Symposium 3: Innovative exemplary approaches to professional development of ECEC’s practitioners in Europe

Findings from three case studies in Denmark, Italy and Poland

Symposium Abstract

Discussant: Pauline Slot, Utrecht University


The focus of this symposium is on findings from three case studies of exemplary approaches to in service professional development conducted within the project Curriculum Quality Analyses and Impact Review of European Education and care (CARE) funded by the European Union within the Seventh Framework Programme. Case studies were conducted within the “WP-3 professional Development: Impact and Innovation”, with the aim to explore new effective approaches to professional development aimed at enhancing education and improving workforce training strategies for early practitioners. In this transnational symposium the authors present their results and interpretations of findings by describing how innovation operate in practice in three different contexts and how it is implemented and renewed at a macro/meso/micro level. Examples of which types of professional development are effective in improving professionals practices and ECEC quality in a time of increasingly lack of economic resources will be described bridging multiple voices and perspectives. Issues of impact, sustainability and transferability will be discussed using qualitative data collected in each selected case.  The symposium includes three presentations: the first one is about innovation at a city level within the selected case of Milan-Reggio Emilia, two ECEC-city laboratories; the second considers the Vida Development programme in Denmark, an innovative intervention with 3-6 children; the third explores the innovative approach to in-service PD in publich Créche Netweork in Łódź (Poland). Each presentation will contribute to situate these approaches within each context, but still creating opportunities to exchange and mutual understanding on a cross cultural perspective. 

Paper 1. Innovation as a participatory process of renewing educational and professional development practices: Voices of ECEC practitioners in two Italian sites

Chiara Bove, Susanna Mantovani (University of Milan Bicocca), Claudia Giudici (Reggio Children), Silvia Cescato (University of Milan Bicocca)

This paper is part of the project Curriculum Quality Analysis and Impact Review of European Education and Care (CARE) funded by the European Union within the Seventh Framework Programme. The study is part of WP3 professional Development: Impact and Innovation. In this presentation, we will discuss findings from the Italian case study conducted in Milan and Reggio Emilia, two innovative exemplary approaches to professional development within ECEC-city systems.

Both cases are revelatory examples of innovation in contemporary Italy because they have some of the common features drawn from the literature review on innovative approaches to professional development (e.g. systemic, sustainable, networking). Our review suggests that although there is an increasing consensus regarding the need to adopt most promising forms of innovation to improve the professionalism of the ECEC practitioners (Core, 2011, Oberhuemer, Schreyer & Neuman, 2010), so far few study in the field have described “the mechanisms responsible for or influencing change” within these innovative processes (Sheridan, 2007, p.378).

It is not always clear what innovation means in the field of ECE, how it works, how it is possible to study its impact and how practitioners perceive their changes and improvements. This is particularly true in the ECE field where multiple stakeholders are involved in the decision making process at several levels: policy makers, practitioners, children, families, communities (Vandenbroeck, 2012).

Aims of our study include: describing how the innovative framework developed on a large/macro level, which is typical of the two selected sites, is transferred and further implemented on a local/micro level; exploring which types of professional development are effective in improving ECEC quality; studying how practitioners perceive and interpret the impact of innovation on their educational practices and on ECEC quality.

Within the case study method (Yin, 2005), we adopted qualitative techniques to gather new data (interviews, focus groups) and to analyze existing data (documents, observations, videos). We conducted semi-structured interviews with ECEC-practitioners, stakeholders and pedagogical coordinators, and we combined these interviews with observations of dynamic processes of innovation at a micro level. Data analyses procedures followed the content analyses method.

Main results regards: the need to strengthen in-service training initiatives by encouraging the active involvement of practitioners at the different level of innovation (macro/meso/micro); the importance to connect theory and practice in order to improve the impact of professional development initiatives; the potentials of innovative methods (including ICT) to sustain critical thinking, and habits of “reflection in action” well connected to processes of changes and renewing practices; the role of pedagogical coordinators as ‘multipliers’ or engine of innovation.

In the presentation we will discuss our Italian findings within a broader European perspective in Early Childhood Education and Professional Development.

Paper 2: An Innovative Professional Development Programme within an organisational learning and communities of practice perspective – A Danish Case

Bente Jensen, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark.

This paper is part of the project Curriculum Quality Analysis and Impact Review of European Education and Care (CARE) funded by the European Union within the Seventh Framework Programme, and the current study is part of WP3 professional Development: Impact and Innovation. This paper present the case: VIDA, an innovative intervention for 3-6 years old children in Denmark. 

Theoretically the case builds on research on innovation, This field has tended to focus primarily on technological innovation, leaving socially-driven innovations in the shade (Dawson & Daniel, 2010). Here, we draw on Dawson and Daniel’s (2010, p. 10) definition of innovation as “the development of new concepts, strategies and tools that support groups in achieving the objective of improved well-being.”

Three research questions are explored: 1) How is the innovative approach to ECEC conceptualised and translated into renewed ECEC practices?  2) What is the impact of the innovative approach to professional development on i) educators’ practices ii) child outcomes (outcome) and 3) what are theinnovative improvements (impact in a broader sense)?

Methods used were a combination of qualitative data collected through interviews with ECEC educators, managers, consultants, university college teachers, municipal directors and existing quantitative data based on 1) a randomised controlled trial and a 2) survey (129 centres).

The study showed: 1) that informants, representing different professional cultures, settings and systemic levels, agreed upon the following definitions of what innovative approaches to professional development in ECEC should involve: new practices, new ways of working in the pedagogical environment, new ways of encountering and interacting with children, and new approaches to professional cooperation.

However, new ideas alone are insufficient – these ideas have to be realisable and have a positive effect on the children, particularly socially disadvantaged children. 2) effect analyses showed, firstly, that the VIDA five-step model for professional development improved socio-emotional wellbeing and learning among 3-6-year-old children, including socially disadvantaged children. Secondly, we found that professionals’ practices became knowledge-based, reflective and creative as they worked with experimental learning in practice. Management and the role of networks and learning communities affected implementation, and thereby learning outcomes. 3) the study showed, that VIDA is an example of an innovative approach, sustainable and replicable in other contexts.

The study lead us to the following considerations: Challenges remain, however, of translating ideas into innovative practices, and of combining professional learning in an organisational learning perspective with innovation in ways that make sense. Learning and innovation are regarded as interconnected activities which occur in and through professional development activities (Brown & Duguid, 1991, 41).

In relation to our findings, the concept of communities of practice (COP) is defined as a group of people within several contexts that comes together to actively engage in VIDA in order to improve quality of practice and thereby children’s outcomes. This notion entails that several COPs can co-exist within the same group of professionals and across other communities (communities of innovation (COI), and based on these new communities can emerge, e.g. around  innovative initiatives/interventions as VIDA.

Paper 3: Innovative approach to in-service professional development of caregivers in Public Crèche Network in Łódź (Poland)

Olga Wyslowska, Malgorzata Karwowska-Struczyk, (Warsaw University, Poland)

The importance of good quality ECEC provision for children’s developmental and educational outcomes has been addressed in a number of studies (Pianta et al., 2005; Thomason & La Paro, 2009). Staff characteristics and among them opportunities for in-service professional training have shown to enhance good quality services (Hamre et al., 2012), which in turn influence positive child outcomes (Mashburn et al., 2008).

The organization, methodology and content of the in-service professional development (PD) initiatives have to reflect the traditions, financing regulations and value systems of a community of stakeholders involved in the process of training. Other important elements characterizing an innovative approach to PD include systematic, episodic, bottom up and participatory approach connecting  research and practice in order to achieve transferable and sustainable results (Jensen et al., 2015). Exemplary local programs of in-service professional development may bring an inspiration (especially evidenced-based training programs) for other communities of practice.

The aim of this paper is to contribute to the existing knowledge on what this innovative PD looks like in practice and how this is perceived by practitioners by conducting a case study in the municipality of Łódź, Poland.

The public creche network in Łódź (Miejski Zespół Żłobków w Łodzi) is the second biggest public creche network in Poland and provides educare to children from 20 weeks up to the age of three years. In-service professional development activities undertaken by practitioners from the network have been identified as innovative in the national context (Telka, 2007). Further analysis of the existing data, especially grey literature and an interview with the pedagogical supervisor of the network confirmed that they also meet the criteria to an innovative approach to PD given above.

For the in-depth analysis existing data were accessed, including (local) publications, MA research projects (n=10), and an extensive collection of grey literature. Also, new data has been collected, including semi structured interviews with caregivers (N=15), heads of the settings (N=3), the director of the network and the pedagogical supervisor. Additionally, classroom process quality using the CLASS Toddler observational tool was measured in one group in 26 of 30 settings of the network (coding and analysis of the data are in-progress), which will be included in the final paper.

The first results confirmed that the approach to the in-service development in the network has a holistic character and involves actions on different levels, including the micro (development on the level of individual practitioner, organizational initiatives), meso (inter-organizational actions), and macro (system) level. Analysis of the findings at each level revealed that some of the in-service PD initiatives have greater influence on day-to-day practice than others. For instance cooperation with academics for professionals in Łódź has had more practical implications than organized peer observations, what has been revealed in the interviews and is reflected in the internal regulations of the network.

The findings will be discussed in reference to the possible implications for the policy and practice in the field of in-service professional development of ECEC practitioners.