Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

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

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

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

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

We play on our land.

We learn from our ancestors.

We belong with our communities.

About National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

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

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

Children’s Day and the National Quality Framework

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

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

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

How can we celebrate Children’s Day?

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

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

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

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

Further reading and resources to support your learning journey

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

ACECQA We Hear You Blog Posts

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children – Resources

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

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

Understanding and exploring educational leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge

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

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

Reflective questions

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

 

Professionalism

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

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

Reflective questions

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

 

Relationships

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

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

Reflective questions

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

 

Reflection

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

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

Reflective questions

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

 

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

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

Further reading and resources

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

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

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

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

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

What is self-assessment? 

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

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

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

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

The narrative of quality improvement

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

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

Documenting your story of continuous improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on the quality of your practice

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

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

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

What else could be considered?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A collaborative process and a shared vision  

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading and resources to support your practice

Creating positive mealtimes

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

Mealtimes at education and care services offer many rich opportunities to promote positive outcomes for children. Positive mealtimes are not only about nutritional requirements – they can shape children’s learning, development, health and wellbeing.

They involve every child enjoying nutritious and culturally appropriate food and snacks in a social, responsive, pleasurable, safe and educative environment. They also demonstrate outcomes from each National Quality Standard (NQS) quality area.

I encourage you to view your current mealtimes with a positive mealtime ‘lens’ and use these reflective questions to inspire conversations with your team.

1. Does your physical environment promote positive mealtimes?

The physical environment (NQS Quality Area 3) influences quality practice and has a significant impact on mealtimes and the potential for social interaction, learning, inclusion, safety, and wellbeing. The change in mood when we eat outdoors is a perfect example of this impact.

The components of this physical environment are broad, including everything from table and chair arrangements and table settings to noise levels and serving utensils.

Each service has a unique environment, and few have access to purpose-built, family-style dining areas. Food may also be brought from home to be eaten at the service. In outside-school-hours care services, food may be eaten on a bench or in a hall that requires daily transformation.

Whatever the environment, consider these questions:

  • Mealtime location: Does it promote a sense of belonging? Does it support mealtimes being social and relaxed occasions where children have time to eat, choose and interact, or does it uphold mealtimes as a rushed routine?
  • Is the environment child-centred? Do furniture and utensils suit different ages and sizes of children? Does the space accommodate children’s developing skills and independence and the inherent ‘mess’ that can sometime come with it?
  • Inclusion: Can each child access, participate and engage in mealtimes? Does the environment reflect and respect children’s needs?
  • Table settings: Do table and chair arrangements promote social interaction and engagement between children and between educators and children? Do table settings support mealtimes as an occasion?
  • Agency: Does the environment promote children’s agency and self-help skills? E.g. setting tables; finding their place; sharing food; serving food; processing waste.
  • Connection to the broader food environment: Is there a connection between mealtime and other food environments? This connection could be physical (e.g. the dining area is next to the kitchen; garden produce is used in meals); social (e.g. the cook has a relationship with children and educators; garden produce is shared with families); or through the educational program (e.g. the kitchen, garden, mealtimes or composting are used for learning experiences).
  • Transitions: Are transitions to and from mealtime environments respectful to children and calm?

2. Do mealtimes nurture relationships?

Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships are fundamental principles of the approved learning frameworks, and relationships between children and with children are integral to NQS Quality Area 5.

Connections with others support the development of children’s identity and social and emotional competence. Research has confirmed the nature, quality and consistency of interactions between educators and children is one of the most important influences on quality education and care.

Mealtimes are intrinsically social and offer regular opportunities to have positive interactions, build secure relationships, learn from one another, provide emotional support, promote language and inspire learning.

You could also consider:

  • Positive interactions: Educators who consistently model positive interactions and mealtime skills will support children’s development.
  • Relationship building opportunities: Are educators able to sit with children at mealtimes or is attention focused on simultaneously serving, cleaning, supervising, setting up environments or doing paperwork? Quality interactions and relationships need quality time and attention.

3. Do mealtimes promote holistic health?

Healthy eating is integral to promoting children’s health (NQS Quality Area 2), with physical, social and emotional health all being nurtured by positive meals times.  A healthy menu (or healthy food brought from home) provides a firm foundation for health.

For holistic health, the healthy menu needs to be provided safely and in a health-promoting environment that also considers social and emotional health and wellbeing. The mealtime environment, relationships and staffing are important influences.

Beyond the firm foundation of a healthy menu, you could promote positive social and emotional health and wellbeing by:

  • Creating positive mealtimes that are social, relaxed and calm
  • Actively involving children in mealtimes
  • Never using food as a punishment or reward
  • Not discussing food in relation to a child’s weight or size
  • Not labelling foods as good/bad/clean/junk; instead, talk about ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes/treat’ foods
  • Respecting children’s appetites and preferences and never forcing children to eat
  • Respecting children’s cultural diversity and the values and beliefs of families (NQS Quality Area 6)
  • Being respectful of children and families when food choices or food brought from home are inconsistent with food and nutrition policies
  • Ensuring the menu reflects the needs of the children and community.

4. Are mealtimes a part of the educational program?

Positive mealtimes offer immense opportunity for each child’s learning and development to be enhanced and extended (NQS Quality Area 1).

Mealtimes allow children to learn about:

  • their identity (I prefer certain foods. My family celebrates our culture with food.)
  • relationships (When we sit for lunch, we share the milk. I like to sit next to my friend so I can talk to them.)
  • their community (We grow mint in our garden. Our cook’s name is Sam.)
  • literacy (My name card has an ‘A’. I can explain how to chop fruit.)
  • numeracy (There are six people at our table. I can make a pattern with my peas.), and
  • their world (Pancakes are made from wheat. When I have food in my mouth I don’t try and talk at the same time).

Connecting the mealtime environment to the kitchen, garden and waste processing also supports learning and development.

5. Does staffing organisation and leadership promote positive mealtimes?

Positive mealtimes require supportive staffing arrangements (NQS Quality Area 4) and effective leadership (NQS Quality Area 7).

For mealtimes to be social, responsive, pleasurable, safe and educative, educators need to be seen as an important part of them. Staffing at mealtimes can be challenging as staff responsibilities and meal breaks are juggled.

Positive mealtimes that are embedded in practice are visible in policies, procedures and programs, and guided by the service philosophy.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Relationships with children

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Supporting agency: Involving children in decision-making

ACECQA – Information Sheet – The environment as “The Third Teacher’

Department of Health – Resources – Get up and Grow: Healthy eating and physical activity

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation – Resources – Pleasurable food education

 

Each child, every child – building positive relationships and supportive environments

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

As a new year starts, children, educators and staff are returning from breaks, new families are joining education and care services, and children are transitioning between groups, rooms or service types. It’s often a busy period of adjustment and organisation – and a significant time for building relationships, and creating learning environments where each child can feel included and supported.

Why do educator-child relationships matter?

Research shows that high quality educator to child relationships and interactions are key elements to create a quality education and care environment. These are significant influences on children’s social and emotional development – actively contributing to positive learning, development, wellbeing and future life outcomes.

Developing relationships with children is an important component of the National Quality Standard (NQS). Quality Area 5 focuses on educators developing responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children that promote their wellbeing, self-esteem, sense of security and belonging.

Respectful relationships with children and families help educators find out more about each child’s strengths, ideas, culture, capabilities and interests. This knowledge supports provision of responsive learning environments and quality child-centred educational programs and practices. This maximises opportunities to enhance each child’s learning and development.

When children experience nurturing and respectful relationships with educators they develop an understanding of themselves as competent, capable and respected, and feel a sense of belonging. This helps children feel safe, secure, and included, and helps them grow confidence to play, explore and learn. Gaining each child’s trust and making an effort to get to know them well is an ongoing process of relationship building, and extends far beyond simply being friendly.

Building respectful, trusting educator-child relationships

A new year brings the opportunity to critically reflect on how respectful, trusting educator-child relationships are developed and maintained within your education and care service. Evaluating the success of your existing policies, procedures and practices can help identify and affirm strengths and highlight possible improvements to better support each child to feel secure, confident and included.

Regularly revisiting requirements and key guidance documents helps ensure these strengths of your service remain a priority and grow stronger over time.

Where to start?   

These key guidance documents provide valuable suggestions for educators as they develop responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children.

The Education and Care Services National Regulations require education and care services to have policies and procedures about interactions with children (reg. 155, 156 and 168). The start of a new year is a good time to review and evaluate how your policies are reflected in service practices, and how they actively promote relationships with children that are responsive, respectful and support children’s sense of security and belonging. For example, how your service’s policies are informed by your service’s philosophy, and guide its enrolment and orientation procedures.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF) is designed to help education and care providers, service leaders, educators and authorised officers understand and apply NQF. The guidance for the Standards and Elements within Quality Area 5 provide valuable suggestions for the way that educators can work with children to support their current wellbeing and their future development. The ‘questions to guide reflection’ are a useful tool for reviewing and evaluating your current practice.

National approved learning frameworks support education and care services’ reflections on how the elements, principles, practice and learning outcomes guide knowledge and practice.

Early Childhood Australia’s (ECA’s) Code of Ethics provides a framework for reflection on ethical responsibilities of education and care professionals, and a collection of statements offering guidance about educators’ practice and relationships with children.

Reflective questions to inspire conversations with your team

  • What are all the ways that you get to know each child well?
  • How do children demonstrate a sense of belonging, security and comfort?
  • How does your service help children form secure attachments with educators? (e.g. primary caregiving groups/key educator system, orientation, settling in procedures)
  • Does your service philosophy support a commitment to building relationships with children? How does this inform your service policies, procedures and everyday practice?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Relationships with children

We Hear You – Responsive, respectful relationships

Celebrating progress

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

Year-end is a time for celebration, as we reflect on accomplishments and progress across the last twelve months. In a busy education and care service, progress can sometimes be difficult to see or feel in a tangible way. What is progress? What counts as progress? How do we measure progress or success?

Progress is generally considered to be a measure of how well we are moving towards improvement or defined goals. In quality education and care, our overarching goals are positive outcomes for children and families.

What counts as progress towards these outcomes can involve a multitude of factors. For example, progress could be seen though factors such as children’s learning, family belonging, stability of educators and through children’s wellbeing. These factors can all improve positively over time and are valid ways to assess your progress towards defined goals. If these factors are not improving over time, it provides an opportunity to critically reflect on your practices and consider any changes needed.

Measuring progress with a holistic lens

Using just one factor, such as family belonging, to measure progress may not capture all of the rich ways in which outcomes for children and families are being achieved by your service. Just one factor can be important, but it won’t give the complete picture.

Internationally, measurements of progress are shifting to a holistic perspective and moving beyond one simple measure.  For example, the Australian National Development Index (ANDI) aims to measure Australia’s progress by twelve domains, such as wellbeing, education, health and the environment, not just simply by economic gross domestic product (GDP). This recognises the many factors that contribute to community development and sustainable wellbeing.

Similarly, progress in education and care can be reviewed and celebrated using a holistic lens. The seven quality areas of the National Quality Standard are a great starting point. They capture the diverse and important components of quality education and care that deliver positive outcomes.

It’s important to recognise and celebrate the important contributions that educators, service leaders, staff and approved providers make in the lives of children and families. It is timely to identify and celebrate the contribution of you and your colleagues.

As the year draws to a close, I encourage you to find time to pause to consider how far your service and the children, families and staff of your community have travelled this year. It’s important to celebrate the progress that you are making to give children the best possible start in life.

The ideas and questions attached in this table offer a starting point.

Review and celebrate your 2018 service journey. How far have you travelled?

Happy holidays

I wish you and your teams a very well deserved break over the summer, and am looking forward to hearing more about your celebrations and achievements in the New Year.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Reviewing your service philosophy

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Using complaints to support continuous improvement

ACECQA – We Hear You – Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

Early Childhood Australia – Code of Ethics

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 0-2 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 3-5 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 6-8 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 9-12 years

 

Developing a professional learning community

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

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

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

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

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

A professional learning community values every member

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a structured process in a safe space

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

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

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

Reflective questions encourage deeper thinking about individual and group practices.

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

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

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

It’s about a shared purpose

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

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

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

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

It helps practice make perfect

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

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

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

Questions to guide reflection

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

I’d love to see you sharing your journeys

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

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

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

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

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