A Sacred Space shares the reflections of Karin Hill, Educational Leader at Petit Early Learning Journey Murwillumbah. Karin reflects on her experience in the educational leadership role, beginning several years ago and how it has evolved today.
The role of the Educational Leader is legislated in the National Quality Standard (NQS) under Quality Area 7 – Governance and Leadership and focuses on the administrative and leadership systems. The ACECQA describes Educational Leaders as “agents of change” with its value extending into all areas of the NQS.
Despite being an integral part in the delivery of quality education and care, many Educational Leaders receive the standard minimum of 2 to 4 hours non-contact time due to restrictions with room ratios. As a result, practitioners and researchers view the role as a time-poor position.
Karin’s reflection addresses:
- Past experiences as an Educational Leader with minimum non-contact time.
- Being an Educational Leader at Petit ELJ.
- The Petit ELJ orientation.
- A whole centre approach to pedagogy and goals.
- An emphasis on collaboration and leadership.
- Adaptability and a focus on continual improvement.
- Moving beyond the cycle of learning in Quality Area 7.
- Advocating for changes to educational leadership.
Karin’s reflection on the educational leadership role
My journey as an Educational Leader began several years ago in a different setting to where I am now. The dual job description was for a Preschool Teacher and an Educational Leader.
Programming time for the preschool position was 2 hours per week, as was the Educational Leader role. The training I received for this role came from working alongside an Educational Leader in a team-teaching position.
When I began, I received a job description and was then mostly left to my own devices to interpret that role, prioritise tasks and manage my time. As time progressed, I was also asked to become an Assistant Director with no additional time off the floor unless the Centre Director was absent.
Wearing three different hats took its toll. The conflicting priorities became hard to reconcile. When time allocations were poor, I found it hard to decide how best to spend my non-contact time. Do I use it to program for preschool? Or do I spend it looking through documentation?
In my best efforts to be effective I constructed a “tick and flick” approach to my Educational Leader role. I cringe when I think about it, but it had its place. I would spend my limited time circulating the studios, checking off documentation, environment and pedagogy.
When I spoke to staff it was usually followed by asking them to sign here and date there so I could keep track of progress. I tried my best to have deeper conversations on my lunch breaks, but I was burning out.
I felt like I wasn’t doing any role well. And the feeling that I was letting down children, families and colleagues was overwhelming. So, I threw away all those hats and jumped in a caravan to travel around Australia for a year with my most precious hat, that of a mum and a wife.
That year gave me time to reconnect with my passions, values, identity and philosophy. I slowed everything down. I took time to do things well, discarding the things I didn’t need. And I found my joy again.
The year ended and it was time to look for work again. I made a promise to myself to not return to the same way of being.
I still remember one of the first conversations I had with Petit ELJ’s Education & Practice Advisor as she described the role of Educational Leader. She used terms like:
- “Stand alone position”
- “Dedicated time out of ratio”
- “Regular professional development”
- “Leadership network meetings”
- “External consultant”
It felt like she had taken my last year of critical reflection and tailored a position just for me.
Over the last year I have found Petit ELJ to be true to their word. While the reality of working in early childhood can sometimes limit time allocations, the role of Educational Leader still feels valued.
On commencement, I had a full day orientation to policies and procedures. This was followed by 2 days above ratio hours to get to know the children and staff, look into my job description and organise myself.
The following week I joined an online network meeting with other Educational Leaders and shortly after a professional development meeting with Kelly Goodsir from KG Learning, one of Petit ELJ’s sector expert partners, where we talked about our centre’s annual curriculum goal.
Expecting to go straight back into ratio, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that these meetings were not included in my Educational Leader time. The rest of the afternoon was spent putting what I had learnt into practice and discussing it with my centre leadership team.
A few days later, I received in the post an “Educational Leadership Guide” developed in connection with Kelly Goodsir. It was filled to the brim with coaching tools and support to guide my work. And then the Education & Practice Advisor told me that both she and Kelly Goodsir would be visiting our centre soon.
I panicked. Unsure of what they would be looking for and wishing I had my checklist in place, I went to my Centre Director and Assistant Director to discuss my concerns. They not only reassured me, but spent the time talking it all through with me, so when my visitors arrived I had the confidence to show them around.
Kelly Goodsir and our Education & Practice Advisor spent the whole day with me, walking through the rooms and talking with educators. I gained insights into their philosophy and values and I saw the importance of collaboration. I took note of the respect they gave to every child and educator on the way.
They also talked me through the “Guide” and their style of documenting the program. With such a well-planned induction into my new role at Petit ELJ, I was given the tools that I needed to really succeed.
The images above and below are two examples from a working document that I was able to implement: A curriculum goal in the form of a floor book.
And in keeping with Petit ELJ philosophy it is a place where the whole centre collaborates in reflecting on one area for educational leadership development. This ensures we are all moving together towards a common goal, sharing ideas and challenges and documenting our journey as we go.
After meeting with the Educational & Practice Advisor and Kelly, I reflected upon the impact of that orientation and shared it in a letter:
Dear Kelly and Tanya,
Thank you for visiting us at Murwillumbah on Friday. I feel a lot of gratitude at the moment, and thought I would express that ‘formally’, sometimes it’s nice to know how we make a difference to others.
Firstly I appreciate the position created here at Petit. You are unique in how you value Educational Leadership and quality pedagogy. This is evident in the time given to Ed Leaders to complete their goals and the support given to mentor us, as we mentor others, both interpersonally and through documentation. I have never stepped into a centre before and had such a thorough induction! The videos, checklists, guides, and research resources available are phenomenal (along with time to become familiar with them and navigate them at my own pace and learning style!).
But what really shines are the people, so much knowledge and patience, so much passion and understanding.
I have worked through the era of checklists and standards, assessors and directors, routines and regiment. However, I have also seen ‘the before’, when childcare was messy but fun. We may have been babysitters but without the professional label, playing with children was the most important thing in our day. The team at Petit Murwillumbah are finally at a place where the pendulum will stop swinging. No longer looking for what is the right answer, or the right way of teaching, but what feels like quality, care and growth.
Honestly, I feel like I will be learning alongside my colleagues. Many of the ideas and practices you spoke of I have used before (some recently), which is why I am so excited to be in this role. To be inspired and share that inspiration with others in the moment is exciting. For a long time my head and my passions have been ill-aligned with my practices. Finally I feel the breathing room to try new things and explore quality pedagogy. I feel like I don’t have to have all of the answers. Which, as I embark on my role as Ed Leader might seem counter intuitive, but I believe is a great place to start.
I can’t wait to begin this journey.
Inspired by Sir Kevan Collins’ Keynote Speech and Anne Hollands’ Australian Keynote Speech at last year’s ECA National Conference our centre leadership team collaborated on the idea of a “Covid Recovery Plan”.
It turned out that 2022 came with its own agenda and our community was hit hard by flooding. Thankfully our centre was not physically affected, other than having no power and being isolated for a week, unable to open, and weeks of no phone lines or internet.
So our COVID recovery action plan became a Recovery Action Plan.
This past year has thrown a myriad of challenges our way, and we were so lucky to have started that year having brainstormed together as a centre leadership team, strategies that would connect us as a community and support each other through unprecedented times.
One point to make here is that the challenges that came about from COVID and the floods were not necessarily unique. They were however exacerbated heavily by the situation and the temporary closures of the centre.
As we started, we created a vision board using some key words. We reflected on the strategies that we were developing and putting in place and how they would strengthen both our pedagogy and our community connections. Regardless of what was to come this would be a positive outcome.
The above photo highlights for me how those rough times polished us. We were able to invite those who helped us get through those tough times and thank them, establishing some beautiful authentic community connections in the process.
The main reason I highlight our centre’s struggles over the past two years, is that it has reinforced my belief in the role of a stand alone Educational Leader.
With the sacred space I have been given to guide our team, I have been able to broaden my lens and move beyond the cycle of learning.
As a part of our centre leadership team, I have spent time:
- Cooking for families that had lost everything in the flood.
- Creating a donation hub within the service.
- Researching mental health support systems for families and educators.
- Holding Zoom meetings with families and teams.
- Connecting with local community centres.
- Offering a safe space for Indigenous community playgroups.
- Connecting with the Australian Army and inviting them in.
- Collaborating with our rooms’ teams on their programs to support the children through these challenging times.
All of this has been in addition to supporting the rooms and educators as we move towards our curriculum goal of developing our skills and knowledge around the programming cycle and documentation.
I could not have achieved this without the support and collaboration of my leadership team, and the support and backing of an educational service that highly values the role of Educational Leader and a committed and passionate educator team.
The embedded systems and structures that helped include:
- Online platforms including our Learning Management System.
- A strong collaborative leadership team.
- Assistance and encouragement from the Petit ELJ Support Office team..
- A committed and passionate team.
- Building stronger connections with our families and the broader community.
- Having a stand alone Educational Leader who could focus on the “bigger picture” and provide support where needed.
As greedy as it sounds after describing my current experience at Petit ELJ, I will always aspire to higher quality and advocate for the profession and educational leadership. And so I “embrace a combination of hard work and magical thinking”.
My utopia or wish for the Educational Leader role is to:
- Be full-time above ratio.
- Have opportunities for mentoring.
- Work alongside other Educational Leaders.
- Manage an individual budget for resources and training.
- Gain a deeper understanding from the whole sector and broader community as to the value of the Educational Leader role.
These are just a few ideas I hope our profession moves towards in the not too distant future.
I include these in the knowledge that as an organisation Petit ELJ are always moving towards world class quality in early childhood education and care. Supporting the sacred role of educational leadership is integral to their philosophy.
Advocate for world class early childhood education and care with Petit Early Learning Journey
Are you an educator who is passionate about leading the way in quality improvement and meaningful change in the early childhood education and care sector? At Petit ELJ we support our teams through a rich philosophy built on trust, collaboration, partnerships, community and engagement.
We provide all centre teams with a thorough induction process, ongoing professional development and learning and emphasise a commitment to a shared approach to pedagogy across all our services.