American study to explore ECEC workplace support of planning time

by Freya Lucas

October 23, 2020

While a lot of attention is paid to the work that early childhood educators do directly with children, the tasks away from the children ‘can be just as essential’ to children’s learning and development, leading an American researcher to explore workplace support of planning/non-contact time. 

 

Although the work is not being undertaken in Australia, the findings will no doubt be of interest to those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector across the world, as a lack of dedicated time to address work demands beyond the direct care of children appears to be a universal challenge. 

 

Without formalised supports, out-of-classroom time may be sacrificed or interrupted as unexpected issues arise throughout the day, Erin Hamel, human sciences doctoral student in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies at Nebraska University has said.

 

Ms Hamel will use a one-year grant from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s Graduate Scholars program, to examine the issue, noting that non contact time enables educators to address other work demands, such as crafting instruction plans, assessing children’s development and communicating with families.

 

“It occurred to me that we need to know more about what teachers are doing with the time they have,” Ms Hamel said. 

 

“Time is a valuable resource we have to budget just like anything else, so we need to figure out how to effectively help directors and teachers allot and manage that,” she added.

 

The dissertation project will assess how much time early childhood teachers actually have away from their students — and how they use that time to address their work. Her research also aims to establish terminology for how to refer to such time in a teacher’s day, and to identify the factors and expectations that directors consider when allocating teachers’ non-contact time.

 

“There simply isn’t much out there about planning time in early childhood education,” she said. “I want to know the current state of non-contact time in early childhood education and hopefully get some information out there to help inform decisions that support teachers.”

 

As in the Australian context, many parts of the United states are facing projected shortages of early childhood teachers, meaning attention needs to be paid to the recruitment and retention of educators. 

 

Ms Hamel’s embedded, mixed-methods research design will survey participating directors and teachers in National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) programs. Using a publicly available NAEYC database, she randomly selected 650 nationally accredited early childhood programs whose directors will receive requests to complete her online surveys.

 

The survey asks open-ended questions designed to elicit open-ended responses, such as “think about the last time you had non-contact time and tell me what you did.”

 

Ms Hamel aims to have her data gathered by the end of 2020 and plans to publish her findings to provide some baseline information on what non-contact time is, hopeful that the findings could potentially improve working conditions for early childhood educators, in turn bolstering recruitment, retention and the professionalisation of the early childhood workforce.

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