In November 2008 I wrote about the purpose, and importance, of EYP Networks (you can find the original post here).
Since then we have seen many changes. The Government have changed, over 15,000 people with the Status this time last year (National College for Teaching and Leadership statistics) and the Status has been renamed Early Years Teacher Status, along with a brand new set of Standards.
However, I strongly believed that Early Years Teacher Networks are still vital for the vast majority of people with the Status. In order to test this belief, I asked all my subscribers two questions:
- What is the absolute best thing about being in a Network?
- If you are not in a Network – what would your ideal Network do for you?
I was absolutely blown away by the responses (some by return email) due to their passion and enthusiasm.
There were two main themes overall. Firstly, that a number of Networks have either fizzled out or have evolved into something new. Secondly, that people who were in Networks gained a tremendous amount of varying benefits.
Taking the first point. It seems that Networks who have thrived have been led by dedicated people (volunteers in most cases), who have spent their time stoking the fires and fanning the flames of enthusiasm. This would appear to be vital for the most successful Networks.
Some Networks seem to have fallen by the wayside because they were held during the day. I know from personal experience that this is a difficult decision to make – day time or evening meetings? There are pros and cons for both, so finding the right times is vital for your particular Network.
The next major hurdle is providing the right content. Many people said that their Network didn’t fulfil their particular needs, so they had joined other organisations instead.
This made me reflect. Maybe Networks could collaborate with other organisations, such as business networks, to provide joint content? There may be other networks in your area, such as women in business, that would welcome new members and have a new perspective.
Finally, several people said they rely on more casual cluster-type meetings. There are some benefits to this method, including not having to have a dedicated committee; meeting when there is a need rather than on a fixed schedule and discussing those things that matter locally (but may not have a wider appeal if more settings were involved).
Turning to the second main point – the benefits of having something like this for Early Years Teachers. Reflective practice came out top by a long way.
Reflection encourages improvements in practice, and better outcomes for the children in our care. Encouraging discussion, sharing good practice, using others as a sounding board or simply bouncing ideas around to see what has worked for others – all in a safe environment – is an excellent way to improve your setting. Sometimes simply hearing another perspective is the ‘lightbulb’ moment you need to be able to improve.
A new, growth area of the Networks is the jobs market, with several people mentioning that they had either found jobs or found suitable employees via the Network. Finding suitable staff is a very current concern amongst many settings, and a thriving Network may be a good way to solve this problem.
In addition, many people mentioned the Network was a way to keep sane, be with other professionals and share expertise (such as working with 2 year olds or British Values). I have to admit, this is always a big positive for me – having that feeling of “I’m so pleased it’s not just me …” when you are discussing things in the group.
The biggest surprise for me was the sheer range of people who either were in Networks or who would like to be in a Network. I had responses from almost every part of the sector, from schools to preschool to packaways to big chains to Childminders and their assistants. To me, this demonstrates the great need for networks, whatever their structure.
In conclusion, developing an Early Years Teachers Network has a ton of benefits, and may even solve some of your work problems. The look and feel of Networks has evolved and may not be a formal meeting, but a more casual ‘get-together’ and Early Years Teachers may opt to join more general networks.
The most successful Networks need time and effort – but this is more than paid back in the benefits. If you are already in a Network, or run a Network, could you reach out to more people and spread the benefits even further?
If you have ever wondered whether it is worth setting up a Network (formal or informal) I would say it definitely is worthwhile. It may stop an Early Years Teachers feeling isolated and may even solve your job problem. You will be kept up to date and hear from specialists (who may be part of the group as well).
Best of all, you get to spend time with like minded, passionate professionals who love the childcare sector as much as you do!
P.S. Please do feel free to join my LinkedIn group as well – Early Years Professional Network