The leadership teams in our nurseries had for some time been noticing that our least experienced staff (including those recently qualifying at Level 3) lacked confidence and/or competence in delivering consistent, good quality observations. The number of observations required before sign off is now much less than it used to be, but we are finding that minimum competence versus robust practice is a gap that our more senior staff needed to support more actively. We found that our less experienced staff would often get comfortable conducting observations in one specific area of learning but often struggled to identify the range of learning areas that an activity could link to. Also, they struggled to recognise the breadth of activities that children were engaged in during the day and waited for more formal observation opportunities.
We began with looking at the time spent ‘reflecting’ during a working day in the nursery; if there was ever a gift that I would give to our staff it would be more time. We found that our senior team would be more likely to spend time focused on tasks or ‘doing’, because there is always something to be done and whilst they were also reflecting, this was not necessarily an obvious process. This left the less experienced staff thinking that they must always be doing.
We introduced a more open way of reflecting so that staff can think and talk together about what the children were doing, how the staff member is thinking about that and the links back to the EYFS. This is enabling the teams to have the confidence to be wrong and talk through their rationale. The nursery manager has noticed a significant improvement in the quality of the observations in a short period of time, just through this one action.
The needs of our learners has also enabled us to reconsider the experience ratio within the room and whether the context was conducive to a learning environment (Vygotsky, 1978). Our inexperienced learners who are also working within a busy nursery context were unable to think critically enough about what they were doing and lacked the knowledge in which to build their observation skills on. By ensuring that they are working with a mentor in the room, we are able to create a more open context for scaffolding their learning (Vygotsky, 1978) and not waiting for their more formal supervision to do this.
The mentors support the learning process by creating active learning scenarios, developing a running commentary of what they are observing the child doing, why they would be linking this to a specific area and what others areas this activity might also be supporting. It was natural for the less experienced staff to be nervous about new learning situations (Lieb, 1999) but with positive reinforcement and more structured learning opportunities, we are developing practitioners who are not afraid to identify and be open about their knowledge or skill gaps but have also learnt why reflection is a key skill and how to do this well.
About the author
Dr Sonya Wallbank is the Managing Director of Capellas Nurseries and after school clubs. Sonya is a Chartered Psychologist by background and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). Sonya is also a registered member of the Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC) and Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). She has worked in the UK, USA and Australia training a range of staff to utilise her model within their work. Her most recent NHS position was Director of Children and Families. She has trained a range of staff in the NHS, Department of Health, Local Authorities, private organisations, hospices and charities. As a keen writer, Sonya has published in both professional journals and books and has a number of ongoing blogs.
Capellas use a specific model of care and education with its roots in Child Psychology theory. If you would like to learn more go to www.capellas.co.uk
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