The opportunity I never knew I needed

Educators at the ECA conference in Canberra


This month we hear from Natalie Youd, Educational Leader at Salamander Child Care Centre, who highlights the key learnings from attending the 2022 Early Childhood Australia (ECA) National Conference.

This year I had the privilege to attend the ECA National Conference – Passion to Power: Our future profession, thanks to a scholarship from ACECQA. As we all know, personally and professionally, educators in the sector have been stretched and challenged to the extreme these past couple of years, wondering what the new normal would look like, let alone if quality face-to-face professional learning would be possible. 

When ECA announced its face-to-face conference in Canberra, there was excitement within our service, particularly when reading the schedule of speakers and topics on offer. A part of me really wanted to go, however another part of me felt that being educational leader, I am already afforded the opportunity to research and learn in a way that our educators in learning spaces are not. So, would it be better for an educator to go in my place? Being in a leadership position based on a distributive leadership style, it's really important for me to ensure educators feel empowered and engage in their professional identity, rather than it being directed by a person with a leadership title. Yet I know I hold immense responsibility to our children, families and educators to stay informed and inspired, and I knew this conference would be an important investment for the educational leader role. Upon reflection, it was a conference that offered investment in the growth of not only my service, but the sector.

So, enter my ACECQA scholarship – meaning, I could attend along with other educators our service had purchased tickets for. This conference ended up being the opportunity I didn’t realise I needed. While I knew I wanted it, I think I had forgotten about the importance of a gathering of people with the same passion and commitment to children and their learning, with an openness to the professional growth and provocations challenging us to do better.    

I went into the conference with amazing educators by my side, and I knew they would soak in all that they needed to as a result of their own interests – from a drive for social justice, to children’s mental health and wellbeing. This changed the way I approached my learning at the conference. I went into sessions listening deeply to the woven elements that made up the workshops, trying to pull apart the practice behind the scenes that resulted in fantastic research and amazing examples of children's learning. I came away from the conference a better educational leader, with tools to equip my educators, to encourage the incredible work they do to better the lives of the children we have the privilege of caring for and educating.

It is vital that educators and educational leaders engage in professional spaces such as the ECA Conference alongside one another, as individual perspectives aren’t always enough to create traction for change. I love being a part of a service that inspires me to think outside the box. I am the first to admit that during the day to day ‘busy’ of the job, we can get into a rhythm and do amazing work within our service, but we can forget about what might be happening in the sector that we don’t know about. The ECA Conference exposed me to innovation in other services, inspiration in advocacy, and ideas of practicality to put into place, which are huge parts of why I love being an educational leader. This is my first large conference in this role and I have walked away with tools to take back to my team, which will no doubt cause ripples within our workplace. 

I remember looking around at the conference and thinking how lucky I was to be in a room with people that have such a calling to educate children as what they choose to do for work every day. I will be encouraging my educators to go to conferences such as these, so that they too can be reminded why they do this incredible role, be inspired by other educators, and learn and love learning. Having shifted to online learning during the pandemic, I forgot how powerful it can be to see and hear first-hand from someone metres away. There are the things I didn’t realise I needed to learn and question. Things like acknowledging the fact that our children live in a technologically advanced world. Are we doing them a disservice by not genuinely embedding technology beyond the stereotypical ideas we have of technology? 

I understand that we all aren’t in the position to attend every conference and we all aren’t in the position I was in to be able to attend the ECA Conference. But my message is, if you can, it is worth the measures it takes to get to a conference like this one. 

The educational leader role is complex. It looks different in every service. But networking with others, no matter what role they are in, is vital. It helps us learn about the spectrum of skills, knowledge, languages, and experience that make up early childhood in Australia. Get amongst it, be inspired and learn – then pass that on. Share your thoughts, find a critical friend, advocate for professional growth and learning. John C. Maxwell reminds us that ‘the more intentional you are about your leadership growth, the greater your potential for becoming the leader you’re capable of being. Never stop learning.’ My thanks again to ACECQA for this incredible opportunity. It is one I won’t forget.  

Natalie Youd
Educational Leader, Salamander Child Care Centre

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