Finnish early Years CPD in Qatar
Piia Parviainen from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, explores how it is the underlying pedagogy that unites us as teachers and has the most significant impact on children’s learning.
Focus on pedagogy
Can professional development training for teachers be effective if the trainer has a very different educational background and has followed a totally different curriculum to the trainees? Can the training work or is it truly a mission impossible? From my recent experience I would say that yes, it can definitely work especially when we concentrate on pedagogy – how we should teach children to learn, rather than on differences within curricula.
A working example
During a programme of professional development training in the spring of 2017, I had a great opportunity to test my belief when my Finnish educational philosophy met the educational philosophy of kindergarten teachers in a Qatari context. I was fortunate to have a great team to work with: the participants were committed teachers who wanted to develop their pedagogical practices and operational culture. Moreover – these teachers had first set their own learning objectives for professional development.
The importance of personal professional development goals
I strongly believe that to develop your professionalism and refresh your practices as a teacher, you need to define:
1) the areas you wish to develop and
2) what you are going to do to achieve your goals.
No one can do this for you.
When you have set your own learning objectives and have a plan of what to do to achieve your goals – what should you be considering to ensure children learn?
Observation to inform planning
As educators, most of us recognise that learning is an individual process and, especially as early years educators, we share an understanding that children learn through play. The teachers I worked with in Qatar observed children´s play and individual learning processes in order to support and guide each child in their own group. They were observing not only to assess development and learning, but also the children´s skills. Teachers chose observation methods based on the nature of the information they were looking for and used the information as background data in their planning.
Having collected a variety of information through observations, teachers used this to plan more efficiently – working out what to do and how to do it for both groups and individuals, thus supporting the learning of all children in their own class. Finally and importantly, the teachers observed and evaluated any newly implemented practices and their own role so they understood exactly what learning took place and their contribution to it. They were thus able to see what they should plan next. Through their observations, teachers were able to support the age-appropriate learning process better. If you as a teacher want to develop your teaching practice, you need to observe children in your own class to know how to guide children´s learning based on each child’s individual needs and interests.
During the training, the teachers did not concentrate only on adult-guided activities; their focus was also on supporting children´s development and learning across a wide range of child-initiated, everyday activities including play. The teachers reflected on their own practices to gain a greater awareness of their role in the learning process.
When we talk about learning, we educators should more frequently stop for a while and think about our own pedagogical practices and how to develop them. Reflection is a vital tool for anyone as a teacher, in order to become more aware of your pedagogy and to achieve a deeper understanding of how children learn. The teachers I worked with reflected on their own practice and made changes to support age-appropriate learning processes more effectively – for example within transitions and daily schedules. By making simple changes, teachers were able to provide more time for free play, supporting the idea of learning through play more widely than before.
What did these teachers achieve? After the training period was over, they described how they now had more time to be with children, to communicate and interact with individuals. They have a more target-oriented and individualised focus on their pedagogy, in which play is the key for learning. They have time to support language learning by reading books and to support gross motor skills by increasing the time for outdoor play. They view their teaching and pedagogy in a new light, appreciating the importance of play and of more targeted and goal-oriented learning. Most importantly, they see joyful learning where the individual child is the focus of their efforts.
Towards the mountain top
Based on my experience, I am convinced that discussion and sharing of pedagogy and refreshing pedagogical practice are possible, no matter what curriculum you are following. As a teacher, it is important to try to avoid talking about the limitations, like resources or structures. Instead, we should set pedagogical goals and plan the steps to reach our desired targets both for the children in our care and for ourselves. We should then make changes as necessary and evaluate our refined teaching practices, by observing and reflecting on the steps taken so far, to know what to do next. That is how the planning cycle of our teaching and pedagogical practices should be.
Refreshing pedagogical practices requires commitment, proper tools and the right mind-set. You can see the big picture only by climbing to the top of the mountain but I will guarantee that the view from the top is worth it and will make you want to develop further. This is exactly what happened for the teachers I worked with.
Piia Parviainen (M.A. in Education, PhD candidate) works as a university teacher at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, where she trains kindergarten teacher students and exchange students of the Faculty of Education and Psychology. Parviainen has extensive professional experience in curriculum development and pedagogy. She has led curriculum development and provided pedagogical expertise to develop operational cultures, from early childhood education to primary education, both in her home country and abroad.
Piia can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More about the Finnish approach to Early Childhood Education
To learn more about the pedagogy of Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care please visit the free MOOC course as a guest: http://mooc.jyu.fi/course/view.php?id=16
Special thanks to the Early Childhood Center’s administration support represented in the Director of the Early Childhood Center, Dr. Fatima Al Maadadi and the Dean of the College of Education at Qatar University Dr. Ahmed Al Emadi, for the opportunity to work with them during the training period. Thanks for the teachers’ cooperation and commitment, and the support of the Principal in identifying the training needs as well as to the Assistant to the Principal for providing all the backing during the training period. The consent to display children´s pictures has been received from parents.
The Early Childhood Center of Qatar University provides a model demonstration and training site for early childhood education with research opportunities to further enhance knowledge of early development, education and quality care for young children, and to that end, the Center is organized into three units: Early Learning Unit; Research Unit; Professional Training Unit. With a vision to become a leading model for quality early childhood education programs in the region through the provision of leadership in professional practice, research and service delivery.