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Getting serious about professional learning in the baby room

In this article, we consider what makes working in the baby room different to working in other parts of the nursery and why it is essential that more professional learning is designed, specifically with baby room educators in mind. We need to grow the sense of community and confidence among baby room leaders so that they can get the support they need to meet the demands of the job.

 

The baby room: distinct experiences and challenges for educators

Working in the baby room is different to working in any other part of the nursery and comes with distinct challenges. To give just a few examples:

  • Educators in the baby room are at the forefront of dealing with parents’ anxieties around leaving their babies in the care of others for the first time. At the same time as responding to babies’ intense settling emotions, educators are also effectively ‘settling in’ the parents.
  • In the baby room, educators have to manage individualised routines of sleep, bottles and feeding, while also ensuring that getting through these routines doesn’t completely take over the day and leave no time for rich interactions and mindful play.
  • Another challenge in the baby room is getting outdoors. While children in the toddler and pre-school rooms can wander outside by themselves, babies often have to be carried. This can make it tricky to spend as much time in nature or the local area as you’d like to.

 

The ‘infant practicum’

Research in early childhood education and care recognises the different experiences that those working with babies have. Researchers Susan Recchia and Minsun Shin coined the term ‘infant practicum’ to talk about the special knowledge, understanding, expertise and skills that those working with the very youngest children develop and contribute. The infant practicum involves a special kind of wonder and curiosity that baby room educators develop as they engage with babies. Rather than rushing in to do things for babies or setting up more structured activities, baby room educators master sitting back and intently observing. Recchia and Shin argue that we need to celebrate this special approach and support all early years educators to learn from what happens in the baby room.

 

Professional learning for baby room educators

Given the distinctiveness of what happens in the baby room and the special knowledge and skills that baby room educators need, you would think that targeted support for baby room educators would be readily available. You would think that the availability of this professional learning would be growing at this point, when it looks as though UK nurseries will be asked to extend the provision in the baby room with subsidised funding for much younger children to attend nursery than ever before. Though, there is a severe lack of professional learning courses, resources, networks and coaching that speaks specifically to the experiences of those working and leading in the baby room.

Nadine, a baby room leader working in a seaside town nursery in Scotland explains that: "we are always having to adapt training that is designed with older children in mind. We must take the guidance that is given about working with toddlers or pre-schoolers and think about how we can make it work for the babies. It’s so hard to find anything specific to what happens in the baby room".

This must shift. What we need is a movement of support for baby room educators. This would look like a growth in the number of courses and resources to support what happens in the baby room. It would look like an opportunity for baby room leaders to come together and develop communities of reflection and connection.

 

Baby Room Educators – Inspiring Leaders

I set up the project, Baby Rooms – Inspiring Leaders (BRIL) to contribute to this shift.

An initial pot of funding came from the British Education Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) to support a group of nursery managers, baby room leaders and early years trainers to come together and imagine what a course for baby room leaders would involve and how it would work. In September 2022, we ran the first BRIL course: "An Introduction to Baby Room Leadership". The attention the course received was absolutely overwhelming. I opened the course with 20 places but these had gone within the first hour of mentioning the course on social media. I increased the number of places to 50 and these had disappeared within 24 hours. The waiting list of baby room leaders eager to join quickly grew. Running the course for the second time in Autumn of this year, the response has been equally positive. It shows just how much of a demand there is for targeted baby room leadership development.

Building on the amazing responses to these free courses, BRIL now has a life of its own. We’re running a wide range of courses, from intensive reflection-driven courses looking at how we respect the rights of babies in the baby room, to one-off workshops brainstorming ideas to grow more creativity in the baby room. We’ve also released workbooks and resources looking at different aspects of baby room education and baby room leadership, and we we’ve introduced a coaching service. Everything is targeted specifically to those working in the baby room.

All of this though is just the tip of the iceberg. The mission, which is so much bigger than BRIL, is to generate increasing levels of confidence and community among baby room educators so that they can not only demand better professional learning, but also generate more of it for themselves. Baby Room Leader, Nadine, who was involved in the design of the first BRIL course, has now gone on to create a local network of baby room leaders who regularly visit each other in their settings and meet up to exchange experiences and solve problems together. This is an inspiring example of what can happen when we commit to valuing what baby room educators do and taking seriously the professional learning needs of those who work with the very youngest children in the nursery.

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

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