New Educator Survival Guide

Newly graduated educators can face a daunting experience, navigating the complex ‘mini-world’ of a new workplace. Sally Burt, a recent teaching graduate and participant in the ACECQA Early Career Educators Program, writes about two key survival strategies for new educators to support this journey into the profession – teamwork and mentoring. Both strategies can be highly effective in supporting graduates as they transition into the workforce and ‘become educators’.

Educators are undoubtedly the greatest asset to quality education and care services. A highly qualified children’s education and care workforce is one of the most powerful influences on positive outcomes for children and quality early learning programs and environments. Stability and continuity of educators is also essential to quality practice and the profession as a whole. It makes great sense to ensure educators, particularly those new to the sector, are well supported and have maximum opportunity to be their professional best.

Be part of your workplace team 

Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.
– Sir Ken Robinson

Education and care services are diverse and complex workplaces that have people and relationships at their core and outcomes for children as their goal. The building and leading of a team to achieve this is usually the responsibility of the educational leader, manager or director. However, successful teams are comprised of individuals who are effective and engaged team members. This is particularly important in the context of a distributed or shared leadership approach where leadership is collaborative and responsibility is collective.

Participation in an effective workplace team has a number of well-known benefits, such as increasing efficiency, creating a positive culture and collaboratively solving problems. As a result, work environments are often more effective, harmonious and respectful. For new educators, teamwork has significant benefits both professionally and personally. These include:

  • enhancing a sense of belonging
  • providing social support
  • increasing commitment and job satisfaction
  • improving communication with colleagues
  • supporting professional development, through sharing and learning from others
  • boosting self-esteem and morale
  • reducing stress and burn-out
  • cultivating shared understandings and goals
  • developing ‘ownership’ of the direction of a service.

Contributing to the team

Your individual contribution to a team is unique. Every educator has their own strengths, skills, experiences, capabilities, values and beliefs. This diversity can greatly enrich the team as a whole. Effective leaders use a strengths-based approach to build and develop teams. New educators are, therefore, encouraged to embrace their capability and to feel confident in contributing. A fresh perspective, contemporary knowledge from recent study, and enthusiasm are just a few of the specific strengths of new educators.

Skills in being an effective team member should also be cultivated. Communicating effectively, being open to the perspectives of others, active listening, demonstrating respect, having cultural awareness and being flexible will all assist you to engage with your team. Participating in team-building activities will also be helpful. Suggesting innovative team building ideas will demonstrate your personal commitment.

Start a relationship with a mentor

Mentoring is a key survival guide strategy for new educators, supporting the transition to the workforce and enhancing job satisfaction, commitment and retention. Mentoring can boost teacher confidence and improve teaching expertise. Mentoring is also a highly effective leadership development strategy, increasing the leadership capacity of services. It supports the professional growth and development of all educators, as well as promoting outcomes for children by reinforcing Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS).

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is fundamentally a learning relationship that supports, strengthens and develops professional practice. Traditionally, mentoring is a one-to-one learning relationship between a novice (the mentee) and a more experienced practitioner (the mentor). Mentors guide, support, provide feedback and develop the goal-setting and critical reflection of their mentee.

How do I find a mentor?

When looking for a mentor, consider people both inside and outside your workplace. A mentor is ideally not a line supervisor, as a hierarchical relationship may not be a supportive environment for a mentee to be reflective. Ask your educational leader, manager or director for advice, as they will likely have some suggestions and contacts.

Potential mentors can be:

  • the educational leader (if not a line supervisor)
  • an educator working within another room at the setting or another setting of the same organisation
  • a previous university or vocational training supervisor, mentor or lecturer
  • an educator assisting with evidence-gathering for teacher registration
  • an educator met through an educator network.

The mentoring process

Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

  1. Getting to know each other.
  2. Goal setting and action planning.
  3. Developing professional skills and tracking progress.
  4. Evaluating progress and outcomes.
  5. Moving forward – either completing the process, or returning to Step 2 to repeat the cycle.

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Goal setting and action planning should, ideally, be initially scaffolded by the mentor, but evolve to be intentional and self-directed by the mentee. A useful model for structuring goal setting and action planning is the GROW Model.

Five mentoring best-practice tips

  1. Remember, mentoring is a relationship.

Relationships require commitment and effort. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly committed to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

  1. Communication is key.

Effective communication underpins successful mentoring. Mentors will ideally have training and skills in communication, however, mentees may require support and guidance in some important communication skills:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange of feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • non-verbal language recognition
  • cultural awareness.
  1. Leadership and positive organisation culture enable mentoring.

Mentoring requires time for regular dialogue and relationship building. As education and care settings are time-challenged, quality mentoring time needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires a positive organisational culture and leadership to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

  1. Mentor dispositions matter.

Mentors need training, however, disposition is also important. Ideally, your mentor has:

  • interest in lifelong learning
  • empathy and understanding
  • interpersonal skills
  • professional confidence
  • approachability
  • genuine interest in mentoring and nurturing others
  • emotional intelligence.
  1. Be open to the learning journey.

Mentoring requires choice and some bravery, on the part of the mentee, to start a relationship and open their practice to review, dialogue and development. Being open to the possibility of this learning journey will provide a positive foundation on which to build the relationship. Mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and join their mentee on the journey. Mentoring provides an opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor.

Transitioning into a new workplace and becoming an educator is a journey of discovery and challenges that all graduates face. Teamwork and mentoring are two strategies that can effectively support this transition and, importantly, equip new educators with lifelong skills and practices to be their professional best.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7: Educational Leadership and Team Building

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

Community Child Care Victoria – Building a winning team

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

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

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

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

Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

Megan Mitchell, Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, talks to We Hear You about the launch of a new comprehensive toolkit by the Australian Human Rights Commission to help encourage respect for cultural diversity and tackle racial prejudice in early childhood settings.

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“I don’t play with black kids cos my dad told me so.”

“I don’t want my colour skin because no-one likes it and it’s yucky.”

Do these sound like things children in your service have said to you?

These are examples of comments from children that early childhood educators provided to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in a survey on the challenges to educating about cultural diversity and addressing prejudice.

Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a survey with over 400 early childhood educators across Australia to capture their views and experiences of cultural diversity and racial prejudice in their early childhood services.

Many educators reported hearing comments like those above. What’s more, educators told us that they commonly encountered prejudicial attitudes or behaviours from parents and other educators, as well as from children.

43% of educators said they had heard a child say something negative about another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background and 49% told us they had heard a parent say something negative on the same grounds.

“[A parent said] ‘I’m not racist, but how can someone from another country teach my children and we cannot understand what they are saying’.” (Survey respondent)

 “A parent was disgusted that we had to show respect to Aboriginal culture, even though we celebrate other cultures in the centre.” (Survey respondent)

Many educators indicated they felt unsure how to effectively respond to these challenges.

“I think the main difficulty is that many people feel uncomfortable addressing prejudice. So if a child makes a comment, educators aren’t confident in talking about the issue and instead give an answer about how it’s not nice to say those things or we’re all friends in preschool.” (Survey respondent)

In response to this, the Australian Human Rights Commission, with the support of a reference group made up of early childhood educators and other specialists, has developed its very first early childhood resource.

Building Belonging’ is a comprehensive toolkit which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

It is important that children in Australia today grow up with an appreciation and respect for the diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities that surround them.

As National Children’s Commissioner, I seek to promote and advocate for the rights of all children and young people in Australia. This includes making sure children and young people know about their rights and how to claim them.

Children are never too young to start learning about their rights and responsibilities. Children who grow up knowing that they, and everyone around them, have rights will carry the messages of respect and dignity that accompany this knowledge into adulthood.

Through engaging with these resources, educators have an opportunity to shape positive practices and provide all children with an early sense of their value, agency and belonging.

I hope you find these resources useful in assisting children in your services to develop empathy and respect for others. I’d love to hear what you and the children in your services think of the resources. You can get in touch with me via email or social media:

Email: kids@humanrights.gov.au

Facebook: MeganM4Kids

Twitter: @MeganM4Kids

Information about the ‘Building Belonging’ toolkit and links to the free resources are available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

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Exploring and connecting with nature

Educators at Goodstart Red Hill had long admired forest kindergartens from afar, never really considering how that might look in an Australian setting. Then they realised they had an amazing and diverse environment right on their doorstep. Skye Devereaux, Early Childhood Teacher and Educational Leader, writes this month on how Goodstart Red Hill developed their Nature Space program.

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The Educational Leadership team at Red Hill had a goal to provide all our children with regular opportunities to connect with nature and develop a sense of wonder, curiosity and respect for the environment around them. We wanted children to develop a love for nature and the world in which they live, in the hope that they have a strong connection with the environment they grow up in and, maybe one day, will figure out how to fix the environmental issues they inherit.

The planning process was extensive, spanning many months from when the idea was born in late 2013. We identified a nearby wild space with access to Ithaca Creek, which our service backs on to, and a wonderful enclosed forest space. Excursion plans were completed, along with a variety of risk and benefit assessments for the different activities we imagined would take place. We consulted with the Goodstart Health and Safety Team, seeking advice and guidance. The Red Hill educational team participated in training with Nikki Buchan, an educational consultant, on bush schools and the benefits of wild nature play. An event was then held to inform parents about the Nature Space program where we invited feedback and answered questions.

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After this preparation we began taking small, mixed age, focus groups of children to the wild space, observing how they engaged in the space and the supports they (and we) needed.

We hosted a weekend Clean Up Australia Day event with our families, introducing them to the wild space. Fifty people from our learning community attended and our risk and benefit assessments were displayed through the wild space.

At the end of February 2014, we began taking whole class groups out to the wild space. Each class, from toddler through to kindergarten, ventured out for one morning each week between 10am and 11.30am. We packed our little red wagon with first aid essentials, water bottles and baskets for collecting, and let the natural environment seize our imaginations and guide our play.

Since beginning our nature play program, the children at Red Hill are noticeably more confident and resilient learners, with an adventurous, enquiry based approach to learning. Through their play in the wild space they have become proficient at self-risk assessment, and approach risky play with careful consideration and minimal, respectful support from their peers and teachers.

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The children have learned to slow down and spend time to look, watch and wonder. The Nature Space program allows time for the children to imagine and create using only what the environment provides. A log becomes a baby, crushed bark some snow and a bouncing log becomes a rocket, a horse or a broomstick.

Children willingly collaborate and support one another in the challenges presented with determined perseverance and confidence in their eventual success, if not this week then perhaps the next. The older children, now with several years of play experience in the space, share their stories and pass down skills to the younger children and so each new year group learns about the Magical Forest, Sunshine Hill and The Giant’s Chair, each named by children who have now passed through the dense trees and leafy carpet for a final time. They are creating new, oral histories but at the same time are curious about the original occupants of the space, wondering what came before.

In the two and a half years since the program launched, the way we inhabit the space has changed somewhat. As the environment and our knowledge of it have developed, so too has our play. While our time was initially focussed on the creek and Sunshine Hill, now we play almost exclusively in the forest.

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Make believe play has emerged as the prevailing form during the visits, with games and ideas carrying over weeks and even months.

Mindfulness has become a focus of the groups’ visits with children engaged in before and after practices of being, reflecting on their presence in time and space.

Our hope continues to be that these children will grow up with fond childhood memories of their time spent in this space with us, and leave us having developed a strong connection to and understanding of the world around them.

Sustainability in children’s education and care

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Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAThis month ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, promotes sustainability and looks at why it’s important for children to explore values and develop an appreciation of the environment.

Living sustainably means living within the capacity of the natural environment to support life and ensuring our current lifestyle has minimal impact on generations to come. Sustainable practices relate not only to the natural environment, but also our society and culture, including aspects such as consumerism and community well-being.

As the need for greater sustainability becomes more apparent globally, so does the importance of embedding sustainability in children’s programs. Through hands-on experiences and relevant educator pedagogies, children can explore and learn about their local contexts and environmental issues. They can develop the creativity and critical thinking skills necessary to make informed decisions for change, improving the quality of their lives, and those of future generations.

Practicing sustainability empowers children to construct knowledge, explore values and develop an appreciation of the environment and its relationship to their worlds. This lays the foundations for an environmentally responsible adulthood.

Sue Elliott, Senior Lecturer from the University of New England, NSW, says ‘early childhood education for sustainability is a transformative and empowering process actively engaged in by children, families and educators who share an ecocentric worldview’ (Elliott, 2014, p.15).  An ecocentric worldview is one that embraces all the Earth’s life forms and physical elements, not just humans.

When there is an alignment of philosophies, ethics and beliefs in a service, sustainability becomes the norm and has a positive impact on children’s learning and the wider community.

The Early Years Learning Framework, the Framework for School Age Care and the National Quality Standard promote embedding sustainability in all daily routines and practices. Services often find elements relating to sustainability under Quality Area 3 challenging to meet.

Holistic approach

Educators typically focus on sustainable practices and activities for children in the outdoor environment. However, it is important to embed sustainability more broadly in all aspects of service operations. A holistic approach to sustainability is essential, acknowledging the natural, social, political and economic dimensions as defined by UNESCO (2010).

Sue Elliott (2014, p. 52) offers the following questions to get started on a journey of change:

  • What practical first step or action priority could we engage in that best reflects the interests and/or strengths of this community?
  • How will we decide on the most relevant and achievable action?
  • Which stakeholders in our service may have an interest in this action priority?

Other questions for reflection include:

  • What strategies do we use to foster children’s capacity to value and respect the broader environment and appreciate the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land?
  • How are children involved in the environmentally sustainable practices already existing at the service and in the community?
  • What connections have we made within the local indigenous community that support a deeper connection to the land?
  • How will we maintain the inspiration and momentum for the journey of change?

Starting point

Nadine McCrea (2015, p. 64), Associate Professor at University of New England, suggests the following sustainable practices as starting points.

  • create edible gardens for sharing and/or cooking produce
  • implement an energy saving policy including heating, cooling, lights, appliances
  • practise green cleaning
  • be active citizens for sustainability in local community projects
  • collect natural materials for play ethically, only taking a few and using respectfully
  • install a solar hot water system
  • reuse and repurposing materials for play
  • create a second-hand children’s book or clothing exchange for families
  • use forest-friendly paper products
  • avoid disposable, single use items
  • investigate local indigenous environmental knowledge
  • implement a sustainable purchasing policy including local products and minimised packaging

What other possibilities might be relevant to your education and care service?

Network

Educators might consider joining a sustainable education network for ideas to engage in sustainable practices. Current networks include:

The Early Childhood Environmental Education Network has developed the Eco Smart for Early Childhood – a sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans along with a version designed specifically for family day care educators. Other useful resources include:

References and resources

Davis, J. (Ed.) (2015). Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability (2nd edn.), Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.

Elliott, S. (2014). Sustainability and the Early Years Learning Framework. Mt Victoria, NSW: Pademelon Press.

McCrea, N. (2015). Leading and management: Early childhood settings – Inspiring people, places and practices. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.

NSW ECEEN (2012). ECO SMART for Early Childhood – A sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans. Sydney, NSW: OEH ET & NSW ECEEN.

NSW ECEEN (2015). ECO SMART for Early Childhood – A sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans Family Day Care revision. Sydney, NSW: OEH ET & NSW ECEEN.

UNESCO (2010) Four dimensions of sustainable development. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_a/popups/mod04t01s03.html

Young, T. & Elliott, S. (2014) Ways of thinking, acting and relating about sustainability. Deakin West, ACT: Early Childhood Australia.

A smooth transition from pre-school to school

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Quality early childhood education and care services play an important role in supporting children and families in the transition to school. Lei Ding, Educational Leader at Hilda Booler Kindergarten in Sydney, writes about her service’s approach to supporting the transition.

Nurturing children’s abilities to succeed in school is a strong focus of our program at Hilda Booler Kindergarten. We work closely with children, aged three to five, to develop a play-based program that fosters social, creative, language, cognitive and physical skills. By supporting these areas of children’s development and focusing on building strong relationships, we’re able to develop their confidence as they transition to the school environment.

Relationships with families

Keeping families informed and discussing issues that relate to each child is also an integral part of our transition to school program. Communicating with families about their child’s skills, strengths and interests can support them during the transition. It’s about helping families decide when their child is best placed to begin school and reassuring them that the responsive, positive relationships they’ve built while at preschool will help them along the way.

Building a strong foundation for success

At Hilda Booler, children are supported to work on their learning journals. These help educators identify children’s skills and abilities and identify areas we believe children can build on. We then embed these into learning and play and take a holistic view of the child, considering, for example children’s skills related to language and literacy, numeracy, fine motor and self-help.

Scaffolding learning

Children are involved in the entire life cycle of the vegetable garden at our service, from planting seeds to harvesting the vegetables. Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework acknowledges children as confident and involved learners that develop a range of skills. Dispositions such as creativity, cooperation, persistence and imagination can assist children in the transition to school.

We created a visual arts story-board to support children’s understanding of the growing cycle. Using visual prompts educators encouraged children to organise, record and communicate their ideas and found the exploration of complex concepts, thinking, and hypothesising helped develop problem solving and research skills.

Making connections with local schools

Hilda Booler opens its doors to local primary schools in the area including Glebe Public, Forest Lodge Public and St James Catholic Primary. We seek every opportunity to celebrate with the schools for things like Book Week and school concerts and recently visited St James as part of our transition to school program. These visits give children opportunities to connect with the ‘big’ school, make ‘big’ friends, get to know the school environment/facilities, and classroom tasks.

We all make transitions in our lives. Sometimes we feel confident about these changes and sometimes we are anxious about how we may be viewed by others and how we will fit in. Children are the same. Helping them to become familiar with the school environment and expectations will make the transition less stressful and fearful.

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Embracing the assessment and rating process

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Being assessed and rated can understandably be a nervous time for educators. ACECQA caught up with Vashti Hicks, an Authorised Officer with the Queensland Department of Education and Training, to discuss her role and how services can prepare and embrace the assessment and ratings process.

Tell us a little about your background

 I have been in the early childhood sector for 16 years. I started as an assistant in a privately owned service but soon discovered that I wanted to focus on teaching. I then completed my diploma before taking on a group leader role.

Following this, I had the opportunity to take on the role as a service Director, which I undertook for five years. I was lucky to stay at this service for 11 years and felt supported in my growth in the sector. After a short break, I took on a position with the department focusing on monitoring and licensing, I have been here for five years and am looking forward to many more.

How do you think the National Quality Standard (NQS) has improved quality education and care?

With the changes to the National Law and National Regulations and the development of the NQS, approved providers, educators and families have come together to ensure wonderful outcomes for children.

Services can think outside the box and engage their educators and children in new and exciting ways, which they may not have looked at in the past as early education programs tended to be structured and ‘one size fits all’.

Additionally, with the law and regulations looking at operational requirements, it’s positive to see a framework that has raised the benchmark and for services to focus on continuous improvement.

Can you describe some of the innovative ways you have seen services approach the Quality Areas or Standards?

Services are embracing being able to change their indoor and outdoor environments to feel more natural and homely. Many are sourcing design ideas from collaboration websites such as Pinterest and finding inspiration for using natural materials that allow children to explore living and non-living things.

I’m delighted when I visit services where the outdoor space has become equally as dynamic and important in terms of learning by using things like wooden materials, gardens and mud pits.

We have definitely seen an increase in services and families building stronger relationships, including families participating more in the program, giving feedback and services using families’ skills and incorporating these into programs. One service that I visited had moved away from displaying children’s artwork on the walls to photos of children’s families that created a homely learning environment.

What preparation do you do before a visit?

I try to develop a relationship with my services to ensure that they are ready for the assessment and rating process. Prior to visiting I read through their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and identify strengths and improvements that they have highlighted and discuss these.

If I have additional time, I call the service and speak to the nominated supervisor and ask if there is anything I need to know for the visit such as: allergies, staff that may be away or any other major changes that have occurred. Asking these questions makes me aware of how the service operates daily.

I encourage services to make contact with their assessment authority before their visit as developing this relationship is an important step in ensuring the assessment and rating is as stress-free as possible.

If you could offer services a word of advice, what would it be? 

I would recommend services to:

  • embrace the process (see it as an opportunity to show your service off to the world)
  • breathe, discuss and reflect
  • ensure you’re prepared (knowledge is power, use the National Quality Framework Resource Kit)
  • highlight your service’s strengths.

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.