Standard 5.1 Relationships between educators and children – Case study 2

Respectful and equitable relationships are maintained with each child.

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.
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This service is situated in a rural town and is one of two services providing long day care in the town. It has established a networking group with other early education and care services in a nearby regional city.

The service’s vision, for all children to flourish, as well as their commitment to uphold the rights of children as documented in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is reflected in their philosophy, policies and procedures. It is also an ongoing discussion point in team meetings, so that this vision remains front of mind for every educator and guides their everyday practice.

The vision also informs the team’s commitment to ongoing learning and reflective practice, including their approach to professional learning and development. They want to ensure that they remain current in their thinking and practice so that all children continue ‘to flourish’. They also value the connections and collaboration that have been developed with other services in the region.

In recent years, the service director and educational leader decided to establish an online reading group for early childhood educators, as a mode of learning that would enable educators in services some distance away to participate. Those who have participated have shared that they enjoy hearing the ideas and insights of those in different locations and service types, and in some instances this has resulted in them rethinking their own perspectives and questioning or making changes to current practice.

As part of the reading group, the director sends an article, book chapter, video or webpage link related to a shared interest or focus for participants to read or watch beforehand, so that they can all be prepared to discuss the content at the meeting. It was agreed by everyone that discussions be recorded as a form of critical reflection so they can be revisited over time to inform ongoing learning and continuous improvement. The recordings have proven particularly valuable as a way for new staff to get a sense of the varied pedagogical views and discussions that have been shared by the representatives from each service.

This year the group decided to revisit the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). In preparation for a recent discussion the group focused on the principle from the EYLF, ‘secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships’, critically reflecting on key words specific to this principle and what this looks like in practice. The group explored how, educators who prioritise nurturing relationships through culturally safe and responsive interactions, provide children with consistent emotional support (EYLF page 14). Together, the group discussed how relationships are the foundation for the construction of identity’ (EYLF page 30), and help shape children’s thinking about who they are, how they belong and what influences them and when children feel safe, secure and supported, they develop confidence to explore and learn (EYLF page 30). 

Drawing on feedback from participating services about how they might get more out of the reading group, this year the director introduced a series of reflective questions to structure the conversation. The questions were specific to the ideas and issues being raised in the reading and their potential application in practice. The director also used the questions in the Guide to the National Quality Framework to guide reflection on practice specific to Standard 5.1 of the National Quality Standard as a springboard for further discussion.

Discussions in the network group led to an interest amongst the service team to look more deeply at their own relationships with each child. This included a focus on the quality of their interactions to ensure all children feel safe and secure and experience a sense of belonging in the service. To further support conversations and reflection at the service and as another prompt for discussion, the director sourced an article about the Circle of Security approach to discuss at the next reading group.

The reading group explored the key principles of the Circle of Security approach and the importance of secure attachments and relationships in supporting children’s learning, wellbeing and development. This included the importance of providing children with a ‘secure base’ to promote exploration, as well as providing a ‘safe haven’ for when children require comfort or support. Educators working with babies and toddlers particularly engaged with the reminder about ‘delighting in children’ and quickly came up with many examples to share. For example, one educator spoke of their delight in sharing in a toddler’s curiosity and joy as they watched rain falling from the sky after months without rain and their exhilaration as they sploshed around in puddles in their gumboots. They spoke of the moment their eyes met, the toddler beaming with joy and the educator deeply appreciating being able to share this moment with them.

This led to a discussion about how educators could equally delight in children when they require a safe haven rather than a secure base, especially when their feelings become too big for them to manage by themselves. It also prompted educators to reflect on how they stay connected with children when they are engaging in exploration and how important it is to notice and share moments of delight and joy.

As an agreed action from this reading group discussion, educators across all age groups in the service committed to looking for and documenting examples of providing children with a secure base and a safe haven across the day. These examples were initially shared with educators in room meetings to identify key themes, trends and issues, and then with the whole team at a staff meeting.

This task created enormous enthusiasm amongst the team and their conversation continued during informal meetings and lunch time chats as well as with families. It also encouraged educators to share examples of times they noticed each other delighting in and with children, as well as the moments when they needed to provide comfort and support. Some educators noted it was easier sharing examples of what others were doing rather than noticing their own actions. Following a suggestion from an educator, and with the permission from educators, children and families, videos were taken of educators and children interacting at key points in the day. These were then played back later and reflected upon together.

One common issue noted by educators across all age groups was that they sometimes found themselves paying less attention to individual children actively engaged in their own exploration away from where they were positioned using the Circle of Security approach. At a staff meeting, educators shared some of the ways they were staying engaged with children even when they had moved away from them. Strategies that acted as a means of connection included continuing to scan the space to notice and connect with the child using eye contact, facial expressions and gestures, as well as offering an encouraging word or comment from afar. In addition, educators reported making a more conscious effort to engage in discussion with children when they next connected and ask questions about their play, such as ‘I noticed you spent a lot of time in the garden this morning. It looked like you were searching for something. What did you find?’

Through these conversations, educators were able to develop a shared understanding about staying connected with children, regardless of the age group with which they work. Educators also discovered that using the approach had helped them better understand that engagement and interaction are not always dependant on proximity.

Educators were keen to learn more about the Circle of Security approach than was possible through the professional reading. They also wanted to gain a deeper knowledge and shared understanding to support consistency in their approach across the service. The director was able to secure an experienced psychologist / facilitator, who they had worked with previously, to lead a two-part evening workshop for the team. The workshop was also open for families to attend. (This is common practice at the service when there is shared interest in a particular topic, having been identified as an area for improvement following feedback from families in the last QIP review). Families and educators from the nearby education and care service were also invited. The workshop was a great success and conversations between educators, families and services have continued since then on the Circle of Security approach.

Educators shared that, with practice, they are now more aware of and confident in creating small moments of connection with children once they move away from them. This has ensured children know educators are still noticing them and delighting in what they are doing, even after they moved on to another experience or play space. Having implemented some of the strategies over several months, educators have also observed that children appear happier and more settled, more confident exploring their environment, and more engaged in the educational program.

Some families commented on how the workshop helped them rethink their child’s behaviour in terms of what their emotional capabilities might be and what the child might be needing from them in a given situation, rather than responding to their behaviour alone. Educators agreed that this had been a useful reminder for them too.

One educator spoke about a child who would become extremely distressed at transition times, to the extent that their behaviour was upsetting for some of the other children. The educator was able to use their knowledge of the ‘Circle’ to ask themselves what the child was needing from them at that time and how they could better support the child to manage their feelings. Through information gained from observations and conversations with other educators and the child’s family, the educator discovered the child needed a longer period of time to prepare for transitions as well as a greater sense of having some control over what was happening to them.

As a result, educators introduced a visual ‘story’ board that they used to inform the child (as well as other children) of upcoming transitions 15 minutes ahead of time. Since then, educators have observed that the child is less anxious prior to and during transitions times. They have also shown interest in getting involved in preparing for some transitions, requesting that they press the button on the CD player, to start the ‘transition song’. The child’s family has reported that the child is now talking more positively about their day at the service and looks forward to going. Reflecting on this outcome led to a bigger conversation with the whole team about current practice during transition times, and how they can improve practice across the service so that the needs of all children are being met.

Families and educators agreed that they now have a shared language with which to talk with each other about children’s engagement and relationships. They commented that arrival and departure times seemed to be a less anxious and more positive experience for children than they previously were, as they were now working more collaboratively to support children’s transition during these times.

Following further reflections amongst the team and discussions with families, it was agreed that the service further support families in their parenting role by investing in some books on the topic of building and sustaining trusting and secure relationships with children and understanding and responding to children’s behaviour, which families could borrow. Another outcome of the workshop was that it prompted the service to review its existing ‘Interactions with children’ policy to incorporate their new knowledge. As has happened in the past with policy reviews, a working group of family members and educators has been set up to give input and provide feedback as part of the review process, to ensure a shared understanding of the service’s approach to building and maintaining secure, respectful, reciprocal and equitable relationships with all children.

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 using the online Guide to the NQF. 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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