In the 2017-2018 academic year we were involved in an Early Years transition research project supported by East Sussex County Council. The aim of the project was to explore and develop best practice with regard to early years transition to school settings. The project was constructed as a small-scale action learning set, involving EY professionals from three settings. The research resulted in a report that shared the key findings of the set in a way that could be adopted by other practitioners. It also led to improvements in transition in each setting. However, beyond the stated focus of EY transition there emerged a second level of benefits that the participants all acknowledged.
Building a professional network.
Although in relatively close geographical proximity the participants in the set knew each other only passingly, and in the context primarily of seeing each other at meetings. Contact through meetings was, of necessity, mediated and, to a certain extent, confined by the agenda and purpose of the group. The action learning process encouraged practitioner generated discussion that was more open. This lead to the creation of a professional network that had an impact beyond the topic of the set meetings, building trust and mutual support.
Breaking out of the silo.
The pressures of day to day activities created a silo around each of the practitioners, one where immediate need dominated thoughts and actions. All of the practitioners felt that the regular cycle of action learning meetings, and the momentum that built to plan, implement, reflect and share, moved their professional thinking from the micro climate of the setting to the macro considerations of enveloping sustainable and effective resources and processes.
The practitioners involved in the set all acknowledged concerns regarding their workload being increased by engagement in action learning. As the cycles evolved those concerns faded. The practitioners felt that learning from each other provided a short cut that saved them time and effort in the long run. They also believed that they became more professionally efficient because the action learning activities helped to provide a rationale for the tasks that they were undertaking.
Making it better.
All of the first round of practitioners are keen to engage in a second round of action learning, and have been supportive in recruiting additional members to the set. Professor Pete Boyd’s article in Impact (Autumn 2018) points the way to how the second cohort learning will be broader and deeper. The first cohort matched his description of ‘Practical wisdom foregrounds ‘ways of working’ in particular classrooms and educational workplaces.’ The second cohort needs to intertwine this professional reflection with the second feature of practitioner research, ‘public (published) knowledge’. That second frame of reference will support the second cohort in becoming broader in their frames of reference. The cohort also needs to establish an agreed analytical framework for their findings, ‘developed in an iterative way as the initial data [is] collected’ (Boyd, 2018).