Positive relationships

Outstanding ways to… Support meaningful engagement with staff

In part 2 of this series by holistic education consultant, Yasmin Darling, she explains what the three I’s mean for meaningful engagement.
An Early Years manager stands in front of a large board with drawings on. He is talking to his colleague. She sits opposite him, in the office.
October 11, 2022
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • Meaningful engagement with staff means managers can be responsive to issues that may arise quickly- but how do we know that we’re meaningfully engaging our team?
  • Yasmin explains that clear expectations and open communication can not only support meaningful engagement but ‘nip problems in the bud’ before they escalate.
  • Leaders also need to be aware and proactive about the factors that affect meaningful engagement, such as workload, work-life balance, quality of supervision, and the transparency and culture of the setting.

In this series, I will be using my experience running a busy childminding, nursery, and preschool setting to share what I found works best to achieve the highest outcomes for children.  This article focuses on ensuring that the below descriptor, from the Ofsted Early Years inspection framework, is firmly and authentically in practice.

I will be using the three I’s from 2019 Ofsted Inspection Framework, to provide structure and bring them alive in a meaningful way, and illustrate how we can put them into action.

A holistic approach, with a ‘bird's eye view’ supports you, as an Early Years leader or educator, to step back and look at your setting as a whole system. This, in turn, will enable you to assess, review, and act on any changes you need to make with increased clarity and understanding. Step by step, towards excellence.

The big ideas

The grade descriptor we are exploring for part 2 of this series is

Outstanding (1)

The provider meets all the criteria for good leadership and management securely and consistently. Leadership and management in this provision is exceptional. In addition, the following apply. “Leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that any issues are identified. When issues are identified – in particular about workload – they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.”
EYFS inspection Handbook.

Intent - meaningful engagement

We are being asked to ensure we create the right conditions for Early Years educators to be able to deliver early education well, happily, and with consistency, resulting in best possible outcomes for children.

But what does this mean? 

For example, meaningful engagement might look like: 

  • Ensuring all staff are included in our management structures.
  • Being mindful to ‘tune in’ with your staff the same way you ‘tune in’ with the children.
  • Let staff know at contract stage, through friendly signage and the atmosphere you create, that they can come to you at any time (as long as ratios are covered, of course).
  • Looking at and managing all areas of your setting ‘system’, through audits and whole setting staff feedback.
  • Gathering the opinions of your team and actioning appropriate ideas, so they feel listened to.
  • Not overloading ourselves or our educators. Are your processes streamlined and necessary? 
  • Not missing important matters before it is too late, by virtue of our style of leadership.
  • Ensuring we create safe atmospheres and internal structures where problems are picked up and fixed quickly, before they cause further issues.

However, it takes great skill, vigilance, and focus to consistently create this way of working, especially post-covid when we have all been tested so much. So, it does feel appropriate that this is an ‘outstanding’ grade because it takes outstanding work to achieve it.

But it is achievable, and here is how.

A group of adults in a meeting. A man and a woman looks at a notebook together and 4 adults stand around a laptop, talking together.

Implementation - meaningful engagement in practice

Like any relationship, agreement, or understanding, if we are clear from the start, it tends to work best. But we also know that remaining fluid and open to the evolution of your work lays the best path for progression.

And, as leaders and educators, as we learn by remaining open, non-defensive, and curious, we role model, the attitudes and behaviours to learning and growing for the staff and children at our setting.

It has been well researched and evidenced that creating an enabling environment is central to humans reaching their full potential - it is one of the overarching principles of the EYFS. The environment of the childcare space, the home, the community, the workplace… it’s all connected and we need to feel safe emotionally and physically. When we do, we can blossom fully.

As such, the first port of call in laying the groundwork to achieve the descriptor above is for us to mindfully create working environments that lend themselves to it.

For example, if we want to create ‘highly effective and meaningful engagement’ with staff, we have to first create a working culture and a communication culture that enables that to take place.


Take the time to self-audit your setting and ensure you’re checking in on the experience of others. Think about supervision quality, ongoing outcomes, and consistency, as these are central effective engagement.

For example:

  • Think about how much time is built into the working week or month for effective supervision of educators.
  • Consider what effective supervision looks like for your setting.
  • Think about whether your setting and educators would benefit from a set format, a casual chat, or a more formal structure.

It’s important for any supervision to be well-being- and mental health-informed. This is especially relevant post-covid. So, ensure that the communication has enough focus on safeguarding.

We further need to consider if the person carrying out the supervision has the right skill set and mentality to do so. Are they emotionally mature and equipped to carry out this role? This is especially relevant as we move through the Early Years staffing crisis, and are forced to make adaptions to our judgement calls on staff.

Emotional maturity means are the person conducting the supervision meeting is able to ‘create space’ for the person they are supervising, in order for meaningful discourse and effective communication to actually take place. If not, it cannot be highly effective or meaningful.

We also need to consider if the relationship between supervisee and supervisor is healthy, appropriate and positive. For example, ask whether there are any issues that may get in the way of communication being effective? Here, effective means that it supports useful and meaningful progress toward the best possible outcomes for children, families, and staff.

Ultimately, reflect on whether the systems in place will pick up on any issues consistently and resolve them appropriately and quickly.

5 adults in a staff meeting. 2 are pinning post-it notes to a board, 2 are talking to one-another, 1 is looking at his phone.

Transparency and an open-door culture of communication

Another major consideration when working to authentically identify issues is whether staff, families and other professionals feel they can talk openly to leaders in a meaningful way.

We need to look at whether the atmosphere in the spaces leaders occupy is welcoming, accepting, and emotionally safe. Communicators need to know if they will be heard, so that any issues managed well and swiftly, and that leaders will be present in all senses.

Simple measures, such as leaders being on hand to greet families and staff in the morning, are really important.

Reflect on your setting’s ethos and policy around expectations for practitioners around transparent and open communication. Ideally, this would happen from the beginning, but reviewing and assessing at any time is essential and valuable too.

For example:

  • Remind yourself what the initial discussions were at the onboarding stage during the recruitment process, regarding an open-door policy.
  • Reflect on how clear this is in your setting ethos now.
  • Consider how this intersects with safe safeguarding culture in your setting too, as it is connected.  

Work-Life Balance

The deepened awareness and ultimately increased accommodation of wellbeing support systems in the workplace is arguably a positive outcome of the pandemic.

There is now increased focus on the role of leaders to reduce the potential emergence of mental health needs, through identifying potential causes. These can be things like heavy workloads and taking care of other staff.

This is a complex problem for many Early Years settings, as there is combined pressure to be open, a lack of staff, little financial support to work through crisis, and the fundamental need to ensure the setting is run safely.

On top of this, many staff and leaders are experiencing understandable fatigue as a result of all the aspects of working through the pandemic and ongoing fallout.  This can present in a range of ways, such as physically, mentally, emotionally, and physiologically.

Examine your own setting’s practice to make sure that staff are not overloaded with work and that the setting is financially safe. Early Years staff cannot be expected to pay the cost of the pandemic by silently overworking until we come back to stability. As such, if staff are feeling overworked, that needs to be heard and appropriately and quickly rectified.

A group of teachers stand in front of a chalk board. They are arm-in-arm and smiling.

Impact - the outcomes of meaningful engagement

Above are just some ideas and examples to work toward achieving outstanding outcomes at your setting holistically and systemically.

However, there are also other key considerations also such as ensuring we are considering all staff equally, in terms of value and investment.

If we focus on meaningful engagement, our administrators, financial officers, cooks, and cleaners hold very important and integral roles. These members of staff often hold really valuable insights and information, but are often not privy to the central communication systems in settings. If we include staff at all levels, and apply all of the above to all of them, we can be safe in the knowledge we are doing our best to strive toward excellence: The highest possible outcomes for children, families and staff.

download pdf
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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

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.

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