Developing Froebelian Principles within the Staff Team

How successfully have Froebelian trained staff embedded Froebelian principles within our setting?

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A small scale research study into how the Froebelian Childhood Practice award held by senior staff has impacted general practice within the staff team.

Introduction

This project looks at how successful the Local Authority drive in Froebelian practice has been in our setting. This links to an aspect of our improvement plan – evaluating the impact of staff training on our setting. Tina Bruce (2012:154) highlights the importance of ensuring staff training is sustainable and flexible. This means it is not a fad and can adapt to internal and external changes.

In focusing this enquiry I take into account SSSC codes on practitioners obligation in continuous professional learning. I also am guided by Helen Tovey’s (2017) writing on ‘Bringing the Froebel approach… Early Years…’ where she advocates the importance of honest self-reflection in a practitioner. She also sets a hopeful and motivational tone for aspiring to a Froebelian approach that there is no ‘one size fits all’ for our larger than preferred setting (Tovey 2017:123).

This enquiry is of importance as it is the first step in taking Froebelian Practice forward within our setting as it will evaluate where we truly stand in regard to the principles. I relate this to Edgar Schein’s model of Organisational Culture where transformation is more realistic when we examine underlying values (Interim 2004).

Context

Our setting is large in size and recently accommodated an equally large number of children post 1140 hours. At that time pressure on staff was intense with the additional strain of staff shortages due to both long and short term absences. However conditions have improved with a slightly smaller number of children attending, long term absence resolved and the leadership team strengthened. We are now in a position where we have been striving beyond meeting basic requirements. Staff are empowered; they have leadership roles with many taking their professional interests forward through various CPD opportunities including studying for the Childhood Practice degree. As a whole we have a vision of community which is being realised daily. This creates an excellent climate for us to examine where we align to the Froebelian Principles.

My own personal position is that I have recently switched from a senior position holding the Froebel in Childhood Practice award to a practitioner. As senior member of staff I had a wider perspective whereas now I am really only considering my own practice through a Froebelian lens. This practitioner enquiry is allowing me to take time to consider Froebel’s teachings and our setting as a whole.

 

As a busy setting with many areas of practice being developed we had to consider methods that would not feel cumbersome to staff. Initially three methods were decided upon – interviews, questionnaires and observations. In creating the questionnaire I had to consider what Froebelian projects had already been carried out in the nursery as well as the fact some staff may have training or prior knowledge. I tried to ensure the questions allowed me to qualify exactly the effect of our trained staff on the setting. Questions looked at to what extent participants felt aligned to the principles and how apparent they were within our setting. The questions also addressed previous projects and their impact. To support the questionnaires, posters of the principles were put up around the setting to allow staff to consider these as they practiced. My observations were informal and anecdotal included reviewing floor books rather than putting staff under any pressure. Due to staff shortages at the time we had to drop the interviews as they were not feasible. However some dialogue was possible as some staff preferred to respond to the questionnaire with me there and have a discussion sounding the questions. This formed part of my findings.

Ethics

Firstly we decided early on not to directly involve the children, only staff at this point. We did not want the staff to feel any pressure or obligation and in running a prototype where I introduced our research and aims I explained carefully this was not as assessment. I had to take into account that the majority of the staff had not completed Froebel training and that not all formal early years qualifications go into Froebel that much if at all. My HNC qualification is very recent and we barely touched on Froebel. All research was to be anonymous to allow for honesty in feedback as this was crucial in using this as a tool to move forward.

After testing with a prototype I learned that it would be more ethical and make for a richer project to open all staff roles to participate in the questionnaire rather than make it a single practitioner case study

“A lot of what we do is Froebel – we just don’t always realise”

Anonymous staff participant 2024

Findings

My questionnaire revealed interesting findings particularly as I was unsure what to expect. I had 9 responses from various levels of staff and all those who agreed to take part did so. Reviewing the data from the Google Form showed some inconsistencies in staffs opinion and knowledge which was to be expected. However some areas stood out clearly.

Just over half of the participants had no Froebelian training either accredited or through other learning ie their HNC. I asked about the Principles in terms of what they could relate to in practice an outlook. Most of the principles were commonly held and the two with more uneven responses were unity and connectedness and creativity and the power of symbols. Looking further into the questionnaire these two areas were seen as less successful in the nursery. In terms of the most successful areas participants saw in the nursery was the central importance of play, knowledgeable and nurturing educators and most agreed that relationships matter was strong too. The key question of how staff training has impacted practice was varied with the majority (just under half) choosing ‘sometimes – there are attempts at embedding the principles but they could be clearer. Two participants felt not at all and four felt to various degrees; yes. I then focused on two areas block play and nurturing self regulation as previous projects. Most agreed block play could be improved, during one feedback with a participant they said they felt it needed more STEM resources but then didn’t know if this was part of the Froebel approach. Opinion was split in how clear and evident the ethos of nurturing self-regulation was with half saying more support was need here. The final question asked if they felt motivated to learn more and how – all said yes with the majority wanting it to be inside training rather than the accredited training.

Another area of research was observation through informal anecdote and perusing floor books to observe the impact on children’s experiences. Floor books in general revealed a lot of weight given to children’s interests, previous experiences and their voice.  The one for the snack area showed how we promote the children’s independence. A lot of preference for creativity and decision making was shown in the art floor book. The outdoors had some evidence of engaging with nature and many experiences based on children’s interest and staff observations. As a whole the floor books demonstrated some alignment to most Froebelein Principles which could be further developed in terms of unity and connectedness and more symbolic representation.

Informal observation of relationships, autonomy and nurturing self regulation showed a strong value in relationships with parents and children in day to day interactions. In some areas autonomy was respected particularly with regard to choices, decision making and independence skills.

Nurturing self regulation has been a previous focus in the nursery. My observations showed plenty of time given to reassuring children and coregulation. I did also observe that there were inconsistencies in terms of how some areas such as risky play were handled. The children have to wear suits to go outside in wet and cold weather however the children are part of the outdoor risk/benefit assessment and will tell us what they need to wear outside.

Finally I saw evidence of development of block play using Froebelian principles as two staff members are undergoing professional development with Dierdre Grogan (Principle Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Research Associate, Strathclyde University) and have the Froebel Trust leaflet for staff to reflect on in developing the block play. The area as result has been moved to a bigger space.

Conclusion

In answering my main question I feel that my research demonstrates there has been some positive impact from our senior staff being Froebel trained and that the areas for development are achievable as staff are willing to take part in some form of professional learning albeit internally.

 

Clearly there are areas lacking clarity such as autonomy in risky play where staff are not all in tune with each other on how to manage this. As part of any development here we need staff’s concerns to be validated and collective agreement made on our approach to particular areas of play. The principles that lacked clarity, creativity and the power of symbols plus unity and connection require more understanding to enable them to be woven into our general practice.

 

In moving forward with a Froebelian approach I feel our next step would be to focus on the one physical area we are currently developing and improving and that is the outdoors. Here we would be aiming to promote children’s engagement with nature using Froebel as our guide. I feel that if we are successful here it would act as a “navigational tool” (Tina Bruce 2012:159) in not just developing other areas but in day to day practice.

Dissemination/Impact Report

A few days after completing and submitting my report I held a dissemination meeting with the research participants. My aim was for this to be a two way feedback process particularly as I felt the questionnaire method was fairly guided. Firstly I thanked my participants for taking the time to consider and reflect upon the principles in filling out the questionnaire. I explained that I had also considered floorbooks and informal anecdotal observation in collecting data. I then shared the results of the questionnaire which Google forms helpfully put into charts and graphs. Here I encouraged plenty of discussion and feedback surrounding these findings. This was important for the project in being taken forward as this went below the surface of the responses. General feedback showed me that in taking our project forward and further embedding the principles is not going to be a straightforward process. The participants who were of varying roles had plenty of valuable questions and points to make. This included how overwhelming it can be for us to be frequently given approaches and expectations from our local authority – whilst these may not necessarily clash with each other it can feel very top down in delivery. Also most are not comfortable with signing up to what they feel is a single approach. Some staff also at this stage are cautious to agree with some elements of Froebelian practice for example some aspects of giving children autonomy. All this would need to be addressed in terms of what Froebelian Practice looks like in a large nursery with an expectation from the local authority in improving academic outcomes in closing the attainment gap. One area I felt we all had a common desire in was the outdoors and all participants wholeheartedly agreed that this was a way to take forward Froebel’s ideas of a more nature based outdoor experience. Our next step for dissemination for this project is feedback to the whole staff team particularly for the development of our outdoor environment and planning. Looking ahead and more holistically we will need to ensure our quest for these principles is taken with everyone on board with plenty of discussion, links to what we already are achieving and expectations from higher authorities. Furthermore concerns of overload from various approach’s we are currently being trained in, for example Up, up and Away plus Growth Mindset, could be addressed through a reframe of perspective. When analysed and put into practice these approaches are actually supportive of the principles and visa versa.  In conclusion to this lively and active dissemination I would argue that we have practitioners that are curious, reflective and considered in their approach which surely is already an indicator of potential in Froebelian practice.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Kirsty Tomlin
    Kirsty Tomlin
    25 Mar 2024 at 3:55 pm

    really enjoyed reading this, great that your team want to learn and are so in tune with the approach.


    Report comment

  2. Joan MacNeil
    Joan MacNeil
    26 Mar 2024 at 9:23 pm

    A interesting account of the impact that Froebel training has had on your establishment. This would be a worthwhile exercise in many establishments given the number of staff who are now Froebel trained. It seems that this case study has given you clear objectives for the future as you continue on your Froebel journey.


    Report comment

Add a comment