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

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

 

‘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

Collaboration, respect and support: Relationships and partnerships with families and communities

This month on We Hear You, ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, reflects on his experiences as an educator in the education and care sector and the enduring influence of the unique relationships and partnerships he has formed with families and communities.

Collaborative relationships with families and community partnerships are fundamental to achieving quality outcomes for children. When we think about these relationships, active communication, consultation, collaboration, and meaningful support are essential.

When I have the opportunity to speak with educators and service providers, I am always interested to hear about how they engage with families and the community, and how that engagement influences their work. Educators and providers have talked to me about the challenges, but also about how rewarding it can be and, most importantly, how integral it is to their work with children. Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) acknowledges the value of collaborative partnerships with families and communities in contributing to children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

In many ways, the NQS and Quality Area 6 are acknowledging and building on the very relationships and partnerships that have been so central to educators committed to quality outcomes for children for decades. When thinking about some of the elements of Quality Area 6, I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences working in education and care services where we strived to forge those partnerships through collaboration. One particular long day care service I worked in springs to mind, along with a couple of standout examples. At that time, this service was brand new and located in a quickly growing area that was just hanging on to being urban fringe.

The Spring Parade and Fair

When I look back to that service, I can’t think of a time where families and the community weren’t involved. One of my greatest memories is the annual community Spring Parade and Fair. Not only did our service support it, but we were in the thick of it. Picture a little yellow Suzuki Mighty Boy in this parade (the car belonged to a member of our staff), decorated front to back in children’s work.  Following the car was nearly every child and educator from the service, joyfully and enthusiastically cheered on by the local community – in this parade we were with the local community and for the local community. We were a vital and contributing part of the local community.

While the decorations changed and there were changes in children, families and staff over the years, we always proudly walked under our slogan of ‘Education and care go hand in hand’. This one Sunday each year, everyone looked forward to participating, sharing, collaborating – no one ever gave a second thought about not being there or not giving up part of their weekend. Even though the parade itself was only a day, the collaboration with families and the community to prepare started long before the parade. But it never seemed like extra work – it was just part of who we were as a service. A community festival followed the parade where we could see, with pride, our community footprint throughout that festival for the rest of the day.

Spreading the word

As a service we were always visible in the community. We walked around the neighbourhood to local parks, the local shopping strip and the library. We even used the local basketball courts regularly, which had an amazing array of mats, balls, games, as well as a huge, full-size basketball court where sinking a ball was the aim for most of the children to feel like they had made it as a basketballer! We were such an important part of the community that when we asked new families how they had heard about us, we could have really asked who had spread the word about us. Almost every time we asked that question, families would tell us about who rather than how.

Bringing the community in

Another event that was important to our service was our annual fete. It was not only a chance to raise funds, but also a way to bring the community together and into the service. Once we started planning, local businesses were happy to be involved because they knew who we were. We were part of the community and not merely a place you drove by unless you needed education and care for your child. During fete preparations, we would often have locals who we hadn’t met drop in with donations, knick-knacks for the white elephant stall, plants for the plant stall, and a variety of all the things that make a fete great. We realised that our community word of mouth was in action again, with neighbours up the road, or community members at the shops, telling others about our service’s fete, or people seeing our fete poster in the newsagent or other local shops. While the funds raised always meant the resource catalogues got a good workout, the real benefit came in bringing the service, families and community together.

In good times and in bad

Engagement and community aren’t just about the good times. There are times when services can get rocked to the core by events that happen, both within the service and or to families of the service. One of our families experienced an extreme trauma, which also significantly impacted the service. I have never seen a community come together to support not only the family, but also the service so quickly. Suddenly, we became an unofficial hub for meal donations to support the family. There was no notice, no request – just a community in action. I have no doubt that the way we valued the partnerships with families and community contributed to this level of support at this extremely difficult and challenging time.

Working hand in hand

We had a genuine partnership with families in service delivery; they were involved in all areas that interested them, and, I suspect, sometimes ones they didn’t want to be involved in but didn’t want not to be involved. As well as true partnerships with families, we were also an important part of the community, helping to create a community amongst the families at our service. I believe two of the biggest contributors to our success were the great leader we had (who set the expectation from the start) and an attitude of reciprocal benefit. We never simply focussed on how the service could benefit; we also concentrated on the rewards the families and communities gained from the partnerships as well. Thinking back, this might be the reason the extra activities and events didn’t seem like extra work.

~o~

There is much more to family and community engagement than I can capture here. But I also know there is so much to gain from those relationships and partnerships too. All we need do is look at the 2018 NQS and the Exceeding NQS themes to see how families and communities are acknowledged as important contributors to quality outcomes for children. Reflecting on my experiences in this service takes me back 20 years. The lessons I learnt there enriched and informed my work, practices and relationships at the other services that followed. As I look back, I know my experiences at that particular service, and others just like it around the country, contributed to the expectations of family and community partnerships and engagement we see reflected and acknowledged in the NQS to this day.

Working in partnership with families and the community enriches and informs what we do every day. I often look at the incredible people who give generously of themselves within their community and wonder just how many of them developed that commitment to their local community as a result of the positive, formative experiences they had in an education and care service as a child.

‘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