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

belonging_page10

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.

prezi-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

bush-kinder-hero

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.

img_0254

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.

playscapes-goodstart-grafton-1-copy
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.

playscapes-westlawn-preschool-grafton-2
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.

playscapes-uniting-preschool-grafton-1-cropped
“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:

playscapes-westlawn-preschool-grafton-1
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.

The NQF at five

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisACECQA Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis farewells the children’s education and care sector, sharing her thoughts on the National Quality Framework’s successes and challenges. 

The end of this year marks the fifth anniversary of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and I have had the honour and pleasure of being ACECQA’s Chief Executive Officer since the beginning.

Although the NQF had a long and sometimes complicated gestation, its birth on 1 January 2012 was real cause for celebration, with the years since delivering both successes and challenges.

Everyone will have their own perspectives on the NQF: what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked so well; its strengths and weaknesses. I would like to share with you what I have seen and reflected on over the past five years.

Successes

The NQF has set our sector on common ground, allowing us to have truly national conversations about our work. It makes it easier to discuss and communicate about Australian education and care.

We should rightly feel proud about the achievement of taking nine different pieces of legislation and bringing them under one national law. The support of all jurisdictions has been remarkable and how well this implementation has gone, generally, should not be underestimated.

The quality assessment and rating process, newly introduced from July 2012, is now well established and quality is improving. Key strengths of the process include the way it mixes self-reflection with external assessment; the way the standards are descriptive without being prescriptive; the detail included as part of the assessment and rating report; the information made publicly available; the responsive and risk-based approach used by state and territory regulatory authorities to scheduling and undertaking quality assessments; and of course, the emphasis on continuous quality improvement and the absence of an overly simplistic pass-fail threshold. The NQF focusses on ensuring continuous quality improvement and the results of services going through reassessment are incredibly encouraging. These results and the presence of a Quality Improvement Plan in each service mean that families can trust they are entering a sector committed to continual improvement.

The NQA ITS has developed into an exceptional business tool for services and regulatory authorities, reducing processing and application times. ACECQA regularly hears from providers about how highly they value the system and ongoing improvements and enhancements will help further embed usage across our sector.

Some critics of the proposal to implement the NQF claimed it would stifle diversity and innovation, and enforce a one size fits all approach. The reality is that national regulatory reform is more than capable of accommodating and nurturing diversity and innovation. In my work I’ve come across the pedagogical led initiatives of the Montessori and Steiner sectors, new markets in education and care management support services across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, as well as growth in employer sponsored education and care.

Services and providers feel supported by the framework and the level of investment in workforce development continues to grow, particularly among larger providers, in a way that could not have been possible without the NQF.

To build on these successes, we should also not take for granted the distance that we have come and must continue to promote and champion the importance of education and care. This will help to banish forever the archaic notions of ‘childminding’ and that ‘proper’ learning starts at school.

Core objectives

The NQF is still developing and needs ongoing commitment and cooperation between our nine governments at the policy and operational level. We should not lose sight of the core objectives of the NQF that:

  • children attending education and care services are safe, healthy and content
  • their educational and developmental outcomes are improved
  • families and carers are informed about the services they are using
  • services and providers are supported to go about their business without unnecessary red tape.

These objectives should be the reference point for our ongoing activities and actions – if we are not furthering the NQF’s objectives through aspects of our work, we must refocus and reprioritise.

Challenges

One of the challenges I have observed is the pace at which proposed reforms and improvements can sometimes take place.

We have learnt a lot over the past five years, moving between the critical stages of theory and practice. Sometimes what looked sensible in theory has proven impractical, clunky or unnecessary in practice. Equally, things that were not contemplated prior to the introduction of the NQF have surfaced as operational issues.

Stability and predictability are positives in any regulatory model; however the complexity of NQF governance has meant improvements that the sector and general public may expect should take months have, on occasion, taken much longer. This has the potential to be doubly disadvantageous as it can erode confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of the national system and those that administer it. Also, the time elapsed between reviewing, consulting on and implementing proposed changes can mean that things have naturally progressed and evolved, making implementing the changes a lesser improvement.

Another challenge on the topic of speed relates to the system of quality assessment and rating. More than four years into the national assessment system, there are over 2000 services still to be rated, with more than 700 of these having been approved to operate for five years. On top of our existing challenge to accurately and effectively communicate about the value and meaning of quality assessment and rating, I am increasingly concerned that our next challenge will be defending the currency and meaning of that system if approved services have to wait four, five or even six years to receive an assessment or reassessment.

One more concerning challenge is the qualifications of educators. To help ensure the success of the NQF, we need to be able to rely on the quality of registered training organisations (RTOs) in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. If poor quality or fraudulent RTOs persist or flourish, potentially at the expense of high quality RTOs, we will face a significant challenge to the quality of NQF approved services.

I see similarities between some of the issues in the VET sector and the issues in the family day care sector. In both, there has been a proliferation of new providers, incentivised by government subsidies, with sometimes a sole focus on financial gain. Their behaviour is detrimental to the well-established, high quality providers who suffer from a loss of public trust.

While the issues in the VET and family day care sectors are not caused by the NQF, they are an issue and challenge for the NQF. Understanding that distinction and reality will help us all move forward together. The improved alignment between our sector and vocational and higher education will help, as we now have a number channels to engage with training and higher education providers at the operational and policy level.

Tackling these issues requires collaboration and a range of actions and responses. I would encourage the initial focus to be on guaranteeing a minimum level of quality and eliminating the fraudulent and very poor quality providers. I urge anyone with experience of poor quality or fraudulent RTO practice to provide ‘on the ground’ intelligence to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to enable them to effectively carry out their risk based regulatory activities.

2020 vision

By 2020 I think the key question will be: Is the NQF achieving what it intended?

We should not undersell the challenge involved in answering this question. In the short to medium term, we may only be able to answer particular aspects of it. ACECQA’s work to develop an evaluation framework for the NQF will hopefully establish a shared purpose among governments and researchers, against which a diverse range of research projects can be undertaken.

To sustain and build on the NQF, we must better understand how attendance at education and care services affects the outcomes of students in their early years of schooling, as well as the longer term effects on life outcomes. I would also like to see a continued focus on how early childhood education and care programs benefit different groups of children and families, particularly Indigenous children, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the children of families who have recently arrived in Australia.

The focus over the past five years has been on implementing national reform. The sector, to its great credit, has risen to the inherent challenges of such large scale reform and significant quality improvements have emerged as a result. However, the value placed on children’s education and care in the wider community is lagging behind. We have an opportunity to advocate for the importance of quality education and care in the early years and build families and carers’ understanding of the NQF, in particular the National Quality Standard. In doing so, we can help shape the legacy of the NQF and better outcomes for Australian children.

Although I will no longer be part of the education and care sector, I will continue to take great interest in the progress of the NQF. We’ve come so far over the past five years and with the level of commitment I have witnessed across the country, I have every confidence that significant progress will continue to be made. And I know that ACECQA will stay true to its vision that children in Australia have the best possible start in life.

Read the other ACECQA CEO blogs:

What does it mean to be ‘Working Towards’ the National Quality Standard?

Failing services is failing to understand – the emphasis is on continuous quality improvement

2016 is drawing to a close, let’s celebrate

This time of year is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the year coming to an end and all the opportunities and excitement a New Year brings. This month on We Hear You, we turn our attention to how we recognise and celebrate achievements and plan social occasions, such as Christmas celebrations, activities and events.

img_5802

When thinking about authentically including religious, cultural and/or community activities, experiences and events within the learning environment, it is important to consider the diversity within the group of children, families and educators at the service, as well as the communities in which the service is located. Another consideration is the learning opportunities such experiences offer for children. For example, planning open-ended activities and experiences has the potential to support children to be involved learners and further develop their creativity and problem solving skills.

In thinking about and planning for celebrations such as Christmas, educators also need to ensure they are respectful of the cultures, beliefs and values of the children, their families and the educators at the service. Anne Stonehouse’s Celebrations, holidays and special occasions resource sheet has tips to ensure ‘special occasions are celebrated in ways that recognise, respect and strengthen children’s appreciation of diversity and difference’. For many children, families and educators, Christmas is an important celebration in the calendar. However, as Anne notes:

While it is important to acknowledge holidays in a children’s service, there are a number of issues to be aware of. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays. Christmas and Easter, for example, have their origins in Christianity and are not universally observed. Some families may acknowledge the secular aspects of Christmas, and are happy for their child to participate in the celebrations in the service. It is crucial to know families’ views, respect them and avoid either a child participating in something the family objects to, or creating a situation in which a child is singled out or left out.

Extending this thinking to the ways we authentically embed culture in our environments, practices and programs, the Early Years Learning Framework (p. 16) and the Framework for School Age Care (p. 15) describe cultural competence as being ‘much more than awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures’.

The Cultural Connections Booklet provides a framework to support further reflection around the celebrations that are relevant for the children, families and community of your service. This allows us to have more meaningful, engaging and child focused events and activities that are based on children’s individual identity, culture, capabilities, agency and family traditions, making our practice less tokenistic and more authentic.

Valuing families’ decisions about their child’s learning and wellbeing underpins our principles and practices. When we are active partners working together with the children and families, we can embed different cultural perspective in our services. This fosters a deeper sense of belonging and allows for more meaningful participation; everyone has an opportunity to actively contribute to the process and children feel a sense of connectedness to their learning.

Strategies to embed meaningful cultural competence in your service might include:

  • Developing a resource kit, drawing on resources (such as professional journals) and agencies (such as the relevant Inclusion Support Programme provider) that can assist in building your knowledge and skills.
  • Involving children in the planning and evaluation of celebrations that are important in your service, and to them. This allows for a deeper sense of agency and belonging.
  • Thinking about maximising learning opportunities for children. For example, does encouraging children to practice their observation and drawing skills by drawing a Christmas tree enhance their learning more than just colouring an adult representation?
  • Involving families, educators, other staff and your community in discussions about what celebrations are important to them and how you could include them in your service in respectful and meaningful ways.
  • Reviewing and reflecting on your current policies and philosophy. Do they mirror your service’s beliefs, goals and responsibilities around inclusion and cultural competence?

As an end of year treat, take some time to reflect on how you can celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways. Consider how celebrations can tie into acknowledging progress in your Quality Improvement Plan, sharing children’s learning and valuing each team member’s contributions to the service throughout the year. Drawing on the reflective questions in the approved learning frameworks is a great place start to your critical reflection. For example, as a team reflect on the questions to broaden your approach or lens in relation to the different ways children, families and educators experience Christmas activities and celebrations:

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged? (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13 / Framework for School Age Care, p. 12)

Other questions you might like to consider:

  • How is cultural competence embedded in your service and reflected in your philosophy? What does it look and feel like?
  • What celebrations are important for the families in your service?

Further reading and resources