Placement coordinator shares her tips for ECEC placement success
For students who are completing their studies in early childhood education, placements are not only a mandatory component on the path to gaining qualifications, but also an important introduction to the world of working in the sector.
In this piece early childhood teacher and placement coordinator Tracy Colvin shares her tips about making placement a successful experience for new professionals and their placement hosts.
As a Placement Coordinator, one aspect of my role is to ensure that students are ready to complete placement, or are ‘placement ready’ in a professional sense. When deemed, ‘placement ready’ students are partnered with an appropriate host (Early Childhood service) and placement begins.
When meeting new students for the first time, I always tell them that placement is the best part of their course. And so it should be! It is where all the knowledge and hard work from a student’s class based studies are put into practice. Placement is a chance for students to immerse themselves in the workplace, a hands-on learning environment under the guidance of experienced and talented educators. For many students it will be the very first time they set foot or engage in the environment in which they are going to be qualified to work in. Sounds exciting, right?
And yet, despite the excitement of students ‘getting their hands dirty’ (so to speak), and moving one step closer to the realisation of their career goals and dreams, completing placement can sometimes become shrouded with fear and confusion, not only from a student’s perspective, but also a host.
Top tips for students
- It is not just about the hours. Sure, you need to complete a minimum number of hours to meet certain requirements, but you also need to complete your placement tasks. Without either, you will not be able to achieve competency.
- There will be fun stuff, and not so fun stuff. Working in early childhood is incredibly rewarding, but like every career there are those tasks that may not be our favourites. Expect to engage in all aspects of the role you are studying towards. This means that you will clean, and tidy up. Many students are shocked when they are asked to sweep or mop the floor; however these are everyday tasks that all early childhood educators working in the sector engage in every day.
- Learn, learn, AND LEARN SOME MORE! Show your initiative and get involved. Early childhood services are a hive of activity and the teachers and educators you will be working with are going to expect as much from you as you are from them. Ask questions, and immerse yourself in everything you possibly can. As an educator you will be learning and reflecting on your practice for your entire career, so get into the groove of doing this early to set good habits.
- Communicate. Don’t expect that everyone at your host service will have an understanding of what you need to do. As a student you will need to communicate this with the teachers and educators you are working with. Working in early childhood is a team effort. There is a lot of collaboration. If you find it difficult to work as a team, or communicate with others, chat with your class teacher and placement coordinator about strategies you can implement to support your development in this area.
- ‘Do not judge your host by the chapter you walked in on’. A wonderful friend and work colleague shared this quote with me and I love it. It goes without saying that as humans we are all flawed. We all have great days and not so great days. It is important that we work with compassion and understanding and also under the assumption that we do not know everything about everybody. While we teach best practice, what this looks like in each service may be different. You will not have information and insight into the challenges that your host service may have endured the previous day, or even with the previous student they hosted. If reality does not meet your expectations, talk with your class teachers or placement coordinator. It is fine to keep your expectations high, but do not judge too harshly, and never, ever take to Google to write a review! While we say there are six degrees of separation, I am pretty sure in early childhood it is even less, and you could be burning those job opportunities even before you become qualified.
- No one is out to fail you. It’s the opposite really. Your teachers and placement coordinator want you to succeed. If your host provides you with feedback and areas for improvement, reflect on this professionally. I say professionally because many students (adults in general really) are still mastering the art of taking on constructive feedback, and realising that it is not personal. Your assessment visits are not a chance for your assessing teacher to notch another fail in their belt. The purpose of their visits is to support and mentor you. At the time of your visit, that assessor is your biggest cheerleader and wants to support you to achieve your goals. Your host will want you to succeed because they see value in highly skilled and competent graduates entering into the sector. In many cases, hosts can end up employing a student, so use your placement also as a job trial and investment in your future.
Top tips for hosts
- A strong induction process is imperative. Unless a host service advises otherwise, we ask that all of our students meet face to face prior to their first day on placement. If a student does not want to meet prior to the placement, I would be asking the question ‘why?’ Not only is this a time to complete paperwork, but also a time for you to get to know the student (and vice versa) and induct them into the workplace. Having the chance to meet with staff that the student will be working with will not only reduce the ‘first day nerves’ but also begins the relationship building process. Knowing where to store belongings, where to eat during breaks and most importantly where the toilet is all go towards a student’s sense of belonging.
- Remember when you were a student. We all started somewhere and sometimes when we have been engaged in the work environment for some time, we can forget what it felt like at the very beginning. Think about all the things you wish you had been taught/told early in your career and teach or discuss these with your student.
- Make sure your staff are ready to support a student. Some hosts have a young team who may not have had the chance to mentor and support a student before. I remember when I was studying my Graduate Diploma, my placement mentor was an employee who graduated 6 months prior. She was petrified that I already had one teaching degree and was now studying for another. I could not have cared less, I was there to learn and that was all that was important to me. Think about the support that your staff may need to support a student, those that are up for the task and those that are not quite ready. Talk to your staff about their strengths and why they would make a great mentor, discuss skills you are wanting them to develop which will be supported by having a student, and most of all; listen to their thoughts and fears. While students are nervous about placement, a great deal of those who work to support a placement student are also. It brings up concerns in regards to being judged and critiqued in regards to their practices – meaning support is required to and from all involved.
- Address issues or concerns as teachable moments, just as we would with children. Expect that students are going to make mistakes or think they are doing the right thing, when they are not. Use these moments to share your knowledge and expertise. Sandwich aspects of improvement with examples of areas of the placement that the student is excelling in.
- Any questions or concerns (big or small), feedback, something wonderful in regards to one of your staff in relation to the student, or something wonderful about the student themselves; let me know. If one of your staff has a question, I want them to call me and ask. I want to know it all. I am here and I am accessible. I may not answer the phone on every occasion, but I will call back.
It is important for me to know that my students are having a wonderful placement experience and that my hosts are having a wonderful experience mentoring a student.
I say ‘my’ because I am there to support everyone who is involved by having a student on placement. A student successfully completing placement is not just about the success of that student. It is also about the success of the host and their willingness to open their workplace and allow a student to experience something wonderful; it is about the educators who mentor that student, who they themselves have gained knowledge, skills and professional accomplishments, the placement coordinator who successfully matched a host and student (yes I do pat myself on the back), the class teachers who shared their passion, knowledge and skills, and every other person who provided support to that student to ensure they could achieve that success.
And that is why placement is the best part of the course!