Lessons from 50 years in education and care
At 18 years old I started my first job in a kindergarten. Fifty years later I still work with children in my community and support educators to reflect on their practices, and I love it. Here’s a handful of the lessons that have guided me.
- Build a relationship first
I believe that in everything you do – every job – relationships are the building blocks. If you have a relationship with a child or family, you can build on that. I’ve learnt to listen to parents’ stories and hear them without judgement, no matter how different we may be. I worked in some diverse and disadvantaged communities and there was never a one-size-fits-all story. Getting to that point of sharing stories can start with small steps like keeping your body language open during pick-up time, so families feel comfortable speaking with you and communicating what they want for their child. From there, you can start to build trust.
- Best practice is best practice, whatever decade you’re living in
In the ’70s there weren’t many ‘rules’ and we didn’t have any external support. Now we have the NQF, NQS and Practice Principles, regulations, professional development and qualifications. We work with children differently. We understand play-based learning and intentional teaching and our approach is more flexible. That said, the services I worked with in the ’70s were already living the concepts of sustainability, working with communities and building strong partnerships with children and families. We might learn more about children as time goes on but the principles behind best practice stay the same.
- Don’t worry so much about doing the ‘wrong thing’
I used to worry more. Over time I’ve built up what you might call my ‘professional integrity’ – my bank of knowledge, experience, learning and networks. Instead of worrying about trying something new, I’ve learnt to trust in my professional integrity. We all make mistakes, but confidence comes with experience, practice and critical reflection.
- Slow down and share the load
We can’t do our jobs alone, there are just too many tasks to do. I’ve learnt to let go of what I think are the only ways of doing things. There are many ways to do things. We all want and need an opportunity to implement our own ideas, so we need to share those opportunities and allow others to try their ideas too. It is crucial to be having shared conversations in our services and with other professionals around learning, assessments and the planning cycle.
- Talk it out to find the answer
When I was a child I was told to sit down and be quiet. Now I talk for a living! Having conversations with co-workers and mentors has helped me solve problems and develop a culture of continuous improvement. When you’re isolated, you start to think you have the worst problem in the world, but if you look around you can usually find a few people who’ve already solved it. There are many important lessons to be found in talking to others and hearing stories.
- You can do a lot with a little
I worked in some of the first after-school services in Victoria and we didn’t have any funding, so nature play was a big part of education and care. In my first job in the kindergarten, we shared the space and had to pack away everything each day – the home corner, block trolleys, piano, and everything else – and put it back again before 9am each morning. Scarcity can be a source of imagination and creativity.
- Align yourself with mentors
I’ve been lucky to have strong, inspirational women (and some men!) mentors. These role models supported me to take risks and implement my ideas. Seek out relationships with role models and mentors – those relationships will see you through your challenges. I try to repay that guidance when I work with others now.
- We are key advocates for children
Our work is important to the lives of children. In our conversations, we should be continually working to increase family and community knowledge about the impact of quality early learning and OSHC for children’s learning and development.
- Keep your curiosity alive
Even after all these years, children still surprise me. I’m constantly inspired by their curiosity and wonder, and I strive to keep myself curious too. Somewhere along the line some of us lose sight of that imagination! But the role of a professional is to be researching, learning and ever-evolving so that we can pass that on to children and families. Learning is forever and you will never be the best at everything. I keep myself open to changing and that’s part of how I look after my wellbeing.
- Children are capable and competent
We try to put their needs at the centre of everything we do. The service is for them! If you think about what they need for this world they’re growing up in, they need problem-solving skills, they need to be asked their opinion and have it heard, and they need to know that they count. When children propose ideas, adults can be very quick to think of the reasons why they won’t work. Children are more flexible and imaginative than us. With the right support, children can problem-solve and put their own ideas into place. Real learning takes place when educators and children enjoy learning together.
- Find that thing that helps you debrief
Whether it’s walking along the creek or reading under a tree, find those things that allow you to strike a balance between work, rest and play.
- Connect with the ‘why’ to help you rediscover meaning in your work
Doing the work I do is more than a career. It’s a way of living. A lifetime opportunity to participate and make a difference in the lives of children. I build real relationships with children and families in the community and those relationships energise me. They keep me going. It’s a bit corny, but I’ve seen children grow and I can take pride in knowing that I’ve played a small role in supporting them on their journey.
Marli has worked in education and care programs for children in kindergarten, long day care and OSHC across Victoria. She still works with children in her community through Scouts programs and supports educators in services as a consultant and trainer for CCC (her speciality is nature play!) She is most proud of her role in the working party which helped develop national training competencies for OSHC, and of being invited to deliver a co-keynote on engaging the community at an education and care conference in Singapore.
This article was originally prepared for the Community Child Care Association and has been reshared here with permission. To learn more about the work of the Association, please visit their website, here.