The Spontaneous Teacher

Cally Stockwell, EYFS Leader

Being an EYFS Practitioner takes a great set of skills and whilst you can argue that all teachers and support staff across the primary ages require this, when you are teaching children under the age of 5 everything, and I truly mean everything, is an interaction, a moment for learning and an opportunity for children to make sense of the world. Having a timetable to follow in Year 3, for example, is quite easy to adhere to,even with the occasional playtime quarrel or ICT equipment failing, but in EYFS for true learning and development to happen, every opportunity of questioning, a misconception or a moment of awe and wonder will impact the timetable. To be an effective EYFS practitioner, you have to juggle the intended adult interactions whilst seizing the opportunity to include spontaneous moments. To be a truly effective and passionate EYFS practitioner you need to ensure every interaction is intentional, this doesn’t necessarily mean planned, but that it has a purpose and will shape the child’s development and understanding in some form, that will last as they transit and grow.

The pandemic has reiterated that the role of a teacher is far greater than simply being the adult in the classroom. Teachers have so many roles and responsibilities, when you reflect that teaching is the only profession that creates other future professions. In addition to educating, teachers also need to be health professionals, social workers, family counsellors and mediators. With this in mind, it is important to understand how the daily life of an EYFS practitioner is obligated to allocating time for moments and events that take us by surprise, but are crucial to ensure a child grows and flourishes into a healthy, well-rounded individual. With the growing spotlight on mental health and statistics showing 10% of under 5-year-oldshave some form of mental health issues, the growing pressure for EYFS practitioners to be more than an educationist, is at its highest. So how does an EYFS practitioner plan for spontaneous and intentional teaching moments whilst delivering and providing a sequenced curriculum that supports skills, knowledge and creates firm foundations for academic progress? Sadly, there is not a simple answer to this predicament but there are questions to ask– Why?

‘Why does this need to be addressed?’, ‘Why can I not ignore this?’ and ‘Why do I want my children to understand this?’ Imagine you are in the Nursery class when you notice Zara who is curious by nature and is more than often exploring the natural world rather than ‘things or toys’. You realise she has taken herself over to the construction area and she is holding two bricks. One is large and made from foam, the other is made of rock however is considerable smaller. She looks puzzled and moves her arms up and down like weighing arms. You watch for a little longer, she explores the texture and then lifts them again. What should you do? You are meant to be assessing Reuben for his Phonic ability which is due in later. Do you ignore? Do you jot down and address it another time? Tell an able child to explain the reasoning? The spontaneous practitioner views this as an exciting learning moment, not led by the adult but scaffolded, and a chance of investigation. If you ignore this moment, Zara may be puzzled that something big is never heavy, is this always the case? She may not make the link to the purpose of the brick material as opposed to the size.

By interacting, there will be opportunities for deep conversation, ‘depth not breadth’ (Mary Myatt, Back on Track, 2019), questioning and Zara will steer her development and make connections to other aspect of her learning. As a reflective practitioner you need to be able to ask ‘why’ to all of your intentions and decisions, ensuring you have your own pedagogy that should be aligned with the concept of establishing an environment for children to grow into happy, healthy and well-rounded individuals. As Simon Sinek outlines in ‘Start with the Why’ – if professionals are happier in what they do, outcomes will be higher for all.

Simon implies that successful individuals all have a common trait; it is not what they sell or how they sell it, it’s why they sell it. This can be echoed for EYFS practitioners. Practitioners of all experiences and pedagogies can explain how they get good outcomes and the strategies they use to ensure children thrive and are happy and they are most likely all correct, because there is not just one way to approach this. Many practitioners have been challenged since the global pandemic turned education upside down requiring blended learning to become the norm, increased concerns for children’s well being and the gap in their education widening. Can all these practitioners truly say they are as effective as they once were?

Therefore, we need to look at the practitioners who are focused on‘Why’; these practitioners don’t have planning filed away from previous years or only teach what they enjoy. These practitioners are not driven by their own outcomes; their success is reflected in the children’s progress no matter what barriers present themselves and even if outcomes are not as efficacious as previous years. These practitioner sappreciate the learning journey and moments of reflection. Their purpose is always to provide quality education and by doing so their own motivation and enjoyment is enhanced which in turn maintains the momentum,regardless of challenge or criticism.

To teach with intention and seize spontaneous moments, practitioners need to observe, assess and plan; be sensitive to the needs of their learners; motivate and challenge children to question; reflect and adapt learning, know the content and use rich resources whilst embracing unexpected opportunities to guide children. For practitioners to truly balance the two strategies, they must know ‘what’ and ‘how’ they are teaching. The‘why I am teaching this’ is how to ensure what is taught is lasting and not short-term.

There are two scenarios that do not reflect this practice; the practitioner who doesn’t value the approach of observation, assessing and planning, or who feels they are skilled enough to just go with each day or ignore what the children actually know or need to know. The other situation is the practitioner who is driven by their own why and not the children’s; these practitioners are driven by their own interests and adult intentions.

The intentional teacher understands the importance of adult guided learning and child guided learning and values both with equal importance. They are not consumed with the highest results or recognition for themselves; they are motivated by the ‘why’. They believe and you could even go as far as the concept of you ‘just know’ that children need to learn something not just because it is related to the curriculum but also because an opportunity has arisen where there are questions to be explored and knowledge, skills and experience to be acquired.

The spontaneous practitioner does not possess the handbook to effective teaching, but through the desire to inspire young people and make a difference, their why is always at the heart or the ‘Golden Circle’ as Simon outlines. How and what they do is through a collaboration of strategies and all have equal importance. The problematic part is recognising the ‘why’ and being brave enough to balance the planned learning and seize the spontaneous moments, ensuring each intention has a purpose.

To be an effective EYFS practitioners who seizes spontaneous learning requires integrity and the ability to question themselves with ‘the Why’.

Ann S Epstein, Revised Edition, The Intentional Teacher, NAEYC, Washington.
Dr Julian Grenier, 2020, Working with the revised EYFS Principles and Practice, Sheringham Nursery School.
Simon Sinek, 2009. Start with the why, Penguin Business.