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?

 

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.

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

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

Play based experiences are a vital vehicle for children’s learning and development. Research shows the inherent relationship between sensory learning and children’s enhanced cognitive, social and physical development. This is because children gain understanding about the world by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, moving and hearing the things they are learning about.

The National Quality Framework encourages educators to consider how the physical environment, and the way that indoor and outdoor spaces are designed, will support children’s learning. Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard identifies that a service’s physical environment should be safe, suitable, appropriately resourced and well maintained. It also needs to be organised to support the participation of all children and implementation of the learning program. Recognition of the learning potential of environments is noted in the learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework, which encourages educators to ‘create learning environments that encourage children to explore, solve problems, create and construct’ (p.15).

It is important that we don’t underestimate the value of the learning promoted by being outside. Outdoor environments offer challenges and countless opportunities for healthy active play, while also learning to assess and take appropriate risks. Educators can enhance the choice and quality of learning experiences by supporting flexible use and interaction
between indoor and outdoor spaces. Children can learn about and respect the interdependence between people and nature by using their senses to explore natural environments.

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

When designing and planning the learning environment, consideration needs to be given to children’s individual interests, skills and capabilities. The design of the play environment helps to promote independence, decision making, interaction, relationship building and testing theories.

Engaging in sustained shared conversations by respectfully engaging with children allows educators to extend and support children’s thinking and learning. The image below from the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework shows the balance between guided play and learning, adult led learning and child-directed play and learning.

Cultural Competence

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

Interacting with various cultures enriches our everyday lives. Building cultural competence in educators and children promotes equity, respect and valuing of different cultures. But as the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care show, cultural competence is much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and includes:

  • being aware of your own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.

The frameworks also promote respect for diversity and equity. Strategies include:

  • reflecting on our personal biases
  • challenging discriminatory viewpoints
  • using resources that are culturally relevant
  • adapting curriculum to children’s ideas, interests and culture
  • drawing on the expertise of families and those belonging to a cultural group
  • inviting guests from a range of cultures to visit your service
  • using the reflective questions in the learning frameworks (EYLF pp.13, FSAC pp.11), such as ‘Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is
    disadvantaged?’.

Cultural competence also includes delivering a curriculum that respects the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant value lies in spending time with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Suggested ‘first steps’ are:

  • Make contact with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
  • Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc
  • Contact your State/Territory Education Department for referral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison workers
  • Look up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training or support providers in your area, for example NGROO Education Inc in NSW and the Indigenous Professional Support Units (IPSUs) and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across each state and territory.

Further reading and resources

Cultural Competence: Language Program Development
Children’s Services Central. Engaging with Aboriginal Communities: Where do we start?
Kidsmatter. Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators
Cultural competence fact sheets for School Age Care.  My Time Our Place (for OSHC services)

Health and wellbeing

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

Strong sense of wellbeing

We now know through research that brain development in the early years can significantly impact on a person’s long term mental and physical health. A strong wellbeing in the early years lays the foundation for improved outcomes in later life.

The importance of supporting children’s wellbeing is recognised in the National Quality Standard, Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety. It is also outlined in Outcome 3 of the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

“Wellbeing includes good physical health, feelings of happiness, satisfaction and successful social functioning. It influences the way children interact in their environments. A strong sense of wellbeing provides children with confidence and optimism which maximise their
learning potential.”*

Relationships, experiences and environment

Responsive relationships, engaging experiences and a safe and healthy environment all play a role in supporting children’s healthy mental and physical wellbeing.

“To support children’s learning, it is essential that educators attend to children’s wellbeing by providing warm, trusting relationships, predictable and safe environments, affirmation and respect for all aspects of their physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, creative and spiritual being.”**

This involves educators considering healthy development holistically and working towards improving skills such as physical development, cognitive skills, self-expression, social skills, resilience and self sufficiency skills.

Mental health

Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing to children’s overall health. It is important that educators are familiar with and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in children.

Mental health and wellbeing refers to a person’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing and is affected by the context of each individual’s circumstances. Mental health difficulties relate to “…a range of challenges that people may experience in their thoughts, feelings or behaviour.”*** Mental health difficulties are not the same as mental illness or neurological disorder.

 

*Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 29.

**Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp.29.

***Hunter Institute of Mental Health. (2014) ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing’, Key Concepts, pp. 13. The Department of Education and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health have developed ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing.’ This guide promotes understanding in children’s mental health and wellbeing, and includes reflective questions, case studies and fact sheets.

A copy of Connections is being distributed to education and care services throughout Australia. Electronic copies are also available from the Department of Education website.

Further reading and resources

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. Executive Function.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning
Early Childhood Australia. Professional Learning Program. E-Learning video. Getting to know the NQS. Episode 3 Quality Area #2

 

 

The role of the Educational Leader


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

The educational leader has an influential role in inspiring, motivating, affirming and also challenging or extending the practice and pedagogy of educators. It is a joint endeavour involving inquiry and reflection, which can significantly impact on the important work educators do with children and families.

With the introduction of the role, a number of myths have emerged. One of these is that the educational leader must complete all of the programming for all educators. This is a very narrow and prescriptive view of this important role.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) primarily deals with the role of the educational leader through Quality Area 7 – leadership and management. But neither the NQS nor the regulatory standards are prescriptive about the qualifications, experience, skills or role description for the person chosen to be the educational leader. There is a very good reason for this. The flexibility of these provisions allows approved providers to choose the best person in the service to take on this role.

When designating an educational leader, consideration needs to be given to whether the person is:

  • suitably qualified and experienced
  • willing to make time for the role and eager to learn more
  • approachable and well respected
  • knowledgeable about theories, pedagogy and the relevant learning frameworks
  • skilled at supporting educators of varying abilities and learning styles
  • knowledgeable about the NQS and related regulatory standards

The most effective educational leader views their role as collegial. They seek to play an integral role in mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. Some roles of the educational leader include:

  • promoting understanding of the approved learning framework
  • keeping up to date with current research/resources and sharing these
  • exploring opportunities for professional development
  • helping educators to understand and implement policies and procedures
  • encouraging educators to reflect on their practice
  • discussing ways to demonstrate the service is meeting the standards.

If you have been chosen as the educational leader in your service, congratulations on being selected for this important role and enjoy this journey of learning and growing with your team.

Further reading and resources 
Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Early Childhood Australia E-learning video, Talking About Practice (TAPS): The role of the educational leader
IPSP online library: The distributive leadership model by Ros Cornish
IPSP online library: Pedagogical Leadership: Exploring New Terrain and Provocations by Anthony Semann and Rod Soper in Reflections issue 47
Laurie Kelly (Mindworks) video: Leadership in education and care
Discussions about the educational leader role

Brain development in the early years

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

There has been much discussion recently about the critical periods for brain development. Strong evidence exists that experiences in the early years of life have long-term consequences. This is because development occurs at its most rapid pace during early childhood.

Early brain development research has shown that experiences in this time play a pivotal role in sculpting intellectual capacity, personality and behaviour.

In April, UNICEF hosted a meeting where 16 scientists across the fields of neuroscience, biology, epigenetics, psychiatry, nutrition, chemistry and child development met to discuss and debate the influence of experiences in the early years on brain development.

A key message delivered at this meeting is that development of the brain lies not only in genes but also in the experience and opportunities offered in the child’s environment.

According to Dr Suzana Herculano-Houze*, genes determine the parts of the brain that are formed, their size and main routes of connectivity; this mostly occurs during embryonic development.

Once the child is born the brain is still in the process of gaining neurons and synapses with endless possibilities of how these neurons and synapses will form, and what the brain will strengthen and retain. This will depend on the environment it must adapt to.

Studies indicate that the development of synapses occur at an incredible rate during the early years of life. Factors such as health, nutrition and environment in these years all impact on an individual’s future ability to learn, adapt to change and show resilience. A positive, nurturing and stimulating environment for children can have a profound impact on their long-term mental and physical health.

The findings of this meeting reiterate the importance of creating opportunities for optimal experiences in early childhood, as well as the vital role of early intervention in addressing children’s needs and reducing risk that may have lifelong implications.

Further reading and resources
Acting Early, Changing Lives: How prevention and early action saves money and improves wellbeing
Engaging families in the Early Childhood Development Story
A practice guide for working with families from pre-birth to eight years

Documentation

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

Planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning has long been the topic of debate and discussion, certainly in the 30 years I have been involved in education and care.

The evidence of the value of documentation is clear, however a question that is often asked is, ‘How do we document, and how much is enough?’ One of the strengths of the National Quality Framework is how it emphasises the importance of documentation in promoting and extending children’s thinking, learning and development. It does not however, go into precise detail on how it should be done.

While templates may be helpful in organising information, the risk is that templates can also be limiting or sometimes cause unnecessary administrative burden. It is important to remember there are no mandated templates or programs for documenting, and for very good reason.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to documentation and educators are encouraged to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

It is important to review and reflect on why and what we are documenting. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 17) and Framework for School Age Care (p. 16) identify the reasons we assess/evaluate children’s learning, development and participation. It is important to remember that it is not the amount of documentation or how colourfully it is presented, but rather how it is used to support children’s engagement, learning and development.

There are numerous resources available that explore the role of documentation and provide further insights and ideas on a diversity of ways to document. Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – Forum panel discussion video – Incorporating cultural competence in everyday practice