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Preschool teaching in Sweden - a profession in change

Journal article
Authors Sonja Sheridan
Pia Williams
Anette Sandberg
Tuula Vuorinen
Published in Educational Research
Volume 53
Issue 4
Pages 415-437
ISSN 0013-1881
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Pages 415-437
Language en
Keywords Preschool, teacher, competence, education, learning, children
Subject categories Pedagogy


Background Historically, the meaning of teacher competence has changed and is continuously being re-constructed along with changes in society as well as with shifting values and intentions in preschool guidelines and curricula. Over the past decade, Swedish preschool has been incorporated as a part of the educational system, and has received its own national curriculum, which recently, has been revised. A new preschool teacher education has been initiated. All these changes influence preschool practice, conditions for teachers’ pedagogical work and children’s learning, and as a consequence, the meaning that teachers ascribe to teacher competence. Purpose The aim of this study is to investigate the meaning given to preschool teacher competence by Swedish preschool teachers. Focus is directed towards teachers’ descriptions of their approach and their communication and interaction with children in relation to the overall goals of the preschool curriculum. Sample The study was carried out in Sweden and the sample consist of 15 preschools in the country’s two major cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg, and 15 preschools from the rural area of Mälardalen in mid-Sweden. Both of the urban regions and the rural area are stratified to represent districts that differ geographically, demographically, ethnically, and which include varied socioeconomic structures. From each of the 30 preschools, one preschool class/group and one preschool teacher were recruited as participants. All except one of the teachers were women. Design and method The study is based on interactionist perspectives and draws on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and a critical ecology of the early childhood profession. To study teacher competence the method chosen was individual and semi-structured interviews that lasted 60 – 120 minutes, were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The analysis is qualitative and focuses on key questions that were asked of all participants. The analyses aimed to discern similarities and differences, and distinguished between competences teachers said that they have and competences they wanted to develop, such as knowledge, skills and attitudes and whether these competences were understood as static, situational and/or dynamic. Result Three intertwined dimensions of teacher competences emerged. These dimensions are mutually interdependent, inseparable and constitute the meaning given by the teachers to teacher competence as a whole. These are: Competence of knowing what and why, Competence of know-how, and Interactive, relational and transactional competence. These dimensions highlight teacher competence as a complex, multidimensional and relational phenomenon, constituted from interacting abilities. The participating teachers have a broad multidisciplinary knowledge, which needs to be deepened within specific areas such as, mathematics, ICT, science etc. Conclusion Being a part of complex ecological system with increasingly global dimensions, preschool teaching is a profession in change. Preschool teacher competence is constituted in the intersection of values, knowledge and ideologies on different system levels. In line with changing policy and curriculum intentions teachers create shared understandings of the meaning of teacher competence both for today and tomorrow. Based on these beliefs teachers create conditions for children’s learning in preschool practice.

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