Staff Meetings

Getting your team together to share new ideas and develop good practice costs nothing and can make measurable improvements to the quality of your provision, says Kirstine Beeley…

In these austere times budgets are stretched and many early years settings are struggling to fund expensive training in a bid to deliver the continuing professional development (CPD) that is expected as part of any EYFS provision. Now, more than ever, the potential of in-house staff training needs to be tapped into.

Managers who view their staff meetings as mini training sessions can maximise enthusiasm and promote a team understanding of what is expected. Here I will look at a few things you can do to ensure that you make the most of their training potential…

It pays to plan

Although it may seem obvious, the key to a good staff meeting is planning. Knowing that you have a clear focus prior to getting together helps staff to understand what they are expected to think about, and offers you, as the manager, a chance to make sure that what you cover is exciting, inspiring and appropriate to your setting. Use your long-term planning and your SEF to work out your key areas for development and plan meetings for the whole half-term, making sure that staff have a copy of
these dates.

Once you know what area you will be focusing on, make sure you have clear learning objectives for the session: what exactly do you want your staff to know or do as a result of this training? Don’t make your objectives too complicated. Your staff will have been at work all day and their ability to take in lots of information will be limited. Keep your expectations short and simple – for example, ‘To come up with ideas for improving counting in the setting’ or ‘To refresh knowledge of a policy’. If you make them too complicated the chances are you will be disappointed with the outcome. Keep it simple and, if need be, spread your theme over a number of different staff meetings to make it easier to digest.

Excite and inspire

Once you have your focus and your objective for the session, try to think about how best to inspire your team. Can you find visual examples of best practice from other settings? Have you seen an activity for children that has inspired you that the staff could have a go at? Is there a video clip you can play? Starting your session with something visual and inspiring helps to focus everyone’s attention, and provides a little light relief from what has probably been a hard day’s work.

Pictures of best practice can be found all over the internet; my favourite source at the moment is Pinterest with its millions of examples from preschool and early years settings around the world. When looking at more practical subjects such as fine motor development or messy play, the key is definitely to try out some activities. The internet again holds an array of ideas, as do lots of books and early years blogs. Video clips can be found online on sites such as YouTube, and there are many examples of good practice on the CD-ROM that came with the original EYFS guidance in 2008.

Time for reflection

After you have looked, watched or had a go, make sure you leave time for your staff to reflect and discuss what they have seen. The mistake many managers make is in trying to direct the session too much, not giving their staff a chance to bounce ideas and views around. You are trying to build a team approach and not just impose your views on your team. You could try noting down comments on a large piece of paper so that everyone feels that their views are being heard, or getting staff to split into groups to write down their ideas.

Not all chalk and talk

Try not to focus on just telling people things verbally. You need to allow for all kinds of learning styles within your team. Remember your VAK (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) learners and try to incorporate a bit of each style of learning into every session. A good mixture of visual stimulus, group discussions and leader talk makes for a more productive outcome.

If you are using articles or documents to back up your session, hand them out for reading at the end, as lengthy spells ploughing through documents is tedious and a sure way to dampen enthusiasm. If you have to focus on documents such as policies or procedures for the session, try chopping up the policy into chunks and discussing bits as pairs or groups, or matching the statements to pictures of ‘best’ or ‘worst’ practice. Doing this can turn a potentially boring session into one that is reflective and allows staff to apply the policy to their own setting and experience.

Hint: If you’re sending a group off to note down their views or ideas, get them to physically move to another area; this keeps them active and avoids anyone falling asleep at the end of a long day!

Moving forward

The purpose of any training session should be to take practice forward, and hence every session you lead needs to be tied up with an agreement of what you as a team are going to do to improve. Are you going to implement changes, move furniture around, add new activities? Try to agree at least one focus to work on if not more. Make sure your targets for moving forward are manageable and achievable – remember you cannot do everything overnight!

Giving staff a task to take forward can be a good way of focusing enthusiasm for an area of development. Try asking staff to find their own pictures of things they would like to implement, make or do. You could maybe have an inspirations scrapbook to keep the ideas together, or put up a sheet in a staff area to stick ideas to or write ideas onto.

Involve everyone

When planning your areas of development try to let everyone have a go at leading a session. If staff have been on training externally, make it a stipulation that they run a staff meeting on what they learned. If fellow staff have visited another setting to explore best practice, plan a meeting to look at pictures and discuss what they saw and how you can try ideas in your setting. But as manager, make sure you are there to support less-confident staff and to make sure sessions remain fun, exciting and interesting.

Recap and congratulate

At the start of each subsequent session make sure you recap on the last session and congratulate staff on any positive actions they may have taken in the meantime. Share pictures, comments and observations of best practice before you move on to your next topic. The more staff feel they are part of the ongoing development of your setting, the more enthusiastic they generally will be.

Case study: Outdoor overhaul
Treehouse Pre-school in Winslow, Bucks recently wanted to look at developing their outdoor play provision. I led a staff meeting where staff were asked in groups to identify initially what they felt outdoor learning was all about. We listed our ideas on a large piece of paper with everyone’s input catered for.

Next the staff were asked to think about their own outdoor provision and to identify things that they felt they did really well (this focused the staff on the positives of their own practice). Next they pooled ideas about the things they felt they could improve on. Staff were then given lots of picture examples of good outdoor learning practice and left to look at and discuss them. Excitement was growing for the potential of their setting.

Discussions were kept informal and we worked together to see if there was a possibility of implementing some of the ideas. Finally, we used a traffic light system to look at moving forward:

Green – things we do well that we want to keep doing, and things we want to start doing.
Amber – things we want to keep but need improving.
Red – things that we want to stop doing and change.

Staff were then given a list of websites with ideas on outdoor learning and asked to find other ideas to add to our inspirational picture gallery. This was put up in the staffroom and added to over time. Staff with no internet access at home were allowed time on the setting’s computer to access ideas for the task, and less computer literate staff were given more printed ideas and asked to pick some pictures that they were interested in. This ensured that everyone had an input going forward.

I am happy to say that the outdoor area in the setting was redeveloped over the following weeks and is, at the time of writing, about to undergo a final makeover over the half-term holiday with the arrival of the setting’s very own wooden sailing boat! The format I’ve described can easily be applied to other areas of learning and is a great way of ensuring that your staff have a shared vision for your setting.

Start simple

Here are two easy ideas for staff training meetings…

Who’s responsible?
Try chopping up the statements in your safeguarding policy and see if staff can say whose responsibility each of the statements falls to. For example, who is responsible for making sure medicines are kept safe? Who should be keeping an eye on children’s safety during the day, etc.? This session is great for making staff more aware of what their responsibilities are as a team and what ultimately rests with the manager.

Two-year-old trail
Go to the entrance to your setting and get all staff to get down on their hands and knees (i.e. with their heads at the level of a two-year-old). Now, as a team move through the setting and note what it looks like from a child’s eye view. Is it interesting, exciting, inspiring? Can you see things that adults have set out for you, or are they too high? Can you see things on the walls? Don’t forget to go into everyday areas such as toilets and changing areas, which are often uninspiring and intimidating from a child’s view. N.b. I tried this at one children’s centre and it resulted in laddered tights for the centre manager, so make sure staff are dressed appropriately!

Kirstine Beeley is an independent trainer, author and consultant, with experience of teaching in early years, primary and SEN settings.