Uncovering the layers of reflective practice

During the month of June, 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.

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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:

Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

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Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre

Collaboration and commitment: Building a culture of professional learning

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

National and international research recognises the benefits of leadership in the provision of quality education and care. The National Quality Framework (NQF) acknowledges how strong and informed educational leadership can make a difference to the experiences of children and contribute to quality learning outcomes.

Standard 7.1 requires that effective leadership promotes a positive organisational culture and a professional learning community’The approved learning frameworks, embed expectations around building a culture of professional inquiry, critical reflection and ongoing learning.

Recent research like Waniganayake, Rodd and Gibbs (2015), points to the importance of professional learning communities in supporting educational change. Fleet, De Gioia and Patterson (2016) in the book, Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry, also explore how a model of practitioner enquiry, established through a professional learning community, increases professional confidence and competence.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard reminds us that ‘leadership is a relationship between people and the best leaders are those who are able to empower others’ (p. 165). The collective sharing of skills can empower educators by instilling a sense of accountability and can influence rich and sustainable opportunities for quality improvement.

Professional learning communities usually have a shared vision, a desire to continue to develop their knowledge and a drive for the provision of quality. A professional learning community involves a lively culture of inquiry where educators are supported to think critically and engage in reflective conversations to enhance practice and continuous improvement. This includes engaging with and understanding ethical principles and professional standards as a basis for guiding decision making in everyday practice.

Building a culture of professional learning requires both commitment and collaboration from all parties involved. It requires educators to take active responsibility, and work respectfully and ethically with others towards a shared vision for children’s learning. At times it’s complex and requires sincere effort and perseverance, but in unity there is great strength. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Significantly, a culture of learning also extends to children. The guiding principles of the NQF recognise that the rights and best interests of children are paramount and that children are viewed as successful, competent and capable learners. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics underpin these guiding principles, which are pivotal to professional practice in early childhood education and care. The view of children as active citizens and learners is further embedded in the approved learning frameworks.

When the collective attitude within your service is focused on learning, growing and improving together, wonderful things can happen. When this attitude is reflected in the dialogue and the positive commitment of children, families and educators you’ll find opportunities for genuine involvement in service decision making.

Justine Tarrant, an educator from Queensland shares some insights as to how she works with children and colleagues to introduce a language and a culture of learning. We can see from Justine’s story how this is contributing to authentic collaboration and an appreciation of the important work of educators as professionals.

We have received really positive feedback from families about the way we discuss and describe children’s learning. Families are now using the same language and really valuing children’s time spent at the centre in terms of what they are learning. It is about helping people think in different ways, asking questions, rephrasing them and encouraging everyone to look at things from a different perspective.

As educators we are constantly reflecting on our conversations with children, are they optimistic and strengths focused, as opposed to simply instructional. When we raise our expectations of children as capable and competent they meet and even exceed those expectations. So we need to think about the tools and the language we are providing children to empower them to be socially responsible, connected learners.

We start from a base of high expectations and introduce a language of learning that is empowering for children, allowing them to discuss their own learning journey. We talk with the children about allowing and supporting others to learn and about making conscious choices as to who they would like to partner with to progress their learning.

As a team we have created a shared vision for learning, strongly influenced by Te Whariki (the New Zealand curriculum framework). It is a strengths based model that involves building a learning community including children, educators and families. We model and promote critical reflection as an inclusive supportive network of learners. We use language that connects with the intrinsic motivation to support other learners as opposed to being competitive and working in silos.

Guiding questions to help develop a professional learning community

  • How is the service’s shared vision for children’s learning used to shape the program, activities and experiences?
  • What strategies can be used to better communicate the shared vision with educators, families and community organisations?
  • How do professional standards, such as the Code of Ethics, contribute to the development of your professional learning culture?
  • How does your service build on the capacity and strength of team members to distribute or share leadership?
  • What does it mean to recognise and honour children’s rights as active learners and citizens?
  • How do we share decision making with our families? What are we willing/unwilling to share decisions about?
  • In what ways do we work with the community to meet the needs of children and their families?

References

Fleet, A., De Gioia, K. and Patterson, C. (2016) Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry.  London: Bloomsbury

Malaguzzi, L. (1998) History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini & E. Forman (Eds.), The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – advanced reflections. Westport, CT: Ablex.

Waniganayake, M., Rodd, J. and Gibbs, L. (2015) Thinking and learning about leadership. Sydney, Australia: Community Childcare Cooperative.

Further reading and resources

The role of the educational leader: Part 1

The role of the educational leader: Part 2

The role of the educational leader: Part 3

Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Being and Becoming Early Childhood Leaders: Reflections on Leadership Studies in Early Childhood Education and the Future Leadership Research Agenda

The role of the educational leader: Part 3

During the month of October, We Hear You will be showcasing a three-part series exploring the development of ‘The role of the educational leader’.

In the final instalment of the series, we turn our focus on the way educational leaders work with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the program to life.

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning

The final instalment in our educational leader series focuses on how leaders work with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the curriculum to life. The expectations in Standard 7.1 of the National Quality Standard include establishing a positive organisational culture and creating a professional learning community. This involves recognising and acknowledging leadership as a collaborative endeavour. It is about building the capacity of educators through developing trusting relationships where teams work together and support each other to improve outcomes for children (Thornton, 2010).

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care acknowledge an important consideration when considering goals and expectations for teaching and learning:

Children are receptive to a wide range of experiences. What is included or excluded from the curriculum affects how children, learn, develop and understand the world (p. 9/6).

What is the best way to go about setting goals for teaching and learning?

Just like other aspects of the educational leader’s role, there is no one right way. The Guide to the National Quality Standard (p. 87) provides some examples of strategies that educational leaders might use. Developing a strong understanding across the service of the principles, practices and learning outcomes in the relevant learning framework is a great starting point to collaboratively decide on teaching and learning goals.

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belonging_page10The collective knowledge about pedagogy; child (and/or adolescent) development; the relevant learning frameworks; the service’s philosophy and policies; National Quality Standard and underpinning legislative standards and most importantly the collective knowledge about individual children, families and the community is a strong foundation for determining relevant goals and expectations for teaching and learning. It is essential to think about the service context in the process of identifying relevant goals and expectations.

It is worthwhile, spending some time thinking about:

  • additional strategies the educational leader could use to build educators’ understanding of teaching and learning
  • how the educational leader works with other educators to support and extend children’s learning
  • how new ideas and research are incorporated into the educational program and practice
  • what opportunities are available for discussion and reflective practice
  • what aspects of the service philosophy guide goals for teaching and learning.

When the organisational climate promotes respect, collaboration, reflection and  exploration of new ideas, theories and strategies, issues relating to program quality, environment design, equity and children’s wellbeing can be raised and debated (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 13).

The role of the educational leader connects across many quality areas and will involve the educational leader navigating and linking a range of systems, processes and policies across the service’s operations. In addition to the standards and elements in Quality Area 1, the following are particularly relevant when thinking about the support and mentoring role of the educational leader:

  • Standard 1.2: Educators and co-ordinators are focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child.
  • Element 4.2.2: Educators, co-ordinators and staff members work collaboratively and affirm, challenge, support and learn from each other to further develop their skills and to improve practice and relationships.
  • Element 7.2.2: The performance of educators, co-ordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement.

Educational leaders are encouraged to reflect on how they are supporting critical reflection with teams in ways that encourage teams to work together and challenge each other. When setting goals for teaching and learning, ownership and commitment are more likely to be built if children, educators and families are involved in the process. The process of identifying and prioritising goals and expectations is also likely to assist in identifying professional development priorities and goals.

What is the best way to document goals for teaching and learning?

While there are no specific requirements on how to implement or document the way the educational leader guides the curriculum and sets goals for teaching and learning, it makes sense to have a plan that links to what the service already has in place. Suggestions include making links to the service’s Quality Improvement Plan, Strategic Plan, Reconciliation Action Plan and Strategic Improvement Plan to make explicit the strategies the educational leader is implementing to support continuous improvement and outcomes for children. The goals may also be woven through, reflected in, or align with the service’s philosophy and program planning and evaluation documents.

It is important to remember that the most effective and sustained changes and enhancements occur when teams work collaboratively to research, negotiate, shape and implement reform. Take it slow, collaborate with others, learn from experiences and don’t forget to celebrate the achievements along the way.

Further reading and resources

  • Green, J. & Bickley, M. (2013). Developing a Learning Community for Educational Leaders, Reflections, Winter: 51, Gowrie NSW
  • ACECQA – National Education Leader resources
  • Thornton, K. (2010) School leadership and student outcomes: The best evidence synthesis iteration: Relevance for early childhood education and implications for leadership practice, Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 25(1), pp. 31-41

Read the complete series:

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning