What is 'Professor of Practice' and why did the university award this to you?
It is an honorary position elected by the university council in recognition of outstanding leadership. I was delighted to be nominated by Dr Jane Waters, assistant dean research and knowledge transfer, and Ann-Marie Gealy, head of school, early years. The title is bestowed to recognise and honour an individual for having attained academic and/or professional distinction.
Professor of Practice places an emphasis on practice – it is awarded for extensive work in the field and influence on practice, rather than through following an academic route. I’ve spent many years studying child development, outdoor play and the outdoors as learning environment. For the past 18 years I’ve specilaised in outdoor provision in the early years.
Throughout my 30 years in education, I’ve always been driven to closely observe and research children outdoors and to work on my ability to see what is taking place for the child in the outdoors, and what their interaction with and relationship to their environment is.
This underpins my fascination with why it’s such a powerful environment for young children from birth to seven, and I have constantly used this awareness and understanding to consider how we can best harness the wonderful potential of the outdoors for well-being, play and learning, through advocacy, writing, training and developing packages of support.
Why is the University of Wales Trinity St David such a great partner for the work you do?
Education in Wales and UWTSD each have strengths in several very relevant areas for furthering work in play and learning outdoors. Education for sustainable development and global citizenship is at the heart of the whole Welsh education system, and the Foundation Phase from three to seven years is firmly situated within this agenda. The Foundation Phase encourages a play and experiential learning approach that emphasises the outdoors as a learning environment. Alongside a well-established early years team and strong ethos of working in partnership with professions and communities, together with a strategic emphasis around education for sustainability, the university’s new Athrofa: Professional Learning Partnership (a collaboration involving UWTSD’s Yr Athrofa: Institute of Education and a network of more than 100 schools) has just received accreditation from the Education Workforce Council, making it one of the main providers of teacher education in Wales.
What does the award mean for the early years sector?
I’m thrilled that this award recognises the importance and dedication of the early years as a sector. Professor of Practice is a recent innovation in the UK, which the University of Wales is spearheading in several disciplines to honour work done by people working in the field and to bring this practice into the university for the benefit both of students and staff. I believe this is the first time that this status has been bestowed in the field of early childhood education – and I hope one of further awards at this level, thereby raising the status of the informed thinking and researchful practice that we engage in every day.
How does this award influence the work that you are doing across the UK?
More specifically, this status should help me to do the enabling work that I’m now seeking to do across the UK with the recently launched social enterprise, Early Childhood Outdoors: The National Centre for Outdoor Play, Learning and Wellbeing. Through this, we aim to connect people, organisations and settings dedicated to providing learning through play outside and who are pushing the boundaries of how we capture the special nature of the outdoors for all young children - and to enable and support them.
I am excited by the opportunities that lie ahead through this relationship with the university. In particular it will hugely help to drive our strands of work to raise the status and impact of working with the outdoors in early childhood development and education through research, training and qualifications.