Each child, every child – building positive relationships and supportive environments

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

As a new year starts, children, educators and staff are returning from breaks, new families are joining education and care services, and children are transitioning between groups, rooms or service types. It’s often a busy period of adjustment and organisation – and a significant time for building relationships, and creating learning environments where each child can feel included and supported.

Why do educator-child relationships matter?

Research shows that high quality educator to child relationships and interactions are key elements to create a quality education and care environment. These are significant influences on children’s social and emotional development – actively contributing to positive learning, development, wellbeing and future life outcomes.

Developing relationships with children is an important component of the National Quality Standard (NQS). Quality Area 5 focuses on educators developing responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children that promote their wellbeing, self-esteem, sense of security and belonging.

Respectful relationships with children and families help educators find out more about each child’s strengths, ideas, culture, capabilities and interests. This knowledge supports provision of responsive learning environments and quality child-centred educational programs and practices. This maximises opportunities to enhance each child’s learning and development.

When children experience nurturing and respectful relationships with educators they develop an understanding of themselves as competent, capable and respected, and feel a sense of belonging. This helps children feel safe, secure, and included, and helps them grow confidence to play, explore and learn. Gaining each child’s trust and making an effort to get to know them well is an ongoing process of relationship building, and extends far beyond simply being friendly.

Building respectful, trusting educator-child relationships

A new year brings the opportunity to critically reflect on how respectful, trusting educator-child relationships are developed and maintained within your education and care service. Evaluating the success of your existing policies, procedures and practices can help identify and affirm strengths and highlight possible improvements to better support each child to feel secure, confident and included.

Regularly revisiting requirements and key guidance documents helps ensure these strengths of your service remain a priority and grow stronger over time.

Where to start?   

These key guidance documents provide valuable suggestions for educators as they develop responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children.

The Education and Care Services National Regulations require education and care services to have policies and procedures about interactions with children (reg. 155, 156 and 168). The start of a new year is a good time to review and evaluate how your policies are reflected in service practices, and how they actively promote relationships with children that are responsive, respectful and support children’s sense of security and belonging. For example, how your service’s policies are informed by your service’s philosophy, and guide its enrolment and orientation procedures.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF) is designed to help education and care providers, service leaders, educators and authorised officers understand and apply NQF. The guidance for the Standards and Elements within Quality Area 5 provide valuable suggestions for the way that educators can work with children to support their current wellbeing and their future development. The ‘questions to guide reflection’ are a useful tool for reviewing and evaluating your current practice.

National approved learning frameworks support education and care services’ reflections on how the elements, principles, practice and learning outcomes guide knowledge and practice.

Early Childhood Australia’s (ECA’s) Code of Ethics provides a framework for reflection on ethical responsibilities of education and care professionals, and a collection of statements offering guidance about educators’ practice and relationships with children.

Reflective questions to inspire conversations with your team

  • What are all the ways that you get to know each child well?
  • How do children demonstrate a sense of belonging, security and comfort?
  • How does your service help children form secure attachments with educators? (e.g. primary caregiving groups/key educator system, orientation, settling in procedures)
  • Does your service philosophy support a commitment to building relationships with children? How does this inform your service policies, procedures and everyday practice?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Relationships with children

We Hear You – Responsive, respectful relationships

Celebrating progress

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

Year-end is a time for celebration, as we reflect on accomplishments and progress across the last twelve months. In a busy education and care service, progress can sometimes be difficult to see or feel in a tangible way. What is progress? What counts as progress? How do we measure progress or success?

Progress is generally considered to be a measure of how well we are moving towards improvement or defined goals. In quality education and care, our overarching goals are positive outcomes for children and families.

What counts as progress towards these outcomes can involve a multitude of factors. For example, progress could be seen though factors such as children’s learning, family belonging, stability of educators and through children’s wellbeing. These factors can all improve positively over time and are valid ways to assess your progress towards defined goals. If these factors are not improving over time, it provides an opportunity to critically reflect on your practices and consider any changes needed.

Measuring progress with a holistic lens

Using just one factor, such as family belonging, to measure progress may not capture all of the rich ways in which outcomes for children and families are being achieved by your service. Just one factor can be important, but it won’t give the complete picture.

Internationally, measurements of progress are shifting to a holistic perspective and moving beyond one simple measure.  For example, the Australian National Development Index (ANDI) aims to measure Australia’s progress by twelve domains, such as wellbeing, education, health and the environment, not just simply by economic gross domestic product (GDP). This recognises the many factors that contribute to community development and sustainable wellbeing.

Similarly, progress in education and care can be reviewed and celebrated using a holistic lens. The seven quality areas of the National Quality Standard are a great starting point. They capture the diverse and important components of quality education and care that deliver positive outcomes.

It’s important to recognise and celebrate the important contributions that educators, service leaders, staff and approved providers make in the lives of children and families. It is timely to identify and celebrate the contribution of you and your colleagues.

As the year draws to a close, I encourage you to find time to pause to consider how far your service and the children, families and staff of your community have travelled this year. It’s important to celebrate the progress that you are making to give children the best possible start in life.

The ideas and questions attached in this table offer a starting point.

Review and celebrate your 2018 service journey. How far have you travelled?

Happy holidays

I wish you and your teams a very well deserved break over the summer, and am looking forward to hearing more about your celebrations and achievements in the New Year.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Reviewing your service philosophy

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Using complaints to support continuous improvement

ACECQA – We Hear You – Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

Early Childhood Australia – Code of Ethics

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 0-2 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 3-5 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 6-8 years

Mitchell Institute – Fact Sheet – Capabilities at 9-12 years

 

Developing a professional learning community

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insights into National Quality Framework (NQF) implementation in services.

In the October ACECQA Newsletter, we discussed articulating practice to build a shared understanding of quality education and care with families, colleagues and communities.

This month, we’re continuing this discussion to build the capacity of educators and teams to articulate their practice through a professional learning community.

A hallmark of an effective professional learning community is when educators, educational leaders and management help, inspire and learn from each other to continually improve quality programs and practices in the service.

It’s a way of building collaboration and mutual respect within a team that develops their confidence.

A professional learning community values every member

Quality Area 4 – Staffing arrangements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) defines collaboration as ‘staff being encouraged to respect and value the diverse contributions and viewpoints of their colleagues’.

In a collaborative professional learning community, team members share resources, give constructive feedback, and work respectfully and professionally to solve problems. They’re guided by a code of ethics (such as the Early Childhood Australia [ECA] Code of Ethics), the service’s code of conduct and service philosophy.

Standard 4.2 – Professionalism describes relationships between service staff, educators and management based on mutual respect, equity and fairness. Professional learning conversations encourage team members to communicate effectively and respectfully to promote a positive and calm atmosphere.

Each team member brings their own strengths, understandings and interests. Engaging in conversations gives them common ground to share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at the service.

A professional learning community allows team members to discuss how they’re delivering programs, practices and policies and research and theories informing them. Regular discussions that value everyone’s input further develops skills to improve practices and relationships.

Regular formal and informal team discussions also help build educators’ skills and confidence articulating why and how they provide quality education and care. This is an important part of their ongoing communication with families, other educators and professionals, authorised officers and the wider community.

It’s a structured process in a safe space

An effective professional learning community may differ from a typical team meeting.

It’s a structured process led by a nominated supervisor, an educational leader or another person who has or is developing leadership skills in this area.

The leader’s role is to facilitate and create a safe space for educators and the team to discuss a wide range of topics, as well as their own feelings, beliefs and any challenges they may be facing.

Reflective questions encourage deeper thinking about individual and group practices.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides a list of questions to guide reflection on practice for each standard to promote these discussions.

Active participation in professional discussions has the potential to help educators and teams to:

  • gain a greater sense of purpose about the importance of their role and responsibilities working with young children and their families
  • reflect on current recognised approaches and research on education and care
  • share their knowledge, discuss and reflect on the needs of others as professionals, as well as particular children and families
  • develop a common language that describes their shared pedagogical beliefs
  • reduce any anxiety or uncertainty about articulating why and how they implement quality practices through practical examples
  • demonstrate a high level of collaboration, including affirming, challenging, supporting and learning from each other.

It’s about a shared purpose

Professional learning communities encourage educators and teams to work towards common goals for the children, families and the wider education and care community.

Teams who actively develop shared goals are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, supporting effective implementation.

Teams with this sense of shared purpose also develop decision making processes informed by professional standards, including the service’s code of conduct and code of ethics.

Collaborating on ethical decision making processes helps educators and service leaders consider a decision’s impact on daily practice and relationships, and articulate its rationale.

It helps practice make perfect

Many of us might remember being told that ‘practice makes perfect’ when we were children. Being part of a professional learning community, and being given the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts in a safe space, allows educators and team members to practice and improve their articulation skills.

This helps prepare them to confidently and skillfully tackle challenging issues and questions that arise as we provide quality education and care to children attending our services.

It also helps them confidently showcase their unique program and practices and the amazing learnings occurring in their services every day to families, community, authorised officers and education and care professionals.

Questions to guide reflection

  • How does our approach to professional collaboration align with our service philosophy, policies and procedures?
  • Do our professional conversations demonstrate self-awareness of the ethical and professional standards underpinning our practice?
  • How does our community influence the way we articulate our practice, with them and for them?

I’d love to see you sharing your journeys

Many educators, educational leaders and service leaders are using professional learning circles to inform practice changes to improve children’s learning outcomes. Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study is a helpful framework.

I encourage you to share your rich stories of success and challenge with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below. They might inspire others to start a professional learning circle, and I look forward to reading about them and continuing this conversation.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA Newsletter – Articulating practice – bigger than the sum of the words

Australian Government Department of Education and Training – Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study

 

 

 

Meet the ACECQA team – Qualifications Assessment

This month, We Hear You speaks with ACECQA’s Qualifications Assessment team about their frontline work assessing education and care qualifications from around the globe.  

Under the Education and Care Services National Law, ACECQA is responsible for determining the qualifications required for educators and early childhood teachers (ECTs) in National Quality Framework (NQF) approved education and care services, including the assessment of equivalent qualifications.

Applications for qualification assessment are submitted by individuals who wish to work with children preschool age and under, or school aged children who attend outside school hours care services. Applications can be submitted online or through a paper-based application form.

Once an application is received, the Qualifications Assessment team completes an initial check of the application, including checking whether all of the required information has been submitted. Guidance is available on ACECQA’s website detailing the information required for a ‘complete’ application. If information is missing, the team contacts the applicant to advise what must be submitted in order for the application to be assessed.

Since 2012, ACECQA has received over 8000 applications for qualifications assessments, and more than 2000 individuals have been approved as ECTs.

Tania, a Qualifications Assessment Officer who has worked at ACECQA for almost five years, highlighted the broad range of applications received.

“Some assessments are relatively easy to process, while others are very challenging,” Tania said. “We’ve received applications from dozens of countries all around the world, with the qualifications to be assessed spanning several decades.”

The team receives applications for the assessment of vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, with most from overseas. A high volume of applicants come from the UK, Ireland and New Zealand.

As the Qualifications Assessment team works with a diverse range of applicants, including those who have English as a second language, customer service and an ability to convey sometimes complex information in a straightforward and understandable way is critical.

“We understand that it’s their livelihood and it’s a really important step towards them having a successful career in Australia,” Tania said. “That’s why we are on hand to answer any questions about their applications, as well as Australia’s education and care sector more generally.”

To find out more about the work of the Qualifications Assessment team and the qualification requirements of the NQF, head over to the Qualifications section of our website.

Mentoring matters

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

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

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

1. Mentoring supports all educators

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

2. Mentoring is a relationship

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

3. Mentoring is reciprocal

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

4. Mentoring requires quality time and resources

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

5. Mentoring involves critical reflection

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

6. Great mentors are made, not born

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

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

7. Communication skills are essential

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

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

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

8. Mentoring is an organic, dynamic process

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

I. Getting to know each other and building trust

II. Goal setting and action planning

III. Developing professional skills and tracking progress

IV. Evaluating progress and outcomes

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

9. One size does not fit all

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

10. Mentoring is not always face-to-face

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

~o~

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

Further reading and resources

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

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

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

KidsMatter – Mentoring: relationships that sustain and inspire

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

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

We Hear You – National Education Leader – Leader as mentor

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Playing your part in child protection

ChildProtection_wehearyou

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

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

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

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

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

Creating safe and nurturing environments

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

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

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

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

Are you a mandatory reporter?

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

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

What does mandatory reporting mean?

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

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

Child Safe Organisations Project

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

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

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

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

A child safe organisation consciously and systematically:

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

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

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

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

Reflective questions

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

Further reading and resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging and collaborating with my community

Engage with and in your community

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

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

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

Children and families

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

Staff

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

Health, education and family-support professionals and organisations

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

Place

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

Promote your service and purpose to your community

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

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

Collaborate with your community

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

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

Reflective questions and activities for you and your team or service

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

~o~

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

Further reading and resources

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

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

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

Australian Early Development Census – Data, resources and community stories

Australian Government – Family-School Partnerships Framework

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

Narragunnawalli – Professional learning and resources

Reconciliation Australia – Video – Build relationships with community

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

 

Read the complete series:

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

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

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

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

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