Developing a professional learning community

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insights into National Quality Framework (NQF) implementation in services.

In the October ACECQA Newsletter, we discussed articulating practice to build a shared understanding of quality education and care with families, colleagues and communities.

This month, we’re continuing this discussion to build the capacity of educators and teams to articulate their practice through a professional learning community.

A hallmark of an effective professional learning community is when educators, educational leaders and management help, inspire and learn from each other to continually improve quality programs and practices in the service.

It’s a way of building collaboration and mutual respect within a team that develops their confidence.

A professional learning community values every member

Quality Area 4 – Staffing arrangements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) defines collaboration as ‘staff being encouraged to respect and value the diverse contributions and viewpoints of their colleagues’.

In a collaborative professional learning community, team members share resources, give constructive feedback, and work respectfully and professionally to solve problems. They’re guided by a code of ethics (such as the Early Childhood Australia [ECA] Code of Ethics), the service’s code of conduct and service philosophy.

Standard 4.2 – Professionalism describes relationships between service staff, educators and management based on mutual respect, equity and fairness. Professional learning conversations encourage team members to communicate effectively and respectfully to promote a positive and calm atmosphere.

Each team member brings their own strengths, understandings and interests. Engaging in conversations gives them common ground to share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at the service.

A professional learning community allows team members to discuss how they’re delivering programs, practices and policies and research and theories informing them. Regular discussions that value everyone’s input further develops skills to improve practices and relationships.

Regular formal and informal team discussions also help build educators’ skills and confidence articulating why and how they provide quality education and care. This is an important part of their ongoing communication with families, other educators and professionals, authorised officers and the wider community.

It’s a structured process in a safe space

An effective professional learning community may differ from a typical team meeting.

It’s a structured process led by a nominated supervisor, an educational leader or another person who has or is developing leadership skills in this area.

The leader’s role is to facilitate and create a safe space for educators and the team to discuss a wide range of topics, as well as their own feelings, beliefs and any challenges they may be facing.

Reflective questions encourage deeper thinking about individual and group practices.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides a list of questions to guide reflection on practice for each standard to promote these discussions.

Active participation in professional discussions has the potential to help educators and teams to:

  • gain a greater sense of purpose about the importance of their role and responsibilities working with young children and their families
  • reflect on current recognised approaches and research on education and care
  • share their knowledge, discuss and reflect on the needs of others as professionals, as well as particular children and families
  • develop a common language that describes their shared pedagogical beliefs
  • reduce any anxiety or uncertainty about articulating why and how they implement quality practices through practical examples
  • demonstrate a high level of collaboration, including affirming, challenging, supporting and learning from each other.

It’s about a shared purpose

Professional learning communities encourage educators and teams to work towards common goals for the children, families and the wider education and care community.

Teams who actively develop shared goals are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, supporting effective implementation.

Teams with this sense of shared purpose also develop decision making processes informed by professional standards, including the service’s code of conduct and code of ethics.

Collaborating on ethical decision making processes helps educators and service leaders consider a decision’s impact on daily practice and relationships, and articulate its rationale.

It helps practice make perfect

Many of us might remember being told that ‘practice makes perfect’ when we were children. Being part of a professional learning community, and being given the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts in a safe space, allows educators and team members to practice and improve their articulation skills.

This helps prepare them to confidently and skillfully tackle challenging issues and questions that arise as we provide quality education and care to children attending our services.

It also helps them confidently showcase their unique program and practices and the amazing learnings occurring in their services every day to families, community, authorised officers and education and care professionals.

Questions to guide reflection

  • How does our approach to professional collaboration align with our service philosophy, policies and procedures?
  • Do our professional conversations demonstrate self-awareness of the ethical and professional standards underpinning our practice?
  • How does our community influence the way we articulate our practice, with them and for them?

I’d love to see you sharing your journeys

Many educators, educational leaders and service leaders are using professional learning circles to inform practice changes to improve children’s learning outcomes. Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study is a helpful framework.

I encourage you to share your rich stories of success and challenge with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below. They might inspire others to start a professional learning circle, and I look forward to reading about them and continuing this conversation.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA Newsletter – Articulating practice – bigger than the sum of the words

Australian Government Department of Education and Training – Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study

 

 

 

Meet the ACECQA team – Qualifications Assessment

This month, We Hear You speaks with ACECQA’s Qualifications Assessment team about their frontline work assessing education and care qualifications from around the globe.  

Under the Education and Care Services National Law, ACECQA is responsible for determining the qualifications required for educators and early childhood teachers (ECTs) in National Quality Framework (NQF) approved education and care services, including the assessment of equivalent qualifications.

Applications for qualification assessment are submitted by individuals who wish to work with children preschool age and under, or school aged children who attend outside school hours care services. Applications can be submitted online or through a paper-based application form.

Once an application is received, the Qualifications Assessment team completes an initial check of the application, including checking whether all of the required information has been submitted. Guidance is available on ACECQA’s website detailing the information required for a ‘complete’ application. If information is missing, the team contacts the applicant to advise what must be submitted in order for the application to be assessed.

Since 2012, ACECQA has received over 8000 applications for qualifications assessments, and more than 2000 individuals have been approved as ECTs.

Tania, a Qualifications Assessment Officer who has worked at ACECQA for almost five years, highlighted the broad range of applications received.

“Some assessments are relatively easy to process, while others are very challenging,” Tania said. “We’ve received applications from dozens of countries all around the world, with the qualifications to be assessed spanning several decades.”

The team receives applications for the assessment of vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, with most from overseas. A high volume of applicants come from the UK, Ireland and New Zealand.

As the Qualifications Assessment team works with a diverse range of applicants, including those who have English as a second language, customer service and an ability to convey sometimes complex information in a straightforward and understandable way is critical.

“We understand that it’s their livelihood and it’s a really important step towards them having a successful career in Australia,” Tania said. “That’s why we are on hand to answer any questions about their applications, as well as Australia’s education and care sector more generally.”

To find out more about the work of the Qualifications Assessment team and the qualification requirements of the NQF, head over to the Qualifications section of our website.

Mentoring matters

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

Mentoring strengthens educators’ professional development and growth and builds capacity.  Through support of quality practice in the National Quality Standard (NQS) Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7, mentoring also promotes positive outcomes for children and families. Commonplace within most professions and organisations, mentoring can take many different forms and suggest a variety of responsibilities and expectations. Our understanding of mentoring can be influenced by personal experience, perspective and context.

To provide insight into this highly effective education and care professional development strategy, this month’s blog explores 10 key mentoring understandings.

1. Mentoring supports all educators

Mentoring is beneficial to all educators throughout their career. Educational practice, knowledge and skills develop and grow over time; mentoring can occur at any time along this learning and professional development continuum. Mentoring provides opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor. Mentoring, therefore, has positive outcomes for services, providers and the profession as a whole.

2. Mentoring is a relationship

Mentoring is a two-way, nurturing, learning relationship and, like all relationships, requires commitment and effort. Mentees are encouraged to be open to the possibility of the learning journey and mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and champion the mentee’s professional growth. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly commit to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, relational trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

3. Mentoring is reciprocal

Mentoring is not a one-directional, ‘top-down’ imparting of practice, knowledge and skills. Reciprocity acknowledges both the mentee and mentor’s mutual contributions, experiences, agency, and competence. Mentee and mentor are partners in the learning process, and knowledge gained by both is new and co-constructed. Mentoring is not hierarchical supervision but rather an open, responsive and reciprocal relationship. In a service context, mentoring does not necessarily need to be linked to supervisory roles. Selecting a mentor should be based on who is best suited, and has the capacity, to support the mentee.

4. Mentoring requires quality time and resources

Mentoring is undertaken over a sustained period; it is not a one-off meeting. Mentoring requires planning, time and resources for regular conversations and for a learning relationship to flourish. As education and care settings can be time-challenged, quality mentoring time usually needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires leadership and a positive organisational culture to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

5. Mentoring involves critical reflection

Reflecting on practice (by closely examining ethics, philosophy and decision-making processes) is central to the mentoring process for both mentees and mentors.  A culture of mentoring promotes a culture of reflective practice. A positive organisational culture and environment provide a safe and supportive space for a mentee to self-assess and be self-reflective.

6. Great mentors are made, not born

To be effective, mentors need suitable skills, dispositions and resources. Mentoring can be a demanding role and not selecting the right mentor can have a negative impact on the mentee. Mentors should have:

  • a suitable disposition
  • knowledge, skills and experience in the specific field
  • strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • training and practice in facilitating adult learning
  • ongoing support.

7. Communication skills are essential

Mentoring will be most successful when mentoring goals and processes are transparent and understood by all. Effective communication underpins successful mentoring and includes:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange and feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • understanding of non-verbal communication
  • cultural awareness.

Mentors will ideally have training in communication to help support and guide mentees in professional conversations.

8. Mentoring is an organic, dynamic process

Professional growth and development involve change. Mentoring can transform knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes and perspectives of mentees and mentors.  Change is not usually linear, being uniquely shaped by the purpose and context. Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

I. Getting to know each other and building trust

II. Goal setting and action planning

III. Developing professional skills and tracking progress

IV. Evaluating progress and outcomes

V. Moving forward – either completing the process or returning to Step II to repeat the cycle.

9. One size does not fit all

Mentoring is intrinsically a relationship and is most effective when the relationship is complementary and tailored to both mentee and mentor’s needs. No two relationships are identical. In its most effective form, mentoring is undertaken in a structured manner with very clear goals, roles, scope and scheduling. However, less structured mentoring can also be beneficial. Mentoring relationships may also be provided in a collective approach, such as when an external mentor supports a group of educators in one service or in a number of remote services.  This group context can provide different but equivalent professional development as a one-to-one engagement.

10. Mentoring is not always face-to-face

Mentoring can be undertaken face to face, on- or off-site and via phone, email, web or social media. The context and purpose affect the process. For example, on-site engagement and real-time feedback from observations may be essential for pre-service educator mentoring, whereas online engagement may be practical for peer-mentoring in remote locations. The role of social media in mentoring is an evolving phenomenon.

~o~

Considering and reflecting on these 10 key understandings can help you frame your thinking about the valuable role mentoring can play in supporting educators. The additional NEL and We Hear You blogs listed below  may support you in exploring mentoring options further.

Further reading and resources

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

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

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

KidsMatter – Mentoring: relationships that sustain and inspire

MindTools – The GROW Model: A simple process for coaching and mentoring

Murphy, C. and Thornton, K. (2015) Mentoring in Early Childhood Education, NZCER Press, Wellington, New Zealand.

We Hear You – National Education Leader – Leader as mentor

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Playing your part in child protection

ChildProtection_wehearyou

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

Child abuse and neglect is preventable. If we all work together as a community we can create an Australia where all children can grow up safe and well. What role can you play in supporting children and their families? ~ Richard Cooke, CEO, NAPCAN

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Australia 2016– 17 report, the number of children receiving child protection services continues to rise. Around 168,000 children received child protection services in 2016-2017 which equates to one in every 32 children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were seven times more likely to receive child protection services than non-Indigenous children. The report also highlights that the majority of children in the child protection system are repeat clients.

The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) invites us all to get involved with National Child Protection Week this week and play a part in creating safe and nurturing environments for all Australian children. Held annually, and commencing on Father’s Day each September, National Child Protection Week (Sunday 2 – Saturday 8 September this year) reminds us that we all have a role in protecting children from harm. By building stronger communities, we can create safer environments for our children.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) recognises the importance of creating safe environments for every child. From the National Law and Regulations to the National Quality Standard (NQS), creating and maintaining safe and nurturing environments for all children is recognised as quality practice, guiding us as we play our part in protecting children from harm.

Creating safe and nurturing environments

Creating safe environments within education and care settings is sometimes complex and challenging. Many of us are confident in our ability to create and design learning spaces with children that nurture the development of the individual child and fulfil their curiosity. We strive to ensure children are supervised as they play and relax in a variety of settings, from our homes to school settings. However, it is sometimes harder to build our capacity to respond confidently and to challenge our thinking about how we support the ongoing health, safety and wellbeing of every child.

Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, reinforces each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.  Element 2.2.3 requires that management, educators and staff be aware of their roles and responsibilities to identify and respond to every child at risk of abuse or neglect.

Under Section 162A of the Education and Care National Law, the approved provider has the responsibility of ensuring that each nominated supervisor and each person in day-to-day charge of the service has successfully completed child protection training, if required in their state or territory.

The approved provider also has the responsibility of ensuring that the nominated supervisors and staff members at the service are advised of the existence and application of the current child protection law and that they understand any obligations they may have under that law (Education and Care Services National Regulations, r 84).

Are you a mandatory reporter?

Across Australia, state and territory legislation prescribes occupations that are mandated to report a child at risk of abuse or neglect. Those who frequently deal with children in the course of their work, such as education and care professionals, are usually mandatory reporters.

For more information on the legal provisions and your role as a mandatory reporter, head to: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect.

What does mandatory reporting mean?

Mandatory reporting is a strategy that acknowledges the prevalence, seriousness and often hidden nature of child abuse and neglect. It enables the detection of cases that otherwise may not come to the attention of agencies. The laws help to create a culture that is more child-centred and build a community that will not tolerate serious abuse and neglect of children.

Research has shown that mandated reporters make a substantial contribution to child protection and family welfare.

Child Safe Organisations Project

As part of the Child Safe Organisations Project and commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, is leading the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Principles are intended to apply to all organisations, including education and care services across Australia. They are due to be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in mid-to late 2018.

The National Principles reflect ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with a broader scope that goes beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The National Principles aim to drive the implementation of a child safe culture across all sectors, providing services to children and young people to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people across Australia.

Organisations should be safe and welcoming for all children and young people. The National Principles highlight ways in which organisations should consider the needs of children from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. The principles emphasise the importance of culturally safe environments and practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

The National Principles collectively show that a child safe organisation is one that creates a culture, adopts strategies and takes action to promote child wellbeing and prevent harm to children and young people. This may begin with the development of your service philosophy and policies and procedures, which underpin and lead to, the creation of ongoing quality practices. These practices, informed by critical reflection and meaningful engagement with families and community members, allow educators and staff to proactively identify and respond confidently to issues related to the safety and protection of children attending the service.

A child safe organisation consciously and systematically:

  • creates an environment where children’s safety and wellbeing is the centre of thought, values and actions
  • emphasises genuine engagement with, and valuing of, children
  • creates conditions that reduce the likelihood of harm to children and young people
  • creates conditions that increase the likelihood of identifying any harm
  • responds to any concerns, disclosures, allegations or suspicions of harm.

Let’s all be a part of National Child Protection Week

NCPW_2018To get involved with National Child Protection Week, you can:

  • Check out the NAPCAN website for events in your area or plan an event at your service. Some examples of events you could consider for your service include:
    – a display made collaboratively by children and educators
    – a shared meal at your service
    – attending a local forum supporting child safety, or
    – joining in with a local family to support services fundraiser.
  • Encourage your families and staff to attend an event being held in your local community.
  • Make your influence positive; start a conversation today with your colleagues and families about listening to and valuing the voice of children and young people. What might this look like within your service?

Reflective questions

  • How do you inform families and community members about the service’s role and responsibility in protecting children?
  • How do new employees become informed about child protective measures that your service has in place?
  • How are the Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 2?
  • Does your philosophy reflect your service’s child safe practices?
  • Is your service a child safe organisation?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children. Guidance on the different reporting requirements under the National Law and Regulations.

NAPCAN – free downloadable resources to share with families, staff and children.

Australian Institute of Family Studies website – provides information on Children’s Commissioners and Guardians in each state and territory.

Australian Human Rights CommissionBuilding Belonging is a comprehensive toolkit of resources for promoting child safety and inclusion.

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations: Tools and resources.

Australian Institute of Family Studies – Child Protection Legislation Resource Sheet 2018

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

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.

Staff

  • 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.

Place

  • 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?

~o~

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:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

Collaboration, respect and support: Relationships and partnerships with families and communities

This month on We Hear You, ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, reflects on his experiences as an educator in the education and care sector and the enduring influence of the unique relationships and partnerships he has formed with families and communities.

Collaborative relationships with families and community partnerships are fundamental to achieving quality outcomes for children. When we think about these relationships, active communication, consultation, collaboration, and meaningful support are essential.

When I have the opportunity to speak with educators and service providers, I am always interested to hear about how they engage with families and the community, and how that engagement influences their work. Educators and providers have talked to me about the challenges, but also about how rewarding it can be and, most importantly, how integral it is to their work with children. Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) acknowledges the value of collaborative partnerships with families and communities in contributing to children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

In many ways, the NQS and Quality Area 6 are acknowledging and building on the very relationships and partnerships that have been so central to educators committed to quality outcomes for children for decades. When thinking about some of the elements of Quality Area 6, I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences working in education and care services where we strived to forge those partnerships through collaboration. One particular long day care service I worked in springs to mind, along with a couple of standout examples. At that time, this service was brand new and located in a quickly growing area that was just hanging on to being urban fringe.

The Spring Parade and Fair

When I look back to that service, I can’t think of a time where families and the community weren’t involved. One of my greatest memories is the annual community Spring Parade and Fair. Not only did our service support it, but we were in the thick of it. Picture a little yellow Suzuki Mighty Boy in this parade (the car belonged to a member of our staff), decorated front to back in children’s work.  Following the car was nearly every child and educator from the service, joyfully and enthusiastically cheered on by the local community – in this parade we were with the local community and for the local community. We were a vital and contributing part of the local community.

While the decorations changed and there were changes in children, families and staff over the years, we always proudly walked under our slogan of ‘Education and care go hand in hand’. This one Sunday each year, everyone looked forward to participating, sharing, collaborating – no one ever gave a second thought about not being there or not giving up part of their weekend. Even though the parade itself was only a day, the collaboration with families and the community to prepare started long before the parade. But it never seemed like extra work – it was just part of who we were as a service. A community festival followed the parade where we could see, with pride, our community footprint throughout that festival for the rest of the day.

Spreading the word

As a service we were always visible in the community. We walked around the neighbourhood to local parks, the local shopping strip and the library. We even used the local basketball courts regularly, which had an amazing array of mats, balls, games, as well as a huge, full-size basketball court where sinking a ball was the aim for most of the children to feel like they had made it as a basketballer! We were such an important part of the community that when we asked new families how they had heard about us, we could have really asked who had spread the word about us. Almost every time we asked that question, families would tell us about who rather than how.

Bringing the community in

Another event that was important to our service was our annual fete. It was not only a chance to raise funds, but also a way to bring the community together and into the service. Once we started planning, local businesses were happy to be involved because they knew who we were. We were part of the community and not merely a place you drove by unless you needed education and care for your child. During fete preparations, we would often have locals who we hadn’t met drop in with donations, knick-knacks for the white elephant stall, plants for the plant stall, and a variety of all the things that make a fete great. We realised that our community word of mouth was in action again, with neighbours up the road, or community members at the shops, telling others about our service’s fete, or people seeing our fete poster in the newsagent or other local shops. While the funds raised always meant the resource catalogues got a good workout, the real benefit came in bringing the service, families and community together.

In good times and in bad

Engagement and community aren’t just about the good times. There are times when services can get rocked to the core by events that happen, both within the service and or to families of the service. One of our families experienced an extreme trauma, which also significantly impacted the service. I have never seen a community come together to support not only the family, but also the service so quickly. Suddenly, we became an unofficial hub for meal donations to support the family. There was no notice, no request – just a community in action. I have no doubt that the way we valued the partnerships with families and community contributed to this level of support at this extremely difficult and challenging time.

Working hand in hand

We had a genuine partnership with families in service delivery; they were involved in all areas that interested them, and, I suspect, sometimes ones they didn’t want to be involved in but didn’t want not to be involved. As well as true partnerships with families, we were also an important part of the community, helping to create a community amongst the families at our service. I believe two of the biggest contributors to our success were the great leader we had (who set the expectation from the start) and an attitude of reciprocal benefit. We never simply focussed on how the service could benefit; we also concentrated on the rewards the families and communities gained from the partnerships as well. Thinking back, this might be the reason the extra activities and events didn’t seem like extra work.

~o~

There is much more to family and community engagement than I can capture here. But I also know there is so much to gain from those relationships and partnerships too. All we need do is look at the 2018 NQS and the Exceeding NQS themes to see how families and communities are acknowledged as important contributors to quality outcomes for children. Reflecting on my experiences in this service takes me back 20 years. The lessons I learnt there enriched and informed my work, practices and relationships at the other services that followed. As I look back, I know my experiences at that particular service, and others just like it around the country, contributed to the expectations of family and community partnerships and engagement we see reflected and acknowledged in the NQS to this day.

Working in partnership with families and the community enriches and informs what we do every day. I often look at the incredible people who give generously of themselves within their community and wonder just how many of them developed that commitment to their local community as a result of the positive, formative experiences they had in an education and care service as a child.

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

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

Positive relationships between education and care community members strengthen quality outcomes for children. In the fourth part of our series, we outline some key strategies for developing relationships with your community members.

Building relationships with my community
  1. Understand the ingredients of a relationship

Relationships are the bedrock of education and care quality practice as they are central to child development, learning and wellbeing. Relationships are also essential to creating a sense of community. Whether the relationship is between an educator and a child, a group of children, a provider and a family-support organisation, or a service’s staff members, positive relationships require the essential ingredients of honesty, warmth, open communication, responsiveness, respect and mutual trust.

  1. Be thoughtful when developing relationships

Awareness of cultural differences and respect for diversity will support positive relationship-building. Be open to differences and seek to genuinely know your community members. Ask questions sensitively, consider cross-cultural communications issues such as language, eye contact and greetings, and reflect on of the influence of your own values, beliefs and perspective.

  1. Appreciate relationships can take time

As some ingredients of a relationship, such as respect and mutual trust, take time to develop, relationships can also take time. Just as children need to feel secure and supported before they feel confident to interact and explore, adults also need to feel emotionally comfortable before they interact and participate. A welcoming, respectful and inclusive environment will support this.

  1. Ensure community members feel welcome

“When the environment reflects and is rich in the culture and identity of the enrolled families and the wider community, it helps families to feel valued and good about themselves.” (Early Childhood Australia 2012, p. 36)

If community members feel welcome and comfortable, they will be more confident to engage and confidently participate in a service. This promotes relationship-building with other community members. To create a welcoming environment, consider:

Your physical environment:

  • Welcoming, inviting and inclusive spaces and signage that reflect, respect and celebrate the culture and context of children, their families and your community.
  • Consistent, child-friendly spaces for children to keep their belongings.
  • Learning environments that are inviting and inclusive and foster pro-social interactions between children.
  • Spaces that promote unhurried conversation and interaction between adults.
  • Spaces for families to contribute to and engage in children’s learning.
  • Calm and peaceful spaces that promote wellbeing.
  • Spaces that respect privacy (for example, for sensitive conversations or discussions).

Your ‘people’ environment:

  • Welcoming and positive staff whose honesty, warmth, consistency and responsiveness encourage interaction and relationship building.
  • Staff who respect the culture and context of children’s families and your community.
  • Professional, respectful and positive communication and interactions between staff.

Your ‘organisational’ environment (policies, practices and procedures):

  • Respectful and responsive enrolment and orientation policies and procedures that promote communication, understanding and relationship-building.
  • ‘Open door’ policy for families.
  • Staffing organisation that allows time and opportunity for interaction with families and meetings with professionals.
  • Staff induction procedures that promote confidence and belonging.
  • Staffing arrangements that provide opportunity for professional collaboration.
  • Community engagement practices that encourage collaboration.

  1. Ensure relationships are meaningful

Respect and trust will be more likely to be developed when the commitment to forming the relationship is genuine and meaningful without the expectation that something is required in return. When relationships are meaningful, positive outcomes are promoted.

A good example of this is when educators and a family have a genuine desire to support a child’s learning, development and wellbeing by sharing their knowledge and understanding of the child. Through honesty, warmth, ongoing communication and responsiveness, mutual trust and respect can be developed and shared decision-making enabled. Another example is when an organisation is committed to staff development and provides the opportunity to develop stronger relationships through team building experiences. Team building can support communication skills, responsiveness, respect for different perspectives, and mutual trust. Strong staff relationships create a sense of connectedness and promote staff stability, which, in turn, support consistent and secure relationships between children, staff and families.

  1. Ensure relationships are reciprocal

Communities are a shared responsibility and work best when relationships between community members are reciprocal. A one-way relationship where only one member gains something from the relationship will not be equitable, meaningful or sustainable. Services are encouraged to reflect on community relationships to ensure contributions and engagement are two-way. If you believe that relationships are one-sided, what could be changed to foster or ensure reciprocity?

Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service

  • Select members of your team to each imagine they are a child, a child’s family member, a staff member, a visiting health professional or a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elder.

 As each team member walks through your service, they should:

* consider how they would experience the service for the first time

* take photographs of elements that contribute to its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere

* share these photos with other team members and at the following staff meeting

* reflect together with the staff and identify what the service is doing well to ensure all community members feel welcome and what could be changed or improved.

  • How does your service contribute to your community? Reflect on your relationships with your community members and consider if the relationships are reciprocal.

~o~

To support your collaboration with community members and promote positive outcomes for children, the final instalment will outline a number of key strategies and conclude the series.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Educational leadership and team building

ACECQA – Team building NQS knowledge game – Quest for Quality

Early Childhood Australia – Being, belonging and becoming in the physical environment

Early Childhood Australia – Developing a space for belonging

Early Childhood Australia – Understanding cultural competence

KidsMatter – Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5