ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.
Meaningful engagement and collaboration between education and care community members strengthen quality outcomes for children. Practice that is informed by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community is also one of three themes that need to be demonstrated by services to receive an Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) rating for a standard. In the final instalment of this five-part series, we outline some key strategies for engaging and collaborating with your community.
Engaging and collaborating with my community
Engage with and in your community
When you engage meaningfully with and in your community, you increase your knowledge of your community, promote understanding, and provide opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. Importantly, you ensure practice is informed by, and is responsive to, your unique community and context. Your community members have a wealth of knowledge, capacities, expertise and resources and unique strengths and priorities. Services can learn from and build on these to strengthen the community and collectively support your community’s purpose of positive educational and developmental outcomes for children.
Meaningful engagement seeks and values ongoing participation and the inclusion of all community members’ voices, including those of children, in decision-making. Positive relationships and a strong sense of community will encourage participation.
Usual communication and engagement strategies include conversations, meetings, surveys and community events. Other formal and informal ways to engage with and in your community, seek knowledge and understanding of community members and promote participation could include:
Children and families
- Child enrolment processes and documentation.
- Orientation and year-start practices such as tours, open days, welcome events, ‘All about Me/Us’ child or family documentation.
- Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data for your neighbourhood, suburb or community to identify children’s developmental vulnerabilities and to support planning.
- Sharing knowledge, understanding and documentation of children’s learning, development and wellbeing from your own and other education and care services they are enrolled in: e.g. the school associated with an OSHC service; a previous or concurrent education and care service a child has or is attending.
- Connecting with health, education and family-support organisations involved with enrolled children and their families.
- Sending a camera home with children and families to record what is meaningful to them.
- Recruitment and staff induction processes.
- Networking group meetings for cooks, educators, educational leaders, co-ordinators or directors.
- Professional development and team building experiences.
Health, education and family-support professionals and organisations
- Current professional networks.
- Formal information or resource-sharing meetings.
- Engagement in professional development.
- Targeted research and engagement through access points such as professional networks and organisations.
- Neighbourhood walks, excursions and inviting visitors to attend the service.
- Engagement with your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through the local Land Council, Language and Culture Centre, Indigenous Educational Consultative Body, Elders, or community liaison officers.
- Formal information or resource-sharing meetings with the local council, historical association or community organisations etc.
- Targeted research and engagement through access points such as local media, libraries, or community organisations.
Promote your service and purpose to your community
Relationships, engagement and collaboration are a two-way and dynamic process, so it is also important to ensure your community knows and understands your service and purpose in promoting quality outcomes for children. Your purpose should be evident in the living document of your service philosophy, communicated through your resources, and evident in enrolment, orientation and staff induction processes. This will ensure your purpose is clearly understood and consistently implemented.
Use engagement opportunities such as year-start, community and networking meetings to communicate meaningful information about your service and to reaffirm your purpose. Print, news, broadcast or social media also offer opportunities to connect with your community.
Collaborate with your community
Collaboration is a pooling of resources and co-ordination of approaches to achieve something that would not be possible by one party, alone. Collaboration has a goal: for example, when an early childhood service and a school and outside school hours care service share information and collaboratively plan for a child’s transition to school and their future learning; or when a family day care service strives for continual quality improvement and collaborates with families to share decision making. Collaboration depends on the context and reflects the unique resources and strengths of those collaborating. It is usually characterised by supportive leadership, an inclusive approach and recognition of the unique strengths and resources that each partner brings to the collaboration.
The importance of collaborative partnerships with families and communities to quality practice and outcomes for children is reflected in NQS Quality Area 6 and as mentioned previously, a theme for determining practice that exceeds the NQS. Collaborative partnerships and community development are also integral to the criteria for the NQS Excellent rating. Examples of exemplary collaborative practice are evident in many of the Excellent rated services: for example, the collaboration between Tigger’s Honeypot and the University of NSW and collaborations between Indooroopilly Montessori Children’s House and Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) Preschools in Timor Leste and also Men’s Shed. Inspirational examples of collaboration can also be found in Community Stories on the AEDC website.
Reflective questions and activities for you and your team or service
- To receive a rating of Exceeding NQS for any standard, three Exceeding themes need to be demonstrated. Theme 3 is Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community. Select one of the 15 NQS standards and discuss how your service could demonstrate this Exceeding NQS theme.
- How do you engage with children and include their voices in your practices and decision-making?
- Brainstorm new or innovative ways to meaningfully engage with and in your community.
- How is collaboration with families valued and reflected in your service’s philosophy, policies and everyday practice?
I hope you have enjoyed our five-part series exploring the notion of community and have drawn inspiration from the ideas, strategies, reflections and resources. The personal community-engagement experiences of ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, may also provide further inspiration for engaging, collaborating and enriching the relationships with your community.
Further reading and resources
ACECQA – Information sheet – New Guidance on determining Exceeding NQS for standards
ACECQA – Quality Area 6 – Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
ACECQA Newsletter – Inviting children’s participation and voices into the education program
Australian Early Development Census – Data, resources and community stories
Australian Government – Family-School Partnerships Framework
Early Childhood Australia – Collaborating with families: Not a problem!
Narragunnawalli – Professional learning and resources
Reconciliation Australia – Video – Build relationships with community
Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne – Engaging marginalised and vulnerable families
Read the complete series: