Learning through play and leisure 

A guiding principle of the National Quality Framework that informs the development of our education and care programs is the view that all children are capable and competent learners who have agency. There is also a long-standing body of evidence showing that children learn best through a play-based program.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) encourages educators to facilitate and extend each child’s learning and development. This can be supported through a play-based program by using practice that is thoughtful, intentional, collaborative and responsive to the everyday flow of experiences and events for children and educators.

When educators collaborate with children to design and implement a play-based program, they are providing children with opportunities to learn as they discover, create, improvise, test theories, imagine and engage with others. 

For school age children, learning is supported through play and leisure when educators act with intentionality to build on children’s interests and nurture their developing life skills. This can be achieved by ensuring the program complements their experiences, opportunities and relationships at school, at home and in the community.

Intentional and responsive educators actively engage in children’s learning and share decision-making with them. They interact with children during play, routines and projects to listen to children’s ideas and thoughts, to stimulate their thinking and experiences, and to enrich their learning. They also recognise and respect children’s emerging independence and right to privacy: there will be times when it may not be appropriate to intervene or interrupt their play or leisure activities.

Educators draw on a rich repertoire of pedagogical practices to promote children’s learning including intentional teaching and when they act with intentionality (Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, p. 16 and My Time, Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia. p. 14). Intentional teaching practices during play and leisure include:

  • Providing time, space and learning activities that facilitate thoughtful and challenging conversations with children.
  • Engaging with children by listening, showing interest and asking open ended questions to encourage thinking and conversation.
  • Using a range of communication strategies that involve explanations, speculation and problem solving. 
  • Collaborating with children to develop further knowledge and skills, and extend perspectives.
  • Using teaching strategies that compliment the goals for children’s learning.
  • Providing instructional/intentional support to children during play, routines and transitions.

Reflective questions and activities

These reflective questions and activities can be shared at your next team meeting to unpack how you and the educator team use intentional teaching strategies to support children’s learning and development through play: 

  • During children’s play, how responsive are we to their ideas, thinking and interests? 
    • Activity: share an example of how you have collaborated with children to further develop their knowledge and skills through play. 
  • How do planned or intentional aspects of the program support spontaneous play and leisure experiences initiated by children? 
    • Activity: Reflect on the children’s program and identify the experiences and activities that have been intentionally planned to complement the goals that have been set for children’s learning. Brainstorm ways that you could engage children and families in identifying and setting meaningful and relevant learning outcomes and goals. 

Resources to support your learning

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

Commonwealth of Australia Responding to children’s play

Commonwealth of Australia Sustained, shared thinking

Early Childhood Australia Finding the balance: Play-based learning and intentional teaching

Queensland’s educational leader professional program

This month we hear from Donna Wynn, a Principal Project Officer from the Queensland Department of Education. Recently involved in the development and facilitation of the Queensland Department of Education Early Childhood Education and Care Metropolitan Region Educational Leader Professional Program, Donna provides an overview of the intensive six-month program. 

The Educational Leader Professional Program was developed in response to an identified need within the metropolitan region to support educational leaders’ professional development and understanding of Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice and Quality Area 7 – Governance and leadership, specifically Standard 7.2.

Now in the final phase of delivery, the program has engaged and supported 40 educational leaders.

The comprehensive six-month program adopted a range of professional activities and a multilayered approach to leadership learning and development incorporating workshops, webinars, workplace tasks, reflective practice and professional conversations. Some key aspects of the program included:

Introduction day – An introduction day was held to welcome participants and provide an overview of the objectives and structure of the program. The day included professional workshops and presentations exploring topics including: leadership, coaching and mentoring, emotional intelligence, leading and influencing change and unpacking the role of the educational leader.

Webinars – Monthly professional practice webinars, delivered by experienced education and care practitioners, were provided throughout the course of the program. The webinars focused predominately on educational program and practice including: curriculum decision-making, the assessment and planning cycle and critical reflection. A final webinar explored the role of educational leader in supporting professional development and maintaining the momentum for continuous quality improvement.

Professional conversations – One to one professional conversation sessions were an important quality characteristic of the professional program. Participants were partnered with an experienced early childhood professional and provided time and guidance to work on goals relevant to their workplace, giving them increased confidence in their professional roles and own abilities.

Workplace tasks – Evidence-based learning tasks, which complemented the monthly professional practice webinars, were provided to invite individual reflection on skill development and support participants in establishing goals for educational program and practice within their service. The workplace tasks were seen as an invaluable professional development tool that could be incorporated into the context of educator’s daily work and used to support professional collaboration and learning among service teams.

Digital space – To promote professional dialogue, networking and connection, an online collaboration space was provided where participants could pose questions, seek advice and share information and resources.

Educational Leader toolkit – Throughout thecourse of the program, participants built their own ‘Educational Leader confidence toolkit’ – a practical collection of information, workbooks, workplace activities and reflections. Principal Program Officers also developed and distributed virtual information including e-books and monthly ‘educational leader professional program quick tips’ to support key learnings and professional practice.

Leadership learning

Throughout the professional program, participants developed their understanding of leadership through the lens of leading self, leading others and leading practice. Core competencies and concepts explored throughout the program included:

Leading yourself

  •  Projecting a professional image.
  • Understanding your role as a leader.
  • Communicating with influence.
  • Understanding self.
  • Courageous decision making.

Leading professionals

  • Leading the way – team vision.
  • Developing and growing the team.
  • Mentoring and coaching – SMART, GROWTH and COACH models.
  • Planning, organising and delegating.
  • Building collaborative teams.

Leading practice

  • Driving continuous improvement.
  • Influencing practice change.
  • Facilitating professional discussions.

Feedback on the program

Feedback on the Educational Leader Professional Program has been positive, with participants engaging in an array of processes and measures to support continuous quality improvement, professionalism and professional collaboration across their education and care services. 

What participants are doing so far

  • Developing or re-developing shared team visions.
  • Applying a focus on capturing strengths and ideas of all team members.
  • Ongoing reflective practice on self-awareness and awareness of others.
  • Using Inquiry Cycles to collaboratively create change.
  • Well-developed confidence in knowledge of the role and responsibilities of the Educational Leader.
  • Deepening critically reflective practice.
  • Fostering team knowledge and understanding of the components of high-quality play.

Where to now?

The Educational Leader Professional Program is in the final phase of delivery. In November there will be an official presentation ceremony and celebratory morning tea for participants of the program. As part of the event, participants will be provided with the opportunity to present on their involvement in the program, articulate their leadership stance and share the strategies they have implemented within their service to support and strengthen practice in relation to Quality Area 1 – Educational programs and practice. The event aims to highlight the important role of the educational leader in deepening shared pedagogical action and supporting transformative change.

For more information on educational leadership, you can download The Educational Leader Resource and accompanying information sheet and videos from the Educational leadership page on the ACECQA website.

For more information about the program, email CapabilityDevelopment.MetroECEC@qed.qld.gov.au

Leading Innovation

CK photo with awards

This month we hear from C&K Coolum Community Childcare and Kindergarten Centre Coordinator, Jennifer Leo, and Educational Leader, Carol Ruskin. This service was awarded the Emeritus Professor Dr Mary Mahoney AO Award for Excellence in Innovation in Curriculum at the inaugural C&K Innovation in Curriculum Awards. This is the first time a C&K long day care service has been honoured with this award.

Dr Mahoney has given a lifetime of service to medical education, general practice training and The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). This award honours her, as former C&K President, and acknowledges education and care services or individual employees who encompass C&K values and demonstrate innovative implementation of the organisation’s Listening and Learning Together Curriculum Approach

C&K Coolum Community Childcare and Kindergarten has a long-established a leadership team. Built on our experience, research and ongoing professional learning, the team has a common belief that a child’s early years are the most experientially critical to their life and are foundational to them becoming a life-long learner. 

Five years ago we developed a clear plan and objectives of what the leadership team wanted to achieve for the children and families of the service in the future. Our goal is to provide every child with opportunities to become a strong, confident and capable learner and to succeed as they transition to formal schooling.  

The service’s professional teaching team actively promotes the importance of early learning within the education continuum and the role of long day care education within the community. It achieves this through collective professional practice, documentation, engagement with the local community, connection to education facilities and continuing professional development.  

The changing landscape of modern Australian family life means that more children are attending early childhood education and care at a young age more than ever before.  At C&K Coolum we acknowledge this societal change and recognise the important role we have as educators to support each child’s learning and development journey. This has been the impetus for our service to continually strive for excellence by supporting and connecting our children and families to create a genuine community of learners

Educators, families, children and the community are all seen as equal participants within the C&K Coolum inclusive learning environment.  We strongly believe it takes a village to raise a child.

Some key strategies have supported our success promoting and leading innovation.

1. Fostering inquiry-based professional development.

From our experience, it is important to develop a long-term, centre-specific, ‘inquiry-based,’ professional development plan. 

When doing this:

  • ensure each step is built on the integrity and success of the previous step, ensuring that knowledge and skills genuinely grow
  • use critical reflection as the impetus to make positive change and ensure you are remaining true to the centre philosophy, and  
  • discuss success and areas for improvement openly with the team using positivity and support. 

A good starting point is for each educator to reflect on and respond to these questions: 

  • What is your image of a child, a teacher and early childhood education?
  • What theory or philosophy has influenced you and your beliefs about this image?
  • What is the one professional development project you would like to do to enhance your image?

2. Using distributed leadership

Identify and then use all educators’ strengths by using a ‘Distributed Leadership Model’ to support engagement and ensure projects are genuinely meaningful:

  • appoint a willing leader to guide the projects and provide continuous support to the team
  • as a team, celebrate every success as this breeds further success
  • critically reflect to ensure the journey stays true to C&K’s core values, and 
  • trust, support and respect each other and enjoy the journey. 

Appointing non-contact time for educators to further their leadership goals, research, and engage in and with the community is an important factor for success.

3. Creating accessible visual displays

Create visual and readily available files and displays that reflect the development of each continuous improvement project:

  • include educators’ contributions, related articles, correspondence, and information from supporting agencies 
  • personalise and highlight the contribution of each leader of a project with a photo on the front of the file, and 
  • invite families to be part of this visual display to support their engagement, connection and understanding of the project.

Recommended resources

Within our C&K Coolum context, some resources were integral to our quality practice and innovation success:

  • organisational professional development support resources and tools, and
  • professional networks and resources such as Communities of Practice groups, contemporary information from current students, ACECQA resources and research.

Our teaching team continues to be a vital resource. As new information is shared, a contribution is made to a project or a colleague has an inspirational idea, it generates enthusiasm and inspiration amongst the teaching team. The collective sharing and discovering of new resources relevant to each project is motivating.

Interested in finding out more?

To engage with C&K Coolum and find out more about their innovative practice, you can email:

For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

Supporting educator wellbeing


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone encourages you to consider your own wellbeing during this challenging time, 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 (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 33; Framework for School Age Care, p. 30).

The work and commitment of educators, teachers, staff, service leaders and approved providers is widely acknowledged and valued, as you collaboratively continue the important work of providing Australian children and families with quality early learning and school age care services. During these challenging times, a safe, predictable place for children and families is valued more than ever. In this blog, I’d like to invite you to consider your own wellbeing, and that of others within your service and community during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Australian studies have identified that educators’ wellbeing can be adversely impacted when effective, ongoing supports are not in place. Along with high rates of stress, this contributes to emotional exhaustion and educators leaving the profession (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017). We also know anecdotally that educators, service leaders, children and families are experiencing a higher level of stress from a variety of sources since the outbreak of COVID-19.

We all have a role to play in observing and monitoring the wellbeing of the people we work with. This attentiveness and responsiveness allows us all to better understand each other and build a well and effective team. Educators with a strong sense of wellbeing will be better positioned to meet the emotional needs of children returning to services, while supporting them in self-regulation and developing resilience. These capacities are essential for building secure relationships with children (Quality Area 5).

ACECQA has developed the Supporting educators during these challenging times information sheet to help service leaders reflect on and review their current practices and strategies to support the wellbeing of their staff. The information and resources can help build and support your own resilience and the wellbeing of others. The information sheet also features government and sector initiatives to support service leaders in their important role, as well as information for their teams.

ACECQA’s family focused brand StartingBlocks.gov.au has also developed some COVID-19 resources to share with families to support their changing circumstances and health and wellbeing at this time.

As a result of the complex nature of educator wellbeing, comprehensively and proactively addressing issues requires a shared approach to taking responsibility, including educators, educational leaders, nominated supervisors, service leaders and approved providers.

It is this collaborative and positive approach that will enable us to support each other and our individual and collective wellbeing, which is even more important in these challenging times.

Related resources to build understanding of educator wellbeing during COVID-19

Reference

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://researchers.mq.edu.au/en/publications/retaining-early-childhood-teachers-what-factors-contribute-to-hig

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 2

In our last blog, Be You spoke to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes. In this follow-up blog, Be You chats with ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, and shares some case studies from services that use their implementation of the Be You initiative as evidence towards the Exceeding NQS themes.

‘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)

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations

Carey Bay Preschool in NSW has carried over some practices from previous KidsMatter engagement into their Be You Action Plan.

  • Educational Leader Melinda Lynch and educator Taylah Sullivan have included mental health actions in the service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).
  • Nominated Supervisor Wendy March explains one practice captured in the service’s QIP in relation to Quality Area 4 element 4.2.2: Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships: “In our staff meetings, we continually reflect to ensure educators feel supported in their roles and discuss ways we can support one another.”

This is an example of one way that Carey Bay Preschool has embedded a commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of educators into service operations.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

Ruth Simpkins, Director of Griffith University Tallowood and Boronia Child Care Centres in QLD, regularly checks in with her Be You Consultant, Kathryn.

  • During their online check-in, they use the Be You Reflection Tool to engage in professional conversations and document current practices, policies and procedures that promote wellbeing at the two services. 
  • Opportunities for continuous improvement are also identified and Ruth engages her staff in weekly discussions about creating a mentally healthy learning community. 
  • The documentation in the Reflection Tool, the commitment of regular check-ins with a Be You Consultant, and weekly discussions with staff all demonstrate that practice at Tallowwood and Boronia is informed by critical reflection.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

The team at Hawthorn Early Learning in Victoria have reflected on the ‘Connect’ and ‘Include’ learning modules in the Mentally Healthy Communities domain of Be You.

They have acknowledged and celebrated their existing practice of having an annual event at a local park to welcome new families. Educators have also reflected upon the diversity of family structures and how this impacts on their daily communication practices.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive. For example, the service is making a commitment to communication practices which include both parents in separated families.

Engaging with Be You Professional Learning modules can promote learning and critical reflection on practices which engage families effectively, sensitively and confidentially. This fosters the mental health of children and young people.

In conversations about module content, actions to promote meaningful engagement with families can be documented in a Be You Action Plan: practices already in place, as well as planned future actions.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive.

Educators have also committed to actioning some new practices to help families connect to the early learning service and the wider community. For example – they have committed to learning the names of family members to more meaningfully greet and interact with them; regularly inviting families to attend music sessions and excursions, and linking families with child and mental health services.

Case study

Bringing it all together

Hillsong Child Care Centres in NSW and QLD are using Be You to embed, inform and shape practice across all seven quality areas of the NQS.

  • Debra Williams, National Compliance and Development Manager, is using the Be You Reflection tool as a source of reflective prompts for educators in their weekly self-assessment process, which focuses on individual elements of the NQS.
  • In this way, the Be You Reflection Tool is assisting staff and management to gather ‘theme indicators’- evidence about how the services feel they currently demonstrate the Exceeding NQS themes – and generate ideas for ways to continuously grow and improve.

Each service is unique, and these case studies provide examples of the ways services can demonstrate the Exceeding NSW themes in ways which are relevant to their specific service, context and community.

Smiling children with smiling staff member

Register to learn more

Registering your learning community for Be You is FREE and will provide access to Be You implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 1

Children and educator playing indoors with fabric

This month Be You talks to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services to demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes.

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue, with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Exceeding National Quality Standard themes and Be You

Be You can support education and care services to reflect and demonstrate the three NQS Exceeding themes.

What are the Exceeding NQS themes?

A rating of Exceeding NQS means that the service is performing above and beyond the requirements of the NQS.  

The three Exceeding NQS themes are used to determine if approved education and care services exceed each of the fifteen NQS quality standards. Services must demonstrate these themes in practice for a standard to be rated as Exceeding NQS. The themes are:

1: Practice is embedded in service operations

2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

This determination occurs during the assessment and rating process undertaken by state and territory regulatory authorities. Authorised officers use ‘observe’, ‘discuss’ and ‘sight’ techniques to gather evidence that is used to assess if the Exceeding NQS themes are evident in practice. All three themes must be demonstrated for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.

How can Be You support services with the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes?

Be You has shared some examples of ways it can help services to reflect and demonstrate the three Exceeding NQS themes.

  • Participation in Be You involves positive professional learning actions to support the mental health and wellbeing of children (NQS Standard 2.1) and staff (NQS Standards 4.1 and 4.2).

Participation also involves embedding these actions within service policies, procedures and practices. Through Be You, high quality practices can be established, sustained and consistently implemented, and this can support the demonstration of Exceeding NQS Theme 1 – Practice is embedded in service operations.

  • Critical reflection is a very important part of the Be You implementation process.

Be You has a variety of implementation tools which serve as triggers for, and ways of documenting, critical reflection. For example, when promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing, the Be You Reflection Tool, Action Plan or Always Be You Learning Map could provide supporting evidence to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 2 – Practice is informed by critical reflection for Standard 2.1. These tools will also support educators and teams in their ongoing reflective practice for all standards.  Critical reflection is also central to Standard 1.3 and a key pedagogical principle of the approved learning frameworks.

The three learning modules within the family partnerships domain can help services identify meaningful ways to engage with families. Be You surveys can also assist in canvassing families’ voices as to how well the service supports them to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging and connection.  Reflection on the modules and survey results can be used together to identify areas for growth in communication and relationships with families.

This could then be used to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 3 – Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community for particular standards.

Register to learn more

It’s FREE to register your learning community with Be You and gain access to the program’s implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect to Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

In our follow-up NEL blog, we’ll share some case studies from education and care services that could help in your understanding of the connection between engagement with Be You and the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes.

Early Career Project Officer initiative

After being accepted into the role of an Early Career Project Officer, one of the things that has stood out to me is that ACECQA’s vision of ‘the best start in life for every Australian child’ has also turned out to be the ‘best start’ to my own fulfilling career.

Reflecting on my time with ACECQA, I have found that four aspects of both the organisation and projects that I’ve worked on have had the most influential impact. On my professional development, my identity and my future career and growth as an education and care professional.

Leaping into the unknown

At the beginning of 2019, I was happily working part time at a long day care centre, while also completing my fourth year in my Bachelor of Education (Birth to Five Years) degree, full-time. One day an email from one of my university lecturers landed in my inbox. It was the advertisement from ACECQA for a role as an early career project officer. An opportunity that I decided to take a chance on. Taking a huge leap into the unknown, I decided to apply. I was successful in my application and thrilled to be asked to join the team. But suddenly, I was faced with juggling full-time work and study. Some of my colleagues joked that I was, ‘moving to the dark side’.

All my life I have regularly set professional goals for myself, and frequently reflect on them to ensure that they were suitable for me as I developed my own professional identity. While this wasn’t part of my plan, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took this leap into the unknown, I’m certainly glad I did.

I never envisioned myself being a ‘city office worker’, wearing corporate clothing, catching peak hour trains, and attending multiple meetings within a day. Yet, here I am, having completed a contract with ACECQA, and absolutely loving every second of city and work life.

ACECQA as the sector’s bright light

The more I immersed myself into the role of an early career project officer, the more I found ACECQA to be a bright light guiding our sector. Through the development of a wealth of free resources, extensive research and implementation of programs to support services to continually improve, ACECQA aims to share with each teacher, educator and service the practical ways they can improve the early learning experiences for every Australian child.

The comprehensive work produced by ACECQA’s Board and Governance, Business Services, Policy and Strategic Programs, Educational Leadership and Strategy, Communications and Consistency Teams all strive to guide the sector to improve outcomes for all Australian children and families.

I am now even more committed to, and will continue to be, an advocate of the role ACECQA plays. I want all teachers and educators to realise that they are supported, the information or clarification you need is just a phone call or click away.

Extraordinary professionals influencing my professional identity

I have been lucky enough to witness first-hand how the teams at ACECQA work collaboratively together to deliver the six objectives of the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Working alongside so many highly intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced and kind professionals has been incredibly formative to the development of my own professional identity. While I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the responsibilities of those working in the sector, I have also had my eyes opened to the many varied roles that people hold within our sector.

Links in the chain

As I now approach the completion of my Bachelor of Education, I feel that I have just completed an ‘intensive summer school’ paid internship style role. I have been given the opportunity to develop workshops, interactive educational resources and training packages for the Educational Leadership and Sector Support, and Regulatory Authority Support teams.

These experiences have been inextricably linked to the content taught at university, I have been able to add a deeper level of knowledge to my assignments and collaborative tutorial discussions. As well as giving me the confidence to advocate for quality early learning and my sector within the long day care service I work and my wider community.

I now have an invaluable amount of ‘behind the scenes’ information regarding the implementation of the NQF and embedding the NQS in curriculum decision-making practices.

Linking this all together, I have become a strong advocate for ACECQA. I see ACECQA as empowering the sector to embrace the National Quality Framework in providing an understanding of why quality education and care for children is important and how I, as an educator, can make that happen.

I would encourage all pre-service teachers to also take a leap into the unknown and to follow ACECQA’s motto to find the ‘best start’ to their own fulfilling career within our early learning sector.

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