Notre Dame academics recognised for their pioneering work in early childhood
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Notre Dame academics recognised for their pioneering work in early childhood

by Freya Lucas

March 23, 2020

A team of five academics from Perth’s University of Notre Dame have been recognised in the Australian Awards for University Teaching for their pioneering work in Early Childhood Education, enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience.


The Award comes as a result of long-term efforts from the Researching Early Learning and Teacher Education (RELATE) team, which comprises Associate Professor Dee O’Connor, Dr Christine Robinson, Tracy Treasure, Linda Cranley and Samantha Wynne.


Formed in 2013, the RELATE team came together after those working in early childhood education at the University recognised and acknowledged the existence of differences in their philosophies and approaches to teaching. At that point, the RELATE team formed with the ultimate vision of working collaboratively within scholarship and research to better appreciate these differences and learn to value or bridge them within an embedded shared philosophy.


“The vision we had was the creation of a shared philosophy,” Associate Professor O’Connor said. “But it was also to respond to what the students were saying they needed and then use scholarship and research to develop an informed response to support them with the challenges they were facing.”


Over the past century, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector has played host to what the team termed “a contentious debate” over play-based learning and early academic outcomes. Marked by multiple perspectives on early learning that are often incompatible or contradictory, the RELATE Team realised that the sector presented a potential minefield for students as they entered the workforce.


“Without cohesion, we would present the student body with conflicting perspectives unconducive to the development of a clear and solid understanding of what is required of them as future early childhood teachers,” Professor O’Connor said.


The process of collaboration and scholarship was followed by extensive consultation of the ECEC student body on their priorities, comprehensive scholarship on the contemporary evidence base for early learning and development, fortnightly meetings, and the ongoing creative problem-solving, collective discussion, reflection, and partnership with the student body and the wider ECEC community that has come to define the work of the RELATE Team.


The team have also been responsible for producing some 40+ collaborative authored pieces, including a textbook written as a core text for ECEC students, and have spoken at 10 local, national and international ECEC conferences.


“There’s a fantastic culture in the School of Education at Notre Dame,” Professor O’Connor said. “All the way from leadership to academics, to admin staff and the undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students, there’s a culture of respect, sharing, collaboration and discussion.”


Dean of Education Caroline Mansfield praised the team for their success, saying their work “goes beyond the expectations that I would hold for a high functioning academic team”.


“I have witnessed the passion and commitment the RELATE team brings to their teaching and scholarship. As their Dean, I stand alongside all their colleagues in being very proud of their work and achievements,” she added.


Enthusiasm for the work of the RELATE team extends into the education sector with Deputy Director of The Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia Ron Gorman calling the team “ambassadors of the nexus between theory, policy and practice”.


The RELATE Team all attended the ceremony on March 6th to receive their award. To learn more about their work, please visit the website, here

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