The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 1

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

We know a comprehensive process of critical reflection, self-assessment and evaluation, along with a commitment to continuous quality improvement, is essential in contributing to and enhancing quality outcomes for children. But how often do we take time to reflect on the effectiveness and intent of our self-assessment and quality improvement practices? 

In a sector that recognises the importance of high quality education and care and is driven by a focus on raising continuous quality improvement, it is appropriate that the changes to the National Law and Regulations* and the introduction of the 2018 National Quality Standard (NQS) merit an opportunity for services to reflect, review, update and enhance their self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes and arrangements.

In this series, we explore five ideas to support and strengthen your self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes building on the ideas and the 2018 NQS self-assessment strategies discussed in the February ACECQA Newsletter.  This first instalment will provide a starting point,  and offer practical support to guide reflective practice, spark professional conversation and identify ‘where to next’ actions.

*Changes to the National Law and Regulations came into effect on 1 October 2017 in all states and territories (except Western Australia, which will commence by 1 October 2018). The 2018 NQS and related changes commenced on 1 February 2018 across all states and territories.

Part 1: Critical reflection – Take a brief look back to pave a path forward

Rear Admiral and pioneering computing scientist, Grace Murray Hopper, stated that the most dangerous phrase in our language is: ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ A key strength of the NQS is the way it supports education and care services to commit to best practice and engage in ongoing critical reflection and self-assessment to inform professional judgements and drive continuous quality improvement. Educators are encouraged to stop, reflect and rethink the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their practice and consider ‘why’ they do things in particular ways. This assists in assessing the effectiveness of current practices and analysing what might be changed or improved. It also has the potential to enrich decision making and provide opportunities to explore new ideas and approaches.

The 2018 NQS represents an opportunity for education and care services to consider the efficiency and effectiveness of existing self-assessment and quality improvement practices. It is an opportunity to identify the implementation of successful strategies and celebrate the achievement of goals as well as acknowledge what has proved challenging and/or confronting. Reflecting on previous self-assessment and continuous improvement processes can provide the impetus for change and is an important step in paving an informed path towards continuous quality improvement and improved outcomes for children and families.

Questions for consideration:

  • How does your service undertake self-assessment, decide what is being done well and identify areas where quality improvements could be made? Is self-assessment an ongoing, regular and systematic process? If not, how could practice be adapted?
  • How is feedback from children, families, community representatives and critical friends invited and incorporated?
  • How does your service prioritise areas for quality improvement and identify goals that will enhance the quality of children’s and families’ experiences? What processes exist to monitor goals and regularly review progress?
  • What information, resources and guidance currently inform and assist your service’s self-assessment and quality improvement practices? For example, how are the Guide to the National Quality Framework, National Law and Regulations, approved learning frameworks, and the Exceeding NQS guidance for standards being used in your service?
  • Are there opportunities to streamline processes and integrate other service plans (such as the Strategic Inclusion Plan, Reconciliation Action Plan) into your service Quality Improvement Plan?


Tip
: You may also like to refer to the questions, included in the Guide to the National Quality Framework, to guide reflection for Standard 7.2 – Leadership. The guide to practice for Element 7.2.1 – Continuous Improvement, which describes how the element might be put into practice at the service and how the element may be assessed, may also be a helpful reference to for professional discussions at your service.

Refer to the Assessment and rating chapter of the Guide to the National Quality Framework for further guidance on the self-assessment and quality improvement and planning process available on the ACECQA website.

 

In my next instalment, I will explore how professional collaboration and ‘a lively culture of professional inquiry’ can strengthen and inform your self-assessment and quality improvement processes. Additional questions will be provided to further stimulate critical thinking and build on your professional conversations.

 

Read the complete series:

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 1

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 2

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 3

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 4

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 5

Shared learning across the globe: An international sister school exchange program

Female educator and young children from Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative on a nature walk

In 2015, Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) in Victoria launched its sister school and staff hosting program with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, Denmark. The program, which has provided opportunities for educators and support staff to work overseas to exchange ideas, programs and practices, has also had positive and lasting effects on children’s learning and relationships with families. 

This month on We Hear You, KCCC General Manager, Sigi Hyett, takes us through the development of the program and its influence on the service three years on.

It isn’t every day you connect and collaborate with peers across the globe. Since 2015 Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) has had the opportunity to connect with a number of early childhood education and care services in Denmark as part of a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration and shared learning. Our international sister school exchange and staff hosting program reflects two ideas central to our service philosophy – continuous improvement and collaboration. As a community co-operative we place a high value on quality outcomes for children, which are linked to family and community engagement and relationships, and endeavour to create a professional learning community that is informed by shared knowledge. These values have helped us strengthen programs and practices, and resulted in improved outcomes for children and educators.

Thoughts and ideas

During 2014, one of our KCCC board members and a parent at our school, Malene Platt, shared her story of the challenges her family faced as they transitioned from a Danish early childhood education and care setting to an Australian one. She spoke to me about the differences between the approaches to programs and practice, and the challenge this posed for her two young children. As a young Danish migrant to this country, Malene’s experience resonated with me, as did the experience of her young children. It took me back to my first day of kindergarten as a three-year-old girl settling into a new country and its language and customs, while continuing to speak and practice those of my birth country. Having the opportunity to go to school in two countries and learn two languages and differences in customs and traditions enriched my learning and development as a child – and continues to do so now as an early childhood professional.

It also started us thinking about the possibility of creating an exchange or host program similar to those in other sectors and professions as a way of bridging cultures and learning from one another through exploring different early learning settings and approaches. We began to consider the opportunities for educators to learn from each other and how this could benefit all staff and children, their families, the community, and the broader early childhood sector. As our conversations progressed, we realised a sister school that included an exchange program or host placement that enabled educators and support staff to live and teach in another country would provide benefits to KCCC.  This idea was reignited from my thoughts back in 2012 about building connections and sharing learning between educators across the kindergarten and long day care sector. These ideas seemed particularly relevant at a time of change in the sector; kindergarten teachers were about to be included in the National Quality Framework and the assessment and rating process, as well as moving to 15 contact hours per week.

Research and development

Over the course of the year, our informal discussions quickly became more structured; we moved to professional conversations that reflected on the programs, curriculum, practice and procedures across the two countries. This fuelled our enthusiasm and research about Scandinavian early learning and standards and helped us consider what could be adapted to benefit our own program. When an opportunity to visit Denmark in early 2015 came about, I visited four early learning services with the aim of linking with services that demonstrated cultural diversity and lead best practice in Early Years Curriculum. This visit facilitated relationship building, collaboration, learning and teaching, where practice, ideas and initiatives were shared.

International sister school exchange and staff host program

In early 2015, KCCC launched the sister school program, partnering with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen. Our services were aligned in many ways, including service structure, setting, programs, goals, culture and policy. Both of our services also have a community board with high parent involvement, which are central to the collaborative partnerships that underpin our respective service philosophies. We also considered Frederiksberg an exciting and inspiring service for our sister school due to their development of forest kindergarten programs, as well as their innovation in the city centre.

The children enjoying the dialogic reading room

Each of our services has hosted educators for between three to eight weeks, with families from our services providing accommodation to host staff. These staff host placements have enabled the educators to not only learn about programs and practices, but also to immerse themselves in everyday life and culture, which fosters intercultural understanding.

The aims and objectives of this partnership included:

  • sharing pedagogy, program and curriculum ideas and resources
  • increasing intercultural understanding and supporting a whole service improvement
  • communication through ICT
  • the establishment of a staff exchange/host program to support building educator capacity.

Benefits and results

Now that we are at the beginning of the fourth year of the exchange program, we can see and track the benefits for both the children and educators at KCCC and Frederiksberg. Some of the specific programs and learnings that we have included at our service as a result of the sister school and staff exchange/host include:

  • the investigation of different models for staffing and grouping of children
  • introduction of multi-age groups and shared yard
  • sharing information about the integrated shared yard space and educators’ areas of engagement with children
  • the purchase of a Danish pram (where seats are at a high level and children are seated facing each other) to support interactions on excursions between children and educators
  • investigation and implementation of project-based dialogic reading program to support early literacy
  • implementation of regular small group excursions in the local community across all age groups
  • professional learning opportunities and critical discussions that support reflective practice
  • roster review to enable the implementation of an excursion/outdoor educator to lead the project excursion groups
  • establishment of small, project-based regular excursions that support the same group of children with the same educators and at the same location for a period of time that supports strong relationships, persistence, conflict resolution and strong community connections.

~o~

Along with the many benefits that KCCC continues to see every day, the sister school and staff exchange program has created a greater global awareness and understanding of communities for the staff, children and families. Through the sharing of ideas, cultural knowledge, pedagogy, curriculum, language and experience, each service has been enriched and its capability improved. Both of our services are celebrating the benefits and valuing the diversity, critical thinking and shared learning that continue to exceed our expectations.

The KCCC team hosting educators from Frederiksberg

Are you exceeding the 2018 National Quality Standard?

From 1 February 2018, new guidance on determining the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) rating level for standards will apply to quality rating assessments. A rating of Exceeding NQS means going ‘above and beyond’ what is expected at the Meeting NQS level for a standard. But what does going ‘above and beyond’ mean when we focus on quality service practice and provision?

This month on We Hear You, we explore this question and examine the three Exceeding themes that services will need to demonstrate for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.

A rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) means going ‘above and beyond’ what is expected at the Meeting NQS level for a standard. But what does going ‘above and beyond’ mean when we focus on quality service practice and provision?

Sector feedback suggested that more information was needed to clarify what ‘above and beyond’ means and to better explain expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level. In response, the Australian and state and territory governments, ACECQA, and education and care experts collaborated to develop new guidance that clarifies the requirements and expectations between the Meeting NQS and Exceeding NQS rating levels for each standard.

New guidance published in the Guide to the National Quality Framework outlines, for the first time, expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level. Tailored guidance for each standard includes indicators for providers, educators and authorised officers to consider if practice for that standard demonstrates the three Exceeding themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS.

Determining Exceeding NQS for standards

From 1 February 2018, services will need to demonstrate all three Exceeding themes for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.

Using the ‘observe’, ‘sight’, ‘discuss’ methods to collect evidence about service quality, authorised officers will now look specifically for evidence of the three Exceeding themes. Authorised officers will then consider all evidence collected to determine a service’s quality rating.

For a service to be rated Exceeding NQS for any standard, all elements that sit under the standard must be met and the service practice must reflect all three of the above Exceeding themes.

The table below outlines what is required for a service to achieve a standard-level rating of Exceeding NQS. The middle column provides an example which demonstrates that the service will be rated as Meeting NQS unless the evidence reflects all three Exceeding themes. In the right column, all three Exceeding themes are demonstrated in evidence so the service is rated Exceeding NQS.

When does this change start?

The new guidance will apply, and will be used in quality rating assessments, from 1 February 2018, to support the introduction of the 2018 NQS.

Guide to the National Quality Framework

 The National Quality Standard and Assessment and Rating chapter in the Guide to the National Quality Framework reflects the 2018 NQS and outlines the assessment and rating process, including guidance on the Exceeding NQS rating level. The chapter includes questions to prompt providers and educators and service managers to reflect on the quality of their practice. A tailored list of indicators is included for each standard of the NQS. This provides guidance to assist services and assessors to consider if practice across each of the standards demonstrates the Exceeding NQS themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS.

The indicators provided are not exhaustive. Services may demonstrate Exceeding level practice in a variety of ways to suit their particular operating environment and approach to practice. The indicators provide a useful prompt for critical reflection and a valuable resource to support educators in being able to express and articulate their own practices.

Where to from here?

Change can provide an opportunity to reconnect with the collective vision for the service, to reflect on professionalism and to engage in a deeper level of quality improvement. The new guidance for Exceeding NQS provides a prompt for discussion with all service stakeholders. Are the three Exceeding themes (practice embedded in service operations, practice informed by critical reflection, and meaningful engagement with families and/or the community) reflected across the 15 standards? Can educators articulate their practice in relation to the themes? Why not make this a topic for your next team and parent meetings?

Additional resources

All governments and ACECQA are committed to supporting the sector to understand and prepare for changes to the National Quality Framework. Additional resources and information on the new guidance for determining Exceeding NQS for standards are available on the ACECQA website, including an information sheet and PowerPoint slide pack.

Exceeding the National Quality Standard and articulating professional practice

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

‘There’s no straighter road to success than exceeding expectations one day at a time.’ ~ Robin Crow

The commencement of the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) on 1 February 2018 signals some changes to the Exceeding NQS rating. I thought I would take this opportunity to unpack what this means for services and encourage all educators to engage with the change in the lead-up.

From 1 February 2018, to achieve a rating of Exceeding NQS for any standard, the three Exceeding themes need to be reflected in service practice for that standard. In addition to meeting the requirements of a standard, practice for that standard needs to be:

Together these themes describe the high quality practice demonstrated and expected at the Exceeding NQS level for any standard. The three themes aim to ensure transparent expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level are clear for providers, educators and authorised officers. During an assessment and rating visit, authorised officers will use ‘observe, discuss and sight’ methods to collect evidence of all three exceeding themes in order to rate a standard as Exceeding NQS.

The approach relies on a shared understanding of what each theme means. The National Quality Standard and Assessment and Rating chapter in the new Guide to the National Quality Framework reflects the 2018 NQS and outlines the assessment and rating process, including guidance on the Exceeding NQS rating level. A tailored list of indicators is included for each standard of the NQS. This provides guidance and offers clarity on the changes to assist services and assessors to consider if practice across each of the standards demonstrates the Exceeding NQS themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS. While the indicators provided are comprehensive, they are not prescriptive. Services may demonstrate Exceeding level practice in a variety of ways that suit their particular operating environment and approach to practice. They are a useful prompt for critical reflection and a valuable support for educators to express and articulate their own unique practice.

In light of the forthcoming changes, it is worth considering how the new Exceeding NQS guidance for standards may be practically applied within your education and care service and used by educators to articulate and advocate quality service provision – that is, explaining the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their practice and, importantly, how this is consistent with the service vision and philosophy, the higher purpose ‘why’.

Professional standards and fundamental values of the education and care profession are reflected in the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics and include an emphasis on:

  • taking responsibility for articulating professional values, knowledge and practice
  • engaging in critical reflection and ongoing learning
  • participating in a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’
  • building shared professional knowledge, understanding and skills and advocating for the provision of quality education and care.

Establishing, articulating and disseminating a common and shared understanding of what quality means and how this is reflected in service provision is a responsibility all education and care professionals can take on.

The new guidance on determining Exceeding NQS for standards provides a consistent language and transparent expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level. It is applicable guidance across all education and care services and a useful tool for reviewing and informing Quality Improvement Plans (QIPs) and new service goals and priorities.

What will be your first step on the road to success?

The new guidance on determining Exceeding NQS for standards, including the three exceeding themes and indicators, may be used to support, scaffold and inform:

  • self-assessment and QIP development and revision
  • thinking about quality and service provision
  • identifying shared perspectives and actions
  • professional conversations and critical reflection/articulation of professional practice
  • reflection/re-examination of service philosophy, vision, policies and procedures
  • increasing knowledge, understanding and preparation of educators for assessment and rating visits
  • a culture of continuous quality improvement
  • mentoring of colleagues and constructive professional feedback.

How might you use the new Exceeding NQS guidance to both articulate and advocate for the provision of quality education and care? Some questions to guide your thinking may include:

  • How will the new guidance on Exceeding NQS (including the tailored list of indicators for each standard of the NQS) guide professional decision-making and inform a commitment to a shared vision for children’s learning?
  • How will your service use the guidance and indicators to inform and measure if practice for each of the standards demonstrates all three Exceeding themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS?
  • What methods or approaches might you use to document or demonstrate that service practice and provision is:
    • embedded in service operations
    • informed by critical reflection
    • shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community?

Further reading and resources 

ACECQA – Information sheet – New Guidance on Determining Exceeding NQS for Standards 

ACECQA – Information sheet – Transitioning to the Revised National Quality Standard 

ACECQA – Slide pack – Changes to the NQS, Assessment and Rating and Rating Levels: Determining the Exceeding Rating Level for Standards

We Hear You – Are you exceeding the 2018 National Quality Standard?

The hardest question in early childhood: Raising the profile

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, explores the importance of early childhood education and care and reflects on the communication challenges impacting the public value of the sector and its educators.

Educators always ask a lot of questions.

At a recent workforce conference on the importance of quality vocational training in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector I was asked a number of questions about changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS), the rate of assessment and rating of services across the country, plus the ongoing training provided to the jurisdiction-based authorised officers who make those assessments.

All good questions.

However, there was one question which I found the most difficult to provide a clear answer to: “Why aren’t early childhood educators valued in Australia given the importance of the early years in the development of children?”. This issue has come up in multiple forums where my colleagues and I have spoken on the subject of the ECEC workforce.

Now, everyone reading this article will probably have an opinion on the above question. And I think there are multiple factors at play here. However, I want to focus on a high-level factor which I believe significantly influences how the public perceives and values ECEC. And it relates to the communication ‘messages’ the Australian community receives, or doesn’t receive, about ECEC.

In this regard, I want to focus on three key communication challenges I see impacting on the profile of the ECEC sector in Australia and, by association, the public value of early childhood educators.

The challenges

The first challenge is that the overarching narrative in the media and community tends to reinforce the concept of ECEC predominantly being about workforce participation and the high-level language used about the system infers it is about having your child ‘cared for’ or ‘looked after’.

For the benefit of national productivity, there is absolutely no doubt getting parents back into the workplace is a critically important outcome and the provision of subsidies, whatever the quantum, greatly assists in achieving this.

However, this is a short-term economic argument and neglects that the billions of dollars in investment being made in ECEC also has a medium to long-term economic benefit for the country – it develops children’s social and communication skills, helps them learn about and interact with the world around them, assists in the early identification and intervention options for children who are experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, and ultimately, it provides a critical transition step for entry into primary school.

Unfortunately, there is no agreed or consistent message for the Australian public which reinforces these benefits of ECEC. Nor is there any national message for new parents regarding the importance of brain development in the first five years and the role that they as first teachers, or ECEC, can play in this phase of a child’s life. And for the economically minded within our society, who often question the level of taxpayer investment in ECEC, there is no reference or targeted messaging about the medium to long-term return on this investment for the nation. Perhaps we can do more in this area and highlight the arguments of scholars like American economist and Nobel Laureate Professor James Heckman who has argued that a dollar invested in an ECEC program can return itself more than six times.

Secondly, if it is not a workforce participation matter, the narrative tends to focus on the perceived problems associated with the regulatory system and the NQF rather than any positive contribution the ECEC sector makes to our children and society.

As we all know, bad news sells and as a sector we can be our own worst enemy in highlighting issues which are great material for news outlets. This in turn leads to the Australian community only reading or hearing about problems and issues with ECEC and the NQF, instead of the progress being made and the positives being achieved by the national quality system.

For example, ACECQA’s four regulatory burden surveys have consistently highlighted over 95% of the sector supports the NQF. So why is it then we tend to turn small administrative matters into some form of crisis that leads to a nationally syndicated news article or segment on the nightly television news? All this does is perpetuate negative connotations in the public mind about the NQF and the ECEC sector.

Finally, research that ACECQA and governments have done over the past few years has highlighted there is a language challenge between what parents think and want from early childhood, versus how we communicate with them as a sector.

Since the introduction of the NQF in 2012, a great deal of work has been undertaken with the sector and governments to communicate and educate on the national regulatory system. This has been critically important given we replaced nine different jurisdictional systems and evolved to one national law and set of regulations for ECEC.

However, ACECQA’s inaugural Annual Performance Report to the COAG Education Council highlights the challenge we all continue to have in communicating with parents.  As a sector we have tended to use professional terms like programming and practice, scaffolding, pedagogy, quality and, dare I say it, ‘education’, when communicating with parents. Many parents don’t readily relate to this terminology and, in some cases, they actually find the terms incompatible with what they expect to occur in the birth to five age group. They prefer happy, safe, playing, growing and learning. The research would suggest it is as children move into the year before formal schooling starts that most parents start to really engage and think about ‘education’ and ‘school readiness’.

We know how important language is in reaching and engaging with new parents. On ACECQA’s Starting Blocks website, we took the decision a few years ago to use the term ‘child care’ on our home page. We did this because we knew from research that this was the term parents and the community readily associated with and would therefore engage with. It is not ideal and we would like to be in a position to only use terms like ‘early learning’ or ECEC. However, our view is that at this point in time, it is more important to have new parents interact with the site and receive information about ECEC and the NQF, rather than not engage simply because they don’t initially understand what we are talking about.

Once parents move within the site, Starting Blocks deliberately introduces terms to educate the reader and reinforce alternative terms such as ‘early learning’ and ‘early childhood education and care’. However, while parents continue to hear the term ‘child care’ being used via our media and in the community, changing the terminology in Australia will be a gradual process – but it is important to work towards this outcome.

The impact

At this point, I am sure you are wondering how these communication challenges impact on the original question about the lack of public recognition and value of early childhood educators.

Well, they have a direct impact.

If the messages being delivered and received by the broader community about ECEC are negative in tone, this in turn means there is no additional public value being created. Therefore, the community will not fully engage and educate itself to understand the importance of early learning for their children, nor the role that ECEC plays in development and supporting families and communities. This means we will not get to a point where the public values the system enough to demand continued improvement and investment in all aspects of the system, including the workforce and its educators.

Moving forward

So, how can we create a ‘step change’ in thinking regarding the broader public value in ECEC?

There is no doubt it will continue to take time. However, with the national system now embedded across the country there is an opportunity for us all to re-frame the high-level messages we want the Australian public to hear and, ultimately, understand about ECEC. Collectively we can start by:

  • focusing on positive messages, whether social or economic, to the appropriate audience that promote the benefits of ECEC for children and our society
  • partnering with each other, to stretch our limited resources, in commissioning research and developing campaigns to raise the profile of ECEC
  • re-framing our language when communicating with the community about the NQF and the NQS so they can start to appreciate how it will help parents and children
  • acknowledging where we have issues and concerns but pausing and thinking about the impact to the broader agenda of creating public recognition and value in ECEC before choosing to make public comments on secondary issues.

For our part, ACECQA will continue broadening our communication activities beyond the sector and continue to explore new channels where we can provide more information directly to parents. We already do this in a number of ways:

  • via a dedicated family website (Starting Blocks), posting on social media, engaging bloggers, attending and speaking at conferences and exhibitions
  • partnering with non-sector related groups, like Maternal and Child Health Nurses Associations and Playgroups, to provide information to families not yet in the ECEC sector and inform them of the benefits and choices available to them
  • introducing NQS rating logos so services can promote their rating to the community (to date, over 3000 services across the country have signed up to this scheme)
  • actively promoting the information of other relevant organisations, so we can help get information about early childhood into families and the community
  • undertaking and releasing more and more analysis and research reports on the NQF and the sector.

In 2018, we will continue to focus on parents and look to new initiatives for communicating the benefits of early learning plus the key aspects of the NQS in everyday language they will connect with.

There is a lot more that can be done by all of us to raise the profile and value of early childhood educators in this country. Getting the high level communication and messaging focused on the benefits of quality ECEC might just be the first step in raising public value.

Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

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

In early October, I was fortunate to present at and participate in the 2017 Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL) National Conference, and meet with Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah. Rosanne was the well-deserved recipient of the ACEL Leadership Award for 2017. The prestigious award recognises Rosanne as an educational leader who has made a significant contribution to education, educational leadership and improving outcomes for children.

During our catch up, Rosanne shared a wonderful story about how she reflected on the purpose and intent of her service’s end-of-year celebrations, as well as the collaboration with children and families to create a more authentic and meaningful coming together centred on sharing of learning and driven by the children.

Rosanne shares her story with us this month and takes us through the celebrations and ‘ceremony’ at KU Ourimbah.

~o~

As we prepare to celebrate the capacity and competence of our children, now is the time to challenge some of our embedded cultural practices we might take for granted as children embark on their school careers and families together take a moment to reflect upon their children’s rich, early childhood experiences.

At KU Ourimbah ‘Graduation’ has been replaced by ‘Ceremony’. Children are not expected to perform for their parents but rather share their learning with them in ways they have devised for themselves. It is ceremonious because this is an occasion for shared celebration. Children direct the day for their families and we ask families to reserve this day, well in advance, rather than have children exhausted by ‘evening do’s’.  This is after all, about children and families. It is not a marketing exercise or crowd pleaser, this is a child-led event and as such, there is a big difference in how we express our values. In how we place children’s interests at the centre of all that we do. We can of course be pleased, delighted, joyful and nostalgic. We can be moved by the magnificence of our children and how we choose to illuminate this.

Families overwhelmingly have embraced this approach and our event looks like this:

The children invite their parents for a tour. In our space in KU Ourimbah this involves children acting as tour-guides for their families and walking their favourite routes across The Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle, together. It is an everyday happening for our children that they walk on campus and having already discussed their personalised map and the places of importance that they want to share with their families, the children take charge, with map at the ready.

Parents, too, are complicit. They have already seen the map and understand through our on-line communications that they are in for a walking treat, with stations where they can pond dip, make natural art, litter pick and to be prepared. As families opt in and out of these activities we know the children are explaining what they have learnt about the surroundings, sharing their ecological citizenship and talking, talking, talking as they walk, revealing what they love about their life in early childhood. A communal family picnic precedes the ceremony held in a familiar lecture theatre.

Each year the ceremony is different. This year, the children choose their favourite memories for our PowerPoint images backed by music from one of our Indigenous families. We are welcomed to Country and the children co-sing. Some of the music is in language and there has been a song written in language for this moment and will be shared for the first time when we are all together.

Our ceremony finishes with an afternoon tea, fruit platters, cold drinks, a cake made by our cook skilled in the art of representing each child artistically through decoration.

We want to celebrate our children and in so doing we are showcasing what is important to them and what they want their families to appreciate and know about. It is a celebration of their voices. If we can do that, we have contributed to a new culture with parents, their children and extended families and friends.

~o~

I hope Rosanne’s story inspires and motivates you to consider a different approach to ‘doing things the way we always have’. The New Year, with a revised National Quality Standard, may be just the place to start thinking about challenging these views and looking to a new approach!

What is research telling us about children’s physical activity in the early years?

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

In the November ACECQA Newsletter, we featured the release of the first national 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. The guidelines take a more holistic view of children’s experience as they reference a 24-hour period, recognising that each movement behaviour is interlinked and integral to health. The guidelines also provide an opportunity to work collaboratively with families and the child at the centre of decision-making about how much time is engaged in sedentary pursuits or physical activity at the service and the home.

In this month’s blog, we share examples of the research being undertaken around the country, with our focus on how best to support Australian children to engage in recommended levels of physical activity.

Research from around the globe is pointing to strong correlations between physical activity and learning. As Pasi Sahlberg, the educator and author who specialises in the progressive approaches undertaken in Finland notes, ‘We also know from research that children’s brains work better when they move’. An experienced Finnish teacher put it this way: ‘Not only do they concentrate better in class, but they are more successful at negotiating, socialising, building teams and friendships together’ (Doyle in Sahlberg, 2018, p.23).

Below is an overview of some of the research and initial findings, as well as questions to prompt your own investigation and practice.

Early Start – University of Wollongong

Early Start is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative from the University of Wollongong. The research associated with Early Start is diverse and focuses on a number of different themes, including physical activity.

In 2017, Early Start was commissioned, in collaboration with researchers from Canada, to develop the new Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. Researchers from Early Start, namely Professor Anthony Okely, are now working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Kingdom working party to develop similar international guidelines.

Early Start has been involved in a number of other significant research studies focusing on physical activity in the early years. For example, between 2014 and 2016 Early Start conducted a multi-component physical activity intervention known as Jump Start in 43 NSW early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings from areas of disadvantage. This study, which aimed to increase physical activity during the preschool hours, comprises five components broadly focusing on gross motor skills, facilitation of active energy breaks and incorporating physical activity into other curriculum areas. Data from the study is currently being analysed. Additional information can be found in this recent research paper on increasing physical activity.

Myrto-Foteini Mavilidi and Early Start have recently investigated the effect of incorporating integrated physical activity into learning experiences facilitated in ECEC settings. Irrespective of focus area (numeracy, language, geography etc.), the study found learning was enhanced when integrated physical activity was part of the learning experience. They have published a number research papers, including one on the immediate and delayed effects of integrating physical activity.

Other studies, conducted by Y.G. Ellis and colleagues, have looked into the time children spend in sedentary behaviour in ECEC settings and the potential effectiveness of environment-based interventions on reducing sedentary time.  Their results show children in ECEC spend approximately 50% of their time sitting and that a simple environmental intervention has the potential to modify the amount of time children spend sitting.

Some of the most recent research on the early years facilitated by Early Start focuses on improving the quality of the environment of ECEC settings in relation to movement-play and physical activity. This research involves professional development for educators and uses the MOVERS environmental rating scale.

A critical area of research within Early Start focuses on the role of educators in physical activity learning experiences. K.L. Tonge and colleagues are interested in how high quality interactions between children and educators can enhance physical activity experiences in ECEC settings.

PLAYCE – University of Western Australia

The Play Spaces & Environments for Children’s Physical Activity study (PLAYCE) is a four-year Healthway funded study (2015-2018). PLAYCE is investigating a range of features, including indoor and outdoor space, play equipment, and natural features of the environment, to determine which have the most influence on children’s physical activity and health whilst attending ECEC. The research team is working with the ECEC sector in Western Australia and nationally to develop a checklist to assess whether services are meeting the standards detailed in Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard. This will help services identify what they can do to improve the quality of their physical environment to better support children’s physical activity, health and development.

So far, over 115 long day care services and 1400 children (2-5 years) and families have taken part in the PLAYCE study. Preliminary findings show less than one third of children meet the recommended three hours of physical activity per day and less than 8% achieve this recommendation in an average day while attending ECEC.

Physical health and wellbeing project – Gowrie Training and Consultancy and Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Gowrie Training and Consultancy (Tasmania) are collaborating with the Faculty of Education, QUT, in an Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) funded research project – Physical health and wellbeing: innovative approaches in an inner-city community. Project leader Dr Megan Gibson from QUT, together with Professor Andrew Hills from the University Tasmania, will be working with Gowrie Training and Consultancy and educators from the Lady Gowrie Integrated Child and Family Centre in Tasmania.

The AEDC is a national, population-based evaluation of child development in the first year of full-time schooling. AEDC data can help professionals working with children and families to think critically about how to effectively support children’s development. Early childhood educators are well placed to proactively use AEDC data to support and enhance children’s learning and development.

The project applies action research to support and enhance children’s physical health and wellbeing through:

  • building educator capability in relation to using AEDC data sets to inform professional decisions
  • enacting pedagogical practices that afford children opportunities to engage in challenging physical play, and
  • measuring and communicating about the effects of intentional, sustained and contextual practices to families, the local community and other ECEC services.

The overarching research question is:

How can early childhood educators enable children to flourish in the area of physical health and wellbeing?

The project involves educators applying key elements of action research to explore possibilities for children to flourish physically. Pedagogical documentation is central to the project as a tool for reflective practice that enables different ways of thinking about physical development. Examples of key areas of focus include: physical literacy, risk, the use of the outdoor environment, innovative ways to use equipment and resources, and educator decision-making.

Across the course of the project, educators are exploring resources to inform and shape their thinking about physical health and wellbeing, with examples including Active Healthy Kids Australia and Gooey Brains.

Early research findings have seen enhanced experiences and opportunities for children in the area of physical development.

For further information on the Physical health and wellbeing project, you can contact: Dr Megan Gibson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, QUT – ml.gibson@qut.edu.au. You can also read about the range of AEDC projects currently funded in Tasmania.

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Now we have taken you through examples of the latest research and studies, how might you engage with their findings to improve quality outcomes for children?

Conducting an action research project at your service is one way to incorporate some of the ideas. The prompt questions below are another means of reflecting on physical activity at your service. You could also use some of the specific questions from any of the above studies or findings.

Questions for further investigation:

  • What innovative ideas could you incorporate into your environments to increase activity? For example, Duplo boards on the walls for construction or taking away chairs from the art area.
  • What skills and knowledge do educators have about physical activity, recommendations and fundamental movement skills?
  • How is risk aversion impacting physical activity?
  • What impact is the provisioning of outdoor environments having on children’s physical activity?

References

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education, Corwin, California.