Zop critical thinking untested feasibilities and zones of professional developmewnt
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ZOP: Critical thinking, untested feasibilities and Zones of Professional Developmewnt. Working paper presented to the EECERA 17th Annual Conference Prague, 29 August – 1 September 2007 Dr. Mathias UrbanEC+P. Early Childhood and Profession

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ZOP: Critical thinking, untested feasibilities and Zones of Professional Developmewnt

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ZOP: Critical thinking, untested feasibilitiesand Zones of Professional Developmewnt

Working paper presented to the

EECERA 17th Annual Conference

Prague, 29 August – 1 September 2007

Dr. Mathias UrbanEC+P. Early Childhood and Profession

International Centre for Research, Studies and Development

Martin-LutherUniversitaet Halle-Wittenberg

Background:The Strategies for Change project

  • “Cross-national studies of early childhood can lose sight of the child“(Moss 2001)

  • They are also at risk of losing sight of practitioners

  • ECCE has moved up national and European policy agendas, driven by common concerns

    • Employment

    • Competitiveness

    • Diversity and Equality

    • Children‘s rights

    • Social inclusion

  • There is a consensus on the overall goals – but it does not extend to how to achieve these goals

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Background:The Strategies for Change project

  • The field is becoming increasingly diverse …

    • “ the populations of OECD countries also are becoming increasingly heterogeneous as a result of immigration, the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers, and economic migrants seeking work in countries with labour shortage.”

    • “ the need for early childhood staff and provision to value and respond to the needs of ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse families remains a challenge in many countries.”(OECD 2001)

    • Workforce is central for achieving policy goals of increasing both quantity and quality of provision(Oberhuemer 2000, 2005; Siraj-Blatchford 2002; Dalli 2003; Mac Naughton 2005)

    • Most countries face major workforce challenges

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

What drives change at the national (macro) and local (micro) levels of the early years systems?

What is the conceptualisation of, and the role given to the workforce?

Project partners:

Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU),Institute of Education, London(Prof. Peter Moss)

Participating countries:(pilot phase)





New Zealand

Strategies for Change:Project goals and objectives

  • Multiple methods /grounded theory approach:

    • Document Analysis

    • Narratives and semi-structured interviews

    • Thick descriptions

    • Case Studies

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de


Policy documents

Strategic plans

Quality frameworks

National curricula

General project design:Focus on processes of change

Document analysis


Expert Interviews



  • One local setting in each country

  • Local authorities

  • Trainers, managers, practitioners …


Thick descriptions

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Main strands / guiding questionsHow to change a stagnant system into one that is dynamic and has the assent of the children, the families, the public and the political establishment?

  • Advocacy

    • How is public discourse informed about rights and interest of children, diversity issues, socio-economic rationale for services etc.?

  • Leadership

    • How is strong political leadership encouraged - and resourced - to lead change?

  • Change Agents

    • How can a critical mass of change agents be achieved?

  • Institutional Barriers

    • How can institutional obstacles and frictions within the sector be minimised?

  • Linking research to policy and practice development

    • How can the emergence of a strong research community be nurtured?

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

The ‚expert‘ model

a certain base of knowledge (science)

translated into technology

converted into skills

knowledge and ‚truth‘ linked to maintaining systems of power

underlying discourse:


predetermined outcomes

The ‘professional’ model

Individuals co-constructing professional ethos and knowledge(s)

Knowledge not simply 'applied‘ – but constantly (re-)invented in complex situations

Based on working relationships with autonomous others

underlying discourse:

uncertainty, ambiguity,


‚untested feasibilities‘

We are not solving problems, we are managing messes(Donald E. Schön)

Two conceptualisations of the early childhood workforce

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Professional learning – keeping the future open

Now, with our greater understanding of the process, we must cultivate the most flexible and complex part of the system – the behaviour of adults. We must, in fact, teach ourselves how to alter adult behaviour so that we can give up postfigurative upbringing, […] and discover prefigurative ways of teaching and learning that will keep the future open.Margaret Mead 1978

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Critical thinking (1)









maturity of judgement



critical thinking




adapted from Facione 2004

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Vygotsky: Zone of proximal development

Education must be based on the student’s own activity and should involve nothing more than guiding and monitoring this activity. In the interaction with children the teacher should open a zone of proximal development

Vygotsky 1978 / van Oers 2003

“… the child is engaged in a particular kind of meaningful activity, in which he or she wants to participate, but cannot yet carry out all actions independently.”

van Oers 1995, 2003

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Creating Zones of Professional Development

  • How can practitioners and students become engaged in meaningful activities?

  • How can they be guided and monitored – in a process of reciprocal meaning making?

  • How can they be encouraged to create change?

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

  • “[…] creative people, who are change agents, because the people on the ground have the opportunity to reflect, they get assistance with people alongside them doing additional support of their normal work so that they can stand back and reflect, write up, disseminate what they’re thinking about.”

  • “[…] we identify people, who have promise and we try and induct them into the next academic layer. I think that’s really important.”

    (strat4change New Zealand)

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

  • “The disruption of the binary between research and practice is happening. I don’t know where it will take us, but I think, it will take us in good directions.”(strat4change, Australia)

  • “And that all creates an environment, an ethos of reflection and willingness to consider alternatives beyond current practice.”(strat4change, New Zealand)

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de

Critical thinking (2):transformative approaches to research and professional learning

Contextualising individual experience:

- History

- Economy

- Politics

- Power

(Multiple) perspectives

- Narratives

- Phenomena

- Stories

- Theoretical frameworks

- Informal hunches

Professional learning:a systemic, transformative project

EC+P Mathias Urbanmathias.urban@paedagogik.uni-halle.de


for Change

The reason life is so strange is that we have simply no idea what is around the next corner,something most of us have learned to forget.

Colum McCann, Zoli

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