Standard 4.2 Professionalism – Case study 2
Management, educators and staff are collaborative, respectful and ethical.
This family day care service is situated in a regional city, supporting educators across a large local government area. The service is committed to creating and sustaining a positive workplace culture. This is evidenced by a clear purpose and shared values, open and honest communication, a commitment to ongoing learning and development, and creating ongoing opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the individual and collective strengths, successes and achievements of the service team. Coordination staff, including the service leader, have remained with the service for many years and have established and sustained positive and respectful relationships with children, families and the community.
Given the large geographical area covered by the service, the coordination unit is mindful of the importance of staying connected with educators in a range of different ways. As an important first step, educators receive a comprehensive induction to the service, which includes a strong focus on the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics as a fundamental component of what is expected of them in their professional practice. New educators, and those with less experience, are buddied-up with more experienced educators who offer them practical support and guidance.
This support is in addition to support provided by coordinators as part of the service’s mentoring program, which has been a feature of the service for many years. Mentoring is ongoing, with time and resources allocated for regular, ongoing mentoring conversations provided by the coordination unit team to ensure both educators and coordinators are appropriately supported.
A new feature of the mentoring program, based on feedback from educators in a recent survey, is a matching component. This allows the nominated supervisor to match mentees (educators) with mentors (coordinators) with consideration to specific suitability criteria to ensure the best possible outcomes for all involved. This includes knowledge, interests, strengths, experience and compatibility, as well as geographical location. This new approach has contributed to the service’s positive workplace culture, with mentees/educators reporting feeling more valued and supported in their role, appreciating opportunities to co-create solutions to current issues and challenges. Similarly, mentors/coordinators have noted the program has allowed them to develop and refine core mentoring skills such as rapport building, active listening and using solution-focused questions.
Critical reflection is an integral element of the mentoring program which draws on the service philosophy, the approved learning frameworks, as well as current theoretical perspectives, research and guidance. The ECA Code of Ethics is also used to provoke discussions with educators on their ability to collaborate, challenge and learn from each other even though they are working separately in their own home locations. This has encouraged a deep exploration of and discussion about what “being ethical” means and looks like in the context of family day care. For example, in a recent discussion, educators and coordinators discussed how they “acknowledge and support the diverse strengths and experiences of colleagues in order to build shared professional knowledge, understanding and skills”.
This discussion affirmed to coordination staff the importance of providing opportunities for educators to connect with each other to promote a sense of belonging and ongoing professional collaboration, which was important to them. This also helps educators to feel supported and valued in the service. Connections between educators are facilitated through various means, including team meetings, which also incorporate professional learning, virtual meetings, a communication app, and ongoing conversations at play sessions. To extend connections beyond the service, the service also sends representatives to education and care networking groups facilitated through the local council.
The service leader has a strong interest in a strength-based approach to professional practice. Regular team meetings commence with educators sharing personal highlights and milestones and any key achievements and success stories since the previous meeting. Time is also allocated for educators to identify how they will build on their strengths and successes. These are documented (to capture progress and to enable educators to revisit the examples at a later stage) and celebrated as a team. These ongoing conversations allow educators to get to know and appreciate each other’s strengths, expertise and experience and how they can make a positive contribution to the service as a whole.
A variety of achievements and successful outcomes have been shared. One educator, for example, was previously a writer for the local newspaper and has taken on the role of co-editor of the service’s newsletter, working collaboratively with the service leader. Another educator, who is an avid gardener, provides regular updates on the best time of year to plant flowers and vegetables and general gardening tips such as essential gardening tools, caring for the soil, and recognising and managing weeds. This educator is now taking the lead in the development of the vegetable garden in the play session yard at the coordination unit office. As an outcome of this, children are more interested and involved in the care and maintenance of the vegetable garden and are also talking to educators about establishing their own gardens.
Another educator, who is also an artist, offers professional learning sessions at team meetings to encourage other educators’ creativity and then extends on these by setting up art experiences for the children at play sessions.
Educators then extend these ideas in their own programs. Over time, and through some trial and error, some educators are now reporting feeling more confident in presenting creative art experiences for children. One educator reported, for example, that a key learning for them has been the importance of offering children good quality materials, as well as the freedom to explore with these materials. Another shared that they have now set up a permanent art space and have noticed children engaging with the materials provided much more frequently.
This educator has also contributed to the service’s newsletter following several requests from families looking for ideas to provide art experiences for their children at home. As a flow on from this work, following a suggestion from one family, the service hosted an exhibition of the children’s art in the regional gallery. This event, which was promoted within the service and the local community, was hugely successful. The service is already in conversation with other education and care services about hosting a combined exhibition next year. Further, following interest from several families, the service is now engaging with all families about their interest in attending art sessions with their children.
Educators and coordination unit staff also use their time together to discuss where individual improvements can be made and identify and discuss common issues and challenges. They reflect together and identify a range of solutions to address them. For example, at a recent team meeting one educator raised that they were having difficulties in encouraging families to become actively engaged and involved in their program. Other educators agreed that this was something they also grappled with sometimes.
The educational leader had recently been exploring an appreciative inquiry approach, where a focus on what is working, rather than what is not working, leads to people co-designing their desired future. The educational leader explained the 5-Ds of the approach, including Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny, and this approach was used to facilitate discussions in more detail with the team. As a first step, the team aimed to define or gain clarity about the issue and share stories of what was already working, in addition to what had worked well in the past. From there, the discussion identified a shared positive vision for the future, prioritising the best starting point and generating together a range of practical and achievable steps to realise this vision.
Within this discussion, the educational leader also drew on the ECA Code of Ethics to remind and inspire educators about their professional responsibilities in relation to families. The service’s philosophy, which highlights and values relationships as well as educators working collaboratively to promote the best possible outcomes for children and families, was also explored. The approved learning frameworks were also reviewed and the partnerships principle was explored in detail.
Some robust discussion arose about who decides what meaningful engagement is, and what it looks like. This provided a safe space for educators to challenge each other about the extent to which they build and then maintain respectful relationships with families and how they actively welcome and draw on the ideas, perspectives and strengths of families across all aspects of the service.
As this discussion continued it became apparent to educators that families’ voices and perspectives were not being taken into account as much as they had previously believed. Educators were reminded, however, that family engagement had been a key strategy in a recent review of their child and family enrolment and orientation procedures. The review, along with the follow-up discussions and critical reflections, resulted in the introduction of open days and welcome events, as well as changes to child and family documentation.
This motivated the team to seek the families’ thoughts and perspectives about the extent to which they wished to be involved in the program and to ask them what meaningful engagement looks like and feels like to them. A working group comprising the educational leader and some of the educators agreed to develop a survey to seek input from families to guide discussion and planning. This included coming up with different ways for families to provide feedback and share their ideas, as they were aware that not all families might be comfortable providing written feedback in a survey.
Educators also committed to actively and intentionally paying attention to and highlighting families’ strengths, interests and aspirations and documenting these in their reflection journal. It was agreed that these, and any successful outcomes or examples of engagement with families, would be shared at the next team meeting. There was also agreement that a refresher training session on using a strengths-based approach would be useful to assist in ongoing conversations and reflections.
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