Mentoring matters

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

Mentoring strengthens educators’ professional development and growth and builds capacity.  Through support of quality practice in the National Quality Standard (NQS) Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7, mentoring also promotes positive outcomes for children and families. Commonplace within most professions and organisations, mentoring can take many different forms and suggest a variety of responsibilities and expectations. Our understanding of mentoring can be influenced by personal experience, perspective and context.

To provide insight into this highly effective education and care professional development strategy, this month’s blog explores 10 key mentoring understandings.

1. Mentoring supports all educators

Mentoring is beneficial to all educators throughout their career. Educational practice, knowledge and skills develop and grow over time; mentoring can occur at any time along this learning and professional development continuum. Mentoring provides opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor. Mentoring, therefore, has positive outcomes for services, providers and the profession as a whole.

2. Mentoring is a relationship

Mentoring is a two-way, nurturing, learning relationship and, like all relationships, requires commitment and effort. Mentees are encouraged to be open to the possibility of the learning journey and mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and champion the mentee’s professional growth. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly commit to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, relational trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

3. Mentoring is reciprocal

Mentoring is not a one-directional, ‘top-down’ imparting of practice, knowledge and skills. Reciprocity acknowledges both the mentee and mentor’s mutual contributions, experiences, agency, and competence. Mentee and mentor are partners in the learning process, and knowledge gained by both is new and co-constructed. Mentoring is not hierarchical supervision but rather an open, responsive and reciprocal relationship. In a service context, mentoring does not necessarily need to be linked to supervisory roles. Selecting a mentor should be based on who is best suited, and has the capacity, to support the mentee.

4. Mentoring requires quality time and resources

Mentoring is undertaken over a sustained period; it is not a one-off meeting. Mentoring requires planning, time and resources for regular conversations and for a learning relationship to flourish. As education and care settings can be time-challenged, quality mentoring time usually needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires leadership and a positive organisational culture to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

5. Mentoring involves critical reflection

Reflecting on practice (by closely examining ethics, philosophy and decision-making processes) is central to the mentoring process for both mentees and mentors.  A culture of mentoring promotes a culture of reflective practice. A positive organisational culture and environment provide a safe and supportive space for a mentee to self-assess and be self-reflective.

6. Great mentors are made, not born

To be effective, mentors need suitable skills, dispositions and resources. Mentoring can be a demanding role and not selecting the right mentor can have a negative impact on the mentee. Mentors should have:

  • a suitable disposition
  • knowledge, skills and experience in the specific field
  • strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • training and practice in facilitating adult learning
  • ongoing support.

7. Communication skills are essential

Mentoring will be most successful when mentoring goals and processes are transparent and understood by all. Effective communication underpins successful mentoring and includes:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange and feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • understanding of non-verbal communication
  • cultural awareness.

Mentors will ideally have training in communication to help support and guide mentees in professional conversations.

8. Mentoring is an organic, dynamic process

Professional growth and development involve change. Mentoring can transform knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes and perspectives of mentees and mentors.  Change is not usually linear, being uniquely shaped by the purpose and context. Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

I. Getting to know each other and building trust

II. Goal setting and action planning

III. Developing professional skills and tracking progress

IV. Evaluating progress and outcomes

V. Moving forward – either completing the process or returning to Step II to repeat the cycle.

9. One size does not fit all

Mentoring is intrinsically a relationship and is most effective when the relationship is complementary and tailored to both mentee and mentor’s needs. No two relationships are identical. In its most effective form, mentoring is undertaken in a structured manner with very clear goals, roles, scope and scheduling. However, less structured mentoring can also be beneficial. Mentoring relationships may also be provided in a collective approach, such as when an external mentor supports a group of educators in one service or in a number of remote services.  This group context can provide different but equivalent professional development as a one-to-one engagement.

10. Mentoring is not always face-to-face

Mentoring can be undertaken face to face, on- or off-site and via phone, email, web or social media. The context and purpose affect the process. For example, on-site engagement and real-time feedback from observations may be essential for pre-service educator mentoring, whereas online engagement may be practical for peer-mentoring in remote locations. The role of social media in mentoring is an evolving phenomenon.

~o~

Considering and reflecting on these 10 key understandings can help you frame your thinking about the valuable role mentoring can play in supporting educators. The additional NEL and We Hear You blogs listed below  may support you in exploring mentoring options further.

Further reading and resources

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

Early Childhood Development Agency – Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning focused relationships

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

KidsMatter – Mentoring: relationships that sustain and inspire

MindTools – The GROW Model: A simple process for coaching and mentoring

Murphy, C. and Thornton, K. (2015) Mentoring in Early Childhood Education, NZCER Press, Wellington, New Zealand.

We Hear You – National Education Leader – Leader as mentor

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Playing your part in child protection

ChildProtection_wehearyou

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

Child abuse and neglect is preventable. If we all work together as a community we can create an Australia where all children can grow up safe and well. What role can you play in supporting children and their families? ~ Richard Cooke, CEO, NAPCAN

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Australia 2016– 17 report, the number of children receiving child protection services continues to rise. Around 168,000 children received child protection services in 2016-2017 which equates to one in every 32 children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were seven times more likely to receive child protection services than non-Indigenous children. The report also highlights that the majority of children in the child protection system are repeat clients.

The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) invites us all to get involved with National Child Protection Week this week and play a part in creating safe and nurturing environments for all Australian children. Held annually, and commencing on Father’s Day each September, National Child Protection Week (Sunday 2 – Saturday 8 September this year) reminds us that we all have a role in protecting children from harm. By building stronger communities, we can create safer environments for our children.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) recognises the importance of creating safe environments for every child. From the National Law and Regulations to the National Quality Standard (NQS), creating and maintaining safe and nurturing environments for all children is recognised as quality practice, guiding us as we play our part in protecting children from harm.

Creating safe and nurturing environments

Creating safe environments within education and care settings is sometimes complex and challenging. Many of us are confident in our ability to create and design learning spaces with children that nurture the development of the individual child and fulfil their curiosity. We strive to ensure children are supervised as they play and relax in a variety of settings, from our homes to school settings. However, it is sometimes harder to build our capacity to respond confidently and to challenge our thinking about how we support the ongoing health, safety and wellbeing of every child.

Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, reinforces each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.  Element 2.2.3 requires that management, educators and staff be aware of their roles and responsibilities to identify and respond to every child at risk of abuse or neglect.

Under Section 162A of the Education and Care National Law, the approved provider has the responsibility of ensuring that each nominated supervisor and each person in day-to-day charge of the service has successfully completed child protection training, if required in their state or territory.

The approved provider also has the responsibility of ensuring that the nominated supervisors and staff members at the service are advised of the existence and application of the current child protection law and that they understand any obligations they may have under that law (Education and Care Services National Regulations, r 84).

Are you a mandatory reporter?

Across Australia, state and territory legislation prescribes occupations that are mandated to report a child at risk of abuse or neglect. Those who frequently deal with children in the course of their work, such as education and care professionals, are usually mandatory reporters.

For more information on the legal provisions and your role as a mandatory reporter, head to: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect.

What does mandatory reporting mean?

Mandatory reporting is a strategy that acknowledges the prevalence, seriousness and often hidden nature of child abuse and neglect. It enables the detection of cases that otherwise may not come to the attention of agencies. The laws help to create a culture that is more child-centred and build a community that will not tolerate serious abuse and neglect of children.

Research has shown that mandated reporters make a substantial contribution to child protection and family welfare.

Child Safe Organisations Project

As part of the Child Safe Organisations Project and commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, is leading the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Principles are intended to apply to all organisations, including education and care services across Australia. They are due to be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in mid-to late 2018.

The National Principles reflect ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with a broader scope that goes beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The National Principles aim to drive the implementation of a child safe culture across all sectors, providing services to children and young people to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people across Australia.

Organisations should be safe and welcoming for all children and young people. The National Principles highlight ways in which organisations should consider the needs of children from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. The principles emphasise the importance of culturally safe environments and practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

The National Principles collectively show that a child safe organisation is one that creates a culture, adopts strategies and takes action to promote child wellbeing and prevent harm to children and young people. This may begin with the development of your service philosophy and policies and procedures, which underpin and lead to, the creation of ongoing quality practices. These practices, informed by critical reflection and meaningful engagement with families and community members, allow educators and staff to proactively identify and respond confidently to issues related to the safety and protection of children attending the service.

A child safe organisation consciously and systematically:

  • creates an environment where children’s safety and wellbeing is the centre of thought, values and actions
  • emphasises genuine engagement with, and valuing of, children
  • creates conditions that reduce the likelihood of harm to children and young people
  • creates conditions that increase the likelihood of identifying any harm
  • responds to any concerns, disclosures, allegations or suspicions of harm.

Let’s all be a part of National Child Protection Week

NCPW_2018To get involved with National Child Protection Week, you can:

  • Check out the NAPCAN website for events in your area or plan an event at your service. Some examples of events you could consider for your service include:
    – a display made collaboratively by children and educators
    – a shared meal at your service
    – attending a local forum supporting child safety, or
    – joining in with a local family to support services fundraiser.
  • Encourage your families and staff to attend an event being held in your local community.
  • Make your influence positive; start a conversation today with your colleagues and families about listening to and valuing the voice of children and young people. What might this look like within your service?

Reflective questions

  • How do you inform families and community members about the service’s role and responsibility in protecting children?
  • How do new employees become informed about child protective measures that your service has in place?
  • How are the Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 2?
  • Does your philosophy reflect your service’s child safe practices?
  • Is your service a child safe organisation?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children. Guidance on the different reporting requirements under the National Law and Regulations.

NAPCAN – free downloadable resources to share with families, staff and children.

Australian Institute of Family Studies website – provides information on Children’s Commissioners and Guardians in each state and territory.

Australian Human Rights CommissionBuilding Belonging is a comprehensive toolkit of resources for promoting child safety and inclusion.

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations: Tools and resources.

Australian Institute of Family Studies – Child Protection Legislation Resource Sheet 2018

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

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

Meaningful engagement and collaboration between education and care community members strengthen quality outcomes for children. Practice that is informed by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community is also one of three themes that need to be demonstrated by services to receive an Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) rating for a standard. In the final instalment of this five-part series, we outline some key strategies for engaging and collaborating with your community.

Engaging and collaborating with my community

Engage with and in your community

When you engage meaningfully with and in your community, you increase your knowledge of your community, promote understanding, and provide opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. Importantly, you ensure practice is informed by, and is responsive to, your unique community and context. Your community members have a wealth of knowledge, capacities, expertise and resources and unique strengths and priorities. Services can learn from and build on these to strengthen the community and collectively support your community’s purpose of positive educational and developmental outcomes for children.

Meaningful engagement seeks and values ongoing participation and the inclusion of all community members’ voices, including those of children, in decision-making. Positive relationships and a strong sense of community will encourage participation.

Usual communication and engagement strategies include conversations, meetings, surveys and community events. Other formal and informal ways to engage with and in your community, seek knowledge and understanding of community members and promote participation could include:

Children and families

  • Child enrolment processes and documentation.
  • Orientation and year-start practices such as tours, open days, welcome events, ‘All about Me/Us’ child or family documentation.
  • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data for your neighbourhood, suburb or community to identify children’s developmental vulnerabilities and to support planning.
  • Sharing knowledge, understanding and documentation of children’s learning, development and wellbeing from your own and other education and care services they are enrolled in: e.g. the school associated with an OSHC service; a previous or concurrent education and care service a child has or is attending.
  • Connecting with health, education and family-support organisations involved with enrolled children and their families.
  • Sending a camera home with children and families to record what is meaningful to them.

Staff

  • Recruitment and staff induction processes.
  • Networking group meetings for cooks, educators, educational leaders, co-ordinators or directors.
  • Professional development and team building experiences.

Health, education and family-support professionals and organisations

  • Current professional networks.
  • Formal information or resource-sharing meetings.
  • Engagement in professional development.
  • Targeted research and engagement through access points such as professional networks and organisations.

Place

  • Neighbourhood walks, excursions and inviting visitors to attend the service.
  • Engagement with your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through the local Land Council, Language and Culture Centre, Indigenous Educational Consultative Body, Elders, or community liaison officers.
  • Formal information or resource-sharing meetings with the local council, historical association or community organisations etc.
  • Targeted research and engagement through access points such as local media, libraries, or community organisations.

Promote your service and purpose to your community

Relationships, engagement and collaboration are a two-way and dynamic process, so it is also important to ensure your community knows and understands your service and purpose in promoting quality outcomes for children. Your purpose should be evident in the living document of your service philosophy, communicated through your resources, and evident in enrolment, orientation and staff induction processes. This will ensure your purpose is clearly understood and consistently implemented.

Use engagement opportunities such as year-start, community and networking meetings to communicate meaningful information about your service and to reaffirm your purpose. Print, news, broadcast or social media also offer opportunities to connect with your community.

Collaborate with your community

Collaboration is a pooling of resources and co-ordination of approaches to achieve something that would not be possible by one party, alone. Collaboration has a goal: for example, when an early childhood service and a school and outside school hours care service share information and collaboratively plan for a child’s transition to school and their future learning; or when a family day care service strives for continual quality improvement and collaborates with families to share decision making. Collaboration depends on the context and reflects the unique resources and strengths of those collaborating. It is usually characterised by supportive leadership, an inclusive approach and recognition of the unique strengths and resources that each partner brings to the collaboration.

The importance of collaborative partnerships with families and communities to quality practice and outcomes for children is reflected in NQS Quality Area 6 and as mentioned previously, a theme for determining practice that exceeds the NQS. Collaborative partnerships and community development are also integral to the criteria for the NQS Excellent rating. Examples of exemplary collaborative practice are evident in many of the Excellent rated services: for example, the collaboration between Tigger’s Honeypot and the University of NSW and collaborations between Indooroopilly Montessori Children’s House and Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) Preschools in Timor Leste and also Men’s Shed. Inspirational examples of collaboration can also be found in Community Stories on the AEDC website.

Reflective questions and activities for you and your team or service

  • To receive a rating of Exceeding NQS for any standard, three Exceeding themes need to be demonstrated. Theme 3 is Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community. Select one of the 15 NQS standards and discuss how your service could demonstrate this Exceeding NQS theme.
  • How do you engage with children and include their voices in your practices and decision-making?
  • Brainstorm new or innovative ways to meaningfully engage with and in your community.
  • How is collaboration with families valued and reflected in your service’s philosophy, policies and everyday practice?

~o~

I hope you have enjoyed our five-part series exploring the notion of community and have drawn inspiration from the ideas, strategies, reflections and resources. The personal community-engagement experiences of ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, may also provide further inspiration for engaging, collaborating and enriching the relationships with your community.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – New Guidance on determining Exceeding NQS for standards

ACECQA – Quality Area 6 – Collaborative partnerships with families and communities

ACECQA Newsletter – Inviting children’s participation and voices into the education program

Australian Early Development Census – Data, resources and community stories

Australian Government – Family-School Partnerships Framework

Early Childhood Australia – Collaborating with families: Not a problem!

Narragunnawalli – Professional learning and resources

Reconciliation Australia – Video – Build relationships with community

Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne – Engaging marginalised and vulnerable families

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

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

Positive relationships between education and care community members strengthen quality outcomes for children. In the fourth part of our series, we outline some key strategies for developing relationships with your community members.

Building relationships with my community
  1. Understand the ingredients of a relationship

Relationships are the bedrock of education and care quality practice as they are central to child development, learning and wellbeing. Relationships are also essential to creating a sense of community. Whether the relationship is between an educator and a child, a group of children, a provider and a family-support organisation, or a service’s staff members, positive relationships require the essential ingredients of honesty, warmth, open communication, responsiveness, respect and mutual trust.

  1. Be thoughtful when developing relationships

Awareness of cultural differences and respect for diversity will support positive relationship-building. Be open to differences and seek to genuinely know your community members. Ask questions sensitively, consider cross-cultural communications issues such as language, eye contact and greetings, and reflect on of the influence of your own values, beliefs and perspective.

  1. Appreciate relationships can take time

As some ingredients of a relationship, such as respect and mutual trust, take time to develop, relationships can also take time. Just as children need to feel secure and supported before they feel confident to interact and explore, adults also need to feel emotionally comfortable before they interact and participate. A welcoming, respectful and inclusive environment will support this.

  1. Ensure community members feel welcome

“When the environment reflects and is rich in the culture and identity of the enrolled families and the wider community, it helps families to feel valued and good about themselves.” (Early Childhood Australia 2012, p. 36)

If community members feel welcome and comfortable, they will be more confident to engage and confidently participate in a service. This promotes relationship-building with other community members. To create a welcoming environment, consider:

Your physical environment:

  • Welcoming, inviting and inclusive spaces and signage that reflect, respect and celebrate the culture and context of children, their families and your community.
  • Consistent, child-friendly spaces for children to keep their belongings.
  • Learning environments that are inviting and inclusive and foster pro-social interactions between children.
  • Spaces that promote unhurried conversation and interaction between adults.
  • Spaces for families to contribute to and engage in children’s learning.
  • Calm and peaceful spaces that promote wellbeing.
  • Spaces that respect privacy (for example, for sensitive conversations or discussions).

Your ‘people’ environment:

  • Welcoming and positive staff whose honesty, warmth, consistency and responsiveness encourage interaction and relationship building.
  • Staff who respect the culture and context of children’s families and your community.
  • Professional, respectful and positive communication and interactions between staff.

Your ‘organisational’ environment (policies, practices and procedures):

  • Respectful and responsive enrolment and orientation policies and procedures that promote communication, understanding and relationship-building.
  • ‘Open door’ policy for families.
  • Staffing organisation that allows time and opportunity for interaction with families and meetings with professionals.
  • Staff induction procedures that promote confidence and belonging.
  • Staffing arrangements that provide opportunity for professional collaboration.
  • Community engagement practices that encourage collaboration.

  1. Ensure relationships are meaningful

Respect and trust will be more likely to be developed when the commitment to forming the relationship is genuine and meaningful without the expectation that something is required in return. When relationships are meaningful, positive outcomes are promoted.

A good example of this is when educators and a family have a genuine desire to support a child’s learning, development and wellbeing by sharing their knowledge and understanding of the child. Through honesty, warmth, ongoing communication and responsiveness, mutual trust and respect can be developed and shared decision-making enabled. Another example is when an organisation is committed to staff development and provides the opportunity to develop stronger relationships through team building experiences. Team building can support communication skills, responsiveness, respect for different perspectives, and mutual trust. Strong staff relationships create a sense of connectedness and promote staff stability, which, in turn, support consistent and secure relationships between children, staff and families.

  1. Ensure relationships are reciprocal

Communities are a shared responsibility and work best when relationships between community members are reciprocal. A one-way relationship where only one member gains something from the relationship will not be equitable, meaningful or sustainable. Services are encouraged to reflect on community relationships to ensure contributions and engagement are two-way. If you believe that relationships are one-sided, what could be changed to foster or ensure reciprocity?

Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service

  • Select members of your team to each imagine they are a child, a child’s family member, a staff member, a visiting health professional or a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elder.

 As each team member walks through your service, they should:

* consider how they would experience the service for the first time

* take photographs of elements that contribute to its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere

* share these photos with other team members and at the following staff meeting

* reflect together with the staff and identify what the service is doing well to ensure all community members feel welcome and what could be changed or improved.

  • How does your service contribute to your community? Reflect on your relationships with your community members and consider if the relationships are reciprocal.

~o~

To support your collaboration with community members and promote positive outcomes for children, the final instalment will outline a number of key strategies and conclude the series.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Educational leadership and team building

ACECQA – Team building NQS knowledge game – Quest for Quality

Early Childhood Australia – Being, belonging and becoming in the physical environment

Early Childhood Australia – Developing a space for belonging

Early Childhood Australia – Understanding cultural competence

KidsMatter – Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

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

Earlier in this series, we asked you to consider: Who or what is included in your service community? As this can be a challenging question, part three of the series explores six key questions to help you to identify your community members and create effective connection and collaboration.

1. What is our purpose?

Communities usually have a shared purpose. Taking time to clarify your own purpose is a vital, first step when identifying your community. A clear purpose gives you direction and enables you to effectively identify potential community members. Ideally, for a children’s education and care service, your primary purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Placing children at the centre of your community will ensure they are the focus of your efforts.

2. Who is in my organisation community?

Some community members are automatically part of your community as they are part of your organisation. The approved provider, educators and other service staff such as co-ordinators, cooks and office staff are all important members of your community. Individually and collectively, they help you to achieve your purpose. A sense of community within your organisation creates a positive organisational culture and can nurture a professional learning community. These both have significant benefits to the service, staff, families and children.

3. Who is in each child’s primary ‘people’ community?

Each child has their own unique ‘people’ community. Family and non-family carers, such as foster parents or guardians, are central to each child’s ‘people’ community and are, therefore, important members of your education and care service community. In some communities, extended family will also be a significant part of the community, as will carers who regularly drop off and collect children from the service. Families and carers will, ideally, also share your primary purpose of positive educational and developmental outcomes for children.

Other children attending the service will also be important members of each child’s ‘people’ community. Daily interactions and relationships with peers give children important social-emotional experiences that shape their development, wellbeing and learning.

4. Who else is in each child’s ‘people’ community?

Other people and organisations are members of your child’s community and share your primary purpose, so are a part of your service community. These could be oriented to:

  • Child education: e.g. education professions engaged with the child or service, such as Inclusion Support professionals; or education services that a child might attend or be planning to attend, such as other services or schools. For outside school hours care (OSHC) services, the school is an important part of your service community and vice versa. The school’s broader community beyond the school gates is, therefore, also a part of the OSHC community.
  • Child health: e.g. medical, child and family health, or allied health professions engaged with the child or service, e.g. speech pathologists, paediatricians.
  • Family support: e.g. parenting groups, playgroups, toy libraries.

Cultural and faith-based groups can also be significant parts of a child or their family’s community and, therefore, part of your community.

5. Where is our community?

Enabling children to connect and engage with the place of your community can promote positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Some services will have very strong connections to the land or location of their service neighbourhood through shared culture, history and/or experience. For other services, and for those where staff and/or families are not local (for example, a workplace service in a city building), an understanding and connection to place may need to be developed.

To gain knowledge and understanding of your place, start by mapping your local community using paper or digital maps. Exploring and having experiences in your community will provide greater insight. Features that could be a meaningful part of your community may include:

  • Geography: e.g. beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, gullies, paddocks, floodplains, bushland, caves, forests, trees.
  • Transport: e.g. streets, railway lines and stations, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, bridges, car parks, bus stops, footpaths, lifts, escalators.
  • Urbanscape: e.g. shops, shopping centres, offices, signs, recycling stations, fences, houses.
  • Community resources: e.g. the post office, parks, library, fire station, police station, hospital, health centres, sporting fields, schools and education and care services, council buildings, community gardens, halls, monuments.
  • Culture or faith: e.g. local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council, churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.

Engagement with community places also enables social connections to the people of these places – for example, librarians, train station staff, pedestrian crossing volunteers, postman or the park ranger. These people have the potential to become a part of your ‘people’ community.

 6. Who could potentially be a part of our community?

Other people or organisations could share or support your purpose of promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children, but they may not have been identified in questions 1-5. Potential community members will be unique to your context, but could:

  • Support children: e.g. a local business that could donate recycled resources for construction play.
  • Support families: e.g. counselling or legal aid organisations.
  • Support staff: e.g. a wellbeing organisation.
  • Support the service: e.g. a professional development organisation.
  • Support your community: e.g. community gardens.
  • Promote your purpose: e.g. media organisations such as a local newspaper.

You may not be currently engaged with these potential community members, however, identifying them is the first step to connecting, collaborating and achieving your purpose.

Clarifying your purpose and identifying who and what comprises your community will enrich your understanding of your community. Your service is unique because of its community. I encourage you to talk with members of your community about your community and discover more about who and where you are. Such conversations are an example of valuable community interactions. Communities are not static and multiple, dynamic interactions, relationships and contexts shape your community and each child at its centre.

Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service

At a staff, parent or community meeting, provide attendees with large pieces of paper and coloured pens and ask them to “draw the service community”. The drawing could be in any form – a list, a map, an illustration, a diagram… Encourage creativity.

Compare and discuss the similarities and differences. Is there collective agreement? As a group, brainstorm if there are individuals, groups, organisations or places not currently in your community that you would like to engage in your community?

~o~

To support you to develop relationships and collaborate with community members, to promote positive outcomes for children, parts four and five of this blog series will outline some key strategies.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Belonging, being and becoming for educators

KidsMatter – Creating an organisational culture of your dreams

Victorian Department of Education and Training – ‘Ecological model of child learning and development’, Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

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

In part two of our series exploring community in education and care, we identify why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Children experience and observe a ‘hub’ of relationships in an early childhood setting. Each type contributes to creating a sense of community because each facilitates feelings of belonging, connectedness and inclusion. (KidsMatter, 2012, p.11)

Why is community important to quality outcomes for children?

Community is essential to quality outcomes of children. A community provides an important relationship environment; promotes belonging, a sense of identity and learning; supports active participation in the world and continuity of learning; and connects children and families to supportive relationship and resource networks.

Positive relationships support children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Young children develop in an environment of relationships, with a child’s community providing a vital relationship context for their learning and development. This is particularly important during the early years when the foundations of brain architecture are being built. From birth, positive, responsive, consistent and secure relationships with others provide a supportive, growth-promoting environment for children’s development, wellbeing and learning. Children’s academic, social-emotional and mental health outcomes are built on this foundation.

A child’s relationship environment begins in the family, but then extends to adults and peers outside of the family who have important roles in their life. Educators and other education and care staff are a significant part of many children’s relationship environment.  Communities that foster positive interactions and relationships between children, peers and adults strengthen children’s outcomes.

A positive sense of community supports children’s belonging and learning

When children have a sense of belonging and feel safe, secure and supported, they have the confidence to play, explore and learn. A service that is strongly connected to the people and place of its community is welcoming, inclusive, connected to the culture and context of children’s families, while nurturing respectful and reciprocal relationships with children’s families. Connection to community creates a responsive, safe and stable education and care environment which, in turn, promotes children’s belonging and learning.

Positive relationships and a positive sense of community promote children’s sense of identity

Children’s understanding of their self is developed through relationships and in the context of their families and communities. ‘Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people’ (Center on the Developing Child, 2004, p. 1). Identity is a strong foundation for children’s social and emotional development as well as their sense of agency.

Participation in a community supports children to contribute to their world

Having everyday experiences and participating with the people and places of a community enables children to observe, engage, understand and actively contribute to their expanding world. This supports children to live interdependently with others, be decision-makers and have influence. The ability to participate in different communities – a central element of citizenship – helps young children to respond to diversity and become socially responsible.

Community connection and collaboration supports continuity of children’s learning

Transitions between education and care services, or between services and school, can be challenging for children and families. If transitions are not well-prepared or if continuity of learning is disrupted, the benefits of early years education can be diminished and children’s later life outcomes, such as resilience or perception of themselves as a learner, may be affected.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs are at particular risk. To support continuity of children’s learning, connection and collaboration between education and care community members is essential.

Connection and collaboration with families supports children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Families are children’s first and most influential teachers (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009, p. 12; Framework for School Age Care, 2011, p. 5). Reciprocal and respectful relationships between families and educators strengthens the connection between children’s education and caregivers and promotes positive child outcomes. Through these relationships, educators can gain understanding and build on the strengths, resources, aspirations and priorities of children and families to ensure education and care programs, practices and policies are meaningful, inclusive and child-centred. Family-service collaboration also enables knowledge and resources to be shared and built upon. Positive relationships between a family and a service also provide a powerful role model for children.

Community connection and collaboration supports families

When families are well-supported, they are better equipped to nurture their child’s development, wellbeing and learning. A service that is connected and collaborates with support organisations can be instrumental in facilitating targeted support for families. Child health, child education, family and community organisations support families and children.

Reflective questions

  • How do you know children and families have a sense of belonging at your service?
  • How do your service practices and policies support positive relationships between:
    • educators and children?
    • educators and families?
    • children?
    • the service, families and local schools?
    • the service, families and community/support organisations?
  • What opportunities do children have to engage in their community beyond the service gates?

~o~

In the next instalment of our five-part series, we help you to identify your community.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Relationships with children

Center on the Developing Child (2004) Young children develop in an environment of relationships: Working paper 1, pp. 1-8.

KidsMatter (2012) Literature review: Creating a sense of community, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

KidsMatter – Webinar – Protective factors that support transition

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

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

‘Community’ is an everyday word in children’s education and care services, with the concept embedded in National Quality Framework legislation and National Quality Standard (NQS) practice guidance, resources and professional development. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is the focus of NQS Quality Area 6. But what is community? Why is a sense of community so important to positive developmental and educational outcomes for children? Why should services be connecting and collaborating with their community? In this five-part series, I explore community and its important role in delivering quality outcomes for children, while helping you identify who and what is in your community and giving you some key strategies to engage and collaborate with your community.

In this first instalment, I explore the ‘sense of community’ and the way it is connected to place, people and shared purpose.

What is community?

The word ‘community’ can mean different things to different people and/or groups of people, depending on our perspective and the unique context of our own community. For example, an education and care service community in a remote part of Australia will be quite different to the service community in a high-rise commercial building located in a CBD. This may be different again to a family day care community in the country and an outside school hours care community in suburbia.

Even within one service, the children, educators, families and approved provider may have different viewpoints on ‘community’. For some, community might mean the educators and families connected together by children in a room or year group. For others, community might mean ‘the neighbourhood’ – the whole service extending to the local streets, park, library, train station and shops. In a remote region, community might encompass different, individual, kinship communities and extend hundreds of kilometres. One person’s community, or their understanding of what community means to them, may be quite different from another person’s.

People can also belong to multiple communities. They could simultaneously belong to a children’s education and care service community, a hobby-based community, a cultural or faith-based community or even a virtual community connected online or through social media.

What is a ‘sense of community’?

Having a ‘sense of community’ is generally thought to be when members of a community experience four, positive feelings:

  • Belonging: Feeling you are part of the community, are accepted, safe, and identify with the community.
  • Influence: Feeling you ‘matter’ and can make a difference to the community and the community can have influence on you and its members.
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs: Feeling your needs can be met by the community.
  • Shared emotional connection: Feeling attachment or bonding between community members through shared experience, place or history.

Connecting to place and to people

Community has many dimensions, but is often thought of as meaningful connection to a place, or to people, or to both. Community members focusing on place might define their community by its location, having strong connection to the physical or geographical context. A people-based community is primarily driven by relationships.

Ideally, an education and care service community involves meaningful connection to place and people. Community members are valued and, through strong, positive relationships and shared decision making, they feel a sense of belonging and connection to the place and people. Both dimensions make positive contributions to feeling a sense of community.

Communities share a purpose

A community is usually driven by a shared purpose – the tangible reason for connecting and working together. Ideally, in children’s education and care, this shared purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Individual community members, such as educators and families, will already have this singular purpose; but, when a community works together on a shared purpose, greater outcomes can often be achieved.

Strengthening relationships between community members will strengthen outcomes. Therefore, if educators, service staff, families, community organisations, schools, neighbourhoods, councils and other community resources connect and collaborate, positive educational and developmental outcomes for children can be achieved.

Reflective questions for you and your team or service

  • What are my personal understandings of the word ‘community’?
  • Do members of my team or service have similar or different understandings of community?
  • What does ‘a sense of community’ feel like to me?
  • Ask each staff member to identify what they believe the purpose of the education and care service to be.

~o~

In the next instalment of our series, we explore why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Building partnerships with families

KidsMatter – Video 1.3: A sense of community

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5