CREC Development Session 1
Introduction to Practitioner Research


Impact Hub Birmingham is working in partnership with Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) with the aim to grow grassroots capacity through reflective practitioner research. As part of the #RadicalChildcare programme we want to explore new ways of providing parents with access to flexible childcare models, but we are also very mindful that – whichever models are used – they must always be of the highest quality and the needs of the children are paramount.

For that reason we are working with CREC to investigate and evaluate how different models impact on the children using these services, and to provide these childcare models with tools to help them embed continuous improvement processes. We have been deeply excited to begin this work with them, starting with an introductory session which took place on Monday 26th February.

 

Aims of Session

  • Explore the nature and evidence on ‘quality’ in early years services
  • Introduce practitioner research
  • Explore methods of documentation and reflective journalling
  • Develop skills in observation and child tracking
  • Set out next steps in the project

 

Who’s in the Room?

Professor Chris Pascal from CREC (session lead), practitioners from V22 Workcreche, Bloomsbury Beginnings, Entrepreneursary, Kids West Midlands, Purple Rocket Nursery and Impact Hub Birmingham.

These practitioners were gathered from an open invitation to a full spectrum of staff who care for the children within a crèche setting including; playworkers, early years practitioners, childcare workers, parent / volunteer playworkers / assistants and early years artist practitioners. Some practitioners were able to join us due to this research being supported by Big Lottery Fund and the travel bursary on offer to those travelling to Birmingham from outside the West Midlands region. These practitioners are not heads of organisations, but rather specifically working with children on a day-to-day basis, with an aim to build collective intelligence.



Key Themes

The session kicked off with who everybody was, the perspectives they’re coming from, and their expectations of the research – the first study of its kind. There was a real passion and seriousness in the room on the focus of how we are supporting childrens’ development, marking a serious dedication to children’s rights in this new type of provision. Together the discussions through the day were centred on children’s development and the importance the practitioners’ our role in settings, as well as good practice around research methods for this work.

Here are some of the key discussion points from this session together.


Children As Citizens

You need to question are you there for the parents or there for the children or are you there for the community? There may be a conflict between what the parents want and what the children need. The real focus needs to be on the children because they’re most vulnerable, but more often than not they’re not the ones who are listened to.


What is it like to be a child? Children are citizens, however they’re often as appendages of the family, and it’s their life essentially. The group discussed how adults make a lot of decisions on behalf of children instead of trying to communicate with them. During those early years they’re starting to open up understand the world beyond their own parents, to other carers and other people. They will be beginning to look at their own emotions, but also trying to look at and understand other people’s emotions too, making it a crucial opportunity to be a role model whilst absolutely considering young children as already being people in their own rights.


Communication & Language

We may think we’re making the best decisions, but are we actually involving the children themselves in the decision making? Chris discussed the difference between consent and assent – assent referring to getting consent from those who can’t verbally speak.

Every time we film or observe, it’s part of our job to constantly watch body language, and stop an activity when they indicate they’re not comfortable and happy. These ethics when working with children can often be overlooked but are essential for healthy development.

We explored how during a chid’s formative years (0-5 years old) their communication and language, co-ordination and physical and mental health are being hardwired for the rest of their life, contributing to the person they’re going to become, and shaping how they respond to the world around them. As carers, it’s important we honour that responsibility to help them learn as much good practice during this crucial stage as we possible can.


Symbiotic Negotiations

There is an active relationship between children, childcare practitioners and parents – one which is all connected. It’s the responsibility for each of these roles to be in tune, working together to making sure each is providing opportunities that one another need, supporting when we notice inclinations.

Excellent pedagogic practice means a sensitive knowledge of each child, being able to stimulate and offer support and autonomy through encouraging children to have agency and independence of their own. How are we supporting wellbeing of practitioners, and if not how does this impact on children’s experience, likewise of parents?

Together in this work we are thinking about:

  • Holistics of the provision – relationships, power dynamics and respect in team for children and for one another.
  • Being open and inclusive, and creating an affirming environment for everyone to operate within safely.
  • Emotional range – are we breeding understanding that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes?
  • Physical space – are we providing as much stimulation as we possibly can? Is there enough free flowing and structured play?

Evaluative Action Research

Another important aspect of this work is that we won’t get to the end of the research and then do, the reflection along the way may manifest in how we can implement best practice straight away. Action research operating in real time will give us a deeper understanding through systematic evidence, gathering where the action happens / is grounded. Methodology of action research include child tracking observations, taking notes using CREC’s resources, analysing the data collected and following appropriate ethics procedures.


What’s Next?

We’re delighted to have a diverse range of practitioners coming together around this topic to find out more and inform the work around the #RadicalChildcare movement, including Impact Hub Birmingham’s children’s membership provisions and tools for use further afield.

This first session felt welcoming, and we feel really lucky to have CREC’s world-class institute on our doorstep here in Birmingham. it’s already evident they know their stuff, with many practitioners sharing their sensations leaving the session feeling Chris and the session had come across as grounded, supportive, committed and deeply passionate, creating an underlying foundation of complete and utter trust to hold the group together in this research.


“It was a really positive day and a real pleasure to work with such a committed and positive thinking group. There was lots of rich and reflective dialogues about the projects and how to research their work with a real openness and spirit of professional generosity to share thinking, actions and ideas. I too learned so much from our first encounter and left with a deep respect for all those at the session. I cant wait for our next one!” – Chris Pascal, CREC


#RadicalChildcare lead Amy Martin adds: “The aim for our research journey with CREC was for our participant practitioners to feel empowered in watching and observing the children in their care and to be able to reflect on what they are witness to in order to create environments that develop the emotional and physical well being of those children. I had hoped that these sessions would also positively impact on the settings taking part. Chris Pascal leading the series reminds us that as practitioners who work with children we have an opportunity to indelibly affect the child’s development even if we only get to work and play with that child for 3 hours a week and that this is unique opportunity for a very special type of symbiosis that both adult and child can greatly learn from. This gentle reminder really helped us all to reconnect with the opportunity for reflective practitioner research.”


“Since our first session I have noticed a huge shift in our own setting at Impact Hub from both the staff and children, our sessions are much more reflective and considered. The children and staff seem calmer and happier and we are able to be much more reactive and open to learning and development opportunities and take play cues and invitations from the children as they arise in session.” – Amy Martin, #RadicalChildcare Lead


Other settings have also seen a marked improvement:


“I meant to write to you yesterday to say how inspired I was by Chris on Monday, and how grateful I am that you have organised and funded this critically important piece of training and research. Just from the first session Lazim and Lily have had a huge boost to their confidence, and this has been reflected particularly in how they have communicated with the parents, and how they think about and articulate their activities with the babies. As the newest / least experienced members of our team I know that it has already been immensely valuable to them, and they have started to use the evaluation tools in the session today.” – Ann, Bloomsbury Beginnings


Our next touchpoint will be a twilight session on Monday 16th April to reflect on challenges and successes of gathering research and implementing the shared attitude and research methods from this session in our real and respective contexts.

In the meantime keep an eye on the #RadicalChildcare hashtag, join the #RadicalChildcare facebook group and visit www.crec.co.uk for more information on our research partner.