Collaboration and commitment: Building a culture of professional learning

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

National and international research recognises the benefits of leadership in the provision of quality education and care. The National Quality Framework (NQF) acknowledges how strong and informed educational leadership can make a difference to the experiences of children and contribute to quality learning outcomes.

Standard 7.1 requires that effective leadership promotes a positive organisational culture and a professional learning community’The approved learning frameworks, embed expectations around building a culture of professional inquiry, critical reflection and ongoing learning.

Recent research like Waniganayake, Rodd and Gibbs (2015), points to the importance of professional learning communities in supporting educational change. Fleet, De Gioia and Patterson (2016) in the book, Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry, also explore how a model of practitioner enquiry, established through a professional learning community, increases professional confidence and competence.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard reminds us that ‘leadership is a relationship between people and the best leaders are those who are able to empower others’ (p. 165). The collective sharing of skills can empower educators by instilling a sense of accountability and can influence rich and sustainable opportunities for quality improvement.

Professional learning communities usually have a shared vision, a desire to continue to develop their knowledge and a drive for the provision of quality. A professional learning community involves a lively culture of inquiry where educators are supported to think critically and engage in reflective conversations to enhance practice and continuous improvement. This includes engaging with and understanding ethical principles and professional standards as a basis for guiding decision making in everyday practice.

Building a culture of professional learning requires both commitment and collaboration from all parties involved. It requires educators to take active responsibility, and work respectfully and ethically with others towards a shared vision for children’s learning. At times it’s complex and requires sincere effort and perseverance, but in unity there is great strength. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Significantly, a culture of learning also extends to children. The guiding principles of the NQF recognise that the rights and best interests of children are paramount and that children are viewed as successful, competent and capable learners. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics underpin these guiding principles, which are pivotal to professional practice in early childhood education and care. The view of children as active citizens and learners is further embedded in the approved learning frameworks.

When the collective attitude within your service is focused on learning, growing and improving together, wonderful things can happen. When this attitude is reflected in the dialogue and the positive commitment of children, families and educators you’ll find opportunities for genuine involvement in service decision making.

Justine Tarrant, an educator from Queensland shares some insights as to how she works with children and colleagues to introduce a language and a culture of learning. We can see from Justine’s story how this is contributing to authentic collaboration and an appreciation of the important work of educators as professionals.

We have received really positive feedback from families about the way we discuss and describe children’s learning. Families are now using the same language and really valuing children’s time spent at the centre in terms of what they are learning. It is about helping people think in different ways, asking questions, rephrasing them and encouraging everyone to look at things from a different perspective.

As educators we are constantly reflecting on our conversations with children, are they optimistic and strengths focused, as opposed to simply instructional. When we raise our expectations of children as capable and competent they meet and even exceed those expectations. So we need to think about the tools and the language we are providing children to empower them to be socially responsible, connected learners.

We start from a base of high expectations and introduce a language of learning that is empowering for children, allowing them to discuss their own learning journey. We talk with the children about allowing and supporting others to learn and about making conscious choices as to who they would like to partner with to progress their learning.

As a team we have created a shared vision for learning, strongly influenced by Te Whariki (the New Zealand curriculum framework). It is a strengths based model that involves building a learning community including children, educators and families. We model and promote critical reflection as an inclusive supportive network of learners. We use language that connects with the intrinsic motivation to support other learners as opposed to being competitive and working in silos.

Guiding questions to help develop a professional learning community

  • How is the service’s shared vision for children’s learning used to shape the program, activities and experiences?
  • What strategies can be used to better communicate the shared vision with educators, families and community organisations?
  • How do professional standards, such as the Code of Ethics, contribute to the development of your professional learning culture?
  • How does your service build on the capacity and strength of team members to distribute or share leadership?
  • What does it mean to recognise and honour children’s rights as active learners and citizens?
  • How do we share decision making with our families? What are we willing/unwilling to share decisions about?
  • In what ways do we work with the community to meet the needs of children and their families?

References

Fleet, A., De Gioia, K. and Patterson, C. (2016) Engaging with Educational Change: Voices of Practitioner Inquiry.  London: Bloomsbury

Malaguzzi, L. (1998) History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini & E. Forman (Eds.), The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – advanced reflections. Westport, CT: Ablex.

Waniganayake, M., Rodd, J. and Gibbs, L. (2015) Thinking and learning about leadership. Sydney, Australia: Community Childcare Cooperative.

Further reading and resources

The role of the educational leader: Part 1

The role of the educational leader: Part 2

The role of the educational leader: Part 3

Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Being and Becoming Early Childhood Leaders: Reflections on Leadership Studies in Early Childhood Education and the Future Leadership Research Agenda

Connecting with communities

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

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).

Further reading and resources
Creating a sense of community – KidsMatter
Working with communities – AEDC

 

Networking – opportunities for sharing practice and creating professional learning communities


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

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:

Gowrie NSW Networking Hub
Gowrie Victoria
Community Early Learning Australia
PSC ACT
Child Australia NT
Workforce Council QLD
Gowrie Tasmania
Child Australia WA

Further reading and resources
Child Care Staff: Learning and growing through professional development

Useful email subscriptions for early childhood services could include:

ECA Web Watch
Australian Early Development Census
Australian Policy Online
Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth

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 and 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

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