We improve what we measure

In her first We Hear You blog as the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair shares her thoughts about the National Quality Framework and a recent visit to the Northern Territory.

One of ACECQA’s functions is working with regulatory authorities to educate and inform services and the community about the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Since 2012, educators, services, schools and governments have undertaken a significant journey in implementing the new laws, regulations and the National Quality Standard.  While it took time to get across the detail of the new national system, over 88% of services have now been assessed and rated, with 73% rated Meeting National Quality Standard or above. Over the next five years, our challenge is to continue the quality improvement journey and support parents and carers as well-informed consumers of education and care services for their children.

In my new role as ACECQA CEO, I am learning a great deal from you about the diversity of communities across Australia; the unique circumstances in which services operate; the rich experiences of families; and the way we all respond within a national framework.

Recently, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to meet with the Northern Territory Minister for Education and speak at the 2017 Leaders’ Conference in Darwin. I was impressed by the determination to raise quality in the NT and the unique way leaders in both sectors were enriching children’s experiences and improving learning outcomes.   The continuous quality improvement journeys shared by Principals Leah, Joe and Graham, highlighted the critical fact that good leadership is all about results.  To achieve better results, they spoke of giving a voice to the expertise and knowledge of early childhood educators, teachers and local families.  They reflected on the immense value of listening to and understanding the perspectives of children.

During my visit to local services, I met with very insightful educational leaders who were deeply connected with their local communities.  At Nightcliff, there is a strong partnership between the early learning centre and the school with the aim to give young children a seamless experience from long day care to preschool and on to school and outside school hours care. The results are tangible. The physical and sector barriers are being removed; the early learning centre and the school are sharing quality resources; families are welcomed; and the focus is very much on building confident, enthusiastic young learners.

In both education sectors and in every jurisdiction, we are listening to inspiring educational leaders who share their stories.  Although each experience is unique, a common reflection is that improved, sustained results are unlikely to happen without a commitment at the highest level; a deep understanding of the NQF and the roles we all have; a determination to improve beyond a single point in time; respect for the early childhood profession; and genuine partnerships with families and the community.

We have learnt so much since 2012.  It is worth sharing our own NQF journeys with others – across services, sectors and borders – and with our families.  It is a truism that everything that gets measured gets better and, as Joe reflected, do our children deserve anything less?

New Educator Survival Guide

Newly graduated educators can face a daunting experience, navigating the complex ‘mini-world’ of a new workplace. Sally Burt, a recent teaching graduate and participant in the ACECQA Early Career Educators Program, writes about two key survival strategies for new educators to support this journey into the profession – teamwork and mentoring. Both strategies can be highly effective in supporting graduates as they transition into the workforce and ‘become educators’.

Educators are undoubtedly the greatest asset to quality education and care services. A highly qualified children’s education and care workforce is one of the most powerful influences on positive outcomes for children and quality early learning programs and environments. Stability and continuity of educators is also essential to quality practice and the profession as a whole. It makes great sense to ensure educators, particularly those new to the sector, are well supported and have maximum opportunity to be their professional best.

Be part of your workplace team 

Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.
– Sir Ken Robinson

Education and care services are diverse and complex workplaces that have people and relationships at their core and outcomes for children as their goal. The building and leading of a team to achieve this is usually the responsibility of the educational leader, manager or director. However, successful teams are comprised of individuals who are effective and engaged team members. This is particularly important in the context of a distributed or shared leadership approach where leadership is collaborative and responsibility is collective.

Participation in an effective workplace team has a number of well-known benefits, such as increasing efficiency, creating a positive culture and collaboratively solving problems. As a result, work environments are often more effective, harmonious and respectful. For new educators, teamwork has significant benefits both professionally and personally. These include:

  • enhancing a sense of belonging
  • providing social support
  • increasing commitment and job satisfaction
  • improving communication with colleagues
  • supporting professional development, through sharing and learning from others
  • boosting self-esteem and morale
  • reducing stress and burn-out
  • cultivating shared understandings and goals
  • developing ‘ownership’ of the direction of a service.

Contributing to the team

Your individual contribution to a team is unique. Every educator has their own strengths, skills, experiences, capabilities, values and beliefs. This diversity can greatly enrich the team as a whole. Effective leaders use a strengths-based approach to build and develop teams. New educators are, therefore, encouraged to embrace their capability and to feel confident in contributing. A fresh perspective, contemporary knowledge from recent study, and enthusiasm are just a few of the specific strengths of new educators.

Skills in being an effective team member should also be cultivated. Communicating effectively, being open to the perspectives of others, active listening, demonstrating respect, having cultural awareness and being flexible will all assist you to engage with your team. Participating in team-building activities will also be helpful. Suggesting innovative team building ideas will demonstrate your personal commitment.

Start a relationship with a mentor

Mentoring is a key survival guide strategy for new educators, supporting the transition to the workforce and enhancing job satisfaction, commitment and retention. Mentoring can boost teacher confidence and improve teaching expertise. Mentoring is also a highly effective leadership development strategy, increasing the leadership capacity of services. It supports the professional growth and development of all educators, as well as promoting outcomes for children by reinforcing Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS).

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is fundamentally a learning relationship that supports, strengthens and develops professional practice. Traditionally, mentoring is a one-to-one learning relationship between a novice (the mentee) and a more experienced practitioner (the mentor). Mentors guide, support, provide feedback and develop the goal-setting and critical reflection of their mentee.

How do I find a mentor?

When looking for a mentor, consider people both inside and outside your workplace. A mentor is ideally not a line supervisor, as a hierarchical relationship may not be a supportive environment for a mentee to be reflective. Ask your educational leader, manager or director for advice, as they will likely have some suggestions and contacts.

Potential mentors can be:

  • the educational leader (if not a line supervisor)
  • an educator working within another room at the setting or another setting of the same organisation
  • a previous university or vocational training supervisor, mentor or lecturer
  • an educator assisting with evidence-gathering for teacher registration
  • an educator met through an educator network.

The mentoring process

Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

  1. Getting to know each other.
  2. Goal setting and action planning.
  3. Developing professional skills and tracking progress.
  4. Evaluating progress and outcomes.
  5. Moving forward – either completing the process, or returning to Step 2 to repeat the cycle.

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Goal setting and action planning should, ideally, be initially scaffolded by the mentor, but evolve to be intentional and self-directed by the mentee. A useful model for structuring goal setting and action planning is the GROW Model.

Five mentoring best-practice tips

  1. Remember, mentoring is a relationship.

Relationships require commitment and effort. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly committed to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

  1. Communication is key.

Effective communication underpins successful mentoring. Mentors will ideally have training and skills in communication, however, mentees may require support and guidance in some important communication skills:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange of feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • non-verbal language recognition
  • cultural awareness.
  1. Leadership and positive organisation culture enable mentoring.

Mentoring requires time for regular dialogue and relationship building. As education and care settings are time-challenged, quality mentoring time needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires a positive organisational culture and leadership to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

  1. Mentor dispositions matter.

Mentors need training, however, disposition is also important. Ideally, your mentor has:

  • interest in lifelong learning
  • empathy and understanding
  • interpersonal skills
  • professional confidence
  • approachability
  • genuine interest in mentoring and nurturing others
  • emotional intelligence.
  1. Be open to the learning journey.

Mentoring requires choice and some bravery, on the part of the mentee, to start a relationship and open their practice to review, dialogue and development. Being open to the possibility of this learning journey will provide a positive foundation on which to build the relationship. Mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and join their mentee on the journey. Mentoring provides an opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor.

Transitioning into a new workplace and becoming an educator is a journey of discovery and challenges that all graduates face. Teamwork and mentoring are two strategies that can effectively support this transition and, importantly, equip new educators with lifelong skills and practices to be their professional best.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7: Educational Leadership and Team Building

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

Community Child Care Victoria – Building a winning team

Early Childhood Development Agency – Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning focused relationships

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

Murphy, C. and Thornton, K. (2015) Mentoring in Early Childhood Education, NZCER Press, Wellington, New Zealand.

MindTools – The GROW Model: A simple process for coaching and mentoring

Leading through change

When it comes to change, some will see the glass as half full while others will view it as half empty. This month on We Hear You, we look at ways your service can lead through periods of change.

The introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the National Quality Standard (NQS) represented a significant period of change for the education and care sector. There were new regulations, processes of assessment and rating, and policies and procedures requiring updating.

While this period of change was challenging at times, the reform introduced a successful national system – a system that formally recognises the growing body of research that the early years of children’s lives are integral to their learning, development and wellbeing.

Over time, the NQF and NQS will evolve, responding to the needs of children, families and an education and care sector driving quality practice and continuous improvement.

The recently announced changes to the NQF are a chance for education and care providers to think about change more broadly as well as the way change is approached and managed at the service level.

How will your service lead through change?
Will the glass be half full or half empty?

The upcoming changes provide a great opportunity to review current systems and processes.

Creating the climate for change

Change management theory can provide a useful framework for moving from being passive recipients of change to actively embracing change and growth in all aspects of your service. One possible approach is Dr John Kotter’s eight step process for leading change, which explores the notion of creating a climate for change, represented in this graphic. Kotter visualises the series of steps that can help you and your service respond to change in positive and empowering ways. While structured steps may not suit everyone, making change a positive experience by involving all service staff is the key.

Engaging and enabling the organisation

Thinking about what you want to achieve and opening up opportunities for all stakeholders to be involved can help support change.

Removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact. (Kotter, 2014)

Times of change are ideal for considering the way leadership is enacted across a service and how leadership impacts on change management. They also present the chance to empower action by considering a more shared approach to leadership.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard outlines key points for effective leadership (p. 165):

  • Effective leadership contributes to a positive organisational culture
  • Leaders must fully understand the education and care context
  • Good leaders empower others
  • Good leaders adapt to change and drive continuous improvement
  • Good leaders establish skilled workforces

These prompts can support your team to critically reflect on how to be effective leaders of change.

Implementing and sustaining for change

‘Implementing and sustaining for change’ is a way for your education and care service to focus on the big picture, consider the process of continuous improvement in your context and how effectively change is managed, implemented and sustained.

Additional prompts for reflection:

  • Do all stakeholders know about the NQF and why it is important?
  • What changes have occurred since the introduction of the NQF and how are these celebrated, communicated and built upon? Are you treading the same ground?
  • How are children, families and the broader community involved? Could this be extended?
  • Does your service have a vision for clarifying and articulating its purpose? Is the vision being realised?
  • How is your service vision and philosophy connected to the process of continuous improvement?

Along with these questions for reflection, opening up the space and taking the time to communicate and collaborate on how your service will lead through change could help you perceive the glass as half full and allow you to engage more effectively with continuous improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7 – Leadership and Service Management

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Quality Area 7

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Change management in early childhood education and care

The World with Theory of Constraints – Overcoming Resistance to Change – Isn’t It Obvious?

TEDxPerth – Jason Clarke – Embracing Change

How will the approved learning frameworks guide your journey in 2017?

What is your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks? How do they inform your practice, programs and interactions? This month on We Hear You, we reflect on the frameworks that will guide you and your service through the coming year.

we-hear-you-blog-approved-frameworks

At this time of year, we are all thinking forward – planning for the coming months, developing programs and experiences for children and ways to collaborate with families and communities.

It is also an opportunity to take a moment to look back and reflect on your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks. When Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework and My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care were first launched in 2009 and 2011 respectively, the intent was to guide educator practice, critical reflection, decision making and scaffold understanding, much like the way the framework for a building provides the strength and integrity of the structure.

The Framework forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all early childhood settings experience quality teaching and learning… (and) has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children’s first and most influential educators. (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 5)

The Framework… forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all school age care settings engage in quality experiences for rich learning, personal development and citizenship opportunities. (Framework for School Age Care, p. 3)

The frameworks are built on a foundation of contemporary research that identifies the benefits of high quality education in the early years, with play and leisure based programs most suited to the way young children learn. One of our responsibilities under professional standards such as Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics is the need for education and care professionals to be advocates for young children within the broader community.

belongingandbecoming

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It may be timely to consider the ways your service is collaborating with families and communities to share the research and contemporary thinking outlined in the approved learning frameworks.

Both frameworks include many layers of rich and meaningful ideas, and while most educators and leaders are familiar with the five learning outcomes, the principles and practices that underpin these should continually shape our practice, programs, policies and interactions.

As you reflect individually and as a team, you might consider the daily influence of the frameworks’:

  • principles that promote respect, meaningful relationships and partnerships, equity, diversity and continuous learning
  • practices that support educators to implement quality programs and identify broad lifelong outcomes for children.

Taking the time to reflect on the way you are engaging with all aspects of the frameworks could also help you explore how they contribute to quality improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational program and practice

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Introduction to Quality Area 1

Leader as mentor

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, delivered a presentation for an Educational Leaders Association meeting in December.  The presentation is available to view and share with your teams.

Rhonda explores how educational leaders drive quality practice by working to lead, coach, mentor and inspire educators towards continuous improvement and delivering quality outcomes for children and families.

The presentation runs for approximately half an hour and includes audio and slide components. Rhonda references a workbook that contains activities and reflective questions to work through and discuss during the presentation. You might like to download and print the workbook before watching the presentation.

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Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

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Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre

From soaring towers to inclusive playscapes: Exploring the journey of children’s participation

How can we give children more opportunities to contribute meaningfully? To their services? To their community? To their cities and world? Bridget Isichei, an early childhood educator and former director of UnitingCare Jack and Jill Preschool Grafton and area manager for Goodstart Early Learning, writes this month about the journey of children’s participation in an exciting council playground project.

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A collaborative design by the children at Goodstart Early Learning Grafton

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child tells us that children have the right to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.

For most of my own career, enacting this meant asking children to contribute to the design of their play-space or encouraging them to develop their own behaviour guidelines (in line with National Quality Standard Element 1.1.6). More recently, I have been engaged in a project that has changed my thinking about this. I now realise we can do more and dream of a world where children are given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to community discussion, and mould the cities and towns that they live in from the day they are born.

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A contribution from the children at Westlawn Preschool Grafton

The project started during my time as the Director of UnitingCare Jack and Jill, when a group of preschool children wrote to the Clarence Valley Council to express their opinion that their town had insufficient playgrounds, and asking if they could design a better one. To our delight, the council agreed at the perfect time since they had budgeted for a new playground the following year. Within just a few months the council saw the value of consulting young children and invited three other early education and care services to become involved. As the director of the preschool that originally approached the council, I was given a place on their committee.

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“You can sit on if you have no friends and someone will come to play with you.” – UnitingCare Jack and Jill Preschool Grafton

Some of my strategies and key learnings from the project were:

At first educators held large groups and expected every child to contribute:

We reflected and decided that although children have the right to participate, they don’t have to. We set up a learning space in each service where children could visit and record ideas if they were interested in the project.

We expected all educators, park designers and council members to know why children have the right to participate:

We spent time explaining the benefits of children’s participation and voice to all stakeholders.

We asked children to contribute ideas without giving them the tools, knowledge and resources they needed:

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A contribution from the children at Westlawn Preschool Grafton

Educators decided to hold small group times for interested children to increase their knowledge about playground design, recycling and inclusion. The designated learning area was set up with books and information about the project so the children could revisit the area and build skills over time. Continuous learning, high expectations and intentional teaching were therefore critical elements in making the project successful.

Children came up with too many ideas to use:

Children were encouraged to reflect on and refine their ideas. Children were given the opportunity to consult with each other and park design professionals to find out if their ideas were practical. By revisiting these ideas regularly, children were able to develop their thinking.

The design for the new park now includes signs written by the children, has equipment that is inclusive of all children, recycling bins, a very tall tower, sand and water play and children’s art. The park will have a special seat that ‘you can sit on if you have no friends and someone will come to play with you’. When a child suggested this, I knew that this inclusive idea was very important, but something an adult would be unlikely to think of.

Children have unique perspectives, and the world is a lesser place when we don’t listen to them.

References

UN General Assembly. (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3.