Leaders within education and care are widely acknowledged as change agents, working with educators, families and communities to interpret and implement policy changes designed to raise the quality of early childhood and outside school hours care services. With the upcoming changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) coming into effect on 1 October 2017, what better time to consider how the leadership structures within your organisation are supporting an effective transition to the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) and regulatory standards?
The NQF is a framework that reflects a commitment to continuous improvement. Recent changes represent the voices of educators, families, communities and other stakeholders, responding to aspects of the NQF they believed could be improved to allow education and care services to focus on what matters – providing high quality programs and practice. The revised NQS represents a more streamlined set of quality standards that have been refined to reduce overlap and provide greater clarity and guidance.
One of the areas that has been streamlined is Quality Area 7, now titled Governance and Leadership. There is increased clarity about the expectations relating to governance and how philosophy, systems, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities support a strong foundation for leadership.
The revised standard also refines expectations of the role of educational leader. The new 7.2.2 element states: The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle. This change acknowledges the role requires support in order to effect positive changes and the significant role the educational leader plays in supporting educator understandings of the assessment and planning cycle.
Professor Joce Nuttall, a renowned academic, recognised authority in education and care leadership and member of the ACECQA Board shares some important messages that can prompt you to consider what this may mean for the way leadership is enacted in your service. In the first video Joce speaks about the context for leadership in education and care, particularly the difference between positional or hierarchical models and relational and distributed approaches.
In this next clip, Joce unpacks what support for the educational leader might look like, recognising this will be unique to the context of the service and the needs of individual educational leaders. She goes on to discuss the often opposing dynamics of positional and distributed leadership and poses some ideas for moving forward.
In order for the educational leader to be successful in generating quality outcomes, they must receive support from the approved provider and nominated supervisor. Joce discusses some of the theory and research as well as practical ideas about how this might happen.
Joce goes on to speak about the important role educational leaders play in building educators’ capacity to engage with and demonstrate knowledge of the assessment and planning cycle, by reflecting on children’s learning as individuals and groups as well as the effectiveness of the program as a whole.
In the final video, Joce encourages educational leaders to consider their own learning and professional development. This is essential if educational leaders are to support the development of others.
Questions for further reflection:
What is the collective understanding of leadership within your service?
How is the educational leader supported? What supports are needed?
How effectively are educators engaging with the planning cycle?
How is the educational leader leading the evaluation of the whole program?
In the lead-up to National Science Week, Little Scientists Australia talks to We Hear You about the often simple, everyday ways education and care services can integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) learning into their environments and programs.
‘Look how many soap bubbles I made!’ Ben exclaims enthusiastically. Sarah, his teacher, is excited: ‘Wow, this is great! How did you do this?’ ‘I blew into the soap bubble water with the long yellow tube and now my bucket is full of bubbles,’ he replies. ‘This works much better than stirring it with a spoon’. ‘I have an even better idea!’ Ben’s friend Julia says. ‘You could stir really, really fast with an egg whisk. I am sure that makes the most bubbles!’ Sarah has an idea: ‘Well, these are some interesting assumptions, but wouldn’t it be good to test what actually works the best?’ The children are excited about Sarah’s suggestion and want to explore this question in a more scientific way.
Sarah, the educator in the soap bubble story above, is an example of many Australian early childhood professionals who are strong advocates of co-construction and inquiry-based, child-led learning. More and more education and care services across the country are integrating scientific exploration and discovery into the children’s routine, based on the strong belief they benefit tremendously from early opportunities to discover the world in an open and creative environment.
Little Scientists Australia offers a professional development program for teachers and educators to support the implementation of inquiry-based STEM learning. The program offers a range of hands-on workshops designed to encourage and promote scientific investigation while giving insights in educational concepts and methods. A key concept of Little Scientists is an inquiry-cycle approach which supports structuring children’s discovery process.
To demonstrate how scientific research in an early childhood setting could be done, let’s return to our soap bubble example:
In the morning, Sarah and her preschool group explored and played with home-made soap bubble liquid: blowing, stirring and shaking the liquid. Sparked by Ben’s discovery that blowing into the liquid worked better than stirring, the group decided to investigate further. Drawing on the previous scientific explorations and experiments facilitated by Sarah, the children knew how to proceed:
First they came up with a question to investigate: ‘How can we make the most bubbles?’
Secondly, the group hypothesised what method they believed could result in the most bubbles. A critical part of research is identifying the children’s assumptions and to hypothesise individually which method will work best and why.
At this stage, the children were almost ready to try things out and to experiment, but first they had to agree on preparations and how to document the results: ‘What items will be used to produce bubbles? What materials will be needed? Where should the experiments be conducted – inside or outside? How can they document their results?’ The children decided to draw pictures of the different experiments and take photos or make videos of the most impressive ‘soap bubble mountain’. There are countless ways to document, for instance co-constructed and dynamic approaches such as Claire Warden’s Floorbook Approach.
Once they agreed, they were excited to start exploring and experimenting! This was (and almost always is) the most extensive phase of their research. The children had various attempts and setbacks. At one point the group split into smaller ‘research teams’ and some children left the group. For three days, all the bubble experiments were on hold because the children were distracted by jumping in the rain puddles…Then one of the children brought in a picture of the world’s biggest soap bubble and suddenly the research was back to full speed.
Scientists of all ages are excited to see the results of their experiment and to share them with their peers. Our Little Scientists from the bubble experiment were no different: They observed their experiments and Sarah encouraged them to describe the outcomes to the others in the group. This step offers various opportunities to engage children in the process while supporting their communication skills and language development: ‘What have you noticed? Has something changed? Why are you surprised about the result? What could we try next?’
When the children were satisfied with experimenting, observing, describing and documenting their findings, they reflected on the outcome and discussed their initial assumptions: ‘Could the initial question be answered? Did the yellow tube really work much better than the stick, even if you stir as fast as possible? And how did Julia’s egg whisk perform in the overall ranking? Did the children have any further questions, and did they think their research could be improved? The children came up with plenty of input, new ideas and assumptions for further bubble experiments…
Learning opportunities like the soap bubble experiment arise every single day. Most young children make numerous investigations and ask inquisitive questions about everything. And how do educators and families respond? We often don’t know what to say because we don’t have an adequate answer or have never thought about this before. The good news is – if we implement an inquiry-based learning approach – it doesn’t matter! It might even be an advantage not to know the answer. Scientific exploration and research give children and adults the opportunity to explore, to problem-solve, to cooperate with others and to be even more excited and curious about the world around us.
A provocation to take back to your next team meeting might be how the educators in your service are engaging with STEM in their programs.
Little Scientists is one of various organisations across the country providing fun and engaging events for children during National Science Week (12-20 August 2017).
In January 2017, Delana Murdoch, Rebecca Mahoney and Sally Burt joined ACECQA to participate in our Early Career Educators Program – an initiative that provides a work and development opportunity for new early childhood teachers.
As part of the program, Delana, Rebecca and Sally have been contributing to a wide range of ACECQA’s educational leadership activities and participating in on-the-job and structured learning. The three educators spoke to We Hear You about their experiences in the program as well as their career goals and ambitions.
Delana: Hi, my name is Delana, and I have recently graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Education: The Early Years (Birth – 5 years) degree. Having enrolled in university directly after high school, working at ACECQA has been my first role in the children’s education and care sector.
Rebecca: Hi, I’m Rebecca and I’m from Ballarat, Victoria. I have worked in the education and care sector for over 10 years, and have two beautiful young children of my own. I am currently completing a Bachelor of Education (Birth – Year 6), and will graduate at the end of 2018.
Sally: Hi, I’m Sally. I recently graduated with a Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) from the University of Sydney. My professional background is as a dietitian-nutritionist, working for 20 years in nutrition education and public health. My ACECQA role is part time, as I currently work two days per week as an Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) at a community preschool.
How did you find out about this opportunity?
D: My ECT mentor Eliza tagged me in the advertisement of the position on Facebook.
R: I stumbled across the advertisement for the educational leadership assistant position on the ACECQA website while filling out an expression of interest form for ACECQA’s 2017 Temporary Employment Register.
S: My University of Sydney Program Director forwarded the advertisement to our class. I also saw the opportunity promoted on the ACECQA Facebook page.
What were the highlights of your experience at ACECQA?
D: While there have certainly been many highlights throughout this experience, one of those being the development of the innovative resource The Quest for Quality. Another one of my favourite parts of the program has been shadowing the assessment of Excellent rating applications. It is truly inspiring and fascinating to hear about the unique and high quality practices of those applying for the rating.
R: One of the highlights for me has been experiencing a work environment so different to the education, care and school environments I have worked in during my career. It took me a while to get used to the idea of a workplace without a sandpit, and a workday that didn’t involve singing, cuddling and cubby-building!
S: A definite highlight has been the opportunity to gain ‘hands-on’ experience within the Educational Leadership team, such as writing a We Hear You blog, sitting in on an Excellent rating assessment teleconference, and supporting the development of authorised officer training resources. Being personally introduced to esteemed leadership academic, Manjula Waniganayake (who was visiting ACECQA), at the very moment I was using her work in some educational leadership research content, also absolutely stands out!
What new knowledge did you gain during your time at ACECQA?
D: My knowledge and understanding of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and ACECQA’s role in the sector has grown extensively. The development of The Quest for Quality game required us to delve into the National Quality Standard (NQS), the National Law and Regulations, the roles of ACECQA and the regulatory authorities, the approved learning frameworks and much more. If you want to develop your own understanding of integral components of our sector in an enjoyable and engaging way, be sure to check out The Quest for Quality!
R: I see my time at ACECQA as something of a crash course in the NQF. I dug deeper into the NQS, the National Law and National Regulations than I ever thought possible, and have such a better understanding of ACECQA’s role and the Australian education and care sector. The people at ACECQA are so lovely, knowledgeable and passionate about promoting quality education and care in Australia that you can’t help but become incredibly inspired yourself! I hope this inspiration will translate into the resource we helped create – The Quest for Quality. I’m really looking forward to hearing some feedback from those working and studying in the sector.
S: Inductions across the organisation introduced me to the critical work undertaken by the ACECQA Training, Communications and Engagement, Policy and Strategy, Research, Qualifications Assessment, Business Communications and the Education and Care Services team which is responsible for the National Quality Agenda IT System. I now have a much greater understanding, and appreciation, of the breadth, depth and dynamics of ACECQA’s work, particularly during this time of change.
What was the most challenging facet of your experience at ACECQA?
D: The most challenging part of the program was the lack of children in the office environment! It was definitely quite a change to be interacting with adults all day instead of children.
R: The most challenging aspects for me were the logistics of temporarily relocating to Sydney from regional Victoria and being apart from my family for the first time. However, I knew working with ACECQA was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the experience would be well worth the challenge!
S: Working at ACECQA three days a week, and in a preschool for the other two, has required some brain plasticity as I transition between the two roles each Wednesday! That said, each role has been a wonderful context for my work in the other.
How will your time at ACECQA inform your future practice or career aspirations as an ECT?
D: My time at ACECQA has given me a wealth of knowledge and experience that I plan to translate into my future practice in early childhood education and care settings. I also plan to share all I have learnt with my fellow educators in the sector. And who knows, maybe my future involves developing more game-based resources for the sector!
R: I look forward to putting the knowledge and skills I have learnt at ACECQA to good use in my future studies and practice as an educator. I am very proud and excited to introduce The Quest for Quality resource to my university lecturers, fellow educators and students.
S: My ACECQA experience has definitely been formative for my current ECT practice, giving me a much greater depth of understanding of the NQF. My working knowledge of the NQS has grown exponentially and I now have a much greater appreciation of the complex work authorised officers undertake. I have also been really inspired by the exceptional programs and practices of Excellent rated centres. The experience has cemented my interest in working at a strategic support level in the longer term.
If the program was run again, would you recommend this opportunity to other graduates?
D: The Early Career Educators Program provides you with an experience incomparable to any other. The learning and growth you experience in a three-month period can dramatically change your understanding and perception of the education and care sector in a number of ways. Regardless of the career path you wish to take after your time at ACECQA, the knowledge and experience you have gained will further equip you to contribute to positive outcomes in the sector.
R: This truly is an unprecedented learning experience for those working or studying in the sector. You gain such an immense amount of knowledge, inspiration and experience in a relatively short period of time, and get the chance to work with some of the loveliest people and informed professionals in the Australian education and care sector.
S: Echoing Delana and Rebecca’s comments, this program offers graduate teachers a golden, once-in-a-career opportunity. Post-university, when you are full of enthusiasm but a little lacking in confidence, this provides an intensive ‘summer school’ internship-type opportunity where you will have access to the very best human and professional resources, undertake meaningful projects, be inspired and learn so much! Graduates should not hesitate to apply.
The Quest for Quality game, which has been developed for children’s education and care services, explores the seven quality areas in the revised National Quality Standard through sector specific knowledge.
The Quest for Quality was designed as a capacity building tool and provides educators an opportunity to integrate an element of fun into their professional discussions and critical reflection.
In this month’s We Hear You blog, we look at how children’s education and care educators can shine as professionals, translate the sometimes complex language of the sector, help families better understand their child’s potential and explain how this work supports children’s physical, emotional, social, language and cognitive development.
The education and care sector has demonstrated professionalism and dedication embracing the concept of continuous quality improvement and new national standards introduced under the National Quality Framework (NQF) in 2012. Over the years, the commitment shown by the sector has opened up a community dialogue about the importance of education and care for children’s holistic development, and the progress the NQF has made in raising the professional status of educators.
Why is it then that relatively few parents and carers know about the commitment to quality in early childhood and outside school hours care services?
We are providing families with information about the wide range of services in Australia and the importance of quality through Starting Blocks, our family-focused website. We also publish the ratings of services on the national registers and the Starting Blocks website. This empowers families and carers to make informed choices when selecting a service for their child and helps them to understand the critical elements that make up a good quality service.
Recently, we collaborated with states and territories to develop new logos to help services and providers promote their commitment to quality and their overall rating to families. We want the new logos to help parents and carers to be more confident in their selection and to appreciate the professional role of educators in meeting the needs of their children as unique learners.
Educators are the vital first point of contact for families seeking education or care. They trust you to look after their children – to keep them safe, happy and developing skills appropriate to their age and interests.
Building close relationships is what great educators do really well – engaging with families about their expectations, providing regular updates and sharing children’s experiences – and is a key component of the National Quality Standard. These close relationships present opportunities to discuss the importance of quality practice and how a high quality service, in turn, contributes to their child’s smooth transition to, and success at, school.
Your service’s rating logo also provides a chance to educate families and the community about the wonderful work you do in your service as a professional educator. These are opportunities too good to miss.
During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.
In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.
Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement
Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).
Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.
Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.
Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.
Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.
A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:
Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
workflow or staff scheduling challenges
regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.
The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.
Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:
linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:
* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion
* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed
* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics discussed and outcomes proposed
* collated survey results from children, parents or staff
* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.
Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.
Questions for further reflection:
How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?
We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.
Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.
During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.
In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach.
Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning
Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.
These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.
Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.
What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?
A holistic approach
It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.
Who should be involved?
Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:
Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?
Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.
How do we reflect and what should be recorded?
While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.
The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.
Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.
Supporting reflective practice
The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :
leading and being part of reflective discussions
mentoring other educators
observing children and educator interactions
talking to families
working with other education and care professionals
considering how the program can be linked to the community
establishing effective systems across the service.
Anne Stonehouse suggests the use of concise questions when reflecting on children’s learning and analysing information to focus on the process of their actions rather than the product:
What is this child learning?
What does this child know or understand?
What level is the learning? For example, emerging, beginning, practicing, consolidating, exploratory or mastery.
What learning dispositions are evident? For example, persistence, confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity or problem solving.
Assessment and rating
In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.
During an assessment, the authorised officer might:
observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.
Books and reading never cease to encourage and move us, expanding our imaginations and bringing to life stories and worlds both real and fantastic. This month on We Hear You, the children’s author and illustrator and Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016–2017, Leigh Hobbs, shares his thoughts on books, reading and the ongoing inspiration they provide to children and adults alike.
What do you think constitutes a good quality book for children?
Every child is different. Just as adults are. Children need to be engaged from page one whatever the book is or they’ll stop reading it. I imagine a good quality book won’t patronise them. I like the idea that children will be stretched by a book. Learning new words, being stimulated, thinking, analysing or being made to laugh by a book. In any case, if a child is engaged in one book and enjoys reading, it will lead to another.
What books did you enjoy as a child? What effect did reading have on you?
As a child I didn’t read fiction very much as I could rarely remember who was who in a story. My mind would wander. I’ve always preferred reading non-fiction. Knowing I was reading about something that supposedly ‘really happened’ fascinated me. My imagination would be triggered by something, about the crusades, or the French revolution etc, and I’d be off daydreaming. Reading is a journey. It has certainly transported me to faraway places imagination wise. I also enjoyed as a child coming across words which I didn’t know and would look up and adopt. Later I’ve employed some in my own writing, even though they have now gone out of common usage. For example, the words ‘bold’ and ‘alas’.
What are the key themes or ideas when you’re writing for children?
I have never consciously set out to explore a theme in any of the 20 children’s books I’ve written and illustrated. I work intuitively. The character or characters essentially drive my stories rather than a key theme or idea. That said, I don’t consciously explore a theme or idea. However, if I look back I can see some related themes or ideas. If I wanted to identify them, the themes would include: ‘love’ (Old Tom and Angela Throgmorton in Old Tom); ‘friendship’ (Mr Chicken and Yvette in Mr Chicken Goes To Paris); ‘being different’ and the ‘search for friendship’ (Horrible Harriet); and ‘being yourself’ (Fiona the Pig).
What do you hope children and educators are gaining from your books?
Primarily I hope that children enjoy my books; that they derive pleasure from the words and the journey my characters take and from pouring over the detail in the illustrations. It gives me great pleasure to learn children really like a particular character and they ‘get’ him or her. Additionally, I hope children are stimulated as well.
What were your favourite books as a child?
As a child I loved The Readers Digest Children’s Omnibus Annuals. I received one every year for Christmas. As I mentioned previously, I’ve always read more non- fiction than fiction. However, having said that, Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson were read to me as a small boy by my father and I adored them. They left a lasting impression; a very good one.