Standard 7.2 Leadership – Case study 1
Effective leadership builds and promotes a positive organisational culture and professional learning community.
This outside school hours care program, situated in a rural community, was keen to rethink their approach to developing their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) as part of their vision for quality. Inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and specifically Article 12, they wanted to ensure children had every opportunity to express their views in matters affecting them and for those views to be taken into account. This was also consistent with their recently reviewed service philosophy and the principles included in My Time Our Place, including positive partnerships and ongoing learning and reflective practice. Educators had begun to realise over time that while they were supporting children’s sense of agency in some ways, they were still deciding what children would be involved in.
To ensure their approach was meaningful and authentic, the coordinator, who is also the educational leader, researched respectful ways to consult with children. Key information was shared with other educators to ensure everyone was on board and had a shared understanding of the rationale for engaging children in this way and the strategies they might use. In addition, one educator, who had a good understanding of research and practice, was buddied up with another educator so they could be supported in a mentoring capacity.
Both educators expressed a commitment to collectively explore how these strategies could be implemented, taking time for shared critical reflection along the way. They had a lengthy discussion about the difference between ‘power with’ and ‘power over’. They acknowledged that sometimes their practices didn’t align with a ‘power with’ approach as much as they first thought. For example, when they assume they know best and offer their solutions to an issue rather than seeking children’s views and perspectives. This led to a discussion about what skills they have or might need to develop to be more consistent in using a ‘power with’ approach with children in decision-making processes.
Families were informed about the purpose of the QIP review and the self-assessment process. This included the proposed methodology for capturing children’s views and how families could contribute. Children were offered different options to share their ideas and opinions about the service’s strengths and areas for improvement. For example, by writing or drawing their responses to questions specific each of the quality areas. The most powerful process for consulting with children was the ‘talking circles’ methodology. This was something the coordinator was introduced to at a recent professional learning event and was consistent with the key principles of respectful consultation with children identified through their earlier research.
In staff meetings the coordinator guided educators using the ACECQA QIP self-assessment tool, one quality area at a time over several months. This allowed the service to critically reflect on the quality of current practice against the seven quality areas of the National Quality Standard (NQS). Each educator was asked to identify an example of the service’s strengths as well as an area for improvement, using reflective questions from the Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF) as prompts. Educators’ responses were documented in a reflective journal according to key themes that emerged from staff meeting discussions.
As educators reflected on each quality area, feedback was also sought from families in different ways. For example, identified outcomes of the current QIP were shared using photographs and key messages displayed on a notice board in the reception area for families to review and comment on. Notepaper was provided for families to add their responses. Sharing information with families in this way had proved successful in the past. It also created opportunities for families to connect and talk with each other.
An educator was also stationed in the reception area at pick up times to talk to parents about the display. This idea originated from a team discussion looking at feedback from a recent family survey that indicated families had limited understanding of the NQF and the assessment and rating process. This was a new strategy and one the service hoped would increase families’ knowledge and engagement by having someone available to answer questions and respond to feedback. They also hoped it would demonstrate to families that their views and opinions were valued and welcomed.
Educators sought feedback from children using the ‘talking circles’ methodology. This involved planning a series of conversations and inviting the children to share their stories and perspectives. The talking circles were carefully planned and children were given the opportunity ‘opt out’ if they didn’t want to participate at any time in the process. Educators found that most children were enthusiastic about being involved and having a voice about the service. They also respected that children should have a choice in how they participate, with drawings and conversations given equal consideration.
Educators came together to look at the feedback collected from the service team, children and families and to identify key themes. Strengths were displayed in what the coordinator described as the service’s 'wall of joy’, for families to read and comment on. For example, community partnerships was identified as a strength. This was evident in the service’s strong relationship with the school over many years. It was also reflected in their ongoing collaboration with local Aboriginal Elders in the development of their Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which had been recently published on the Narragunnawali website.
The ‘wall of joy’ included children’s statements in their own words. This was very engaging. Many families were observed looking at the wall with their children and talking about the children’s statements and the thinking behind them. Representatives from the school were also invited to review and comment on the ‘wall of joy’.
Areas for improvement were also recorded and shared with children, families and the school principal. They were then invited to comment on and vote for aspects of practice they felt the service should focus on using stickers and post-it notes.
Taking one quality area at a time, the coordinator facilitated focused conversations with educators on the suggestions for improvement using the circles of change methodology. This involved prioritising key issues to address in the QIP based on the identified priorities of children, families and educators. One area for improvement that was met with great enthusiasm by children and families was the increased involvement of children in the recruitment of new staff. Children were quick to come up with a number of practical suggestions about how they could be more involved in staff recruitment. This included designing interview questions, being on interview panels, and having a say in final decisions.
To ensure the QIP remained visible and to create accountability, key improvements for specific quality areas were again displayed in the service’s reception area. One educator, who had an interest in photography and design, put their hand up to create the display. They used photographs, children’s drawings and key words to illustrate the QIP in an interesting and engaging way. A written version of the QIP was also printed out and included in the display for those who wanted to know more. For the first few weeks an educator was again stationed at the display at pick up times to engage families in conversations and answer any questions they had about the new QIP.
The development of the QIP helped educators, in consultation with the coordinator, to think about their professional learning priorities for the year, which are discussed as part of their performance reviews. These are based on identified service goals and alignment with the service philosophy. They are also informed by educators’ strengths, interests and personal preferences. Professional learning is important to the approved provider and the coordinator. In their experience, they have seen a strong correlation between educators’ professional learning, continuous improvement and quality outcomes. Their commitment is reflected in the service’s generous budget for professional learning. As part of their strong relationship with the school, the service also pursues joint professional learning opportunities as relevant and practical in relation to shared interests and topics.
The service sought to ensure professional learning planning was intentional, and included opportunities for educators to share knowledge gained with each other and consider together how specific ideas could inform and improve practice. For example, to demonstrate the value of their professional learning opportunities, the coordinator asked educators to present a report of their learning at a staff meeting and share any handouts with the team. The coordinator then guided the team through a reflective conversation to compare and contrast this learning against current practice and consider if and how they might incorporate this learning to improve their practice.
These intentional professional learning practices were observable in many of the improvement opportunities identified in the QIP across a number of quality areas. For example, one educator was interested to work with the school to establish a community garden in an unused part of the playground. This was also seen as an opportunity to strengthen already strong ties with the school principal and teaching staff. To date, a working group of children, educators and school representatives has been established to begin planning this project and determine next steps. This includes scheduling a visit to an established community garden in a nearby town. It also includes a brainstorming session on how to engage local businesses and community services in the project and how to obtain funding to support it.
Another educator was keen to develop their knowledge and expertise about how to better utilise the outdoor space through physical activities and games. This professional learning goal was linked to recent research the educator had been reading about. The research highlighted the benefits of outdoor play in terms of enhancing children’s problem solving skills, physical and mental health, self-esteem and confidence. As a first step, this educator has connected with the school’s PE teacher to discuss ideas and possibilities. They also plan to discuss this with the children, many of whom have a strong interest in sport and outdoor activities.
These professional learning opportunities were incorporated into educators’ individual performance improvement and action plans where they set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals and action steps. These plans were used in performance review conversations between educators and the coordinator, which occurred on a regular basis. This helped to ensure educators remained on track in implementing their plans and were provided with ongoing support and resources as needed.
These conversations also provided the coordinator with the opportunity to reflect on their role as educational leader. They worked with the service’s approved provider to develop a plan to attain their own professional learning goals as part of their performance review. For example, the coordinator was interested to take on a stronger leadership role in the local community. Specifically, they were interested to establish a professional network for educational leaders working in OSHC services. They were also keen to establish a relationship with a local university in order to take a more active role in some of the action research projects they facilitated.
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