Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

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

In early October, I was fortunate to present at and participate in the 2017 Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL) National Conference, and meet with Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah. Rosanne was the well-deserved recipient of the ACEL Leadership Award for 2017. The prestigious award recognises Rosanne as an educational leader who has made a significant contribution to education, educational leadership and improving outcomes for children.

During our catch up, Rosanne shared a wonderful story about how she reflected on the purpose and intent of her service’s end-of-year celebrations, as well as the collaboration with children and families to create a more authentic and meaningful coming together centred on sharing of learning and driven by the children.

Rosanne shares her story with us this month and takes us through the celebrations and ‘ceremony’ at KU Ourimbah.

~o~

As we prepare to celebrate the capacity and competence of our children, now is the time to challenge some of our embedded cultural practices we might take for granted as children embark on their school careers and families together take a moment to reflect upon their children’s rich, early childhood experiences.

At KU Ourimbah ‘Graduation’ has been replaced by ‘Ceremony’. Children are not expected to perform for their parents but rather share their learning with them in ways they have devised for themselves. It is ceremonious because this is an occasion for shared celebration. Children direct the day for their families and we ask families to reserve this day, well in advance, rather than have children exhausted by ‘evening do’s’.  This is after all, about children and families. It is not a marketing exercise or crowd pleaser, this is a child-led event and as such, there is a big difference in how we express our values. In how we place children’s interests at the centre of all that we do. We can of course be pleased, delighted, joyful and nostalgic. We can be moved by the magnificence of our children and how we choose to illuminate this.

Families overwhelmingly have embraced this approach and our event looks like this:

The children invite their parents for a tour. In our space in KU Ourimbah this involves children acting as tour-guides for their families and walking their favourite routes across The Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle, together. It is an everyday happening for our children that they walk on campus and having already discussed their personalised map and the places of importance that they want to share with their families, the children take charge, with map at the ready.

Parents, too, are complicit. They have already seen the map and understand through our on-line communications that they are in for a walking treat, with stations where they can pond dip, make natural art, litter pick and to be prepared. As families opt in and out of these activities we know the children are explaining what they have learnt about the surroundings, sharing their ecological citizenship and talking, talking, talking as they walk, revealing what they love about their life in early childhood. A communal family picnic precedes the ceremony held in a familiar lecture theatre.

Each year the ceremony is different. This year, the children choose their favourite memories for our PowerPoint images backed by music from one of our Indigenous families. We are welcomed to Country and the children co-sing. Some of the music is in language and there has been a song written in language for this moment and will be shared for the first time when we are all together.

Our ceremony finishes with an afternoon tea, fruit platters, cold drinks, a cake made by our cook skilled in the art of representing each child artistically through decoration.

We want to celebrate our children and in so doing we are showcasing what is important to them and what they want their families to appreciate and know about. It is a celebration of their voices. If we can do that, we have contributed to a new culture with parents, their children and extended families and friends.

~o~

I hope Rosanne’s story inspires and motivates you to consider a different approach to ‘doing things the way we always have’. The New Year, with a revised National Quality Standard, may be just the place to start thinking about challenging these views and looking to a new approach!

What is research telling us about children’s physical activity in the early years?

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

In the November ACECQA Newsletter, we featured the release of the first national 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. The guidelines take a more holistic view of children’s experience as they reference a 24-hour period, recognising that each movement behaviour is interlinked and integral to health. The guidelines also provide an opportunity to work collaboratively with families and the child at the centre of decision-making about how much time is engaged in sedentary pursuits or physical activity at the service and the home.

In this month’s blog, we share examples of the research being undertaken around the country, with our focus on how best to support Australian children to engage in recommended levels of physical activity.

Research from around the globe is pointing to strong correlations between physical activity and learning. As Pasi Sahlberg, the educator and author who specialises in the progressive approaches undertaken in Finland notes, ‘We also know from research that children’s brains work better when they move’. An experienced Finnish teacher put it this way: ‘Not only do they concentrate better in class, but they are more successful at negotiating, socialising, building teams and friendships together’ (Doyle in Sahlberg, 2018, p.23).

Below is an overview of some of the research and initial findings, as well as questions to prompt your own investigation and practice.

Early Start – University of Wollongong

Early Start is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative from the University of Wollongong. The research associated with Early Start is diverse and focuses on a number of different themes, including physical activity.

In 2017, Early Start was commissioned, in collaboration with researchers from Canada, to develop the new Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. Researchers from Early Start, namely Professor Anthony Okely, are now working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Kingdom working party to develop similar international guidelines.

Early Start has been involved in a number of other significant research studies focusing on physical activity in the early years. For example, between 2014 and 2016 Early Start conducted a multi-component physical activity intervention known as Jump Start in 43 NSW early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings from areas of disadvantage. This study, which aimed to increase physical activity during the preschool hours, comprises five components broadly focusing on gross motor skills, facilitation of active energy breaks and incorporating physical activity into other curriculum areas. Data from the study is currently being analysed. Additional information can be found in this recent research paper on increasing physical activity.

Myrto-Foteini Mavilidi and Early Start have recently investigated the effect of incorporating integrated physical activity into learning experiences facilitated in ECEC settings. Irrespective of focus area (numeracy, language, geography etc.), the study found learning was enhanced when integrated physical activity was part of the learning experience. They have published a number research papers, including one on the immediate and delayed effects of integrating physical activity.

Other studies, conducted by Y.G. Ellis and colleagues, have looked into the time children spend in sedentary behaviour in ECEC settings and the potential effectiveness of environment-based interventions on reducing sedentary time.  Their results show children in ECEC spend approximately 50% of their time sitting and that a simple environmental intervention has the potential to modify the amount of time children spend sitting.

Some of the most recent research on the early years facilitated by Early Start focuses on improving the quality of the environment of ECEC settings in relation to movement-play and physical activity. This research involves professional development for educators and uses the MOVERS environmental rating scale.

A critical area of research within Early Start focuses on the role of educators in physical activity learning experiences. K.L. Tonge and colleagues are interested in how high quality interactions between children and educators can enhance physical activity experiences in ECEC settings.

PLAYCE – University of Western Australia

The Play Spaces & Environments for Children’s Physical Activity study (PLAYCE) is a four-year Healthway funded study (2015-2018). PLAYCE is investigating a range of features, including indoor and outdoor space, play equipment, and natural features of the environment, to determine which have the most influence on children’s physical activity and health whilst attending ECEC. The research team is working with the ECEC sector in Western Australia and nationally to develop a checklist to assess whether services are meeting the standards detailed in Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard. This will help services identify what they can do to improve the quality of their physical environment to better support children’s physical activity, health and development.

So far, over 115 long day care services and 1400 children (2-5 years) and families have taken part in the PLAYCE study. Preliminary findings show less than one third of children meet the recommended three hours of physical activity per day and less than 8% achieve this recommendation in an average day while attending ECEC.

Physical health and wellbeing project – Gowrie Training and Consultancy and Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Gowrie Training and Consultancy (Tasmania) are collaborating with the Faculty of Education, QUT, in an Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) funded research project – Physical health and wellbeing: innovative approaches in an inner-city community. Project leader Dr Megan Gibson from QUT, together with Professor Andrew Hills from the University Tasmania, will be working with Gowrie Training and Consultancy and educators from the Lady Gowrie Integrated Child and Family Centre in Tasmania.

The AEDC is a national, population-based evaluation of child development in the first year of full-time schooling. AEDC data can help professionals working with children and families to think critically about how to effectively support children’s development. Early childhood educators are well placed to proactively use AEDC data to support and enhance children’s learning and development.

The project applies action research to support and enhance children’s physical health and wellbeing through:

  • building educator capability in relation to using AEDC data sets to inform professional decisions
  • enacting pedagogical practices that afford children opportunities to engage in challenging physical play, and
  • measuring and communicating about the effects of intentional, sustained and contextual practices to families, the local community and other ECEC services.

The overarching research question is:

How can early childhood educators enable children to flourish in the area of physical health and wellbeing?

The project involves educators applying key elements of action research to explore possibilities for children to flourish physically. Pedagogical documentation is central to the project as a tool for reflective practice that enables different ways of thinking about physical development. Examples of key areas of focus include: physical literacy, risk, the use of the outdoor environment, innovative ways to use equipment and resources, and educator decision-making.

Across the course of the project, educators are exploring resources to inform and shape their thinking about physical health and wellbeing, with examples including Active Healthy Kids Australia and Gooey Brains.

Early research findings have seen enhanced experiences and opportunities for children in the area of physical development.

For further information on the Physical health and wellbeing project, you can contact: Dr Megan Gibson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, QUT – ml.gibson@qut.edu.au. You can also read about the range of AEDC projects currently funded in Tasmania.

~o~

Now we have taken you through examples of the latest research and studies, how might you engage with their findings to improve quality outcomes for children?

Conducting an action research project at your service is one way to incorporate some of the ideas. The prompt questions below are another means of reflecting on physical activity at your service. You could also use some of the specific questions from any of the above studies or findings.

Questions for further investigation:

  • What innovative ideas could you incorporate into your environments to increase activity? For example, Duplo boards on the walls for construction or taking away chairs from the art area.
  • What skills and knowledge do educators have about physical activity, recommendations and fundamental movement skills?
  • How is risk aversion impacting physical activity?
  • What impact is the provisioning of outdoor environments having on children’s physical activity?

References

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education, Corwin, California.

Leaders as agents of change

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

Leaders within education and care are widely acknowledged as change agents, working with educators, families and communities to interpret and implement policy changes designed to raise the quality of early childhood and outside school hours care services. With the upcoming changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) coming into effect on 1 October 2017, what better time to consider how the leadership structures within your organisation are supporting an effective transition to the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) and regulatory standards?

The NQF is a framework that reflects a commitment to continuous improvement. Recent changes represent the voices of educators, families, communities and other stakeholders, responding to aspects of the NQF they believed could be improved to allow education and care services to focus on what matters – providing high quality programs and practice. The revised NQS represents a more streamlined set of quality standards that have been refined to reduce overlap and provide greater clarity and guidance.

One of the areas that has been streamlined is Quality Area 7, now titled Governance and Leadership. There is increased clarity about the expectations relating to governance and how philosophy, systems, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities support a strong foundation for leadership.

The revised standard also refines expectations of the role of educational leader. The new 7.2.2 element states: The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle. This change acknowledges the role requires support in order to effect positive changes and the significant role the educational leader plays in supporting educator understandings of the assessment and planning cycle.

Professor Joce Nuttall, a renowned academic, recognised authority in education and care leadership and member of the ACECQA Board shares some important messages that can prompt you to consider what this may mean for the way leadership is enacted in your service. In the first video Joce speaks about the context for leadership in education and care, particularly the difference between positional or hierarchical models and relational and distributed approaches.

In this next clip, Joce unpacks what support for the educational leader might look like, recognising this will be unique to the context of the service and the needs of individual educational leaders. She goes on to discuss the often opposing dynamics of positional and distributed leadership and poses some ideas for moving forward.

In order for the educational leader to be successful in generating quality outcomes, they must receive support from the approved provider and nominated supervisor. Joce discusses some of the theory and research as well as practical ideas about how this might happen.

Joce goes on to speak about the important role educational leaders play in building educators’ capacity to engage with and demonstrate knowledge of the assessment and planning cycle, by reflecting on children’s learning as individuals and groups as well as the effectiveness of the program as a whole.

In the final video, Joce encourages educational leaders to consider their own learning and professional development. This is essential if educational leaders are to support the development of others.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What is the collective understanding of leadership within your service?
  • How is the educational leader supported? What supports are needed?
  • How effectively are educators engaging with the planning cycle?
  • How is the educational leader leading the evaluation of the whole program?

For more information on the NQF changes, visit the ACECQA website.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – The role of the educational leader

ACECQA – National Educational Leader presentation – Educational Leadership

We Hear You – The role of the educational leader series

We Hear You – Unpacking the planning cycle series

We Hear You – Uncovering the layers of reflective practice series

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a three-part series exploring reflective practice.

The series will address some of the challenges educators face around reflective practice and critical reflection. We explore what it is and how it informs your work, practical strategies and what to record while sharing some quality practice examples.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Current data identifies Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice as one of the most challenging quality areas for services to gain a rating of Meeting or Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS). In particular, Element 1.2.3: Critical reflection on children’s learning and development has been at the top of the ‘not met’ list for some time. When critical reflection is embedded naturally in the practice at a service, educators engage in critical reflection as part of their daily routines.

In this series, the diagram representing the multiple layers of reflective practice will help us think through and visualise the way it connects and impacts all aspects of our work, from self-reflection to reflecting on teaching and learning and, finally, reflection that informs continuous improvement. The approved learning frameworks refer to reflective practice as a ‘form of on-going learning that involves engaging with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. Its intention is to gather information and gain insights that support, inform and enrich decision making about children’s learning’(Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11).

Throughout the series we use a range of terms interchangeably such as reflective practice and critical reflection. There is a common misconception that critical reflection is about finding fault or criticising an event or the actions of those involved. The reality is critical reflection involves reflecting on experiences, posing questions, sharing ideas and respectfully considering different perspectives. It allows us to develop deeper understandings, explore concerns, improve the program and raise the overall quality of education and care experiences of children. It also supports educators to develop confidence in professional judgement.

All aspects of your work are supported by critical reflection, including engaging with the NQS. The NQS is intentionally not prescriptive to empower educators to draw on their pedagogy and knowledge of child development and the learning frameworks, and to make decisions based on their unique knowledge of the children, families and communities in which the service operates. Remember, there’s no one set way or approach. Your process of critical reflection is unique to you and your service context.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider how critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

What you need to begin or strengthen your reflective practice:

  1. A safe respectful, ethical space where everyone’s ideas are valued and heard
  2. A willingness to continue learning, growing and changing
  3. A commitment to improving outcomes for children
  4. A refresh of the approved learning frameworks to support the process and the research
  5. TIME! Set aside some time to meet, think, read and reflect.

Remember the end goal is to improve outcomes for children, families and communities!

Next week, we will begin the series with part one and explore the way self-reflection is the key to growth, continuous improvement and quality outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet: Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

Early Childhood Australia – Reflection as a tool for quality: Working in the National Quality Standard

Children’s Services Central – Reflective Practice

Exploring professionalism: Will you ‘interpret the rules’ or ‘debate the intent’?

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

I thought it would be timely to explore how education and care professionals have grown and developed since the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF). Given that we are about to embark on the next stage of the continuous improvement with a revised National Quality Standard (NQS), I would like to open a dialogue that may spark some conversations with your teams as you ponder the questions:

  • What is your approach to the changes to the NQS?
  • Will this be an opportunity for innovation and change in the ways you look at quality improvement?

Sims, Forrest, Semann and Slattery (2015) raise the issue that whilst the intent of policy changes might be to empower educators to consider how the standards apply to their context, the result could in fact be that educators are disempowered. This thinking is based on the idea that educators may fear straying too far away from accepted ideas and practice due to a strong focus on accountability.

The article goes on to say that there can be a tendency to simply focus in on understanding and interpreting the ‘rules’ rather than debating the intent of the ‘rules and experimenting with a variety of ways relevant to context’ (p. 150).  So how do we as a profession begin or escalate the discussion about the intent of the NQS and build professionalism and confidence?

I reflected back on my involvement in the development of the NQS. We set out to develop an aspirational standard that was predominantly outcomes focused, not prescriptive and had inputs embedded within the minimum legislative requirements set out in the National Law and Regulations.

The exciting thing about this shift in focus from being told what to do and how to do it, is it empowers educators to draw on their pedagogy, knowledge of child development, the approved learning frameworks, the NQS and underpinning regulatory standards. This combined with their knowledge of individual children, families and communities empowers educators to make informed decisions about how they meet the standards in ways that are contextually relevant for the families and communities of their service.

I believe the revised NQS could be the catalyst to start such the discussion. To engage in critical inquiry, action research and professional conversations about what are the outcomes for children when these standards are met or indeed when they are exceeded. An example could be opening up a professional dialogue about why the planning cycle is important to facilitate children’s learning.

Some questions which may prompt reflection and discussion in your service:

  • What opportunities exist for educators to engage in professional conversations, critical inquiry and investigations?
  • How do you create and promote a culture of innovation within your service?
  • How open are educators in your team to trying different approaches?
  • Throughout the self-assessment process, how do educators unpack the ‘why’ behind practices, in particular those identified as strengths?

Reference

Sims, M., Forrest, R., Semann, A. and Slattery, C. (2015) ‘Conceptions of early childhood leadership: driving new professionalism?‘ International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 18 (2), 149-166.

Further reading and resources

NQF Changes Information sheets and resources

Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework

Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

Effective Professional conversations

Leader as mentor

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, delivered a presentation for an Educational Leaders Association meeting in December.  The presentation is available to view and share with your teams.

Rhonda explores how educational leaders drive quality practice by working to lead, coach, mentor and inspire educators towards continuous improvement and delivering quality outcomes for children and families.

The presentation runs for approximately half an hour and includes audio and slide components. Rhonda references a workbook that contains activities and reflective questions to work through and discuss during the presentation. You might like to download and print the workbook before watching the presentation.

prezi-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transition to School

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

Starting school is a big step for children and assisting them to transition to school successfully is important for their journey in continuing to be successful learners. School readiness is an often trotted out phrase for children in the term or even year before they are due to start formal schooling. In reality, however, children begin their learning journey from birth, and in fact many researchers would assert that learning begins before birth.

The KidsMatter publication, Transition to Primary School: A Review of the literature identifies the importance of supporting children to have a positive start to their school life and promoting children’s health and wellbeing. It recognises the transition to school  ‘involves negotiating and adjusting to a number of changes including the physical environment, learning expectations, rules and routines, social status and identity, and relationships for children and families’.

Knowing what to expect in the school environment helps children to make a smooth transition and preparing children for this begins well before their first day of school. Success is more likely when key stakeholders work and plan this transition collaboratively. The Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standard (NQS) recognise the importance of transitions and embedding continuity of learning as a key principle. This is acknowledged in Element 6.3.2 of the NQS which requires that continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities.

How can services assist in supporting children’s readiness for school? 

Firstly we can acknowledge that supporting children to transition to school does not need to be a separate part of the program. As educators, we know the value of play based learning, building children’s resilience and self-help skills, developing their confidence and respect, as well as their relationship and communication skills. The resource Continuity of Learning: A resource to support effective transition to school and school age care is aimed at sharing narratives of effective transition practice and to provoke reflection on these stories and their relevance for different contexts.

Being well prepared for school encompasses more than stencils and writing names. It also requires planning to ensure success. An action plan is a good way to document how you are collaboratively going to achieve the best outcomes for children in this process. It also allows the service and its educators to critically reflect on their practices. It is important to collaborate with children and their families to explore any anxieties, unpack any myths and set goals for a smooth transition.

We know the importance of incorporating activities to support the transition to school in everyday play based learning opportunities, such as encouraging children’s participation in group games and experiences, and having regular ‘lunch box’ days so children can practice opening and eating their own lunch.

We also know the importance most families place on literacy and numeracy as an indicator for children’s preparedness for school. As educators, we know that these skills can be incorporated in play based activities for all children to participate in, based on children’s interests.

We need to think about how we make the learning that occurs visible to families. A great way to showcase the learning that occurs is to reflect pedagogical theories and practices in language that can be easily understood and demonstrated in the documentation that is shared with families.

Another area where we can support children and their families is with the transition to before and after school care. This is a transition that may be sometimes forgotten, but should be acknowledged and explored with the children and families, in preparation for starting school.

When additional support is required 

Additional support may be required for families with a child (or children) who has a disability when their child starts school. It is essential that families talk to the prospective schools as early as possible to discuss the abilities, interests and additional needs of their child and how these may be accommodated at school, to allow schools time to prepare for children who may need additional support or specialist equipment. Many schools have specialist teachers for special education, as well as education assistants that can be called upon to support children who have additional needs.

Some schools have support programs for children for whom English is a second language, and some employ Aboriginal liaison officers. Providing information about the services available at local schools is one way to assist families make informed decisions and engage with relevant professionals and support staff.

Transition to School Statement 

Some services are required to complete a transition to school statement, developed by the relevant Education Department. If your service is not currently completing statements there are a number of useful Transition to School Statement templates that can facilitate information sharing with the school, examples include the Victorian and  New South Wales Government templates. In addition there are a range of resources on the Early Childhood Australia website and Early Childhood Resource Hub. These resources will help in developing effective strategies that involve all stakeholders. The service’s philosophy, policies and procedures should also guide practices that promote positive transitions and support children to build on their previous experiences to embrace the changes and challenges of the new school environment.

Starting school successfully means: Ready Families + Ready Services + Ready Schools + Ready Communities = Ready Children.

Reflective questions 

  • How can you incorporate transition to school in your environment?
  • Does your service have an action plan to help your service consistently support transition to school?
  • Do you currently complete a transition to school statement for children in your service?
  • How do you support families in this process? For example, do you email them a transition to school calendar? Do you hold an information night for families and children?

Further reading and resources

Child Care Co-operative has developed a Transition to School Example Policy which you may find helpful.

The Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit may assist services and schools to improve transition-to-school planning for children, their families and educators. See also: