Interview: Common reflection helps professionals under EDUCAS Project
EDUCAS aims to create ECEC environments that support children’s development in a holistic way, taking into account the diverse needs of children and families, with special attention to the ones at risk of social exclusion. The project envisages three trainings.
These trainings bring together researchers, directors and teachers/practitioners from ECEC centers involved in the project to meet, exchange, and learn together. Two trainings have already taken place (one in Italy and one in Belgium). A third will take place in Lithuania. The following is part of a series of interviews with those who are taking part in the training and professional development activities within the project.
Sarah Vermeir, one of the practitioners benefiting from trainings and continuous professional development under EDUCAS, has 12 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher and works at the Jenaplan school Hippo's Hof in Gent, Belgium. Sarah works with children from two-and-a-half to six-years-old. She and three other colleagues began training under the EDUCAS project to reflect on new ways to think about space and Educare in ECEC.
Having attended two out of three international trainings, Sarah has already had the chance to meet colleagues from Italy, Lithuania and other Belgian cities like Brugge and to re-think her daily practice taking into account the exchanges and input from the trainings.
Can you draw some conclusions on how these trainings have helped you and your colleagues in your daily practice?
So far the trainings have helped us perform better our Jenaplan methodology, which is already very much based on the child's independence. The project has taught us about the importance of caring for our children, not only teaching them, and distributing the space of the classroom in a better way.
How did the trainings help you in the use of the space in your classroom?
It has helped me very much! I have changed the layout twice!
Now we can use the space in a more multifunctional way, which helps me very much because in my class I have 24 children aged two and a half to six years. This new layout allows me to work better with an open plan because I don't have a specific area to do something anymore. Before, when some children wanted to do a puzzle, they would go to a table, always the same one, where we used to play with puzzles. Now, they take it with them and choose where in the classroom they want to do it. It might seem a minor change but thanks to this, I am able to see how each child performs, to take better care of them, and they have more freedom to explore and play – sometimes even mixing different toys like animals and blocks. It is a shift that works much better for all the kids, also for younger ones.
How does the space look now?
I have more room in the center of the aula [auditorium] to improvise during circle time and the kids, they are freer to move from one corner to the other, it gives more flexibility to all of us. And most importantly, a nicer playful moment takes place.
"These trainings have helped me to look at my work with through a different lens”
You said you could take better care of the children thanks to these new approaches, what does this mean?
During one of the trainings, we were video recorded so we could see ourselves in action. This was very interesting and useful for me because it allowed me to look at my work with a different eye. Because the children can decide for themselves, I get to know them better and can pay more attention to their caring needs. Traditionally the teacher would teach the children and they would follow. Through this new approach, it is the other way around - we give the children their independence, see how it goes and then we help them if needed. It is very much in line with our Jenaplan method, so for me, it was something I was already working on, but now, in a much better way. We have talked a lot about this topic between the colleagues who followed the trainings. As teachers, we are not that used to incorporating the "caring side" of children's development in our educational duty. And it is very important.
How did these trainings help you in the daily planning of your practice?
Within our pedagogical method, we work already with a more open structure than other schools. Every morning I, together with the children, decide what we will do during the day. The training has not affected very much the working plan itself but it has given me more flexibility, so I don't need that much preparation as before.
How did the children react to these changes?
Very good! they like very much the fact that they don't need me that much, they are freer now. The parents like it also very much as well.
What is the main challenge you have encountered when implementing this new practice?
What has been striking for me is to realize that it is not easy to get everyone involved. It is challenging to let people think that we all have to incorporate the "care side" to our Educational approach because this is something which in Belgium is done separately by different people within the school. Our practice is growing very fast so we have to continue trying to inform parents and personnel, everyone, about this change of mindset. I am very pleased with how our school works, it is very special compared to others in the country and we would love to promote this approach widely.
Is there an added value in sharing training activities at the same time with colleagues from your own country and colleagues from different countries?
Yes, absolutely. It was very interesting for us to see how teachers/practitioners work in Italy, very often with natural materials, which in our school is not the case. Besides the teaching methodology, I also liked to learn how we work differently when it comes to safety measures. Very often they would be surprised by the fact that we let children go alone to the toilet or use the scissors on their own. In Italy, this is all more structured and guided. I am curious to see how teachers work in Lithuania, we will get to know them soon.