Early childhood professional learning – what’s next?
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
The Sector Assistant Editor Freya Lucas explores what’s on the horizon in the professional development space in early childhood, and how centre managers, educators and support staff can upskill in these areas.
The Long Day Care Professional Development Programme (LDCPDP), which ran from 2014-17, had the objective to provide professional development funding to support educators and providers to meet the quality outcomes central to the National Quality Framework.
This funding reflected the knowledge that high-quality and cost-effective professional development opportunities are important for educators and teachers. Service providers benefit from having well-trained and highly capable staff and share a responsibility to support and encourage their employees to attend professional development, not only in recognition of the documented value of professional development, but also in consideration of the regulatory requirement to do so.
Services may use a variety of methodologies to identify what’s ‘on the horizon’ for their teams, such as: the Quality Improvement Plan for the service; undertaking self-assessment; using feedback from the Assessment and Rating process; or, using the service philosophy to decide on focus areas for professional development. For many services, the outcomes of this scoping will fall into three main categories; 21st Century learning, leadership and management, and being with children.
Within the 21st century learning space, as children leave their early education service and move into the schooling environment, there is an increasing focus not only on STEM-based subjects, but on the development of 21st century skills – often termed as the four Cs; critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. All four Cs are highly applicable to play-based learning environments, where experimentation, collaboration, inquiry-based learning and creativity abound. Professional development in this space might include exploration about how children learn, how to support children to engage in deep learning (transferring knowledge and skills, learning to be a learner), or how best to facilitate experiential learning through the creation of time and space for meaningful learning opportunities.
In terms of leadership and management, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) has recognised that Quality Area 7 is one of the most challenging areas of the National Quality Standards (NQS). Professional development opportunities in this space could provide additional guidance around staff evaluations and individual development plans, and the role of the educational leader.
Most important in the early childhood sector is professional development that centres around being with children and supporting them to have improved social and emotional wellbeing. Professional development about children’s behaviour and supporting children to self-regulate and manage ‘big feelings’ is a consistent need for educators. Increasingly, however, there is recognition of the role of traumatic early experiences in shaping children’s behavioural outcomes.
Suitable professional development activities may include:
- in-house short courses or sessions delivered at service level
- attending external training courses, seminars, workshops, forums or conferences
- online learning, webinars or open-source short courses (MOOCs).
However services decide to undertake professional learning, the commitment to promoting a positive organisational culture, and to building a professional learning community which is consistent with NQS 7.1, must be at the forefront. As the Guide to the National Quality Standards states, educators, co-ordinators and staff members should be motivated and supported to “‘build their professional knowledge, reflect on their practice and generate new ideas”.