Educators often ask how they can implement practice from Excellent rated services. Megan Alston, the manager of ACECQA’s Educational Leadership & Excellence team, explains that excellence is driven by context and describes how services can learn from highly accomplished programs, partnerships and practices.
One of the purposes of the Excellent rating is for our sector to learn from and be inspired by examples of highly accomplished practice, innovation and creativity in education and care. It’s one of the reasons why ACECQA shares examples of practice from Excellent rated services.
Sometimes it’s obvious why practice we’ve shared is excellent, because the example is so new, fresh, interesting and creative. At other times we describe highly accomplished practice, but the example might not sound so remarkable. This can be because a practice that achieves outstanding outcomes at one service may be out of place at another. Excellence is driven by context.
You might be wondering, if excellence is context dependent, then how does ACECQA identify highly accomplished practice? How can excellence be achieved or explained? Is it more than a matter of simply copying a project that another service has done?
While there is a lot to learn from hearing about programs, partnerships and practices of Excellent rated services, there is even more to learn from the process used to identify, implement, evaluate and adapt these programs and practices. When you consider the process, it becomes clearer that highly accomplished practice can be delivered in any setting and will more often than not reflect the setting it is in.
This process tends to involve:
- Developing a deep understanding of the service’s children and families, and the community in which they live
- Implementing programs, practices and partnerships that support the circumstances, strengths, needs, and interests of the children and families that attend the service
- Reviewing, adjusting and extending programs, practices and partnerships
- Knowing things are working because the programs, partnerships and programs improve outcomes for the children and families attending the service.
These four areas are explored below including examples from services rated Excellent by ACECQA.
In highly accomplished services, there is a demonstrated deep understanding of the circumstances, strengths, capabilities and interests of the children and families who attend the service. This deep understanding can be developed in a number of ways:
- Discussions with children and families, including conversations, surveys, forms and information nights
- Working collaboratively with professionals such as health experts who bring a different perspective and understanding of the children and families attending the service
- Undertaking, reading or participating in research that reveals information about the children and families attending the service.
Educators and other staff who use some or all of these techniques build a complex understanding of the children and families. They are then in a position to implement targeted programs, practices and partnerships that improve education outcomes.
Baxter Kindergarten and Children’s Centre uses socio economic and census data to learn about families in its area. The service examined the available information and, understanding that many families in the area work during weekends, introduced an extended hours program to meet the needs of the community.
At exceptional services, educators and staff also know and understand the environment and community in which they operate. They identify organisations and build community partnerships to support and enrich the experiences of children and families.
Gowrie Victoria Docklands implemented an extensive “community connections excursion program” to build and maintain children’s connections with the service’s local community after learning that only 31% of families who attend the service live locally.
In highly accomplished services, educators and other staff engage in deep critical reflection. They implement, review and adapt programs, practices and partnerships and can define and describe the improvements that flow to children and families. By working in partnership with families, children and the community they can research and seek out options, work with and learn from other professionals and access training to help them accomplish their goals.
Knowing that many of the families using the service are mining families, Bundaberg Family Day Care developed a resources pack called FIFO-DIDO-BIBO (Fly In Fly Out – Drive In Drive Out – Bus In Bus Out) containing strategies for families to support their children while a parent is away from home. Further to this, after figures revealed high rates of obesity in Bundaberg the service developed a free school holiday program to promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity within the community.
Taking advantage of its local surroundings and through investigating strategies to energise children’s play, Pelican Waters implemented a ‘Bush and Beach Kindy’ program to develop children’s understanding of the local land and extend their nature-based play.
Bribie Island Community Kindergarten involved families with the design and construction of the outdoor area of the service; ideas were suggested which educators have researched further and re-designed to fit the space. Families also made or donated resources including a thongaphone, learning circle, pipe track and bush telephone.
In highly accomplished services, educators critically reflect on their programs, practices and partnerships and adapt and extend these where needed to achieve better outcomes.
After identifying a need for hearing impaired children, Albury Preschool secured a grant to install a Soundfield Amplification System to assist children with hearing impairments to learn. The service then partnered with Charles Sturt University to undertake its own research project to measure how the amplification system positively benefits all children.
Addressing high levels of disadvantage in the local community, Swallowcliffe operates multiple integrated programs to improve education outcomes. Educators and staff phone families weekly to follow up on non-attendance or share good news stories about their child’s achievements.
University of Western Australia Early Learning Centre (UWA ELC) participated in a research project on sign language for babies. Noticing improvements for children from increased bonding with families and educators, the service extended this by introducing video clips with more words and some families took classes to implement signing at home.
Educators and staff at highly accomplished services identify targets and know when they have improved outcomes for children and families. They can clearly define and share these.
Globe Wilkins established relationships with Wunanbiri Preschool and the Multi Mix Mob to strengthen the embedding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives at the service. This resulted in more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families enrolling with the service.
When ACECQA assesses applications for the Excellent rating we look for innovation and creativity, but also for practice that is highly accomplished. We look at how:
- educators and staff at the service understand the children and families and the environment in which they live
- the service’s practices, projects and partnerships are tailored to take into account and build on the unique circumstances and strengths of the children and families
- the educators and staff at the service partner with children, families and community agencies to create exceptional outcomes.
The process used by highly accomplished services – to identify, implement, evaluate and adapt programs and practices – can be implemented in any service type, whether it is big or small or based in a city, suburb or regional area.
Remember, exceptional practice is one aspect of the Excellent rating criteria. Excellent rated services also demonstrate leadership that develops a local area, community or the sector and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and comprehensive forward planning.
See the ACECQA website for more information about the Excellent rating.