Member in Focus with Step by Step center for Quality Education in Slovenia: "We link Research and Practice"
The first Member in Focus of 2017 is with Jerneja Jager, Head of the Step by Step Center for Quality in Education, ISSA’s founding member from Slovenia. At just 34 Jerneja is the youngest Head of Department of the Educational Research Institute in Ljubljana. She told us about her organization’s work, their partnership with ISSA on the INTESYS project, and about creating a link between research and practice.
Jerneja, you are Head of a research center but you also coordinate a network of practitioners, how do you manage to combine the two? We see our role as strengthening the link between research and practice. My team and I coordinate the department dedicated to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) at the Educational Research Institute in Ljubljana (Slovenia), we are researchers but we also work directly with practitioners.
What does it mean practically to your work? It presents great advantages and it makes us nationally quite unique. For example, it allows us to do action research. By this I mean that we work with practitioners on a small scale, supporting them to improve their practice and then, based on findings, we produce guidelines for best practice.
Can you give us an example of action research? During the project ‘Access and quality of early childhood programs for Romani children and their parents’, we developed three different models for ensuring accessible and quality ECEC programs for Romani families. One of them was dedicated to improving the quality of direct educational work in preschool classes. In the development of this model, we supported teachers with training; following that, we conducted regular observations using ‘ISSA's Instrument for Assessing Quality Practices’. At the same time, we conducted discussions and reflective meetings aimed at solving key issues. Results show us that the training had an impact on the teachers on two levels: 1) at the level of their strategic professional development they acquired a better understanding of how to assess quality education; at the same time they improved competencies in the field of observation and reflection of their own practice. 2) At the level of their work in preschool classes we observed an extra attention given to the inclusion of children with different backgrounds in the educational process. In addition, more attention was put in trying to establish effective partnerships with the parents.
How would you sum up your work for the Step by Step Center for Quality in Education? As part of the work, we coordinate the Step by Step Network for Changing Quality, a national network of pre-schools and schools that strives to implement high quality ECEC practice and for promoting the professional development of their staff. The network was initiated 15 years ago by practitioners, teachers and school principals who wanted to sustain the implementation of the Step by Step program in our country.
As an ISSA member you now that professional learning is one of our key concerns, right? Learning is one of the most important benefits. As members of ISSA we keep learning and we can transfer this knowledge to our own network. For example, after attending the ISSA thematic meeting on Professional Learning Communities, we decided to run it in our own network. I consider the thematic meetings of ISSA as professional learning opportunities for staff members of our center. ISSA’s international conferences are also an occasion to be inspired. In addition, the trainings for practitioners and other resources developed by ISSA are available for us to translate into our own language; this is really essential to our work.
What are your ambitions for the future? We want to keep growing as we are doing now and achieve our mission: enabling all children to have access to high quality education and help them to achieve their unique potential. Recently, the Open Society Foundation has supported the development of our Organizational Strategy. As part of our new communications strategy we have just developed a new visual identity and changed the name of the center. Today, we are happy to share our new logo and name with all ISSA readers: the name of our center changed from ‘Developmental Research Center for Pedagogical Initiatives Step by Step’ into ‘Step by Step Center for Quality in Education’. Please go to www.korakzakorakom.si to access the new Step by Step Center for Quality in Education’s website and let them know what you think.