Settling into a new year

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

The beginning of the year is a great time to strengthen partnerships with families, sharing
information about children’s current knowledge, interests, abilities and preferences. As children and their families begin their time at your service, or return after a break, it is vital to build their sense of belonging as part of this partnership and settling process.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) emphasise that ‘partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and building on the strength of each other’s knowledge’ (EYLF, p. 12 / FSAC, p. 10). Working in partnership with families and sharing information:

  • supports a shared vision for children’s learning and development
  • enables educators to plan effectively for children’s next steps and
  • empowers families to participate in decision-making in relevant and meaningful ways.

The key focus of Quality Area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is to engage families in the decisions that shape the program for their child and to share information about their child’s engagement and learning. Encouraging a family’s sense of belonging and inclusion at your service strengthens their understanding of the service philosophy in addition to how and why service policies and procedures operate. This is also a time to clarify everyone’s expectations by valuing each party’s expertise and building trusting relationships.

Collaborative partnerships between families and educators are created through initial contact that is respectful and shows genuine interest in developing shared outcomes for children. Settling into a new service is aided by responsive educators who create a sense of belonging by supporting children to develop friendships and by an environment that is engaging and reflective of each child’s culture and identity.

For babies and toddlers, this may be their first experience in an education and care service, so it is important to understand and recognise families’ perspectives. Initially, the focus is likely to be on routines, building confidence that their child is receiving individualised care and their learning and development is being supported. For preschool children, it may mean a change of rooms or new expectations in an older group, or a completely new education and care environment, so it is important to reflect on how families and children are supported through the orientation process.

For school age children this could mean transitioning to after school hours care in addition to settling in at school. It is a time to reflect on supporting children’s wellbeing while still respecting their growing autonomy and agency. This could be a time for older children to support new children to settle into the service. This is a time to draw on children’s expertise and involve them in service decisions and planning.

Think about what might work best for and your families to support that vital partnership. Also, reflect on how you can capture the valuable information that families have on their children. Is it using conversations, emails, forms, interviews or some other way or a combination of
these? It may even change depending on the needs of each child and family.

Other reading and resources

Collaborative partnerships with families
Engaging families in the early childhood development story
Recognising and supporting babies’ and toddlers belonging, being and becoming
My Time, Our Place
Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

Proactively promoting inclusion

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

Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity (including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location) in curriculum decision-making processes. The intent is to ensure that all children’s experiences are recognised and valued. The intent is also to ensure that all children have equitable access to resources and participation, and opportunities to demonstrate their learning and to value difference. (Early Years Learning Framework p24 and My Time Our Place Framework for School Age Care p22). 

Equity, inclusion and diversity are reflected in the guiding principles that underpin the National Quality Framework (NQF), and feature throughout the National Quality Standard (NQS). The NQF promotes a strengths-based approach, seeing children as capable, competent contributors to their world. This is an important shift from the deficit view of children as needy or empty vessels for adults to fill. The focus is on identifying and building on children’s strengths, abilities, knowledge, culture and skills.

When reflecting on practice and planning for children with a disability or additional needs, consider the following questions on how program, practice and operations are inclusion ready and educators are proactively supporting inclusion.

  • How do you ensure children with a range of individual characteristics and their families feel welcomed and comfortable at your service?
  • How do you respond to the individual strengths, interests and needs of the children in your service?
  • How do you assess the program to ensure barriers are reduced for children and families and that you facilitate their full participation in the program?
  • How do you develop and maintain collaborative partnerships with other organisations to support all children?
  • What information is gathered about individual children and how is this evaluated to support inclusion? How is this information shared among parents, staff who are responsible for the child and with other agencies who are supporting the child and their family?

Inclusion specialists from Noah’s Ark’s Early Childhood Intervention Support Programs offered suggestions about what you might see in a service that would indicate inclusion is promoted and supported. Suggestions included:

  • Educators are committed and reflective about practice, consider a range of perspectives, hold high expectations for all children and are genuinely interested in all children.
  • Educators use positive language and a range of communication techniques as part of the program.
  • Children with additional needs are supported to participate in all aspects of the program.
  • There are creative, adaptable, flexible, innovative approaches to the use of resources and spaces.
  • Interactions are child led, provide opportunities for success and promote all children’s agency.
  • Cultural competence is embedded.
  • Educators understand the important role of relationships with families and other professionals and have regular access to professional development, support and resources.
  • Commitment to continuous improvement, innovative practice and the confidence to be inclusive and push boundaries.

 

Further reading and resources

Inclusion Improvement Plan Guide
Including children with a disability
Noah’s Ark Early Childhood Intervention Support Programs
Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice
Inclusive education for students with disability
The Inclusion Breakthrough
What is Inclusion? 

Cycle of planning

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

What is meant by an ongoing cycle of planning?

Children and adults alike are ongoing learners and we all develop and learn in different ways. The cycle of planning helps educators to purposefully support children’s continual learning and design meaningful learning opportunities.

The Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework and the Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care recommend that the curriculum/program decision making process be a cycle of:

  • information gathering
  • questioning
  • planning
  • acting
  • reflecting

Educators create learning opportunities by challenging and extending a child’s current learning and development. To do this, an educator must first gather evidence which involves observing and meaningfully documenting knowledge of the child’s current learning. The learning frameworks, National Quality Standard and regulations are not prescriptive about how documenting should be done. But it does need to be meaningful, relevant and helpful in making children’s learning visible.

Educators then question how they can use the evidence gathered. The practices, principles and learning outcomes in the frameworks can be helpful in guiding how educators further plan the environment, resources, teaching strategies and effective ways to monitor and assess children’s learning.

Further reading and resources

Educators’ guide to the Early Years Learning Framework pp. 10- 13
Educators guide to the Framework for School Age Care pp. 11-20
Early Years Learning Framework, pp.9–19
Framework for School Age Care, pp. 5- 18
Department of Education and Children’s Services South Australia. Reflect Respect Relate
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Early Years Learning Framework in Action, Stories 13 and 31.
PSC National Alliance. How to Series. Effective Curriculum Planning and Documentation Methods in Education and Care Services
Early Childhood Australia. National Quality Standard (NQS) Professional Learning Program e-newsletter 57. Planning the program
Children’s Services Central, et al. What’s pedagogy anyway: Using pedagogical documentation to engage with the Early Years Learning Framework.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. VCAA Early Years Exchange includes a template for using the ongoing cycle of planning.

Embedding culture in sustainable ways


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

We usually talk about sustainability in relation to the environment but it’s also relevant to the practice of cultural competence and embedding culture in sustainable ways in early childhood services.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides the foundation for culturally competent practice in education and care. One of the guiding principles is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. Developing collaborative partnerships with local communities also supports Quality Area six of the NQS: Collaborative Partnerships with
Families and Communities.

Implementing sustainable cultural practices involves educators building positive relationships and providing culturally safe environments that foster genuine attitudes of inclusion and equity.

ACECQA spoke with Judith McKay-Tempest, a proud Wiradjuri woman and an Associate Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University. Judith has a passion for making a difference for Aboriginal children in their formative years.

For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.

Judith has found that many educators are apprehensive about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into service practice. She feels this stems from ‘fear of doing the wrong thing’ or uncertainty about how to genuinely incorporate cultural experiences in ways that avoid stereotypes or the perception of tokenism.

Judith explained that developing culturally safe environments does not require educators to be experts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Rather it requires educators to respect multiple ways of being and support a positive cultural identity for all families and children. Judith stresses that it is important for all children to engage in this learning, regardless of the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children in the service.

Early childhood education and care settings can promote perspectives that support Aboriginal community’s own distinct culture such as understandings of their connection to place. This provides rich opportunities to build a culture of understanding and respect for the environment for all children.

Exploring the context of your service may include:

  • developing an awareness of the traditional custodians of the land and the language/s spoken,
  • working collaboratively with children, families and the local community to develop an ‘Acknowledgment of Country’ that signifies respect for Aboriginal culture, exploring the connectedness to the land and respect for community protocols,
  • caring for and learning from the land,
  • sensory exploration and responsiveness to the natural environment through play
  • exploration of how living things are interconnected and the interdependence between land, people, plants and animals,
  • developing collaborative partnerships and learning about places of cultural significance

Further reading and resources
Perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competence
Understanding cultural competence
Cultural connections booklet
Indigenous Culture: It’s everybody’s business

Physical Environment


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

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” Lella Gandini (1998)

We have long known about the importance of the environment in supporting children’s learning and development and construction of knowledge. Recognising this, educators from the Reggio Emilia program in Italy refer to the environment as the ‘the third teacher’.

The Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care remind us of the importance of drawing on pedagogical practices to create physical and social learning environments that are welcoming, enriching, responsive to children’s interests and that have a positive impact on children’s learning.

As children approach learning by using their senses, the physical environment has enormous potential to influence a child’s learning and experiences.

Well-designed indoor and outdoor physical environments can capitalise on children’s amazing sense of curiosity, awe and determination while engaging with people and their surroundings promote children’s potential learning in built and natural environments. Play spaces should be interesting, engaging and allow children to extend their thinking, problem-solving skills and learning. Providing children with opportunities to learn how to assess and take appropriate risks is also essential for healthy childhood development. Tim Gill, a playground consultant from the UK who regularly visits Australia offers helpful insights on his website (Rethinking Childhood) about risk-benefit analysis and the importance of supporting children to take appropriate risks.

Educators should also consider how children are supported to engage in their environment, with other children, and how the environment is resourced and organised. Intentionality in how the space is organised and how children are supported in their play can impact on the quality of experiences and relationships developed.

Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard identifies that a service’s physical environment should be safe, suitable, appropriately resourced and well maintained. Also it needs to be designed and organised in a way that supports the participation of all children and the effective implementation of the learning program.

It is important to be aware of the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards. It is also important to source information about relevant safety standards from reputable organisations such as Kidsafe and Standards Australia.

Once you understand the requirements, it is important to consider how the environment will contribute to the effective implementation of the learning program and how it can promote:

  • participation by every child
  • the flow between indoor and outdoor spaces
  • smooth transitions between activities and spaces
  • competence, independent exploration and learning through play
  • engagement with the natural environment
  • positive relationships between children
  • children’s understanding, respect, care and appreciation for the natural
    environment
  • environmental sustainability and assist children to become environmentally responsible
  • flexibility – allowing re-organisation to maintain interest and challenge
  • a welcoming and comfortable ambience.

Involving all stakeholders, including management, educators, families and children, in decisions about the design, organisation and use of the environment is likely to build shared commitment and provide opportunities for a variety of ideas to be considered and included.

Chapter 4, Part 4.3 of the Education and Care Service National Regulations sets out the underpinning regulatory standards for the physical environment.

The Early Years Learning Framework (page 9) and the Framework for School Age Care (page 6)  recognise the learning environment as a key practice and identify environments that are designed to foster children’s learning and development, as a key contributor to curriculum or program.

Margie Carter, Making Your Environment “The Third Teacher” in Exchange July/August 2007

Agency in practice

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

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care define children’s agency as ‘being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world’ (EYLF p45 and FSAC p41). So what does agency mean for children who attend early childhood services?

Children’s agency is based on the idea that all children:

  • are capable of making choices and decisions
  • can initiate and lead their own learning
  • have a right to participate in decisions that affect them.

In promoting agency, educators enable children with real choices and support them to make decisions about how they participate. Children’s participation is encouraged by shared understandings and collaboration between adults and children.

For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.

Educators can design open-ended learning environments with children, setting up activities of interest together and sharing the outcomes from these activities. This can be as simple as providing a range of materials for children to use as they choose.

For toddlers, as they move towards independence, educators can support agency by offering them real choices in activities and routines. For example, toddlers can participate in preparing and serving morning tea to themselves and others.

Under the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives. Children with agency develop strong dispositions for learning. They are more:

  • confident in making decisions about their learning
  • able to work successfully with other children in a variety of situations
  • able to persist when there are challenges
  • able to communicate their ideas with adults and their peers.

In some jurisdictions the educator to child ratios are changing and these improved ratios have the potential to provide greater opportunities for educators to give more individual attention to children and support their agency and educational outcomes. Information about ratio changes coming into effect in 2016 is available here.

Children actively explore and make sense of their world from birth. By ‘viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities … to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (EYLF p9, FSAC p7).

Reflecting on your practice, how do educators at your service:

  • encourage children’s agency through meaningful interactions?
  • include children’s perspectives?
  • work with children as co-constructors of curriculum?

 

The journey towards critical reflection

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

Educators reflect on their actions every day. Reflection is the thinking educators do as they are working with a child, while also observing the environment and planning what they will do next.

Donald Schon, internationally recognised author of The Reflective Practitioner , believes we engage in two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. Educators reflect while practicing, in action, making decisions about extending children’s learning, about the routines they are engaged in and the What next? for their program. Thinking on our feet and making decisions is part of an educator’s daily practice.

Our daily reflections in action deepen when we become more purposeful in our engagement – Schon’s reflection on action. An educator may think about something that has happened; think about why it happened; and what they might do differently next time. Reflecting on action takes time; it’s purposeful and can be an internal process or shared within teams.

Critical reflection takes Schon’s model a step further. Critical reflection involves exploring multiple perspectives, making clear the links between theory and practice, and making purposeful changes to practice to improve children’s outcomes. Over time, with practice, critical reflection becomes a continuous process where educators embed talking about theory in practice and practicing theory in their work. Sonya Shoptaugh, an expert on early childhood education and creativity, believes that;

To enter into a style of teaching which is based on questioning what we’re doing and why, on listening to children, on thinking about how theory is translated into practice and how practice informs theory, is to enter into a way of working where professional development takes place day after day.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 13) and Framework for School Age Care (pp. 11-12) have a set of reflective questions to guide educators and identify ‘ongoing learning and reflective practice’ as a key principle underpinning practice. Both frameworks explain that ‘critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives’.

Here are some resources to support educators as they further develop their critical reflection skills.

Further reading and resources

Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
My Time Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia
Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
National Quality Standard, reflecting on practice
Critical Reflection, Paper by Melinda Miller, Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology
National Quality Standard, Professional Learning Program: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

References
Curtis, D. and Carter, M. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press

Using the AEDC to support transition

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


A positive transition to school is one of the most important journeys a child will make. In fact, research has shown that children’s initial social and academic successes at school can be crucial to their future progress.*

Strong social abilities such as self-regulation, self-help skills, and being a confident learner maximise children’s opportunities for a successful transition to the school environment. Positive and collaborative relationships with children, families, educators, teachers and relevant community representatives are also crucial. This includes appropriate information sharing and relationship building.

Early childhood educators are well placed to contribute to a child’s success at school by supporting all areas of their learning and development and focusing on building strong, responsive relationships.

A new resource which can support educators is the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC).

This is a data snapshot that measures children’s development in their first year of school. The data is collected against five domains and measures whether children are developmentally ‘on track’, ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ in terms of meeting developmental milestones.

The Early Years Learning Framework outcomes and National Quality Standard align closely with the AEDC domains. This means that when educators are effectively implementing the National Quality Framework, they are also supporting children to meet the AEDC domains.

The AEDC acts as a common language between early childhood services, schools, families and other professionals. Educators can use it to discuss how children are progressing against the domains, where additional support is needed and to plan collectively to meet these needs.

Early Childhood Australia and the Queensland Government Department of Education and Training have developed a suite of free AEDC resources to support the use of AEDC data.

*Fabian, H & Dunlop, A-W. (2006). Outcomes of Good Practice in Transition Process for Children Entering Primary School. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong Foundations: Early Childhood Care and Education. UNESCO

 

 

 

Reconciliation, what is it?

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

Reconciliation is about improving relationships between Australian Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. Educators have the potential to make a significant difference in reconciliation through their work with children, families and the community.

Working towards reconciliation involves commitment to continued learning about Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and our shared histories. It is inspiring and reassuring to see educators across Australia committing to ongoing learning, critical reflection and building cultural competence in themselves and in children.

Upcoming events

As an educator, it is important to strengthen knowledge and form mutually supportive and respectful relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members. National Reconciliation Week (NRW) and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week present great opportunities to learn more and get involved in the local community.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated nationwide from 27 May to 3 June. During NRW we have the opportunity to unite and reflect on our shared histories and the differences we can make towards reconciliation. For information and to get involved, visit the Reconciliation Australia website.

NAIDOC week celebrations will be held across Australia on 5 July to 12 July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The theme for NAIDOC week in 2015 is ‘We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate’. Visit the NAIDOC website for more information.

Professional development planning

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

As part of a service’s commitment to quality improvement and the delivery of quality education and care programs, service providers have the responsibility to build and maintain a skilled and engaged workforce. To meet NQS Element 7.2.2, the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members need to be evaluated, with individual development plans in place to support performance improvement.

What is professional development?

Professional development is the processes used to develop knowledge and skills in identified areas and assists in keeping up to date with emerging research and best practice. Service staff can engage in professional development through informal methods such as networking with other professionals, staff meetings and personal reading or through formal methods such as attending training, workshops, conferences or through mentoring.

Identifying areas for professional development

Services must develop Individual Professional Plans for educators, coordinators and staff. There are many ways services can identify areas for professional development and for whole service improvement:

  • through use of the Quality Improvement Plan
  • undertaking an open and honest self-assessment
  • using the assessment and rating instrument
  • and using the service philosophy to decide on focus areas for professional
    development

Performance evaluation

There is flexibility in the structure used to evaluate staff performance, however processes should be in place to ensure that quality feedback on performance is provided and areas of development can be identified. The process might include agreeing on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for achievement within designated time frames. The evaluation may include
competencies (skills and knowledge) and behaviours (professional standards). Engaging in self-assessment allows education and care professionals, together with their managers, to identify areas they would like to develop. The performance evaluation is also a chance for service providers to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of staff.

What is an individual development plan?

The most effective individual development plans are:

  • developed collaboratively by the employee and the manager
  • identified through self and service evaluation processes, which outline career objectives and areas of development
  • documented with appropriate resources allocated
  • reviewed at least annually.

 

 

 

 

 


Further reading and resources

Professional learning plan- self assessment tool
Child Care Staff: Learning and growing through professional development