Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Art of Being a Relief Educator

So casual work? Relief work? Subbing? Temping? Whatever it’s called ... It’s an art form.

I did a shout out on a few networking groups and asked what advice there was for people who work as relief educators or what they appreciate from a relief educator ... Here were their answers (plus a few of my own offerings!) ... They are in no particular order ...

  • Remember as many names as you can. One strategy was to try and link the names of the children to people you already know or to ask the older children to quiz you on their names – this makes a fun game out of it. And we all know that children love games!
  • Use your initiative throughout the day. It’s the little things that add up and count in the long run.  Examples of this could be:
  • Be available to work! If you’re not able to work for a while, or if you’re on a holiday, or doing a block of relief work somewhere else, please communicate this to who you work for.
  • Arrive on time if you were booked in advance.
  • Plan your trip online, double check your GPS!
  • If you were booked at the last minute, when you arrive, be calm! Don’t be in a frazzle because you’re late. You were expected to be late as you were booked at the last minute. It’s ok! Relax! Start your day off cool, calm, and collected.
  • Answer the phone ... and say yes as often as you can
  • Be approachable to everyone: children, educators, parents.
  • Greet people – say hello and smile and introduce yourself when you can. “Hello, my name is Holly and I’m an educator working with the children today.”
  • A name badge would be a nice touch – I’m shocking at remembering names. I try by my brain doesn’t work with me on this!
  • Speak to the staff and ask for guidance. Respect the permanent staff’s expertise in the routines, the service and the children. Qualifications do not an expert make ;) .
  • Work closely with the educators in the room and centre to try and support them in maintaining a flow for the routine.
  • Be aware of the service’s philosophy. You don’t need to know it back to front, but have a general idea of who they are and what they are about.
  • Ask about any children with dietary issues or allergy issues – where is the documentation kept so that you can access it if you are concerned a child is unwell.
  • Wipe noses, and do it with the utmost respect – How would you feel if some random stranger came up behind you from nowhere and wiped your nose? Seriously think about it ... Creepy much?  I suggest you also ask the child before you do: “Would you like me to help you wipe your nose?” (I used to be a random creepy from behind nose wiper! I own it! I’ve moved on!)
  • Sweep the floor – is it messy? Grab a broom and a dustpan and tidy that mess up.
  • Wipe tables down after they’ve been used – is their caked on glue? A smear of weetbix from breakfast? Wipe it up! Even if the mess isn’t from you, it shows that you care and you’re making an effort.
  • Don’t spend all your time cleaning! I know I just suggested you show initiative and clean – but if you’re spending your whole time face down sweeping around the sandpit then you’re not engaging with children which should be the priority.
  • Engaging with children is the biggest and the bestest part of ‘supervision’.
  • Be a team player ... work as part of the team, look listen learn and take on responsibility.
  • Be open and willing to learn ... the services’ way may not be your way, but you’re there to support them as they enact their philosophy and practice. You are a support person ... do what you can. Even when you don’t agree.
  • Be committed to the children and their well-being.
  • Role model sun protection – wear a suitable sun protective hat – with a wide brim and sunscreen if you’re able to.
  • Read professional journals and quality early childhood blogs.
  • Engage in ongoing learning and professional development! Keep current and expand your knowledge and understanding and where possible network with others to consolidate this critical learning and thinking. 

  • Have a bag of your own resources:
  • Children’s story books that you are familiar with,
  • A bag or box of novelty items that you can use to capture the children’s interest and engage with them. Shannon suggested Goldilocks & the Three Bears using real figures which she says works a treat! Simple but effective.
  • A bag of magic play-dough (check for wheat allergies first!)
  • CDs or an device with music and portable speakers
  • Puppets and songs,
  • a pencil case with textas, pencils, scissors, and glue sticks,
  • finger paints and cotton buds (Sarah recommends a Faber Castell set that she swears by) and you throw the cotton buds away when you’re done.
  • Unusual and beautiful art supplies – washi tape and collage materials
  • Spare gloves – you’d be surprised and you don’t want to be caught out at an “interesting” service without some spares.
  • Your own tea, coffee and sugar in something such as a nude foods container as well as a coffee or travel mug (because let’s face it, sometimes their mugs are filthy!)

  • Perform a first day induction – buddy the relief educator with someone who can support them or give them guidance.
  • Help the educators feel welcome! Smile and let them know if they need anything they can ask you or someone else. There’s nothing more daunting than being in a space where you don’t know anyway, and no one makes eye contact with your!
  • Offer a locker or a safe space to keep their belongings.
  • Give respectful direction, make eye contact, use pleases and thank yous and give a variety of responsibilities ... As opposed to just “go supervise outside”.

  • Stand around and chat to adults all day.
  • Play music loudly! I find it overwhelms my brain having a colleague playing their own music all day long and quite loudly because they don’t like “the quiet” ... I’m a fan of settled play noise ... I also don’t mind music, but not all the time and not to make adults happy either! Be very careful if you play contemporary popular music as it can have totally inappropriate content for young ears. You’re asking for consequences for that one – parent complaints, staff complaints etc.
  • Sit or stand staring off into space with your arms crossed.
  • Sit or stand staring off into space with your hands in your pocket.
  • Wait to be asked to do things ... show initiative! If you’re not sure, then just ask.
  • Don’t be so good at what you do, that you get booked up too far in advance by other centres ;)

Thank you to Lana, Trisha, Michelle, Lyn, Jo, Debra, Sarah, Shannon, Kim, Julie, Stella, Chantel, Alexandra, and Sandi  for responding to my shout out, and to the other’s who requested anonymity who provided me with private messages. 

©Teacher’s Ink. 2015 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wwah for Whale

* DISCLAIMER -  I'm anti adult-craft ... It is so ingrained in my philosophy. It's how I teach, how I work. I use open ended materials and quality resources and I just let the children go ... I throw them ideas here and there - but for the most part, I set up art*full provocations and I let them create. Please do not feel the need to try and convince me that adult directed craft is a valuable approach to teaching children. You're entitled to your opinion, as am I. Here's mine: 

I was doing relief teaching at an old-school pre-school the other day and I really did not feel connected with that space. Like not one bit. It was ok to look at. And it was ok to spend some time ... but as the day progressed and I watched the children being “guided” to do their craft work for the day I started to feel a bit icky. It was all adult-directed. There was a sample of what the craft should look like. The painting experience was packed away. Children’s painting's were whisked away. Children painting whatever they wanted was seen as a pointless activity. The craft was seen to be where the real learning occurred. The staff were pressured by the manager of the service to ensure that each child did their craft for the day, morning and afternoon.

Their portfolios were full of them. All the same. A is for apple. B is for ball. C is for cat. All the same. Every craft element in those books were cut by adults. All the children had to do was stick them down in the same way the adult did in the sample. They were all the same. I did not see the child in their portfolios. I could not read their personalities, interests, likes and dislikes, their challenges and their strengths and achievements. I could not see them. All I could see was “Wwah is for Whale”.

I was placed in charge of the craft for the afternoon session. I hated it. It rubbed me the wrong way. I was upset by this for days. I’m still upset. I saw a little boy who was not ‘craft-inclined’ made to sit and produce a product. I saw another boy look at me apprehensively asking me what he should do ...

I was a brat and I told him he could do whatever he wanted...

I am sure I rocked the boat and upset the apple cart both at the same time.

He was so apprehensive ... He didn’t want to not follow the status quo of the service ... He didn’t want to get it wrong. Which makes you wonder ... When I’m not there – what happens? What happens when you don’t create the required craft item using the adult sample as the guide? What happens if you say no? What happens if for the little life of you, you can’t understand what is expected? Does the adult then do it for you? What’s the point of that? Do you get ‘spoken to’ in front of your peers at the table? What happens then? How are you made to feel?

The pre-planned adult structured craft really got to me. It was all the same. Cookie-cutter. In my own eyes pointless. Products which are results driven, given to parents to suggest that this is the learning the children are doing ... It’s learning because we put a letter of the alphabet on it!

This service is teaching children that their own work – their own paintings aren’t good enough. That they’re not able to learn themselves through a play-based curriculum. That they cannot resource themselves with their own ideas with open ended materials. That they aren’t good enough as people...

I feel for those little souls.

I hated it.

I really, really really REALLY hated it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being: a Teacher

So I have returned to teaching and I’m doing short term contracts. I made this choice for myself because I really didn’t know what steps to take next. In fact there are many reasons why I made this choice:

  1. I’ll get paid, ya know? There are bills and adult responsibilities that have to be taken care of and an income helps in this regard.
  2. I can take some time off as I need without having to ask for approval. I can get things in my life sorted – whether that be project or house work or garden. I will have more time.
  3. I get some variety in my life.
  4. There is limited responsibility. I am still responsible and professional. But at the end of the day, I walk away. I am not required to do rosters or work an 11 hour day to cover staff who are sick because there are no available relief staff and none of my team are able to, or will work a longer shift.
  5. I get to be. The Being part of Belonging, Being and Becoming. I get to experience that too. I am there for the children. I am not feeling the same pressures I once felt as a teacher or director or teaching director.
  6. I can experiment with documenting children’s learning - with my writing style, what I choose to include or leave out and all that jazz.
  7. I can really focus on myself – my professional self. Who I am. Who I am for the children. Who I am for the team. I get to observe myself and how children respond to me. I’m finding it quite interesting.
  8. I can bide my time ... work and figure out who I want to be when I grow up. Because, at the end of the day, I have no idea what direction I want to travel in.
  9. I don’t have to get sucked into centre/service/organizational politics. I go to work. I do my job. I do the best job I can. I go home. Tada!
  10. I will have plenty to reflect upon ... which means I can write about it ... which means I can do my Teacher’s Ink. work as well as a few of my other of my other projects!
  11. I will be able to practice what my brain now knows after the last two years of mentoring and thinking ... Which can only be a good thing.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2015 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear Team ...

Dear Team,

First, I should tell you where I’m coming from. I think about the children. I’m not always right, and I’m not always equally fair to absolutely everyone, but the first and foremost thought running through my mind is the children, both collectively and as a cluster of individuals.

I want the children to have the best experience they can in the space I am in - with the other individuals they are with, both adult and child. Now, I don’t mean I want them to be happy all the time. That’s not a realistic possibility, but I want them to be safe, valued and heard. I want them to feel connected to the learning community as well as the world as a whole. I want them to be on a journey of discovering who they are as an individual in this life.

One of the aspects of my role is to give directions and guidance in regards to interacting and supervising, setting up of learning spaces, routine tasks, as well as workplace health and safety.  I don’t give directions because I enjoy doing it. I do it because I need to.  I am trying to manage and lead a service community which is made up of children and their families, our local community, educators and the many other individuals who step inside our door. It’s not easy. I need your understanding and your assistance.

I want the children to be safe, well and engaged – getting the most out of the moments they are in. This means we have to create dynamic learning environments that will encourage children to play and learn. We should engage with the children with respect and not take overpower them. We need to move around and spread ourselves across the space and the children. Parking ourselves at the art table because we like crafting ourselves isn't what we are here for. We need to 'work the party' and be accessible to all, not just the few.

I want the educators to be safe. I don’t want you to injure yourself or your colleagues. I don’t want to see you stressed and miserable. I want you to enjoy the great many hours you are spending at work. I want to mentor you and support you as evolving and growing professionals. You’re not here to babysit or be babysat yourself. I want you to be the best educators you can possibly be. This is something we can work on together, but only if you will let me.

I’m not the perfect leader, but I can promise you I am trying my best. My best will fluctuate from one moment to another, one day to another. That doesn’t mean I’m inconsistent, it means I’m human, like you. It also means that I am growing. I too evolve as a professional and learn new things each and every day.

You and I are legally responsible for the children in our care. That means, each and every thing you do, don’t do, say or don’t say has consequences. Now these consequences might be minor, a scratch on a knee because you didn't speak to your colleagues about leaving the room for a moment, but they might also be major and result in a trip to the hospital with a fracture. We hold the children’s lives in our hands. We are answerable to the child – both the child as they are now and also as they will be as an adult.  This is why records are kept until children are 25 years old. 

We answer to the child’s parents and families. We answer to our managers at every level. We are also answerable to the licensing and regulatory bodies as well as the law. Please do not take this responsibility lightly, I don’t.

Please work with me. Together we could achieve so very much, but it is something we need to do together, as a team. I cannot do this alone. 

Kind Regards,

Your Leader

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Extend Extending Extensions

DISCLAIMER: I shall have to preface this post and probably every post I write from now on with: I do not subscribe to the Assessment and Rating process. I am down with the NQS and QIPs and the EYLF – for the most part. I am a reflective practitioner and I love learning and improving.  I think A&R is a colossal waste of money that could be spent many other ways – research, educational support for current and future educators ... funding for services etc. I’m a teacher, an educational leader’s educational leader, a mentor, an educator, a weaver of curriculum. I do my own thing, as I was educated to do and I do it with pride and knowledge and experience sitting behind my pedagogical choices. I am a professional and I don’t need to be asked to prove it to others repeatedly.

Anyway, let’s start the show ... 

The inspiration for this article is from online forums where over and over I see educators asking about extension ideas for experiences or activities that they have observed children engaged in. I believe that the idea behind this is that these educators will then know what to plan for the child. I struggle with this notion for a few reasons. One of which is - a bunch of strangers on the internet do not know the child, nor do they know the learning that you are trying to foster for that child. They also don't know the learning that you have observed, unless of course you have articulated that - simply asking for an extension activity idea based upon another activity isn't the point of planning. Even when it is interest based.

It seems to me that by planning from one activity observed to another activity provided we are missing a critical element or two  - learning being the major part. We are missing the learning observed and identified through thoughtful analysis or reflection. And we are missing the potential learning we wish to foster. Activities or experiences do not equal learning. 

I have to acknowledge that I have a few personal professional issues with extensions as they are used in the early childhood education field today (I find "follow-ups" abhorrent).

I'd like to make a few points in regards to "extensions"  and I know I’m repeating myself a bit, but I so want to make these points. Repeatedly. 
  1. An ‘extension’ or ‘extension of learning’ is not an obligatory blanket requirement of the NQS and EYLF nor is it a ‘must do’ for the ‘what’s next.’
  2. We are the educators, we have the knowledge, experience, and the position to be able to choose what to extend upon, as well as how and when we extend it. We should own our professionalism. Like a boss. You earned it. (This is not to detract from the rights of children).
  3. Where do children's rights fit into all of this? When do they get to choose their own extensions? And for how long they extend their own interest in learming? Why must the educator have all that power?
  4. We don’t need to extend everything.
  5. An extension does not need to be a separate activity or experience.
  6. An extension can be something that we do in the moment - a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.
  7. An extension is not a follow-up. A follow-up is not an extension. Yet the two are often used interchangeably. 
Just so we're all on the same page,a follow-up and an extension can be defined as:

  •   A follow-up - is “the act or an instance of following up” or “something that follows up
  •  An extension - is “the action of extending:  state of being extended” or “a part constituting an addition”

I hate follow-ups (like, heaps) -- it's not a secret -- and I think that using “extensions” as the new “follow-up”  isn't the direction we have to go in. Who decided that this was the cycle of planning for early childhood services anyway? Who decided that this was quality and then started to perpetuate that myth. 

You observe a moment in time, analyse, plan a follow-up activity, implement that activity and then 'tick that box' - all to say that you've completed the cycle of planning for the (each) child? And if you do 40 of these, two times a month, then each child is sufficiently included in the planning cycle?!?!?!?! 

Go away. That's so superficial and not sustainable! How overworked and worn out and tired are you? Seriously? How much planning do you have to do at home because you cannot do the panning at work because you're too busy trying to catch up with the follow-ups/extensions/extensions of so called learning?!?!?!

Some of you are doing (are required to do by your Educational Leaders or your Managers) five of these a month per child - sometimes regardless of the child's attendance pattern!... I feel for you. I really do. It is beyond ridiculous. RIDICULOUS! I'm all about being genuine, human, and authentic. It's about relationships, connections, conversations. Learning and teaching is complex. It CANNOT be simplified into one learning story observation whatever the hell you want to call it and a follow-up-extended-extending-extension-of-learning. 

The NQS requires us to have a planning cycle which is informed and guided by our assessment of children's learning and development: "Element 1.2.1 Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation."  We can plan using the broad learning outcomes, child developmental theory and our knowledge of each and every child in our care as a guide. There are of course so many other elements we can weave into our plans that I could explore here, but I'd run out of room. And honestly its difficult enough for me to maintain one train of thought, let alone 10. 

The NQS indicates that we should use teaching strategies intentionally to support and extend children’s learning potential. The NQS doesn’t tell us how. We work that little gem out for ourselves. The NQS does not demand that we extend everything we observe, everything we plan, everything we see. The NQS does not demand a follow-up activity attached to each and every written document. It just doesn’t. If you are convinced it does, please point me to where it says so... If an Assessor told you so (and I know that some have) ask them nicely to support you in understanding this, and could they please show you where - in the Early Years Learning Framework? In the Regulations? In the Law? In the Standards? WHERE!? it says so!?

It is my belief that 'follow-ups' and the current interpretation of 'extensions' as follow-ups is a leftover or residual understanding from the times before. The boxes. The Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday type of planning. Activity to activity. All those little boxes, little boxes ... Let's have a little sing-a-long shall we?

Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
- Malvina Reynolds - 

I love a good protest song ... 

I'd like to explore point number six further: “extension can be something that you do, such as a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.” I mean we can support the child in the here and now. A word of encouragement, resources to extend the time the child engages in the play or resources that add a new level of complexity to that play, some open-ended questions that prompt the child’s thinking, a sustained conversation between educator and child, or a group of children... All these are teaching strategies. Teaching strategies, used intentionally to extend the opportunities for learning in the moment that the child is actively engaged in - that is an extension – I think that this should be our definition of an extension – the little thing or the big thing we did to support the child at the time which facilitated the learning potential further. 

An extension can be another experience flowing from the original moment - which may seem unrelated but is in fact quite related - Aunt Annie explores that in her blog article "Extending children's play, and the joy of red herrings" - so if you can do something in the moment, do it. And realise that it might not be 'like to like' or 'same to same'  - as Aunt Annie explores in her writing it can be 'like to different to very different'. 

If you can’t see the learning potential in that moment for the children or that particular child, then move onto another moment and devote some brain power to that. Be gentle with yourself. Don't belittle yourself or feel inadequate. You don't have to have the 'one answer' or the 'one right activity' - the perfect solution follow-up-future-extension-of-learning-idea.

If you know the child, know their development, their needs, their strengths, their gifts and their challenges then you should know what to do. Know the child. Plan for the child. Don't plan for an activity. An activity is not learning.

If you know what learning you’re trying to facilitate then you might have a better idea of what you’re going to do to promote opportunities for further learning. [Did you note that I said 'opportunities'? As in plural? As in not just one?] Keep in mind that not all children will want to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way OR that all children are capable of learning the same thing in the same way at the same time ... Children are individuals who have unique learning interests and needs and speeds. Just like us. Children are people too. Don't forget that.

I would like us all (well, mainly them, the them that annoy me, the them that are the system) to embrace the fact that not all learning can be planned or forecast. 

Sometimes the best learning just happens.

- G

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Many Different Ways Do You Need to Document? (Really?)

People are confused and lost when it comes to programming and planning. Look, I totally get that you’re lost. I do. As a curriculum mentor I knew what I was doing, and then the more input people had into my thinking and practice the more confused it became. The more I read online the more convoluted it seemed. I thought that was bullshit. I decided to become a pedagogical hermit for a little while and I delved into the Standards and I wrapped my head around them. I shut out the background noise and I looked at the Standards themselves. NOT other people’s interpretation of them. Start at the beginning. The Standards.

Now what amazes me is some of these self-professed consultants. I am not a consultant hater. In fact I can think of three brilliant consultants that I know who rock. They are smart and challenging and cluey. One challenges the crap out of my mind but I adore that. I need that.

Be aware that not all consultants are created equal. KNOW who you are paying. KNOW who you are trusting with YOUR reputation. The consultants don’t go through Assessment and Rating. You do. You can’t blame them when you get working towards because your program lacks depth and continuity. And I have yet to see a money back guarantee.

I wonder about these shonky consultants. I especially wonder about consultants who promise you more with less documenting and yet they show you 25 different ways to document and meet the supposed requirement of the NQF?! How is 25 less? Guess how many styles of documenting I used to use when I was a practicing teacher? My curriculum cycle had three elements to it. So that is three documents. On the side I’d do little documentations or displays but they would slot into the Day Book or the Curriculum Reflections, plus the Children’s Portfolios. THREE. Then the types of documentations or observation formats I would create in the children’s portfolios? I made them all up. So it was essentially say about five different documents. And NOT one of them was a Learning Story. I am yet to be a fan. I might change my mind in future, but as of today, I don’t particularly like them. They’re too time consuming. I don’t have time. You don’t have time. Are you doing them at home? You shouldn’t have to! Home should be YOUR time.
I’ve seen it published that “old fashioned” ways of documenting such as anecdotes and jottings and checklists are no longer valid.
I’m going to be seriously blunt.

Fuck off.

Why are they not valid? Because everyone is taught to do them when they study? No one has to come to trainings or workshops or conferences to learn how to fill out a checklist or take a jotting? 

Guess what... Anecdotes and jottings and even checklists are still valid forms of documenting. And I STRONGLY suggest you do them.

Look, programming and planning under the NQS is not the simplest thing in the world, but it also doesn’t need to be the most complicated. Slapping 25 different formats that you’ve briefly been shown photos of is not going to get you far. It’s bullshit. It’s sales-pitches and marketing designed to get your money. It’s sure as hell NOT going to get you the promised “Exceeding” ... Why not do two or three or five and do them brilliantly? Why spread yourself so bloody thin that you’re completely transparent that no one can see you or what you’re trying so desperately to achieve?

I have so much more to say, but that will do for now.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Direction of Teacher's Ink.

Greetings & Salutations,

I've been quiet of late, because I stepped out of a teaching and directing role into that of a children’s services advisor. A large part of that job meant I had, I suppose access to people’s secrets, insecurities, strengths and challenges. I wanted my relationships with the educators that I was working with in a mentoring capacity to be based upon trust. While, for the most part, my blog is anonymous, I didn't want to take advantage of others and betray trust. That’s not cool. At all. So I've been quiet more or less for two years. I've still been reflecting, but it’s been more on the inside than the out.

I'm going to be entering into a new phase in my life so that may lead to more documented reflections. I will be pondering the direction of this blog, but I think that I will write about my teaching practice more than anything else. I know I've been political and I know I've thrown around judgements ... but as I may be teaching again, I think I want to really turn the lens towards myself and my skills, strengths and challenges. I'm certainly an imperfect teacher.

I mentioned previously that I wanted to work on Reflective Practice and Intentional Teaching and that still stands. Those two notions will tie in perfectly with the direction I’d like to take this blog. So there we have it.

So that’s where things will most likely be heading ... Stay tuned. 

G @ Teacher's Ink.