Rethinking Documentation: Developing Leaders of Learning.

Project author:

Project summary:

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


 This project will explore the journey of implementing area floorbooks within the setting. It will discuss how this documentation empowered children as autonomous learners. Practitioners’ own leadership will also be discussed, including their practice, roles and their ownership. Furthermore, this project will also discuss how leadership has developed outwith the setting, influencing other local authority establishments to follow us on this journey of rethinking documentation. We (Head of Centre and Equity and Excellence Lead) will also discuss how our own leadership has developed throughout this project.  


Within the centre, through observation and self-evaluation, we noted that while planning for children’s learning was in place, there was little or no documented evidence of the rich learning that was taking place daily. We were also aware that we needed to evidence children leading their own learning. From this, we decided to make a positive change within the setting and become leaders of change. Burns theory of transformational leadership noted, “Leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.” By supporting our practitioners we provided them with the aspirations to develop and lead documentation of learning. Lewin noted, “A leader’s role is to create a supportive environment that enables individuals and teams to thrive”. We wanted to ensure that practitioners were empowered throughout this project and on board with the changes that would be made so we were aware that our leadership style would be key to ensuring the success of this project. 


This was a shared journey for all practitioners within the setting. There were discussions at collegiate meetings surrounding the quality of documentation and lack of evidence relating to planning sheets. Through this self-evaluation, practitioners agreed that area floorbooks would be the preferred method of documentation. Floorbooks had previously been a format for documenting evidence within our centre so we decided this would be the ideal format to revisit and potentially re-implement. Friedrich Froebel demonstrated clear characteristics of a leader through conveying a strong vision, a clear and coherent set of principles (Bruce, 2019). It was with this in mind that we recognised the need for strong leadership skills to ensure that our new format for documenting learning was supported throughout the centre. 

Following on from these discussions, the senior management team (Head of Centre and Equity and Excellence Lead) put together a new format that would hopefully close these gaps and improve quality. This consisted of a colour-coded system which would be rotated over a two week period, coinciding with how long practitioners are in that particular area. Green is a planning based focus, and links to the planning sheets which are completed collegiately. In turn, this provides evidence of how practitioners plan to meet children’s targets and track children’s progress using a holistic approach. The second colour, orange, is the children’s choice. This means that staff do not plan for their area or go into this space with any preconceptions. Children are the leaders of their own learning, with the freedom to follow their own needs, interests, and likes. Children decide what they want to learn about and how they would like to learn, which is done through mind map collaborations. We were influenced by Realising the Ambition (2020) which encourages us to see from a child’s perspective, telling us what they need from adults in terms of their interactions, experiences, and spaces. This document liberates children to be fully who they are, helping them to learn, grow, and achieve their ambitions. 

Once this new system had been developed, examples were put together to support and facilitate colleagues. The Senior leadership team spent time in different areas and documented rich and meaningful learning whilst following the new format and agreed criteria of collaboration, possible lines of development (PLODs), children’s voice, children’s mark-making, and evidence of learning and progression through photographs and learning stories. Once these examples were completed, an in-service day was dedicated to sharing this practice and there were quality discussions around the documentation with the opportunity to feedback and ask questions. After this training, practitioners were empowered to start documenting the learning taking place within their areas. We believe this followed aspects of charismatic leadership theory, as we used our communicative skills and persuasiveness to influence change. Moreover, three key aspects of a charismatic leader are to empower, envision and empathise. (Choi, 2006). Furthermore, Froebel was a visionary communicator and was a visible role model who articulated his beliefs and communicated his ideas. We believe that our own leadership skills were strengthened throughout this process as we were able to promote our ideas and vision, discuss the ‘why’ behind these changes, and ask practitioners to come along on this journey with us, thus showing characteristics of a visionary leader. 

 Project Outcomes 

This project has provided the opportunity for the senior leadership team to recognise and evaluate their leadership skills and role in order to implement this project effectively. Froebel noted “I wanted to educate people to be free, to think, to take action for themselves. ”Froebel (in Lilley 1967:41). The leadership team embraced this thinking in order to provide practitioners with the opportunity to develop their own leadership skills. Practitioners were given the time to discuss and evaluate the processes of documenting learning and were confident in giving feedback on any areas that needed improvement. Some practitioners that did not feel as confident asked for further support and this was given on a one to one basis. Goleman believes this to be a coaching leadership style, where leaders focus on the personal development of their colleagues and will work very closely with them to achieve excellence. (Goleman, 2004). Moreover, practitioners were able to learn from one another, evaluating one another’s inputs in the floorbooks and sharing practice. This links to Froebel’s leadership characteristics as he believed in peer evaluation, always learning from one another. 

Since reintroducing floorbooks we have seen an increase of practitioners taking ownership of their role in leading learning throughout the setting. Primarily, practitioners have recognised the importance of their leadership role throughout the centre and spend more time during collegiate sessions discussing opportunities to improve learning and outcomes. We feel that this project enabled practitioners to be pedagogical leaders as they were given opportunities to collaborate, reflect, be involved in inquiry based learning and work together on a shared vision.  

When looking at outcomes for children, we have noticed that children have shown critical skills for Froebelian leadership as they are empowered to be autonomous learners. We have observed that children are able to independently seek out new information and hold the power to control their own learning. This documentation fully embeds children’s values and passions and their differences and individuality are celebrated. Furthermore, children’s unique skills and interests have been followed and documented. We believe that the ethos of our setting links closely to the beliefs of Froebel, who also viewed children as leaders. On reflection, children’s feelings, thoughts and opinions are strongly evident throughout our floorbooks through voice, photographs, mark making and learning stories. Froebel believed that giving children freedom helps them to think for themselves, make choices, solve problems and pursue their own interests and talents. (Tovey, 2020). This links closely to Froebel’s principle of ‘freedom with guidance’ where adult guidance is significant in guiding children to gain and use their freedom. Furthermore, we also noticed that children were provided with more opportunities to reflect and revisit their learning. It is believed that children learn best by becoming more aware of their own learning and that time for children to reflect is a key feature of froebelian education. (Louis, 2022). 

Furthermore, we developed leadership outwith the setting through presenting at our local authorities ‘Learning Festival’. This provided opportunities for different settings to come together and share practice. We showcased our floorbooks in hopes to inspire, guide or support. Following this, a number of different settings came to our setting to gather practitioners’ opinions and expertise. We believe that these settings were influenced by our leadership and are now implementing similar documentation.  

 Final Reflections 

In order to gain a deeper insight into our leadership development, it was important that we acknowledged feedback from our whole community within our centre.  Froebel noted that he ‘must look for help outside myself and try to gain from others the knowledge and skill I needed’ (Lilly: 1967 pg. 34). We had recently attended leadership training which used the strengths deployment inventory to gain feedback on our core strengths. This was an ideal toolkit to support practitioners in providing us with feedback on our leadership throughout the project as we could focus on the people and process sections. Practitioners felt that as leaders we had shown excellence in supporting them on their journey so they were able to overcome any obstacles and achieve their goals. We were inclusive as we encouraged all practitioners to move forward together and this in turn created excitement about the project. Being option orientated was also identified as practitioners noted that we actively encouraged them to develop their own leadership skills. We were able to link this feedback from practitioners to critical skills for Froebelian leadership as practitioners agreed that we had shown skill in stepping back and allowing them to develop their own leadership skills. 

As we reflect on this project, we are able to identify how our leadership has developed. We have embraced a transformational leadership style. All practitioners have embraced the change, they have all developed individually but worked towards a common goal. There has been a recognition towards the importance and purpose of documenting children’s learning within the floorbooks and this has motivated practitioners to implement within our centre beyond our expectations.  

Although we have discussed our personal development throughout this project, there is still potential for further development. Our floorbooks are accessible and some parents/carers have looked through these and gave feedback. However, we feel that more time could be dedicated to this. To overcome this, we are planning an information night focused around documentation where all families can come together and celebrate their children’s learning and achievements.  


Bruce, T. (2019). Educating Young Children: A Lifetime Journey into a Froebelian Approach: The Selected Works of Tina Bruce. Routledge.
Burns, J.M. (1978) Leadership. New York. Harper & Row.
Choi, J. (2006). A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership: Envisioning, Empathy, and Empowerment. Journal of Leadership & Organisational Studies, 13(1), 24-43.
Goleman, D. (2004). What Makes a Leader?. [Online]. Harvard Business Review. Last Updated: 2004. Available at:
Lewin, K. et. al. (1939) ‘Patterns of Aggressive Behaviour in Experimentally Created Social Climates,’ The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 10, 1939.
Lilley, I. (1967) Friedrich Froebel A selection from his writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Louise, Dr Stella. (January 2022). Observing young children. [Online]. Froebel Trust. Last Updated: January 2022. Available at: [Accessed 20 February 2024].
Scottish Government (2020) Realising the Ambition: Being Me, Livingston: Education Scotland. 



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