Whilst EY1 are exploring being at the Zoo and EY3 are having a Space Adventure, the EY2 pupils have entered a World of Stories which will take them through to the end of the term. All class teachers held Parent-Practitioner meetings this week, providing an opportunity to discuss pupil progress with parents and families. Progress is observed and mapped to the Early Years Foundation Stage (Development Matters) where practitioners can identity if a child is demonstrating skills within their specific age band. Moreover, and more importantly in some respects, it gives the parents a chance to understand their child within the setting. Who are they, what do they like, what motivates and inspires them to learn? The child outside of the home setting can be a very different child to the one at home and piecing together the complex jigsaw puzzle of a young human being can be a fascinating journey.
I have always maintained that working with young children is a humbling vocation and it is a message that I consistently convey; children teach you how the world should be viewed, with innocence and acceptance. How we, as adults interact with them can impact on their personal growth, character development and influence who they become. Who we are as adults is a combined result of our genetic makeup plus the impact of relationships, experiences and the environment; traditionally debated as nature versus nurture. Do our genes determine who we are? Or is the environment the cornerstone for development? New research into epigenetics (the science of how the environment influences genetic expression) has shown that what is important is not what genes you have so much as what your genes are doing, and what your genes are doing is influenced by the ever-changing environment they’re in.
“Factors like stress, nutrition, and exposure to toxins all play a role in how genes are expressed—essentially which genes are turned on or off. Unlike the static conception of nature or nurture, epigenetic research demonstrates how genes and environments continuously interact to produce characteristics throughout a lifetime”.(http://thepsychreport.com/books/the-end-of-nature-versus-nurture/)
When you consider these findings, you could question who, beside the parent, would wish to take on a role which could potentially influence the personal development and fundamental characteristics of a child. Who would wish to have such a responsibility? Who would rise to the challenge of growing people? That’s where an Early Years’ practitioner steps forward.
As the head of the setting, I have a duty to my team to support them as they undertake their roles. I also have a responsibility to maintain the partnerships established with the parents whilst maintaining our unique and individual identity as the first Wellington College bilingual setting. It is fundamental that we imbue our identity; we are who we are and the Wellington families share our vision of what Early Years’ education is and should be. The families have placed their trust in Wellington College and in turn, Wellington College is represented by its practitioners and the setting in which they operate.
So, who would want to be an Early Years’ practitioner? Who, and why? What does it take to grow people? It takes an enormous amount of time, effort and energy. But most of all it takes the desire and will of individuals, who give their heart and soul to their vocation. When you view life at Wellington College, it appears very relaxed and fun. The pupils are engaged in various activities continuously; some child-initiated and some adult-led. To make this happen takes intricate planning and planning takes time. Before planning can take place, themes need to be designed and mind maps created linking learning to the seven areas of learning and development and this takes time. The mind maps then need to be linked to specific statements of development and key vocabulary identified and again, this takes time. Differentiated activities for those pupils requiring support and those that need greater challenge and extension must be identified and this takes time. To resource the activities takes an incredible amount of time. We love to sing, but we need to learn the songs before we can teach the children and this takes time (and practise). Providing feedback to parents based on observations takes time. To make judgements on a pupil’s progress takes time. To document it in a learning journal takes time.
So where do we get time?
I asked my team to tell me about their working week. We all know that the pupils are on site from 08:00 – 16:00 and that the team work contractually from 07:45 – 17:00, so how do they do everything that is required in one hour and fifteen minutes? In short, they don’t! The teaching teams are generally on site from 07:30 and most don’t leave until 17:30 (some working as late as 19:30 on site). Without exception, all work an additional 1-2 hours per evening and 3-4 hours (minimum) on a weekend, with extra hours required when observations are being made. I asked the teams what their biggest challenges were and without fail the greatest challenge was to complete everything needed to fulfil their role and do what they perceived to be right for the children. The teaching teams wanted to ensure that everything was as near to perfect as possible for every single child. How can this be? A group of professionals working generally 64 hours a week to grow people and feeling a continual pressure to get it right for each and every unique individual in the classroom. That really is something to be acknowledged. Why, I asked them? Why do you do it? Here are some of their (verbatim) responses:
- The children, the team (love them!!)
- Most of all seeing the progression of the children
- A sense of belonging. We encourage children to take care of each other
- I think it really benefits the children when we spend time playing with them, chatting with them and making things with them (instead of making things that they are not really interested in but just to show parents)
- We try to make everyone feel loved and be loved
- Seeing the children have WOW moments – at the moment the best ones are seeing them realise they can read and talking to me in English when they’ve never uttered a word before
- Working with a group of forward thinking colleagues who have the best interests of the children at heart
- Working in an environment which has been developed for children, with children
- The children are incredibly honest, funny, and wise people. Once they start finding ways to share their ideas and communicate, I spend a lot of my day having interesting and often quite funny conversations. They are far more amusing than most of the adults I know.
- I love working with children to solve problems and learn how to learn. When a child realises the answers can come from them, from exploration and experimentation, then magic of real learning happens.
- I get to sing all day, every day, at work and no one thinks I am crazy. I assure you that this is not considered normal outside an early years’ setting
To summarise what and who early years’ practitioners are: they are a team of people wholly dedicated to children, devoted to their profession who invest much of their ‘free’ time to ensuring that the eight hours per day spent with the children is inspiring, productive and fun. They have an innate desire to wish to be a part of that formative process, to be part of the environment that nurtures children to be the adult that they are yet to become. That’s no mean feat, nor easy task.