Dyer, Mary A. (2013) Good practice and professional identity: listening to the voice of the early years practitioner. In: RWL8 8th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning, 19th - 21st June 2013, University of Stirling, Scotland. (Unpublished)

The introduction of Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), raised the level of early years qualifications to degree standard, acknowledging the need for reflective lead practitioners who “review, analyse and evaluate their own and others’ practice” (CWDC, 2008, p.5), in particular, identifying the key elements of good practice in their own and others’ work, in order to share these with their colleagues. However this raises the question of what these key elements are. Should the role of the practitioner focus on care, children’s safety and well-being, or their education and learning? Can/should early years practice be separated under such headings? Who decides what constitutes good practice?

This paper explores how undergraduate early years practitioners define good practice, and how they use this to evaluate their own practice through reflection. Consideration is given to whether or not there is a link between what is defined as good practice and how undergraduates define their professional role, and also to what extent these concepts are shaped by the individual or external sources. The aim is to consider how students can be supported in reflecting on practice, and developing their own sense of professional identity.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 7 undergraduates part way through an FdA/BA Hons Early Years programme, exploring what they considered to be good practice and how this supported their reflections, and the development of their professional identity. Thematic analysis (Spradley, 1979) identified a shared belief that good practice was child-centred, including the formation of positive and effective relationships with individual children. However, further use of Listening Guide analysis (Mauthner and Doucet, 1998) to locate the ownership of these concepts and hear the voice of the practitioner (Belenky et al, 1986, Johns, 2004) highlighted that ‘good practice’ was identified as a somewhat impersonal entity, and very much of the nature of “received knowing” (Johns, 2004, p.10), defined and judged by others. Overall, they identified and discussed practice in naive terms, reinforcing the discourse of a caring rather than educational role, and lacking the unique body of knowledge often associated with a recognised profession (Eraut, 1994).

This raises a number of questions. Is undergraduates’ concept of good practice a personal one, developed from personal values and beliefs, and shaped by their knowledge and understanding of children’s development and learning needs? Is it a concept defined and shaped by external regulatory frameworks? Or is it passed on and adopted without question from senior and experienced staff within the workplace? How is undergraduates’ ability to apply theories of development and learning to their own practice affected by their subordinate position in the workplace as novices, support workers or ‘guests’ on placement?

Through exploration of these questions, professional educators will be better able to support undergraduates in a personal critical evaluation of their values and the regulatory frameworks within which they work, empowering them in their reflections and offering them a voice in their professional development.

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