Early years staff work long days. There may be an 8am start and 6pm finish. Given the need to maintain statutory staffing ratios, how and when does the busy supervisor schedule in staff training? Training sessions can take place at the beginning of the day when the setting has been closed, or for term-time nurseries, planned on a day before term begins. The reality for most nurseries is that sessions will be held at the end of the day. The team will be tired and hungry; those with family commitments have had to make special arrangements, some may want to leave part-way through. The temptation is to ‘get it over with’ as quickly as possible; everyone grabs a quick cup of tea, the manager rattles through a list of dos and don’ts and everyone goes home after half an hour sighing with relief that it’s all over for this term.
The ‘training box’ may be ticked, but it doesn’t take much reflection to question whether such sessions really develop individuals or the team and whether they contribute in any way to maintaining and improving the children’s experience. If we want our teams to value the training on offer, it is essential we create an atmosphere that says we, as managers and trainers, value our people, as well as the training we are offering.
So let’s think of our staff as students and consider how we can identify and meet their needs. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides us with a straightforward model for identifying our students’ deficit needs.
START WITH THE BASICS
Maslow’s idea was that you have to meet ‘deficiency needs’ before you can satisfy ‘growth needs’. The lowest level of his hierarchy is physical needs – physical comfort, hunger and thirst, for example. So our students need to feel satisfied on these fronts, and they also need to feel safe, before they can learn, and grow. Feeling safe may extend to ensuring that their families are safe – so ensure they have enough notice to make arrangements for their children. They need a sense of belonging, so a few moments of social chat and a chance to ‘unload’ the day while they enjoy refreshments at the start may ensure a more productive session than one where you get down to business straight away. A special cake, or a bottle of sparkling juice, may bring a sense of togetherness. Teams will often be formed of a large number of staff, some of whom are working part-time and don’t know everyone, as well as a mix of newcomers and established team members. Investing a few moments in introductions or a short ‘icebreaker’ can help develop that sense of belonging.
PREPARE THE SPACE
Are you in a nursery expecting your team to sit on chairs designed for three-year-olds at the end of a busy and exhausting day? It may seem like a less than vital place to spend money, but investing in some adult chairs is worth it. Your team will feel more comfortable, will feel valued, and will be more able to concentrate. Ideally, chairs will be placed so that everyone can see each other and communicate easily, for example in a semi-circle. If the team need to write, providing clipboards will help. These are seemingly small details that can make a big difference to people’s experiences. If you can, think about inventive places you can hold training sessions from time to time. In the summer, do you have an outdoor space you can use? Can you have a BBQ or pizza to make it more inviting? Training sessions can even be held in a pub to give everyone a change of scene and food or drink to accompany the session. Do, however, be aware of confidentiality, and make sure the training session is appropriate for a public space.
SET THE TONE
It’s important that you avoid interruptions as much as possible. Give the team a short break after work to use the toilet, get food and drink organised and make themselves comfortable. Avoid answering the phone, and try to make sure everyone knows it is important to get started on time. If you can, make the time to set the space up well ahead of the start so that when the team arrive for the session, technology is tested and working well, seats are laid out and refreshments are available. It is important to think about the length of sessions – try to consider quality as well as quantity. Twenty minutes of great training is better than an hour in which everyone feels that they have wasted their time.
If there are members of the team who tend to see the negative in everything, and struggle to feel motivated, it is important to listen to their concerns, but not to join in with their negativity. The team will be looking to the manager to ensure the team feel heard and understood, but ultimately to lead the way through the negativity into a solution.
LISTEN TO THE TEAM
Teacher education introduces the concept of the Training Cycle: identifying and meeting learners’ needs, planning sessions, creating resources, delivering sessions, assessing learning and evaluating the effectiveness of the training. This is not far removed from the ‘Plan, Do, Review’, familiar to early years educators. The Training Cycle begins with ‘identifying and the meeting learners’ needs’. Training needs may arise from changes in policy, an Ofsted inspection, observations of staff or the employment of new staff. In addition to this, it is key to find out what your team would like training in. Supervisions and appraisals are an excellent way to do this. Listening to your team and valuing their ideas are both essential in meeting their self-esteem needs. In order to learn, students need a robust self-esteem – we won’t risk making a contribution or asking a question if we are afraid of appearing stupid. Within training sessions, this means everyone’s contribution is valued, and everyone’s ideas and thoughts are heard.
GET THEM INTERESTED
Eric Sotto (When Teaching becomes Learning, 1994) and Carl Rogers (Freedom to Learn for the 80’s) are both from the humanistic school; they see the drive to learn as intrinsic to human nature and suggest that individuals are best motivated if they start with something they are keen to learn. The content-heavy curricula which make up early years qualifications would seem to work against this idea, but this is where the skilful, sensitive manager who has taken the trouble to get to know individual members of their team can work their magic. Two very good places to start are what staff are good at and what they are interested in. Passion and inspiration are very closely connected. If a manager isn’t excited by the subject they are providing training on, it’s unlikely the team will be. Even the most dry of subject areas (policies and procedures, perhaps) can be interesting if you convey why the topic is so important.
It’s also important to avoid blaming Ofsted for everything. Implying that we only have to do this for ‘them’ is just disheartening for everyone. Instead, focus on why it is important for the team and the nursery – and, most importantly, for the children. The manager or training leader doesn’t have to be the fount of all knowledge, but does need to be open to working with the team’s strengths in order to create a training programme that is appealing and inspiring.
For resources on teaching methods, see http://geoffpetty.com
Anne Oldfield is a qualified social worker and head of professional studies at Brockenhurst College. Sarah Emerson is an independent early years and parenting consultant, and a consultant for Indigo Wellbeing, and works at a children’s centre-based nursery.