Standard 5.2 Relationships between children – Case study 2
Each child is supported to build and maintain sensitive and responsive relationships.
This outside school hours care service (OSHC) located in the outer suburbs of a large metropolitan city offers before and after school care and vacation care. The service is located on school grounds and has a strong, long standing relationship with the school’s leadership team and teaching staff. The OSHC service and school have shared values, which include respect, empathy, responsibility and collaboration. These values underpin their vision to provide a safe, nurturing and inclusive environment and sense of belonging for everyone. They also complement the service’s philosophy, which celebrates the importance of relationships within the service, school and local community, and is consistent with the principles and practices of My Time, Our Place – Framework For School Age Care in Australia (MTOP).
Consistent with their vision, values and philosophy, the service is committed to ensuring all children are supported to build and maintain sensitive and responsive relationships with each other. This is evident in practice in many ways. For example, educators talk with children about the service values, including what they mean and look like in practice. This includes coming up with a number of tangible examples of how the values can be enacted in words and actions. Children have also been given the opportunity to create posters to capture the values in words and images. These are displayed within the OSHC service and the school and feature in both the school and OSHC newsletters.
For many years now the service has facilitated a children’s leadership program, which is run for the children, by the children. The program allows children to work together, as well as providing a forum for using their voice to influence service programs and practice. This year, as part of their leadership program, some of the older children were involved in creating the orientation program for children who were new to the service.
As part of the orientation, the older children spent time talking to new students about the service’s values, giving examples of how they were demonstrated in words and actions. Taking this another step, following feedback from one of the children about how they can keep the values front of mind, educators have printed and laminated them on small cards. Educators carry these with them on a lanyard to read through with children as necessary, to work through issues and inform shared decision-making. This has proved particularly useful when helping children negotiate and resolve disagreements and conflicts. Reflecting on this practice at a recent staff meeting, educators have noted that over time they have needed to refer to the values cards less often, as children have become more familiar with them and no longer require the visual prompt to guide their actions.
The service team makes time in their regular staff meetings to reflect on their own practice against their values and vision, to ensure that their own words, actions and intentions align with them. Within these discussions, they also find the reflective questions in the Guide to the National Quality Framework helpful to inform discussions specific to particular standards. These conversations are documented in the service’s reflective journal, along with any agreed follow up and/or change in practice. Key messages and agreed actions are also shared with casual staff via the service’s communication app and followed up by the service coordinator, to ensure a shared understanding and consistent implementation by all staff.
More recently, and as part of their commitment to ongoing learning and continuous improvement, the service team have used the questions in the Guide specific to the Exceeding NQS guidance to consider whether their practice exceeds the National Quality Standard. A recent staff meeting focusing on Standard 5.2 resulted in some lively discussion and debate about whether or not their current practice exceeds the NQS. For example, the question asking how educators confidently and effectively facilitate cooperative and collaborative learning opportunities, in appropriate group sizes, to ensure every child is consistently supported to collaborate, learn from and help others, was met with differing views and perspectives.
Some staff were quick to give examples, such as the student leadership program and a recent project undertaken with children exploring the concept of belonging. Other educators, however, said they were unable to answer the question without consulting with the children to seek their ideas and perspectives. After much discussion, it was agreed that children in the leadership program be consulted in the first instance, with a view to then extend the conversation with the rest of the group.
Children in the leadership program, when consulted, believed they were supported to collaborate, learn from and help others when needed. They cited the leadership program itself as one example of this. They added, however, that they had lots of ideas about how these opportunities could be extended upon. For example, they noted their ongoing involvement in the orientation program. They also agreed that the service’s “interests wall” and the “ideas book” proved a great way for children to ask questions of each other, propose learning opportunities to collaborate on and explore areas of interest in the program. They were, however, keen to play a greater role in the implementation of the program, an idea that was supported by their families.
Some of the student leaders, for example, were actively involved in community sports, including soccer, netball and athletics. Based on their input, the educational leader and other educators talked with the children about how they could get more involved in organising and leading these sporting experiences in the OSHC program. This included what support and assistance the children might need from educators to feel more confident and experience success. As part of their evaluation process, educators involved the children in a post vacation care debrief where they looked at what they felt worked well, what didn’t work so well, and where and how they could improve in the future. This also addressed how educators could better assist the student leaders, to support the ongoing development of their leadership skills and capabilities.
Feedback from families of student leaders gained via informal conversations and email communication noted the sense of achievement, satisfaction and increased confidence they had observed in their children having been given this leadership opportunity. Feedback from other children gained via a survey and individual interviews revealed that not only did they enjoy participating in the sporting experiences facilitated by the student leaders, some of them were also keen to take on a greater leadership role in the future.
This feedback in particular caused the team to think about how student leaders are recruited and selected in the program. Initially, the student leadership development strategy was intended to engage older children. However, the team have observed that not all ‘older’ children see themselves as leaders. This made the educator team curious about children’s perspectives on leadership. The educator team decided to undertake an action research project with the children to explore children’s ideas and perspectives on leadership and what makes a ‘good’ leader.
All children were asked ‘what makes a good leader’ and a wall of strengths was created depicting the characteristics that children had chosen to describe good leaders. Together, the staff and children spent considerable time reflecting on these characteristics, and how this project had evolved from their values in words and actions project. Many children identified characteristics of patience, kindness, trust and respect. Some children identified characteristics of popularity and fame. This led to interesting and robust discussion amongst the educators who were intrigued (but not surprised) by the children’s perspectives. This conversation was extended with the children who shared further insights about the difference between popularity, fame and leadership. The general consensus was that some (but not all) famous people make great leaders because of the leadership traits and characteristics they display.
The wall of strengths was displayed in the service foyer to engage families in this discussion and seek their input and perspectives. Families were most interested in learning about the children’s thinking about what makes a good leader, with many families reporting back to educators that this topic had become a popular dinner time conversation. Some families with younger children in the service, while supportive of the leadership program, noted that it lacked diversity in children’s ages, highlighting that younger children should also be given leadership opportunities.
Reflecting on this feedback, the educators asked the children to nominate children from their year levels to join the student leadership group. They were asked specifically to reflect on the characteristics identified on the leadership strengths wall. The nominated children were not obliged to accept the appointment but the majority of them did. Interestingly, the educators were not expecting some of the nominations and reflected on how adults and children may perceive these qualities differently. For example, a couple of the children were nominated because their peers saw them as being good listeners, thoughtful and helpful. While the educator team had not stereotyped ‘student leaders’ they were refreshed to see children recognised by their peers as ‘quiet achievers’.
The next part of the research project involved bringing the new group of student leaders together to expand the program and make choices about the kinds of activities or experiences they would like to lead in the program. As an example, one of the new children to the group wanted to run a Kindness project in the after school care program to promote, notice and celebrate acts of kindness within and beyond the service. This child had themselves noticed times when children were becoming impatient and less considerate of each other or complaining about each other’s behaviour. They thought that a focus on kindness and helping behaviours might help.
Other examples of collaborative learning opportunities were also noted. Another child, whose parent worked at the local nursery, for example, expressed interest in coordinating the maintenance of the school vegetable garden in the next vacation care program. One group of children was interested in setting up a chess club and running a tournament during vacation care.
The first cycle in the action research process/project for the team was very successful. There were so many new projects, activities and ideas that the service team is now examining these with a view to engaging in further reflection and discussion about how to incorporate the children’s feedback into the program, both for before and after school care, and the vacation care program.
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