Leadership Matters

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The unique child

For the Early Years Foundation Stage.

As childcare practitioners we are all familiar with Development Matters and we are confident in completing observations, assessments and planning for our children’s next steps. As leaders of childcare practitioners what if we use the same framework but put our staff in the centre – The Practitioner?

Development Matters cycle


You need to observe your practitioners within their work environment just as you would your children, looking at how they interact with the children, colleagues, parents and their environment. Using their job description as your age and stage of development, what are you expecting them to be able to do at this stage of their career? You would not expect the same level of confidence, knowledge or skills from a new apprentice as you would from a fully qualified, experienced practitioner.

In order to complete an assessment and identify their next steps we need to understand what they can do now and within each aspect of their role and are they entering, developing or secure. Depending on the role they have you may need to complete several observations in order to assess how they are performing in different contexts, different times of the day, with different colleagues etc.

Your observations will need to be recorded in order for you to offer feedback which is specific and meaningful. It is no good saying “you were really good with the children”; practitioners need to know when they were good with the children, what made it good in your eyes and what the specific behaviour was they demonstrated that they could use throughout their practice.


Once your observations are complete you would sit and complete a formative assessment, some form of consistent recording mechanism would be helpful for practitioners to be able to clearly see what your expectations are and how you are measuring their effectiveness within each area. Look at each aspect of their role, write a statement which summarises your observations and conclude with areas of strength and next steps. It is important that we identify what practitioners do well, we all need to hear we are doing a good job, we also need to be challenged and stretched; what is next for me?

Be very clear within your judgements, what specifically could be improved and how, make those judgements SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound). If your practitioner is excellent in all areas it is time to think about their next age and stage, what are their career ambitions and how could you support them to develop into those.

Share your formative assessment with your practitioner, in a one to one situation, without any distractions. Make sure any areas of development are sandwiched between what the practitioner does well. Never use the phrase BUT, instead say this aspect of your role you do well and it could be even better if….


Once you have concluded your assessment you will plan for how your practitioner is going to meet their objectives (next steps). Consider your unique practitioner and plan activities that enable them to improve in the areas you have identified. Trading the Characteristics of Effective Learning with learning styles, how can those activities be planned in a way that works for them?

Learning styles

We all have a preferred learning style, a way of taking in information relative to how we learn best. Honey and Mumford identified four key learning styles: activist, pragmatist, theorist and reflector. Information about these can be found at www.businessballs.com

You may know the preferred learning style of your team or you may need to complete a learning styles questionnaire to find out. Planning activities which suit their preferred learning style will be more likely to produce the results you want.

Activist –  here and now, immediate experience, open minded and easily bored. Activities such as quizzes, that are on the job, practical and in the moment would suit the activist.

Pragmatist – practical, likes new ideas, problem solving, quick to reach a decisions, bored with long discussions, likes to get on with it. Setting problems, scenarios, case studies would support a pragmatist to take in new information and improve practice.

Theorist – Logical, objective, rational, struggles with quick changes. It is important for the theorist to understand the ‘why’ within their role, reading or research, taking on a project for the room, for example ‘why do boys learn better outside’.

Reflector – Stands back, gathers data, analytical, thoroughly thinks things through and slow to reach a decision. You will need to talk through aspects of their job role, feedback observations and enable them to identify areas for improvement, give the reflector time to reach their own conclusion. Change needs to be explained and gradual for this practitioner.

It is important not to put a practitioner into only one box, they will have some element of mix and we want to develop a rounded learning style, however if you have a strong reflector and expect them to learn by being thrown in at the deep end you will not get the best results.

Make sure that any actions you set are followed up and that the resources, including time, are available to enable them to achieve their objectives, we don’t want to create frustration.

Summative assessment

At your annual appraisal bring together all of the formative assessments you have completed and spend time reflecting on the journey over the past year, highlight the achievements and look at the next steps for the year ahead. It is important to celebrate at this point that your practitioner continues to grow and develop within their role.

I consider this to be an excellent model which ensures your practitioners are at the heart of their career journey, it is a journey which continues, it keeps practitioners engaged with their own learning and development and it provides clarity about expectations and objectives. I know early years leadership is incredibly pressured, however your biggest cost and your biggest asset is your people and it is important you invest in them.

About Janet Holland

I qualified NNEB 30 years ago and having spent over half of this time within a leadership role I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. I want to empower early years leaders to be the best they can be.

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