One of the lessons I’ve learned from helping to run an early years setting is that feedback works best in loops. In part, this is of necessity when you work with very young children. You have to know what the children can and cannot do, because otherwise you will end up changing a lot of wet pants. The first loop is to listen to parents and carers: to find out what they already know about their children and build on that. An ‘All About Me’ sheet on entry, a visit to the family at home, parents staying with their children for as long as they need. Parents help to run our setting, so we get to loop in with our feedback in many ways. Everyone involved with the setting helps to create the ethos that we all wish to uphold for our kids. We’re not saying how our practitioners should get to that ethos, but we do get to help decide what that ethos is. The first loop feeds seamlessly (in theory) into the next.
The second loop is our staff team. Our leader feeds her growing expertise into her team, as her team tell her what they need to know. We find out what they can do already, so that we can loop in with training and information at the right time. Gradually our staff develop their skills, and this feeds into what they do with the children. They get better at what they do, basically, in a continuous set of curls. Getting this bit right is about money and time – you need the space and the opportunity to let people grow. This loop has the potential to get spiky, because people are people and none of us get it right all the time. There is a balance between challenge and support. My sense is that you get better results when you work alongside the people in your team, rather than trying to manage them into submission. Where the second loop feeds into the third loop is via planning. I love the way we plan at preschool. We basically have a big A3 sheet, with different boxes on it, denoting the various areas of our provision. Into these boxes go the ideas, and the next steps for different children, and the various bits of knowledge they will learn. We use colours and scribbles and initials, to create a working document that really works.
The third loop is really curly, because the third loop is the children, who are obviously the most important loop of all. The children link us right back to the the start where the parents and the carers came in – the people who trusted us with their children in the first place. My sense is that you get the curliest loop if you let children make choices and decisions, if you ask them to participate and to decide on some things for themselves. When you do that the feedback loops from the children to the practitioners to the families to the practitioners to the children and on and on, in an endless curl. Everyone walks alongside the child, offering support and challenge, and we all get to document the journey together. (If you’re not keen on child centered learning, that sentence probably made you curl your toes.) Here’s the thing: learning doesn’t only go one way. We can always learn from others, because we don’t necessarily know more than them about everything. We can all bounce the learning backwards and forwards. If only we would focus on the loops.