5 tips for… Learning Outcome 1

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Learning Outcome 1: ‘Children have a strong sense of identity’ is often used when children first start in a service or move into a new room but it is happening all around us all the time. Here’s 5 tips to support children with learning outcome 1.

  1. Advocate for the rights of the child: Consider whether the program (including routine, environment, experiences, interactions) is being done to the children or with the children. The more children feel like they matter and can trust those around them, the more they will feel secure and start to explore and challenge themselves. Therefore it is our role to consider whether we are allowing this to happen, by providing consistency and certainty, or whether we have constant changes and ignore the needs of the child.
  2. Provide opportunities for children to fail: Children of all ages learn by doing, so if things are done for the children because it is quicker/easier/cleaner then children don’t learn how to use their agency. They also are less likely to fail and therefore  learn new ways around the problem or resilience as they keep trying until they succeed. Obviously we, as educators, need to offer support so a task is not so challenging a child becomes angry or upset, however we need to allow children the space to make mistakes and learn from these.
  3. Recognise children as capable and confident: If you assume that a child is an empty vessel that we must fill with our knowledge then you are going to limit their opportunities to show us what they know and can do. However if you think of children as capable and confident you will provide opportunities for them to show us what they are capable of. We cannot always control how resources are used and engaged with, instead if we sit back and watch how the children use them we can not only assess where their knowledge is but also learn from their creative uses.
  4. Play alongside the children: By simply relaxing and enjoying being with the children we can not only learn where they are at developmentally but also build meaningful relationships based around what is, and not what we expect something to be. The more confident and at ease a child is the more they will explore and engage with their surroundings.
  5. Nurture interactions and relationships: Creating spaces that allow for interactions and the establishment of relationships between children, and with the children, allows for an understanding of respect and empathy. It is also important to recognise the developmental level of the children and how a simple look from an infant could be as communicative as a 20 minute conversation with a 4 year old.

 

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5 tips for… working with families

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Families are part of the job of working with children and in some ways they are the most important aspect because without the families on board you can have loss of enrolments, tension and disengagement. Here are 5 tips to help make sure your relationships with families are positive and create a sense of belonging.

  1. Greet the families: It sounds obvious but too often when I am working in services I see families come into the service either in the morning or the afternoon and make their way through the entire service without being spoken to by any staff members. It is important to make sure families are not only greeted to make them feel like they matter and have been noticed, but also to allow for a brief conversation about their child’s day to occur.
  2. Acknowledge diversity: Every parent has different needs when it comes to communication based on time, language, culture, ability and more. If you are only sharing information in one form because it is what works best for you, e.g. a newsletter, then how can you be sure all of your families can engage with this?
  3. Consider your context: Every service is different and has their own context that needs to be considered. I have worked with work-based centres where you see the same parent most days because they work on site, to services where many different family members drop off or pick up, and even services where 90% of the children are collected and dropped home via bus and very few families come in. It is important to consider the different needs of sharing information when in a different context and you can’t just do what you did at your last service.
  4. Be professional: We are early childhood professionals and need to act accordingly when communicating with families. Consider your body language, your tone of voice, how much attention the family has, whether you are discussing other families and gossiping, if you are discussing a private matter in the middle of a public corridor. All of these things can have an impact on how a parent feels about their experience and the service.
  5. Provide support: You can’t predict what sort of support family members may need and when, and while it is good to have some flyers and information on hand, it is also great to be able to provide specific support. Don’t be afraid to say “leave it with me, and I’ll get back to by this afternoon/tomorrow with some information”. It might be a contact for a local service, some information off the internet, or an article from a magazine, all of this shows that you care and want to help out your families based on their needs.

 

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5 tips for… giving the team a voice

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In our team we may say that everyone has a voice and the opportunity to contribute but on reflection this may not actually be the case. This post provides 5 tips to ensure every member of the team has a meaningful way to use their voice and be heard.

  1. Respect different learning styles: Everyone has their own personality but also their own learning style. Some may need to take information away and mull over it before they have an opinion on it, others are able to respond immediately. If you expect everyone to respond in the same way at the same time you are discounting the different needs of the team members. Make sure you allow others to come back to you within a set time frame (day, week, fortnight) to ensure their voice is heard too.
  2. Avoid filling the silence: Often we fill a silence when someone talking to us pauses, which cuts them off and stops their flow. Allow others to have pauses and silences to get their thoughts ordered before they speak.
  3. Think outside the square: There are lots of different ways to have a discussion where every team member gets to have a voice, without allowing more confident team members to talk over those less confident. Working in pairs, writing down ideas and discussing the merits of each one, working in small groups, getting responses via email. The more you consider the needs of your team the more you can find ways to accommodate them.
  4. Allow others to see their voice in practice: Giving team members a voice, and using their voice are 2 different things. Team members should be able to see decisions made based on their suggestions, or their wording used in documents. This not only validates the ideas that team members have and creates a sense of belonging, but also sets a precedent for them to use their voice in the future.
  5. Set expectations and hold people accountable: When working in groups such as at a staff meeting there needs to be expectations around people talking over each other and these needs to be followed. If a topic is raised where lots of people have lots of opinions perhaps that is a good time to split into small groups or pairs to minimise the interruptions. Then everyone can come back with their key information to share with the group.

 

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5 tips for… sustainable practices

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Sustainable practice… we have all heard about it, we all know we need to be doing it, but what does this mean for our practice in a service? Here are 5 tips to help with sustainable practices in your service.

  1. Consider paper usage: We often think about how we can minimise paper usage by creating online forms or documents that can be saved instead of having to print off paperwork and store it in a folder then dispose of it. Another aspect of paper usage to consider is with the children. Are children encouraged to turn pages over and use both sides? Do they have access to recycled paper sources from business (without confidential information on the other side!).
  2. Use recycled or re-purposed resources: Many services are getting into loose parts and this is a great way to re-purpose materials, that would otherwise be thrown out, into opportunities for exploration, investigation, creativity and learning. There are also lots of ideas online for using pallets or old cable reels and giving them a new life in services as tables, kitchens, tee pees and more.
  3. Consider your purchases: Do you consider the sustainability of new purchases when going through resource catalogues? Using a checklist or guide to ensure purchases are suitable for the service, sturdy enough for multiple uses, made locally and environmentally, can demonstrate how the service considers the environment.
  4. Start with your environment: Sometimes we think respect for the environment means saving the whales and discussing global warming, but consider the developmental abilities and skills of your children. Your environment grows from the space you are in, to the room, the building, the street, the community, the country, the world. If children are not keeping the bathroom clean and wasting water start there and develop an understanding of respecting the environment with something tangible.
  5. Connect with the community: Sustainable practices allow for opportunities to connect with the community through taking “waste” items off business and giving them a new home, working with the community on fund raisers, and even working with businesses like reverse garbage or local artists to find out how to give items a new life and develop new skills.

 

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5 tips for… setting limits and boundaries

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We all know about settling limits and boundaries with children as a way to support behaviour guidance and allow for a sense of belonging. Here are some tips to help you with limits and boundaries in your service.

  1. Be age appropriate: It is important to consider the age of the children that the limits and boundaries are aimed at as, if they are unachievable or too restrictive, they can have the opposite affect to what we hoped. Remember also that as children age and develop so do their abilities and confidence, so limits and boundaries must be revisited to address children’s growth and reflect the current children, not be a one size fits all approach to all children.
  2. Involve the children: If children are involved in the process of setting the limits and boundaries they are more likely to be aware of the reasons behind them (safety, respect, empathy etc.) and therefore adhere to them. If children feel the rules have been forced upon them then they may rebel against them. All children have a voice and the more their voice is heard the more children develop trusting relationships.
  3. Be consistent: Children understand limits and boundaries quicker if they are consistently getting the same responses to their behaviour, however if children get different responses at different times from different educators it can cause confusion. This can also lead to children testing the limits and boundaries regularly to see what response they will get. Therefore it is important to make sure everyone is on the same page and will consistently reinforce the agreed upon limits and boundaries.
  4. Align with best practice: It is important to consider the expectations of children and whether these are about the children’s needs or the adult’s needs. Understanding that children are learning about their world and where they fit within it allows for a more child-focused approach to limits and boundaries instead of seeing children as mischievous and needing to be punished. Also consider the level of the response, for example sending a child away from a situation to make the behaviour stop is not best practice as it does not allow for engagement with the teaching moment that has been presented.
  5. Be a role model: Children learn through their observations of how the world works, so a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to limits and boundaries is unlikely to work. Sitting on a table and telling children not to do this sends mixed messages. Consider your body language when you are being asked to do something by another team member, do you role model acceptance and respect or do you roll your eyes and sigh. Children see a lot more than we think they do and learn from this.

 

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5 tips for… social media posts

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Many of us use social media posts in our early childhood services to share information, connect with potential families or as a form of documentation. Here are 5 tips to help with your social media posts…

  1. Consider your audience: Be mindful of who your audience is and target your posts at them. If you are using a broad platform such as facebook which has the potential to assist with your marketing, avoid using language that is aimed at your current families only. Families can have access to a closed group to share relevant information with them. Different platforms allow for different uses and this should be considered.
  2. Have a policy: Social media is constantly evolving and there should be a policy in your service that guides social media usage, both from the service but also from the public. Some of the things you may want to cover off include what is appropriate/inappropriate. Language and grammar expectations. Managing comments and feedback. Images used. Use of personal social media accounts to discuss work matters. Social media “friendships” between staff and parents.
  3. Compliance evidence: Social media can be used as evidence of how you meet compliance in a range of ways, depending on how it is used. For example if you are using social media to connect with the community and share events etc. then this can be evidence for Standard 6.2. If you are using social media to communicate with families about the experiences children have engaged with then this covers Standard 6.1, and if you include a focus on the learning that this can become part of  Standard 1.3 and even become the basis for an observation.
  4. Consider the rights of the child: When using social media to post images/documentation of children consider their rights: is the post respectful, would the child be embarrassed by this post now or in the future? Also consider privacy as just because you are posting to a closed group does not mean people cannot screen shot the image and share it on, do you have permission for this use of the photos from the family?
  5. How often to post: Social media platforms use their own algorithms to decide what should and should not be seen. Some, such as facebook, make it difficult to see posts from others, and the more posts that are made, the less that are shown. This infographic below from LouiseM.com provides a handy overview on how often to post to different forms of social media to allow for visibility if using social media for marketing purposes.

 

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Developmental Checklists: Pros and Cons

There are a lot of different viewpoints and discussions around developmental checklists and whether they should or shouldn’t be used as a form of documentation and assessment in early childhood services. The purpose of this post is to provide information from both sides of the debate and allow you to reflect on your practices and work out what is right for your service, in your context.

Pros of developmental checklists:

  • They allow for a general understanding of child development and when milestones are expected to be reached. This allows for variances off this “norm” to be noticed and discussed. This may lead to changes in programming or the environment, assessment from medical professionals or other early intervention methods to be accessed.
  • Checklists can provide evidence to demonstrate to the family the need to consider changes to the current practices or to seek out additional assessment from a trained professional if a family is reluctant to work with the service.
  • Checklists can be shared by the family with other professionals to help communicate their concerns.
  • Checklists allow for progress to be demonstrated over a period of time.
  • Checklists can be completed by educators providing holistic and child focused experiences that can draw on their knowledge of each child to assess whether they can achieve a task, and used as a record inside the service. (e.g. “I know Zach knows his shapes as he was talking to me about which one he got the beanbag into when we played the game outside and the shapes were drawn on the floor with chalk).
  • Checklists are often quicker to do than a learning story and parents are more likely to read them.
  • Checklists can demonstrate gaps in the environment or programming if there is a trend of a number of children falling behind in an area it may mean there are not opportunities to develop in this skill/practice.

Cons of developmental checklists:

  • Checklists are not inclusive of children with additional needs who may not be able to succeed at completing tasks. They also do not take on board children’s home life and cultural differences which may affect different aspects of development.
  • Checklists may be done in an adult focused way where children are expected to demonstrate their skills in ways chosen by the adult and when instructed by the adult, which can cause anxiety and/or a misrepresentation of the true skills (e.g. Asking a child to name the shapes that are drawn on a piece of paper on a clipboard and recording what they say in front of them.)
  • Checklists often do not allow for skills or traits that are not associated with the milestones such as respect, empathy, leadership, curiosity.
  • Providing checklists to families as a form of assessment can create a deficit view of the child, as they are seen as not yet achieving against societal norms, instead of demonstrating how each child has progressed on their own developmental journey. Also families can use the checklists to compare with other families.
  • Checklists may not contribute towards planning for child focused experiences as it is difficult to record children’s voices and interests into developmental checklists.

As I said this is not going to be a post where I tell you whether to use developmental checklists, or how to use them, as that is not what I am about. I created RARE as a way to help educators reflect on their practices and how they aligned with compliance and best practice within their context. Therefore some tools to use to help reflect on this within your service could include:

  • The Guide to the National Quality Framework, because it goes into so much more detail than just the National Quality Standard
  • The approved learning framework (e.g. EYLF) and not just the learning outcomes, but the practices and principles too.
  • The ECA Code of Ethics which helps develop and understanding of protecting the rights of the child and working in a professional manner.
  • Your own service philosophy which should outline your values and be used to align practices to these.

Finally… if you are not using developmental checklists please consider how you and your team are aware of developmental milestones and address early intervention needs of children.

 

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Relationships are the key to compliance.

In everything that we do relationships are the key. Whether it be working with families, other educators, or children, we need to be thinking about relationships and how to to build meaningful relationships. Instead we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about compliance – how we can tick those boxes – but we forget that by building strong relationships a lot of those boxes have already been ticked.
As an example of the power of relationships in early childhood services I’m going to look at some of the quality areas and demonstrate how putting relationships at the foundation of our services can help support compliance, while also helping to meet the needs of our stakeholders.

If you look at quality area 1 and forget about programs, observations and documentation – everything that we tend to focus on for quality area 1 – and take it back to relationships with children, instantly we can start to see opportunities for improvements in programming and documentation. This is achieved through understanding the needs of each individual child, the interests of each individual child, and how we as educators connect with each individual child. In turn we reflect more on our program to ensure every child is visible within planning decisions that we make, because we have strong relationships with each child and we care if they have been noticed. We also realise that each child learns in their own way and we start to see this in our observations, and plan for this in a program.

In quality area 4 we start to think about how every member of our team matters and what steps we take to get to know their strengths, interests and passions. By creating a sense of belonging for all staff we create an environment of collaboration and support. We recognise that every employee has different learning styles, different abilities, and different approaches, and we value these differences. When asking for input on service decisions we provide a range of opportunities for this to happen as not everybody will speak up at a staff meeting or feels comfortable submitting written responses. Through considering how we give staff members a voice, and how our approaches impact their feelings and needs, we start to strengthen our relationships with our team which in turn strengthens their ability to work to the best of their ability.

In quality area 6 we tend to focus on our needs around families, and how we can tick boxes through tokenistic surveys and forms that almost never get completed. Yet if we focus on relationships and the needs of our families, we can find ways to allow families to have a voice through a range of different opportunities. Making our surveys easy to understand, by using simple relevant questions, can get helpful honest feedback that can support our continuous improvement processes. By considering our displays, and the abilities of our families to engage with them dependent on time constraints or linguistic barriers, we see how we can share information in a more meaningful way. The more families feel like they matter to the service the more they are likely to engage with the service instead of feeling like they are a tool to help meet compliance.

Not only can thinking about relationships help with compliance, it can also help minimise the amount of unnecessary work a service puts into trying to tick boxes. By focusing on relationships services can find meaningful and beneficial ways to embed compliance in their practices, while also giving opportunities for all stakeholders to be truly heard and feel a sense of belonging.

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Being an Educational Leader

So, you have agreed to be the educational leader and are now thinking “what does that mean?”. Or perhaps you have been one for a while and are still a bit confused by what your role is. There is no one clear definition but the information below might help you to understand your role and also support your team.

Make sure you have a position description or at very least a clear understanding of what the expectations are in your service around your role. Your position description can cover off any of the following items depending on the focus of your service, your philosophy, your QIP goals, the needs of your stakeholders and more. Here are just a few ideas of what your position description could focus on:

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While you may be given the time to be the educational leader and have agreed to the position and have a position description what do you actually do to support your staff? Again this depends on your team and how they learn best. Chances are your educators have a range of learning styles so you will probably have to modify your leadership to suit their individual needs. Below are some ideas and following is some explanations behind a few of them…

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  • Role modelling: It is very difficult as a leader to ask those in your team to perform up to their capabilities if you are not consistently doing this. Leadership is not about “do as I say, not as I do”. Your interactions, programming, displays, documentation, and discussions with families all should be an example for others to learn from.
  • Providing rationales: This has 2 key benefits, it helps share your knowledge to the person you are talking to so they may develop their skills. The other is that educators learn the reason behind tasks so if they are asked to explain practices during assessment and ratings they have an idea of the answers. An example of this is saying “When you are planning follow ups it is best to plan a range of experiences to allow the child to have choice and ensure that one is likely to happen, instead of trying to convince the child to complete the one task you planned”.
  • Assigning mentors: If you have a large group of educators it may be impossible to mentor everyone effectively, so assigning the best person to help support and mentor individual educators is a way to support all of the team without being spread to thin among all your tasks. This also builds skills in more senior staff as they have to explain their practices.
  • Addressing issues with resources: Often issues arise where staff use the same resources all the time, don’t look after the resources, or struggle to share them with other rooms. Overseeing the use of resources and compliance around this with ensuring appropriate use and care can help children engage with the learning opportunities.

Another idea to support the staff in individual and meaningful ways is to acknowledge every employee brings different skills and knowledge to the service. As such it is sometimes difficult to balance supporting those who need additional help, and not holding back those who are doing well. A staged approach can support this where everyone knows the stages, but works through them at a rate that works for them. Below are a few examples of staged approaches around different focus areas, where educators can start on the top level and progress to the bottom level.

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Just remember to document what you do to provide evidence, whether it is discussions, meetings, feedback, plans or staged approaches.

For information from ACECQA on their expectations around Educational Leadership head to https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-01/Guide-to-the-NQF-3-Assessment-and-rating.pdf and page 303.

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Streamlining practices to improve efficiency

There are so many different elements that need to be implemented in services, not only to ensure compliance but also best practice. Yet in our busy lives we tend to take a “quick fix” approach to ensure compliance in each of them, but by doing this we often make more work for ourselves with every process or form only ticking one box.

The more work we have on our plates the more we are likely to go for the quick fix approach, adding more work which means we are caught in this perpetual cycle of adding to our workloads and taking away from the time with the children building relationships and being intentional teachers. The cycle can look like this…

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However taking the time to streamline approaches so that one process addresses multiple compliance requirements and meets the needs of the stakeholders can save you time in the long run. It achieves the following:

  • Ensures best practices
  • Demonstrates a clear understanding of compliance
  • Provides evidence of reflective practice
  • Frees up time to spend with the children because there are less processes to get through each day
  • Allows for more meaningful processes
  • Supports awareness of practices to help with A&R

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An example of this in action is having multiple sign on sheets and books all over the place instead of designing a purpose built form to allow for shift sign in and responsible person sign in.

Taking the time to make something designed to meet your needs and the needs of your stakeholders, and embedding multiple compliance points not only streamlines your practices, but by creating them collaboratively this allows everyone to be aware of how they meet compliance as they were part of the discussion.

I know it can be difficult sometimes to find the time to stop and reflect on your practices because you are busy just getting through the day, and this is where RARE can help. If you would like to discuss your needs and how RARE can offer consultation to make your practices and processes more streamlined, freeing your team up to get back to the children, then get in touch using the form below.

 

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