I’m delighted to have Sarah Vickery, the assistant head of the Exeter Children’s Federation, writing as part of the Exeter series. When I heard Sarah speak about professional generosity at the conference I was punching the air! Sarah mentioned #EYTalking on Twitter, which I set up four years ago and I’m also known as the ‘Queen of Early Years sharing’.
“I’ve been teaching for twenty years now, starting off in a primary school in Tottenham, North London, before returning home to teach in Devon (and get married, start a family etc.!). It was here I discovered a love of all things Early Years in my first Reception class role, and I never looked back! I hope if you met me you’d realise how joyful and rewarding I find teaching in Early Years. I’m a hands-on, out-in-all-weathers, get-messy, get-stuck-in and get-the-glitter-out kind of teacher. Loving Early Years has, I believe, helped me lead successful Early Years teams that are committed to making a positive difference to each and every child. In my assistant head role for Exeter Children’s Federation I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to work with many different Early Years settings in the city, organising moderations, TeachMeets and training sessions. I’m always amazed at how enthusiastic and dedicated the EY people I meet are and feel lucky working with such a talented bunch.
When I got the phone call asking me to speak at the Babcock Early Years Leadership Conference back in October, I began to think about what I could possibly talk about that the audience might actually find useful and interesting. As I reflected on what had helped me develop as an educator over the last 20 years, and what is important to me now in a leadership role, the thing that came to mind was professional generosity. I have learnt a great deal from other educators being professionally generous; sharing their time, ideas and great practice with me in a variety of ways.
What is professional generosity? It’s the exchanging of ideas (networks, forums, symposiums, conferences), being generous with your own ideas and time, building relationships to share information, connecting and collaborating with other people in your field of work.
Professional generosity is important. There’s a lot of information out there; being willing to share the stuff that works is important and valuable. In my leadership role, I think it’s my responsibility to ensure others benefit from professional generosity whenever possible. My own personal ethos as an educator has always been it’s better to light fires than fill buckets. As a leader I should also want to light fires in the adults I work with. So, at the Babcock conference I spoke about some of the ways I have used professional generosity to support my colleagues.
School Culture of Sharing
I’m lucky to work in a school that actively promotes a culture of building strong relationships and networks to share good practice. The staff at our school are encouraged to attend and present at the half-termly Exeter Consortium Learning Symposium. This is considered an essential part of everyone’s CPD. Staff meeting time is set aside so staff are able to attend the symposiums, gaining new ideas and sharing their own.
At Montgomery Primary School we always say yes to visitors and have an open door policy. The staff and children enjoy showing off and talking about their school. Even if people come to our school and think “I would never do it like that” at least the visit has helped them reflect on their own practice.
Being Generous with My Own Time
I realised how effective sharing your time could be in my first leadership role. I experienced issues with the quality of observations and assessments in the EYFS staff team I led. I used my PPA time to work alongside staff who lacked either the confidence or the skills they needed to model how to observe effectively and make assessment judgements. Sounds simple, but it quickly had an impact on the quality of observations and assessments (we’ve had very healthy GLD data over the past five years). Also, modelling how to play alongside children, and how/when to intervene was invaluable. In my experience, it’s much more useful than directing someone in what to do.
Building networks where educators can get together and talk is really powerful. I help lead the Early Years Project in Exeter. The project has created a network for EY practitioners in the city, providing opportunities to moderate, visit other settings, carry out joint observations and have time to discuss transition assessments. This is helping to develop a shared understanding of what makes great Early Years practice across the city. The project also enabled us to host a free twilight conference open to all EY educators in the city. At the end of October, 150 EY practitioners took part in Shonette Bason’s Outstanding Early Years session. It was a fabulous experience that had a hugely positive effect on Exeter’s EY settings.
I have also organised Early Years TeachMeets in Exeter. The TeachMeets provide the opportunity for teachers to get together and share ideas that work in their settings. All this takes to set up is booking a room for an hour, providing refreshments (must have biscuits) and inviting people to talk/listen. In my experience there are always teachers keen to talk and share their ideas. The feedback from the TeachMeets has been great; the teachers who attended were really pleased with the practical ideas they took away, having had a chance to chat about all things Early Years.
When I returned to work part time after maternity leave I found it hard to attend cluster meetings and even training opportunities were limited. So social media saved the day for me, with its huge network of CPD and support I could access at times that suited me. If you’re reading this you probably don’t need me to wax lyrical about how great social media sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Blendspace are for sharing ideas that work. But I do think it’s important that people like us spread the word about how helpful social media can be to non-users.
For me, sharing is a teaching super power!
Being generous as a professional can have a powerful impact not just in your own setting but potentially much further afield. As a leader in primary education I want to encourage professional generosity to improve education for as many children as possible. It’s good to share.”
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