Early years team work and leadership
Early years team work and leadership

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Early years team work and leadership

1.1 Leadership skills in practice

In the next activity you will listen to the audio sequence ‘Biographies’ and think about the professional qualities, attitudes and abilities linked to leadership.

Activity 2 Leadership skills in practice

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

The objective of this activity is for you to identify the professional qualities, skills and abilities of a leader.

Listen to the audio sequence ‘Biographies’, where five practitioners – Beth, Catherine, Donna, Julie and Kirsty – talk about their personal and professional experiences.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Biographies
Skip transcript: Biographies

Transcript: Biographies

Beth Casey
I am Beth Casey, and I am a director of a company, and also I’m company SENCO, child protection officer and health and safety officer.
I’ve been at Pathways for seven years, and before I started at Pathways I’d had my children, who are now 16 and 17, and I had no formal training at all to do with childcare. There was no provision for a mother and toddler group or anything in my area so I went and I opened one up, started it, didn’t need any qualifications back then, and then I took myself off to college and did an NNEB, 9.30 until 2.30 every day and took the boys to school. So I whizzed off to college, did that, and then I’m currently doing my foundation degree, and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s made me reflect on my own practice a lot, and sort of rather than just doing what I do, it’s made me think about the reasons why I do what I do, which I think it’s made me a stronger practitioner, and it has also made me feel more comfortable to be able to, you know, train the girls.
I’m in charge of training for all the girls across all five nurseries, and it’s interesting to see the amount of people that want to actually get to the Level 3 where they’re required to go and then you’ve got some that have no desire to actually move on, but also you have the ones that really want to further their career and they’re sort of saying what can I go on next, and is there funding available, so I think training’s a huge part and I would like to go on and, you know, progress once I’ve done that. I’m not entirely sure in which field yet but, you know, definitely. I’m always learning, every day I learn something new and, you know, you accept all these challenges that are thrown against you. But I’m a bit of a bookworm as well so I’m constantly reading articles and I’m hoping that, you know, I will progress.
Catherine Warner
My name’s Catherine Warner and I work at Pathways. I started out many years ago as a childminder when I lived in Canada, and when I came in, over to England, nine years ago, I started volunteering in a playgroup, and it got me more interested in children and decided to do my NVQ 3. And since then I’ve moved on, I’m now doing my foundation degree at WarwickUniversity.
The foundation degree has been hard work. But it has helped me progress in my professional development as well as my personal development. I’ve taken the degree back to the setting. My professional role has helped me with the foundation degree as well. It’s made me more confident in my practice and my personal life.
All around it’s been good. It’s just, it’s not easy, I’m not going to say, because I’m doing it part time, but I’ve managed it.
I’d like to do my honours degree after my foundation degree, and I haven’t decided if I want to do my professional status or my teaching yet. I’m taking one year at a time and decide when I’m finished.
My husband is British; I met him over in Canada, he was living in Canada, and we got married and had our children over there, and he just wanted to come home to his parents and I came along with him. At first, it was a struggle. But I think once I threw myself into the school and the children, because I do love children, I settled in really well. But it has given me the confidence, I keep saying, if I was in Canada I don’t know if I would be doing my foundation degree. I think coming over here has even given me the confidence in myself that you get away from your family and you’re not one of them any more, you’re on your own, nobody asked me to do the foundation degree, I wanted to do it myself. I did the NVQ 3 a few years back and decided that I wanted to educate myself more.
My role at the nursery, there’s five different nurseries, and at first the owner came up to me and said she knew me from my foundation degree and knew I had the confidence to be able to go around to the different settings, and she needed somebody to cover because when you’ve got five nurseries that’s five times the amount of staff that are off ill or have personal issues, appointments, training. So I sort of float around to the different nurseries.
Donna Quail
I’m Donna, Donna Quail, and I’m a child development officer here at Madras. I’ve worked here both job share and full time. I’ve been full time for the last six months and job share previously before that.
I’ve always loved my job, since gaining my SNNEB, and working from I think about eighteen, I did take a bit of a career break to have my own children, and it was then when I was working as a registered childminder that I decided I did have a bit more free time on my hands and I wanted to get the old grey cells working again.
So I thought about doing an OU course, which is a big, big step when you’ve not done it for such a long time. So I started doing an openings course, really enjoyed the openings course, and then went in to do the E123, by which time I was back working job share at a nursery, in Madras. So I’ve been able to do a job share and do the studying, it was just, it was great and I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve really benefited from it. And I’ve carried that through now to do, I’ve completed the E124, E115 and I’m now on to U212.
So it’s five years! I can’t believe it’s been five years that I’ve been studying with the OU, and now I just think I would be at a loss if I wasn’t studying through it, you kind of, it’s just, it becomes part of your routine. It’s difficult but you do, you do get there, and I think it just benefits me every day, every day.
Because you’re doing all the theory work at home then you’re coming into the nursery environment. You’re working everyday with all your colleagues, the children, all the parents and all the other agencies and people that we deal with day to day. The theory has a real impact on what you’re doing on a day to day basis. I used to come into work and, yeah, I always think I did a pretty good job but now I really know why I’m doing it. I know what difference, what I’m doing with the children, what a huge difference it makes to them, even the little things make a big, big difference, and it just makes the learning experiences that the children have more enriched. And I feel as though I’m much more confident in being able to support their learning and my confidence I think gives them more confidence as well.
Julie Chandler
I’m Julie Chandler, and I’m a local childminder in the area. I work under the name of Clockwork Childcare.
In my early twenties, I was fortunate to work on the stock markets in Canary Wharf, which was fantastic for a few years, and then moved back to the Midlands and started a family, and then we had the transition from professional to professional childcare worker, which was interesting, an interesting journey. I had some hitches along the way but actually ultimately it’s worked for me, it’s worked for our family, and I’m really glad I did it. It’s been good fun.
I had a lot of support from our local council, our local children service at the time who provide many free courses, short courses, sort of six week courses to go on to prepare you for what it entails and to make the whole process legal. So that was really helpful. It was quite a smooth transition.
We did various courses from health and safety, first aid, food hygiene, safeguarding children. I mean the list is really endless. You can go on sort of training and retraining yourself throughout your career as a child carer I think.
We were quite lucky locally in that the childminders are really supportive of each other, and although we don’t have an official childminding coordinator, we do chat to each other on a regular basis, and we have a group once a week where we get together and talk about any concerns within the childminding system and each other’s vacancies, and we know if we get enquiries, we can direct them to people who have vacancies or have the most suitable setting for that child. Equally, we work very closely with local nurseries, and it’s important for continuity of care for the children. They don’t have to be in one setting to have continuity. As long as everybody’s working towards the same set of rules and for the same goal and then the children can have a nice smooth transition from one setting to another, whether it be on a semi permanent basis or a daily basis if they spend a couple of hours with a childminder a day or six hours in a nursery setting, if we all work together.
I have also been training as a classroom and teaching assistant during the time I’ve been childminding with a view to, possibly, as my children grow up and go to school, moving into a classroom environment. But I feel that everything I do in a childminding setting at the moment is helping me in working towards that end goal.
As a childminder you are responsible solely for everything; you are your own teacher, your own cook, your own caretaker, you are everything.
Kirsty Light
My name is Kirsty Light. I’m an early years development worker at the Lark Children Centre, but I’m also a SENCO and an ENCO. ENCO is Equality Named Coordinator, it’s in charge of equal opportunities and diversity within the centre.
The ENCO role is a role that I’ve developed, we’ve developed over the years. We have a family that came from Angola and mum didn’t speak a lot of English and her children were very young. And when she first came, we developed a relationship over the years where I would learn to speak Portuguese, not very well but I know how to speak a few words of Portuguese she would bring her culture within the centre and she would bring in food and recipes. And every time we have a festival and things like that, we, we provide lots of materials and activities for the children to be very diverse. We have dolls, we have puzzles, we have visits out, we go to festivals. We like to try and make the children more patient and tolerant of each other, be respectful of each other.
When I left school, I went to work in a nursery as a nursery assistant, and I became a single parent so all the time my daughter was growing up, I worked for Social Services. I was providing respite care for foster carers, looking after their children at the weekends to give them a break. Had varying needs of the children I was looking after, one little girl had meningitis which left her severely brain damaged, cerebral palsy, and many other health-related problems, and I looked after those to give the foster carers a break, really. And when my daughter grew up and was a bit more independent at school, I decided that I would go back into child care and then I started here.
Being here has given me a good link with the school. We have many good opportunities to train here. When many of us are in the process of studying for a degree in early years and I would like to take that further and actually have a teaching degree and actually move into primary schools at the end.
End transcript: Biographies
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Make notes on the personal and professional qualities, experiences, skills, knowledge and attitudes that demonstrate abilities of a leader. For example: they may have confidence, be able to communicate or reflect, take responsibility or make decisions; they may be flexible, ambitious or enthusiastic; they may be willing to learn, train and develop themselves.

Now reflect on your own personal and professional qualities, experiences, skills, knowledge and attitudes. Write a pen portrait of yourself, highlighting your key strengths, areas for development and any other factors that influence your ability as a leader of, or in, a team.


Below is an extract from Sarah’s journal notes.

I think I have some leadership skills and qualities because I get on well with people, especially parents. My communication skills are good and I do accept other people’s viewpoints. I think I am patient and a good listener. However, I am not very good at telling people what to do, as I don’t like conflict or confrontation. I like being given responsibility and making decisions about things, but sometimes I find it hard to put my ideas forward in case they are criticised. Sometimes I bury my head in the sand rather than try to solve a problem. I am beginning to help others in the team who have just started working with us, and this has made me more confident. I am a trustworthy person and honest, plus I don’t mind working hard, which is important as I think it is good to lead by example. I want to learn more and be able to make changes in my setting.

In practice, leadership is usually a varied, fragmented process, enacted in a context of change and interwoven among day-to-day management tasks. Beyond doubt, leadership is only effective if it develops the leadership of those in the team. The role of the leader, therefore, is to consciously encourage others to lead themselves. The purpose of this is not to make the leader’s life easier, but to use everyone’s talents to best effect. Leaders play a significant role in enabling other practitioners to develop the necessary capabilities to enhance the quality of provision. Perhaps it is important that,as a practitioner, you aspire to adopt the qualities of leadership identified by McCall and Lawlor (2000) who suggest that:

Leadership must be visionary. Leaders must hold some idea of the future, the distant horizon and full game plan and they need the capacity to maintain personal and team momentum on the journey towards securing the desired goal. They must also show rich human qualities such as an allegiance to a mission, curiosity, daring, a sense of adventure and strong interpersonal skills, including fair and sensitive management of those who work with them. They must be able to motivate themselves and others, demonstrate a commitment to what they espouse, release the talents and energies of others, have strength of character, yet remain flexible in attitude and be willing to learn new techniques and new skills.

(McCall and Lawlor, 2000, cited in Jones and Pound, 2008, p. 1)

If you do not already have responsibility for aspects of the provision in your setting, as you become more competent, knowledgeable and experienced as a practitioner, you should find opportunities to exercise leadership skills in your work with children, families and the wider community. Effective provision requires leaders, and all practitioners, to continually reflect on children’s experiences in their setting and, in partnership with families and other professionals, to initiate change for improvement.

Activity 3 Identifying instances of leadership

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

The objective of this activity is for you to identify opportunities to demonstrate leadership in day-to-day practice.

Watch the following video sequence, ‘Parents’ evening’, which was recorded at a Pathways nursery in Warwick. As you watch and listen, jot down possible instances of leadership that you identify in what is being said and discussed by Caroline and other staff featured. What examples of practice might be used as evidence of leadership?

Download this video clip.Video player: Parents' evening
Skip transcript: Parents' evening

Transcript: Parents' evening

At Pathways, we talk to the parents at the door every day. We speak to them at lunchtime when they come to pick them up. Sometimes, we even phone them just to say, we're a little bit unsure about this, we're a little bit unsure about that, or he hasn't been himself today. Could you help us and discuss any problems or any concerns that he or she may have?
It was good to have the informal time to be able to chat with parents without the restrictions of having the children, as they would normally do on the drop off and collection time, and they really valued that to get to know the staff in that sort of environment, rather than in the day to day nursery environment.
We're going to take a pew or a seat. That's the luxury one. The first person who arrives should be on that chair.
If you're naughty, you sit in the corner.
No, we don't have naughty corners anymore.
Thank you. Yeah, but you have to pretend you've got a small you-know-what to sit on the chair. Right. Good evening and welcome, everybody. It's lovely to see so many people here. We try to share information with parents in a variety of ways, really, because we rely on you and your information and your knowledge that you give us, but we like to share information with you.
There are two frameworks that we think about. One is called the Every Child Matters Outcomes. Now, that's really important because that's a big government agenda for every child, as the title indicates, not just children in early years, but in primary, secondary, and right up to 19, actually, in further education.
The second thing that I'm going to just tell you a little bit about is the Early Years Foundation Stage. We've left some copies out for you to have a look at, and that is actually what you might have called, when you were at school, a curriculum, and this is it. It consists of various things. There are some cards with principles and themes.
One of the themes is positive relationships. Obviously, that's something we've always done, but it's nice to see that it reflects what we have done and it's good for us for training our staff.
Then there's some practice guidance here, which gives us some ideas of the things that we might do with the children, how we might observe them, and activities we might do for them. And then there's some legal requirements. It's a lot more complicated than it might first appear, what we do in the nursery.
OK, so going back to the Every Child Matters Outcomes, I'll tell you what they are and a bit of the ways in which we try to promote them in the setting so that you, obviously, I'm sure anyway, can support us at home with these things. So the first one is about staying safe, or helping children to keep safe as well.
We do that in a number of ways. We keep the doors locked, we keep the gates locked, we have a visitors book, we do risk assessments, we check our equipment, we encourage the children to get their safety jackets out if they're going down to the field or out for a walk.
They need to support what the children are experiencing in the nursery and extend it when the children are in their home and vice versa. It also avoids parents having any misunderstandings or unnecessary concerns about what their expectations are from the nursery. If the expectations are set out clearly to the parents, either on verbal day to day contact, or in an evening, or in the brochures, then there's less likely to be any friction.
And then the final one, which is--
The partnership's a lot stronger if they understand why we do things the way we do, and maybe not always in the way that they might have expected.
But what we do try to plan for is the six areas of learning and development. This is the bit where you have to listen now. You'll see them around the room, and they're on the posters. There's one here and one on the parents' notice board, which I'm sure you've seen many times, and there are six areas of learning development, and these are the ones that I want you to look out for on the video.
We're not saying that children learn in separate boxes. They're all interlinked. They all link together somehow, but it's a very useful way to think about children's development and to spot where a child might need some extra support or where a child might be ahead of their age-- they might be at a stage ahead-- so we can meet each individual child's needs.
So what are the six areas? Well I should ask my staff this, really. Any volunteers to tell us any of the areas?
Personal, social, and emotional.
Right. It's our circle time. It's about feelings, it's about sharing.
If we had a lot of parents, I might have used and a bit of technology and actually had a PowerPoint. One parent commented, interestingly, that it would have been good to involve the other staff more in giving the presentation, and so that's something that we would definitely consider so people could actually talk about their own individual roles and responsibilities and have a little input into the presentation itself.
And then creative, which I think is really important, to express themselves so they can use their senses, they can use play dough, they can explore colour with painting, in the sand again, the water. Some of these resources cross the areas, but particularly about creating things for themselves, not an adult saying, stick this on here, stick that on there, paint this, paint that, but actually allowing children, giving them the resources so they can do the collage or whatever it is they want to do and explore their taste and their feel and their touch and everything.
So here, it's really important for us that we give a real emphasis to creative, and we do try to do that. Although the six areas are equally weighted, we try to emphasise personal, social, language, and creative, particularly for the two- to three-year-olds, and then maybe emphasise the problem solving, reasoning, [INAUDIBLE], and the other areas. Now, we're going to look at a video, a few clips. I said to the girls, try and cover the six areas, and try and covers the Every Child Matters Outcomes. Just watch it and see if you can try to identify what's going on.
That looks like a yummy lolly. What are you making?
Pardon? Oh, yummy.
I could see by their faces, quite a few were nodding imperceptibly, really, and that they were taking in what was being said and interested in finding out. Also surprised, I think, when they saw the video of their children in the nursery-- how much actually goes on. They made comments like, I never realised how much planning underpins everything that goes on in the nursery. When my child comes home, they don't say what they've done, and it's been great to have this view of what goes on in the nursery.
I see lots of PSE working together, cooperating.
Communication as well between each of them and to adults.
Lots of communication between adult and child, and child to child. I saw somebody trying to put a shoe on in the role play, so there's a bit of independence there, but also trying to explore on their own without an adult intervening. I wonder if I can get this on, so a bit of independence there. How many minutes was that we watched, about? Five? Possibly. I didn't actually time it. I haven't got a watch on, but about five.
And how many hours are the children here? Sometimes they're here three hours. Sometimes they're here seven hours. How are they going to tell you what they've done when they come home? They're not going to be able to, are they? But if a child is doing that much learning, if one child is going through those experiences in that five minutes, how much they're gaining actually from being in the group environment if it's well planned and structured with appropriate adults there? It's amazing.
And it is about partnership. We can't do it on our own. We've got a lot of experience, and good staff, and so on and so forth, but is also about partnership with parents, and talking to parents, and having the support of parents.
How do you check out your staff to protect our children?
We have got clear government guidelines that we follow, and they're minimum guidelines, so we go above and beyond that. So what would happen with us is, we would invite, somebody would apply for a post, or they might come and speak to us and say, I'd like to work in the nursery. Or we might advertise, not that we usually have to advertise, but if we do, we would then ask for a written letter of application and a CV. We'd speak to them on the telephone, and then we'd check up the two references.
End transcript: Parents' evening
Parents' evening
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You may have noted the knowledge that Caroline displayed about the EYFS and Every Child Matters frameworks. Maybe you picked up the changes suggested for a future parents’ evening. You can show evidence of leadership without having a designated leadership role. Therefore, you may have identified an instance where leadership qualities were being displayed, such as in the sequence shown to the parents of the children playing, where they were being given some responsibility by the practitioner. You may also have thought about what went into planning and leading such an evening for parents and carers. What evidence might there be of working with other professionals, for example?


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