Sunday, 23 October 2011

It's Just Not Good Enough

It’s just  not good enough” this recent article in Nursery World caught my eye and held my interest,  it was written by Julian Grenier, Early Years Advisor to Tower Hamlets Council, London. 

I appreciate the eloquent and skillful way he presents this key message about the importance of:  What we say and how we say it and caution over  institutionalisation relating versus genuine human relating.

It’s short, concise and in my opinion, he describes without judgement, the current trend of a language being used in nurseries that is based on evaluative statements such as “good sitting, good listening” and he uses humour to illustrate how the term “good looking” would be understood outside the school gates!

He offers practical examples of the descriptions for behaviours that might relate to what is meant by “good sitting” and he expands this too by describing other behaviours concerning sitting i.e  fidgeting, and generally moving about.  He suggests how it might be much nicer  if practitioners considered using clear and genuine descriptions, ordinary language instead of a language that is distinct from the way that other people speak.

I so enjoyed reading this article…thanks Julian…..hopefully, I may one day hear less of this  language spoken, when my grandchildren are playing schools together…….

I am reminded of another article written by Rachel Underwood many years ago…here is a little extract…about considering what praise teaches…

This is what she shared
“Once as a twenty eight year old teacher, I remember spending my time after school putting up a wall display of the nursery children’s work in the school hall.  Each piece of work had been carefully mounted and labelled and there were explanations for parents to read about the significance of the work.  After I had finished the display, I found myself loitering in the hall - I was hoping the head teacher would come by and make some positive remark about my efforts.  I caught myself doing this and smiled.  Here I was, a grown woman, lead teacher in a nursery unit waiting for my wall display to be acknowledged by someone I perceived to be significant so I could go home feeling content with my day’s work.  I didn’t have the know how at that point to acknowledge myself for my efforts.”

In Rachel's article, she talks about how closed comments like “lovely picture” do not enable Julie (child in the article) to develop her own views and enjoyment about her work, instead she explains how this can lead to the child’s need for adult approval.   She describes how Sasha, Julie’s key worker is well intentioned in her acknowledgement of Julies work, but the message Julie creates for herself from the comments Sasha makes are very different from Sasha’s purpose. Julie ends up looking to the adults to let her know if she is doing well, maybe she plays it safe too instead of trying new things.

I have many conversations with friends and colleagues about the approaches we use when we want others to do what we want them to do…..and about the way we communicate and relate with others so that they feel emotionally safe to be themselves.  Most of  my work  now days  relates to this area…working with practitioners, parents, leaders and managers and the general public wanting to find ways to communicate and relate authentically with care respect and equality..  

If our goal is to provide a world where people flourish and are able to express themselves, where we care about each other as well as ourselves , then I guess it would be great for us to be able to express ourselves honestly, openly and in a true way.

This applies to us at work, in our teams, families and communities.

How do we do this…

It seems to me that our own emotional awareness and being able to empathise, alongside clear and careful communication,  plays a key role in adopting such an approach.

What do you think about this?


  1. Very well said! Reminds me of one of my favourite books, ‘how to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk’ Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. In this book they discuss the importance of describing children’s work and actions to them rather than given them labels.

  2. Hi Tracy, glad you liked my piece, and I like the way you've taken this on. You might also be interested by what a friend told me a while back about picking up a child from nursery - where she was informed that "Tom has made some very sad choices today..."

  3. Thanks for sharing Julien, its taken me time to respond - life is very busy!

    My experience is that this type of feedback to a parent about their child’s day can be common.

    I imagine possible responses from a parent, they might be something like:

    “What did you do today, were you naughty?”

    “Tom say sorry ”


    “Are you ok Tom, would you like to tell me what happened today at nursery?”


    Would you like Tom and I to chat at home, about what happened at nursery today and maybe we can talk some more tomorrow ?

    This reminds me how important it is for staff to consider their underlying intention for sharing information with parents.

    For staff to consider why am I sharing this with a parent, what is it that I am wanting to happen as a result of this sharing...?