In his latest column, TNL CEO and Founder Sam Green reflects on Early Years Professionals focussing their kindness and patience not only on the children they work with, but also their colleagues and themselves too.
Those working in early years are sometimes referred to as “professional carers”.
Now that phrase is problematic for a whole host of reasons, not least because the modern early years professional is doing far more than simply caring for their young charges, but for the sake of the point I want to make here, it is a useful place to start.
Compared to any other stage of education, those engaged in early years certainly spend a lot more time caring for children. I have been challenged in recent weeks by the striking paradox between that exceptional care which colleagues show children every day, and the equally striking animosity so often evident between those same colleagues when it comes to discussing different approaches to early years practice and pedagogy.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Parents have always been fiercely defensive of their personal parenting philosophies, and in early years those passions run just as hot for many of the same reasons. Whilst parents can (sometimes) reach a peace on the basis that it is each parents right to decide how they raise their child, such an outcome is often elusive in professional debates where each antagonist is just as determined to prevent bad practice as the next.
I think that needs to change.
Debate is good. Debate is how new ideas gain credibility, and how long-held principles are challenged and updated. Debate helps us to consider a perspective on an issue other than our own, and brings to the surface the difficult questions which need to be considered for our collective expertise to advance.
I love a good debate. The trouble is the antagonistic, angry, and often downright unpleasant arguments which fill our social feeds too often fall short of meaningful debate, and serve to slow down our ability to improve standards for the children in our care rather that advance them.
So, with humility, here are my three pleas for a better, more constructive approach to debate in our early years sector...
1 - Always assume intentions are good
I am yet to meet an early years professional who works in the sector for the specific purpose of providing the worst standards of care and early education to young children. Everyone, from the most well-read professor to the newest apprentice, turns up to work each day to do what they think is the best for children. Even when we might disagree with some of their approaches or ideas, if we can hold at the forefront of our minds that we share that common purpose maybe we can treat one another more kindly and with more appreciation.
2 - Never believe that your view is the right answer for every child
I feel pretty confident that the small handful of views which do apply equally to all children (dropping them from a height, beating them with a slipper, locking them in a cupboard all being equal “bad” for example) are not the views over which colleagues are arguing
It is therefore logical to acknowledge that there will be different children, in different circumstances, who will not be best served by the point of practice you believe to be the best. When we enter into a discussion with this point clear in our minds, it is so much easier to accommodate differences of opinion and recognise that whilst your approach to practice may have proven itself to be very effective in your setting/community/situation, a different approach may well work equally well elsewhere.
3 - Care for each other half as well as we care for children
Early years professionals are without question some of the most caring, empathetic, and fundamentally kind people I know. It takes a special kind of person to be willing to make themselves emotionally available to young children in order to form the secure bonds they need to learn and thrive, knowing that sooner or later each child will move on to the next chapter of their lives and likely never remember that they knew you. If we could bring ourselves to treat every fellow early years professional with even half of the care and kindness we make available to the children, the sector would be transformed for the better.
It is a wonderful, vital part of an education system that the professionals involve constantly challenge, debate, and update the knowledge and tools they use in their practice. I, and the rest of the That Nursery Life team, will continue to support and facilitate debate to that end by highlighting as broad a range of approaches to practice and pedagogy as we can.
My sincere hope is that as we do, we can unwind the tension in these disagreements, the number of colleagues who feel empowered to share their perspective increases, and all of our practice improves as a result.
What do you think? Do you get involved in discussions about different approaches to early years, or do you avoid them as much as possible? Do you agree that discussions in our sector are too often angry and unhelpfully factionalised, or am I being too sensitive and dismissive of potential poor practice which needs to be called out and fixed? Join in the conversation in the comments below...