Standard 4.1 Staffing arrangements – Case study 1

Staffing arrangements enhance children’s learning and development.

This case study is a collection of examples of high quality practice to prompt reflection and discussion about Exceeding NQS practice in a range of service contexts. It is not an extract from an assessment and rating report for a service that is rated Exceeding NQS for this Standard, and does not comprehensively describe the ways that a service can demonstrate Exceeding practice.
image of two educators talking to each other on a sofa

 

icon representing centre based care - a family under a roof

This inner-city long day care service makes deliberate decisions about the continuity of care for children and families to align with their service philosophy and the Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics. Decisions are also informed by the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, which state that “all organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child.”

The service leadership team is a driving force behind this approach and their vision is reflected in all aspects of the service's operation. Rosters are carefully planned to ensure consistency between educators and children attending and the leadership team supports educators to understand why this is important to children’s wellbeing, learning and development. This message is shared with all educators as part of the induction process and is regularly discussed in team meetings. Educators are also frequently encouraged and supported to critically reflect on whether their practice aligns with the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF), particularly, ‘The rights and best interests of the child are paramount.’ The service includes information in their family handbook, which outlines the measures taken to ensure continuity for children and encourages families to provide feedback or suggestions.

The service has a commitment to supporting all educators to access ongoing professional development as well as to creating a professional learning community within the service team. Non-contact time is provided to ensure educators have time for programming, planning and critical reflection. This time is also used to meet with the educational leader, to meet with families and to participate in local networking meetings. Their partnerships with local early childhood services, schools, early intervention services and other child and family services also reflect the service’s commitment to children’s rights.

In one recent example, the educational leader and room leader in the three to five year old’s room took part in a transition to school action research project facilitated by a local university. They suggested to the principal of a nearby school that some of their prep / kindergarten teachers also participate to create opportunities for ongoing connection and collaboration between the service and the school, both during and after the project.

In this six month project, teachers and educators in local early childhood services and schools came together to share their approaches to teaching and learning and discuss how they could work better together to support children’s continuity of learning from prior to school to school. They also visited each other’s education settings to see and better appreciate their different pedagogical practices. A key feature of the project was the development of an action plan based on shared priorities and detailing key actions, responsibilities and timelines to strengthen transition to school practices for children and families in the community.

Throughout the project, the educational leader and room leader shared key ideas emerging from the research with the team. They also talked to families and children about their hopes and expectations about starting school and what they would like to know about starting school to feel more prepared. This led educators to reflect on how they currently support children moving from one room to another within the service and how they can improve on this. Replicating some of the strategies used in the research project, they actively sought feedback from children and families in each of the rooms to ensure their perspectives and priorities were considered in any changes to current approaches.

Within the service there is also a deep commitment to employing educators who are committed to high quality practice. For example, when recruiting educators, the director has identified key dispositions valued by the service including  being reflective about their pedagogy, open to challenge and change, and committed to professional growth and quality improvement.

Consistent with their vision to promote the rights and best interests of all children, the entire team is committed to improving current approaches to consulting with children. In doing so, they hope to sustain meaningful and respectful engagement with children about decisions impacting on their lives. As a first step they looked at recent research highlighting key considerations and guiding principles.

Within these discussions, the educational leader suggested the team critically reflect on their current practice and how they could give children a more active voice in staff recruitment. This hasn’t been done before and resulted in some lively discussion and debate amongst educators in staff meetings about how this might be achieved based on research findings and recommendations. It was also a popular discussion point when the idea was shared at a recent local networking meeting.

Educators in the three to five year old’s room engaged the children in conversations about what they think a new educator should be like. Children were also offered various ways to express their ideas, including through painting and drawing. The children came up with a number of ideas and wishes, including someone who is kind and helpful, someone who is fun and likes to play with them, and someone who listens.

The children’s artwork and conversations were documented and shared with families, who were also invited to comment on or add to the children’s ideas. Families added desired qualities such as warmth, friendliness, empathy for the role of families, and being willing and able to share their knowledge about each child with the family. Educators reflected individually on the children and families’ responses and used the opportunity to engage in further deep analysis of their own practice to see how they measured up to these views. The service director and educational leader followed up with individual educators and worked with them to set professional goals and action specific to their individual reflections.

Families are encouraged to be involved in staff recruitment processes in any way that works for them. For example, contributing to the review of position descriptions and creating interview questions, assisting in reading job applications, and participating on interview panels.

A key characteristic of the service’s approach to ongoing and continuous improvement includes their capacity to make time to critically reflect on their practice, with a view to identify what is working well and to build on their strengths. They are also open to learning from challenges and mistakes, working together to identify solutions to problems, and continually striving to improve all aspects of what they do. For example, information gained from a recent staff survey as well as staff exit interviews identified anxiety amongst educators about the staff performance review process.

As a result of these findings, the educational leader researched and engaged a facilitator with expertise in positive psychology to do some training with the team in an effort to alleviate their concerns, help them connect with their strengths and interests, and see the review process more positively. The service director commenced ‘check in’ meetings with educators to ensure they have regular opportunities to discuss their progress towards their professional learning goals and to identify any support they might need to stay on track.

Since these changes, the service leadership team have observed that educators seem more engaged and motivated in their work. The service leadership team have found that staff are remaining with the service for longer, with half of the service team approaching 10 years of service, a milestone that is celebrated with children, families and educators. This continuity of educators is also resulting in stronger and more positive relationships with children and families.

How practice in this example aligns with the Exceeding themes

Exceeding theme 1

Practice is embedded in service operations when it occurs consistently, frequently and intentionally as part of an ongoing process that is understood and implemented by all educators across all aspects of the program. In this example:

  • Purposeful consideration is given to the organisation and deployment of staff to ensure that children have familiar and consistent educators in each room to enable the children to feel safe as well as to promote respectful and reciprocal relationships. Each educator understands why this promotes children’s rights and best interests.

  • The service’s approach to the organisation of educators and maintenance of continuity reflects their philosophy, policies and procedures. The service philosophy, leadership vision and procedures are used to support further learning and encourage all educators to aspire to a high-quality learning environment for children at all times.

Exceeding theme 2

Critical reflection involves a deep level of regular and ongoing analysis, questioning and thinking that goes beyond evaluation and review. Critical reflection informs practice when the continuous reflection of all educators, individually and together, influences decision-making and drives continuous quality improvement. In this example: 

  • The service encourages all staff to critically reflect on whether their practices are aligned with current recognised guidance. This includes the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework, the ECA Code of Ethics, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  • All educators are supported by the leadership team with regular opportunities for reflection and to be involved in discussion and debate when further quality improvements are suggested. The team explored how children’s voices could be included in staffing recruitment processes, which led to further reflections on their own practice and personal attributes, and how they aligned with what the children wanted in an educator.

  • The service reflected on their approach to supporting the strengths and development goals of educators, identified where further improvements could be made and implemented additional actions to ensure that each educator feels supported and encouraged in their professional growth.

Exceeding theme 3

Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community when educators actively seek input, guidance and feedback from children, families and the community. Meaningful engagement with families and/or the community helps to shift thinking, shape ongoing practice and foster a culture of inclusiveness and sense of belonging for all. In this example:

  • The service has a strong focus on drawing on the voices, interests, curiosities, capabilities and strengths of children and encourages them to express their opinions about matters that affect them. It also actively seeks input from families about any aspect of practice to support familiarity and promote continuity of their child’s learning, wellbeing and development at the service. 

  • This has now extended into areas that would traditionally have been viewed as governance, such as recruitment. Families have been actively encouraged to contribute their views about ideal educator characteristics and skills and to make practical contributions to recruitment processes. 

You may wish to use the indicators for Exceeding practice, the reflective questions for Exceeding practice at the Standard level, or the questions used by authorised officers to establish Exceeding practice to review and consider the examples of practice described above. You may also wish to consider them as part of your self-assessment, and in the development of your Quality Improvement Plan.

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