Reflecting, Connecting and Practising

I began 2020 with the aim ‘to connect’ as part of my list of “20 for 2020” in my first blog post for 2020 (which can be read in my first blog for the year To connect and disconnect.) My ‘word’ for 2020 was connection.

Like always, life doesn’t go as planned and with the arrival of COVID and its implications, it became more of a challenge to follow my list and to be able to connect. How could I connect when social distancing was required?

As an early learning service, St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC) remained open throughout the COVID lockdown period. From 23 March to June, the number of children attending St Luke’s CELC decreased significantly. Teachers and educators adapted their practises, planning and sharing home based learning experiences for the children and families to engage in at home. We also continued to provide a safe, nurturing connection for the children and families who maintained their attendance at St Luke’s CELC. A ‘silver lining’ benefit at this time was the recognition of the value and essential requirement that early years education has for society (as discussed in my blog post Early Learning Matters)

We used this time as a team to reflect on our practises, closely examining the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics to formulate our own Mission statement (more detail in A new Day Rising.)

As a team, we continued to maintain our connection as together we were guided by our shared values, vision and sense of purpose.

Since we opened in February 2018, the children and teachers from St Luke’s CELC have been connected through visits to Early Stage One to support the children’s sense of belonging to the wider school community. A key element to our experience at St Luke’s CELC is our connection to the school community. Whilst we were able to visit Early Stage one in term 3, unfortunately these visits were unable to continue due to COVID protocols. This meant an adaptation of our practises.

As we were unable to bring the children to Early Stage one for visits, during term 4, Early Stage one (ES1) teachers visited our environment to meet the children instead. This was a wonderful opportunity for the ES1 teachers to meet and get to know the children in their own environment where the children are familiar and most comfortable.

On day one of these visits, I discussed these with Jennifer (one of the ES1 teachers.) She agreed that there was a noticeable increased level of comfort in the children as they were in a familiar environment of the CELC (as compared to their school visits and first meeting at school interview.) We agreed that ES1 teachers visiting the CELC environment supported the children to form connections and relationships with their new teachers which will provide a continuity of experience for the new year. The children were encouraged to ask questions, expressing their thoughts about starting school. This is further supported through the sharing of information across both settings (the CELC and the school) to support children’s continuity of learning.

Providing opportunities for the children to connect and form relationships in an environment where they feel they belong provides a solid foundation, supporting them holistically in their growth and development.

The quality of ground in which a tree is established significantly affects its future growth.

Unearthing Why, 2015 , Britt & McLachlan.

As we get closer to the end of term, I am preparing for a change of direction in my journey with St Luke’s. I am moving into the role of Senior Manager Early Years Education for Catholic Diocese of Parramatta Services Limited (CDPSL.) Moving into a new role was an enormously challenging decision to make as I have absolutely loved working within a professional learning community which is supportive and caring of all of its members.

My experiences at St Luke’s Catholic College have positively influenced my professional growth and learning. I have learnt the value of the need to have a growth mindset, to engage in critical reflection of ones self to continue to grow and develop, to build partnerships and connections across all schools of learning ( preschool to high school) as well as the importance of continual professional development.

Thank you Greg Miller for your strong leadership and authentic demonstration of valuing the preschool years for children’s growth and learning, providing a solid foundation for their participation in the St Luke’s School learning community. Your guidance and support is greatly appreciated. It has been a privilege to work with you.

I would also like to say thank you to my colleagues on the St Luke’s Leadership team. Julie Atkins, Kelly Bauer, Anne Clark and Michelle O’Leary. It was a pleasure to work alongside you all. I will miss our weekly leadership meetings.

Thank you to my wonderful team at St Luke’s CELC, who continue to demonstrate professionalism whilst striving to implement high quality teaching and care for the children and families of the community by engaging in professional development and self reflection.

In my new role, I will ‘not be a stranger’ to St Luke’s CELC as I will continue to work with the CELC, albeit not on a daily basis. Why am I leaving you may ask? In my new role I am seeking to continue to continue to advocate for the value of early years education in providing a solid foundation for children, building supportive learning communities. Early childhood experiences shapes children’s trajectories for their futures. Advocacy in early childhood is essential to ensure quality outcomes for the children, shaping their future and society as a whole.

And so I leave St Luke’s learning community with an increased understanding of the positive outcomes and wonderful benefits of a preschool to post school learning community, where children and families are supported in their learning and growth. Where a thriving learning community of teachers across all school settings from preschool to primary school to high school is united with a shared vision to ‘nurture faith-filled, curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world.’

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Critical Reflection, Continuity of learning and Professional Practice

Three years ago on September 18 2019 I started at St Luke’s Catholic College as Director of the Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC) and what a wonderful journey it has been!

Tweet from 18 September 2017.

This prompted me to reflect on my experiences during this time and some things that have been reaffirmed and/or I have learnt along the way.

The Importance of Critical Reflection

“Blog weeks’ at St Luke’s can stir feelings of discomfort as I ponder on what to write and to share.  What have I been doing that a wider audience may find interesting?

I enjoy reading my colleagues’ blogs to learn about their experiences across the school setting from the CELC to Stage 4. Further to this, when writing a blog, I quite often come to a deeper level of understanding for myself on what I have been grappling with. Critical reflection is not easy!

Since we opened in February 2018 the CELC team have continually reflected on elements of the day, on our planning and programming, on our groupings, documentation formats and routines.  It is embedded in our practices.

Reflections over time have seen positive changes along the way and new learnings. Most recently this occurred via the introduction of new room groupings at the CELC and has been very well received.

Though challenging and uncomfortable at times, critical reflection has supported our efforts to sustain our shared vision and purpose on how to implement this effectively.  Critical reflection is required and needs to continue as a means to building a professional culture of collaboration and inquiry.

Continuity of experience

Continuity of experience from their early years setting to their school setting promotes positive outcomes for children and their families.

Connections formed between St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC) and Kindergarten (Early Stage One) have supported the continuity of experience for children who continue their learning into Early Stage one the following year.

Continuity of experience for the children, connections between the CELC and school setting and collaboration with families is supporting a positive transition for children as they move from the CELC to school.

We have seen this in action!

Children and families are introduced to St Luke’s Pillars of learning at the CELC. From their experiences at the CELC, the children are practising and developing the St Luke’s Pillars of Learning including relating with others, managing self, creative thinking and to communicate and collaborate. This helps to provide a positive transition via a continuity of experience in their learning. There is not a ‘push down’ of academic expectations for the children at the CELC to be ‘school ready.’  Continuity of experience, connections and collaboration is supporting a positive transition.

Professional practice in Early childhood guides quality outcomes for everyone – teachers, educators, children and families.

This year, I have explored the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics more closely and used this as a guide for many CELC team meetings. As a team we have used the ECA Code of Ethics to support reflections on our own personal beliefs, our practices and interactions.  

The ECA Code of Ethics has a set of core principles to guide the early childhood sector. It includes key points of reference to guide practices and behaviour of early childhood professionals in relation to children; families; community and society, colleagues and the profession.

Professionalism is demonstrated when management, educators and other staff develop and maintain relationships with each other….. Team collaboration that is based on understanding the expectations and attitudes of team members and build on the strength of each other’s knowledge, help nurture constructive professional relationships.

Guide to the National Quality Framework, ACECQA, 2018, p 215

The ECA Code of Ethics has been used as a point of reference to create our own mission statement, applying this to the Catholic Diocese Parramatta Services Limited principles of Respect, Encourage and Care.

High quality early learning environments requires the skills and knowledge of professionals who engage in professional practices that shape the environment, display and encourage professional behaviours, engage in positive interactions which create a positive culture.

When reading over my previous blogs I came across the following which I wrote in December 2017 which still rings true today.

It is inspiring to work alongside a supportive team who are professionally engaged, constantly striving to develop and grow alongside the students they teach.

I have thoroughly enjoyed building a team of passionate teachers and educators, working as part of a school community, being a part of a supportive leadership team, having a wider support network of Directors and being engaged in something I love.

Early Learning Matters

It’s Friday morning at St Luke’s CELC, I walk outside the admin building to be greeted by Josh who has been looking through the window.

“Mrs Tapley, Mrs Tapley!” He said quickly with excitement, pointing inside the door from where I came through.

“Mrs Tapley, the STOP sign!”

I responded affirmatively that the sign he was pointing to was the stop sign that is sometimes used in the children’s play outside particularly when the bikes are in use.

“I need it!” He said determinedly.

“Would you like the Stop sign for your play?” I asked Josh

Josh nodded his head and said, “I need it to stop people” (he gestured the stop signal with his hand. “Before they can go.” (he gestured his other hand to motion the go signal.)

These interactions bring joy to my day. It was a wonderful start to the day with Josh expressing his thoughts to me so confidently. At the same time, I can see his language skills developing as well as his literacy awareness. This was an important reminder to me how early learning matters for children’s wellbeing and their development.  (And so my original nearly complete blog on groupings and reflections was abandoned – but was described perfectly by my colleague here Routines, groupings and transitions which I urge you to read as it is a well written blog reflection about other aspects of our CELC experience.)

Later in the morning, I saw Josh with a small group of children. Josh was in a line with his peers which they had independently formed, whilst their friend Thomas was holding the Stop sign. They were walking along the bike track, as they did this together in line formation, Thomas would at seemingly random moments cease walking and hold up the Stop sign. This would cause Josh and his peers to stop walking. Then Thomas would move the stop sign and gesture for the group to continue walking along the path.

This child initiated experience continued throughout the morning, with the children negotiating and collaborating their roles in the play. Turn taking, role play through imaginative play and problem solving. These observations and interactions are part of my favourite times in my role at St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre as I witness first hand how early learning matters each day and every day.

Ninety percent of children’s brain development occurs in their first five years of life. Early learning for children sets their trajectory for the future.  In a recent article by Sam Crosby, Why childcare must be made free in the Financial Review, he discusses the need for early childhood to be freely accessible to all children.

“ A range of longitudinal studies have shown how high quality, early childhood education develops social competency and emotional well being.” Crosby

A number of other recent articles covering similar themes published in relation to Child Care subsidy discussions and the need for this to be reviewed include The case for free early learning ; Quality childcare can help rebuild economy; Childcare is important for parents but vital for kids – both are under threat

Childcare has traditionally be viewed as an economic policy by governments, supporting parent’s participation in the workforce. Whilst this is a benefit, it needs to be recognised the value that high quality early learning environments provide for children’s well being and development, setting their growth and path for future years.

“All children have preparedness, potential, curiosity and interest in constructing their learning, in engaging in social interaction and in negotiating with everything the environment brings to them.”

(Gandini, 1993, Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education, Young Children, 49, p 5.)

In their play, the children are learning how to communicate with their peers. Within this communication, they are also developing negotiation and collaborative play skills to guide the direction of their play.  

This was indeed on display between Josh, Thomas and their peers. In their play, children are learning. These moments in play are reminder of how learning occurs in its own time and early learning is not about getting children ready for school, it is about curious children becoming ‘creative contributors and innovative problem solvers.’ Now that has a nice ring to it… ah yes – that is key to our mission and values at St Luke’s Catholic College and guides our practise.

As a ‘next generation Catholic learning community’ St Luke’s Catholic College, Marsden Park has established the ‘new normal’ for preschool to post-school learning. This innovative environment nurtures and grows faith-filled, curious children as critical thinkers and problem solvers.

There does seem to be a growing recognition of the value for quality early learning environments for children. It is not babysitting for parents to attend work, it is not preparing children for school. It is essential for children’s social wellbeing, growth and development.

High quality early learning environments requires the skills and knowledge of professionals, including university trained teachers who have made the choice to work the extra weeks in the year with no school holidays as they have a passion for the important work and role they play in the lives of young children and their families. This also needs to be recognised in the wider community.

I am in the fortunate position where it is recognised that Early Learning Matters as part of St Luke’s learning community . This supports our sense of belonging to the learning community which supports children’s growth over time from preschool to post school.

*Early Learning Matters week 2020 was 3-7 August to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of early learning.

A new day rising

A new day is rising as we emerge in this “COVID safe” world. We have experienced a time in our personal and professional lives unlike any that have occurred before. This has prompted a reflection of policies and our practises that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recognition of the essential role of Early Childhood education for families and society has been a positive outcome from the pandemic. This recognition must continue! Early Childhood experiences shape the trajectory for children’s future well-being and education.

“Like it or not, the most important mental and behavioural patterns, once established, are difficult to change once children enter school.”  (Heckman & Wax, 2004.)

At a service level, we have been extremely fortunate at St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC) being supported to continue our daily operation throughout the pandemic. We have changed and adapted our practises in response to COVID-19 to facilitate the safety and wellbeing of the children, families and teachers. Many of these changes are ‘silver lining’ benefits that we now seek to continue.

Over the last fortnight, as a team, we have critically reflected on our practises to support our planning as we emerge in this new day rising.

To support this critical reflection, we looked at the following

  1. What are the positives that have come from our current situation?
  2. What practises would we like to keep?
  3. What practises would we like to Change?
  4. Where to next?


Positive Outcomes

During COVID-19, as a team we developed a mission statement for St Luke’s CELC.  As we have now been open for over 2 years we believed this time provided a valuable opportunity to develop.

“With thoughtfulness and intention, we consider our values and beliefs about the purpose of education: about what kind of people we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in …

Vision integrates imagination, passion, and delighted anticipation of the possible. Vision sets our course…

Who are we as a community? How will we live into our vision? How will we express ourselves?”  

Pelo and Carter, 2019

We reviewed and discussed the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics, and sought to apply these to the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta Services Limited principles of Respect, Encourage and Care to our context at St Luke’s CELC.

From this experience, we were reminded of our “Why.” This was used as a touchstone to go back to our purpose and shared vision, binding us as a team in challenging circumstances.

Practises to Keep

Practises to keep can be grouped to the following areas of focus

  • Supporting children’s independence
  • Health and Hygiene Practises
  • Documentation
  • Professional Development

Keep

Children have been encouraged to develop their capability to Manage Self which is a key  St Luke’s Pillar of learning as they walk into the CELC independently each day. This practise will continue due to the social distancing requirements and we are investigating how we will continue this.

An adjustment of practise has resulted in the sharing of home based learning experiences with families. This is a practise we seek to continue as a means to facilitate the continuity of experience between home and the CELC.  We have had a very positive response from families to this change.

Where to Next?

The teachers are exploring different forms of documentation to record observations of children. This has included small group experiences, project investigations and individual observations.  In their small group experiences with the children, we are exploring the use of project books to  record children’s questions, wonderings and explorations.

We are continuing to explore this as a means of documentation to collect information, analyse and plan this as part of the planning cycle.

NextIn conclusion, I am sharing a quote from Loris Malaguzzi when describing the role of the teacher and their impact on children’s trajectories.  It is a reminder of our important role as we continue to critically reflect on our practises in response to our ever changing contexts.

“Each one of us needs to have curiosity, and we need to be able to try something new based on the ideas that we collect from the children as they go along. Life has to be somewhat agitated and upset, a bit restless, somewhat unknown. As life flows with the thoughts of the children, we need to be open, we need to change our ideas; we need to be comfortable with the restless nature of life….

What we want to do is activate within children the desire and will and great pleasure that comes from being the authors of their own learning. Children have a right to a good school — a good building, good teachers, right time, good activities. This is the right of ALL children.”

Reference: Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins” by Loris Malaguzzi

 

To connect and disconnect

To start the year, I was inspired by Happier with Gretchen Rubin Podcast #254 which included a discussion of setting New Years resolutions by making a list of “20 for 2020” and/or setting a word theme for the year to guide the months ahead.

Last year was busy and  I thoroughly enjoyed our second year at St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC.) However my health was not the greatest and I know I wasn’t looking after myself as well as I should have been.

Upon starting 2020, I aimed to look after my health, improve the work/life balance, to learn more as well as  to facilitate professional development and growth for the CELC team. Summarising this into a one word theme for the year was not easy.  

To formulate a one word theme I wrote a list of my “20 for 2020” combining both personal and professional events/goals/wishes. From this my one word theme was easy to identify.

My list of 20 for 2020

  1. To strengthen the connections between St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre and St Luke’s school
  2. To introduce inquiry walks to the CELC children to build their connection with the school community and see themselves as part of the St Luke’s community of learners.
  3. To further my connection with the CELC team individually through developing my  coaching  skills, supporting teachers in their professional growth.
  4. To strengthen the connection amongst the CELC team through regular meetings (weekly room meetings and monthly whole team meetings); shared professional development opportunities and shared professional readings.
  5. To strengthen the connection for the children at the CELC with the St Luke’s Pillars by embedding this throughout our practises.
  6. To facilitate children’s connection to their learning through child led inquiries
  7. To form connections with wider professional networks by attending conferences, participating in network meetings and visiting other children’s services.
  8. To stay connected with research and innovations through professional readings
  9. To connect Professional Development (including professional readings) to pedagogy including child led inquiry and the Reggio Emilia approach
  10. To share my work regularly through Twitter (inspired by Austin Kleon, “Show your work.“)
  11. To ‘climb down from the ladder’ and not make judgements from what is first observed.
  12. To exercise regularly and commit to this in my weekly routine.
  13. To keep Saturdays a work free day – no emailing, no working on my blog and minimise thinking about the week prior or the week ahead.
  14. To strengthen connections with family through planned “family time” (not in a Brady Bunch kind of way.)
  15. To connect with friends by calling/messaging each week and seeing them more often
  16. To read a book a month
  17. To reduce my rubbish/waste
  18. I will try to focus on one thing at a time so that I am more ‘present,’ and not to think what is still ahead for the week.
  19. To not worry if I do not cross off everything on my ‘to do’ list each day and transfer unfinished tasks to the next day/week list.
  20. To regularly disconnect from work. This is just as important as connecting.

 

From this list, my one word  theme I am trying to work towards in 2020 is Connection.

From writing the list and considering how this shapes my personal and professional experiences, I realised the equal importance of disconnection as well. Disconnection is equally important because it provides time to reset and to ‘take a break.’ After disconnection, quite often a clearer view can be seen before reconnecting.

 

My Top 3 for 2019

High Fidelity is one of my husband’s favourite movies. When spending time with family and friends, he will quite often ask people for their “Top 5 favourite movies” or “Top 5 favourite songs.”  Whilst it isn’t my favourite movie, I do like the conversations it can begin.

And so in our final working week of 2019, I share my “Top 3 Gold experiences” at St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre.

The “Gold moments” idea began as a presentation to share with my Catholic Early Learning Centre and Catholic Outside Hours School Care  colleagues at our end of year Professional development days. On these days, each service is sharing their own Gold experiences from this year. I thought this was a timely opportunity to reflect on the experiences at St Luke’s CELC.

  1. Achieving an Exceeding Rating for our Assessment and Rating in July 2019.

After opening in February 2018, St Luke’s CELC underwent Assessment and Rating in July 2019.

This was the first experience of Assessment and Rating for many of the St Luke’s CELC team members. There was much nervous anticipation and many extra hours spent preparing for our visit and this was rewarded with our ‘Exceeding’ result. This is attributed to and a reflection of the high quality education and care environment that is provided by the wonderful team at St Luke’s.

 

  1. Strengthening our links with St Luke’s College to provide high quality innovative learning.

A key element (and point of difference) for St Luke’s CELC is its links to St Luke’s Catholic College which have been further strengthened throughout 2019.  Our links to St Luke’s College is facilitated through

– Our program which reflects elements of St Luke’s Pillars of Learning. This reflects a holistic approach to learning and encompasses a commitment to developing the whole person by providing opportunities that cater to the foundations of learning.

– The children at visiting Kindergarten (Early Stage One) on a weekly basis throughout the year.

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– The exchange of ideas and professional networking across both settings (St Luke’s CELC and the school.)

–  The visionary leadership of Mr Greg Miller to facilitate the formation of  a “P to P” (Preschool to Post school) setting for children, families and teachers.

– Being a part of a supportive leadership team at St Luke’s Catholic College. Thank you Greg, Julie, Anne, Michelle and Kelly for your continued support throughout the year.

At St Luke’s Catholic College, children’s learning journey can begin at the CELC and their continuity of experience and sense of belonging to the St Luke’s learning community is supported from this time, supporting them throughout their learning journey.

Partnerships formed with St Luke’s teachers is helping to build continuity of experience for the children, supporting their continuity of experience across the CELC, school of foundations, school of leadership and entrepreneurs and beyond, building the St Luke’s community of learners.

 

  1. Extending our reach into the community for families and Early Childhood professionals

The extension of our reach into the surrounding community is evidenced in the increasing enrolments we have experienced over the last 2 years. On 12 February 2018 we opened St Luke’s CELC with 56 families enrolled to attend across the week.  To begin our second year on 7th January 2019, we began the year with 83 families enrolled to attend across the week. As we look towards next year, we will be reopening on 6th January with 90 families enrolled to attend during 2020 and this number will increase as we are still finalising enrolments.

Our CELC team of core staff has steadily increased during this time as well. We started with a team of 9  and this has now grown to a team of  13  who work across the week. This includes Early childhood teachers, Diploma trained educators, Certificate 3 trained educators, Trainees, an Administration Officer and Cook. The team has  faced the challenges of working together for the first time in a new environment. A shared vision and common purpose has helped to unite the team. This is evident in:

  • their building of relationships with the children and families
  • The building of professional dialogue across the school settings (the CELC and school of foundations)
  • supporting and scaffolding each child’s curiosity and knowledge building via their investigations and project participation
  • their advocacy for the rights of the child
  • listening to their voice to further support children’s investigative enquiries.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to my wonderful CELC team. Their innovative and creative practices continue to inspire me each day. I look forward to the continued growth and development of the St Luke’s community of learners in 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

Play – the conversation for learning

Play is the creative expression of children’s thoughts and ideas.  Play can begin a conversation for learning as learning becomes visible. In their play, children explore and investigate materials, represent their thinking processes and transfer their knowledge across settings.

I have recently been reading “Children’s imagination:Creativity under our noses,” by Ursula Kolbe (2014.) This has sparked a reflection of my own teaching practices and how to support children’s creativity through  play, providing a solid foundation for life long learning.

“Being aware that play is a source of wonderful possibilities, which only become apparent once play has begun, can lead you to fascinating discoveries.” (Kolbe, 2014, p 68.)

Recently in a loose parts experience at St Luke’s CELC, a small group of children were engaged in loose parts play with a selection of natural materials. The children explored the physical characteristics of stones, leaves and sticks whilst creating their own patterns outside on a mat.

There was rich learning experiences throughout this play. This was observed in the children’s discussions about the characteristics of the natural materials including their size, shape and colour.   As well as in the children’s explorations which lead to the creation of some interesting patterns which included a pattern to represent a snail, and another to represent a letter that was in one of the children’s names. (The letter e.) This interest was further extended to explore the artwork of James Brunt who uses natural materials in his creations. This prompted informative discussions where the children compared their creations to the photos of James Brunt’s artwork, describing the patterns and features of both.

“Through dialogue children can develop their ideas and think out loud about what they’ll do next.” (Susan Whelan in Kolbe, 2014, p 44.)

As a team,  we have been exploring our role as teachers and how to engage in the conversation of play with children.

How can we extend children’s learning in their inquiries (in play) without ‘taking over’ their play?

This was discussed at a team meeting where we watched an excerpt the ECA learning module “Supporting child led inquiry.” We listened to  Ann Paelo discuss inquiry lead learning. What resonated with me from this video was the statement from Paelo for teachers to

“Step back and allow a question to breathe.”

If we provide the answers, we are losing opportunity for the children to extend their own learning and thinking processes. Putting this into practice is not easy.

Teachers play a crucial role in children’s play. This may be in their interactions with children in their play which can include questioning and prompting. It also includes planning the environment to extend children’s interests as well as provide opportunity for collaborative learning.

Recently one morning one of the children discovered a half eaten strawberry (on the strawberry plant) in the CELC garden.  This prompted excitement and lots of questions amongst the children which involved some creative hypothesising as to what had happened to the strawberry.

The children pondered on what had happened to the strawberry. We took photos of the artefact (half eaten strawberry) and shared these with other CELC friends during morning group time discussions. This prompted further hypothesising as to what had happened to the strawberry. I took on the role as ‘scribe’ to record the children’s ideas.

“Curiosity leads to action…Playfully asking ‘I wonder’ and ‘What if’ encourages a willingness to try things… ‘what can you tell me about.’ ” Kolbe 2014.

The children’s ideas varied from worms eating the strawberry. To a ‘very hungry caterpillar’ eating the strawberry.

Whilst we did not discover what happened to the strawberry, the children did display:

  • Their existing knowledge of insect life that is often found in gardens
  • Turn taking skills in conversation with their peers
  • Developing confidence to use  technology to record the experience (taking photos with the iPad then sharing these on the Apple TV)
  • Involvement in literacy practises which included the recording of their ideas by the teacher scribing their thoughts into sentences  (becoming aware of the grammatical conventions of question marks and inverted commas)
  • The ability to transfer their knowledge across settings, this included the knowledge that insects live in gardens and can sometimes eat plants in gardens, that literature (stories) can help us understand life events (such as the story of the Very hungry caterpillar) and that we can learn new information from listening to our friends.

 

Reflecting on my role in children’s play has prompted me to pause and reflect on how to provide a  supportive environment where play is an essential element to the ongoing conversation  for learning where children’s inquiries lead their learning.

Supporting Transitions by building connections

One of the most rewarding experiences of being a part of the St Luke’s learning community is to be actively involved in children’s positive transition to starting school at St Luke’s as they leave the CELC and move into Early Stage one (Kindergarten.)

School readiness as described by Kathryn Hopps in “Transition to school:Communication and relationships” (Early Childhood Australia, Research in Practice Vol 26, No.1, 2019) as an attribute which is measured at a point in time, however transition is change that happens over time.

“School readiness is one aspect of the broader concept of transition.” (Dockett and Perry, 2013.)

Children’s prior to school experiences shape their school experiences as they develop dispositions to learning and learn valuable social and communication skills. At St Luke’s CELC we are in the fortunate position to partner with St Luke’s school to support children’s continuity of experience in their transition to beginning Kindergarten.

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Regular visits to the early stage one learning spaces, along with participation in school events such as Activities Days and liturgies, support children’s sense of belonging to the St Luke’s community.

When a whole of community approach is applied to the transition to school context, children and families benefit from the collective support and resources of many people and organisations.” (Hopps, 2019.)

St Luke’s CELC educators begin to link St Luke’s Pillars of learning to their planning of experiences for the children, further supporting the continuity of experience for the children and families. This is broadly outlined in the table below.

St Luke’s Pillar

Early Years Learning Framework Link

(EYLF, 2009)

Displayed by

Witness

 

“Children are connected with and contribute to their world.” (Outcome 2)

“Children learn to interact in relation to others with care, empathy and respect.”(Outcome 1.4)

The children develop empathy and advocate for social justice and equality.

The children learn to value themselves as unique, spirited individuals.

The children develop a wonder of creation.

Relate

 

Connected with “Belonging” which acknowledges children’s interdependence with others.

“Children become strong in their social and emotional well being.” (Outcome 3.1)

In their play with other children, children are encouraged to explore their emotions as well as different points of view.

The children are encouraged to become aware of connections, similarities and differences between people.

Think “Children are confident and involved learners.” (outcome 4.)

“Children transfer and adapt what they have learned from one context to another.” (Outcome 4.1)

In their play, the children investigate, imagine and explore their ideas.

For example in their role play, children gain an understanding of literacy practises through active involvement in activities that promote talking, listening and expressing themselves creatively (eg Hairdresser play, or making a shopping list.)

Manage “Children develop their emerging autonomy, interdependence, resilience and sense of agency.” (1.3)

“Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical well being.” (3.2)

Displayed when children persist with a task until it is complete (for example a puzzle, participating in a game with rules, cooking experiences.)

Is becoming aware of the rights and needs of others.

Initiates conversations to express their thoughts.

Inquire “Children are confident and involved learners” (4)

“Children develop a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, enquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating.” (4.2)

Children’s participation in project investigations facilitate the practising of skills and understandings which can be transferred across different contexts.

For example a gardening project encourages children to practise their scientific thinking of observing and predicting, as well as literacy awareness to record their findings, these scientific and literacy practises can be transferred to different contexts.

 

Create “Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity.”(4.1)

“Children resource their own learning though connecting with people, place, technologies and natural and processed materials.” (4.4)

 

 

 

Exploring a variety of mediums to express their thoughts and ideas. This includes the creative arts such as painting, drawing, dancing and drama.

Children express their emotions creatively in their artwork where they can use a variety of mediums to represent their emotions eg drawing, painting, sculpting, dancing, self portraits.

Child uses the hundred languages to imagine, investigate and explore their learning environment

 

Facilitating a sense of belonging for children supports their transition to school by providing them with positive experiences to foster their engagement in their learning.

A successful transition to school is marked by children’s positive approach to school and a sense of belonging and engagement.” (Hopps, 2019.)

At St Luke’s Catholic College, children’s learning journey can begin at the CELC and their continuity of experience and sense of belonging to the St Luke’s learning community is supported from this time, supporting them throughout their learning journey.

 

Is it in the QIP?

The  image above is an accurate description of what has been inside my head for the last fortnight. We have received notification for an upcoming Assessment and Rating visit to St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre.  This is a self-assessment process which involves the submission of our QIP (Quality Improvement Plan) to our regulatory authority.  Following this submission, we will receive a 2 day visit for Assessment and Rating.

Tension or Nervous anticipation?

This is not an unfamiliar process for me. However going through Assessment and rating, I still feel a nervous tension in my stomach and my mind is preoccupied with random thoughts which cause me to become distracted during the day and a little forgetful.

Unfortunately, this did consequently lead me this week to wake my husband at 3.30am on Thursday because I had forgotten to take the garbage bins out.  I’m sure there was a clause in our marriage vows “In  sickness and in health and in times of Assessment and Rating.”

Are we ready? Is anyone ever ready?

Pause, Breathe, Reflect

Reflecting on our practices and undergoing the self assessment audit, my mindset moves forward. Our high quality, meaningful relationships, educational program and everyday practices at St Luke’s CELC always strive for exceeding themes.

There are quality practices occurring  every day – as there should be. These are included in our QIP.

“Exceeding” themes as defined by the National Quality Framework centres around the following:

  • Embedding quality Practice across all areas
  • Practice is informed by critical reflection
  • Engagement with families and/or the community shapes practice

In our self assessment process, I see how our everyday practices at St Luke’s CELC always pursue these exceeding elements and are embedded throughout the day and every day.

Critical reflection is ongoing individually and collectively as a team. Professional development opportunities and evaluations of practice continue to support critical reflection and shapes our practices.

Engagement with our families and our St Luke’s school community also continues to shape our practices as we continue to build our St Luke’s community.

Opportunity to celebrate 

In the process of reviewing our QIP for submission, it is rewarding to document our strengths and  achievements over the last 17 months since we opened. This an opportunity for us to celebrate and showcase  St Luke’s CELC!

Together as a team and as part of the St Luke’s community we are able to showcase how we display exceeding elements in the National Quality Standards (NQS) in the following areas:

  1. Educational Program and practice
  2. Children’s health and safety
  3. The Physical Environment
  4. Staffing Arrangements
  5. Relationships with Children
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
  7. Governance and Leadership

Our high quality , meaningful relationships and everyday practices at St Luke’s CELC always strive for exceeding elements and are embedded throughout the day and every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Critical reflection in practice

I have been challenged this term as we have sought to tweak and improve elements of the daily routine and our practises at St Luke’s Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC). Although at times uncomfortable, the challenges and discomfort have been worthwhile. They have prompted me to explore the art of critical reflection and learn that going through the layers of the critical reflection process, growth and a culture of collaborative inquiry can be achieved.

Some of the challenges at the CELC that we have sought to improve from have included

  1. Setting up and implementing a positive mealtime environment for 59 children (which includes breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.)
  2. Communication challenges for team members throughout the day. There are variable factors which influence this such as, their being 12 staff and 7 different shift times and little opportunity for team members to formally meet during their shift time. As well, we use a collaborative staffing model where the children are not formally allocated in  room groups. These factors can be problematic for the planning and evaluation of the environment.

I saw these challenges in my own observations at the CELC as well as from discussions with other CELC teachers. To formulate a “plan of action” to manage these challenges, we engaged in a critical reflection process following  “layers of reflection” (as described in the diagram below. (Source: Miller, M. “Critical Reflection Reflections, Gowrie Australia, Summer 2011, Issue 45.)

Layers of reflection

Firstly, we gathered information from teachers at a CELC staff meeting. Everyone was able to contribute to this self-assessment and it was unanimous that these areas were challenging for all of us.

Given the wide scope, we delegated specific areas to teachers who had an interest in exploring it further. To facilitate the linking of theories and gathering of information from different forms of literature, we reframed the challenges into questions for our critical reflection. Our challenges were reframed to the following questions which we are in the process of exploring further:

  1. How can the mealtime environment shape children’s interactions with each other and educators, supporting positive eating habits, independence and social skills?
  2. How can educators be supported in their room groupings to facilitate their wellbeing, consistent practice, transitions and communication?

Linking reflection to literature and theories 

  1. How can the mealtime environment shape children’s interactions with each other and educators, supporting positive eating habits, independence and social skills?

Mealtimes provide the opportunity for social interactions between the children and with educators. As well as discussions about healthy eating and providing nutritional meals, the mealtime environment can support children’s developing self help skills. This aligns with the “Manage” pillar of learning (St Luke’s Pillars of learning) as children begin to “manage self.”

Our mealtimes at times were more process driven rather than an enjoyable part of the day. At times it was a counting experience, with the number of children at each mealtime being counted and “checked off” a list to make sure they had their meal.

The National Quality standards highlights the importance of positive environments (NQS 3), the value of providing opportunity for children to develop relationships with each other (NQS Area 5), as well as describing the importance of healthy eating for children (NQS Area 2.) This is described in detail by Rhonda Livingstone in “Creating positive mealtimes – We Hear You Blog.”

To support children’s agency and emerging self help skills, the mealtimes have been adjusted in the following ways:

  • Individual serving dishes are placed on each table for the children to serve themselves their own meal.
  • Educators sit with children at the tables, prompting conversations with the children and between small groups of children.
  • Mealtimes are in smaller groups to facilitate more conversations.
  • Families have been invited to share their favourite meals which are served at home with the CELC so we can include these in our menus.
  • Educators have created a “CELC Recipe book” for families with favourite recipes from the CELC.

The general consensus to date is that these changes have been positive. Mealtimes are more settled and the children are engaging in more positive interactions and conversations during these times. Mealtimes are still a “work in progress” and educators are discussing with each other ways to further improve mealtimes to facilitate children’s sense of agency. Last week, progressive morning teas were introduced to further support children’s emerging levels of managing self. By continuing to evaluate and discuss our processes, a culture of collaborative inquiry is maintained.

2. How can educators be supported in their room groupings to facilitate their wellbeing, consistent practice, transitions and communication?

At St Luke’s CELC, a collaborative model for teacher/educator grouping is used rather than a traditional “Room Coordinator and educators” model. This can be seen in the diagram below.

1CELC_graphic

The children are not in traditional room groupings that is often used in long day care settings. At St Luke’s CELC, each educator is responsible for a group of focus children whom they observe, plan and implement experiences for throughout the year. The children have the opportunity to explore each of the learning environments throughout the day.

With the fluidity of the day and groupings of staff, challenges arose for staff as they were spending time in each of the learning spaces, but not in their room which they were responsible for planning the environment (eg Teal, Navy or Outdoor.) Further to this, staff within each room group did not spend periods of time together to evaluate and reflect upon the program. This had implications for the effectiveness of their programming and evaluation of practice.

When discussing the challenges, educators questioned the staffing model and its appropriateness in a large centre. Many were challenged by the fluid approach and movement of children. It was suggested that we change our whole model to the more traditional long day care model with children in set room groups with allocated teachers in each room and a less fluid routine across the learning spaces.

Before making a big change to the staffing and room model, I investigated the theories behind our practices, this included reading Working in the Reggio Way: A beginner’s guide for American teachers by J Wurm. Wurm compares Reggio Emilia schools daily routine to traditional routines and groupings in American Children’s services which are similar in structure to Australian long day care centres. She highlights the benefits of team teaching and its advantages including less disruptions to free play explorations and the sharing of responsibility amongst teachers for more formal parts of the day. This highlighted to me the advantages of our approach at St Luke’s CELC and reinforced to me the benefits our approach.

Our staffing model supports peer modelling and a team teaching approach. The fluidity of groupings supports the children’s developing sense of agency as they are able to freely explore each of the learning environments. The daily routine moves freely with large amounts of time devoted to exploratory based learning as well as more structured parts of the day. During these times teachers share the responsibility for the planning and implementation of the more formal based experiences in which children participate eg literacy based group experiences, fundamental movement skills, spirituality and music explorations.

To ease the challenge of communication amongst teachers within their room groupings, it was decided to trial for one and a half hours each morning, the designation of each room group of educators to their “room” (ie Teal, Navy, Outdoor Investigations.) Initially, there was some resistance from teachers to the designation of areas at certain times of the day. However, over time there has been more positive feedback with teachers describing improved channels of communication which has facilitated easier evaluation and planning for environments.

This reminded me of the cartoon depicted below – sometimes we experience discomfort however through change comes growth and improvement for the greater good. I discovered this cartoon in a blog when searching for information on “leaning into discomfort” as I quite often think of this phrase when reflecting on practise.  I discovered this blog in my Google search  The Healthy Uncomfortable – I love the title and thought the cartoon is an apt illustration of the process of critical reflection.

Moment of discomfort

Critical reflection is not easy. However, to sustain a shared vision of our purpose and to implement this effectively, critical reflection is required and needs to continue as a means to building a professional culture of collaboration and inquiry.

“It has been said that the environment should act as a kind of aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and cultures of people who live in it. This is what we are working toward.”

Malaguzzi