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.
24-year-old Ellyn Taylor entered the following personal submission in the Rising Star Award category.
1. WELLBEING: Have you identified a specific need (developmental, emotional, social and/or physical wellbeing) in a child/group of children you care for? Describe what you have done to meet this need, including the impact this has had on the children/families. (max 200 words)
One child in my group demonstrated some challenging behaviours which led me to have some concerns regarding his development. Drawing on my previous experience with children with Asperger’s Syndrome, I approached the child’s family. Together, we began to document the specific behaviours of concern that we had, and I was able to inform the family how to go about having their child formally assessed. Because of my support and the information I had gathered and shared with the child’s family and paediatrician, they were able to seek a formal assessment and received a diagnosis. This allowed us to develop an Individual Support Plan for the child together, which greatly improved his wellbeing, happiness and participation in the service’s program. It also came as a huge relief to his family, who were grateful for my assistance in helping them understand their child’s needs and reassuring them that he was not being “naughty”. The family and the child then moved away from the area and asked me to forward their son’s information to his new service. This sharing of information allowed continuity of care for the child as he moved into a new service without having to “start over”.
2. PROGRAMMING: Describe one innovative change you have made/helped to make to the children’s program that has scaffolded learning and provided authentic experiences for the children. (max 200 words)
The biggest change I have made to the program has been the development of our Learning Tree. Previously, our educational program was displayed on an A4 piece of paper, and simply documented what activities and resources were planned for that week. After much reflection, I changed the program to a large Learning Tree that is displayed prominently. This tree is large enough for all families to see and has colour-coded leaves for child, family or educator-inspired experiences. Each day, the tree is added to with new leaves and a small narrative about the experience and where it will lead. This program therefore allows all families, educators and children to access and contribute to the program on a daily basis; it has become a living, evolving part of our service rather than just a piece of paper in the office that lists the resources needed for the week. It also allows children a great deal more choice in their environment. Previously, we used to have the centre completely set up for when children arrived. Now, they are given the freedom to choose what they’d like to explore, and help us add it to the tree (and to the classroom or yard)!
3. SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS: Have you identified in your service an area that you consider could be improved (physical space, operations, structure etc)? How would you go about doing this or, if you have already started, describe your involvement. (max 200 words)
In mid 2013, I was reflecting upon our current families and some feedback I had received about the gradual loss of a sense of “community” within the service. With this in mind, I approached my Director to discuss the possibility of creating a “social” calendar for all our families and friends throughout the year – times for families, friends, educators and children to get together outside of our normal hours to socialize, get to know each other, develop stronger relationships, have fun, and revive the all-important sense of community and family within the service. My Director agreed and I was tasked with creating the Avalon Beach House Preschool Social Calendar. We now have one social event per month, either on a Friday night or a Saturday. There are a range of events: Pizza & Movie Nights, Discos, BBQ Days, etc. These events are allowing families to meet each other, and more importantly, they are allowing educators and families to build stronger, more genuine bonds that enhance the sense of community within the centre.
4. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Describe your studies in early childhood education. Explain if a specific pedagogy, theory or unit of study has influenced your understanding and practice. What/who influenced you to enter a career as an early year’s educator? (max 200 words)
I am not ashamed to admit that I “fell into” Early Childhood Education and Care when I was 19 and had little idea of what I wanted to do with my life. It did not take long, however, for me to fall in love with it! I now can’t imagine doing anything else, and am excited and eager to go to “work” every day. In 2013, I received notification that I had completed the prerequisite units of competency via RPL to enter into my Diploma studies. Whilst completing my Diploma via RPL has been somewhat delayed due to changes within the RTO through which I am completing it, I am proud to say I will have completed it by the end of May this year. Whilst I do enjoy the course content, I find I gain more benefit through additional reading and research I complete for my own knowledge; particularly, I have a strong interest in the Reggio Emilia philosophy and the pedagogies underpinning this approach and I therefore attempt to incorporate this into my day to day practice as an educator.
5. FAMILY PARTNERSHIPS: Describe your community of families and the steps that you have taken to build and encourage interaction between families and your service. What, if any, challenges did you face and were they overcome? What benefits did you achieve? (max 200 words)
Our family community is a very tight-knit one, as our suburb is a small at the northern end of the Pittwater/Peninsula area. Our educators and families often interact with each other outside of the service – we often run into parents and families at the gym, when out and about, or when doing the grocery shopping! As such, we try to encourage a strong community feel within the service; however, it is not always a simple task due to the busy working and family lives our families lead – many parents are simply too busy to come to the service and get involved during a normal working day. Consequently, I implemented a family social calendar (see above – Question 3) packed with events and activities to allow our families to interact and become involved with the service outside of our regular hours. Consequently, family involvement has increased immensely: we receive donations of a wide range of resources from families; families encourage extended family member (eg grandparents) to visit wherever possible; families offer us their specialist services (eg website maintenance) and we even help “babysit” family pets (and they occasionally mind ours) over holiday periods!
6. FUTURE PLANS
These awards can create opportunities even for those who do not win (eg networking, PR, 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)
Merely being nominated in these awards is a wonderful privilege and is a lovely way to be recognised for the work I do. Having been nominated, I see several professional opportunities that may arise. I’d like to use my nomination not as an “end-point” for my learning and practices as an educator, but as a stepping-off point. Being involved in these awards has inspired me to think critically about every aspect of my practise; it has also encouraged me to reflect upon what it is I offer to both families, children, my peers and the ECEC industry as a whole. Consequently, I have been immersing myself in further independent research as I strive to gain more information regarding best practice, both in Australia and on the world stage (Europe’s “forest kindy” concept is one I am currently researching with a view to implementing!). Additionally, the networking opportunities that can arise are some I am particularly excited about. The awards allow me to gather information on current industry leaders in Australia; I am very eager to form some connections with both the individuals and services who achieve successes in these awards, in order to foster professional learning relationships with them.
What are your career/professional goals for the next 3-5 years? If you were to win the National Rising Star Award, what would you do with the prize ($4000 One World for Children training grant and $4000 professional development grant)? (max 200 words)
My career goals for the next 3 to 5 years are to further immerse myself in the world of Early Childhood Education and Care in a variety of different settings and services, and to further my professional knowledge and formal training. I would like to gain my Advanced Diploma upon completing my Diploma, as I would relish the opportunity to extend my knowledge not only of the “education and care” side of the industry, but also the administrative and managerial side – winning a $4000 One World For Children grant would certainly assist me in achieving this goal. I am also eager to complete professional development across a wide range of areas; in particular, I am eager to learn more about working with ATSI children and families, as it is a goal of mine to spend some time working in remote indigenous communities in order to achieve greater, culturally sensitive outcomes for children in these areas. In five years, I hope to be challenging myself by working with children and families in a remote community, whilst also working towards gaining my ECT.