The game changing power of authentic professional learning
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > Holistic and goal-orientated: An exploration of an authentic professional learning partnership

Holistic and goal-orientated: An exploration of an authentic professional learning partnership

by Freya Lucas

August 15, 2023

The revision of the approved learning frameworks, along with the advent of a new financial year, has given many approved providers the opportunity to take a deeper look at their professional learning provisions. 


Alongside these external factors, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector finds itself in an increasingly tight and competitive environment when it comes to recruitment, with many inexperienced and unqualified educators entering the profession. 


At all levels of role, ECEC professionals are considering more deeply the value propositions put forward by their employers, and targeted and meaningful professional development is an increasingly strong drawcard. 


We spoke recently with Andrea Isitt, Founder and Director of First Door Early Childhood Professional Learning to understand more about this shifting landscape, and to discuss the importance of ECEC providers taking an authentic, long-term approach to professional learning. 


Reactive, instead of holistic and goal-orientated


Many in the ECEC sector take a reactive or unplanned approach to professional development, providing or completing training based on issues, centre policy or regulatory requirements. In many instances, professional development is also something which happens in response to an incident, or pattern of behaviour amongst a staff team. 


A service may, for example, bring in a professional development provider to run a two hour session on ‘effective supervision’ after noticing a spike in behavioural incidents and accident reports. They might also ask a staff team to complete an online course to demonstrate that each team member has an understanding of their reporting obligations. 


These types of professional development sessions, Andrea said, are “reactive, and can miss the big-picture issue. Perhaps an issue was that some new team members do not practice active supervision or understand risk assessment. However, the real issue could be that the environment lacks challenge, agency and play-based learning for children.” 


“How effective is this reactive approach when it comes to implementing true change, deep learning, improving outcomes for children and changing practice for quality improvement?” she continued. 


When professional learning is instead holistic and goal-orientated it will involve deeper reflection, with shared learning and agreement, for change in practice to occur. As a collective, the team is able to engage in reflection, set goals and challenges and can change established practice.


Another example of the ‘short-term fix’ approach is when the selection of a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) for educators’ career qualifications is ad hoc within a service team. Selection can then be based on how quickly and easily educators will achieve their career qualification.


“Outcomes of these quick-fix qualifications are detrimental to our profession, resulting in the burden of having educators with shallow purpose and a lack of required skills and knowledge.”


For this reason, First Door has designed Team eLearning packages that are collaborative, with tools to support teams toward shared understanding, reflection and goals over a two year period.


Evidence-informed and project based learning


ECEC teams and professionals are dynamic, and no two services are the same. The individual needs of children, the dynamic mix of families, the movements of staff teams, and the occurrences in the broader community are just some of the factors which can influence the make up of a centre. 


Against this background, the importance of professional development partnership – when the same professional development provider is working in a dynamic and responsive way with a whole staff team – becomes clear. 


Working in such a way, Andrea explained, allows the provider to align their professional learning  and resources to the educators and team’s current interests, knowledge and abilities, allowing for flexibility and responsiveness as the individual, group and team needs change. This professional learning is more relevant and project-based, known to have better outcomes for both adults and children. 


“The alternative,” she continued, “is the all too familiar ‘training’ model which can be viewed as tokenistic, resulting in short term inspiration and low impact.”


Likewise, when there are one or two educators who are sent to a professional development opportunity with the view to “feeding back to the team” there is a danger that they will be the sole team members “swimming against the tide” of established practice, or that core elements of the training will be missed or misinterpreted in their feedback to the team. 


“It is far more rewarding to have a long-term partnership with service teams with ‘project based learning’ to develop their shared pedagogy, philosophy and practice.” 


A number of the services First Door partners with have achieved an Excellent rating with ACECQA or Exceeding the NQS, and First Door’s professional learning shares opportunities and possibilities showcasing their partner services. 


Short-term fix qualifications, instead of a long-term partnership for capability and career development


As Andrea mentioned earlier, another example of the ‘short-term fix’ approach is when the selection of a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) for educators’ career qualifications is ad hoc within a service team. Selection can then be based on how quickly and easily educators will achieve their career qualification, something which is ultimately to the detriment of the profession as a whole. 


“First Door partners with many early childhood employers that instead have a long-term and goal-orientated approach to career qualifications, where they value quality training and a Preferred RTO partnership,” Andrea explained. This investment results in consistent competency-based training and assessment required for skilled, inspiring educators and quality practice. 


“The evidence of this long-term approach is with our graduated students that have moved through their early childhood career to become service leaders and establish a Preferred RTO partnership with First Door within their own team.”


Both the revised version of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standard (NQS) refer to the importance of forming partnerships in the professional learning space, and of continuing to grow and develop as a professional. 


NQS 6.2 reminds ECEC professionals that collaborative partnerships enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing, and in NQS 4.2.1 that when educators engage in critical reflection and ongoing professional learning, it leads to pedagogical decisions and actions that are transformative.


“At the end of the day,” Andrea said, “the value of holistic and goal-orientated approach to professional learning is demonstrated with high performing teams delivering quality outcomes for children.” 


“When service teams work together in long-term partnership with a professional learning provider towards goals for quality practice then powerful growth is transmitted in ECEC, not only to their staff, but for the children in their care.” 


To learn more about the work First Door does please see here. For more information about the value of professional learning in an ECEC context please see here.

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