Leaders in early years see how the practice around them could be improved. They notice what is not going as well as it could and think carefully about the changes needed to make a positive difference for children, families and staff in a setting.
This is the second part of a two-part column where we are looking at the principles that guide you through the process of making improvements as a leader. In the first part, we considered the role of careful observation and reflection as well as the place for collaborative reflection and dialogue.
In this second and final part, we focus on action planning. Once you’ve decided as a team what improvement you’d like to make and what initial steps you’d like to try, you can plan the actions you will take, which includes not only the implementation of the change itself but also the evaluation process.
Everyone on the same page
When you get to the stage of action planning, you are considering all of the details involved in carrying out the change you are making. It is important to take the time and care to do this properly otherwise you can end up with different members of the team pulling in different directions, even though you had buy-in initially from everyone.
Take for example the change we considered in last month’s column. We talked about the possibility of a leader wanting to make some changes in order to create a more relaxed atmosphere over lunch time for the children. A team might decide that the best way to try and make this happen is to increase the overall length of the lunch time, but if there is uncertainty about how exactly this will be implemented and what the knock-on effects will be, it is possible to end up with staff understanding the change in their own way. One staff member might assume that a longer children’s lunch time means that staff lunch breaks need to move around to accommodate the shift, while someone else might assume that staff rotate during the children’s lunch hour and staff breaks can therefore stay the same. In the heat of the moment, these different approaches can create tension and prevent the change from being effective in achieving the original goal.
Focusing on the details
As a leader, when you are action planning and trying to ensure that everyone is on the same page, it is helpful to work through the following prompts:
- Who? Who is going to be involved in making this change? Who does the change have implications for and how are all of these individuals – whether it’s staff, parents, children – going to be informed and involved in the change?
- What? What is the exact change that you are asking individuals to make in their behaviours? A change like ‘increase the lunch time to one hour’ can seem simple, but it actually needs to be broken down further in terms of how people’s behaviours will be changing as a result. Think about the change from everybody’s point of view and what exactly you are asking them to do differently.
- When? Does this change apply to a specific time of the day? In order to help with the transition period, can you ring-fence this part of the day as you attempt to make the change? It can help to name the part of the day where the change is occurring so that everyone remembers that this is a trial period and part of a learning process. For example, the leader changing the shape of the children’s lunch time might call the period between 11.30am to 12.30pm ‘the relaxed lunch hour’.
- Where? Is there a particular area of the nursery involved? Are you implementing the change in just one room, or with just one group within a room? Would it be best to pilot this change with one particular part of the nursery team or do you want this change to happen across the board right from the start?
- How? Are there any additional resources that staff are going to need in order to make the change? Is there a need for any additional equipment? Is there a need for extra training or supervision as the change is implemented for the first time? Is everyone confident in doing what is now expected of them and how can staff let you know if they feel like they need more support? What extra resources and time might you need in order to support staff through this change? These questions can feel daunting because they make change seem resource-intensive, but it is better to plan with care and not take on too much at once. If a leader is busy juggling multiple changes simultaneously, it can jeopardise the effectiveness of any one of those single shifts.
- How long? Time frames for change matter. You need to have in place not only a time frame for trying out a change but also for the evaluation and reflection to follow. It helps tremendously if everyone involved is swimming towards a particular, time-defined period of review and reflection. This can be reassuring for staff whether or not the change appears to be working.
Keeping the team in the loop
Ideally, tackling these questions is a team activity. You could walk the team through these prompts in a team meeting, writing ideas as you go onto a flip chart. Following up, create a simple one-page document summarising the change as simply as possible. Everyone involved in the change needs access to this document and it needs to be easy access. Don’t circulate the action plan by email if you know that no one will check it that way. Take the extra time and attention to print the action plan, laminate it, put it on the walls or on the tables around the setting so that there is an easy reference point for what you are trying to do.
About the author:
Dr Mona Sakr is Senior Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood. As a researcher in Early Years (EY) provision, she has published extensively on creative, digital and playful pedagogies including the books ‘Digital Play in Early Childhood: What’s the Problem?’ (Sage) and ‘Creativity and Making in Early Childhood: Challenging Practitioner Perspectives’ (Bloomsbury).
Mona's current research is an exploration of pedagogical, organisational and community leadership in EY and how leadership can be more effectively developed across EY. Current funded research includes a Nuffield Foundation project looking at online leadership development across the EY sector, a BELMAS project looking at leadership in the baby room of nurseries and a BERA project examining ethnicity in the early years workforce.
Forthcoming books (include an introduction to Social Leadership in Early Childhood Education and Care (written with June O’Sullivan, CEO of London Early Years Foundation), and an edited volume on EY pedagogical leadership around the globe.