5 tips for… Quality inductions

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Inductions can sometimes be rushed and a matter of procedure instead of a valuable and important part of aligning new employees with service values and practices, and ensuring staff feel a sense of belonging. Here’s 5 tips to help make sure the induction process supports everyone …

  1. Ensure you hire the right people: Sometimes with the pressure of ratios and compliance we may feel the need to hire anyone that has the right qualifications because it is easier/cheaper than utilising casual staff until the right fit comes along. But the down side of this can be employing staff who require additional support and training to fit into the role, or may leave not longer after taking the position because the role was not the right fit for them. All of this can cause disruption and have an ongoing effect on other staff.
  2. Consider what information has what priority: There is a lot to share during induction but consider what is most important to get across first and how long the process will take. Induction may be staggered so different information is shared out at different times to support new employees to process and take on board the information before more information is shared. Once employees have hands on knowledge it may be easier to explain some policies than if the employee has just started. Considering aspects such as should new employees be expected to document straight away when they have not yet had a chance to learn about the children and the way the service programs could be the difference between success and stress/anxiety/poor performance.
  3. Ensure inductions are consistent across all employees: It is important that all employees have access to the same information during their induction for consistency. Using a checklist alone does not ensure that the content for each point is explained in the same way for important aspects such as WHS processes and employee code of conduct. You may choose to use powerpoint presentations to make sure the content is consistent. Another great tool is Google Sites where you can create a secure Intranet with step by step procedures using photos or videos that all staff can access to learn and/or refresh their memory on workplace procedures. This will ensure that everyone has access to the same information, especially if in a large organisation with many staff. Of course some information can be shared through teachable moments on floor, but these ways mentioned above also allow for accountability for processes that must be adhered to.
  4. Consider using mentors: Assigning a mentor not only allows for new employees to have a person they can go to with questions or for advice, but it also acknowledges the skills and knowledge the mentor has and trusts them to support new staff. The mentor does not necessarily need to be someone with a leadership role, and may be someone who works in a similar role in a different room so knows the expectations of the job. This also allows for pressure to be taken off the same key staff who often have a lot on their plate anyway and may skip mentoring sessions or get behind in the induction as other issues arise that need their attention.
  5. Allow for continuous improvement: It is important to constantly reflect on the induction process and assess whether it meets the needs of the service, the new employees, compliance requirements etc. This can be done through observations of how new staff engage with the service, gather feedback from the new employees, gather feedback from mentors and review any induction documents regularly. If you are going to explore your induction process and how useful it is put this in your QIP. If you are already doing some of the points mentioned above put that in your strengths.

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5 tips for… Celebrations

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There are many different types of celebrations to be had in services from cultural to religious and traditional family celebrations. Each one has the potential for a great deal of learning and partnerships, but also has the potential to be tokenistic and isolating depending on how they are celebrated. Here’s 5 tips to help with making sure your celebrations are meaningful and respectful …

  1. Reflect on chosen events: There are literally hundreds of events that could be chosen to celebrate across the year and most services have their set events that they pick, but have you ever reflected on why these events are chosen? Do they reflect the families/staff in the service? Do they reflect the children’s interests? Do they allow for connection with the community? Are they age appropriate in their content? Do you have enough knowledge about the events to scaffold children’s learning? Do they children have agency in the way the events are celebrated? Are there more appropriate events to choose? Are the events respectful of diverse family structures and cultural backgrounds? Should the events stay the same every year regardless of evolving and changing communities?
  2. Consider the needs of the families: Families are constantly changing in regards to availability, employment, work rosters etc. To celebrate events at a time that suits the service without considering the needs of the family and their ability to attend does not make families feel like they belong and matter. Many families struggle to spend valuable time with their children so some services are opting for the gift of time, allowing families to come in to the service for breakfast on the way to work, or after hours to work on an art project or similar with their children. Also consider whether other family members can take the place e.g. does a Mother’s Day morning tea only allow mums, or can it be about celebrating women so Aunts, Grandmas, Big sisters, Loving neighbours can come as well/instead.
  3. Embed learning opportunities: Consider how much you know about the event being celebrated. It is difficult to embed the learning if there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about the event. Do some research so you can answer children’s questions, talk to families or staff of that culture, understand the significance. Perhaps have these knowledgeable people on hand to answer the children’s questions in meaningful and appropriate ways as and when they arise, instead of a structured ‘lesson’ on the topic.
  4. Think beyond craft: Many events are celebrated with the making of craft. Often this craft is about the finished product, not necessarily the process, and can at times have very little to do with helping children learn about the event as there is a conveyor belt of children making items. There are other ways to explore events such as discussions, cooking, sensory bins, loose parts, child lead art, etc. Celebrating events should be in line with your philosophy and ideas about how children learn best, just like any other programming decisions.
  5. Use documentation wisely: .Documenting celebrations can be a meaningful and valuable way to share how children learn through these events in different ways. Instead of a stock standard piece of documentation for everyone, a real assessment of learning could be made for children from the lead up to events and the celebration itself. Also displays can be documented to show how celebrations and events connect the children and the service with the families and the communities, as well as learning about different cultures and valuing diversity.

 

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5 tips for… Positive Leadership

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Leadership in early childhood can happen in any role, it is the decision made to be a role model and a professional, however there are also specific roles that require leadership skills. Here’s 5 tips to help with ensuring positive leadership no matter what your position …

  1. Communication is key: In order to be an effective leader communication must be open, honest, constructive, professional and frequent. One of the biggest reasons leaders struggle to connect with their team is due to poor communication. Dialogue should be reciprocal, or a 2 way street, not a one sided instructive approach. When providing an opportunity for others to use their voice make sure it is not always in a situation where some may feel intimidated, like a staff meeting, and that their voice is reflected in decisions made. Share rationales behind requests or feedback to help share knowledge and develop skills (e.g. “the obstacle course needs to be moved … because it is too close to the path and if a child was to fall it would be a dangerous surface as it is hard”). Consider if you would like to be spoken to the way you speak to others.
  2. Be consistent: Lack of consistency can cause confusion, frustration and even jealousy. Be mindful of whether some staff get more of your energy or time than others. When working with staff make sure feedback is consistent, not just when you have time. Be consistent in your expectations, don’t let these vary based on what else it on your to-do-list.
  3. Role model your expectations: If you have high expectations of others then you need to set high expectations for yourself. It is not OK to have a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to leadership as this will cause others to judge your leadership style, and therefore quality of leadership. Depending on your position, your leadership role may take you away from the room more than others, but it is still good practice to be part of the roster for setting up, cleaning, or even nappy changes to role model appropriate practice and demonstrate your understanding of being part of the team. This also gives an opportunity to see how others are doing in the room without needing a special reason to some in.
  4. Remain professional and ethical: Sometimes leadership can mean power but this should not be abused or used to control others. Be mindful of your philosophy and service philosophy and use this to guide your decisions. Avoid taking shortcuts and doing what seems quickest as often this is just a bandaid solution and does not fix the underlying problems. To address the cause some honest and sometimes difficult reflection may be needed.
  5. Hold yourself and others accountable: In order to ensure that expectations are followed consistently there must be accountability at all levels for the following of policies, procedures, expectations, compliance requirements, parent requests and best practice guidelines. It can be hard sometimes as a leader to ensure expectations are maintained at all times and others are held accountable at all times, but even more difficult can be holding yourself accountable as this requires a reflective approach. If the above steps are taken then hopefully your role will be meeting expectations, but it should be permitted that others are able to address issues if they notice you have not followed service expectations, and they should be confident that they can do this without fear of retribution.

 

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5 tips for… Documentation

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Documentation is often the primary focus for a lot of educators, however there are many things that need to be in place (as discussed in previous blog posts e.g. 5 tips for learning outcomes) before quality documentation can occur. Here’s 5 tips to help with the documentation in your service:

  1. Consider why you are documenting this: If the sole purpose for documenting an experience (whether for an observation or a day book style share with families) is because documentation needs to happen then it is likely to feel rushed, forced and undervalued. Whereas if the purpose of documentation is to communicate with families, to assess children’s progress, to build on children’s knowledge and understanding, as evidence of the amazing learning opportunities occurring, or to develop skills as an educator then it is likely to feel valued and important. Without knowing the purpose for documentation, other than “because I have too” it can create a mental barrier which makes the documentation difficult to write. If the documentation is to communicate with families then make sure it is something the families don’t already know about their child, i.e. document the extraordinary. (If you feel these is nothing extraordinary happening to document then I would question the opportunities children have to share their extraordinary with you, and how open you are to seeing this – especially if it wasn’t something you planned)
  2. Discuss the learning: The purpose of documentation (according the the Regulations) is to communicate children’s progress against the learning outcomes and how they are engaging with the educational program. Therefore the learning should be the primary focus of the documentation, however many pieces focus on children having fun and skip over the learning. Documenting large group experiences makes it difficult to focus on the learning as it it often hard to know for sure what each child gained from the experience. By discussing the learning it also makes clear to families how much learning occurs in our play based programs, and advocates for the benefit of this, whereas avoiding the learning or using symbols and codes to share the learning does not. Consider these 2 examples as a demonstration:
    • Kate was having fun on the obstacle course today as she followed the arrows to make her way through the different equipment. (3.2)
    • Kate was developing her physical ability today as moved through the obstacle course. Arrows were added to challenge her awareness of symbols as she worked out which direction to go next.
  3. Discuss your role: Another way to advocate to families the importance of early childhood educators is through including them in documentation. Otherwise, if we take the Kate example above, she was achieving this by herself. Where did the arrows come from? Why were they there? It is not covered in the first example, yet it is in the second. Discussing the role of the educator also brings in more of the EYLF (or other approved framework) as it demonstrates the Practices in action. Compliance is about not just using the learning outcomes but about using the whole EYLF.
  4. Include the child’s voice: Using the child’s voice (whether words, gestures, work samples, etc.) does several things – it allows for the child’s thoughts to be clear, instead of assumed by the educator; it demonstrates a child focused program and other aspects of QA1; and it supports a child’s agency in line with both learning outcome 1 in the EYLF and the ECA Code of Ethics. Without using the child’s voice educators need to be careful they they are not asserting how a child felt, instead they are making educated assumptions e.g. “it appeared that Julie was proud of her finished work”.
  5. Be creative in your extensions: When planning to extend on children’s work either to further develop their skills or to expand an interest, be creative. If a child is interested in something consider ways to bring this into art, sensory bins, role playing, construction, exploration and investigation, play dough etc in open ended and child focused ways. If a child has a skill you would like to develop consider moving that skill outside of the activity where it was first observed. For example a play dough observation does not need to lead to a play dough follow up. Here is a slide from one of my presentations suggesting educators also consider moving away from one specific skill based follow up (that puts pressure on you and the child to get them to do that for you) to a more global view of ANY experience that could build that skills which removes some of the pressure. suki

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5 tips for… Learning Environments

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Learning environments are often referred to as a member of the team because they provide as much potential for engagement with learning as educators. Here’s 5 tips to help when considering your environment:

  1. Plan it out: Consider where you place items in your environment and how they are going to be used to allow for minimal intervention. For example consider whether there are clear pathways to not only access different areas but visual pathways to see different areas (both for supervision and for children to help plan what next). Consider whether certain spaces will be used in ways that could spread out into doorways and block exits etc. Some simple planning can prevent a large number of controls being put in place and constant intervention of how children play and engage with the space.
  2. Allow for maximised learning: Consider how much of your environment is accessible to children so they can resource their own learning through getting additional equipment or moving things around. The more controlled the environment is the more controlled children’s use of it is. It can often be a good idea to unpack the rationale behind decisions on what can be taken outside, or what children can have access too. Question whether it is because of a valid reason, or simply because no-one had ever stopped to ask “well, why can’t we?”.
  3. Reflect the children and the stakeholders: To create a sense of belonging it is important that children, families and educators see themselves reflected in the environment, whether through displays, cultural resources, languages spoken, or added elements. I worked at a service where there was a small picket fence in the car park acting as a barrier between the cars and the footpath, and the families took a white fence paling home, decorated it with their children, and brought it back in to be lacquered and part of the fence.
  4. Avoid changes simply because of boredom: If your environment is to create a sense of belonging then changes to it based on the needs of one stakeholder can cause barriers for other stakeholders. If someone broke into your home and moved everything around without your consent you would probably feel violated, unsure, anxious, confused as to where everything was, yet so often the entire environment is changed without children’s input or knowledge. If the environment is not working and changes need to made, involve the children. Not only would this help them feel like they belong, but it would also be an amazing learning opportunity with planning, discussions, problem solving, negotiation etc.
  5. Actively reflect on your environment: Many of our reflections are about the children and their learning, but actively reflecting on the environment can help children connect to learning. Here are some reflective questions to get you started:
    • What role does the environment play in our service?
    • Do we consider inside and outside to be different environments or part of the one learning environment?
    • What limits and boundaries do we have for children to support them to respect their environment and develop trust with how they use the resources?
    • Do educators role model appropriate respect for the environment?
    • Is the environment too cluttered/busy so children may struggle to see individual experiences?
    • Is the environment too sparse/empty so children have limited choice and freedom?
    • How many sensory inputs are in the environment that could overwhelm children? (e.g. smells – chemicals, perfumes, food; sounds – constant music, electrical hums, loud noises; visual – things moving in the breeze, lots of bright colours and busy patterns; textures/touch – fans, air-conditioning, surfaces)
    • Does the environment look like it reflects your context, your stakeholders, your values, or does it look like it could be any service, anywhere? (e.g. are posters made with your children in your service possibly even in their writing, or are posters generic downloads from the internet?)

 

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