Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 2

In our last blog, Be You spoke to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes. In this follow-up blog, Be You chats with ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, and shares some case studies from services that use their implementation of the Be You initiative as evidence towards the Exceeding NQS themes.

‘Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming’. (EYLF. Pg.33 & MTOP pg. 30)

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations

Carey Bay Preschool in NSW has carried over some practices from previous KidsMatter engagement into their Be You Action Plan.

  • Educational Leader Melinda Lynch and educator Taylah Sullivan have included mental health actions in the service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).
  • Nominated Supervisor Wendy March explains one practice captured in the service’s QIP in relation to Quality Area 4 element 4.2.2: Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships: “In our staff meetings, we continually reflect to ensure educators feel supported in their roles and discuss ways we can support one another.”

This is an example of one way that Carey Bay Preschool has embedded a commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of educators into service operations.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

Ruth Simpkins, Director of Griffith University Tallowood and Boronia Child Care Centres in QLD, regularly checks in with her Be You Consultant, Kathryn.

  • During their online check-in, they use the Be You Reflection Tool to engage in professional conversations and document current practices, policies and procedures that promote wellbeing at the two services. 
  • Opportunities for continuous improvement are also identified and Ruth engages her staff in weekly discussions about creating a mentally healthy learning community. 
  • The documentation in the Reflection Tool, the commitment of regular check-ins with a Be You Consultant, and weekly discussions with staff all demonstrate that practice at Tallowwood and Boronia is informed by critical reflection.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

The team at Hawthorn Early Learning in Victoria have reflected on the ‘Connect’ and ‘Include’ learning modules in the Mentally Healthy Communities domain of Be You.

They have acknowledged and celebrated their existing practice of having an annual event at a local park to welcome new families. Educators have also reflected upon the diversity of family structures and how this impacts on their daily communication practices.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive. For example, the service is making a commitment to communication practices which include both parents in separated families.

Engaging with Be You Professional Learning modules can promote learning and critical reflection on practices which engage families effectively, sensitively and confidentially. This fosters the mental health of children and young people.

In conversations about module content, actions to promote meaningful engagement with families can be documented in a Be You Action Plan: practices already in place, as well as planned future actions.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive.

Educators have also committed to actioning some new practices to help families connect to the early learning service and the wider community. For example – they have committed to learning the names of family members to more meaningfully greet and interact with them; regularly inviting families to attend music sessions and excursions, and linking families with child and mental health services.

Case study

Bringing it all together

Hillsong Child Care Centres in NSW and QLD are using Be You to embed, inform and shape practice across all seven quality areas of the NQS.

  • Debra Williams, National Compliance and Development Manager, is using the Be You Reflection tool as a source of reflective prompts for educators in their weekly self-assessment process, which focuses on individual elements of the NQS.
  • In this way, the Be You Reflection Tool is assisting staff and management to gather ‘theme indicators’- evidence about how the services feel they currently demonstrate the Exceeding NQS themes – and generate ideas for ways to continuously grow and improve.

Each service is unique, and these case studies provide examples of the ways services can demonstrate the Exceeding NSW themes in ways which are relevant to their specific service, context and community.

Smiling children with smiling staff member

Register to learn more

Registering your learning community for Be You is FREE and will provide access to Be You implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 1

Children and educator playing indoors with fabric

This month Be You talks to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services to demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes.

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue, with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Exceeding National Quality Standard themes and Be You

Be You can support education and care services to reflect and demonstrate the three NQS Exceeding themes.

What are the Exceeding NQS themes?

A rating of Exceeding NQS means that the service is performing above and beyond the requirements of the NQS.  

The three Exceeding NQS themes are used to determine if approved education and care services exceed each of the fifteen NQS quality standards. Services must demonstrate these themes in practice for a standard to be rated as Exceeding NQS. The themes are:

1: Practice is embedded in service operations

2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

This determination occurs during the assessment and rating process undertaken by state and territory regulatory authorities. Authorised officers use ‘observe’, ‘discuss’ and ‘sight’ techniques to gather evidence that is used to assess if the Exceeding NQS themes are evident in practice. All three themes must be demonstrated for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.

How can Be You support services with the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes?

Be You has shared some examples of ways it can help services to reflect and demonstrate the three Exceeding NQS themes.

  • Participation in Be You involves positive professional learning actions to support the mental health and wellbeing of children (NQS Standard 2.1) and staff (NQS Standards 4.1 and 4.2).

Participation also involves embedding these actions within service policies, procedures and practices. Through Be You, high quality practices can be established, sustained and consistently implemented, and this can support the demonstration of Exceeding NQS Theme 1 – Practice is embedded in service operations.

  • Critical reflection is a very important part of the Be You implementation process.

Be You has a variety of implementation tools which serve as triggers for, and ways of documenting, critical reflection. For example, when promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing, the Be You Reflection Tool, Action Plan or Always Be You Learning Map could provide supporting evidence to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 2 – Practice is informed by critical reflection for Standard 2.1. These tools will also support educators and teams in their ongoing reflective practice for all standards.  Critical reflection is also central to Standard 1.3 and a key pedagogical principle of the approved learning frameworks.

The three learning modules within the family partnerships domain can help services identify meaningful ways to engage with families. Be You surveys can also assist in canvassing families’ voices as to how well the service supports them to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging and connection.  Reflection on the modules and survey results can be used together to identify areas for growth in communication and relationships with families.

This could then be used to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 3 – Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community for particular standards.

Register to learn more

It’s FREE to register your learning community with Be You and gain access to the program’s implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect to Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

In our follow-up NEL blog, we’ll share some case studies from education and care services that could help in your understanding of the connection between engagement with Be You and the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes.

Educator wellbeing

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone encourages you to consider your own wellbeing, and the role it plays in your work with children, families and colleagues.

‘Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming’. (EYLF. Pg.33 & MTOP pg. 30)

The approved learning frameworks encourage educators to develop programs and practices which build children’s strong sense of wellbeing.

In this blog, I invite you to consider your own wellbeing, and that of others within your service, and the role wellbeing plays in your important work with children, families and colleagues.

Recent international research shows that some educators have a low sense of wellbeing. Some educators report feeling worn out and feeling devalued as professionals who play an important role in providing quality education and care (Jena-Crottet, 2017).

We know that the role of an educator in quality children’s education and care is complex and multifaceted. It requires the use of specialised knowledge, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a willingness to take on the many challenges faced each day. It’s a rewarding and busy job that can sometimes seem never-ending.

What does educator wellbeing mean?

It is important to understand the elements that can influence an educator’s sense of wellbeing. The concept of wellbeing is holistic and involves both psychological and physiological components. To experience a strong state of wellbeing, educators need to be supported to be both mentally and physically healthy. They need to experience a sense of belonging.

These elements of wellbeing are influenced significantly by the context of their service as well as the broader social and political landscape of Australia. A positive organisational culture assists educators to meet the demands and expectations of their role and provides a supportive environment to critically reflect on and develop quality practice.

Developing educator wellbeing enhances quality practices

Educator wellbeing is appearing more and more in academic research and literature as a professional responsibility for everyone within children’s education and care services (Cumming & Wong, 2018).

Recent Australian studies have suggested that an educator’s health and wellbeing reflects their level of professional satisfaction, including whether or not they like their job and the individual tasks within their role (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

These studies also identify that without effective ongoing supports in place, educators’ own wellbeing can be impacted, and this contributes to high rates of educator stress, emotional exhaustion, and educators leaving the profession (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

Service leaders have a role to play in observing and monitoring the level of professional satisfaction of their educators, to better understand their staff and to build a well and effective team.

Contemporary research indicates that when educators are well, they can be more responsive, thoughtful and respectful as they interact and build relationships with every child (Cassidy, King, Wang, Lower & Kinterner-Duffy, 2017).

Well educators are also better positioned to meet the emotional needs of children, supporting them in self-regulation and developing resilience. These capacities are essential for building secure relationships with children (Quality Area 5).

When educators have a strong sense of wellbeing they are better equipped to:

  • be responsive to every child
  • develop rich, respectful relationships with each child
  • encourage children to explore their environment and engage in play and learning
  • develop a deeper understanding of each child, promoting their ability to plan extensions of children’s learning and development
  • support children to develop confidence in their ability to express themselves, work through differences, engage in new experiences, and take on challenges in play and learning.

The complex nature of educator wellbeing requires that all parties take responsibility. This includes educators, educational leaders, nominated supervisors, service leaders and approved providers.

It is only through a collaborative approach that wellbeing will become a priority and an important part of practice in all children’s education and care services in Australia.

Reflective questions to make educator wellbeing a part of the everyday

  • How do we encourage educators to take responsibility for ensuring, maintaining and building their own wellbeing?
  • When do we critically reflect on our educators’ wellbeing and how can we improve it?
  • How do we work collaboratively with our teams to create safe and healthy learning and work environment for our educators?
  • What design elements in our learning spaces support educator wellbeing?
  • What opportunities exist for our educators and service leaders to discuss the team’s wellbeing?
  • How do we actively create a positive workplace culture?
  • How do we develop a professional learning community that builds educators skills and knowledge?
  • What strategies can we develop to retain educators to best meet the needs of children and their families?

Resources to build your understanding of Educator Wellbeing

References

Cassidy, D. J. King, E. K., Wang, Y. C., Lower, J. K. & Kinterner-Duffy, V. L. (2017). Teacher work environments are toddler learning environments: Teacher professional well-being, classroom emotional support and toddlers’ emotional expressions and behaviours, Early Childhood Development and Care, 187(11), 1666-1678. doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1180516

Cumming, T. & Wong, S. (2018). Towards a holistic conception of early childhood educators’ work-related wellbeing. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 1(1), 1-17 doi:10.1177/1463949118772573

Jena-Crottet, A. (2017). Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 19- 33. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675313221536539;res=IELFSC

Jones, C., Hadley, F. & Johnstone, M. (2017). Retaining early childhood teachers: What factors contribute to high job satisfaction in early childhood settings in Australia. New Zealand International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 1-18. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675331854507798;res=IELFSC

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