How I created a global early years community in lockdown
In the last year, Polly has worked with Teach For All alumni across the globe to support each other and elevate early childhood education.
Dr Polly Crowther worked at Teach First’s Head Office before swapping the boardroom for the whiteboard and joining the Training Programme. She is now Head of Early Years at Oasis Academy Skinner Street, Gillingham, Evidence Leader in Education at the East London Research School, and Co-Founder of the global early learning and childcare community, Early Insights.
Before receiving my offer for the Training Programme, I didn't know that I wanted to work in early years, but that’s where I was placed.
During my time on the programme, learning about early child development and discovering the critical importance of early childhood education for closing the attainment gap, I became a passionate advocate for it and the importance of early years. When I worked at Teach First’s Head Office, I was working with someone who educated me a lot in the neglect of the early childhood education sector. I didn't know before, but back then you didn't get qualified teacher status by working in early years, you got it by working in primary. Early years was a separate, lower paid, lower regarded level of qualification. I knew that it was a corner that needed fighting for.
I was very lucky with my Development Lead and University Tutor. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I wouldn’t be doing any of the things I’m doing now without their faith in me. I knew from my experience that people in support roles can make or break your teacher training. Now as a mentor on the Training Programme, I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to share what I learned from my Development Leads and from my tutor. My trainee has been outstanding this year. The flexibility and the adaptability that she's shown in such a difficult year has been incredible and inspirational to me. I think that being a Teach First mentor when you've done the programme is really rewarding.
Helping families during lockdown
I started Learning in Lockdown, a free online blog sharing simple advice and resources to support learning at home during the pandemic. It received 10,000 visitors in the first couple of months, which was completely mad, but it was obviously what people needed. It was talking about simple ways of supporting your children to learn through play.
The blog supported parents buts it also helped me. I was ill for three weeks, but not so ill I couldn’t sit at my computer blogging. It was helpful for me to feel like I was still doing something useful. I think that the blog, and the original audience and community, helped me to stay connected to other teachers and leaders during the lockdown.
Building a new community online
A group of us came together in March 2020 to create Early Insights. The conversations we had to start with were all about COVID-19. During the pandemic, early childhood education faced a special set of challenges, because it's very difficult to teach remotely. It became quickly apparent that many colleagues in different countries had innovative and exciting approaches to teaching remotely.
For example, I have colleagues working in India where they have massively dispersed rural communities, and colleagues in Lebanon who work with displaced communities of Syrian refugee children. There's so many resource barriers and access barriers in other parts of the world that meant these educators had overcome some of the things that we were looking at.
Making worldwide changes
The idea of Early Insights is to change early childhood education around the world. We started with seven people in March 2020 and it’s now a community of more than 200 early childhood educators from more than 14 countries, and five continents.
Everyone in our community cares about early childhood education, some of them work in it directly on the ground, some work at international funding organisations, some have their own social enterprises. What we try to do is support the community to have an impact and provide them with opportunities to have that impact.
One of the things that's really important to me is elevating the status of early childhood education. This is a global issue.
I have worked in schools where change is a scary prospect, where there’s a high proportion of children from low-income backgrounds, facing complicated barriers to success. And some people think it will always be like this. But I know that, when I work with people from the Teach First community, they're coming with that same sense of possibility that I have, that same sense of moral purpose and vision that by working in education, you're going to change things in a big way.
Amazing teachers like Polly join our Training Programme every year. If you would like to find out more about how to recruit teachers for your school, visit our recruitment page: