace for each baby. (Realising the Ambition, Online) and ‘The standards for Childhood Practice’ (2015) highlighting the importance that, ‘Managers/lead practitioners have a critical understanding of concepts and theories of curriculum and pedagogy’. 

I felt that it was important to develop practitioner’s confidence in their leadership skills, an area which we had previously already started to develop through our ‘Champion’ roles. By giving practitioners the opportunity to take the lead, acknowledges that I feel they are indeed knowledgeable practitioners and this in turn makes them feel valued, listened too and included in decision making. Furthermore, the practitioners involved would be the ones who would be implementing any possible changes and research has shown that if people are included in the change process then changes are more likely to be sustainable and succeed. Identifying that changes to practice might not always fall naturally with all practitioners, I was mindful to consider the change process and the different stages that we might go through when implementing the project “We ignore people’s need to participate at our own peril. If they’re involved, they will create a future that already has them in it. People support what they create” (Wheatley, 1998). Reflecting on the principle of relationships matter I really considered ways to support the staff when asking them implement a change and lead on a project. Because of my relationships with the team I knew that we could have open conversations about possible ways to introduce a new change.  

During team meetings many discussions around the pace of the day and environment that we were creating were had. How were we supporting all children to cope with the transition around lunch time and involving the children in the process. Within the 3-5 space we have four practitioners who have either completed or undergoing the Froebel in Childhood practice certification. I spoke to the team about my leadership of slow approaches in a previous setting and how we could embed Froebelian principles in our practice, regardless if practitioners are Froebelian trained or not. We had lots of reflective discussion about the benefits of meeting the needs of children through these principles. Discussion were had around ‘Slow pedagogy’ and how well the children are supported through their transitions throughout the day. 

Realising the Ambition highlights horizontal transitions in young children and the importance on adults providing continuity and reassurance for children. Practitioners had a series of discussions about how we can all ensure regardless who was leading the change idea ensures continuity for the children.  

Implementation of Inquiry  

Observations of the children during times of transition during the day, particularly at lunch times demonstrated children getting upset, distressed, tired or struggling to cope with the many types of movement.  I spoke to team members about slow pedagogy. I had previous been involved in the implementation of a slow approach during mealtimes at my previous setting with support from Alison Clark. I shared some professional reading with the team and ask them to discuss how they could lead a slow approach at this time of the day. A few suggestions were made that was decided by the team to test over a period of time to see if they could make an impact on the children’s involvement and in particular, wellbeing. The leauvan’s scale will be used to monitor children’s involvement and well-being. 

It was agreed we would do a couple of tests of small changes over this period of time. Staff planned well-being walks over that lunch time period and some nurture time following their observations. Team members used an empathy map with each other and the children to discuss how lunch time felt, sound and looked like. They sought views from the children on what activities they particularly enjoyed taking part in. 

Final reflections 

It was fantastic to see practitioners taking a lead role and developing their confidence in implementing the small tests of change with my support. I found the Froebelian Leadership course really gave me an opportunity about to explore how our team made links in their practice to the Froebelian principles and it helped support our settings values of leadership at all levels.  

Thinking about my own leadership in development, this course has led me to consider how I can implement the Froebelian principles within the staff team and as a leader myself. I need to allow the team freedom to lead with guidance from myself, a skill which I feel is one of my strengths. Examples of how I do this in my current role  include, promoting our champion roles (staff champion a particular interest such as well-being, outdoors or marvellous mealtimes and support others within that area) and encouraging practitioners to lead on improvements will develop autonomous practitioners, as well as knowledgeable and nurturing educators. 

I found the course interesting as I had never considered how as a leader I enthuse the Froebelian principles within the team, having more focussed on our children’s experiences. 


Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers (1998), Bringing Life to Organizational Change, Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement. 

Realising the Ambition (Online) @ realisingtheambition.pdf (education.gov.scot) (Last accessed 19/02/2024).   

SSSC ‘Leadership Capability tool’ @Frontline Worker Leadership Capability Feedback Tool (sssc.uk.com) ( Last accessed 20/02/2024). 

The Standards for Childhood Practice (2015) @ 2015 Standard for Childhood Practice Revised.pdf (Last accessed 19/02/2024) 

Tovey, H, ‘Principles in Practice’ @https://www.froebel.org.uk/uploads/documents/FT-Froebels-principles-and-practice-today.pdf (Last accessed 19/02/2024) 


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