Developing a professional learning community

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insights into National Quality Framework (NQF) implementation in services.

In the October ACECQA Newsletter, we discussed articulating practice to build a shared understanding of quality education and care with families, colleagues and communities.

This month, we’re continuing this discussion to build the capacity of educators and teams to articulate their practice through a professional learning community.

A hallmark of an effective professional learning community is when educators, educational leaders and management help, inspire and learn from each other to continually improve quality programs and practices in the service.

It’s a way of building collaboration and mutual respect within a team that develops their confidence.

A professional learning community values every member

Quality Area 4 – Staffing arrangements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) defines collaboration as ‘staff being encouraged to respect and value the diverse contributions and viewpoints of their colleagues’.

In a collaborative professional learning community, team members share resources, give constructive feedback, and work respectfully and professionally to solve problems. They’re guided by a code of ethics (such as the Early Childhood Australia [ECA] Code of Ethics), the service’s code of conduct and service philosophy.

Standard 4.2 – Professionalism describes relationships between service staff, educators and management based on mutual respect, equity and fairness. Professional learning conversations encourage team members to communicate effectively and respectfully to promote a positive and calm atmosphere.

Each team member brings their own strengths, understandings and interests. Engaging in conversations gives them common ground to share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at the service.

A professional learning community allows team members to discuss how they’re delivering programs, practices and policies and research and theories informing them. Regular discussions that value everyone’s input further develops skills to improve practices and relationships.

Regular formal and informal team discussions also help build educators’ skills and confidence articulating why and how they provide quality education and care. This is an important part of their ongoing communication with families, other educators and professionals, authorised officers and the wider community.

It’s a structured process in a safe space

An effective professional learning community may differ from a typical team meeting.

It’s a structured process led by a nominated supervisor, an educational leader or another person who has or is developing leadership skills in this area.

The leader’s role is to facilitate and create a safe space for educators and the team to discuss a wide range of topics, as well as their own feelings, beliefs and any challenges they may be facing.

Reflective questions encourage deeper thinking about individual and group practices.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides a list of questions to guide reflection on practice for each standard to promote these discussions.

Active participation in professional discussions has the potential to help educators and teams to:

  • gain a greater sense of purpose about the importance of their role and responsibilities working with young children and their families
  • reflect on current recognised approaches and research on education and care
  • share their knowledge, discuss and reflect on the needs of others as professionals, as well as particular children and families
  • develop a common language that describes their shared pedagogical beliefs
  • reduce any anxiety or uncertainty about articulating why and how they implement quality practices through practical examples
  • demonstrate a high level of collaboration, including affirming, challenging, supporting and learning from each other.

It’s about a shared purpose

Professional learning communities encourage educators and teams to work towards common goals for the children, families and the wider education and care community.

Teams who actively develop shared goals are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, supporting effective implementation.

Teams with this sense of shared purpose also develop decision making processes informed by professional standards, including the service’s code of conduct and code of ethics.

Collaborating on ethical decision making processes helps educators and service leaders consider a decision’s impact on daily practice and relationships, and articulate its rationale.

It helps practice make perfect

Many of us might remember being told that ‘practice makes perfect’ when we were children. Being part of a professional learning community, and being given the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts in a safe space, allows educators and team members to practice and improve their articulation skills.

This helps prepare them to confidently and skillfully tackle challenging issues and questions that arise as we provide quality education and care to children attending our services.

It also helps them confidently showcase their unique program and practices and the amazing learnings occurring in their services every day to families, community, authorised officers and education and care professionals.

Questions to guide reflection

  • How does our approach to professional collaboration align with our service philosophy, policies and procedures?
  • Do our professional conversations demonstrate self-awareness of the ethical and professional standards underpinning our practice?
  • How does our community influence the way we articulate our practice, with them and for them?

I’d love to see you sharing your journeys

Many educators, educational leaders and service leaders are using professional learning circles to inform practice changes to improve children’s learning outcomes. Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study is a helpful framework.

I encourage you to share your rich stories of success and challenge with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below. They might inspire others to start a professional learning circle, and I look forward to reading about them and continuing this conversation.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA Newsletter – Articulating practice – bigger than the sum of the words

Australian Government Department of Education and Training – Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study

 

 

 

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

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