Standard 4.2 Professionalism – Case study 1

Management, educators and staff are collaborative, respectful and ethical.

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.
Educator with family
an icon representing school age children - a boy and a girl playing with a ball

This before and after school and vacation care service is located in an outer suburb of a major city. The service is operated by an approved provider managing a number of OSHC services. The provider has a strong induction process, which has been key to establishing and sustaining a positive workplace culture in each of their services. This process has also provided strong support to those in designated leadership positions. This includes coordinators, assistant coordinators and educational leaders.

This initial training is supported by thoughtful onboarding at the individual service where the educator will work. This onboarding process has a number of elements and layers designed to support educators to transition effectively into their role and thrive as an educator. The process includes shadowing shifts where new educators are supported by more experienced educators. This allows them to get a sense of what a typical day looks like across all aspects of the program. This includes how educators work together, speak to each other, make decisions, and help each other. This also provides an opportunity for giving and receiving feedback, which is integral to the organisation’s culture of respect, open communication and sense of belonging for everyone.

The induction process and staff handbook have developed over time as the provider has continued to develop and refine various elements and aspects. Importantly, this process has been informed by ongoing feedback from families gained through bi-annual family surveys. From this feedback, the leadership team has gained vital information about what families value in terms of educator attitudes and communication and relationships between educators, as well as with children and families. This has also helped the leadership team and all staff ensure their everyday words, actions and behaviours are respectful and professional and create a strong sense of belonging for children, families and for educators. These values are consistent with the service philosophy and My Time Our Place.

Professional collaboration and open and respectful communication are highly valued by the provider and the leadership team and evident in their interactions with each other. Accordingly, creating regular opportunities for ongoing communication amongst the service team is prioritised. Communication strategies include a bi-monthly newsletter and use of Slack, a communication app, to exchange information and share ideas. The service uses a communication book for educators to share information and leave messages for each other. The educational leader also schedules regular individual catch-ups with all educators.

Space is allocated in the communication book to ask or respond to reflective questions. These questions and responses are followed up in staff meetings as part of an ongoing critical reflection process and documented in the staff meeting minute book. Reflective questions are used to prompt educators to think deeply about their practice and be open to considering new or different ideas, perspectives and possibilities. Examples of questions educators have reflected on in the past include: How do we respectfully collaborate with each other and our service community? How do we stay curious and open-minded to consider other ways of doing things? How do we ensure our words and actions align with our values?

As an outcome of these reflective conversations, considered alongside feedback from the family surveys, the service undertook a review of their enrolment and orientation procedures. The review was undertaken by a policy review working group. The working group consisted of representatives from staff, families and the school, which the service had a strong relationship with and typically included in working groups of this nature. The review focused on practical strategies for establishing and maintaining respectful collaborative relationships with families. This included ensuring daily communication practices take into account the diverse cultures, backgrounds and family structures of families. One example included ensuring educators know and use the names or terms that families use for family members rather than guessing or making assumptions. Another example was ensuring service newsletters and other key communications were sent to both parents at the same time when a child’s parents have separated. Subsequent changes in practice were documented in the service’s policy and introduced to staff at a staff meeting, and through the staff newsletter. Changes relevant to all services operated by the provider were introduced to new staff as part of the induction process.

A recent reflective question shared in the staff communication book asked: How do we recognise and make use of our strengths? The team was particularly interested in how the service could make better use of the strengths of all educators. This has become a focus of many written reflections recorded in the communication book. Time is also dedicated to this topic in staff meetings. It is also followed up in conversations between individual educators and the educational leader, who has a particular interest in a strengths-based approach.

As a starting point, the educational leader shared research from the field of positive psychology, highlighting the benefits of using strengths at work. Interestingly, many educators initially had difficulty naming their strengths but found it easy to say what they felt they were not so good at. Educators were asked to complete a free, on-line strengths survey available on the Authentic Happiness website. This provided all educators with a ranking from 1-24 of their character strengths, including their top five ‘signature’ strengths.

With ongoing support from the educational leader, educators were able to apply their strengths more thoughtfully and deliberately across all aspects of their practice, including their relationships with each other. For example, one educator with the strength of humour and playfulness was more intentional in their efforts to lift people’s moods as required throughout the day. Another educator, with the strength of fairness, equity and justice, helped keep the focus on treating people fairly and respectfully when this perspective needed more emphasis in professional conversations.

Over time, the educational leader and coordinator reported noticing staff using the language of character strengths and connecting this language to specific behaviours. They observed staff showing greater awareness and appreciation of using each other’s strengths. They noted more respectful interactions and stronger relationships across the team and that staff were more engaged and confident in their roles. Educators were more comfortable and accepting of different ideas and perspectives and created more opportunities to resolve issues and challenges collaboratively. They were also more knowledgeable about each other’s interests, skills and talents and would increasingly seek out colleagues when a particular ‘strength’ was called for in a given situation. Based on these outcomes, the provider revised the induction process and staff handbook, to better reflect a strengths-based approach as part of ongoing practice.

As a spin off, staff took some time to identify and discuss what strengths were evident in children’s families. For some educators this was difficult as they realised they didn’t know some families as well as they first thought. They then considered what factors might be shaping this and how they might ensure relationships with all families were underpinned by principles of respect, fairness and equity. This resulted in a deeper level of reflection and discussion about personal biases and prejudices and how this might impact their relationships. It also prompted educators to consider how they might need to think and act differently to strengthen these relationships.

In response to these discussions, one educator made an effort to start a conversation with a parent they didn’t have a natural rapport with at least twice a week in order to build a stronger relationship with them. They later commented how much easier it was to identify this parent’s strengths when they got to know them better. They also noted their relationship with this parent was now much stronger and the parent had begun to seek them out more for information or a general chat.

Some staff reported initially feeling vulnerable and nervous about sharing their reflections with colleagues. They later remarked that these reflective conversations had increased their awareness and helped them become more mindful of how their thinking helped (or sometimes hindered) their relationships with some families, and their professionalism as educators. For some educators this raised the issue of what professional collaboration looked like in terms of their relationships with the school and other community partners.

This conversation brought educators back to their staff code of conduct as well as OSHC Professional Standards. This included a focus on aspects of the code and the Professional Standards they were doing well with, using the language of the character strengths. It also included aspects they needed to improve on. For example, in relation to the Professional Standards, the team rated compliance with legislative and organisational requirements as something they did well and engagement with families as an area they had improved in. However, they rated their ability to meet professional and ethical responsibilities as something they could further develop to increase their capability and confidence.

This led to a discussion about the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics, where educators debated the extent to which they felt they were using the Code to guide their decision making and what this looked like in practice. One educator highlighted a statement in the Code that states, “being ethical involves thinking about everyday actions and decision-making, either individually or collectively, and responding with respect to all concerned.” Taking one aspect of the Code at a time, the team used post-it notes to capture examples of what each component of the Code looked like in their everyday words, actions and behaviours. This helped give them a better sense of what they were doing well and where they could improve. The educational leader set up a display featuring a poster of the Code of Ethics in the reception area. The display also captured the staff’s key discussion points. A whiteboard with the question, “What does responding with respect look and sound like for you?” was also set up with, along with marker pens for children and families to use to respond and inform ongoing conversations amongst the team.

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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