Demystifying sustainability


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

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.

The importance of sustainability is reflected in all of the seven Quality Areas (for example, Quality Area 2 and maintaining hygienic practices with a sustainable focus) and is specifically identified under Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard (NQS):

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).

Sometimes hearing about examples of what this looks like in practice can also help demystify challenges and clarify expectations. KU Ourimbah Preschool & Children’s Centre (NSW) and their story about winning the 2016 UN Association of Australia Victorian Division World Environment Day Environmental Education Award immediately came to mind. Here the service’s Nominated Supervisor, Rosanne Pugh, shares some key messages about their journey to winning this prestigious award.

Further reading and resources
Sustainability in children’s education and care
Taking an active role in the environment and promoting a sustainable future 
IPA World – Children’s right to play and the environment
Australian Association for Environmental Education – Early Childhood
Special Interest Group (AAEE EC SIG)
ECA – ‘It will be a wasteland if we don’t recycle’

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

 

Reflecting on and planning for inclusion

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

Practices can sometimes unintentionally limit children’s inclusion in education and care services. If vulnerable children and their families are not considered and supported, it can result in children not enrolling in a service.

Inclusion is broader than considering children with additional needs. It’s also about being inclusive of different family compositions as well as refugee, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Inclusive practice is acknowledging, respecting and valuing diversity and recognising the opportunities to learn from each other through meaningful participation.

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care assist educators in providing opportunities for all children through a strength-based approach focusing on all children’s strengths, skills and capabilities and promoting each child’s learning and development.

Promoting inclusive programs and practices requires a commitment to continuous improvement and the confidence to ensure all children’s experiences are recognised. Quality Improvement Plans (QIP) and Inclusion Improvement Plans (IIP) are useful planning tools involving self-assessment and goal setting for continuous improvement. The IIP is a valuable self-assessment tool for reflecting on your service being ‘inclusion ready’. Both can inform each other and reduce duplication.

KU Children’s Services, as the National Inclusion Support Subsidy Provider (NISSP), has developed some helpful resources that focus on critical reflection, problem solving and planning. The videos and tip sheets are designed to support educators to be proactive and take ownership of both the QIP and IIP.

You might like to consider the following questions when critically reflecting on inclusive practice:

  • Is the service welcoming, accessible and responsive to the diverse range of children and families in the community?
  • What links are established and maintained to understand community needs and access resources?
  • Are educators intentional in scaffolding learning in group play?
  • How are children’s peers involved in inclusion?
  • Are physical and human resources adapted and used flexibly to support every child (regardless of abilities, needs and interests) to achieve maximum participation in all routines, transitions and learning opportunities?
  • How are educators supporting children’s social and functioning skills with a particular focus on supporting transitions?
  • How is the orientation process adapted according to the needs of each child and family?
  • Does the service know and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land?
  • Has the service considered developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)?

 

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

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.