We’re back, what happened?

We, the Educators and Educational Leaders at the heart of your child’s early or middle childhood service, are returning from COVID to an unfamiliar world where seemingly suddenly, everybody knows our name.

We are spoken about on the news – nicely. We have allies who understand our importance, and the importance of what we do. After literally generations of struggle, we … are a bit stunned!

The return from local COVID responses, for many of us, has been dependent not just on daily numbers and graphics on the news, rather it has been a working of interrelated puzzle prices that keep changing shape. Lets recap:

  • Australian Government child care fee support packages started and finished. Job Keeper started and finished. Transition payments were deciphered, claimed, lodged and amended, all this keeping many in long computer hours as enrolments and staffing were delicately and hopefully balanced.
  • Educators came, lost hours, went, returned, and went again. Hurt, confused, frightened, worried over diminished, already meagre finances exhausted with so much extra work, and worried/ terrified over rapidly diminishing job security.
  • Parents and children drifted away slowly, then rapidly, then services closed and then opened to the challenge of supporting multiple family returns and where possible, finding new families.
  • Regulators regulated via Zoom and phone calls. Spot checks were time limited and topic limited, sounding attractive to some but for most, the independent regulator is also the only independent supportive voice around.

“I started hearing about child care in the news and it was using words like ‘essential’ and ‘critical’ Educator Vic. (semi-rural service 4 years)

“Is it true? Did the Prime Minister call us an essential service?” Educator WA (27 Years in the role)

What the hell happened while I was stood down?” Educational Leader NSW (5 years in the role)

During the interregnum, Educators joined the world in plugging in to the Zoom lifeline. Fighting isolation and fulfilling workplace imposed learning requirements, suddenly Educator exposure to other services and Educators across the country was not limited to the lucky who could afford degrees, higher degrees, conferences and travel – all Educators could be and were included and it was happening at a scale not seen before.

All the while, Educators who were busy providing care and education for tens of thousands of Australian children began hearing their name. Louder and louder. This public acknowledgement of their worth and their profession was the first time many had heard that acknowledgement from their community and country.

The Zoom meetings and online forums grew. In this great connection, ideas and concepts were starting to be shared in ways that many were familiar with, but so, so many were not. As the public call went up about the value of early childhood and Educators, terms like ‘Professional’, and ‘Professional status’ were becoming common.

Self-identification as a professional is now discussed freely as is accountability and professional practice Agreed at a meeting of 40 Educational Leaders across the country.

Clearly, sector leaders were saying privately, we are professionalising, but we need a clearer idea of what we want and how we are going to get there.

Contributors to this conversation are now standing tall, and the conversations are daily, often many times daily and lately into the night.

The journey toward professional status is not text book, although many will undoubtedly write it up along the way. There are stages to growing a profession. In this blog now, that’s what we will be talking about.

Next time: How a profession is grown.

Normal transmissions will resume … May 1 …

In these days of Corona, it is easy to walk away from any discussion that isn’t framing all thinking in terms of lives, well being, and economic outcomes. This is because the very thought of the Virus has, rightly, created an environment where important decisions must be made in response to its existence, and every decision has impact.

The impacts are global, local and then there are the impacts that are very, very personal:

The biggest call: WA parents left to wrestle with the decision to send kids to school

(@watoday.com.au Twitter 21 April 2020)

Organisations working in early and middle childhood are not immune to this. Across the country, organisations have moved content and relationships across to online platforms.

At the Educational Leaders Association, of which I am Chair, we haven’t walked away from changing our approach, although as we are a networked community and have already developed a growing and agile online presence.

We are also a professionally operational community, which means we all manage services for children and the curriculum and approaches within those services.  For us, the impacts of the virus have reached into our lives, and the lives of our staff, parents and children, and now dominates our professional lives.

Before the Virus, we had already discussed that the ongoing well being of the sector was critically impaired by the lack of current data profiles.

To support a peri and post Virus recovery, accurate and current data will be even more important.

The data collection and analysis work discussed in the 8 March blog here is ongoing, but it was been slowed by:

  • Reassuring team members when there was no clear information available to calm them
  • Supporting families who, amidst worry and fear, were looking to protect their children
  • Creating a focus on health and well being, knowing that this time lives are depending on us
  • Developing Virus response plans, when we didn’t know what the Virus was capable of, and doing this in a climate of opinion crowding out experts
  • Finances weakening and then collapsing, as families made decisions that worked for them, but that impacted on our work in very worrying ways.

The the work was re-framed by:

  • Jobs going, accompanied by sad conversation after sad conversation with managers reassuring staff that this wasn’t about them, that they were held in high regard, that the money just wasn’t there, that government benefits might be available, that one day soon they might be able to get back to normal
  • Then stand downs and closures as funding grants are delayed and the cash just wouldn’t stretch that far.

The data work is ongoing as we look deeply into the sector, leadership, workforce structure and the potential for the future. 

Come by again in May. We will have something very strong to say then.

 

 

 

 

15 000+ Education and Care Services in Australia and every one has an Educational Leader

15 000+ Education and Care Services in Australia and every one must have an Educational Leader.

In 2012, when the National Quality Framework passed progressively through state and territory parliaments it contained only one direct instruction for the creation of a new position’ It went something like this:

An educator, co-ordinator or other individual who is suitably qualified and experienced must be appointed to lead the development and implementation of the educational program (or curriculum) in the service. This person may have suitable qualifications and experience, as well as a thorough understanding of the Early Years Learning Framework and/or the Framework for School Age Care (or other approved learning framework) to be able to guide other educators in their planning and reflection and mentor colleagues in their implementation practices. ACECQA See: National Law: Section 169 National Regulations: Regulations 118, 148

Now famous for the broad detail, which ostensibly provided individual workplaces with a great deal of latitude; it now is famous for the difficulty that workplaces have found in developing the role and creating a coherent narrative for the role in their service.

The Educational Leaders Association was established to support the development of the role and support individual Educational Leaders as they developed in their role. ELA is working to create a nationally consistent and supportive professional learning community.

Last time we spoke, I was writing daily for 2000+ Educational Leaders. Now the conversations have grown – there are more than 5300 in the ELA community, and it is growing every day.

Now with a standards development, professional learning, and an advocacy role, ELA researches the key issues in Educational Leadership and writes on these 6 days a week.

A specialised professional learning program, delivered by Educational Leaders and academics in the field, is based on the ELA Standards of Practice.

Where is this heading?

We have grown from a very large group of new Educational Leaders early in 2012, to a national cohort of practitioners who are responsible for the curriculum for early childhood.

Think about that.

Discussion, data, and defiance

The creation of knowledge does not, of itself, lead to widespread implementation and positive impacts on health. The knowledge must be translated into changes in practice and policy for the benefits and impacts to flow to Australians.

National Health and Medical Research Council 2020

EC Researcher: ‘It won’t be useful to you, it’s more for academics or policymakers’.

Me: If you collect and analyze data you must be able to explain your work.

Researcher: Yes but your people only have Cert III.

Me: *Holding back the sadness*. If your data isn’t applicable, that’s ok, but assuming we won’t be able to penetrate it because of a perceived lack of qualifications makes you wrong on 2 counts.

Me: My people?

Researcher: You know, child care workers …

Me: Wrong on 3 counts.

Researcher: 3?

Me:

  1. We can and do regularly work with academic research. This is an evidence-based profession. We are required by law to delve deeply into legislation, standards, research and evidence, and base and review our practice on it. We are independently assessed to ensure that is exactly what we do.
  2. In our workplace alone there is 11 staff,  9 are studying a degree, 2nd degree or Masters. 2 are teachers, 2 are running research projects and 1 is writing a book.
  3. Don’t call us child care workers. That title died in 2012 when the Education and Care Services Law came into being. We are, by law, called Educators. For heavens sakes, update yourself.

In working for the Educational Leaders Association (ELA), I have met some of the finest minds of our generation, enhanced by learning, practice and a sheer bloody-minded professional determination to advocate for children.

Low pay, patchy respect, being left out of deliberations about the profession is their lot and each acts as a boundary to professional recognition and growth. The fact that they stay is a testament to their professional purpose.  They deserve respect. More so since they work in an area that has extraordinary responsibility for more than 1.2 million Australian children in the critical early years.

It is a long time since I first discovered that research and research translation is also one of the boundaries that seem to prevent Educators from being taken seriously as professionals and practice-based researchers.

In a profession that talks tirelessly about inclusion and anti-bias, the prominence paid to inclusion doesn’t seem to reach far into the Education profession when talking about very early childhood Educators.

Language is powerful. When language like ‘child care’ and ‘child care workers’ is used, it demeans our profession, our work and the professionalism of the Educators within it.

The conversation above was very real … and very, very painful. It was one of the motivators for the now daily microblog on the Educational Leaders Association Facebook page. ELA produces daily injections of evidence-based practice discussion, in accessible language, serves and supports busy Educators and Educational Leaders who simply don’t have the money for further study, unless supported, and who, because of the deep responsibility they hold for more than 1.2 million children in early childhood, need to be fully included in the evidence for practice developing within the Education profession. It must be relevant to the role and it must be accessible.

Educators are held waiting with noses pressed against the glass of the window, looking in at professional respect, professional wage rates, and an accountability system that would serve to hold them professionally accountable and require them to be professionally supported in equal measure – waiting and wondering, if very early childhood truly is so important, why are we out here and why are you in there?

Research requires an audience. If researchers want an audience, the language used must be respectful of that audience. To be translated into practice, the research must be accessible. If it not accessible, it will sit unused.  Who benefits then?

Since that conversation, I have reflected:

Why did that academic speak in the way that they did?

Why did they feel that it was qualifications that were important?

Why did they feel that qualifications trumped the desire to learn?

Why wasn’t it taken as a moment to draw very early childhood into using their research and to provide a window into a valuable topic?

When sharing that response with Educational Leaders, I saw a change.

The group of more than 130 became angry and as that passed, defiant.

They talked about how in their centres and services, they are at times used in research, by researchers, rarely thanked, even more rarely cited. They wondered why this lack of respect should come from so many researchers.

They talked about how they don’t know who to fight, and how to fight.

Together we decided we need to know more about who we are before we can lead the fight.

We are going directly to thousands of Education and Care services across the country and sourcing the input from the practitioners themselves. The 2020 National Educational Leaders Survey is coming. The Educational Leaders Association will discuss the data, the interpretation, the policy implications, and the learning. Watch that space. https://www.facebook.com/EducationalLeadersAssociation/

 

Its 2020 and I am back on this platform – Let’s talk education and care policy

So much has happened – I hardly know what to say so I will just point you back to my Twitter account @doreen_blyth for the regular reports that I have made on my journey.

In related news, and to catch you up, I am pleased to report that I:

  1. am putting into practice what I learned when I was on the team that developed the National Quality Framework for early childhood and OSHC services [as the Principal Policy Officer – Children’s Services in WA]
  2. consult on early and middle childhood service leadership and policy
  3. write for a closed group on early childhood education and outside school hours care policy
  4. provide professional practice learning on educational leadership
  5. write almost daily for the Educational Leaders Association as a microblog on Facebook, now with almost 7500 followers
  6. have a daily Twitter report #365realstoriesfromEC
  7. am now President of the Educational Leaders Association
  8. lead the innovative early learning and outside school hours care service [working with the most extraordinary team] at Guildford Grammar on the doorstep of the beautiful Swan Valley.

Let’s meet back here next month when we can talk about the new data we are gathering through the new ELA 2020 National Educational Leaders survey and what it will mean for Education and Care services – and early to middle childhood policy.

A daily conversation with 2500 leaders

Every weekday morning I make a strong coffee, walk down the hall to the ‘office’, open the iPad and talk to 2500 + leaders.

The leaders are Educational Leaders; they are part of the 15 000+ strong cohort of professional practice leaders in Education and Care services – these are early childhood services (Centres and Family Day Care) and middle childhood services (Outside School Hours Centres) – across the country. 

It is usually around 4.30 am local time. Yes, I am one of those early risers.  Mornings for me are quiet, cool and perfect – perfect for thinking, reading, writing.

At that time, readers in the Eastern states of Australia are travelling to or arriving at work in their Education and Care Services. It is easy to think of them facing their day, on trains in Melbourne, buses in Hobart, in cars in Darwin, through farm roads toward rural towns and driving through the dust in one of dozens of remote area locations. By the time I have hit ‘post’, the readers in WA are up and ready to go.

Our readers are leaders.

At ELA the team knows that the small and large things matter to professional practice leaders.

  • Have the Educational Leaders as a professional group been developing their professional identity?
  • Are they comfortable and yet challenged in their leadership learning?
  • Do they have a plan for the day?
  • Do they have a plan for their service?
  • Have they got a job description, a clear role, time allocated to it, support for what they are trying to achieve and even, are they paid for the additional leadership role they undertake?
  • Do they need help a grant application, or a cohort for a leadership research project?
  • Do they have lunch?

I write for the Educational Leaders Association. A not-for-profit group that came out of Western Australia in early 2016. The Facebook community links the 2500+ (and growing each week) Educational Leaders across the country. A rolling schedule of state and territory meetings is working on establishing member-run local branches supported out of Perth.

The aim is high quality, evidence and research based, member relevant and developed, low cost support.

The posts are member requested or initiated, often it is more the transmission of gathered stories of great leadership practice, but it is always a short read, pragmatic and empowering …

Why do this? Required by law, these leaders manage the curriculum in education and care services – affecting more than 1 million children across Australia, and there is a problem. We had, as a profession, established our national standards – but the profession hadn’t provided the consistent and very deep supports those very new professional practice leaders (the first generation of professional practice leaders) need to have. So, ELA is there for them EVERY WORKING DAY!

We also have a member developed policy platform – we advocate for the role, what Educational Leaders are trying to achieve for children, professional recognition and support. 

The pages are designed to take about the same time to read as it take to read a large flat white coffee. The Educational Leader community response has been universally – incredibly supportive.

Occasionally there is a comment to the effect that we aren’t academic enough or that there isn’t enough research cited (we keep that register separate to keep the posts readable), or once – that our language is ‘so plain English’. It is tempting to listen to this, it really is. Except that our commitment to clear language is part of our commitment to inclusivity.

We review our language, our topics, our research and our work. As part of this, we gather as a group, and we always end up talking about those Educational Leaders … on trains in Melbourne, buses in Hobart … as we read their feedback and ideas.

Next day, … pours a strong coffee and …

https://www.facebook.com/EducationalLeadersAssociaion/

Working together

The young leaders have been at it again! [April 2017]

You may remember [from previous posts], our policy group is made up of young educational leaders. They work in early and middle childhood with children from 0-13 yrs and have one big thing in common – they want to make a positive impact on the sector they love working in.

In response to their initial bewilderment about how government policy (that directs their sector) actually works, we have been delving into how policy happens:

  • how government works
  • government structures and processes
  • how policy and regulation is made
  • how programs are developed, implemented and reviewed
  • advocacy and how they can contribute.

This month we have been working on how to get their professional message out – professionally.

There seems to be an infinite number of self help books and articles on how to get your message out. Linked in, Facebook, Instagram, etc are all full of  ‘10 ways to …’ type posts, with a rare few rating as original and genuinely resonating (and most often coming through the feeds of like minded peers and friends).

The group was tasked with looking past all of this and devising their own messaging priorities, speaking in their own way on topics relevant to them, focusing the message and exploring shareable language  – the language they and their audience might both relate to.

These are the rules they developed for their task; it had to be:

  1. authentic – it had to come from them
  2. a well researched need – the need had to be verifiable
  3. evidence based – the solutions had to be credible
  4. for a purposeful outcome – they had to feel that a ‘good’ was done
  5. for an achievable outcome – a real world proposal
  6. focused – no ‘we want world peace’, but rather ‘in our services/communities we want to be able to …’
  7. in language that is consistent in theme but respectfully tailored to the audience.

The research into their first ‘focus’ is underway, I will share it here next month, but the message for this story is this – these young leaders chose to come together to undertake this work in their own time and in their own way, constructing knowledge and skills as they go and remaining committed to the outcomes.

How exciting is this??!!

More next month…

Intrinsic leadership – follow-up [March 2017]

So, the professional practice (education) leadership group that I have been working with, has met again.

We are considering leadership attributes and how those attributes manifest in the real world. The talk turned to making their professional learning obvious.

This was the hardest of all of our meetings to date.

  • They could clearly see that leaders need to continue to grow and develop, but all of them were reluctant to talk about their own professional development.
  • They shared a considerable professional knowledge base but didn’t rate it as one of the most important of the professional attributes they possessed (it came behind communication and relationships).
  • They all declared an intention to continue their own learning, but also admitted that not one of them felt comfortable telling clients/parents what they were doing, or put up qualification parchments on the wall.

How can these professional women grow and aspire if they cannot articulate their own learning and development?

It was only when we made this list and analysed it that they understood. In that room there were:

  • 5 who had gone from no qualification to degree while working
  • 2 who were studying post-grad while working
  • 5 who had completely changed the direction of the curriculum in their service (requiring a complex strategy including research, analysis, planning, implementation, resourcing, stakeholder management etc)
  • 5 had slowed staff turnover by more than 50% – both saving their employer money and creating a more stable work environment
  • 5 had improved the standards at the service contributing to stabilising enrollments and attracting more families.

Each then considered how that record compared to a traditional manager in a not for profit community agency and they all realised that they are in fact professional practice managers with great track records!

Each one one is now rewriting their own resume to showcase their achievements in new language. The focus is on presenting their leadership and management skills through talking about their real world examples. This is an extraordinary group of young professionals.

Intrinsic leadership [Feb 10 2017]

A young professional practice (education) leadership group I have been working with recently got to a place where they began opening up and expressing their desire to use their current leadership experience for one outcome – to set them up to be able to leave.

I didn’t want to go down the path of ‘what does your workplace need to do to make you want to stay’.  I could see that they would get bogged down in organisational issues rather than focusing on their own leadership. So… I suggested that if they want to leave, that was OK… but I clarified that the focus of our work was for them to be amazing, innovative and effective leaders now – today.

That got their attention.

We had set about exploring what were the aspects of leadership that they held as important, and what was impacting on that.

They listed what was important to them, what held them up and gave cohesion to their leadership:

  • Professionalism: they were committed to their roles and the children’s services they were working within
  • Professional knowledge: they had all worked hard to gain their qualification and every one of them was in post graduate study
  • Relationships: They actively sought out strong, positive professional relationships and clear, available support.

They listed what was holding them back, actively obstructing them, or tugging at their cohesion as a leader:

  • Requirements made for their own sake – work place requirements that didn’t deliberately (purposefully) lead to great outcomes. This was seen to erode commitment and degrade professionalism in the workplace.
  • Not being able to have what they know, recognised and considered. This was seen a placing low value on the hard work of post graduate study and the hard won experience gained during and since that extra learning.
  • Distant senior management: Professional and geographical distance was a strong negative (“I don’t want my manager’s communication  to be limited to booked meetings and email”).

That got  my attention.

None of these leaders is over 26 years old. They thrive on communication. The rules about communication are different for them. They are so successful because they thrive on seeing those in their teams learn, grow, succeed and confidently innovate. This is who they are.

So we are focusing on that – we are looking at intrinsic leadership. Not intrinsic motivation, but intrinsic leadership. That leadership quality or set of qualities that is their template for how they carry out their role, coming from their knowledge, skills, experience and thinking on leadership.

It is this extraordinary professional strength that, when understood and applied, will carry them into being able to work through those organisational issues that are currently pushing them out the door.

And that will get everyone else’s attention.

The conversations we have to have [Jan 28 2017]

What are we doing about policy, advocacy and the next generation?

I’ve been meeting with early and middle childhood professionals who work with children 0-13 yrs. They are learning more about how policy is made. Why? Because they want to contribute.

[Can you imagine how it feels to meet with a group – some very new to their roles – who are so into making a contribution to their profession!]

They describe what they want to be able to say when policy is open for comment, such as when submissions are called for. Some spoke about how it feels to stumble over questions and others about doubting that your input is good enough. One described feeling ‘small’ when she mixed up the government agencies. Another described the emotion she felt when a known group told her to contribute to their submission – but then she couldn’t find anything like her ideas in that submission.

So we talked about how government works, about government structures and processes, how policy and regulation is made and about advocacy and professionalism and how they can contribute.

We practiced and debated some current hot topics. [More on those next time] We talked about being a passive and active policy consumer. We also got into the power of language.
.
After this discussion, I have to ask: When we talk about being inclusive in our profession, are we including our peers? Is it enough to expect them to participate or can we do better at empowering them to include themselves?

I am thinking – Next time there is a meeting, take someone new, but explain how things work and describe the ways that they can be involved.

So why did these folks want to come and talk about all of this? One of them heard me say to a young colleague at a meeting ‘You have things to say  – speak up’ Her friend turned to me, looked me in the eye and responded ‘How?’.

More on those hot topics next time – its nearly February and the ‘Weekly Review’, which was held over till the year got underway, is about to start – Talk then

The children’s services sector conversation [Jan 6 2017]

I have been tweeting over the last few days about a series of meetings with Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), Family Day Care (FDC), Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), School and Health services. These meetings have been with participants specialising in working with children 0-13 years.

The meetings came out of conversations about government policy. Our goal is to look at how we can create a seamless environment for each child within current child and family policies, and learn what policy changes are needed to make our work easier.

We started with looking at what are our shared and differing professional languages and what our shared and differing professional rules are.

It was an agreed safe discussion environment. There was no project at stake. There were no funders in the room to impress. No competition for grants or tenders. There was no hoarding of information or knowledge. It was a willing and engaged sharing. It was just us.

We have a way to go but my first thoughts are … across children’s services we will struggle with working together until we all have more meetings like these.

My first ‘take away’ was that children’s services displayed a range of assumptions about what ‘others’ are doing and how ‘they’ are doing it. Many of the roadblocks are not policy (or organisational) roadblocks, they result from assumptions made about other professional groups.

We are not at the stage of scoping policy coverage and assessing policy gaps – that will come as we complete this first stage – however these discussions have the potential to impact on our practice as well as policy discussions with government, and are a worthwhile investment in time and energy.

I will let you know how the next meetings go.

What is coming up on this website?

2017 Trending in children’s services this week

  • A new, news services
  • Relevant, current , useful, informative
  • Great for those who need to know. 

2016 Annual Summary

The 2016 trends were taken from a sweep of:

  • On-line forums in Australia
  • Facebook pages
  • Sector organisation’s published meeting notes/news
  • Input from a selection of business sites on sector related topics.
  • Reading through the latest reports from government and the sector
  • Credible new stories.

In 2016, the biggest trends in children’s services topics in media and online have been:

1. Providers: Viability, ownership trends, business costs, quality

2. Parents: Quality, adequate places, affordability

3. Managers: Quality, HR, viability

4. Staff: Remuneration, career growth, leaving

5. Policy: Subsidy structures, eligibility, what quality education means, the importance of early childhood

2017 is finally getting itself under way. From next week,  I will be publishing a new weekly update with a new analysis section here and on my LinkedIn page.

More soon

Doreen