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Early Education and Care Awards

Bobbi Wheeler AA A

Each nominee in the 2014 Early Education & Care Awards was invited to submit answers to five questions based on ACECQA's 7 Quality Areas, and also to discuss their future plans.  

To gain an insight into why Bobbi Wheeler won the title of National Director of the Year, read her personal submission which earned her selection as State Winner.

1. WELLBEING: Describe a specific strategy that you have put in place that has had a powerful and positive impact on the emotional, social and/or physical wellbeing of a child or group of children. What specific targets/needs did you identify? How did you measure the progress of this initiative in terms of its impact on the child/ren? (max 200 words)
Through reflective practice I identified that there were a number of children whose behaviours became challenging during transitional times of the day. I also identified that settling in processes could be smoother and support children’s sense of belonging far greater. I have implemented visual routine cards and visual workstations. This initiative although inspired by a few has been implemented with the whole group to maintain our inclusive ethos. Using visual cues has dramatically lowered the anxiety levels of new children to the group, with a greater awareness and understanding of the day ahead. The children use the visual timetable freely throughout the day and it has been observed that the children who demonstrated the most difficulty during transitions or with settling into activities have significantly improved now demonstrating a far stronger sense of calm and self. All children however have responded positively. Despite the visual routine and activity cards being in place this does not deter away from our capacity to work specifically to the children’s needs. The children have been taught to identify feelings of hunger, thirst and tiredness and are aware that they can eat, sleep, drink or rest whenever they require throughout the day.

2. PROGRAMMING: Describe one innovative change made to the children’s program that has scaffolded learning and provided authentic experiences for the children (either by you personally or by a team under your direction). Describe how this met a particular outcome of the EYLF.(max 200 words)
Stepping Stones is a unique 3 year old program, implemented in January 2014. Stepping stones connects the children, families, communities with the centre and creates a holistic curriculum working in harmony with the Early Years Learning Framework. With sole purpose to make Early Years Education relevant, authentic and purposeful. The children’s ideas and interests, their experiences both within the centre and at home are all taken into consideration, from these observations and discussions we create learning adventures. Our curriculum has incorporated, arachnids and volcanoes from the North Pole to Africa, our educators think outside of the box, creating work stations and environments for the children to explore discover and imagine within. Our emphasis on the creative arts sees children developing key skills including literacy, numeracy and social skills through art, drama, music and dance. Learning Adventures provide flexibility to move with the children’s ideas, knowledge, understanding and skills are observed and recorded and children’s portfolios are created to show the many Learning Adventures that children travel – taking different paths choosing their own stepping stones but ultimately always achieving. Our program meets the outcome that ‘children are confident and involved learners’ by planning learning environments that flexible-open ended, challenging and encourage individual and group exploration.

3. SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS: Discuss a project that you as a leader have introduced to and implemented within the centre/service* that has been significant in its impact on service delivery. Provide an overview of the project’s intent, process and outcome *For FDC focus on the operations and coordination process improvements you have made to your scheme.(max 200 words)
2 years ago the centre was weeks away from closure, my project has been to work closely with the committee, listen to the community and work inside all relevant legislations and frameworks to sustain a centre that forms a vital resource in our rural setting. After undertaking an analysis of the
business I identified some key administrative and staffing Issues. We began training, gaining a grant to employ another qualified to work with the girls on the floor. As a team we have drawn up redevelopment plans for the whole centre. Last year raising money to upgrade our kitchen and open up the rooms providing more play space for our children. From only 1 permanent member of staff in 2012 we now have 5 permanent full time staff and 2 casuals. Each member of staff is now working towards a qualification in childcare. I have set up community partnerships including a program called ‘bridging the gap’ with regular excursions and events with the local nursing home the children often make gifts for the residents, go for morning tea, fun, games and singing. I believe that the changes we have made have increased our sustainability and given significant value and much needed recognition to our industry and the hard work each and every one of our educators puts in.

4. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: What do you do to foster a community of learning (eg professional conversations, mentoring, networking, courses, research, grants etc). As part of this, describe the knowledge you have created and shared with your peers/professional learning network. How has this made an observable difference in the way your staff members conduct their working lives? (max 200 words)
I believe strongly in professional development and it definitely has been harder to access training courses but we have some strategies in place. We have staff meetings as often as possible, usually fortnightly where we discuss our programming and practices, we use reflective practice to discuss issues and achievements and work together to problem solve and congratulate each other. We use research and articles to develop our practice having open discussions about current issues relevant to the sector. Staff are encouraged to research issues themselves and bring it back to the team to share and discuss. As much as possible we apply for grants for training in Perth and send the staff to as much on site training as possible. It can be difficult working with staff who are mothers and live on farms especially during certain times of the years it is just not possible for them to get away for training. We access Childcare Association WA, Child Australia and One World for Children for training. We have accessed centre consults through Child Australia which I feel is really beneficial, having feedback from within our centre is great for the staff and helps to keep us on track. The outcome of maintaining a positive ethos when it comes to training and development is that it raises staff confidence and moral. It educates and Inspires and is definitely observable in the way the staff conduct themselves.

5. FAMILY PARTNERSHIPS: Describe your community of families and the strategies you use, as the Director/Scheme Manager, to build and encourage interaction between families and your service. What, if any, challenges have you faced and were they overcome? What benefits have you achieved? (max 200 words)
With the major developments in childcare and education over the last 2 years one of the most challenging aspects of parent and community partnerships was increasing the awareness and knowledge that we were or certainly could be much more than a drop off or babysitting service. The first step was working alongside the committee, talking with them about the importance of the Early Years, firstly educating the people directly connected with the centre, demonstrating the planning, programming and outcomes that we were implementing every day. Once the committee understood the potential of the centre we worked as a team, I put forward a presentation to the Shire, explaining our status in the community, the importance of our service and the positive changes that had happened over the past year. The committee spoke about the centre throughout the community in social groups, sporting groups and play groups. We started to see higher levels of interest, more people were coming to us not only for care and education but also for support. Now although we are not full we have a far greater number of children and families utilising our
service, we are a kinder loop centre, sharing our learning adventures with our families every day. Our staff work directly with our families understanding the positive impacts of partnerships and providing daily opportunities for the childrens learning to be extended at home. We love to share all of our experiences with our families and have an open door policy and flexible transitions to suit any family.

6.  Describe future plans
These awards can create opportunities even for those who do not win (eg networking, promotion, reflective practice etc). What opportunities do you see for yourself as a result of being involved in the awards and how might you use these opportunities professionally? (max 200 words)
I believe that to be a part of these awards is important for the sector to be recognised. I think that it is an amazing chance for us as educators and directors to share our experiences, collaborate and work together. For our centre I think it has been great to see parents considering us for the awards to really take time to think about the service that we offer and the abilities of our staff and to take their time to sit down and nominate myself and the staff means a lot.

What are your career/professional goals for the next 3-5 years? If you were to win the National Director of the Year Award, what would you do with the prize money ($4,000 One World for Children training grant and $4,000 PD grant)? (max 200 words)
I would love to use the money to train further to become a recognised Early Education Teacher. I would use the money for personal development to gain greater knowledge and train specifically in additional needs, programming and inclusive care.