Using innovation to manage compliance: a strategy towards best practice
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
Compliance is often viewed by educators as something punitive, designed to trip them up. Often, the responsibility that comes with being ‘compliant’ or ‘non-compliant’ is not one educators wish to take on. In this piece, Loretta Davis, Publications Manager from Handprints ELC, writes about the journey taken towards distributed leadership by the Handprints team.
Many educators may view compliance as solely the responsibility of the nominated supervisor or centre manager. But it’s something that we should all know about, as educators and teachers, in order to work towards best practice.
When the National Quality Framework (NQF) was introduced in 2012, early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers found themselves in a transition period, moving away from a prescribed method of running a service, to a more open-ended approach to quality.The NQF provides guidance in relation to all aspects of the National Law and National Regulations. Despite this, there is still a lot of debate and discussion around compliance about what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s best practice in the ECEC profession.
At Handprints, we’ve tried a few different methods to understand compliance in the context of our services. We’ve begun to move away from top-down methods of directors completing tasks and then informing staff, to an inclusive approach.
Previous methods of supporting our teams relied on directors taking charge of tasks such as the Quality Improvement Plans (QIPs) and then passing on to educators to read, resolving all aspects of compliance including managing risks or hazards, updating policies and training or upskilling staff.
As we explore staff motivation, staff leadership, staff engagement and what it means to be an ECEC provider in modern times, more staff are becoming involved with compliance and responsibilities. In contrast to previous methods, our staff now are more involved in a more hands-on way.
We now use staff meetings to bring staff together to contribute, discuss and work on our QIPs, with staff being supported by our compliance advocate and director to learn about how to identify and manage risks or hazards, to resolve these issues themselves or in their teams, and all staff are provided with digital methods to contribute to policy and procedure reviews using Google Forms, alongside our families. Our staff members with advocacy roles also contribute greatly to our policy reviews.
Our compliance advocate at Killara, Jasmine, identified that we could better manage areas of compliance as individual centres and as a company. She explained;
“We often look for safety issues when we talk about compliance. However, compliance is not only about checking safety. Compliance is whole range of considerations beyond just what is expected of us to maintain a safe working environment.
“I thought if there are clear guidelines about what moving beyond the bare minimum looked like, for myself and other educators, we could achieve exceeding results. We always aim to excel and support our educators at Handprints to comply on daily basis with all our requirements.”.
Utilising a strengths-based, problem solving approach, we worked to embrace this challenge through innovation and empower our educators to learn along the way. We’d like to share four of our biggest accomplishments following our change in perspective with others.
1) Centre compliance master form
We learnt from our staff that they weren’t sure what it meant to be ‘compliant’. Using a collaborative approach to resolve this, we gathered ideas from all staff who wanted to help by sharing their ideas and knowledge of compliance to create something unique for our service.
To create a comprehensive compliance form we:
- Broke information down by writing down each physical area of each centre, from the front entrance, the carpark, the laundry and kitchen, to the rooms, the yards, offices and evacuation routes – every space we could think of.
- Went through the lists of compliance items from the National Quality Standards (NQS), laws and regulations, and listened to staff suggestions to create lists relevant to each area.
- Linked each item to the relevant quality area (QA) so educators could familiarise themselves with a compliance item and its QA.
Following the development of this new process, we now find that any member of our team can use the compliance form. By gathering different perspectives and resources we have created a comprehensive resource that helps our educators understand compliance in a way that is relevant to them, and the physical spaces where they work.
We now use this master form in each Handprints service, every three months. Alex, our St Ives Director, said, “The compliance form clearly identifies where we should be looking for compliance issues and is especially helpful for those who are learning more about compliance.”
2) Centre calendar
This is our second year of using calendars as a method of organisation. Our calendars have:
- Photos from our services
- Sections to write down educators birthdays as well as children’s and parents birthdays
- To-do lists and room to add to the list
- When appraisals and team meetings will occur
- Quarterly reminders for compliance aspects such as full-centre checks, evacuation bag checks, first aid kit checks and lockdown and evacuation drills. We also have hidden some surprise drills in the calendar, for our educators to spot and call a drill.
- Each month lists various celebrations, religious events, public holidays, cultural days and awareness days. This enables our educators to see what’s on for the month and consider what is relevant to our stakeholders and the children’s interests and plan for chosen events.
The calendars have been a great success with our educators and help us as a company create a cohesive approach to the day to day running of our centres, and our overall goals.
3) Quality Improvement Plan
Our company director, Julia McKean, designed the Handprints QIP template when she opened her first service at St Ives. Now with three centres, and a fourth being constructed, we still use our very own QIP templates.
Julia explains, “I chose to reformat the QIP and use our own template because the ACECQA format does not meet our service philosophy, and did not allow for us to take an action research approach.
“When I began looking at the QIP I wanted it to start with the groundwork of where we came from, and I wanted it to allow us to research our own methods for improvement. I also wanted to provide opportunities for more regular updates and feedback.
“We explored using a folder for collection of data and how regularly we needed to formally update the QIP to make sure the document was a living document. It wasn’t a matter of not using the provided format but utilising it to guide the information we wanted to present in ours, in a way that represented our philosophy,” Julia said.
Our QIP uses the concept of a tree:
- The roots of the tree are our foundations, practices that have become embedded as we formed centre cultures, teams and ways of being.
- The branches that grow are what we are working towards. They are our goals, our ideas, ways to improve and ideas to explore.
- The leaves of our tree are things we have achieved. As time passes (and the leaves fall) we embed these accomplishments, they form part of our roots.
Deb, our Killara director, says of the QIP template, “Having a centre-designed QIP is easier to use, read and add to. We can adjust our QIP so it is readable for families, educators and regulatory authorities. We can also get creative with it by adding comments and pictures and this makes it unique. Our QIP is designed in a way that defines us for who we are as a centre.”
4) Programming and resource kit
Everyone has different places they go to for resources. Some people use articles or blogs while others focus on the EYLF. Some people love to use theory and some people prefer to explore how other educators have done things.
Our educators identified it was hard to use a lot of different resources in their programming time. They had to go and collect all sorts of different booklets, textbooks or keep an online collection of resources. Our teams identified it would be incredibly helpful to have these resources in the one place. The idea of our Programming and Resource Kit was born.
To begin this project:
- Information and suggestions were collected from educators as to what resources they used, needed, relied on and loved.
- Fundamental resources were included such as the early years learning framework (EYLF), the EYLF developmental milestones, NQS, and ‘how to’ guides on documentation we create for children at Handprints.
- Information about theorists, schemas, and a collection of learning stories written by our own educators to inspire one another were also included.
This has been an incredibly valuable resource for new staff, staff who are studying, and staff who like to have resources guide them while they program. There is a physical kit at each centre as well as digital versions on each computer to ensure it is accessible in a variety of places and ways.These kits are updated as company documentation styles change or frameworks are reviewed or amended. Our educators also add resources to our kits including new learning stories or up to date information available from sources such as The Sector.
The biggest benefit to being innovative and collaborating within your teams is to create your own resources, knowing that these items will be relevant to you, your service and your stakeholders. You have the power to adjust them as needed, make changes where required and utilise them to ensure they constantly reflect your community and environment.
Members who contribute to the creation and review of the resources get to experience the excitement of creating something new and being part of a bigger picture of learning and development. They get to feel the satisfaction of conquering a problem through creativity. Being innovative in such ways can also bring your team together, as you listen to each other, note each other’s ideas and utilise each other’s strengths to overcome a challenge.
More information about Handprints ELC centres can be found by visiting their website.