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Support and professional development in speech, language and communication

There is an African saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. We know that it takes a community of family, extended family, neighbours, early years settings, schools and beyond to support children’s speech, language and communication. While families often see early years practitioners as the experts who have answers to their questions I thought this January  I would focus on you  and what support you need – who supports you to support children's speech, language and communication?

Professional learning communities (PLCs – not to be confused, as I did, with public limited companies) is a concept that is growing in currency internationally. PLCs don’t have one specific definition or concept but have different interpretations in different contexts. Stoll summarises a PLC as:

a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way (Mitchell & Sackney, 2000; Toole & Louis, 2002); operating as a collective enterprise (King & Newmann, 2001).

Westheimer (1999, p.75) highlights four features most commonly identified by contemporary theorists exploring community: shared beliefs and understandings; interaction and participation; interdependence and meaningful relationships.

The community focus emphasises mutually supportive relationships and developing shared norms and values whereas the focus on professionals and professionalism is towards the acquisition of knowledge and skills, orientation to clients and professional autonomy.

Originally applied to school settings I thought it would be useful to think about how early years practitioners can develop and access PLCs when they may work on their own with geographical and time limitations.

It may be that your professional learning community is patchwork. Made up of different aspects of support from different places, for example, you might talk to a friend or colleague for support and then access the PACEY website or online forums for support in a different way later on. Additionally, you may have a specific question around speech, language and communication and access I CAN’s facebook page or email us at I CAN Help with a query. 

Early years professionals are very often resilient and resourceful multi taskers, experts at having different resources they can call on.

There are different ways you can be part of a communication community:

  • Becoming a Local Champion – as part of The Communication Trust network you can play a role in raising awareness of the importance of speech, language and communication and also get access to information and updates. Find out more about becoming a Local Champion here.
  • Accessing I CAN’s social media groups and interacting with other professionals from different backgrounds
  • Accessing resources from different sources
  • Signing up to I CAN Communicate for updates on resources, developments and research in the area of speech, language and communication.
  • Finding out more about the research in this area.

Reflecting on practice

  • What professional learning communities are you part of already? Thinking about the ways that PLCs develop and the support they offer, what role do these play for you personally and professionally?
  • What opportunities and support do they offer around developing your practice in supporting children's speech, language and communication?
  • Are there any aspects of speech, language and communication you’d like more support around? How could you access and develop this? If you have completed the SLCF framework this can help you identify areas for development.
  • How can you spread the word about speech, language and communication to other practitioners so that you can develop and influence professional learning communities.

We are all part of professional learning communities which offer us support and help develop our knowledge and skills in supporting children's speech, language and communication. These may be unique to us or may be shared but all of us will (hopefully) have some way and somewhere to go to find answers to our questions, inspire us, inform us and help us recharge our batteries. 

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