Collaboration and commitment: Building a culture of professional learning

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

National and international research recognises the benefits of leadership in the provision of quality education and care. The National Quality Framework (NQF) acknowledges how strong and informed educational leadership can make a difference to the experiences of children and contribute to quality learning outcomes.

Standard 7.1 requires that effective leadership promotes a positive organisational culture and a professional learning community’The approved learning frameworks, embed expectations around building a culture of professional inquiry, critical reflection and ongoing learning.

Recent research like Waniganayake, Rodd and Gibbs (2015), points to the importance of professional learning communities in supporting educational change. Fleet, De Gioia and Patterson (2016) in the book, Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry, also explore how a model of practitioner enquiry, established through a professional learning community, increases professional confidence and competence.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard reminds us that ‘leadership is a relationship between people and the best leaders are those who are able to empower others’ (p. 165). The collective sharing of skills can empower educators by instilling a sense of accountability and can influence rich and sustainable opportunities for quality improvement.

Professional learning communities usually have a shared vision, a desire to continue to develop their knowledge and a drive for the provision of quality. A professional learning community involves a lively culture of inquiry where educators are supported to think critically and engage in reflective conversations to enhance practice and continuous improvement. This includes engaging with and understanding ethical principles and professional standards as a basis for guiding decision making in everyday practice.

Building a culture of professional learning requires both commitment and collaboration from all parties involved. It requires educators to take active responsibility, and work respectfully and ethically with others towards a shared vision for children’s learning. At times it’s complex and requires sincere effort and perseverance, but in unity there is great strength. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Significantly, a culture of learning also extends to children. The guiding principles of the NQF recognise that the rights and best interests of children are paramount and that children are viewed as successful, competent and capable learners. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics underpin these guiding principles, which are pivotal to professional practice in early childhood education and care. The view of children as active citizens and learners is further embedded in the approved learning frameworks.

When the collective attitude within your service is focused on learning, growing and improving together, wonderful things can happen. When this attitude is reflected in the dialogue and the positive commitment of children, families and educators you’ll find opportunities for genuine involvement in service decision making.

Justine Tarrant, an educator from Queensland shares some insights as to how she works with children and colleagues to introduce a language and a culture of learning. We can see from Justine’s story how this is contributing to authentic collaboration and an appreciation of the important work of educators as professionals.

We have received really positive feedback from families about the way we discuss and describe children’s learning. Families are now using the same language and really valuing children’s time spent at the centre in terms of what they are learning. It is about helping people think in different ways, asking questions, rephrasing them and encouraging everyone to look at things from a different perspective.

As educators we are constantly reflecting on our conversations with children, are they optimistic and strengths focused, as opposed to simply instructional. When we raise our expectations of children as capable and competent they meet and even exceed those expectations. So we need to think about the tools and the language we are providing children to empower them to be socially responsible, connected learners.

We start from a base of high expectations and introduce a language of learning that is empowering for children, allowing them to discuss their own learning journey. We talk with the children about allowing and supporting others to learn and about making conscious choices as to who they would like to partner with to progress their learning.

As a team we have created a shared vision for learning, strongly influenced by Te Whariki (the New Zealand curriculum framework). It is a strengths based model that involves building a learning community including children, educators and families. We model and promote critical reflection as an inclusive supportive network of learners. We use language that connects with the intrinsic motivation to support other learners as opposed to being competitive and working in silos.

Guiding questions to help develop a professional learning community

  • How is the service’s shared vision for children’s learning used to shape the program, activities and experiences?
  • What strategies can be used to better communicate the shared vision with educators, families and community organisations?
  • How do professional standards, such as the Code of Ethics, contribute to the development of your professional learning culture?
  • How does your service build on the capacity and strength of team members to distribute or share leadership?
  • What does it mean to recognise and honour children’s rights as active learners and citizens?
  • How do we share decision making with our families? What are we willing/unwilling to share decisions about?
  • In what ways do we work with the community to meet the needs of children and their families?

References

Fleet, A., De Gioia, K. and Patterson, C. (2016) Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry.  London: Bloomsbury

Malaguzzi, L. (1998) History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini & E. Forman (Eds.), The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – advanced reflections. Westport, CT: Ablex.

Waniganayake, M., Rodd, J. and Gibbs, L. (2015) Thinking and learning about leadership. Sydney, Australia: Community Childcare Cooperative.

Further reading and resources

The role of the educational leader: Part 1

The role of the educational leader: Part 2

The role of the educational leader: Part 3

Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Being and Becoming Early Childhood Leaders: Reflections on Leadership Studies in Early Childhood Education and the Future Leadership Research Agenda

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