The distinctive Early Years (EY) phase is one that sometimes can feel a little forgotten within the primary age range. As passionate EY enthusiasts, you will know the importance of building strong foundations for the youngest learners and the difference excellent EY practice can make to their future life opportunities. As an EY early career teacher (ECT) it may not feel uncommon to think that the ‘L’ plates are now off and that there is no-one sitting beside you in the passenger seat to advise and support you.
The intention of the ‘Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers: Teaching Early Years’ book is to provide a gentle guiding voice that reassures you in those first daunting weeks and throughout your ECT journey. We hope the book will provide a go-to resource, is accessible, and provides the ability to dip in and out of when needed. The book is written to celebrate your strong EY teacher identity and your all-important advocacy for EY pedagogy and practice, as you work alongside colleagues in primary school settings. It will build on your trainee experience as you move forward with your practice as an EY teacher. As a former Reception teacher and EY Phase Lead working within a primary school with a pre-school setting, I remember only too well how many different hats I wore and plates I spun in these roles.
This blog seeks to provide you with some ‘nuggets of gold’ which will support you on your ECT journey.
Golden nugget 1: Invest time in getting to know the children as unique individuals
It can be easy, with all the pressures of baseline assessments and induction processes, to lose sight of your professional inquisitiveness linked to your new class. Time can often feel constrained in these early weeks of a new school year; with so much to do and seemingly so little time to complete tasks. As an outstanding EY teacher, you will want the children to feel that you are interested in them, their interests, enthusiasms and feelings. This time spent interacting, listening and observing helps to nurture positive relationships and gather vital knowledge that will have a far-reaching impact on the children holistically. Time spent will also reassure children and their parents and carers that they are placed at the centre of your practice and concern for their wellbeing.
Golden nugget 2: Develop respectful and professional parent/carer partnerships
As an ECT interactions with new parents/carers can be daunting. Remember they are loaning you their most precious asset – their child! When parents/carers can see your wonderful relationship with the children, they will inevitably feel at ease and trust you as their child’s teacher. Your respectful and professional relationship with parents/carers is vital to your understanding of the children in your care, as well as ensuring open lines of communication. Providing ‘stay and play’ sessions can be a good way to break the ice, allowing time to interact with parents/carers. Invest time in being present on the playground before and after school; an approachable, friendly smile goes a long way. Find opportunities to communicate and keep them well informed e.g. a simple noticeboard outside your classroom; newsletters in book bags; communications through children’s electronic learning journals. Reassure parents and carers that no concern is too little for you. If it matters to them then it matters to you, and it will need addressing.
Golden nugget 3: Nurture a close working relationship with EY teaching assistants (TA)
TAs are like gold, and EY TAs are often pure gold! They have to carry vital knowledge, skills and EY expertise, as do you. Many may have been trained in supporting this key stage, in short, they will feel your closest ally for the early years foundation stage (EYFS). They hold an abundance of knowledge about the children, families, school and community, and are vital to the smooth running of EY settings. Valuing your TA and their unique skillset will support you to work and see yourself as part of a team. Your TA no doubt, will support you every step of the way!
Golden nugget 4: Hone your practice and develop your EY philosophy
Nothing of any quality is built in a hurry. It takes time, experience, and a good deal of knowledge exchange to develop a deep understanding of EY – it’s a vast subject! Immerse yourself in discussions wherever and whenever you can. Talk with others about your passion for EY. You will no doubt be an EY advocate and you have an important role within your school. Engage with social media groups, blogs, vlogs and wider reading surrounding EY theory, pedagogy and practice. Fortify your EY skillset and understanding at every opportunity secure in the knowledge that, as reflective EY practitioner, you will always be evolving and honing your craft.
Golden nugget 5: Build a strong EY network and share excellent practice
In smaller settings you may be the only EY teacher. Regardless of the setting or size, it will be an important aspect of enhancing your practice and pedagogy to build a professional network with other Reception, Nursery, Pre-school teachers and practitioners. These professional relationships keep your practice fresh and exciting, enabling you to engage in dynamic EY conversations; share resources and magpie ideas; and provide opportunities for EYFS moderation to strengthen your professional judgements. The children that you induct into your EY classroom may come from a range of settings. This is a great place to start building a professional EY network, whilst providing you with key information about your new children. Taking such steps will mean you will never feel alone and part of a family of EY practitioners.
Lorna Williams is Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, PGCE Early Years (3-7) cohort lead and subject lead, and Dr Colin Howard is Associate Lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Worcester. Their book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Teaching Early Years, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, is out now.