By Lee Gane, Workforce Planning and Development Consultant.
Most business and organisation leaders would agree that they strive to deliver an excellent service for their clients. But excellence is often a subjective term. It means something different depending on who you talk to and what industry you work in.
There’s no grey area around what excellence looks like in the childcare industry though. The introduction of the National Quality Framework in 2012 means nearly every aspect of how early education and care organisations operate is scrutinised. Only those that receive a rating of exceeding can even apply to be considered for an excellent rating. Less than 40 centres nationally and seven to date in Queensland have achieved it.
The introduction of the National Quality framework has put the spotlight on the quality of services for children. How children’s services ‘measure up’ became ripe for media attention, especially in the first year of implementation when many services failed to meet the standards. But the message from the government and the industry back then, which still rings true, is that the standards were set intentionally high to encourage continuous improvement.
New approaches to meeting children’s needs
Undoubtedly early childhood educators want the best for children, but new criteria for quality has demanded a re-focus on how to best meet their needs. Childrens services and their staff must take a more holistic approach founded on pedagogy, inclusiveness and social issues–which isn’t always easy in a hectic work environment.
One of the first four services–and the first long day care centre– in Australia to achieve an excellence rating was Karana Early Education Centre on the western outskirts of Brisbane.
Director Trisha Dean said a commitment to putting children at the forefront of the centre’s operation was essential. “Everything we do is framed by, ‘How does this benefit children?’” Trisha said.
She said collaborating with other educators through facilitated processes had delivered enormous benefits for the centre. Karana EEC staff joined an Action Research project run by the Workforce Council, which involved educators from a number of children’s services working together to reflect on and problem-solve the way they address issues.
Trisha said her team used the process to explore ways to embed indigenous perspectives in their service.“It’s given us the tools to research in-depth how to include indigenous perspectives and come up with rich and authentic ways of implementing this in the service,” she said.
“We are really seeing it coming through as the children develop background knowledge and gain respect for different cultures. We are continuing to find new ideas, and including a time for reflection in every staff meeting helps continue the process.”
Making time to grow and improve
Bribie Island Community Kindergarten Director Narelle Dawson agrees that ongoing reflection within the team is important. Narelle says “We talk regularly as a team and ask what did we learn today and how can we incorporate that into our practice?” Bribie Island Community Kindy was awarded an Excellent rating in early 2014, with the regulator noting their commitment to culture and inclusiveness, and their practice and environments that enhance children’s learning and growth.
Narelle says that being recognised also requires that the centre continues to excel. “When you get an excellent rating, you can’t just sit back and do nothing. You need a commitment to maintaining that rating and the only way is to continue to learn more,” she said. She believes professional development (PD) is critical to driving improvement.
“If you don’t continue to engage in professional development you stand still, you don’t move forward, and you don’t grow,” she said.
“I know I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago and that’s come through PD, listening to other people and hearing from experts.”
Narelle says she actively uses planning documents developed under the National Quality Framework to guide decisions about learning and development opportunities.
“The first thing we do at the beginning of the year is look at our Quality Improvement Plan, our organisational goals and the individual children that we have in our service that year, and then we set a focus and look for ways to incorporate that into our environment, or access PD that supports that,” she said.
To that end, Narelle sets an example by working on her own skills. She’s worked closely with the Workforce Council including presenting at the Celebrating Educators 2015 conference, holding a Deadly Cards workshop and recently beginning the eight-part Yarn Up Tok Blo Yumi series. “When I look at how much we have gained from your mentoring, conferences and workshops, I think it’s probably the most valuable PD I’ve done in all my teaching time,” she said.
Do you need help to plan your professional development needs?
The Workforce Council can help you create a professional development program tailored to the learning outcomes you want to achieve, or check out our calendar of quality workshops and events. Speak to one of our consultants today: phone our free Advice and Support line on 1800 112 585 or email [email protected].