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Singing your praises

Carol Duffy


Tuesday 20 March 2018

In my corner of the office it’s not unusual to hear me yelp with excitement, laugh out loud, or have tears streaming down my face (sometimes all at once). Often, I am stunned into silent reflection, affected and humbled by the capacity and humanity of you, the early years professionals, who share your stories of practice with us. My colleagues are used to me at this stage. But I blame it all on you, what else do you expect when jumping off the screen or page in front of me is some of the most inspiring practice in the country. Most often it’s the simple yet deeply meaningful things that get you, like a child’s love of family, their excitement in play, or a moment of true connection.


My role on the Early Childhood Ireland Awards programme team is one element of my job which has been particularly meaningful and inspiring. I have been fortunate to be one of the adjudicating team since its inception in 2010. I have had the privilege of seeing these awards grow and develop from small beginnings to the National Awards they are today. With this privilege comes a responsibility that is not lost on me. The hours I have spent agonising over decisions is, as I well know, nothing in comparison to the hours of effort, work, and commitment that you, the early years educators and carers, put into these stories of innovation, inspiration, and learning. Your stories of practice are as diverse and individual as yourselves and the communities in which you live. What is common across all submissions is the dedication, and commitment you put into your work. You go to amazing lengths to ensure that what you offer your children are early years experiences that meet your high values and beliefs and their childhood rights.

I have seen how your appreciation of children’s knowledge, capabilities, or empathy moves you to submit your stories, how a training course or CPD has inspired changes in practice, how a love of nature and place has offered some new possibilities, how other innovative inspiring stories have inspired you to action. This year in particular I see a growing trend, our sector is moving out of rooms, outdoors, out into the community. Reconnecting with people and place, reclaiming the young child’s visibility in the community.


So often as is the nature of many early years professionals you downplay your own considerable contributions to these inspiring practices, humble, sometimes even oblivious, to the centrality of your own wonderful skills, knowledge and heart. You submit a story in which you profusely acknowledge children’s capabilities and experiences. You are taken aback when I give you positive feedback about your own wonderful attributes. These are the good parts of the job. The harder parts are choosing a winner when all deserve recognition, or having to disappoint others who may have been so excited and proud of their submission with feedback on why it doesn’t quite make the grade this time. The calibre and work ethic of people who work in this often undervalued sector is quite frankly inspiring.


As a final reflection, we in Early Childhood Ireland believe our award winners are indicative of the growing quality within the sector, as year on year the award-winning practice reaches new highs. The increasing capacity of educators to competently and knowledgeably articulate the what, why, and how of their work is also evident. These stories are at the cutting edge of practice, they have been presented at National and International conferences and platforms, but most importantly they have enriched the lives of the children and families you share your working life with. We know there is wonderful inspiring practice being delivered across the country that we have yet to hear about. We are always delighted to welcome new entrants and encourage you to submit your story.


On a personal note I would like to thank all of our award entrants in equal measure some of you have been with us from our humble beginnings to date, for others it is a new experience and achievement. Over these years you have educated me, inspired me, and enriched my teaching as I share your stories of quality practice with others who are on learning journeys of their own.



Carol Duffy (MA in Early Years Education) is an Early Childhood Specialist with Early Childhood Ireland. She has worked in the sector for over thirty five years, as an early year’s educator, lecturer, and mentor. She is passionate about young children’s access to nature and outdoor play. She is also an advocate for meaningful observation and documentation that motivates educators and showcases children’s lives, loves, and learning. 

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