A journey of embedding culturally inclusive practice

BECC art displayed at Boopa Werem, sent with Belco‘I expected to come back from Yarrabah with loads of paperwork and ideas about programming. But that didn’t really happen. What we came back with was a deeply spiritual and emotional understanding that has been infinitely more useful.’ 

Allison Sullings, Senior Manager Children’s Programs at Belconnen Community Service believes educators can enrich their program by drawing on community knowledge and forming respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners, groups or co-operatives.

The year 2012 was a big year for the sector and the journey Lauren Kapper, our team at Belconnen Early Childhood Centre and I embarked on to develop a more culturally diverse and inclusive curriculum was profound, encompassing our organisational values: curiosity, courage, integrity and individuality.

During a cultural awareness workshop, one of our educators talked to the facilitator about drawing on the knowledge and expertise of our community to enrich our program. He wasn’t from Canberra originally and suggested we contact a preschool that his children used to attend in Cairns.

We struck up a special friendship with Boopa Werem Kindergarten and Preschool in Cairns that extended to the educators, children, families and community. The children shared stories and photos via post and email, and had a ball getting to know each other. My colleague Carol and I were lucky enough to spend four days at Boopa Werem, furthering our understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being.

While there we met Aunty Maureen, an assistant educator at the service, who drove us to Yarrabah State School pre-prep for a day. Yarrabah is a remote Aboriginal community less than an hour out of Cairns.

The children were so welcoming and excited to see us. We took a tour of the service which was really well resourced and learnt about their outdoor space. After spending the day at the pre-prep we had fish and chips by the beach with Aunty Maureen where she spoke about her experiences growing up, being part of the Stolen Generation. It was something I’ll never forget.

I expected to come back with loads of paperwork and ideas about programming and things we could implement and teach the children. But that didn’t really happen. What we came back with was a deeply spiritual and emotional understanding that has been infinitely more useful.

When I reflect, developing this understanding was central to our cultural competence journey and I encourage other educators to engage with their indigenous community. Understanding this passion will help you to share it with your colleagues and children. Furthering your own understanding brings a richness and authenticity to the programs you develop.

How did we embed it in our practice? Our goal was to make our new-found understanding something that we would do and value every day.

Acknowledgment of Country

One thing that our educators often speak about in the preschool room is the Acknowledgment of Country, including what it means, why people say it, who says it and the importance that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people place around the environment, the land and the care for country.

“We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today. 

We wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture, and the contribution they make to the life of this city, and this region.

We would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be attending today.”

The children in the preschool room not only learn the wording but are developing an understanding of its meaning. They also learn important concepts such as what a custodian is, what tradition is, and what Ngunnawal means.

Respectful relationships

As educators we understand how important it is to build relationships in the community and keep them strong.

We met Tyronne Bell, an advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal culture and language, and founder of Thunderstone Aboriginal Cultural & Land Management Services, on a local bush walk. He now visits three long day care centres in our organisation each month, sharing artefacts and stories about hunting and gathering, and leading activities like basket weaving and painting. It’s quite interactive as he invites the children to touch and experience each object, to talk about it and to share their thoughts.

For National Tree Week, we invited Adam Shipp, an indigenous restoration officer with Greening Australia, to build a bush tucker garden with the children. The children learnt about the different medicinal use of native plants and which ones you can eat – they loved it.

Last year we organised a National Sorry Day ceremony in the local park with the children, children’s families and community members. Tyronne’s mother, Aunty Ruth, and his sister attended. Aunty Ruth gave the Welcome to Country, followed by the children’s Acknowledgment of Country. It was a special day, with damper, stories and songs. Aunty Ruth spoke about her experience being part of the Stolen Generation and was gracious that our centre had made a commitment to respect that time in Australia’s history. The day was a real highlight for me; to see how far we’d come on our journey and the community recognising and celebrating our country’s history and cultural identity.

Lauren Kapper (now Director at Belconnen Early Childhood Centre), the team and I have created lasting, positive, respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the community. Drawing on their knowledge and expertise has enriched our learning program and furthered our understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. We’d like to encourage educators to attend events in their community and to know that there are so many people out there to meet and learn from.

Benefits of higher educator to child ratios

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1 January 2016 marks the next national consistency milestone for educator to child ratios. While changes to ratios have been planned since the introduction of the National Quality Framework in 2012, the coming months are an important time for educators and providers to check if they are affected, and prepare for any changes.

This month, ACECQA’s We Hear You blog hears from Linda Davison, Coordinator at Clarendon Children’s Centre Co-operative in Melbourne on the benefits of higher ratios for children and educators. For more information on the 1 January 2016 ratio changes in your state and territory, visit ACECQA’s ratio page.

I have worked for Clarendon Children’s Centre Co-operative for almost 28 years. Originally a St Vincent de Paul property dating back to 1923, the building has been a community managed and Commonwealth funded child care centre since 1988.

Our partnerships in the local community have developed over the years and we are well-known for providing high quality early education and care in South Melbourne. The sense of community and belonging in the centre is extremely strong with many friendships formed between children, and families, that endure long after the children have left our care.

The centre has three playrooms catering for up to 40 children, aged from birth to five years, at any one time. We have always had a policy of operating at a higher educator to child ratio than required by regulations and our children benefit from having extra people on the team. Educators have increased capacity to focus on children’s learning, to break away from repetitive routine and to be active in sustained conversations. Disruption is also minimised for children when educators go on leave.

For educators, the tangible benefits of higher ratios are very clear, including more one-to-one and small-group time with children, reduced stress, more flexibility and more opportunities for professional development.

A less tangible benefit is the sense of recognition and respect it conveys for the professionalism of our educators. They are our greatest resource and most valuable asset. Improved ratios mean their working day is more balanced and they have increased opportunities to pursue their own professional learning and development.

We are committed to ongoing learning with close to 90 per cent of educators holding a diploma qualification or higher. Nearly all team members are actively engaged in further education, training and professional development. The result of this is a more stable educator team and greater continuity for our children.

We currently work above the ratio requirements so we won’t be affected by the upcoming ratio compliance timeframe of 1 January 2016. However, I believe providers will see the benefit in the long run with reduced turnover, higher educator engagement and flexibility to deal with ups and downs of centre life.

The young and the old – seeing the world through each other’s eyes

Partnerships

This month, Julie Occhiuto, early childhood educator at UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot, shares her experience of an innovative program bringing together young children and residents from a local aged care service.

Everyone has a story and this one of mine begins with an inherent love of both young children and the elderly in our communities. As a child I had a special bond with both my grandparents and I spent many school holidays with them exploring my grandfather Jack’s shed and helping my grandma Bonnie bake apple pie. They both gave me the time and guidance that my parents could not always give. As a teacher with over 23 years’ experience I feel that the strong bond I had with my grandparents has supported me to be the teacher I am today.

I have worked at Tigger’s Honeypot, an early childhood education and care service in Randwick with Early Years @ UNSW Australia for the past 11 years. Early Years and the University of NSW (UNSW) both place a high value on staff professional development and a commitment to being leaders in education. Being a university-based service, over the years we have found that many of our families have travelled from overseas or interstate to work or study at UNSW. Many of these families have shared with us stories of missing extended family members, in particular grandparents, who were helping and supporting them in raising their children.

In 2008, with support from the University I initiated the TIME (Tigger’s Intergenerational Milford Enrichment) program which involves children from Tigger’s Honeypot visiting residents at Milford House Aged Care in Randwick on a fortnightly basis. Residents also visit the children, regularly travelling in their bus to spend time in our garden and interacting and playing with the children.

During these exchanged visits, children and residents participate in a shared activity such as clay work which helps create a common ground for children, teachers, residents and their families to engage in conversation, interactions, share stories and build reciprocal and genuine friendships.

The TIME program embraces the notion that we can challenge biases and stereotypes, promotes inclusiveness and advances our pursuit of social justice and equity within our extended communities. Over the years the TIME program has evolved in its own unique way resulting in a partnership that has enormous benefits.

Though an aged care facility is specifically designed for older adults and early learning centres are designed for young children, there are numerous benefits when children and the elderly engage in each other’s environments. By utilising each other’s facilities, sharing resources in novel ways and just by spending time together, both the children and the elderly have a valuable opportunity to experience and discuss things they would not otherwise have.

Children have displayed many different responses to the diversity they have observed during our visits. Often there is a sense of curiosity when they see or notice things for the first time. On one visit a few years ago children met a new resident (who I will refer to as Robert) who had just one eye. At the time I observed children avoiding any interaction with Robert, preferring to talk to the more familiar residents. As a facilitator of the program I initiated a conversation with Robert and discovered that he was a scientist and had travelled the world. Upon hearing this conversation children slowly but surely flocked to Robert’s side as he shared stories of his work and travels with many humorous twists.

During reflection time back at Tigger’s Honeypot, many children explained their feelings of being somewhat scared by ‘the man with one eye’ but how they liked him now and thought he told funny jokes and stories. This particular conversation led to discussions about our bodies and the differences we all have which soon carried over into the children’s play as they constructed a hospital and made eye patches in the craft area. Robert soon became a favourite friend of the children and they would often offer him tokens of their friendship such as personalised drawings.

I have received a great deal of encouragement for the TIME program. Last year I was awarded Early Childhood Teacher of the Year at The Australian Family Early Education and Care awards. This allowed me to fulfil a dream and bucket list wish of visiting The Grace Living Centre in Jenks, Oklahoma.

The Grace Living Centre is a school and aged care centre in the one facility. Children and residents come together many times every day to participate in shared activities such as the ‘Book buddies’ program, Zumba classes and arts and crafts.  A highlight of the program for me was the numerous cats and dogs walking around, freely intermingling with the children and residents and adding another layer to this highly interactive environment.

I believe that each and every educator has a passion that they can share with children through their teaching practices. Our partnership with Milford House has become integral to who we are as a service, what we stand for and how we effect the changes we would like to see in the world, and for that I am very proud. The success of the program could not have happened without the support of our children, families, centre Director – Sylvia Turner, educators, particularly Maria Koufou, residents, their families and staff at Thompson Health care, especially Suzanne Hobart and Shirley Sheikh.

I would love to inspire other early childhood services to reach out to their local community and support their children in becoming active citizens within their communities through engagement with our elders in aged care (and elsewhere). We need to recognise our elders as having a wealth of knowledge and experience that is relevant to our lives today. My long term goal is to establish an intergenerational facility similar to the Grace Living Centre right here in Sydney, pets included.

Want to know more about the TIME program? Watch UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot video: From Tigger’s to Milford House, with Love

UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot 

Email: tiggers@unsw.edu.au

Website: www.earlyyears.unsw.edu.au

Milford House Aged Care Randwick

Email: donmilford@thc.net.au

Website: http://thompsonhealthcare.com.au

Growing and learning with Amata Anangu Preschool

resizeACECQA met Tarsha Howard, Early Childhood Coordinator at Amata Anangu Preschool, in 2013 at the NQF conference in Sydney. Tarsha had some concerns at the time that working in a remote service might be a barrier to raising the quality of children’s education and care. This month we catch up with Tarsha after the preschool was assessed and rated to find out about their journey.

At the time of the NQF conference I was fairly new to teaching and working at Amata Anangu Preschool; a school based preschool on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. I travelled to Sydney from the remote Anangu Community and learnt so much about the National Quality Standard (NQS), the quality areas and how to lead change and improve outcomes for children.

I realised that while remoteness and isolation certainly present their challenges, it is still possible to provide high quality education and care in our community regardless of our location. I left the conference with a strong resolve to achieve Meeting the NQS during our assessment and rating.

Culture and collaboration

I work with Josephine James, Amata preschool’s Anangu Education Worker, to develop and implement the programs at our preschool. Josephine is from community. Pitjantjatjara is her first language and she has a deep understanding of the culture, past and present. We see each child’s learning in the context of their family, culture and community and use local activities to help them develop a sense of belonging.

Culture is incorporated into everything we do. Different elements of the outdoor play area represent community and the environment of The Lands.

We’ve designed a rock creek that winds from one side of the yard to the other, leading down to a big mud pit and mud kitchen. When it rains in Amata, which isn’t very often, the natural creeks flood and the kids get straight into mud play.

Often the children, families and community members gather to share stories. Josephine leads group time with story wires; a popular cultural activity where children use curved wire to tell their stories in the sand. We also regularly hold family gatherings at the preschool fire-pit, where the treat is kangaroo tail (malu wipu) and damper. Josephine and I use this as a time to share information with families and discuss each child’s learning journey.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is seeing the children transition to school. Once a week, some of the children and I visit Amata Anangu School to develop relationships with teachers and get a feel for school-based learning.

The program is hugely successful. I’ve been in community for almost three years and I’ve had the opportunity to watch the children develop relationships at the school, build their problem solving skills and demonstrate independence. It’s a powerful reflective tool.

Challenges

One challenge we face in our remote setting is the children’s transience and sometimes irregular attendance. It is not unusual for children to miss preschool for months due to cultural and family obligations. This can make documenting the child’s assessments and evaluations hard, but honouring, respecting and valuing the families and home life is very important. This often includes allocating the time to make contact with teachers in other APY Lands communities to share information about children who are visiting a different preschool.

Assessment and rating – Term 3 2014

The morning of our assessment and rating visit I was terrified that we’d have to close the preschool for cultural reasons, or for an emergency like a snake getting into the outside yard. Thankfully there were no interruptions and the experience was a rewarding one.

Towards the end of the visit, Amata Anangu School principal Greg Wirth and I met with the assessor. It was our opportunity to lead the conversation and share our quality improvement journey. The feedback we received was really positive. Our Quality Improvement Plan effectively tracked our short and long term goals and illustrated our quality improvement story.

The following term, we received an overall rating of Exceeding the NQS in every quality area. We baked a big cake that had all the quality areas on it and invited everyone in the community to our outdoor yard for a celebration and BBQ. People from community spoke in language about the NQF. Everyone was incredibly proud of what we achieved and the role Amata Anangu Preschool has played in each child’s present and future health, development and wellbeing. We continue to grow and contribute to strong early education in the Anangu Lands Partnership.

Visit the Amata Anangu Preschool Facebook page, where the story continues.

Collaborative partnerships with families and communities


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Photos_headshot1_editedThis month ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone looks at genuine partnerships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.

There is a traditional African proverb that suggests “It takes a village to raise a child”. Modern research supports that what children need is for families, educators and communities to collectively support their healthy development and well being.

Recognising this, the approved learning frameworks[1] identify as a learning outcome that children should have opportunities to connect with and contribute to their world. Children’s sense of identity develops through connections in their family, community, culture and environment.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) goes beyond simply requiring parent involvement, instead encouraging respectful, supportive, collaborative relationships with families and communities. Quality Area 6 – Collaborative Partnerships with families and communities focuses on educators, families and communities uniting around a shared vision for children and working together to achieve goals.

This Quality Area promotes respectful supportive relationships with families (NQS Standard 6.1), support for families in their parenting role and their values and beliefs about child rearing (NQS Standard 6.2) and collaboration with other organisations and service providers to enhance children’s learning and wellbeing (NQS Standard 6.3).

Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships

When educators establish respectful and caring relationships with children and families, they are able to work together to construct curriculum and learning experiences relevant to children in their local context. These experiences gradually expand children’s knowledge and understanding of the world.[2]

Collaborative relationships are built in an environment of mutual respect, trust and honesty, established through effective communication and strengthening each other to feel capable and empowered.

The Connections resource developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health offers practical strategies for communication with families including dealing with sensitive issues.

Partnerships

The approved learning frameworks identify that learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when educators work in partnership with families and communities.

In genuine partnerships, families and early childhood educators:

  • value each other’s knowledge of each child
  • value each other’s contributions to and roles in each child’s life
  • trust each other
  • communicate freely and respectfully with each other
  • share insights and perspectives about each child
  • engage in shared decision-making. [3]

In respectful partnerships, educators also support parents in their parenting role. They may for example source and share information from reputable sources with parents. For example, in response to a parent enquiry, educators and parents may discuss safe sleeping at home, drawing on and referring to reputable sources of information such as the SIDS and Kids resources.

High expectations and equity

The learning frameworks note that educators who are committed to equity believe in all children’s capacities to succeed, regardless of diverse circumstances and abilities.[4] Collaborative relationships and the use of critical reflection allow educators to implement programs that provide equal opportunities for all children to achieve learning outcomes.

As part of Quality Area 1: Educational Program and Practice each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program.

The NQS requires educators to adapt their curriculum to support each individual child including cultural factors which contribute to who they are, how they learn and how they respond. The experiences, interactions and routines each child engages in need to be relevant to them, respectful of their background and recognise and build on their current interests and abilities.

Respect for diversity

The approved learning frameworks stress the value of demonstrating respect for diversity and promoting cultural competence within education and care services.

To support individual children, educators need to learn about each child’s background and respect and honour family histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices and lifestyle choices.

While feedback from families is important educators also need to be mindful and respectful of individual contexts and diversity. We need to reflect and consider a range of ways to appropriately, respectfully and realistically involve families, many of whom are balancing family, work and other responsibilities.

Community involvement, such as drawing on the expertise of those belonging to a cultural group or inviting culturally relevant guests to the service may also build a respect for diversity and cultural competence.

Ongoing learning and reflective practice

The development of genuine, respectful partnership relationships requires educators to seek information or strategies from families or professionals to enhance their pedagogy and curriculum.

Thinking that there is only one right way and not reflecting on practice can mean that opportunities are lost for children’s learning or that they can be disadvantaged by it. Critical reflection involves thinking about all aspects of experiences and considering different perspectives. For example it is important for educators to seek to understand the perspective of the parent as well as reflect on their own pedagogy, feelings, values and beliefs when addressing parental concerns to ensure fair, equitable and respectful outcomes.

The Connections resource shares further insight into considering different perspectives.

With end of year approaching, it’s a good time for educators to consider how end-of-year and new-year celebrations offer opportunities to engage in genuine partnership relationships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.

Resources

Child Australia. Welcoming Conversations with Culturally and Linguistically diverse families An Educators Guide. Offers practical advice for collaboration with culturally and linguistically diverse families.

Community Child Care. Self-Guided Learning Package, Discussing Sensitive Issues- A Proactive Approach to Communicating with Families. This resource is a practical learning guide to assist educators in communicating effectively with parents.

Connections. A resource for educators to support children’s mental health and wellbeing

Early Childhood Australia. Talking about practice e-learning video: Partnerships with Families

Family Worker Training and Development Programme. Diversity in Practice Resource Kit. A resource kit for early childhood services working with children and families from migrant and refugee backgrounds in the Nepean area

Guide to the National Quality Standard. Standard 6.1. Pages 142- 152

Kidsmatter: Families. KidsMatter provides families with a range of information sheets to help them support children’s mental health and wellbeing, and to recognise if and when professional help is needed.

Linking Together for Aboriginal Children provides educators with advice, information and tips on how to effectively collaborate with the Aboriginal community in their area.

NAPCAN Brochures. Brochures to support parents in their role and prevent child abuse.

Raising Children Network. This website is a useful to share with parents to support them in their parenting role.

SIDS and Kids Website. This website provides useful information on safe sleeping.

Case Study: Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care

ACECQA spoke with Service Support Manger, Judy Collins at the Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service about the programs and activities in place to engage families and include them in children’s learning.

“We help parents to take an active role in their children’s education, development and overall wellbeing,” Judy said.

“The Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY), funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, is just one example of how we empower parents to participate in their children’s learning. Tutors from our service, (HIPPY Bundaberg) visit families in their home environment and role-play learning activities that the parents then deliver to their children.

“It’s about developing a love of learning and prepares the children for their smooth transition to school. It also acknowledges that the parent is the child’s first teacher. The program has been really successful and we’re looking forward to continuing on in 2015,” Judy said.

Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service also unites with other organisations in the community to support families and enhance children’s wellbeing, especially in the lead up to Christmas.

“With Christmas around the corner we’re working with the local newspaper and Bundaberg Baptist Church for the provision of Christmas hampers for those families who have experienced a difficult year. We are fortunate to have the support of the local newspaper, who organise the ‘Adopt-A-Family Christmas Appeal,” said Judy.

Kids in Cars is another program that helps families at this time of year.

“Short term, free loans of baby capsules, car seats and boosters are available as part of our service; including safety demonstrations and information sessions. Lots of families need assistance with car restraints and in the lead up to Christmas we’re experiencing an increase in the number of families using this service,”

Judy believes a child’s sense of identity develops through connections in the family, community, culture and environment.

“We support the broader community and empower families because we know this leads to better outcomes for children,” she said.

References 

[1] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’ and My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’

[2] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Early childhood Pedagogy, pp. 11.

[3] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 10.

[4] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 11.

What does it mean to be culturally competent?

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Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, writes about cultural competence. 

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.[1]

We have known for a long time about the importance of respecting diversity and embedding a range of cultures in early childhood education and care programs.  However the term, cultural competence, is relatively new to many working in the education and care sector, having been introduced in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and the Framework for School Age Care.

Over the past two or three decades we have endeavoured to challenge and address injustice, racism, exclusion and inequity through legislation, awareness raising, rights education and an anti-bias curriculum. Cultural competence reinforces and builds on this work.

So what does cultural competence mean and why is it so important for children to have their culture and cultural backgrounds acknowledged, respected and valued?

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice… Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.[2]

It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.[3]

Supporting this view, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) identifies that cultural proficiency “requires more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance”. Rather, it is the ability to “identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs, and to make a commitment to communicating at the cultural interface”.[4]

Links with the Learning Frameworks

Cultural competence is a key practice in the learning frameworks, and the notion of cultural competence is embedded throughout. For example, principles within the learning frameworks relevant to cultural competence include fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, high expectations and equity and respect for diversity.

Issues of respecting and valuing diversity and culture are embedded in the Being, Belonging, Becoming themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. This framework acknowledges there are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities. Respecting diversity means, within the curriculum, valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families.

There are links to cultural competence in Learning Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world, including:

  • children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and  an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation
  • children respond to diversity with respect
  • children become aware of fairness
  • children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

It is also important to remember that a guiding principle of the Education and Care Services National Law is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued.

What does cultural competence look like in practice?

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

In practical terms, it is a never ending journey involving critical reflection, of learning to understand how people perceive the world and participating in different systems of shared knowledge.

Cultural competence is not static, and our level of cultural competence changes in response to new situations, experiences and relationships. The three elements of cultural competence are:

  • attitudes
  • skills
  • knowledge

These are important at three levels:

  1. individual level – the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours of individuals
  2. service level – management and operational frameworks and practices, expectations, including policies, procedures, vision statements and the voices of children, families and community
  3. the broader system level – how services relate to and respect the rest of the community, agencies, Elders, local community protocols.

While there is no checklist to tick off to identify culturally competent educators, we can start to build a picture of the attitudes, skills and knowledge required. For example, educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Ongoing reflection essential for the learning journey

A learning journey of cultural competence occurs when ongoing reflection and environmental feedback involves and supports educators to move along their culturally competent learning journey. The following diagram from the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (p26) is a useful tool to share with teams, to discuss and to identify how individuals are progressing on their learning journey.

diagram

There are also many reflective questions in the Guide and Learning Frameworks to provoke discussion and reflection. For example:

  • Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
  • What does cultural competence mean in your practice, for children, family, community and educators?
  • What do you know about the language/s that the children bring with them?

And the case study[5] of a project undertaken by educators to develop processes that value and use the expertise of Aboriginal people in local communities may offer some suggestions for starting similar projects.

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[1]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p21 Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57

[2]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p23

[3]Framework for School Age Care in Australia p15 Early Years Learning Framework p16

[4]SNAICC 2012 Consultation Overview on Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education and Care Services

[5] Early Years Learning Framework in Action p 27

Today is the first day of Reconciliation Week. What is reconciliation?

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According to the Reconciliation Australia websiteReconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of all Australians. To create positive change we need more people talking about the issues and coming up with innovative ideas and actions that make a difference.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the 1967 referendum (27 May) and the High Court Mabo decision (3 June).  Additional information and resources can be found on the SNAICC website.

One of the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. This aligns with element 1.1.2 of the National Quality Standard which requires that each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture and interests are the foundation of the program. Building cultural competence is a key practice of the national approved learning frameworks and the concept is unpacked in the Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, which can be accessed from: http://www.workforce.org.au/media/359962/cultural%20competence%20in%20early%20childhood.pdf

The IPSP online library has some useful resources to assist. The ABC Indigenous website is also a valuable source of resources including a downloadable Indigenous language map that can be used with both children and adults.