Tammy's 1st writing task

"It takes a village to raise a child”
(Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) Proverb)

“It takes a village to raise a child,” said a colleague as we discussed my evolving research question about young children’s emotional development. “That's it!” I thought as I repeated his phrase in my head. That is the larger picture framing the more specific concern I was wrestling with. If it takes a village to raise a child, how is the modern village equipped to raise a child today? And more specifically, how are early childhood teachers, who are an important subset of care and education provision in the early part of a child’s life, equipped to support the emotional competency of young children who are spending increasing hours in their care in the first five years of their lives?

My interest in the socialization of young children’s emotional competence grew out of my past teaching experience and more recently from valuable snippets of interactions shared with academics and academic texts over a short period of time within the University. The recognition of the importance of these interactions alone highlights for me the truth of the quote by Robin Sharma, “Our minds are shaped by the people we meet and the books we read”.

Two years ago I left my role as director and teacher at an early childhood pre-prep centre to teach as a sessional tutor at Griffith University. This role swap allowed me to step back from my lengthy experience as an early childhood teacher and teach early childhood pedagogy to teachers transitioning from primary teaching to early childhood teaching. Three main research findings related to young children’s emotional competence led me on a path to my current research question.

The first research finding was the critical nature of social and emotional competency in early childhood for success at school and beyond. One of my sessional tutoring modules required discussion of an ABC video “Life at 3” derived from “ The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)”. The video about the study stated that a child’s emotional self-regulation skills (controlling feelings, behaviour and attention) are critical to allow them to successfully transition to school. Early childhood educators have always emphasized social and emotional development in early childhood, and yet for all its importance, I couldn’t help but wonder whether early childhood educators had effective tools to track young children’s emotional development, whether they had the resources to discuss this domain accurately with parents and external professionals and whether they have the resources to support the needs of a diverse student population in the emotional domain? I also began to question my own competency in teaching and assessing this area of early child development.

The second research finding was presented to me from a complete stranger. After being encouraged to undertake a doctorate, I was internally and externally wrestling my research focus with anyone that would listen. I knew my project would involve the social and emotional development of young children but I was not clear of my focus. I just happened to chat to another sessional tutor I had never met before in the sessional tutoring office at University. She immediately opened up her folder and handed me a day old newspaper article that summarized newly released data from the Australian Early Development Census for 2015. The census captures data from all Australian children in their first year of school. This survey revealed that the emotional development of prep children has declined in at-risk children and privileged boys over a nine-year period (Census, 2015). The emotional domain in this census measures emotional regulation, social and self-awareness and attention. The tutor suggested that the findings might be valuable in my research. My experience of sharing with a fellow academic in that moment felt like being visited by a fairy Godmother.

The third statistical finding was revealed to me as part of a discussion about prep during another role I held as a research assistant. The researcher mentioned that 873 children were suspended for behavioural issues in 2014 in Queensland in their first year of school (The Observer, 4th June 2013). These statistics are a huge concern for the success of the educational futures of these children. I wondered if it could be possible to turn those numbers around. I was very concerned about each of these children individually. If their education career started out this way, what might the next step be? Or the next? Could a child who had been suspended in their first year of school have a successful educational future? What can be done about this?

These findings become more important when juxtaposed with the general trend of young children spending increasing hours in childcare and educational settings from birth to their first year of school. I wondered how the modern village is negotiating the changing roles of socializers of young children’s emotional competency. Are early childhood educators equipped to support and socialize children’s hearts and minds during these highly formative years?

My early review of the literature on young children’s emotional development reveals current understandings that emotional competence acts as a “unique, concurrent predictor’ of long term academic success (Schultz, Richardson, Barber, & Wilcox, 2011). We know that parents are the first providers of emotional competency development and this has been well researched (Mirabile, 2009), however little is known of teachers socialization of young children’s emotional competence. Some children‘s normal emotional development is at risk with negative changes in family and community circumstances (Gunter, Caldarella, Korth, & Young, 2012), however teachers can make a positive difference to support the socialization of young children’s emotional competency if the family is unable to perform this role (Whitted, 2011). We also know that the preschool years are an important phase for the development of emotional and social competence (McCabe & Altamura, 2011), however it is judged that current curriculum documents do not contain specific assessment and planning details to support teachers to promote the development of social and emotional skills (Temple & Emmett, 2013).

One study in particular focused my attention on the teacher’s role in socialization. A study by (King & La Paro, 2015) compared use of emotion language with young children by mothers and teachers. Compared to mothers, teachers rarely used emotion words, and when they do, they are referring to their own emotions rather than those of the child. This research tells us there is a very different dynamic between parents and children for socialization than for teachers and children for socialization. This is natural and to be expected however raises issues of gaps in socialization practices considering the growing trend for children to spend large amounts of time outside the home in care environments. Without equipping other professionals in our modern village to share previously held parental role functions, we may not be providing all that our children need for their successful futures.

From the gap in the literature I have decided that my research focus will be on the teacher’s role in the socialization of emotional competency of young children.

I bring a unique set of skills to this research project. Some were developed over a lengthy early childhood teaching career and others while on sabbatical from teaching to raise four children. Away from teaching I studied Neuro-linguistic programming, coaching, observation of behaviour structures and communication patterns to work as a corporate coach and trainer. This knowledge and experience is highly transferable to the process of uncovering the teacher’s role and their thoughts and feelings about their identity, environment, beliefs, skills, competencies and capabilities for the socialization of young children’s emotional competency. I am also able to support my fellow colleagues as a sounding board to reflect their thoughts and ideas and ask open-ended questions to support their own research structure and processes.

However, I need to develop entrepreneurial and technical skills to represent myself to my academic and teaching audience. I am very excited that blogging and tweeting may become important tools in my ability to reach the early childhood educator audience where information sharing may be of the most use. Another important advantage of blogging with this audience will be to break down the silos that exist between early childhood centres in physical isolation from schools and each other all over Australia.

As I proceed with the design and implementation of my research, I will need to be mindful of the sensitivities of families, parents, teachers and at-risk groups as I aim to understand the teacher’s role as a socializer of young children’s emotional competency. I therefore will structure my research question as “What internal and external resources support teachers in their role as socializers of preschool children’s emotional development?” My investigation is based on the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources and understandings they currently have. How then can we as a village improve our resources for the sake of our children’s future?

A contribution I would like to make with this research is to produce valuable quantitative and qualitative data to support policy development discussions for improvements to the education and assessment of emotional competency in young children. My next step is to embark on a quantitative literature review for publication. This is an important step in my research project. The effectiveness of this step will result in either steering this project to influence actions in the community or to just produce an interesting piece of research.

The obvious starting point for understanding in this area is from within the school of education. However I believe some crossover will be required across other higher education areas such as psychology and the social sciences to broaden understandings of this topic. I aim to send out an initial wide net across the disciplines of education, social sciences and psychology and then refine my search to a narrow focus on the teacher’s role in the socialization of young children’s emotional competency. It will be interesting for me to observe the changes I make to this proposed path over the next couple of years as I step out to meet more minds and texts!

References:
Census, A. E. D. (2015). 2015 AEDC National Report. Retrieved from https://www.aedc.gov.au/resources/detail/2015-aedc-national-report
Gunter, L., Caldarella, P., Korth, B. B., & Young, K. R. (2012). Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in Preschool Students: A Study of Strong Start Pre-K. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3), 151-159. doi:10.1007/s10643-012-0507-z
McCabe, P. C., & Altamura, M. (2011). Empirically valid strategies to improve social and emotional competence of preschool children. Psychology in the Schools, 48(5), 513-540. doi:10.1002/pits.20570
Mirabile, S. P. (2009). Emotion socialization, emotional competence, and social competence and maladjustment in early childhood. (Dissertation/Thesis), ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Schultz, B. L., Richardson, R. C., Barber, C. R., & Wilcox, D. (2011). A Preschool Pilot Study of Connecting with Others: Lessons for Teaching Social and Emotional Competence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(2), 143-148. doi:10.1007/s10643-011-0450-4
Temple, E., & Emmett, S. (2013). Promoting the development of children's emotional and social wellbeing in early childhood settings : how can we enhance the capability of educators to fulfil role expectations? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(1), 66-72.
Whitted, K. S. (2011). Understanding How Social and Emotional Skill Deficits Contribute to School Failure. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 55(1), 10-16. doi:10.1080/10459880903286755

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