By Dr Anita Soni, Educational Psychologist, and Sharon Lewis, Executive Headteacher
Correspondence address: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
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This article explores how an adaptation of video interaction guidance (VIG) with professionals, known as video enhanced reflective practice (VERP), developed a community of practice at a nursery school. The project was commissioned by the Head teacher (the second author of this paper), and involved 12 staff who worked in two units with children aged two to three, and three to four, in a nursery school. Attendance at the half termly VERP CPD sessions was strongly encouraged by the Head teacher, and was for practitioners who had video to share with their colleagues. I (the first author) had trained as a VIG practitioner and facilitated all the sessions, with a view to eventually setting up self-sustaining reflection sessions.
The article draws on literature by Wenger (1998) about communities of practice (see below), and on an evaluation of the nursery school VERP group process, which was completed after four VERP CPD sessions. The evaluation was based on individual short interviews with staff, including the Head teacher. Whilst this approach has limitations in terms of the risk of socially desirable responses, the tendency to give positive self-descriptions, it enabled formative assessment of the VERP process for the upcoming year. Within the VERP sessions, there was time for two groups of staff to meet for an hour each, over two terms. This article seeks to analyse how a community of practice developed in the nursery school and what is needed to sustain staff reflection over time.
What is video interaction guidance (VIG) and video enhanced reflective practice (VERP)?
Video interaction guidance (VIG) is an intervention through which a practitioner aims to enhance communication within relationships (AVIG UK, 2019). Initially the client together with the guider negotiates their goal, and then is guided to reflect on video clips of their own successful interactions. This can be with a parent and child, or professionals and the client they work with. In this case, the practitioners were early childhood practitioners working with young children in a nursery school. The intervention takes the view that change can be achieved more effectively in the context of an empowering, collaborative, coaching relationship focusing on strengths and potential (AVIG UK, 2019). In both VIG and VERP, clients select their own helping question, and in VIG the guider films and then edits the video, choosing the clips to share, whereas in VERP the client films, edits and selects their own clips. In this instance, the practitioners filmed each other, then selected their own clips to share with a staff group, with a VIG–trained facilitator to enable reflection, discussion and sharing of viewpoints. The Head teacher and senior staff did not attend the sessions, but were supportive of staff attending.
What is a community of practice?
Wenger (2001) highlights the importance of people as an organisation’s key resource, and the value of creating communities which share the capacity to create and use knowledge. Wenger and Snyder (2000) define communities of practice as:
‘…groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise.’ (p.139)
In this nursery school, the staff are bound together by their shared expertise in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and their passion to support the young children in their care. The practitioners, in line with the principles of VIG and VERP, identified which particular aspect of their practice they wanted to focus on, enabling them to work within the community of practice to follow their own passions and interests.
The key features of a community of practice
Wenger (1998) outlines the three dimensions of a community of practice as:
- The domain – the joint enterprise as negotiated by its members
- The community – how the community functions and the mutual engagement that binds the members
- The practice – the capability and shared repertoire of resources developed by the group
The joint enterprise as negotiated by the nursery staff
In the nursery school, the joint enterprise was initially identified by the Head teacher, and focused on the development of sustained shared thinking by the staff with the children. This had been identified in the Head teacher’s learning walks where she observed the practice in the nursery school, and was recommended as an outcome from a recent OFSTED inspection. However Wenger (1998) makes an important point that communities of practice develop around what is important to the people, and external mandates do not in themselves produce practice. In this instance, the joint enterprise identified by staff during short evaluation interviews was reflection on practice; sustained shared thinking emerged, amongst other issues, as part of these discussions. This was illustrated by comments from staff such as:
‘It’s good reflection on practice and how to make it better and better yourself.’
Scheduling the VERP CPD sessions
In terms of practicalities, scheduling of the VERP CPD sessions was a key area for consideration. It was agreed with the Head teacher that half-termly sessions on a Friday afternoon, when fewer children attended, was a practical solution. This enabled adult-child ratios to be maintained, and was the best use of the available time. Previously there had been additional, non-contact time in the nursery school when staff could meet, but with a reduction in budget, this was no longer possible. In addition to pragmatic considerations, the appreciative eye of VIG-/VERP-trained facilitator was noted as central by staff, with comments such as:
‘Normally you think low of yourself, but when the whole team are saying good things, you feel good about yourself and like the job more.’
Staff autonomy in choosing what to film
Other aspects of VIG that enabled the community to function, included the autonomy of staff to choose their own helping question and clips. Some staff focused on particular children (such as those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or those children who are quiet and less likely to engage with adults), or on an aspect of their practice (such as how they supported children in groups or within child-initiated activity). As the Head teacher and staff members noted:
‘The staff set their own targets so they are in control and demonstrate who they are as practitioners.’
‘I am more in control of it because (you show) what you want to show.’
VERP as an inclusive process
A further aspect of VERP that was valued by staff was that the VIG process is inherently inclusive. This was noted by practitioners who spoke English as an additional language.
‘It is really good for someone like me who is a shy person and it (English) is not my first language.’
In terms of the capability and shared resources, the evaluation of the VERP sessions identified a number of positive outcomes, such as enabling the team to come together, sharing perspectives, seeing progress, feeling affirmed and gaining confidence.
Due to the requirement to maintain the adult-child ratio (DFE, 2017), the nursery staff were not able to meet in their units or as a whole group, and instead came together in mixed groups, depending on who had a video to share. The value of sharing different views and reflecting on practice with other practitioners was noted as an outcome of the VIG sessions:
‘Sometimes we don’t have time to see each what others are doing, what’s in their minds…’
‘It is nice that the other staff are with you, so you can see the other person’s point of view.’
‘Sharing it with other people is a brave way of moving forwards and enables peer support.’
A further outcome from the group, which resulted from sessions taking place over time, was the visibility and sharing of progress. This included individual children’s progress, staff members’ own professional progress, or the progress of colleagues:
‘It’s a good way of showing progress of a child from the first video to the last one.’
‘Someone like me…to be able to look back and reflect on how I was at the beginning and how I am now.’
‘It made her think critically and that was a wow.’
Communities of practice in early childhood education and care
Hord (2009) writes about the development of professional learning communities in schools and universities. She argues that a professional learning community, where educators work together to improve the learning of their students, models a learner-centred and constructivist approach. This reflects early childhood pedagogy which takes a child-centred approach to learning and development. Hord (2009) draws on Burns, Menchaca and Dimock (2001) six principles of constructivist learning theory to highlight professional learning community models should ideally be an active, reflective process, controlled by the learner, located in a social context where multiple perspectives can be shared.
This aligns well with the VERP process utilised in the nursery school, where practitioners identified their own helping questions, and shared and celebrated videos of their practice. Hord (2009) identifies a number of conditions for successful professional learning communities, including structures, time and space for staff to meet and talk about the students’ learning and progress, alongside their own learning.
Wenger (1998) in his categorisation of communities of practice would identify the community of nursery school practitioners as seeded and nurtured by the Head teacher, who plays a key role in legitimising participation. She does this by providing practical support including identifying a time for the VERP sessions, and values what the community of practice brings through her discussions with and observations of staff. Hord (2009) emphasises the key role of the leader to support collaborative dialogue within purposeful professional learning community meetings. The Head teacher highlighted in her interview that she is keen to further develop video enhanced reflective practice by working with other staff in other nursery schools.
In a final paragraph, Wenger (1998) notes:
‘…training departments must move the focus from training initiatives that extract knowledge out of practice to learning initiatives that leverage the learning potential inherent in practice.’ (p.10)
Taking a VERP approach to the professional development of practitioners within early childhood education and care, enables a community of practice, where reflection on videos of staff playing and working with children enables problem solving, sharing of perspectives, and makes visible staff progress and learning. As summed up by the Head teacher:
‘You had to video and therefore expose yourself in order to participate in the group sessions, so if you don’t put into it, you won’t get anything out of it!’
Association for Video Interaction Guidance UK (AVIG UK) (2019) About VIG accessed on 26.7.19 at https://videointeractionguidance.net/aboutvig
Department for Education (DfE) (2017) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, accessed on 26.7.19 at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/596629/EYFS_STATUTORY_FRAMEWORK_2017.pdf
Hord, S. M. (2009) ‘Professional learning communities,’ Journal of Staff Development, 30, 1, 40-43
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Wenger, E. (2001) Communities of practice: A brief introduction, accessed on 8.7.19 at https://www.researchgate.net/…/235413087_Communities_of_Practice_A_Brief_Introduction
Wenger, E and Snyder, W. (2000) ‘Communities of practice: The organizational frontier,’ Harvard Business Review, 78, 139-145