Froebelian Leadership – Dawn Meechan

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Project summary:

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

Inclusive practice

Keywords

 Completing the Froebel in Childhood Practice course back in 2021 enabled me to reflect on how Froebelian principles underpin my practice when working with children. This leadership programme has made me reflect more deeply on what it means to be a Froebelian leader in today’s modern society and how his values can be transformed into the 21st century.  This assignment explores the need for change in leadership style, leading to more positive outcomes for staff, children, and their families. 

 For the purposes of this project, I aim to consider the following questions:  

  • To what extent are Froebelian Principles reflected in my leadership style?  
  • How effectively do I develop leadership at all levels?  
  • What are my leadership strengths and aspirations? 

 In my quality assurance role, I have been supporting a service that is not meeting the national standard across all 4 themes, including leadership. Following a succession of managers, relationships had broken down and morale was low. Staff felt unsupported and undervalued, as a result staff did not recognise the key role they had to play in making improvements.  

 In line with Froebelian principles it was important for me to focus on building trusting relationships by actively listening to and respecting the views of children and staff. To support the team and influence positive change I considered how I was going to boost morale and give staff more autonomy through valuing their skills, knowledge, and expertise. I also had to think about how I would facilitate professional growth, offering ‘freedom with guidance’ and promote reflexive practice, ensuring staff accountability. 

 The culture of self-evaluation was at the early stages of development and had not yet resulted in sustained improvement. Feedback from Care Inspectorate provided staff with clear actions in relation to requirements and areas for improvement. This enabled staff to prioritise their subject area for inquiry.  

 It was reported that the learning environment ‘had limited opportunity to empower children to actively seek and experience play and learning that was challenging and centred on their needs and interests’. The context provided me with an opportunity to develop leadership at all levels, looking at the role of children and adults as co-leaders and how I could empower staff while also ensuring that children were given opportunities to be actively involved in leading their play and learning. 

 Building and maintaining positive relationships was at the heart of this project, promoting a culture of unity and connectedness with us all working and learning together to achieve the same goals. Following the inspection, it was important to bring the staff team together to discuss feedback and provide opportunities for professional dialogue. It was essential that staff recognised that everyone had a part to play in moving forward. HGIOELC emphasises that senior leaders should ‘create conditions where all practitioners feel confident to initiate well-informed change and share responsibility for the process of change’. This led to co-creating an improvement plan with the team to ensure that staff were aware of their roles. 

 “Those in leadership roles in early years establishments need to create a culture which values staff and supports practitioners in improving their skills and Knowledge” (Scottish Government, 2014:49). 

 Froebel reminds me to value the efforts of others, focussing on what children and adults can do rather than what they can’t is the starting point. I believe in nurturing and guiding educators and children to become the very best they can be. Professional learning was well planned to complement and enhance the setting’s improvement priorities, taking account of staff’s existing skills, knowledge and expertise. In true participatory leadership style, I was keen to tap into staff motivations and interests, valuing the knowledge and wisdom that the team had to move forward. ‘Only through self-activity, children learn and develop’ (Wasmuth, 2006:27). I would argue that this also applies to adults. Staff were tasked with identifying an area within the environment that interested them and develop it alongside the children. 

 Reflective practice is a key feature of Froebelian education. Regular self-evaluation sessions took place to ensure that all staff had the opportunity to share the progress that they had made in their areas and discuss any next steps identified. Reflections identified that some members of staff were flourishing in their leadership roles whereas some members of staff needed extra support and guidance. This was supported effectively through one-one coaching conversations using the GROW model and peer support. 

 It was evident through these conversations that staff found it particularly difficult to challenge each other’s thinking and be a ‘critical friend’. In line with Laloux and Sergiovanni I was keen to promote a culture where mistakes were acknowledged, accepted, and learned from. I was aware that this would take time and trust was still to be fully established. 

 As a result of taking an active part in the inquiry process, staff became intrinsically motivated and more confident in their roles. This was evident through observations of practice and professional dialogue. Staff began to recognise that they had a valuable part to play in the improvement journey.  

 Collegiate time was prioritised to focus on key messages from local and national guidance in relation to the learning environment and the central importance of play. Realising the ambition promotes pedagogical leaders to think about how they provide opportunities for children ‘to influence how and what they want to learn’. (Scottish Government, 2000:53). This learning supported and empowered staff to improve their practice and helped them to enrich the learning environment based on children’s needs and interests. Over time, practitioners became more flexible and responsive in their approach as they encouraged children to discuss and help plan their learning.  

 All staff were encouraged to document their improvement journey in a big book which captured progress and impact. Quality frameworks were used to support critical reflection and with support staff began to be more evaluative, focussing on the impact they were making on outcomes for children. Challenge questions promoted deeper discussions and helped to identify next steps. 

 Some staff recognised that although they were getting much better at following the child’s lead, they still found it particularly challenging to get the balance right between stepping back to observe and stepping in to support and extend children’s interests. I felt that I had promoted ‘freedom with guidance’ in my leadership approach, however, it was clear that this is an area that staff needed to explore further when working with children. Referring to the questions and resources in the Froebelian Futures self-evaluation toolkit would allow for deeper reflection, guidance, and support. 

 Moving forward I feel that staff would benefit from developing a shared vision for the setting and community that reflect the aspirations of the practitioners, children, their families, and partners. Everyone would have the opportunity to influence positive change and would help to strengthen relationships further. ‘As pedagogical leaders, it is essential that we develop positive relationships with parents and carers and work closely alongside them and value their contribution’ (Scottish Government, 2020:59)  

 The Froebelian leadership programme highlighted that ‘leadership is a lifelong journey that begins with self-awareness’. Taking part in this course has helped me to reflect more deeply on my leadership style and as a result I have become more self-aware of my leadership qualities and what is important to me as a leader. I am reassured and pleased to discover that on my journey of self-reflection that my leadership style aligns with Froebelian Principles. Staying true to these principles, just like Froebel, has enabled me to remain consistent in my approach and become a more effective leader. 

 ‘It is of course easier… to have an answer given by someone else but it is far more valuable and stimulating for them to find it out for themselves’ (Lilley, 1967:126) 

 On a personal note, I have learned to accept that I don’t need to have all the answers. I find it far more rewarding to support and guide others and watch their skills, knowledge and confidence grow and develop. It has taken time to recognise that the journey is just as important as the outcome. 

 I created a feedback form based on key questions from HGIOELC quality indicator 1.3 – Leadership of change for staff to evaluate my leadership skills.  Feedback from staff was very positive and highlighted that staff felt supported to take forward improvements. Staff commented that I ‘am approachable and helpful…I have good communication skills and encourage staff to show their full potential’ and that I ‘help staff to set clear and achievable goals, highlighting professional training and reading to help staff improve and implement appropriate changes’.  

 The Froebelian Futures self-evaluation toolkit has helped me to identify an area that I would like to develop further on my leadership journey. My aspirations are to promote a slow pedagogical approach as I have recognised that the pace of change in some services can be too fast, resulting in breakdown of relationships, staff feeling under pressure and improvements not being sustained. I feel that it is important to apply this to our approach when working with children as well as with adults.  

 The question that I would like to explore further is ‘What can a leader do to ensure that time is more fluid for the whole community; and where children and adults can genuinely immerse themselves in the flow of time? (Czikszentmihalyi, 2008). My aim is to create a culture which embraces all children and adults having time to live and learn within holistic, unhurried nurturing places. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Susan Gallagher
    Susan Gallagher
    24 Mar 2024 at 7:08 pm

    This is very interesting and reassuring to read to understand that it is not only managers supporting practitioners to become more Froebelian and use his principles to inform on that, but also leadership roles who are supporting managers to understand it more deeply and the impact it can have on staff, children and families in raising quality and making changes. Thank you.


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