Archives for category: early childhood

In New Zealand, the New Zealand Teachers Council (http://www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/) is the professional and regulatory body for registered teachers working in early childhood centres.

The purpose of the NZTC is defined in the Education Act (1989) Section 139AA: “To provide professional leadership in teaching, enhance the professional status of teachers in schools and early childhood education, and contribute to a safe and high quality teaching and learning environment for children and other learners.”

One of the key functions of the Council is to set the standards to enter teaching and maintain ongoing membership of the profession. Teacher Registration is one of the paths the NZTC to support the provision of nationally consistent high quality teaching practice for re-registering teachers and provisionally registered teachers.

To support Provisionally Registered Teachers (PRTs) the Council shares guidelines for induction and mentoring available at: http://www.teacherscouncil.co.nz/sites/default/files/Guidelines%20for%20Induction%20and%20Mentoring%20and%20Mentor%20Teachers%202011%20english.pdf

To support re-registering teachers (RRTs) the Council offers information available at: http://www.teacherscouncil.co.nz/content/renewing-full-registration

Some workplaces offer robust support for registering teachers within a framework of policy, a defined process and mentors for each teacher – PRT and RRT.

On the surface teachers at our early childhood centre have good relationships with the parents and extended families of the children who attend. However, surprisingly, we had some mediocre feedback in our parent survey this year. Some reflection and reading about improving our relationships was needed. This article by McGrath seems to be quite helpful with ideas about how to help us improve our relations.

Ambivalent Partners: Power, trust and partnership in relationships between mums and teachers by W McGrath (2007).

The rhetoric is of parents and teachers as partners, is this a reality? Parents and teachers come to the table with different expectations, knowledge and needs, but with a desire to work together. When there is good communication between both parties, accomplishments get acknowledged, little problems don’t tend to become big ones and big problems can be better managed.

When teachers provide information about the child, they bolster parental trust, and parents connect to the child’s experience in the centre. Teachers tend to invest less in trusting parents; power dynamics in interactions with parents fluctuate because the partnership is framed by ambivalence and uncertainty.

Communication Strategies

  1. Communicate regularly: The most familiar forms of communication between parents and early childhood teachers are: personal contact, telephone calls, home visits, parent evenings, open evenings, and afternoon teas. However, the establishment of effective centre-home communication has grown more complex as society has changed. The great diversity among families means that it is not possible to rely on a single method of communication that will reach all homes with a given message. It is essential that a variety of strategies, adapted to the needs of particular families and their schedules, incorporated into an overall plan.

Some strategies to consider include:

    • Introductory pages for teachers on display
    • Parent newsletters
    • Annual open house
    • Parent conference
    • Parent-teacher support group/Facebook page
    • Portfolio’s of child’s learning to go home for parent review and comment
    • Phone calls
    • E-mail or contact through centre website
    • Curriculum nights
    • Home visits (where applicable)
    • Annual school calendars/ photos
    • Inserts in local newspapers
    • Annual grandparents or “special persons” days
    • Annual field days
    • Notices and handouts available in the centre and in local markets, clinics, churches, mosques, temples, or other gathering sites
    • Website for the centre showcasing excellence in practice
    • Workshops for parents
    • Communications that are focused on fathers as well as mothers

Good two-way communication between families and early childhood centres is necessary for children’s success. Not surprisingly, research shows that the more parents and teachers share relevant information with each other about a child, the better equipped both will be to help that child achieve.

Effective communication strategies involve:

  • Initiation: Teachers should initiate contact as soon as they know which children will be in their classroom for the school year. Contact can occur by means of an introductory phone call or a letter to the home introducing yourself to the parents and establishing expectations.
  • Timeliness: Adults should make contact soon after problem identification, so a timely solutions are found. Waiting too long can create new problems, possibly through the frustration of those involved.
  • Consistency and frequency: Parents want frequent, ongoing feedback about how their children are performing
  • Follow-through: Parents and teachers each want to see that the other will actually do what they say they will do.
  • Clarity and usefulness of communication: Parents and teachers should have the information they need to help children, in a form and language that makes sense to them.

Surprise a Parent

Parents are not accustomed to hearing unsolicited positive comments from teachers about their children, especially in a phone call from the centre. Research shows that increased school-home communication occurs through personalized positive contact between teachers and parents such as a phone call.

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Relationships among the five aspects of culture

I subscribe to www.tcrecord.org, and I am not sure how it works but I do know I have gained some great insights into practice from this website. They have just emailed me the highlights of 2012 and when I read one article, it resonated well with me. Although it was about maths and from a school perspective, the discussion around having a collective culture securely focused on improving practice is the concept that stood out.

When I think of the level of quality my new manager wants and why it is so hard to achieve in my context, I wonder if it is based in our reoccurring problems.

Our reoccurring problem is that each teacher does their ‘bit’ – and often do it very well – but we do our ‘bits’ separately. This last year our fortnightly planning meetings have been overtaken by ‘housekeeping’ for various ‘events’ that have happened. 2013 has to be the year we keep the focus on children, learning and teaching. Then and only then will we create a space for collective practice.

I think the reoccurring problem that is not articulated in my centre is that a vision of quality is not visible  or clear to all.

So what to do to improve our culture? We can’t simply ask teachers to change their habits and beliefs. Young (2008) perhaps captured this most clearly when he argued that “curriculum is not just a product of the practices of teachers and pupils or even government policies but a social institution that needs to be understood independently of the individual actions of teachers and policy makers” (p. 11).

So our early childhood centre is a social institution that requires recognition of the complexities influencing centre and room culture. Some aspects of our culture that influence teaching decisions are individual and organizational factors, curricular and instructional decisions, policies, resources, assessment systems professional development and collaborative pathways available to teachers. Professional discretion also plays a role. Coordinating these aspects can only happen once we recognize and grow our practice from understandings of the complex interrelationships that make up our social institution.

http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=16718

Teacher Reflection

We are sharing teachers within in the centre. Teachers migrate for a period to work with another age group.

The reasons behind this are:

  • to ensure children are comfortable with more than one teacher in case of absences
  • building links between the under-two and over-two environments so children’s transitions are managed more smoothly
  • for risk management – fresh eyes can see things that may harm children others have become accustomed to
  • to support a larger self-review project aimed at transitions within and out of the centre in 2013
  • having a broader range of contributions (voices) in children’s portfolios
  • growing professional teachers who have an area of expertise, as well as being experienced in teaching all ages – recognising the Registered Teacher Criteria that all learners are planned for
  • teachers have to articulate their practice clearly as they move, so enduring ideas and practices are discussed and reviewed
  • foregrounding a culture of a Park Avenue team rather than disparate age groups
  • professional challenge contributes to job satisfaction and higher levels of morale
  • as teachers move from one area to another they share ideas, shape and re-shape environments and positively transform learning
  • we want excellence in teaching practice reliably and consistently throughout the centre, learning from other teachers lifts practice
  • teachers use different lenses during their ‘mental migrations’ to support practice
  • teachers collaborate to grow practice by sharing and transferring ideas, strategies and practices – this leads to increased capacity to try new things and innovation in teaching
  • for financial reasons; to reduce our reliance on relievers, if one area is over staffed, all staff are able to work with all children

Personal reflection on having a student for a year

I have found having a student to work with the teaching team for a long period interesting. From a personal viewpoint, it has helped me to articulate my practice, as I have had to explain and justify my teaching actions clearly. I found it harder as time went by, M has shown herself to be a competent reliever so she is often working and it became difficult for us both to fit in even 5 minutes of time together to discuss and support practice and theory.

Professional dialogue to support the place of theory and collaboration in practice often took place in the staff room or by email. To keep using educative mentoring strategies rather than practice ‘tips’ required some careful thought from myself. I think in the future, I require more mindful planning and protecting time with students to ensure my support for graduating teachers does not slip aside. I was lucky as M is capable and did not require intensive support – however it could have been a different story if she had been less competent.

Having a student for longer periods made me really think about my practice. Role modelling sometimes-abstract concepts with young children is difficult; to do this with someone watching and learning is also difficult. I wondered if there are cultural barriers that stopped M from understanding what I meant. Learning can be quite subtle and I often use idioms without thinking! Concepts and values such as good decision-making techniques, admitting mistakes and learning from them, being respectful to others, kindness are important to me. I hope I shared these abstract values with M in a way that she can learn from them.

Ideas for improvement include changes to the portfolio. The portfolio presented to her of the years work has worked well – M liked hers enough to show her family in her home country which is gratifying. However, I need to be more specific about the support given in the entries. Next time I think it would be helpful to include a farewell letter that includes specific accomplishments and strengths.

Teacher Reflection: How we saw 2012

Our monthly evaluation of events leaves a record for us to think about at the end of the year, things to reflect on to improve our learning and teaching for 2013. The monthly reflection also creates a space to think on all the things that we missed in our evaluations and reflections because they were just part of our lives at that time in the toddler room.

During 2012, all the teachers had opportunities to attend professional development tailored to our group and individual learning needs. One teacher attended professional development on children’s schema learning. Because of information sharing from this professional development, we have focused our lens of learning more on children’s schematic knowledge. Professional development around the RIE philosophy from an outside expert who has visited Hungary and trained with Emmi Pikler at Loczy. This learning has deeply supported our understanding of the importance of engaging in respectful care practices with children. Another teacher bought a focus back to planning for each child after her professional development with the University of Auckland’s amazing Paula Orsmby. I used the knowledge she gained from a workshop on developmental disorders with Dr Francis Steinberg to support a child’s referral to GSE. Teacher N attended a workshop on art development with children to support art practice with toddlers and older children. Two of us (me included) attended the rather fabulous Childspace Nature in Nurture Conference in November 2012 and are still digesting the learning from all the workshops attended there. The All Staff PD day in November was with the amazing Stu Guyton and his ‘Wild Circus’ (from Infantastic), he reminded us to find the joy in our days, especially with our very youngest children.

We have used secondment of staff from the Infant and Toddler area to benefit transitioning children, and ensure children always feel they have familiar people to care for and nurture them. Different teachers bring their strengths, M’s focus on calm welcoming and T’s supportive discussions around the different lenses teachers use to assess children’s learning benefited the teaching and learning practices in our toddler room. S finds the different environment enriching and an opportunity to be creative and innovative with her strengths in art and presentation. The feedback from children and parents at having a familiar face with their transitioning child is very positive. Feedback on our portfolios as children moved on is that the variety of voices in them contributes well to growing a broad-spectrum picture of the child. Overall, the seconded staff found it was an enjoyable experience; although some feedback is that they did not feel long rotations are necessary to transition children and gain a full appreciation of how our room functions.

During 2012, we had M a student from New Zealand Tertiary College working with us occasionally; I am her Associate Teacher. M is in demand as a reliever so relieving work covers her weekly hours, rather than volunteering work with us. M had her in-house practicum with us in July.

The teacher-initiated activities are wide and varied, each month they include:
a parent evening with the Brainwave Trust, the Children’s Day Picnic, whānau afternoon tea, Easter, Healthy Heart Award presentation, Mother’s and Father’s Day card making, Physical Activity for Healthy Heart, juicing vegetables, Chinese New Year celebrations, NZ Book Month, St Patricks Day, Guide Dog Day biscuit baking, Anzac Day, NZ Music Month, Guy Fawkes, Matariki Celebration, Tui Garden Challenge, staff Birthday parties, Halloween dress up day, Pyjama day, Diwali celebrations, Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Eid shared afternoon tea, Christmas and cleaning!

The golden threads of child interest that have continued throughout the year have been based around the family corner, transporting, trajectory, sensory play (including transforming and paint), and music and dance. A specific interest in dinosaurs generated by child J has continued all year. The interests that have surfaced and dropped away relate to popular culture (Angelina Ballerina, Ben10 and Spider Man), and the focus specifically on smoke alarms and helicopters
We have visitors from Group Special Education and Occupational Therapists from Starship to support our practice with child S and child V. Referrals completed for GSE are for three children for speech therapy.
Reflections each month have resulted in the strategic purchase of safety mats, new books and large wooden toy trucks. The echo in our room is soaked up with a new bright and large mat. The Tui Garden Challenge – with tremendous support from our retired cook Gaynor – has provided a beautiful garden and wildspace for our children to explore.

Our self-review of toileting and puzzle areas have led to changes in practice and environment.

The final issue demanding the most attention toward the end of 2012 is the quality of our portfolio documentation, ways we can improve it and how we can enable documentation to be more current.
For the last week of 2012, and the first week of 2013 we share our room with the infant and toddler centre while they have renovations to their centre. Sharing this space with the infant centre is both gratifying and frightening.

Possible starting points for discussion in 2013:
• Planning for transitioning children to the preschool area, and from the Infant centre, planning for transitions as a meaningful part of the curriculum, they promote children’s learning, set a positive tone, and help everyone move seamlessly through the day.
• We are also more conscious of the ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ child that may get missed in the hurley-burley of a busy childcare day, a closer focus on the quieter ones

Looking forward to 2013

“It is in the Early Childhood Years that the foundations are laid for the development of environmentally responsible adults” (Elliott and Davis, 2004)

Alison Brierley is an early childhood educator and facilitator for an educational leadership project. She believes we have an obligation to leave this world in at least as good a condition as we inherited it. Alison challenges teachers to respond in innovative ways to some of the environmental challenges that our young children face as the 21st century unfolds.

Click on the link below to see Alison

Environmental Education

Thinking about your outside area? The question to ask is … what learning are we wanting to promote and provoke here? 

I have just attended a wonderful Childspace Conference in Rotorua, New Zealand. (http://www.childspace.co.nz/files/Keynotes.pdf).

Previously we have just indicated our interest in professional development to our supervisor and if there was budget available, off we went. In these tight financial times some early childhood centres are slashing their professional development budgets, working with higher staff: child ratios and economizing on resources. We still have a budget available for staff professional development, however it is tighter than it was for various reasons, not just a whim from our manager. She is dealing with other constraints and pressures as well.

As a result, we now have to justify the expense.

I have found one of the best ways to gain funding and approval to attend a conference or workshop is to align the expected learning to the registered teacher criteria, staff appraisal, personal teaching philosophy, centre philosophy and make a strong written case for attending.

We have invented a professional development reflection form to fill out and staff must report back to a staff meeting after 3 months.

The case for attendance should include a thought around Return on Investment for your early childhood centre.

The return on investment could include:

  • up-to date information on practice
  • information shared via handouts and a short presentation at a staff meeting so others can benefit from attendance
  • trade fair information
  • networking and sharing strategies
  • create a learning action plan to show how you will utilize the skills gained

Ideas to influence positively for attendance at a particular professional development session:

  • plan the roster so your absence is covered if the workshop is during work time (in NZ most early childhood professional development is at night – outside of working hours and is an expected way of developing professionally)
  • offer to share a room or carpool to reduce expenses
  • performance appraisal indicates improvement is needed
  • to benchmark the status of improvement in a performance improvement effort
  • as part of an overall professional development plan
  • as part of succession planning
  • to train about a specific topic
  • to test a new performance management system

Reasons you should go are:

  • increased job satisfaction
  • higher levels of morale
  • increased efficiencies in processes
  • increased capacity to try new technologies and methods
  • increased teaching innovations
  • Reduced employee turnover
  • Enhanced company reputation as a good place to work – to attract high quality staff
  • Risk management, e.g., training about sexual harassment, Treaty of Waitangi training  diversity training

Our Pilot form

What motivates you to attend this professional development course?

What type of knowledge are you seeking and what knowledge do you value?

How will this professional development affect you as a teacher?

How will it affect children’s learning?

How will you use what you have learned

How will this professional development course affect centre environment and other staff learning?

 Provide evidence after 3 months to discuss in a staff meeting:

What was the impact of this workshop on your development as a teacher?

How did this professional development extend children’s learning, development and increase positive learning outcomes for children?

How did this professional development help other staff members to improve their skills and practices?

 

This reflection is a start to encourage staff to be selective and reflective about the professional development courses we attend.

Staff need to link all professional development to staff appraisal, centre philosophy and personal teaching philosophy.

My early childhood centre is looking at our pedagogical documentation with a view to improving it. As part of my focus on improving my pedagogical documentation, I have been reading Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee’s book Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education (2012). I have found reading the book has clarified and strengthened my understandings of this local form of assessment.

In New Zealand early childhood centres, assessment of child learning often takes the form of Learning Stories. The technique requires teachers to observe children and write narrative ‘stories’ to show the learning that is occurring in particular situations.

We use Learning Stories to:

  • help make connections with family/whānau
  • include children and family/whānau voices
  • tell stories about infants
  • allow children to dictate their own stories
  • to revisit children’s learning journey
  • to expand teaching and learning wisdom in our own context
  • to construct teacher and learner identity
  • to connect socio-cultural approaches to pedagogy and assessment and narrative inquiry

Blaiklock (2008) discusses a number of concerns about the value of Learning Stories for assessing children’s learning. His concerns stem from an earlier focus on assessing children’s dispositions for learning rather than describing their knowledge and skill levels. He considers teachers have difficulty with establishing the validity or accountability of Learning Stories, problems with making subjective interpretations based on short observations; a lack of guidance on where, when and how often to make Learning Stories; problems with defining and assessing learning dispositions; and difficulties in using Learning Stories to show changes in children’s learning over time.

Directions for Assessment in New Zealand (2009) argues that valid interpretations and decisions are based in descriptive (the observation part) and prescriptive (the ‘what next’ part) writing. The decisions and actions that flow from the observation – they must be defensible in their consequences. Validity is a consequence of both parts – if the ‘what next’ is detrimental to learning, if the descriptive observation misses the point … the assessment lacks validity. Strong assessment practices and understandings of the valid assessment strengthen the validity of interpretations and consequences of teaching and learning.

A learning story is a divergent form of assessment. The narrative of the learning story emphasises the way in which the child has engaged in what may be a new way of learning and acting; this legitimates the possible self.

You can read about Wendy Lee and her amazing learning journey at the Educational Leadership Project website. Just click on the link: Educational Leadership Project

 

Our new manager wants us to be a centre of excellence. However we have been working toward improving things over time. When I first started at this early childhood centre, Gaynor, our cook was working towards foregrounding healthy eating. It has taken time to establish vegetable gardens, a policy framework, and gain a gold standard Healthy Heart Award (Given by the New Zealand Heart Foundation).

Thanks to Daniel Goleman’s new book on Ecoliteracy for help with reflection and writing. It is still a work in progress so will change over time.

Pathways that began our change process:

  • We used reflection over time to move our practices from piecemeal to systemic
  • We made good progress due to dogged determination; in the beginning the process was driven by Gaynor (our cook) then other staff came on board
  • We feel food literacy equals sustainable educational practices and a healthy environment
  1. Policy Framework to support the initiative: Nutrition policy, Physical Activity Policy, Breast Feeding Policy, Lunch Box Policy, Wellness Policy (TBA)
  2. Teaching and learning: Hands on learning and growing, harvesting, preparing, and eating experiences grow knowledge, skills and attitudes about food, culture, health and the environment. Children assist with meal preparation peeling corn, peeling other vegetables, shelling peas and juicing fruit. Children also scoop Feijoa and Kiwifruit to eat. As well as healthy eating and food preparation skills, we believe this supports fine motor skill development and coordination.
  3. Whānau (family) Involvement: Sharing information through newsletters; inviting parent feedback to our menu changes. Our cook is flexible and able to change the menu when parents make positive suggestions or have special dietary requirements. Parents and family often ask for recipes, recipes from www.vegetables.co.nz  are shared regularly in monthly newsletters. Parents bring excess vegetable and fruit from their gardens. When we have celebrations, parents bring a plate of healthy food to share.
  4. The Dining Experience: A welcoming safe environment that values an atmosphere of healthy eating and positive social interaction
  5. Procurement: Our menus prioritizes fresh, seasonal, sustainably grown food grown from local and regional sources
  6. Facilities: Our view of children as competent is reflected in our use of crockery and drinking glasses. We have a well-equipped kitchen with a Children’s Cooking Box containing peelers, squeezers and stirrers to ensure fresh food can be prepared and reinforce healthy food lessons. Children’s emerging interests can be planned for and supported quickly
  7. Waste Management: A mindfulness around the concept of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We have a worm farm, compost bin and plastic recycling to help children to learn and understand the need to conserve natural resources. Paper recycling is the latest initiative.
  8. Finances: Strategic budgeting and care when choosing resources ensures viability and long-term sustainability of the programme
  9. Professional Development: SPARC, Healthy Heart Workshops, Vice-Chancellors Lecture Series 2011, Basic Hygiene Certificates,
  10. Marketing and Communication: The focus on Healthy Body, Healthy Mind has contributed to the advertised ‘flavour’ of our centre
  11. Centre Philosophy: The centre philosophy requires the addition of explicit reference to our focus on healthy food. The only reference is a focus on the holistic nature of early childhood education.

    Our focus is on providing for and nurturing the whole child, their emotional, social physical and cognitive skills. Our aim is that children grow as competent and confident learners, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge, they make a valued contribution to society.

  12. Centre Culture:   TBC                 

 

ü  Changing thinking takes time, patience and a firm view of our centre philosophy

ü  Building long-term sustainability into the culture of the centre