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Barn i skolmiljö och porträtt på Sanna Hedrén

Swedish School-Age educare are unique operations in an international comparison. It is an educational, curriculum-driven operation for pupils from the age of 6 up to and including the spring term of the year in which they turn 13. The School-Age educare is to stimulate pupils' development and learning, and offer them meaningful leisure and recreation. Like other forms of school, School-Age educare have a compensatory mission. Children and pupils are to be supported and stimulated to develop as far as possible. One aim is to compensate for differences in children’s and pupils’ ability to absorb education. According to the Education Act, the purpose of School-Age educare is also to complement the education provided in preschool class and primary school, both in terms of time, by receiving pupils before and after school, and in terms of content, by giving pupils experiences and knowledge that are different, in part, from those provided by school.

Changed mission

In the past decade, a number of changes that have affected School-Age educare have been implemented. The mission of School-Age educare was partly changed when the current Education Act came into force, and School-Age educare are now part of the school system. Thus, School-Age educare have also been given a section in primary school curricula. At the same time, other conditions have also changed.

- The component I studied – snack time – used to be a central educational activity in School-Age educare. The children were involved in the kitchen, preparing the snack, and there was room for more informal conversations that were very important in terms of development and learning. Today, new rules govern, and the children are rarely involved in the preparations, and the snack is eaten in the school canteen, which often becomes a louder and more unsettled environment that is more difficult to control, says Sanna Hedrén, a recent doctor of teaching and learning with a focus on work integrated learning at University West.

Focus on snack time

It is precisely snack time that is the focus of Sanna Hedrén's dissertation, in which she has looked at School-Age educare staff, and collegial conversations, and how these conversations can be educational, creating meaning for those involved.

- It's about putting what happens in the context of everyday life under the magnifying glass, and talking collegially to each other about delimited work components. Looking at how they act, and why they act the way they do in certain situations, in this case at snack time, she says.

Observations of two work teams

In her dissertation, Sanna Hedrén has not only studied what the work teams say about snack time, but also how, and why certain things are said and others not, something that has been shown to be influenced by the collegial relationships in the work team. She has studied two different work teams at a School-Age educare through observations of conversations designed for the study. Employees were asked to choose a work component that they wanted to discuss, and the one they chose was snack time.

- It was a component that both teams felt was a bit messy and without a clear division of responsibilities between the staff, and where there was room for improvement, says Sanna.

Conversational differences

The conversations conducted took place on site. They had been given the task of filming snack time taking place, watched the video together, and each person described what they noticed. As the conversation wound down, they watched the video again, and then again described what they noticed this time, and summarised what they would take away from the conversation to work on.

- There was a clear difference between what they noticed and talked about after the first and second viewing of the video. After the first viewing, the focus was very much on practical aspects, such as that it would be better to do X when pupils are to wash their hands, while after the second viewing, it was more about underlying factors such as how to motivate students more to influence their behaviour. So you can see that something happens when you talk, says Sanna.

The importance of the work team is central

The dissertation shines a light on the work team and its importance for achieving a high quality operation. The work team being important in a process of change. Similarly, it became clear that the way in which people talk about work components – snack time in this case – is influenced by collegiality. The work teams included in the study were quite different in terms of composition. One (1) consisted mostly of people who had been in the same workplace for a long time, and who were well bonded, while the second (2) work team consisted of many new people, some trained, and some with no formal education, who were not so well bonded.

The results of the study show that the two participating work teams' creation of meaning emerge as polyphonic and unisonal respectively. Polyphonic creation of meaning, as occurred in team two, means that several different interpretations of everyday practice are negotiated in parallel in collegial conversations.

- In that team, there are many voices that want to take charge, many different opinions, and they find it difficult to agree on how work components are to be executed.’

Unisonal creation of meaning, as found in team one, means having the same interpretation of how to do snack time, meaning that negotiations during the conversation are based on the same interpretation of everyday practice.

- In this team, however, there is less development as they agree on how to do things and think it works well, so the team wants to stick to this way of executing the task.

Time for reflection necessary

The conclusion is that the conditions that School-Age educare staff have for joint creation of meaning and learning in and through collegial conversations lead to the reproduction of staff assumptions about snack time and School-Age educare practice. It turns out that changing the way in which we talk about School-Age educare practice and bringing in new perspectives is difficult. To enable productive collegial conversations, where joint creation of meaning leads to new and deeper understanding of everyday practice events, teams need to be stable and given time to continuously reflect on their practice.

- The composition of the team naturally shapes the conversation, but at the same time, a structured conversation allows everyone to express what they experience, regardless of background and experience. In this way, conversation as a form of learning levels the playing field, and everyone can meet in that conversation, and are able to influence content, learning and outcomes.

Sanna's advice to the management of School-Age educare is to provide more space for discussion and joint reflection.

- The work teams have far too little time for structured discussion. Operations would benefit from work teams taking time out to regularly reflect and talk about what they have experienced. What little time is given to discussions today is mainly about concrete planning, substitute management or putting out fires. I believe that taking the time to pause, preferably alongside management and principals, is a decisive factor in improving the quality of the operations.’

To dissertation: Meaning-making through mealtimes in School-Age educare: Positionings instaff’s collegial conversations

Contact: Sanna Hedrén, doctor of teaching and learning with a focus on work integrated learning,, 0730 36 23 54