Effective early childhood educators : developing a methodology for improvement
This research was embedded in the Effective Early Learning (EEL) Project (Pascal et al., 1995), a national evaluatory and development programme looking at the quality of learning experiences for 3 and 4 year olds in the varied range of settings which typify United Kingdom provision. It was, however, a separate and discrete study focused on the effectiveness of the adult, whatever her level of training, as an educator. It was a 'real world', inclusionary, interpretive, research enquiry using qualitative and quantitative paradigms. The purpose of this study was to develop and implement a methodology to assess and improve the quality of educators working in a range of settings. A conceptual framework for assessing quality was developed. Also an observation schedule, 'the Adult Engagement Scale', focusing on three aspects of educative interaction: 'Sensitivity', 'Stimulation' and 'Autonomy' was created. Evidence was gathered using this scale and triangulated with other data, including participant interview, professional biography questionnaire and focused observation. The cohort consisted of 169 practitioners in 115 settings who worked with the researcher to collect the data. The practitioners had varied roles and backgrounds and were trained by the researcher in the methdology. They mainly worked in settings broadly representational of the four most frequent types of UK centre based provision; Reception Classes in Primary Schools, Nursery Schools, Nursery Classes and Pre-school Learning Alliance Playgroups. The data generated by this strategy was analysed to consider the characteristics of an effective early childhood educator. The 'Adult Engagement Scale' was shown to be an effective means of assessment, development and improvement. The data revealed that an adult's ability to be an effective 'engager' was linked to her 'educative disposition', which included her 'professional self image and emotional well being'. The analysis showed that the educative categories of 'Sensitivity', 'Stimulation' and 'Autonomy' were hierarchical and progressively less well addressed. All settings scored relatively highly on Sensitivity. Those settings which were better at Stimulation generally had more qualified staff. Autonomy was least well addressed by all settings, yet appears to be the category most closely linked to adult effectiveness. Most early childhood educaors are emotionally committed to their work yet feel undervalued. Universally practitioners in this study displayed a poor profesisonal self image, and this was clearly linked to their ability to be effective as an 'engaging' educator of young children.