James Goodeve, manager of Ladybird Nursery in Surrey, understands supporting a nursery team. As a 20-year early years veteran, James was hired by the owners of the setting to turn things around after a disappointing Ofsted inspection and rebuild the confidence of the educators.
But that’s no easy task. Balancing feedback about what to improve and professionalise, while ensuring your team feel valued, can be really tricky. And, specifically when it comes to literacy and written work, there can be a lot of shame around making mistakes and needing to be corrected.
So how does James sensitively support his educators to improve their spelling and grammar, without hurting their professional confidence?
I met with him to find out.
At Ladybird Nursery, James works with educators with a variety of literacy abilities. From dyslexia to using English as an additional language, plenty of practitioners need a little extra help to polish their observations or perfect their posts.
And he’s certainly not alone.
The NHS estimates up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia, so the likelihood is you too know an EY educator who struggles with spelling reading, writing, or spelling. And James’ team are no different.
The first support system James adopted was to create feedback sheets for educators’ written observations:
“When I first put the feedback in place for observations, lots of the practitioners were nervous,” explains James, “But I explained that I’m here to support and help them as much as possible. It was to give pointers.”
However, while this system worked well, it was certainly not a short process.
“It took an awful lot of time,” says James, “Every child has at least one observation a month and we have 60 children on roll. Having to read through every observation took time out of what I was doing, and then the feedback to an entire day each month.”
As well as offering personal guidance and support, utilising a tool to support educators with their spelling and grammar was an obvious choice for James. Educators being able to check spelling and grammar, and then see those corrections in real-time, meant a much smoother (and far less time-consuming) process for James and his team.
Sidekick, in Famly’s early childhood platform, is a writing assistant for early years educators. Sidekick can:
“I like that there are different ways to change your writing in Sidekick,” says James, “You can make it more conversational or more professional. I like to explore the different options and choose the one I like the most.”
In the example below, I have misspelt some words in a draft Famly Newsfeed post and asked Sidekick to check my writing, before I set it live. I can choose to accept Sidekick’s suggestion for the improvements and corrections or ask it to try again, to see another option.
And don’t worry, Sidekick doesn’t change the content or meaning of what the educators actually documented, or add details in about what an educator observed.
“While it can change the writing quite dramatically, the content is still the same,” says James, “It doesn’t change what you’re trying to get across in an observation - the same information is just worded differently.”
Now James and his team can use Sidekick in Famly to help them with all sorts of writing. Many of the Ladybird Nursery parents communicate with the setting through messages on Famly and often have questions that require long or complex answers.
“If I’m sending a long message or explaining something about funding, for example, I’ll always ‘Sidekick’ it,” says James, “First, we use the ‘Correct spelling and grammar’ option, then ‘Make it professional."
In fact, James likes Sidekick so much, he even utilises the tool when working outside of Famly.
“Now when I write an email I actually copy and paste it into Famly and use Sidekick to check it,” says James, “It’s reduced my workload massively and saved me so much time - I’ve got back at least half a day.”
James is delighted with the feedback he’s received from his team about using Sidekick in Famly. He described the relief his educators feel from the stress of worrying about their spelling and grammar.
“All the staff have used it and they’re so happy with it,” says James “It’s just made their lives easier. The feedback was amazing - they’re so impressed with it.”
As well as the educators’ happiness, James is seeing their abilities and confidence grow too. Viewing the suggestions from Sidekick alongside their original writing allows the educators to see where the corrections in spelling are made, so they can use the correct spelling next time. They also have the opportunity to assess the content of the new text, to gain inspiration for future writing.
“They can see the changes so they think, ‘Next time, I’m going to write it this way,’” says James, “It’s having a knock-on effect as it’s teaching them how they could word it.”
Once the educators have used Sidekick and are happy with the observations they’ve written, they still send them for review by James. This means James still has the opportunity to offer feedback and praise for his team and see the improvements in their writing.
“Since we began using Sidekick, I haven't had to write out long feedback sheets,” says James, “All the observations are perfect so I was able to just praise them for an amazing job.”
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.