Raising OSHC professionalism proactively – the Firefly HR story
Those working within the outside school hours care (OSHC) sector know it to be a complex and nuanced space that balances children’s needs for rest and relaxation with critical reflection and opportunities for growth and learning in the hours outside of their school day.
For many outside the sector, however, the world of OSHC is often misunderstood, or dismissed as a place for children to be simply taken care of, while learning and growth is confined to school.
Advocacy groups and bodies, such as the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance (NOSHSA) and its state and territory counterparts have long lobbied in this space, seeking to support those within the OSHC sector to advocate for stronger outcomes and support.
Joining them in that space is specialised recruitment firm Firefly HR, the brainchild of Barbi and James Clendining. Recently The Sector spoke with representatives from Firefly about their push to not only raise the profile of OSHC in the greater early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, but also about their efforts to raise professionalism within the OSHC sector through proactive measures.
Existing perceptions of OSHC
When it comes to the OSHC sector, Mrs Clendining said, there is a lack of knowledge about OSHC, and all that it encompasses. With the exception of those working within the sector, she continued, few are aware that OSHC is tightly regulated, guided by a play based framework, and has an intense focus on the social and emotional needs of children.
“Even though I held a degree in primary teaching, I never thought twice about where the children went after school – I knew they were going to after school care, but didn’t think about it beyond that. I still often have to explain what OSHC means and what I do to family, friends, and even those in similar professions such as teachers and early childhood educators.”
It’s that misunderstanding and misconception that drives her in her work, and motivates her to seek out ways to not only enhance the professional knowledge of those already working within the OSHC sector, but also to educate those outside it of its value.
Reaching out through innovation
One of the primary ways that Firefly contributes to the knowledge bank and professional development of educators is through the popular podcast series OSHC After the Bell, which is co-presented with Saurubh Malviya of We Belong Education.
The podcast series is presented as a fun and informative conversation which covers every aspect of the Out of School Hours Care profession.
Episodes not only include the perspectives of educators, play workers, educational leaders and OSHC directors, but also voices such as ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, renowned psychologists, experts in children’s neurological development, and many others.
As the podcast has grown in scope, reputation and popularity, it has even attracted international guests such as author & TedX speaker Hamza Khan who spoke with listeners about burnout and leadership.
When choosing guest speakers, Mrs Clendining explained, “the sky is the limit.”
“OSHC is a diverse space,” she said, “and we want to make sure our podcast reflects that. It’s not just about the perspective of those who are working with the children and families day to day – although, of course, those voices are important too!”
“We want to bring guests on to our show who are going to inspire our audience to think differently – about themselves, their practice, and the way they do the amazing things they do. Our aim with the podcast is to switch those in the profession on to new ideas, to challenge existing ideas, and to lead them on new thinking journeys.”
The podcast is complimented by a range of free webinars and think tanks, which focus on a range of topics from workplace harassment and bullying with Safe Work NSW; critical reflection with Dr Jennifer Cartmel (the most popular session to date!); Educator happiness and wellbeing with Declan Edwards from BU Coaching; Assessment & Rating experiences from Exceeding services; Time Management with expert Peter Johnson, with lots more to come.
Professional development opportunities
The podcasts and webinars are not the only way in which Firefly gives back to the OSHC sector. The team have always run a range of professional development opportunities which are freely available to the sector, but these resources really came into their own as much of the country contended with the challenges of lockdown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many businesses around the country buckled under COVID pressure, the Firefly team thrived, tripling the number of staff in the team to keep up with the demand from services and OSHC providers.
Firefly team member Katie Woods took fortnightly online sessions from a small but valuable cohort to an in-demand resource, having to cap the sessions at 40 to ensure that everyone had a chance to contribute.
“The demand for connection and support throughout the peak of lockdown was amazing,” Ms Woods said. “OSHC leaders and educators were so keen to meet up and support one another, and it really highlighted for me the value of having those dedicated blocks of time to stop, reflect and engage.”
Alongside fortnightly catch ups, a range of resources, guides and supports are made available by the Firefly team to support their overarching goal of making the OSHC sector a highly visible, and highly professional place to be.
The value of an OSHC career
“It is a great subset of the ECEC sector that can make a fantastic career,” Mrs Clendining said.
“Many students finish school wanting to become teachers or work in early childhood education. I’m looking forward to the day when students start finishing school and want to become OSHC educators and leaders.”
“I think as OSHC educators we play an important part in educating others about OSHC as a profession and sharing the message that working in OSHC is not a “placeholder” while you wait for a different job. OSHC is a professional career. OSHC educators need to stand proud when they talk about their career choice.”
What’s on the horizon?
Looking toward 2022 and beyond, Firefly has big plans for connecting OSHC professionals, resourcing the broader early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, and ensuring that OSHC remains at the forefront of people’s minds.
This process will begin with a website revamp, which will feature links to a range of webinars and resources designed to support experienced and emerging professionals to learn more about the world of OSHC and refine their policy and practice.
As COVID restrictions ease, OSHC educator days will return, with services hosting open days and inviting educators in to observe practice, ask questions, and explore life in other OSHC services. In the time before the pandemic, these events have been hugely popular, with more than 100 educators attending.
The main focus, both of Firefly now and in the future, is on collaboration.
“We love to collaborate!” Mrs Clendining said. “We feel the best way to support OSHC as a profession is to continue to collaborate with others.”