Educator wellbeing

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone encourages you to consider your own wellbeing, and the role it plays in your work with children, families and colleagues.

‘Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming’. (EYLF. Pg.33 & MTOP pg. 30)

The approved learning frameworks encourage educators to develop programs and practices which build children’s strong sense of wellbeing.

In this blog, I invite you to consider your own wellbeing, and that of others within your service, and the role wellbeing plays in your important work with children, families and colleagues.

Recent international research shows that some educators have a low sense of wellbeing. Some educators report feeling worn out and feeling devalued as professionals who play an important role in providing quality education and care (Jena-Crottet, 2017).

We know that the role of an educator in quality children’s education and care is complex and multifaceted. It requires the use of specialised knowledge, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a willingness to take on the many challenges faced each day. It’s a rewarding and busy job that can sometimes seem never-ending.

What does educator wellbeing mean?

It is important to understand the elements that can influence an educator’s sense of wellbeing. The concept of wellbeing is holistic and involves both psychological and physiological components. To experience a strong state of wellbeing, educators need to be supported to be both mentally and physically healthy. They need to experience a sense of belonging.

These elements of wellbeing are influenced significantly by the context of their service as well as the broader social and political landscape of Australia. A positive organisational culture assists educators to meet the demands and expectations of their role and provides a supportive environment to critically reflect on and develop quality practice.

Developing educator wellbeing enhances quality practices

Educator wellbeing is appearing more and more in academic research and literature as a professional responsibility for everyone within children’s education and care services (Cumming & Wong, 2018).

Recent Australian studies have suggested that an educator’s health and wellbeing reflects their level of professional satisfaction, including whether or not they like their job and the individual tasks within their role (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

These studies also identify that without effective ongoing supports in place, educators’ own wellbeing can be impacted, and this contributes to high rates of educator stress, emotional exhaustion, and educators leaving the profession (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

Service leaders have a role to play in observing and monitoring the level of professional satisfaction of their educators, to better understand their staff and to build a well and effective team.

Contemporary research indicates that when educators are well, they can be more responsive, thoughtful and respectful as they interact and build relationships with every child (Cassidy, King, Wang, Lower & Kinterner-Duffy, 2017).

Well educators are also better positioned to meet the emotional needs of children, supporting them in self-regulation and developing resilience. These capacities are essential for building secure relationships with children (Quality Area 5).

When educators have a strong sense of wellbeing they are better equipped to:

  • be responsive to every child
  • develop rich, respectful relationships with each child
  • encourage children to explore their environment and engage in play and learning
  • develop a deeper understanding of each child, promoting their ability to plan extensions of children’s learning and development
  • support children to develop confidence in their ability to express themselves, work through differences, engage in new experiences, and take on challenges in play and learning.

The complex nature of educator wellbeing requires that all parties take responsibility. This includes educators, educational leaders, nominated supervisors, service leaders and approved providers.

It is only through a collaborative approach that wellbeing will become a priority and an important part of practice in all children’s education and care services in Australia.

Reflective questions to make educator wellbeing a part of the everyday

  • How do we encourage educators to take responsibility for ensuring, maintaining and building their own wellbeing?
  • When do we critically reflect on our educators’ wellbeing and how can we improve it?
  • How do we work collaboratively with our teams to create safe and healthy learning and work environment for our educators?
  • What design elements in our learning spaces support educator wellbeing?
  • What opportunities exist for our educators and service leaders to discuss the team’s wellbeing?
  • How do we actively create a positive workplace culture?
  • How do we develop a professional learning community that builds educators skills and knowledge?
  • What strategies can we develop to retain educators to best meet the needs of children and their families?

Resources to build your understanding of Educator Wellbeing

References

Cassidy, D. J. King, E. K., Wang, Y. C., Lower, J. K. & Kinterner-Duffy, V. L. (2017). Teacher work environments are toddler learning environments: Teacher professional well-being, classroom emotional support and toddlers’ emotional expressions and behaviours, Early Childhood Development and Care, 187(11), 1666-1678. doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1180516

Cumming, T. & Wong, S. (2018). Towards a holistic conception of early childhood educators’ work-related wellbeing. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 1(1), 1-17 doi:10.1177/1463949118772573

Jena-Crottet, A. (2017). Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 19- 33. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675313221536539;res=IELFSC

Jones, C., Hadley, F. & Johnstone, M. (2017). Retaining early childhood teachers: What factors contribute to high job satisfaction in early childhood settings in Australia. New Zealand International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 1-18. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675331854507798;res=IELFSC

Documentation – what, why and how

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

Documentation is a subject of extensive debate in the children’s education and care sector in Australia and internationally.  ‘How do we document? and ‘How much do we document? are common questions; with time constraints often raised as a key challenge.  The evolution and widespread use of digital technologies has raised further issues to critically reflect on, such as the impact of devices on meaningful interactions and respect of children’s rights.

It is important to remember that documentation is a professional responsibility and there are no recipes or regulated formulas. The outcome-focused standards encourage educators and educational leaders to use their professional judgement and to be creative and innovative in the way the standards are met. Recognise and respond to the unique context of your service and your community members.

You may want to take the opportunity at your next team meeting to think about the theories that inform your practice, and how these influence decisions about what and how you document.

Have the confidence to be courageous, creative and reflective. There are multiple ways to document and meet the standards. Ensure these reflect your unique team, children, families and community.

What is ‘documentation’?

Documentation is the practice of recording and creating evidence of learning and learning progress, helping make it visible. Documentation takes children’s and educator’s thinking, and the experiences that educators observe, hear and feel into written or other records that can be shared, revisited and extended over time. Rich documentation incorporates multiple perspectives, including the voices of children, educators, peers, families and other professionals (Educators’ Guide to the EYLF, p. 37).

Why document?

Documentation supports the provision of quality children’s education and care by:

  • deepening the shared understanding of each child
  • identifying and analysing learning and learning progress
  • informing the educational program, and
  • making learning visible and able to be shared with others.

It also helps educators and educational leaders to reflect on their pedagogy and practices.

From a compliance perspective, documentation is both a regulatory requirement and integral to Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS). From my experience working in the sector, educators work diligently to support children and families and often set high benchmarks for themselves. I am aware that there is a lot of misinformation about how much and what documentation is required, so I think it may be timely to reflect on what the NQS actually requires.

What documentation is required?

The regulatory requirements for educational program documentation are in Part 4.1 of the Education and Care Services National Regulations and include three key components:

  1. the educational program;
  2. child assessments or evaluations; and
  3. information for families.

In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), assessment for learning is the process of gathering and analysing information as evidence about what children know, can do and understand (EYLF, p.19).

In the school age education and care context, evaluation for wellbeing and learning is the process of gathering and analysing information about how children feel and what children know, can do and understand (FSAC, p. 17). Assessments and evaluations inform the educational program and form part of the ongoing assessment and planning cycle.

  1. The educational program

The educational program must be on display and in a location at the service premises that is accessible to families (Regulation 75). Importantly, information about the educational program must include detail of both the content and the operation of the program. It is not just a list of experiences, but how the program is being implemented. A copy of the educational program must also be available for inspection upon request.

  1. Child assessments or evaluations

Regulation 74 requires documentation of child assessments or evaluations for delivery of the educational program. The emphasis on ‘delivery’ highlights the role of child assessments and evaluations in shaping the educational program. The educational program should evolve and reflect the current learning needs and interests of the children at the service, and be based on ongoing assessments or evaluations.

For a child of preschool age or under, this documentation must include assessment of:

  • developmental needs
  • interests
  • experiences
  • participation in the educational program, and
  • progress against the outcomes of the educational program consistent with the learning outcomes of the approved learning frameworks.

For a child over preschool age:

  • evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning are required in some jurisdictions – ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

Services that educate and care for school age children in the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW are not required to keep documentation of evaluations of individual children’s wellbeing, learning and development. However they must ensure evidence about the development of the educational program is documented.  A helpful ACECQA Information Sheet explains this.

  1. Information for families

A copy of the child assessment or evaluation documentation specified in Regulation 74 must be made available to families on request (Regulation 76):

  • information about the content and operation of the educational program, as it relates to their child; and
  • information about the child’s participation in the program.

Why do you document?

To provide reflective insight into your own documentation practices, take a moment to consider why you personally document the way that you do.

Is your practice driven by regulations, the learning frameworks, the NQS, workplace procedures, training, habit, family needs, hearsay or experience?

Pausing to question ‘why’ and unpack these influences will support you to critically reflect and examine your practice, enriching your professional decision-making.

Documentation reflects each unique service

Reflecting the unique context of each service, documentation will not look the same from one service to another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. One of the best ways to know if you are on track is to consider practice in terms of the outcomes for children and families.

Regulation 74 reminds us to consider:

  • the period of time the child is being educated and cared for
  • how the documentation will be used by educators
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by educators, and
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by families.

It is important to ensure documentation is genuinely understandable by the educators and families at your service. Procedures need to be in place to determine or evaluate this, for example, through input and ongoing feedback from families and reflective practice discussions with educators.

Children also demonstrate their learning and progress in many and varied ways. Therefore the methods of gathering, documenting and analysing evidence to assess learning also need to be varied.

Learning evidence needs to be collected over time and in a range of situations, rather than making judgements based upon limited information or a ‘tick-the-box’ approach.

Documentation should be meaningful, purposeful, sustainable and promote positive outcomes for children and families.

Questions for reflection

  • Are your documentation processes meaningful?

Consider if documentation is simply a ‘task’ to be completed each week or month, and if documentation is part of a meaningful pedagogical process you undertake to gain a deeper understanding of each child.

Some key questions to discuss with your team are:

  • Is your documentation being used to analyse each child’s learning and learning progress; to shape the educational program; and to make children’s learning visible to families?
  • How does documentation support understanding and assessment of each child’s learning progress?
  • How is each child’s participation in the program recorded and acted upon?
  • How does documentation support quality outcomes for families?
  • How are the voices of children included in documentation?
  • How are the voices of families included in documentation?
  • How does documentation meaningfully shape the educational program?
  • Do documentation processes impact educator interactions with children?

Research has confirmed that process quality, “the direct interactional experiences of children in ECEC, the daily back‐and‐forth exchanges they have with educators and other children, and their participation in learning experiences”, has the greatest impact on quality and positive outcomes for children (Torii, Fox and Cloney, 2017).

Social-emotional development is particularly enhanced by process quality.

High quality interactions and relationship-building with children can be compromised if the recording of observations and/or images on digital devices becomes a priority:

  • Engagement with a device can limit time and genuine, two-way and sustained engagement with a child or group of children.
  • Capturing the ‘perfect image’ can be perceived as being what is of value, not the learning or the child.

Consider the Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technologies and ‘model self-regulated digital technology use…that recognises the importance of sustained social interactions’ and relationships. (ECA, 2018)

In guiding your reflection, you might ask yourself:

  • Is device use impacting interactions and relationship-building with children and between children?
  • How does my service monitor digital technology use for documentation?
  • How does digital documentation promote positive outcomes for children?
  • If devices weren’t used to record observations and assessments/evaluations, what would be the benefits and challenges?
  • How could limited device use promote positive relationships and outcomes for children?
  • What message is sent to children about the ‘photo-worthiness’ of their learning?
  • Does documentation respect the rights of the child?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms children’s rights and provides an ethical and legal framework for their realisation. The Convention acknowledges the obligations and responsibilities that society, communities and families must honour and respect. The 42 Articles specifically affirm children’s right to an education, to privacy and to be protected from any activities that could harm their development.

Review The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and consider:

  • How do documentation processes respect children’s right to privacy?
  • Are children aware of their rights?
  • Is a child’s permission sought before taking images of them or their learning?

Further reading and resources to guide your practice

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Documenting programs for school age children

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: Belonging, Being & Becoming

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: My Time, Our Place

Early Childhood Australia – Resource – Statement on young children and digital technologies

Mitchell Institute – Research – Quality is Key in Early Childhood Education in Australia

United Nations – Resource – Convention on the Rights of the Child

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

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

August 4 is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. This is an important chance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to celebrate their children, and for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to reflect on how they acknowledge, celebrate and learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures.

This year’s Children’s Day recognises the important role that family, community, country and culture play in the lives and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The theme this year is “We play. We learn. We belong.”

We play on our land.

We learn from our ancestors.

We belong with our communities.

About National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day has been held on 4 August every year since bicentennial protests were held in 1988 and was established to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their unique and ongoing connection to their culture and country.

Thirty years on, the 2018 Australian Early Childhood Development Census shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly more likely than the broader population to start school developmentally vulnerable in one or more areas. We know that starting school developmentally vulnerable is linked to poorer economic, education and health outcomes later in life. We also know that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, being able to participate in culturally safe education and care environments matters.

Children’s Day and the National Quality Framework

At ACECQA, we acknowledge that Australia is an ancient land that has been cared for by Traditional Custodians for many tens of thousands of years and includes educating and caring for children.

A guiding principle of the National Quality Framework (NQF) is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. High quality children’s education and care has an important role to play in ‘Closing the Gap’ on the ongoing disadvantage experienced in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

In thinking about Children’s Day and what it represents, we encourage you to go further in your reflections than just this one day. Use this opportunity to reflect on how your service embeds and integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into these five P’s: philosophy, practice, program, procedures and policy. Think about how your service connects with local communities in a reciprocal relationship, and supports all children to develop positive attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, languages, history and connection to country.

How can we celebrate Children’s Day?

There are a range of ways you could acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day either on 4 August or the surrounding days. You could consider holding an event at your service, programming special Children’s Day acknowledgements/activities or attending a local community event.

When thinking about how you might celebrate Children’s Day, you might want to think about:

  • How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives might be incorporated into your educational program and practice, and how children might be given opportunities to experience and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures?
  • How you support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attending your service to be proud of and involved in their culture? How you support non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to develop cultural competence and respect for Australia’s first peoples and cultures?
  • How does your service connect with your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community?
  • Does your service have a Reconciliation Action Plan in place? For more information about Reconciliation Plans, visit Reconciliation Australia’s website.

For more information, resources and ideas about how you might celebrate National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, visit the Children’s Day website.

Further reading and resources to support your learning journey

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s day – Resources

ACECQA We Hear You Blog Posts

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children – Resources

Narragunnawali – Professional learning resources to share and build your understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Reconciliation Australia – Share our Pride – an online glimpse into the lives and cultures of Australia’s First People.

Reconciliation at your service: Practical steps for recognising and including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and peoples

This week is National Reconciliation Week (NRW) and the theme for 2019 is ‘Grounded in Truth – Walk Together with Courage’.

NRW 2019 acts as a reminder to all Australians that we should all strive towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, and that it is the shared responsibility of all Australians. It also reminds us of the importance of acknowledging different cultural practices and worldviews.

ACECQA acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of all lands across Australia. We recognise and celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, including their role in the education and care of children.

In this blog, we focus on some practical ways for education and care services to promote knowledge and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures, history, and contemporary societies.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures are fundamental to the National Quality Framework (NQF)

A guiding principle of the NQF is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued, and educators take every opportunity to extend children’s understanding of their local context and the wider world.

The principles of the Approved Learning Frameworks’ underpin educator practice to focus on assisting all children in making progress across the learning outcomes.

  • The principle, ‘Respect for Diversity’, guides educators to recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of society and includes promoting ‘greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being’
  • Another principle, ‘Ongoing Learning and Reflective Practice’, references the importance of educators valuing the ‘continuity and richness of local knowledge shared by community members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders’ (Early Years Learning Framework p.14, Framework for School Age Care p.12).

Services have an important role to play in progressing reconciliation

When services work towards recognising and including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures, they are contributing to reconciliation. To give context to the term, Reconciliation Australia uses five inter-related dimensions – race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, historical acceptance and unity. Services have an important role to play in achieving progress across these dimensions. After all, it is children who will shape the future and even small steps taken today to help children understand reconciliation can lead to positive outcomes in the years ahead.

Reconciliation should be part of a broader effort towards inclusion and cultural competence, and acknowledging the cultures of the children and their families who are represented at the service, as well as the cultures in the local community and from across the world. After all, no effort at reconciliation can truly be successful without first creating positive attitudes within each service towards acceptance of all cultures, promoting familiarity with different cultural practices and worldviews and developing skills for cultural competence.

Planning is a good way to begin the reconciliation process at your service

Working hand-in-hand could be your service’s Quality Improvement Plan and educator individual performance planning (QA 7.2.3), in addition to plans such as the Strategic Inclusion Plan and Reconciliation Action Plan.

Aside from improving practice, planning provides an opportunity for reflection, serves as a tool for team collaboration, offers evidence of progress, and helps to ensure consistency in quality outcomes.

These plans are living documents and it is worthwhile regularly updating and critically reviewing them throughout the year.

At the beginning of the planning process, it’s advisable to review and reflect on service practice and culture to determine how much your service is currently engaged with reconciliation.

In addition to reviewing current practices, planning documents and resources, you could hold discussions at team meetings or reflective sessions to discuss questions such as:

  • how knowledgeable are we about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and history?
  • how are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures valued at our service?
  • what else can we do to promote understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures at the service?

These meetings could also be an opportunity to involve, or consider how to involve, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, as well as families, children and the community.

Developing a Reconciliation Action Plan demonstrates commitment

While a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is not a requirement for services, it demonstrates your service’s commitment to reconciliation to your educators, children, families and communities.

A RAP can take many forms, but should be a practical plan of action built on relationships, respect and opportunities. Narragunnawali has information and resources you may find useful.

Practical steps to help you plan

Step 1: Set objectives

It’s important to set clear and practical reconciliation objectives for your service to work towards.

These could include:

  • increasing educator, child and family knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and contemporary society
  • developing respectful, authentic relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities
  • growing the appeal of your service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, children and their families, a place where they feel welcome and safe and their cultures and traditions respected.

Step 2: Develop educators’ cultural competence

All non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander educators will need to develop:

  • an understanding and awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and contemporary societies, and
  • appreciation for the importance of connectedness to land and spirituality that lies at the heart of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity.

Building this knowledge can be a focus for professional development and take many forms.

For example, educators could attend a professional course, development sessions, presentations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, independent or team study, and workshops.

Step 3: Build relationships

Connecting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is key to developing a deeper understanding of their cultures, history and aspirations.

Ideally, the connection should not be short-term and transactional, but aimed at building a long-term authentic relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the service, educators, children and families.

There are various ways to link with and begin engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. You can contact local land councils, community liaison officers, Elders Councils, legal services, health organisations, or reconciliation groups.

Step 4: Embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into educational programming and everyday practices

Ways to do this include:

  • working with children and, if possible, with the local Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander community, to develop a daily Acknowledgement to Country for the service. This is an opportunity for children, educators and families to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land on which the service sits.
  • inviting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members to open major events at the service with a formal Welcome to Country. Whether spoken or performed, the Welcome acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land and welcomes the wider community to the land.
  • exploring literacy and storytelling, such as telling Dreaming (Aboriginal) or Tagai (Torres Strait).
  • exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music and art. Where possible, invite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers and artists to the service or visit them.
  • creating a calendar of events to acknowledge days of significance in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendar, such as NAIDOC Week (from the first Sunday in July), National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day (4 August).
  • creating resources that demonstrate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued and include messages of reconciliation and goodwill, such as maps, flags, music, puzzles, books, videos, posters, etc.
  • researching the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language and use it in interactions with children and families. Consider naming a section or area in your service using the local language.
  • using goods and services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses (see Supply Nation).
  • exploring setting up a connection with a ‘sister service’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, perhaps in a rural or remote area. Stay in contact online or by phone – have children exchange photos, drawings and stories of their day and home life.

Working towards reconciliation and building knowledge and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures requires an ongoing, long-term commitment by services.

Your efforts will be worthwhile for the children, educators, families and community, as well as the future of our country’s relationship with its First Australians.

ACECQA’s 2019-2020 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

At ACECQA, we are committed to reconciliation and to celebrate this commitment, we developed our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which was recently endorsed by Reconciliation Australia. This RAP acknowledges our responsibility and outlines our commitment to reconciliation by working towards an environment that recognises the unique place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures hold in Australia.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

Narragunnawali – Professional learning and resources

Reconciliation Australia – Resources

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children – Resources

Seven metres squared

In addition to promoting physical activity, engaging outdoor learning environments play a significant role in the development of children’s behavioural and social skills.

This month on We Hear You, we explore the importance of outdoor play in a world that is becoming increasingly technological and outline the requirements for outdoor environments in education and care services.

In a world where play is becoming more sedentary and screen-based, how can we maximise play and learning in the outdoor environment? In studies on children’s perspectives in the outdoor environment, the children found the outdoor environment to be a place which offers the opportunity to pretend, socialise, observe and move (Merewether, 2015). Research has also identified that some educators view the outdoor environment only as a place for gross motor activities with inherent risks (Leggett & Newman, 2017).

All centre based education and care services must provide access to unencumbered outdoor space that is at least seven square metres for each child (Regulation 108 (2)). All services, including family day care and outside school hours care, should allow children to explore and experience a natural environment (Regulation 113) that is adequately shaded (Regulation 114).

The rise in the interest in forest schools, beach, river and bush kindergartens have seen educators and children exploring outdoor learning environments, outside the realm of their service fence or family day care backyard. It’s outdoors in which children learn that many environments are fragile. Children become aware of how we can treasure and show respect for these spaces (Robertson, 2011) while also becoming socially responsible and showing respect and care for the environment in which they live and learn.

The learning frameworks reinforce the notion that engaging in play and leisure outdoors allows children to develop their emerging autonomy, independence, resilience, their understanding of the inter-dependence of living things and their sense of agency (adapted from the Early Years Learning Framework, p. 21; and the Framework for School Age Care, p. 20).

Outdoors, children move and play in different ways – there is a lot to see, hear, touch, experience, explore and even taste when playing outdoors.

The outdoor environment provides children with the ability to engage with the natural world and explore nature and concepts through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning. The possibilities for a child to learn about their world is endless while playing outdoors, as are the opportunities for educators to scaffold learning, curiosity and development.

Outdoor play promotes children’s physical and psychological development through physical activities and play experiences that are challenging, extend thinking and offer opportunities to assess and take appropriate risks. It is important for educators to undertake risk benefit analyses to understand when and what risky play can benefit children’s learning, outweighing the risk and minimising any unacceptable or unnecessary risks. Educators can scaffold school age children to consider the foreseeable risk of an activity of their choice, against the benefits of a stimulating play outdoor environment (Guide to the NQF).

In response to the growing body of research which identifies the health risks for children resulting from an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the Australian Government guidelines on physical activity provide guidance on the amount of physical activity children should be engaging in. At least seven square metres per child is more than a calculation, and providing access to the natural environment is more than being outdoors. Interesting and engaging outdoor space promises endless possibilities and opportunities for children to create their own learnings, test their theories, identify and build their capabilities, use their imaginations to construct and create and work collaboratively with others, while building a respect for and valuing of the natural environment.

A topic for the next team meeting could be to consider strategies to further enhance the learning outcomes in the outdoor environment.

References

Leggett, N. & Newman, L. (2017). ‘Challenging educators’ beliefs about play in the indoor and outdoor environment.’ Australian journal of early childhood, 42 (1), pp. 24-32.

Mereweather, J. (2015). ‘Young children’s perspectives of outdoor learning spaces: What matters?’ Australian journal of early childhood, 40(1), pp. 99-108.

Robertson, J. (2011). ‘Who needs a forest?’ Rattler, 99, pp. 10-13.

Understanding and exploring educational leadership

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

‘Developing and supporting teams to achieve the best outcomes for children is at the very heart of educational leadership’ (ACECQA)

Educational leaders are highly valued and instrumental in establishing, delivering, maintaining and continually improving quality education and care for Australia’s children. ACECQA’s The Educational Leader Resource and accompanying videos provide insights into, and perspectives of, the role through the eyes of educational leaders, academics and service leaders.

In this blog, we’ll be unpacking Part Two of the Resource: A model for understanding and exploring educational leadership.

In this part of the Resource, we are introduced to the Educational Leadership Model (ELM) as a way to analyse and advocate for the role within our own services and the wider Australian context. The dimensions of the ELM are described first in terms of what they mean for an educational leader and then explored in more detail by five leading Australian academics. They examine the dimensions from their own perspectives, sharing research insights and practical suggestions.

The ELM invites educational leaders to broaden their thinking and reflect on the role as one that requires growth and development of key capabilities. The model assists those who are interested in imagining the possibilities of the role for themselves, as professionals, while also maintaining the responsibilities of the role, under the National Law. The ELM has been designed to support educational leaders in empowering the educator teams in diverse settings, as they enrich and promote children’s learning and wellbeing.

The ELM comprises four key elements – knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection – that intersect and form the foundation of educational leadership.

Knowledge

Professor Frances Press unpacks what an educational leader needs to know, the different types of knowledge, and how it is used and developed. She considers the way knowledge changes over time according to the context of where we work, where we live and where we are in our own lives. When we think about knowledge, it is helpful to think about the category and type of knowledge that we use in our work with children and families.

A category of knowledge includes information, evidence and understanding and recognising that the types of knowledge central to our work with children, families and educators includes pedagogical, theoretical and contextual knowledge. Continuing to build your knowledge and sharing your knowledge is important – as an educational leader, it is important that you support and promote this in your educator team.

Reflective questions

    • What do you need to know about the children, families and educators as an educational leader?
    • What do you already know, and who do you share this with?
    • How might you actively, respectfully and regularly build the type of knowledge you need?

 

Professionalism

The process of setting the tone for professionalism begins with educational leaders thinking of themselves as professionals with ethical responsibilities to which they hold themselves accountable. Professionalism is also about advocating for the place of effective educational programs and practice in the delivery of children’s education and care. From time to time, it might mean taking courageous action and having the capacity to speak up for children’s right to quality education.

Dr Lennie Barblett outlines further how educators demonstrate their professionalism in their everyday work, through their relationships with children, families, colleagues and community members. An educational leader isn’t just a professional – he or she is someone who uses their developed professionalism to lead educator teams as they connect with each other to build a positive organisational culture where learning is key.

Reflective questions

    • Think of an example of someone who demonstrates outstanding professional leadership skills. What qualities, attributes and dispositions does this person demonstrate to make them outstanding?
    • What dispositions do you consider important to role model and demonstrate in your work in the service? (Examples could include: honesty, respect for others.)

 

Relationships

Much of what is prescribed and promoted as fundamental to the educational leader role, and is vital for bringing ideas to fruition, relies on effective and collaborative relationships. More than just gaining agreement, collegial and collaborative relationships promote a shared vision of quality practices that stand the test of time.

Professor Andrea Nolan shares with readers a greater understanding of the foundations that we need to build and maintain effective relationships. Some examples include motivation, a sense of empowerment, team leadership and strong communication skills. A respectful and trusting relationship is established through the use of non-judgemental communication and by ensuring confidentiality (Nolan & Molla, 2017), where educators feel a sense of comfort to freely and reflectively critique practice.

Reflective questions

    • How effective are your current relationships with educators and service management?
    • How can you collaborate with other educators to build meaningful and trusting relationships within the service?

 

Reflection

This dimension of the ELM recognises that educational leaders are reflective professionals who consider the impact of their work and that of others, on children, families, colleagues and the wider education and care community. Reflection is essential to the everyday work of an educational leader, however it isn’t always easy to undertake.

Dr Jennifer Cartmel and Dr Marilyn Casley remind us that reflection features in our approved learning frameworks as a guiding principle and practice of children’s education and care. Reflection is an important skill of the educational leader, one that is supported by the other dimensions of the ELM, in particular, the building of quality relationships and a professional learning community. Remember, reflective practice is enhanced through quality relationships as educator teams find common ground and create partnerships that provide high quality environments in which children grow and develop to their full potential.

Reflective questions

    • What is my knowledge of the process of engaging in (and recording) reflection and how can I support this in others?
    • What questions can I develop to help others in my team to reflective meaningfully on their own practice?

 

Throughout the blog, we’ve posed reflective questions you can use to further build your understanding and experience with each dimension of the ELM.

I encourage you to explore the four dimensions of the ELM, what they mean for you as an educational leader and how you might further develop the key capabilities of knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection. The deeper unpacking of the four dimensions in The Educational Leader Resource by leading researchers and academics is useful to support you on your continuous improvement journey.

Further reading and resources

The importance of self-assessment in a culture of continuous quality improvement

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

‘Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning’ – Benjamin Franklin

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides a national approach to quality improvement for education and care services across Australia. A key objective of the NQF is to promote continuous improvement in the provision of quality education and care services, with one of its six guiding principles focused on the expectation that best practice underpins service provision.

Self-assessment is fundamental to an effective cycle of quality improvement and is essential to providing quality outcomes for children and families. It is an important first step in the quality assessment and rating process, incorporating continuous self-assessment, the development and implementation of a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), assessment and rating by the state or territory regulatory authority and the publication of quality ratings, which aims to raise quality and drive continuous improvement and consistency in education and care services.

What is self-assessment? 

All education and care services must complete self-assessment to inform the development of a QIP. The Education and Care Services National Regulations (Reg.55 (1) (a)) requires the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare a QIP, which includes assessment of the quality of practices against the NQS and the regulations. The need for an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process to support continuous improvement is also recognised in the National Quality Standard (NQS). Element 7.2.1 aims to support services to regularly monitor and review their performance to guide planning and improve service quality.

Self-assessment is about critically reflecting and evaluating your service practice, recognising strengths and identifying opportunities for improvement. It should provide an honest account and informed picture of your unique service context, your current practice and the quality of education and care experienced by children and families attending your service.

The self-assessment process is the starting point for determining and planning quality improvements within your education and care service. The outcomes of your self-assessment should directly inform the development of your QIP. There should be clear links between your service’s self-assessment documentation and identified priorities for attention in your QIP.

Remember: Your self-assessment identifies areas for improvement and your QIP can then be used to prioritise these improvements.

The narrative of quality improvement

It is important that all members of your education and care service community have an awareness of the process and requirements of self-assessment. Moreover, how this process directly informs, shapes and prioritises your service’s unique narrative, and ongoing journey, of quality improvement.

The diagram below provides a useful visual reference detailing the self-assessment process. It shows self-assessment as a comprehensive cyclical process involving five steps: critical reflection of your service philosophy, self-assessment of service practice against the NQS and the regulatory requirements, identification of strengths and opportunities for quality improvement, transferal of outcomes of the self-assessment to inform the development or update of your service QIP and review and reflection of the self-assessment process. This diagram, and further information on the role of self-assessment in driving reflection and determining quality improvements, can be accessed within ACECQA’s Self-assessment Tool.

Documenting your story of continuous improvement

It is important to remember that while it is not a requirement that self-assessment documentation is submitted to the regulatory authority, you must be able to demonstrate that the self-assessment has informed the development and review of the QIP.

ACECQA, in response to sector feedback, has developed a Self-assessment Tool to support education and care services to document their unique story of continuous quality improvement.

The Self-assessment Tool is a free optional resource suitable for all service types and provides a ‘starting point’ for planning to improve quality outcomes for children and families. Services may choose to apply or adapt the Self- Assessment Tool in a way that meets the needs of their unique service context.

The Self-assessment Tool offers a process aimed at helping services to identify strengths, areas of compliance, practices that are Exceeding the NQS, and areas and opportunities for quality improvement. It is also designed to complement and contribute to the development, review and update of your service QIP. The ACECQA Information Sheet Developing and reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan provides more information on the link between these documents.

The Self-assessment Tool provides one approach to documenting your quality improvement journey. However, it is important to remember that use of the ACECQA Self-assessment Tool is not a mandated requirement and approved providers, service leaders and educators are encouraged to choose a process and format that suits their unique service context, community, and self-assessment and planning approach.

Note: An optional Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) template is available on the ACECQA website for download. The template has recently been updated to include the three Exceeding NQS themes and quick links to resources for each NQS quality area.

Reflecting on the quality of your practice

Self-assessment requires all members of your service team to understand the NQS and the related regulatory requirements to effectively reflect on and evaluate current service practice, policies and procedures.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework is a comprehensive reference document designed to help education and care providers, service leaders, educators and authorised officers understand and apply NQF. It is a vital tool in supporting the self-assessment process within your service.

Section 3 of the Guide provides useful information on the assessment and rating process – including self-assessment and quality improvement. This section also provides a guide to the NQS including introductory statements for each quality area, standard and element that describe the intent and how practices contribute to quality outcomes for all children and families. The guide to the NQS references regulatory requirements underpinning each element and includes a set of reflective questions, for each standard of each NQS quality area, that serve as useful prompts and a natural starting point for critical reflection on the ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your service practice.

What else could be considered?

Additional information, research and data may also be considered and contribute to effective self-assessment, examples may include:

    • Guiding principles of the NQF
    • Approved learning frameworks
    • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) community profile information
    • Contemporary research
    • Action research
    • Professional standards e.g. Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics
    • Best practice guidelines e.g. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children
    • Service data e.g. incidents, complaints, maintenance registers etc.
    • Feedback from regular surveys provided by children, families, educators and/or the broader community etc.
    • Compliance history
    • Previous self-assessment, quality improvement plans and assessment and rating reports/outcomes

Remember, the ACECQA website is a useful repository of free and easily accessible information that can help you to navigate and implement the NQF.

 

Self-assessment is a continuous process – ‘there’s always room for improvement’

Aristotle reminds us that ‘we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’. Under the NQF, education and care services are encouraged to continuously focus on quality improvement. Continuous improvement, as the name suggests, involves constantly re-examining and improving practice – finding a rhythm that works for your service and making change for the better. Remember, continuous improvement isn’t about setting a high pace –  some of the biggest differences can be made through small, incremental improvements done consistently.

A key strength of the NQF is that it supports education and care services to commit to best practice and engage in ongoing critical reflection and self-assessment (as a matter of habit) to inform professional judgements and drive continuous quality improvement. Importantly, these regular habits or patterns of behaviour, when engaged in with mutual respect and collaboration, can assist in establishing a positive organisational culture focused on quality and improved outcomes for children and families.

Self-assessment is fundamental in planning for and moving towards quality improvement. Without such processes, it is difficult to gain a clear, authentic picture of what you do well and identify the areas that should be prioritised for quality improvement. However, while self-assessment is often a ‘starting point’ for reflecting on and improving current practice, it is not an ‘end point’ finalised once current service practice has been evaluated.

To be most effective, self-assessment should be a continuous, regular and systematic process of critical reflection. This requires an ongoing commitment on behalf of education and care services and teams to attend to critical reflection, analyse practice and be open to the possibility of change motivated by quality improvement and the best interests of children and families. How this is reflected in practice will look different for each service.

A collaborative process and a shared vision  

The National Regulations (Regulations 55 and 56) require the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare, review and revise a QIP. However, it is not expected that they are solely responsible for all the work, decisions or outcomes. Rather self-assessment and quality improvement planning will benefit from being a shared and collaborative process engaging everyone: the approved provider, nominated supervisor, service leaders and management, coordinators, educational leaders, educators and other service staff.

Your service’s journey of self-assessment and quality improvement should also provide an opportunity for collaboration with and input from children, families and the broader community. Each member of your service team, families, children and the community will bring different perspectives, opinions and perceptions and have something unique to offer.

A continuous, regular and systematic process of critical reflection and self-assessment can provide a rich opportunity for professional development, learning and the building of professional competency within your service. When conducted as a collaborative process of professional inquiry, self-assessment can support educators to more confidently articulate practice, share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at your service. Further, a regular and coordinated approach to self-assessment can build a spirit of collegiality and professionalism, support the building of shared professional knowledge, understanding and skills and the development of shared goals and vision. When all members of an education and care service have consistency of purpose and understand what is guiding their practice, they can work together for continuous quality improvements to enhance outcomes for children.

With this in mind, why not take this opportunity to reflect on your service’s self-assessment processes by identifying both strengths and areas for improvement. Consider the following reflective questions:

  • Is a commitment to ongoing self-assessment and continuous quality improvement reflected in your service philosophy?
  • Is self-assessment an ongoing, regular and systematic process? If not, how could practice be adapted?
  • Are all members of your service community invited to have a voice, participate in and be represented in the self-assessment process?
  • How do your self-assessment processes support educators to confidently articulate professional knowledge, values and practice?
  • How does your self-assessment process support professional collaboration (element 4.2.1)?
  • How are self-assessment and a focus on continuous quality improvement embedded into your service culture?

Further reading and resources to support your practice