ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. This month showcases the role of the Educational Leader, and a We Hear You blog series exploring the why, the what and the how of the role.
Additionally, it provides questions to encourage educational leaders to self-assess their own skills, knowledge and understandings and put in place a plan to develop the areas that need strengthening.
The next phase considers how leaders then use their skills, knowledge and understandings to lead the development of the curriculum/program, culminating in the final instalment that looks at working with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the program to life. The series includes a range of great resources for further reading and reflection.
We have also looked at ways we can bring ideas to life and so have published a presentation based on an address to the Educational Leaders Western Australia Forum. This presentation explores the way educational leaders around Australia drive quality practice by working to lead, coach, mentor and inspire educators towards continuous improvement, ultimately delivering quality outcomes for children and families. Educational Leadership – National Education Leader presentation
Emergent curriculum is a method of planning and curriculum decision making used readily across the sector. It describes curriculum that is responsive to children’s interests, and is meaningful, relevant and engaging for each child.
Yet, the pedagogical intentions of the approach are often misunderstood or misrepresented. A current myth is that planning isn’t required and programs emerge solely from children’s interests. This is not the intention of the emergent curriculum.
Planning for children’s learning
has a strong theoretical background
is inquiry and play-based
is responsive to children’s interests, strengths and aspirations.
This approach allows educators to respond to observations of children, build upon their strengths and scaffold their learning. It requires professional knowledge, planning for learning, and a focus on progressing each child’s learning and development towards the learning outcomes.
Educators working within the emergent curriculum, endeavour to build on children’s prior learning and current interests, and provoke new ideas and learning opportunities that challenge and extend children’s existing understandings about the world.
Planned learning programs are flexible and responsive to the spontaneous and emerging interests of children and serve to seize key ‘teachable moments’.
Informing decision making
Emergent curriculum can initially come from a range of sources including:
children’s interests and current knowledge
the physical environment
the social environment
values held in the education and care context (school, community, cultural group).
Elizabeth Jones is an American educator who has written widely on emergent based curriculum and suggests:
“We are the stage directors; curriculum is the teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything emerges simply from the child. The children’s ideas are an important source of the curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives” (Jones and Nimmo 1994, p.5).
Emergent curriculum identifies the need to include child led learning, coupled with educator-supported learning opportunities. Curriculum is viewed as a ‘child-initiated and educator framed’ process, a negotiated and co-constructed process in which educators and children have a voice.
Emergent curriculum is not an unplanned process but very much intentional in its nature. Intentional teaching and curriculum decision making are often seen as at odds with a child-centred, play based approach. This is another myth to debunk.
Intentional teaching can be responsive to both children and the learning outcomes identified in the approved learning frameworks.
The term ‘intentional teaching’ is not used to describe a formal or structured approach to teaching. It is used to describe teaching that is purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate.
When we look at the practice of intentional teaching through this lens, we can see how it compliments rather than contradicts the emergent approach to curriculum decision making. Intentional teaching offers a rich opportunity to actively promote children’s learning and knowledge building.
Approved learning frameworks
The approved learning frameworks and National Quality Standard do not prescribe how educators should plan for children’s learning, as the context and setting of the service will guide each service’s approach. Services may use a variety of approaches, such as emergent curriculum, to inform their curriculum decision making.
Use the following questions to prompt further professional discussion at your service.
– How does this information fit with your view of emergent curriculum?
– How do you incorporate intentional teaching while planning from children’s ideas or interests?
– How do you use children’s voices to promote the learning outcomes?
– How will you use the approved learning frameworks to strengthen your pedagogical beliefs and develop a spirit of enquiry about what you do and why?
You are not alone if you find yourself challenged when thinking about ‘embedding’ sustainability into your service, or how to engage young children in learning about environmental responsibility. In their recent research, Dr Sue Elliot and Professor Nadine McCrae from the University of New England identify gaps and challenges for educators when it comes to sustainability and environmental learning.
The research points to an ‘urgent need to demystify sustainability’ because ‘educators frequently require programming assistance to translate sustainability concepts into authentic practice’. It also suggests a key challenge for educators is in moving educational programs beyond sensory and scientific concepts and simply being outdoors, to authentic investigations and projects around real issues.
Standard 3.3: The service takes an active role in caring for its environment and contributes to a sustainable future.
Element 3.3.1: Sustainable practices are embedded in service operations.
Element 3.3.2: Children are supported to become environmentally responsible and show respect for the environment.
Standard 3.3 is one that services find challenging. Nationally, Element 3.3.1 and Element 3.3.2 have consistently featured in the top 10 elements not met.
While this is the case, we do know that educators and service providers have been developing their collective skills, knowledge and experience in relation to:
how physical spaces and resources support learning
sustainability and what it means to embed sustainability across service operations
what education in sustainability looks like in practice, particularly for young children, babies and under three year olds
building confidence in educators about articulating and connecting sustainable practice and environmental learning.To help demystify sustainability, the Guide to the National Quality Standard outlines and unpacks Standard 3.3 to support quality outcomes for children, families and communities (including our global community). It is through our understanding and intentionality that:
educators and children work together to learn about and promote the sustainable use of resources and to develop and implement sustainable practices
children develop positive attitudes and values by engaging in learning experiences, joining in discussions that explore solutions to the issues that we face, and watching adults around them model sustainable practices (Climbing the little green steps, 2007)
school age care environments and resources can emphasise accountability for a sustainable future and promote children’s understanding of their responsibility to care for the environment, day to day and for long-term sustainability (Framework for School Age Care, p.15).
William Shakespeare said ‘we know what we are but not what we may be’. One of the many roles of leaders is to assist team members to realise, and reach their full potential.
Assessment and rating data shows that element 7.2.2 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) is among the top five most challenging to meet, requiring that ‘the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement’.
Professional development supports educators in their work to provide quality outcomes for children and families. We know when education and care services establish and maintain a culture of ongoing reflection and self-review, team members are more likely to feel challenged and motivated, and experience job satisfaction (Early Years Learning Framework p.13, Framework for School Age Care p. 12).
The Guide to the National Quality Standard refers to a cyclical process for performance review and improvement, but doesn’t set specific guidelines around timing or how the process should work in practice. Services should establish a process that works best for their staff and management structure. The process should be one that identifies staff members’ strengths and assesses and enhances staff performance.
When implementing a performance review system, (including Professional Development Plans for each team member) a self-assessment tool developed by the Professional Support Coordinators Alliance is a useful resource. The tool can be used to establish goals and identify areas for professional development.
When education and care professionals engage in self-assessment with managers, they’re able to build on strengths, identify areas they would like to develop and celebrate the successes and contributions of all team members. Whatever system is used, it’s important the purpose is communicated clearly to staff and they feel empowered and supported in the process.
Another approach to self-assessment might be regular one-on-one catch ups to discuss current achievements and challenges. Meeting regularly ensures the team is supported on an ongoing basis and through periods of change. This is especially helpful when teams consist of casual or short term members. It can also reduce the sometimes onerous task of undertaking the process annually.
Reviewing your current process for planning, supporting and improving team performance is important and can form part of your Quality Improvement Plan. How does the team feel about the process? Are there opportunities to share achievements? How do other services approach professional development? These are some questions you might like consider when reviewing your service’s plan.
Standard 6.3 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) highlights how helping children contribute to their community can improve children’s wellbeing and learning.
When educators make connections within the wider community, they advocate for children’s rights to be seen as active citizens who contribute to society. Children’s understanding of citizenship and stewardship develops and the community is reflected in the service program, practice and operations.
Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics includes a set of statements related to engaging with the community, advocating for children’s rights, and promoting shared aspirations for children’s learning, health and wellbeing. These statements also emphasise the value of learning about the community to:
enhance practice and the educational program, ensuring it is reflective of the context and community priorities
promote community understandings of how children learn.
It is useful to find out what is happening in your local community and identify national or international events that children can be involved in. This can help children to feel a sense of belonging in, contributing to and influencing their world.
Recent posts on our We Hear You blog highlight the practices of two services that have effectively engaged with their communities. Larapinta Preschool in the Northern Territory focused on developing and nurturing partnerships with families and their local community by working alongside organisations in the community to develop an understanding about Indigenous perspectives in the local context. Gowrie Victoria Docklands worked with the Melbourne Museum on the redevelopment of the museum’s children’s gallery, advocating for children’s ideas and suggestions to be taken into account in the design and development stages of the project.
Making links with the local library, schools, Indigenous communities and family support services, for example, can help build understandings and make relevant and authentic connections and partnerships in the community. The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) also is a useful source of information about your community, that can inform decision making.
Engaging in authentic and respectful community celebrations is also a great strategy for building children’s understanding of their community and respect for diversity. You might like to develop a calendar of relevant community events and add national events appropriate for young children and their families, such as Children’s Week (22-30 October), NAIDOC Week (3-10 July), Book Week (20-26 August 2016) and Literacy and Numeracy Week (29 August-4 September).
The assessment and rating process can be a nervous time for educators and providers.
To coincide with National Family Day Care Week earlier this month, we chatted to Eugenia Gabbiani, a family day care educator at the City of Casey in Victoria, about her experience being assessed and rated and her advice for other educators.
Tell us a little about your service
The City of Casey Family Day Care commenced in 1995 following amalgamations of family day care services in surrounding local government areas that created the largest family day care service in Australia!
Our service remains the largest, currently operating at an average level of 800 equivalent full time places with around 235 educators offering care in their homes to over 2500 children with help from 18 very supportive members of our coordination unit.
How did you prepare for your assessment and rating visit?
The City of Casey has been preparing educators since the commencement of assessment and rating by providing training, advice and information to ensure we are aware of the expectations.
Before the visit, I talked to children in my care about the people coming to see us that day and also spent some time making sure all my documentation was up to date and easily accessible for assessors.
Did you have any concerns or were you nervous about your assessment and rating?
On the day of the visit, I did get nervous. I think it is natural for anybody being assessed on their work performance to be a little nervous. Though once the assessors arrived and the process started, my nerves eased quickly as we were able to show them our service.
Overall I was confident, as we offer high quality education and care every day regardless of being visited.
Do you have any advice for family day care service providers that are due to be assessed and rated?
All educators, not just family day care, have a responsibility to provide the best quality of care every day. When preparing for an assessment, my advice would be to have all your documentation up to date, easily accessible and ensure children’s files are readily available as the assessor will ask to see this documentation.
Make sure that you know what you do – this means know your emergency procedures. Take time to familiarise yourself with regulations as the assessor could ask you questions about this.
Have your activities ready to reflect your program and what your children have chosen for the day. Have your observations available.
We are a multicultural society; include diversity in your activities. I know that children in our service enjoy learning rhymes in other languages. If you have children from other cultures, learn basic words in that language and greet children and families with “good morning” in their mother tongue. Document this so that assessors know you are doing this.
Importantly, be proud of the fantastic job you do as an educator. Display your certificates, diplomas, awards and commendations. Not just for the assessor, but for everyone who comes into your service.
Display your children’s artwork as they too are very proud of their work. Have photos of children doing some of the activities planned by you and the spontaneous ones initiated by them. You can also have a ‘community board’ where you can place pictures of the places you frequent with the children.
These recommendations are not just for the assessment and rating process but for your practice. My main advice for family day care educators, and all educators, is to ensure your service is a high quality one all the time, not just when you are being assessed and rated.
Treat assessment and rating as an opportunity to show off your practice to the assessor, let them see that you are prepared and proud of the education that you provide.
One of the things that inspires me in the national workshops I’ve been facilitating is how much educators enjoy getting together and engaging in professional conversations about the work they do. Most educators enjoy sharing practice ideas and working together to critically reflect on the situations they come across each day.
What if you had these opportunities more regularly, building local learning communities where you come together as professionals and talk about what you do and reflect on issues and trends together? Professional learning communities can connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, enabling them to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial partnerships. These communities stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
Opportunities to network in this way can come from conference attendance, workshops and professional development opportunities. You could also join an online community, such as the ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia Facebook pages and blogs or establish your own sharing platform. KidsMatter offer some useful thoughts about keeping safe within an online community. There is a range of learning and networking communities already established, some examples are listed below.
Under National Quality Standard Quality Area 7, Standard 7.1, leaders in the service are encouraged to develop professional learning communities. This is also reflected in the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care principle of ongoing learning.
A professional learning community within a service has a shared vision for service operation in which everyone makes a contribution and is encouraged to collectively reflect on, with the view of improving, practice. A professional learning community in the wider sense enables sharing multiple perspectives from a range of services, providing a vehicle on which to engage in critical reflection on and about practice.
KidsMatter, in their Being collaborative learning communities article, share nine essentials for leading a collaborative learning community. While this article focuses on individual services, many of the principles can be used to establish networking opportunities within your wider early education community. You could do this by asking:
What are the benefits of a professional learning community?
What does a professional learning community look/feel/sound like in our community?
How can we build our collaborative learning community?
How might we involve all services within our community?
There is a range of established networks, including the following: