Viewing excellence as a process, not a result

How can we think about excellence as an enriching process rather than a final result?

As the first family day care service in Australia to be awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA under the National Quality Framework in 2013 – and re-awarded the rating in 2016 – Wynnum Family Day Care is passionate about sharing high quality practice and implementing a range of collaborative initiatives. This month on We Hear You, Wynnum FDC’s Educational Leader, Niki Kenny, explores some of the processes that drive the service’s exceptional practice and the principles behind them.

As passionate advocates for high quality children’s education and care, the educators and staff at Wynnum Family Day Care place great importance on collaborative partnerships and relationships with the sector, as well as sharing processes, practices, attitudes and ideals that are central to continuous quality improvement and excellence.

Relationship building

As a relationship-based service with a focus on positive workplace culture and organisational values, Wynnum FDC has developed an interview and orientation process for prospective educators that goes beyond the checking of minimum qualifications and legislative requirements, giving educators an opportunity to assess their ‘fit’ with the service’s culture.

Relationships with families are also prioritised: while it would be possible to conduct all enrolments online, the service invites all new families to attend the family-friendly office space for a face-to-face interview to build their understanding of the coordination unit and educators’ distinct, but intertwined, roles in supporting them and their child (or children).

Inclusive practices that enhance relationship building include:

  • conducting regular surveys of educators and families
  • keeping regular communication via email
  • phone and face-to-face contact, and
  • involving families in decision-making for the service.

One of the rewards of strong relationships and teamwork is longevity of educators, staff and families within the service. The sense of trust that develops over time allows the service to operate in a responsive and proactive way, as opposed to a reactive compliance model.

An example of this is when educators and coordinators work together to solve problems and overcome challenges, with honest and respectful communication. Team members are able to listen to and learn from each other, and view challenges as a learning opportunity.

Another benefit of having long-term team members is the sense of stability that leads to confidence to think outside the square and try new ideas.

Innovation and expectations

Innovation and high expectations go hand in hand at Wynnum FDC: “We set high expectations for ourselves every day – not to achieve a particular rating but in order to deliver the best service we can to our community,” said Manager Cathy Bavage.

Whether writing a new policy, changing a practice or facing a challenge, team members focus not only on what is required by legislation and regulations, but what is current best practice. For example, coordinators tend to be qualified above and beyond the minimum requirements, and have all received additional training in adult learning, to enhance the delivery of training and communications.

“We recognise that children’s learning, development and wellbeing are directly associated with quality professional development,” added Cathy.

There is therefore a strong focus not just on children’s learning but on adult learning as well. The innovative programs and business practices that arise from setting high expectations for early education and care are perhaps the most visible component of Wynnum FDC’s journey to excellence.

Reflective practice

Forward thinking and innovation are enabled by reflective practice. Daily  ‘mini’ team meetings are held in the office as a way for coordinators to share not only practical information about tasks to be completed, but also to ‘check in’ with each other about workloads and the best way to manage.

A weekly team meeting allows for extended time to review current happenings in the service, discuss how any challenges will be managed and by whom, and to reflect on practice by giving and receiving feedback. Due to the trusting relationships between educators and coordinators I mentioned previously, questions about practice can be posed without evoking a defensive response, and instead taken on board as a valuable part of continual professional development.

Bi-annual reviews of the service by an external consultant ensure reflection remains robust and critical.

Other rewards of reflective practice, apart from leading to innovative programs that enhance children’s learning and growth, include being able to constantly align actions with philosophy and to have confidence the service is working towards its vision to provide quality outcomes for children.

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An Excellent rating can be compared to an iceberg, in that the visible part (the rating) is held up by the processes and practices, which are in turn supported by the deeper underlying principles or beliefs that form the service’s philosophy.

Therefore the first steps for services seeking to enhance their rating is to develop a philosophy including the values that are most important for your context and community, followed by the processes that will best enable you to put your philosophy into practice.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 3

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).

Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.

A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:

  • Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
  • maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
  • attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
  • frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
  • workflow or staff scheduling challenges
  • regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.

The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.

A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:

  • linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
  • demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
  • amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
  • evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
  • documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:

* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion

* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed

* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics      discussed and outcomes proposed

* collated survey results from children, parents or staff

* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.

Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.

Questions for further reflection:

  • How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
  • How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
  • How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
  • How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?

Conclusion

We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

Further reading and resources

Early Childhood Australia – Critical reflection as a tool for change: Stories about quality improvement

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

Anne Stonehouse suggests the use of concise questions when reflecting on children’s learning and analysing information to focus on the process of their actions rather than the product:

  • What is this child learning?
  • What does this child know or understand?
  • What level is the learning? For example, emerging, beginning, practicing, consolidating, exploratory or mastery.
  • What learning dispositions are evident? For example, persistence, confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity or problem solving.

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Cartmel, J. – ‘Techniques for Facilitating Reflection’, Reflections (43): 12-13.

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

Queensland Studies Authority – Reflecting on my teaching practices

Stonehouse, A. – ‘Assessing children’s learning—work in progress! (Part 1)’, NQS PLP eNewsletter (73).

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a three-part series exploring reflective practice.

The series will address some of the challenges educators face around reflective practice and critical reflection. We explore what it is and how it informs your work, practical strategies and what to record while sharing some quality practice examples.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Current data identifies Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice as one of the most challenging quality areas for services to gain a rating of Meeting or Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS). In particular, Element 1.2.3: Critical reflection on children’s learning and development has been at the top of the ‘not met’ list for some time. When critical reflection is embedded naturally in the practice at a service, educators engage in critical reflection as part of their daily routines.

In this series, the diagram representing the multiple layers of reflective practice will help us think through and visualise the way it connects and impacts all aspects of our work, from self-reflection to reflecting on teaching and learning and, finally, reflection that informs continuous improvement. The approved learning frameworks refer to reflective practice as a ‘form of on-going learning that involves engaging with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. Its intention is to gather information and gain insights that support, inform and enrich decision making about children’s learning’(Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11).

Throughout the series we use a range of terms interchangeably such as reflective practice and critical reflection. There is a common misconception that critical reflection is about finding fault or criticising an event or the actions of those involved. The reality is critical reflection involves reflecting on experiences, posing questions, sharing ideas and respectfully considering different perspectives. It allows us to develop deeper understandings, explore concerns, improve the program and raise the overall quality of education and care experiences of children. It also supports educators to develop confidence in professional judgement.

All aspects of your work are supported by critical reflection, including engaging with the NQS. The NQS is intentionally not prescriptive to empower educators to draw on their pedagogy and knowledge of child development and the learning frameworks, and to make decisions based on their unique knowledge of the children, families and communities in which the service operates. Remember, there’s no one set way or approach. Your process of critical reflection is unique to you and your service context.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider how critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

What you need to begin or strengthen your reflective practice:

  1. A safe respectful, ethical space where everyone’s ideas are valued and heard
  2. A willingness to continue learning, growing and changing
  3. A commitment to improving outcomes for children
  4. A refresh of the approved learning frameworks to support the process and the research
  5. TIME! Set aside some time to meet, think, read and reflect.

Remember the end goal is to improve outcomes for children, families and communities!

Next week, we will begin the series with part one and explore the way self-reflection is the key to growth, continuous improvement and quality outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet: Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

Early Childhood Australia – Reflection as a tool for quality: Working in the National Quality Standard

 

The journey towards critical reflection

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

Educators reflect on their actions every day. Reflection is the thinking educators do as they are working with a child, while also observing the environment and planning what they will do next.

Donald Schon, internationally recognised author of The Reflective Practitioner , believes we engage in two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. Educators reflect while practicing, in action, making decisions about extending children’s learning, about the routines they are engaged in and the What next? for their program. Thinking on our feet and making decisions is part of an educator’s daily practice.

Our daily reflections in action deepen when we become more purposeful in our engagement – Schon’s reflection on action. An educator may think about something that has happened; think about why it happened; and what they might do differently next time. Reflecting on action takes time; it’s purposeful and can be an internal process or shared within teams.

Critical reflection takes Schon’s model a step further. Critical reflection involves exploring multiple perspectives, making clear the links between theory and practice, and making purposeful changes to practice to improve children’s outcomes. Over time, with practice, critical reflection becomes a continuous process where educators embed talking about theory in practice and practicing theory in their work. Sonya Shoptaugh, an expert on early childhood education and creativity, believes that;

To enter into a style of teaching which is based on questioning what we’re doing and why, on listening to children, on thinking about how theory is translated into practice and how practice informs theory, is to enter into a way of working where professional development takes place day after day.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 13) and Framework for School Age Care (pp. 11-12) have a set of reflective questions to guide educators and identify ‘ongoing learning and reflective practice’ as a key principle underpinning practice. Both frameworks explain that ‘critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives’.

Here are some resources to support educators as they further develop their critical reflection skills.

Further reading and resources

Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
My Time Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia
Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
National Quality Standard, reflecting on practice
Critical Reflection, Paper by Melinda Miller, Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology
National Quality Standard, Professional Learning Program: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

References
Curtis, D. and Carter, M. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press