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

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

In the previous instalment, we explored the way collaborative relationships with families and the community can contribute to your quality improvement processes and goals. In part four, I want to build on this collaboration and focus on how engaging children’s voices and ideas in your decision making can reflect your service values and philosophy, as well as encourage and support children’s agency. 

Part 4: Engaging with children’s voices in service decision making – Are we truly listening? 

The right of the child to be heard is set out under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It establishes the right of every child to have their say in decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account. The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF) which apply when making decisions about operating education and care services and working to meet or exceed the National Quality Standard (NQS). Similarly, the approved learning frameworks explicitly incorporate the Convention and highlight the central role of children’s rights in the provision of quality curriculum decision making and service delivery.

The NQF, NQS, approved learning frameworks and the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics (as a professional standard) apply a strengths and rights-based approach that positions children as active participants in their learning and as owners of rights, respect and agency. The concept of ‘agency’, applied within the NQS and approved learning frameworks, refers to children’s ability to ‘make choices and decisions, to influence events and have an impact on one’s world’ (Early Years Learning Framework, p.45; Framework for School Age Care, p. 41). Even very young children have preferences, make choices, and have the ability to influence others, actively construct their own understandings and contribute to others’ learning. Having a sense of agency is closely linked to the key concepts of being, belonging and becoming, and to developing a strong sense of identity.

The process of embedding the 2018 NQS provides an opportunity to reflect on how your self-assessment and quality improvement processes meaningfully involve children’s input and welcome their feedback and suggestions. Remember, children are the best source of advice for matters affecting them – as the quality improvement goals you are seeking to make mainly benefit children, it makes sense to engage them and reflect their voices in the process.

The 2018 NQS also supports you to consider how self-assessment and quality improvement processes are informed by and reflect the values, beliefs and philosophy of your service. For example, if your service philosophy values children as ‘active participants and decision makers’, how might this belief be embedded and enacted in your self-assessment and quality practices?

Questions for consideration:

  • Do your self-assessment and continuous improvement processes encourage children’s developing sense of agency by embracing their input  and incorporating their decisions and ideas? Are children provided with the sense their ideas and opinions matter?
  • What strategies are used to encourage children to express their ideas as fully and richly as possible? Are the processes accessible, inclusive and meaningful to children? How do you respond to children’s comments and criticisms?
  • How do your self-assessment and quality improvement processes reflect Article 12 of the UNCRC: ‘Respect for the views of children’? Do you consider the way your decision making ‘affects children, their right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account’?
  • The approved learning frameworks note that ‘viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities … to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (Early Years Learning Framework,9; Framework for School Age Care, p.7). How does authentically listening to children inform your work as an educator?

~o~

In the final instalment of this series, we will further explore the importance of your service philosophy, the way it guides all aspects of service operations and your approach to achieving quality outcomes for children.

 

Read the complete series:

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

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

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

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

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

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?