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Educating the Educator – a journey with no end

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

There is absolutely no doubt that I have learned much about professional ECEC through both my professional practice in the sector and my academic studies over the last number of years. However, in this blog post I wanted to discuss the importance of our own lifelong learning journey as educators, constantly building upon the qualifications and knowledge we have achieved. We should always remain curious and open to new learning which can support our quality and professional practice and the implementation of Síolta quality standard 11: Professional Practice.

The Usual Suspects

This week I had an “a-ha” moment in this regard when I came upon an online article about an early years educator of whom I had previously never heard but whose curriculum model and pedagogical approach intrigued me. Of course, there are many prominent educators and curricular approaches out there, however, this one struck me as so relevant and holistic that I was surprised that it wasn’t one of the curriculum styles taught on most ECEC courses and degree programmes alongside the “usual suspects” of Montessori, Steiner and Froebel.

So, who is this mysterious educator to whom I refer? His name is Vasily Sukhomlinsky, a Ukrainian educator who practiced during the mid-20th century. Sukhomlinsky was extremely influential in Ukraine, Russia and China in the post World War 2 era. Perhaps you have already heard of him, but up until this week, when I encountered an article written by Dr Alan Cockerill, I had not.

Every Child Must Shine

Dr Cockerill’s article explains how Sukhomlinsky was a school principal working in a small town in the Ukraine called Pavlysh. His approach to educating children placed great emphasis on the whole, holistic child as viewed through a humanistic lens. This sentiment is effectively summed in Sukhomlinsky’s own words below:

“I firmly believe that the human personality is inexhaustible; each may become a creator, leaving behind a trace on the earth……There should not be any nobodies – specks of dust cast upon the wind. Each one must shine, just as billions of galaxies shine in the heavens” (Vasily Sukhomlinsky).

Important key components of his pedagogical approach included the outdoor environment, peer learning across age groups and forming strong relationships with parents and families. These are also key elements and quality indicators within contemporary professional practice today; hence why I was so surprised when I read the article written by Dr Alan Cockerill. Why had I not heard of this forward-thinking pedagogue before?

Support to Succeed and Fulfil Potential

I was particularly intrigued when I read about how Sukhomlinsky encouraged a community of peer learning across the age groups within the school from preschool right through to secondary school. Teachers were employed on the basis that they possessed a diversity of practical hands-on skills which they could teach to the children which presented opportunities for all children to discover their individual talents and develop skills based upon their interests. A child’s positive image of self was supported by acknowledgment of their successes and therefore fail grades were not highlighted, instead extra support was provided to children to enable them to succeed and fulfil their potential.

Close relations within the local school community were also forged, encouraged and maintained. If children could not attend school due to illness their classmates would be brought to visit them. What a wonderful way to strengthen bonds and create a sense of identity and belonging within the preschool community!

A Never-Ending Learning Journey

I thoroughly enjoyed my surprising encounter this week with an educator who was previously unknown to me and if, like me, you wish to find out more about Vasily Sukhomlinsky then Dr. Alan Cockerill’s article is a good place to start.

Encountering new learning such as this, which can only strengthen my understanding of quality and professional practice in ECEC, is always exciting, interesting and intriguing to me. Just as we strive to support children as they embark on their lifelong learning journey, we ourselves should continually strive to progress our own learning journey through reading, engaging in new material and sharing ideas within a community of practice. Forging ahead on our never-ending learning journey as educators will serve to ensure that we steer clear of complacency and stagnancy and support ongoing quality professional practice within the ECEC sector.

About the Author: Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (, where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.

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