We know that ‘emotional wellbeing’ is at the forefront of our minds when working with children in the EYFS, but does that extend to our staff?
When I was an EYFS lead in a school, I remember reading articles about the emotional wellbeing of children and it always made me really interested in how this applied to the staff team too.
It is something that is even more crucial at the moment with what happened in 2020 and as we now enter another challenging and uncertain year.
We need to consider the wellbeing of the whole school community.
Putting Wellbeing at the Heart of Our Early Years Practice.
At the end of the Autumn term 2020 I attended an online event ‘Putting wellbeing at the heart of our early years practice,’ held by The National Children’s Bureau who run the foundation years website: www.foundations.org.uk.
The session brought early years practitioners, local authorities, consultants and academics together with officials from the Department for Education and Ofsted to discuss practical approaches and strategies.
I would really recommend watching the recordings and reading the slides and case studies from the events, including a video from the Department for Education, thanking the early years sector for their work. You can do so here.
Below are five learning points that I took from the event and some really useful articles that link into the current Covid-19 situation.
1. Valuing the Importance of EYFS Staff
‘Adults working in the EYFS are architects of children’s brains… …we lay the foundations for children’. Gill Holden
Wow! This is so true. For adults to be interacting and guiding children’s development it is so important that our own emotional wellbeing is considered and supported.
Leaders need a clear vision of how they are leading and managing their staff so that they feel secure within the learning environment. You need to know what the ‘Characteristics of effective leadership’ are in the EYFS.
The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) research published a really useful diagram (page 50) that displays this, so use this to support you.
Here are a few of the suggestions:
- Clear systems and processes established
- Value and foster team working
- Sound professional knowledge
- Continuous improvement sought
- Organisation and delegation skills
Due to the current situation of Covid-19 it is crucial that staff are reassured that you are following the current government advice which will provide consistency across your setting.
2. Consider the ‘Quality’ and Experience of Your Workforce
Now let’s consider the government’s 10-year strategy that began in 2014 which has seen initiatives aimed at improving outcomes and closing the attainment gap through improving the quality of education delivered by a more highly trained workforce.
We know that a lot of staff are asked to teach in the EYFS with limited experience, so we must have a clear vision regarding how we are going to support them.
Can you imagine going to teach in a year group that you have not had any experience with?
It is useful to reflect on what skills, knowledge and understanding your staff have to support the children’s learning and development.
- What training has your team had on early education?
How much do your staff know about the role of the ‘key person’ and how this links to the attachment theory? This is key when considering adults and children’s emotional wellbeing as it helps staff understand children’s needs and behaviours.
- Do they know and understand about effective pedagogy?
‘Pedagogy is the understanding of how children learn and develop, and the practices through which we can enhance that process. It is rooted in values and beliefs about what we want for children, and support by knowledge, theory and experience’
Reference: Stewart. and Pugh, R. (2007) Early Years Vision in Focus, Part 2: Exploring Pedagogy
It is crucial that EYFS staff are given the opportunity to develop their professional knowledge and understanding so that they can support and guide children with their learning and development.
Staff knowing about the characteristics of effective learning (how children learn) will help them to feel more confident when interacting and guiding children’s learning.
This in turn will help them feel more confident and reassured that they are scaffolding and supporting children’s learning.
3. Learn about Neuroscience in the EYFS
‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ Debbie Garvey
During the training Debbie Garvey, who has written several books on brain development and understanding children’s behaviour, gave the quote above.
At first I had to stop and think what she meant.
I soon realised that she was talking about the theories around child development and how neuroscience is now confirming these.
It made me reflect on the following questions:
‘Do EYFS practitioners firstly know about child development theories to then be able to understand the research of brain development?’
‘Are EYFS practitioners aware of how emotional wellbeing of children impact on their development of learning?’
It made me take a closer look at research into the neuroscience of wellbeing but from an educational perspective.
You might find this article of interest: Neuroscience of wellbeing: A developmental educational perspective
4. Managing Workload – Time
Back in 2017 the Primary Assessment review identified the workload pressure on EYFS practitioners.
From experience I know that practitioners find it hard to have a sense of purpose when they do not understand why they are being asked for activity that occupies what they feel to be an unreasonable amount of their time.
And yet a sense of purpose is vital to develop positive emotions.
Reducing workload was one of the reasons why the EYFS framework has been revised.
Within this new version and Ofsted’s Education framework, it is clear that practitioners’ workloads should be reduced, and staff wellbeing be more of the focus.
This was highlighted in this article in Nursery world.
The early years alliance published a research report about the impact of working in the early years sector on practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing.
5. Reflect on the Learning Environment for Adults Too
Staff need to know and understand how to develop a learning environment that enables not just children to feel safe and secure, but adults too!
They need an environment that provides them with familiar resources, routines and experiences to support their emotional wellbeing – leadership and management is key to achieving this.
At the National Children’s Bureau event, case studies were used to highlight this point – particularly the importance of humanity as a manager.
Other views that were voiced:
- Family centre rather than a private day nursery
- Not micro managed
- We are a team
- Valuing home life
- Your team are your most important asset.
I believe this final point is the most significant and where we should focus our attention.
Schools and setting have been working so hard during these unprecedented times to support children and families, but for all children to learn and develop they need adults that are feeling emotionally safe and secure to guide them with their development.
Services For Education value the emotional wellbeing of both children and adults and we provide a variety of courses and consultancy on this topic.
Specifically, we offer consultancy on Mental Health and the Workplace which is aimed at school leaders to increase knowledge, understanding and skills necessary to enable effective management of mental health in your workplace.
I hope you found this blog useful. I would highly recommend going back and watching the training from the National Children’s Bureau. And if you have time, take a look through the other resources I’ve mentioned within the blog.
In the early years, adults are the ones who create the type of climate which influences the personal, social and emotional development of children, so it is so important to focus on your staff’s emotional wellbeing as much as the children’s.
At the heart of ‘emotional wellbeing’ is the person. Take a moment to reflect and consider how best to support you and your staff.
There are some simple things you can do this year to boost wellbeing in your setting. Check out our blog to find out more: 4 New Year’s Resolutions to Boost Wellbeing at Your School This Year
I am (clearly) very passionate about effective practice and provision in the EYFS. I would love to share my knowledge and passion for ensuring that all children are provided with a quality education. If you are interested, I am carrying out the following courses:
About the Author
Serena Caine – Adviser, Services For Education
Serena works as an Education Adviser for Services for Education and over the past ten years she has largely worked on EYFS CPD training, School Improvement and Profile moderation. She became an accredited EYFS profile moderator in 2009 and leads a team of 15 experienced teacher based moderators for the EYFSP statutory duty on behalf of Birmingham LA.
Serena’s began teaching over 25 years ago and has extensive experience, particularly of working with children in the early Years.
She firstly qualified as a Nursery Nurse; then completed a BA (hons) and PGCE in Early Years (0-8) and during her teaching career she taught EYFS, Key stage one and two so has a wide breath of experiences. Due to her interest in education research when she was teaching she completed an action research MA in Education which focused on eyfs and assessment.
Serena is extremely passionate about providing all children with quality early years education so that they can build on their strong foundations for future life long learning.