Quality Area 7 – Something in it for everyone

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

When we have good governance we free ourselves to perform the important work that we do with children and with our team.– Leanne Gibbs (Waniganayake et. al. 2017, p. 64)

Good governance is essential in any organisation as it supports effective and ethical management and provides leadership and direction to operations. Governance of Australian children’s education and care services can be complex and multifaceted, particularly given the inherent diversity of the sector. According to the 2016 Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, the children’s education and care service workforce is diverse in age, qualification level and experience. Numbering nearly 200,000, the workforce is employed in more than 15,700 services with varying provider ownership and management structures. While more than 80% of approved providers only operate one service, nearly a third of approved services are operated by approved providers managing 25 or more services. Varying hours of work – from part-time to full-time and sometimes involving split-shifts – add to the complexity of operations.

Effective governance provides a firm foundation for the organisational landscape and supports the operation of quality services. Standard 7.1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) focuses on the important issue of governance and articulates three elements that contribute to the standard being achieved. Element 7.1.3 identifies the key influence that clearly defined and understood roles and responsibilities support effective decision-making and operation of a service.

Roles and responsibilities

Typically, you will find role and responsibility statements are part of an organisation’s recruitment, induction and performance appraisal processes. These work best when they clearly define the expectations of the approved provider and are understood by the employee. This ensures an approved provider is clear about how the role is positioned within their organisational structure and the service’s operation; and an employee has a clear understanding of their work role, the responsibilities the position entails and the expectations for their performance. Roles and expectations are transparent and understood, and there is less opportunity for misalignment.

As many children’s education and care service roles have legislated responsibilities, including those required under the National Law and Regulations, clearly defined roles and responsibility statements can provide clarity for compliance responsibilities. Consider: Do role and responsibility statements include the requirements for a nominated supervisor as stated in Regulation 117, or the responsibilities in ensuring the policies and procedures as required by Regulation 168? Are they followed by staff as required under Regulation 170?

There are also other obligations to be considered, such as child protection laws or workplace health and safety laws and codes of practice. Remember to likewise be mindful of ethical responsibilities like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics, which may also be embedded in role and responsibility statements.

The educational leader role

Educational leaders can also be supported by a clearly defined and understood role and statement of responsibilities. The educational leader role was formally introduced with the 2012 NQS and has been further defined in the 2018 NQS. The broad responsibility of the role is to lead “the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle” (Element 7.2.2). However, defining this significant responsibility and how it might be enacted will provide clarity and transparency for the approved provider, the educational leader and the educators they will lead. This detail may include:

  • identified outcomes for the education program
  • resourcing the role
  • reporting responsibilities
  • mentoring responsibilities
  • professional development opportunities
  • the support that will be provided by the approved provider.

Likewise, the role description for an educator could detail the support to be provided by the educational leader.

Induction process

Induction supports an employee to undertake their role and responsibilities. Taking many forms, induction is generally described as the formal training and socialisation process a new employee undertakes when they join an organisation. Importantly, it is much more than a one-off orientation or checklist. Induction designates the transition from beginning at a service to confident and full, professional engagement and belonging in a community of practice. Consistent with our understanding of transition processes for children, transition into a new workplace also has challenges and opportunities, with relationships at its core.

Induction is often integrated with mentoring: high quality induction/mentoring has been shown to improve attrition, strengthen skills and knowledge, improve job satisfaction and commitment, and support the wellbeing of early career educators. While induction programs are well-established in the Australian school system – representing the transition from graduate to proficient teacher –less is known about children’s education and care sector experiences. Whatever the context, induction is a process of professional development, at its most effective in settings with a positive learning culture and strong professional relationships. Quality induction and mentoring will build confidence and enable professional growth – they are essential supports for an educator undertaking their role and responsibilities at their professional best.

Reflective questions:

  • If you are an approved provider or service leader, have you clearly defined all service roles and responsibilities? How do you know these are understood?
  • If you are an employee, do your service roles and the associated responsibilities match your position description? How could you align these?
  • Do you understand the role and responsibilities of the educational leader in your service? If not, could this be discussed at a team meeting?
  • How is induction conducted at your service? How could mentoring further support induction at your service?
  • How are the three Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 7?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – The role of the educational leader

AITSL – Graduate to Proficient: Australian Guidelines for teacher induction into the profession

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

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: The role of the educational leader

Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2017) Leadership: Contexts and complexities in early childhood education, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Connection to Country: Respect, responsibility and the creator spirit of Bunjil

Bubup Wilam means ‘Children’s Place’ in the Woi Wurrung language. Bubup Wilam for Early Learning is an Aboriginal Child and Family Centre in Melbourne‘s north that provides Aboriginal children, families and the community with access to an integrated range of services and programs, including early years education and health and wellbeing services.

This month on We Hear You, Bubup Wilam’s educator, Shannon McLeod, talks to us about their Connection to Country Program and the importance of Bunjil, the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people.

At Bubup Wilam for Early Learning (Aboriginal Child and Family Centre) we acknowledge Country every day. Our children know the Wurundjeri people are the first owners of the land on which our service operates – Narrm (Melbourne). Through our weekly Connection to Country program, the children are learning about their responsibilities as Aboriginal children to take care of Country. They proudly tell us, ‘We’ve got to clean up the land, Aunty’. We teach the children that Bunjil (often represented as an eagle) is the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people – he created the people, animals and plants and he is watching how we respect the land.

As a group, we have explored different artistic representations of Bunjil that feature in our urban and natural landscapes across Victoria, from the gigantic representations of Bunjil at the Docklands and the You Yangs, to the visually stunning kinetic installation at the Melbourne Museum.

After looking at photos of these artworks, and later a trip to the museum, clay was provided for the children to create their own representations of Bunjil. One child created a whole Bunjil family, others created nests, others made scaled-down versions of the Bunjils shown to them in remarkable detail.

As their teacher, I was so touched by the work the children had created and wanted to show respect for these sculptures to showcase them to the other children, educators and parents in our community and I explored ways to do so with my colleagues. We decided on a glass cabinet to display the art pieces. This has been a beautiful talking point for all members of our community at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning.

A 3D puzzle of an eagle was found and now rests on top of the display case – it is not unusual to hear children reflecting to their parents as they leave for the day that ‘Bunjil is watching us’.

Bunjil clay sculpture by one of the children at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning
Detail of the tail of the Bunjil at the base of the You Yangs on Wathaurong Country

Should a Paleolithic diet be offered at early childhood education and care services?

Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare (SNAC) was developed by researchers at the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. The website provides guidance and resources about nutrition and healthy eating environments for children’s education and care services, as well as an online community focused on supporting practice. Dr Ruth Wallace and Angela Genoni from SNAC talk to We Hear You about the key elements of a Paleolithic diet and how the diet might impact on children’s growth, development and health.

The idea of offering children Paleo foods – more lean meat and fish and less discretionary foods – may sound like a healthy way to go, but is it? Before you go down that road, let’s stop to consider whether such a diet will give the children you nurture and care for enough energy to grow, play and learn. There is a lot more you should understand about the Paleo way of eating before you offer this at your early childhood education and care (ECEC) service.

What does it mean to be Paleo?

The main principle of following a Paleo diet is to eat the foods our ancestors ate thousands of years ago during the Paleolithic Age. These foods include lean meats, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods that became staples when farming began around 10,000 years ago are not typically included in a paleo diet. For example, grains such as wheat and barley (used to bake bread), pasta and rice, beans and other legumes, dairy products, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and more recently highly processed foods such as chips, cakes, cookies, processed meats and ready meals (Cordain, 2011).

So can Paleo foods provide enough fuel for children?

Some research has shown that adults following a strict Paleo diet have reported losing weight, lowered blood pressure and other benefits from ‘going paleo’ (Masharani, et al., 2015), since this way of eating typically cuts out added sugars, salt and discretionary foods. While eating more vegetables and fruit is a positive, there is no research showing the diet is beneficial over the longer term (Mellberg, et al., 2014; Genoni, et al., 2016).

Children are a different story as their bodies and brains are growing and developing rapidly. They need a wide range of healthy foods from all five core food groups to ensure a sufficient intake of energy and nutrients to fuel this period of rapid growth and development, and to ensure they remain fit and healthy (NHMRC, 2013). Providing children with foods only from the Paleo diet actually removes two whole core food groups (dairy and cereals/grains), and even some vegetables that are recommended as part of a balanced diet. Most health professionals would not recommend the Paleo diet for young children.

What else should you know?

Eating the Paleo way takes a lot of planning: Since the diet relies heavily on nuts, and many ECEC services are nut-free, children may not consume sufficient energy without the inclusion of nuts at mealtime. It is also likely to blow the food budget as protein sources such as meat and fish are more expensive than vegetables and grains that are the bulk of a healthy balanced diet.

Children will need to find sufficient fuel from other foods: Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains readily provide sufficient energy and B vitamins to allow children to grow and be active. If foods such as rice and wholegrain bread are not provided, children will have to use other key macronutrients for fuel such as protein and fat, which may result in stunted growth, failure to thrive and other nutrient deficiencies (Brown, 2008; Desrosiers, et al., 2018).

Too much meat may be harmful to children’s health: Following the Paleo diet focuses heavily on meat, so children could be eating more unhealthy saturated fat than is recommended (NHMRC, 2013).

Future harms: Teaching children to avoid whole food groups may also lead to disordered eating in later life (Hart, et al., 2014).

The verdict?

Avoiding discretionary foods is a positive aspect of the Paleo diet, but existing guidelines already stipulate that discretionary foods should be limited in early childhood education and care and should not feature on the daily menu. More importantly, there is no research evidence to suggest following a Paleo diet is safe for the health of young children.

To ensure children optimise their growth and development, and have the energy to play and enjoy life, here are some simple, yet healthy tips to follow:

  1. Offer a wide variety of foods daily from all five core food groups, including lots of different colours and textures.
  2. Choose nutritious whole foods that have been minimally processed.
  3. Limit discretionary foods, which are energy dense and nutrient poor, and which displace other nutritious foods important for children’s growth and development.
  4. Allow children to self-serve at mealtimes from a wide range of healthy foods – this will support social and emotional development, and help children recognise their own hunger cues.
  5. Be a good role model. Sit with children at mealtimes, share the same healthy food, and offer them gentle encouragement to try foods they are unsure about.

As early years educators, yours is an important role in teaching children about healthy food choices that will enable them to be active and engaged learners, and for long-term health benefits later in life. If you should receive any special dietary requests that are not supported by a medical certificate, do not comply with Element 2.1.3 (food and drinks provided should be in accordance with the Australian Dietary Guidelines), or you are simply not sure about, seek further advice from your service director, or visit the SNAC website.

References

Brown, J. (2008) Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (3rd ed.), Thomson Higher Education, Belmont, USA.

Cordain, L. (2011) The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Desrosiers, T., et al. (2018) ’Low carbohydrate diets may increase risk of neural tube defects’, Birth Defects Research, DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1198

Genoni, A., et al. (2016) ’Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial’, Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 5, p. E314.

Hart, L., et al. (2014) ’Parenting to avoid body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating patterns in preschool children: A Delphi consensus study’, Body Image, vol. 11, pp.  418-425.

Masharani, U., et al. (2015) ’Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 69, no. 8, pp. 944-948.

Mellberg, C., et al. (2014) ’Long-term effects of a Palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: a 2-year randomized trial’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 68, no. 3, pp. 350-357.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines, NHMRC, Canberra.

Breaking down inclusion barriers and myths

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

Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location in curriculum decision-making processes. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.24; Framework for School Age Care, p.41)

During 2018, ACECQA is working with Inclusion Agencies and a number of regulatory authorities to deliver a series of forums and expos for children’s education and care educators to meet and discuss inclusion.

Together we explore how the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS) support inclusion, what rich, inclusive practice and environments look like, the use and value of Strategic Inclusion Plans (SIPs), Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) and community engagement strategies and resources. It is expected that more than 6000 educators will attend the forums and expos.

One noteworthy piece of feedback that we have received from many participants is the way they now understand inclusion underpinning all of the quality areas rather than a practice exclusively embedded in Quality Area 6. This is especially interesting when we consider that the words ‘each child’ are intentionally used throughout the NQS – 18 times to be exact – to promote the inclusion of every child.

In this month’s blog, I would like to share some of the myths that emerged in discussions at the forums and expos that Inclusion Professionals dispelled:

1. Inclusion is about disability – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is about including every child holistically. As Adrian Ashman and John Elkins (2009) remind us, ‘Inclusion enables access, engagement and success for all learners’. Considering the definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks, we can see inclusion is broader than simply providing for children with a disability. Rather it is about embracing diversity and providing opportunities for all children to participate and benefit. The NQF promotes the valuing of diversity, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with a disability, as well as people from diverse family compositions.

2. The rest of the children will ‘miss out’ if you include a child with additional needs – UNTRUE!

Sometimes we hear that this is the perception of some families where a service educates and cares for a child or children with challenging behaviours or additional needs. Contrary to popular belief, we know from solid research that all children benefit from inclusive environments.

An educator’s image of a child is influential in the environments they create. Loris Malaguzzi (1994) advocates that the environment and the image you have of a child are strongly connected. Therefore, the environment you construct around children is a reflection of the image you have of the child. Creating an environment that supports the inclusion of every child means each child can be supported to thrive and build a respect and valuing of diversity.

3. Funding always improves inclusion – UNTRUE!

Funding can be a useful resource to support the implementation of inclusive practice, but sometimes it can hinder inclusion. Without critically reflecting on practice, employing an additional educator in the room does not always support inclusion and sometimes may exclude children from participating with their peers. For example, a support educator may unintentionally isolate other children in the room when preparing an activity for a child with additional needs.

Inclusive practice occurs when educators make thoughtful and informed curriculum decisions and work in partnership with families and other professionals. This helps ensure children – including those with a disability – to have equitable and genuine opportunities to participate. (Early Childhood Australia, Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice)

4. Inclusion and early intervention are basically the same – UNTRUE!

There is a belief that inclusion is the outcome of early intervention. Although these concepts interrelate, they are separate outcomes. The definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks refers to all children holistically. Early intervention relates to children who require additional support and involves the support of early childhood intervention specialists.

5. Inclusion is a charitable thing to do for children – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is a basic human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to an education (Article 28) that develops their ability to their fullest potential, prepares children for life and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages (Article 29). This is reflected in Regulation 155 of the National Regulations: “An approved provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that the education and care service provides education and care to children in a way that maintains at all times the dignity and rights of each child”.

6. Inclusion is about everybody being treated the same – UNTRUE!

Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who have any kind of disability should receive special care and support so that they can live a full and independent life. With this in mind, if everyone was treated the same, would this be fair or equitable?

Image source: NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency

Reflective questions

Below is a sample of questions from the Inclusion extension pack for ACECQA’s The Quest for Quality knowledge game. The questions are intended to prompt open, reflective and collaborative discussions among providers, educators and students. They are also useful as a starting resource for critical reflection and when planning your Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP), Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).

  • What is inclusion?
  • When was your inclusion policy last updated?
  • Does your inclusion policy reflect current research?
  • How does your service embed and reflect on children’s culture and abilities?
  • What are the benefits of mainstream services for children with additional needs?
  • How do you communicate this to families?
  • Where would you start the collaborative process of developing a RAP?

Where to from here?

Further reading and resources

Ashman, A. & Elkins, J. (2009) Education for inclusion and diversity (3rd ed.), Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

Early Childhood Australia – Code of Ethics

Early Childhood Australia – Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice

National PSC Alliance –Fact sheet – Understanding Inclusion

Loris Malaguzzi (1994) ‘Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins’, Child Care Information Exchange, 94.

Where the research takes us

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the National Quality Framework (NQF) to children’s education and care in Australia, the sector has seen substantial progress and quality outcomes for children. But how can the NQF continue to help improve quality as well as the public knowledge and access to information about that very quality?

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, discusses this question and where recent research needs to take us.

The recently released Lifting Our Game report by Susan Pascoe AM and Professor Deborah Brennan is a timely reminder of the importance of early childhood education and care (ECEC), the positive advances we have made since the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF), as well as the areas where we still need to work on to improve outcomes for children.

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the NQF, the system is now well and truly in place:

  • Almost every eligible service has had at least one assessment and rating visit.
  • As evidenced by the data, the sector is taking the quality agenda seriously and we continue to see the majority of quality rating improvements at reassessment.
  • There has been a growth in the qualification level of educators across the country.
  • The first iteration of legislative and regulatory reforms has just been implemented.

While progress has definitely been made, there are still some big questions to be answered as to whether the NQF has, and will continue to, deliver ongoing outcomes for Australian children.

In this regard, ACECQA’s research and evaluation strategy and NQF Evaluation Framework, approved by the COAG Education Council in 2017, provide governments and researchers with a pathway for the types of medium and long-term strategic questions that need to be answered against the five objectives of the NQF.

It is important to note that the evaluation framework is not focused on assessing the benefits of early childhood education, but rather the system, both policy and regulatory aspects, which underpins the delivery of ECEC in this country.

For example, an objective of the NQF is to improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending ECEC.

Over the next few years, governments and researchers will be in a position to link NQF service rating data against a child’s results in the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) and NAPLAN. That is, for children who attended a service under the NQF, we will soon be able to see and evaluate whether attending a high quality service has had a corresponding impact on the education and developmental outcomes of children as they progress through the education system. Just as importantly, it will allow us to see the impact of ECEC on families and children, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Another objective of the NQF has been to improve public knowledge and access to information about the quality of ECEC services. Research continues to be undertaken in this area, which ACECQA reported in its inaugural Annual Performance Report. (I outlined a number of the challenges in my previous article about raising the profile of ECEC.) Understanding quality continues to be an area of concern and, as highlighted in the Lifting Our Game report, it is one that governments and the sector need to collectively focus on, and invest in, if they expect to see greater engagement from parents and families.

As a national organisation jointly funded by all nine governments to deliver specific functions, ACECQA is in a unique position within the federated model of governance and administration that oversees ECEC in this country. We are able to identify issues and track trends, provide insights and advice to support further efficiencies, and reduce regulatory burden across the sector.

Our recent submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into The effect of red tape on childcare highlights the work that has been undertaken by all governments to drive efficiency and reduce red tape across the NQF while protecting children’s safety, health and wellbeing and supporting quality practice. The Lifting Our Game report identifies a number of areas where further research and analysis can assist, and ACECQA will work with its government partners to ensure the system continues to evolve and improve.

Overall, evaluating the NQF should not be seen as confronting, or viewed as an attack on the national system or how things are done. Rather it is an opportunity to assess what has worked well and what needs to change.

At the end of the day, the NQF was designed as a dynamic system to meet the changing needs of children and to continuously improve outcomes for them and their families.

More than a worm farm: Supporting children to be environmentally responsible

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

Young children have the greatest stake as citizens in the future. ~ European Panel on Sustainable Development (2010)

Viewing children as agents capable of being active participants and enacting change in their world is integral to the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework and the approved learning frameworks. Children’s rich potential as active agents of change for their environment is integral to 2018 NQS Element 3.2.3 – The service cares for the environment and supports children to become environmentally responsible. Research and NQS assessment and rating data indicate that some services can find aspects of caring for the environment, and supporting children to become environmentally responsible, challenging. This month, I step you through a number of strategies to support this quality practice.

What does ‘environmentally responsible’ mean?

Environmental responsibility builds on the important foundation of children’s care, wonder and appreciation of the environment, and fosters accountability, agency and advocacy. Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child reminds us that:

  • education should prepare children to live responsibly and peacefully in a free society
  • education should teach children to respect the natural environment.

Responsibly is not passive; it requires engagement and the potential for action. Supporting children to become environmentally responsible requires meaningful opportunities for children to engage in authentic experiences and to be active participants and decision-makers. Responsibility is, therefore, more than physical resources, such as a worm farm or a set of recycling bins. While these can be wonderful experiences for children, responsibility engages at a deeper level. For example, decision-making about maintenance of the worm farm or monitoring of the amount or type of paper going into paper recycling to understand its source.

Responsibility engages children in critical thinking, problem solving and action. It might invoke questions such as: What does this mean? What do you think? What could you/we do or change? How could you/we do it? How will you/we know it has changed?

Education FOR the environment

Associate Professor Julie Davis (2015) from Queensland University of Technology describes meaningful environmental education opportunities as more than education ‘IN’ the environment – nature education experiences in the outdoors – or education ‘ABOUT’ the environment – children engaging in the natural sciences, recycling or conservation. Education ‘FOR’ the environment is about understanding human-environment interactions and interdependence and their impact on sustainability. Environmental responsibility focuses on the child and their potential role as citizens and agents of change for sustainability.

It is important to also consider that ‘the environment’ is your service and the interconnected environment which may be beyond your doors or gates. The broader geographical, social and cultural environments in your community are fundamentally connected to your service environment. In a rural community, this may include a local water catchment, while in an urban community this could be your neighbours on other floors of the building. Providing children with experiences that allow them to make connections between these environments will enhance their understanding. For example, exploring where a service’s waste water drains or what native bird habitats are available beyond a service’s garden.

Education for sustainability

Environmental responsibility and educating FOR the environment are central to the concept of sustainability. Sustainability has been described as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ or ‘enough for all forever’.  However, depending on your personal understanding, experiences, philosophy, values and beliefs, sustainability can be a complicated concept to define. Sustainability will have different meanings to different people.

As the environment and sustainability involve ‘big ideas’ and thinking on a scale beyond one’s usual context, it can pose intellectual and emotional challenges. This can be exacerbated when engaging with children, families and colleagues. If personal knowledge, beliefs and values are still forming, how can we confidently support and educate others?

Recognising that different individuals will have different understandings and perspectives on the environment and sustainability is a useful starting point for critical reflection.

Supporting environmental responsibility

In ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework’ (2017), Krista Pollock, Jane Warren and Peter Anderson from the University of Wollongong have proposed three key ways to support children to be environmentally responsible.

1. Involve children authentically

It is essential that children are considered as capable change agents. ‘Transformative pedagogies’ that value and build on children’s knowledge and experiences, and provide opportunities for them to participate in real life issues that are important and relevant to them, provides empowering opportunities for decision making and problem solving.

Educators who listen to and respect children’s ideas recognise children’s capabilities and help them develop the sense that their ideas and opinions matter. They support children to explore their world, to ask questions, to express ideas and to learn from their mistakes. When children are supported to develop decision-making skills and to make appropriate choices for their own wellbeing, they realise the choices they make may impact on others. When children are given choices and control, they begin to understand the connection between actions and consequences.

2. Collaborate with families

A ‘whole-of-setting’ approach that involves meaningful collaboration with children, families and community enhances the potential for quality practice. Welcoming, respecting and drawing on the voices, priorities and strengths of all community members will ensure practice is relevant and tailored to the service context.

Drawing on sociocultural theory, the researchers suggest encouraging families ‘to reflect on their own early childhood experiences with, and connections to, the natural environment’. Reflecting on personal influences can highlight their potential impact on children’s foundation knowledge and experience. Drawing on home experiences and culturally-valued knowledge can also build communication and connection between home and service practice. This can, in turn, provide insight, perspective, sharing and feedback on environmentally responsible actions.

3. Engage in critical reflection

Reflect on your own understanding of environmental responsibility and sustainability and how this has been informed. Reflection can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous improvement. Supporting your own, ongoing learning journey through professional development, and accessing resources to foster a deeper understanding of sustainability, are also highly recommended.

A good starting point for reflection is to undertake a sustainability audit to help you assess your service’s current practices and contribute to a Quality Improvement Plan. Cool Australia has a number of resources, which can be found through a search under the keyword ‘audit’

~o~

We hope this month’s blog has given you some starting points for your own learning journey. Please access the many resources on the new ACECQA website and those recommended below. We would also love to hear about your own experiences supporting children to be environmentally responsible. What have been your challenges? What are your successes? How have children been agents of change? I encourage you to leave a comment or share your story below.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA – Guide to the NQF reference list – Quality Area 3: Physical Environment

ACECQA – We Hear You – Sustainability blogs

Cool Australia – Educator and student resources

Davis, J. (ed.) (2015) Young Children and the Environment: Early Education for Sustainability (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, London.

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Embedding sustainable practices, NQS PLP eNewsletter (67).

Pollock, K., Warren, J. & Anderson, P. (2017) ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework: Uncovering what lies beneath theory and practice’, AJEC, 42(2), pp. 12-19.

Supported and valued: The National Quality Standard and educators

The National Quality Standard (NQS) sets a high benchmark for all education and care services across Australia, encompassing seven quality areas that are important to quality outcomes for children and families. But how can we also think about the NQS and its focus on quality as the standard for a positive organisational culture that values, nurtures and supports educators and staff?

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair, debates this question and explores four focus areas that distinguish quality service cultures and support education and care teams to flourish.

A few weeks ago I was in Brisbane with teacher educators and higher education researchers from across Australia who are leading education and care research and practice. It was inspiring to hear about the range and depth of their research. During our conversations and discussions, a question was asked about the National Quality Standard (NQS) that really made me think.

How can the NQS be changed to require services to look after their educators?

Up to that point the conversation was fairly wide ranging, with the challenges facing education and care educators a common thread. Nothing that would surprise you, but the ongoing issues that continue to be challenging – professional identity and social standing, turnover rates, career pathways and choice, emotional and physical demands, isolation, work conditions, complexity of roles…

And yet… Every week, I have the privilege of meeting educational leaders, service directors or management teams who operate high-quality services where educators are supported and valued. These are the services which celebrate educators achieving 10, 15, 20 and more years of service.

I also have the opportunity to read applications from services rated Exceeding NQS seeking the Excellent rating. These services recognise and value the importance of children having happy, competent, committed educators and consistent relationships that enable trusted attachments to be made.

So what do these services do?

The NQS, of course, specifies the importance of a skilled and engaged workforce, collaborative relationships and effective leadership in building and promoting a positive organisational culture and professional learning community. Services that value continuous quality improvement all achieve these aspects, as well as creating positive environments and supporting educators to innovate and be great in different ways.

So, while there isn’t one easy checklist, there seems to be a common focus on four areas that distinguish quality services for me.

The first is the importance given by services to recruiting, supporting and growing the skills and experience of their educators. This is evident in the way they undertake attraction, induction, mentoring, ongoing professional development, and reward and recognition of team members. And the way in which the team profile of a service is considered in relation to the diversity of its families and community.

The second is in a service’s commitment to giving educators appropriate levels of authority, agency, leadership opportunities and decision making powers. The sense of professionalism, role clarity and degree to which educators have discretion seem to be closely associated with an educator’s job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation.

The third is workload. This is closely connected to the first and second areas in that stress and workload seem to go hand in hand when an educator feels ill-prepared, under-appreciated, under-resourced, overly directed or unfairly treated in their work ‘community’.

The last is the match between the service’s goals and an educator’s values and beliefs. When there is a mismatch between a service’s statement of philosophy, priorities and actions or when an educator feels there is a poor organisational culture, nobody benefits, least of all the children we are educating and nuturing.

Recently, Dr Marina Papic spoke to me about Blacktown City Council’s commitment to high quality, evidence-based education and care. Marina encourages teams to reflect on and share best practice within the service and across the sector, to try innovative ideas and, importantly, to care for and support each other as valued colleagues.

So, to answer the question, I don’t think the sector needs any more changes to the NQS at this time. The 2018 NQS and the recent changes to Quality Area 7 – Governance and Leadership clearly show the importance of investing in effective leadership, service management and professional development for creating learning environments where children, families, educators and staff feel they belong and can flourish. High quality services are showing us how they do this now.