Repository logo

From font-of-knowledge to facilitator: Exploring a model of professional change with South African early educators



Change log



Despite positive developments in greater access to the South African reception grade, recent evaluation studies reveal that early educators struggle to take a responsive role, including in child-managed play. This is a challenge, which resonates across cultures. The ambition of this study was to develop a diagnostic tool and model to capture early educators’ change journeys as they grappled with adopting play-based practices. This tool should be feasible to use at scale, and yet provide insights on why practitioner journeys unfolded as they did. A model of change was chosen, which combines educational beliefs, reflective orientation and teaching efficacy to predict change scenarios. By mixing methods, the study sought to contextualise each construct for the South African culture, while also aiming for the model and methods to be adaptable for other cultural settings. Ninety-six early educators from an in-service training programme responded to an initial questionnaire, and from this group, eight educators were invited to join the study’s main qualitative part. These educators received classroom visits early and later in the study to record practice videos, followed by one-hour interviews using recordings from that day. Between visits, participants responded to reflective tasks on their sense of efficacy for teaching the curriculum through play. Finally, two focus group interviews were conducted to contextualise findings. For seven practitioners, enough data was obtained to map their change journeys: four fitted the change model’s envisioned scenarios, while the remaining practitioner journeys did not fit either scenario neatly. Themes from the focus group interviews showed that participants were as much concerned with children’s nurture and welfare, as they were with teaching and playful practice, and that underserved circumstances added substantial strain to their working lives. Findings highlighted the importance of precision and context when using the adopted model to map and support educational change on playful approaches: all participants were in favour of play as a learning context but differed in their interpretations and actual practices. This study appears to be the first to apply the change model in full. As such, it contributes to research on patterns of early educators’ complex learning and change, including for the novel context of South African early education. Further, the study offers practical insights for future training programmes on play-based practices.





McLellan, Ros
Whitebread, David


educational change, teacher change, play-based learning, play-based practices, educational beliefs, teacher beliefs, beliefs change, model of change, South Africa, early childhood education, professional learning, teacher professional development, teacher training, guided play, learning through play, responsive teaching, mixed-methods, beliefs questionnaire, video-stimulated recall, classroom observation, programme evaluation, teacher training programme, reception grade, Grade R


Doctor of Education (EdD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This doctoral study was generously supported by the LEGO Foundation.