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The Educational Leader Role (2)

by Kate Hodgekiss on July 5

Constructing meaningful philosophy:

The Educational Leader role is an interesting one in the early childhood sector, as it is still relatively undefined. For this reason, there are many questions surrounding the responsibilities of the role, and one such question is often that of philosophy. Philosophies are something we have also seen evolve and hold increasing importance in early childhood services and are frequently viewed as primarily the responsibility of the centre manager or nominated supervisor. However, as philosophy should guide our program and practice, one could argue that it is something which should actually be driven by the Educational Leader (EL). The new resource from ACECQA “The Educational Leader Resource” (2019) consistently emphasises the role of philosophy and in fact, seems to suggest the responsibility for driving philosophy sits with the EL. As recognition of the significance of philosophy grows, it is worth reflecting on the processes for constructing and reviewing a meaningful philosophy, which is a true reflection of a service’s pedagogy.

What is a philosophy and how important is it really?

As recognised by Connor (2011) philosophy is more than just a mission statement. A philosophy, as referred to in early childhood services, is a statement which guides, reflects and creates a vision for the provision of quality early childhood education and care. Gould and Matapo (2016) suggest philosophy has evolved beyond a simple statement of our beliefs regarding children’s learning and development, to become something which is more representative of the increasingly political stances on approaches to education, the importance of early education and our image of the child. In addition to the value placed on service philosophy, the sector seems to also be recognising the significance of each educator having their own personal philosophy of education.

So how important is all of this really? As with anything else, the value each service places on philosophy will most likely reflect the National Quality Standards. In the Guide to the National Quality Framework (ACECQA, 2017) the word philosophy appears over 100 times, and 80 of these references are made within the guide to the standards themselves. Given there are only 40 quality elements in total, 80 references demonstrate just how important philosophy is across all seven quality areas. ‘Philosophy guides practice’ has become a buzz phrase in the sector. Furthermore, a good service philosophy can address so many of the day to day questions services hear from families and communities, for example queries around the validity of play-based learning. For the purpose of this article we will explore strategies for developing a meaningful service philosophy which guides quality approaches to practice, sets a clear vision for all stakeholders, and in doing so supports the educational leader in their role.

Starting with personal philosophies

When it comes to constructing philosophy, every service will have a different approach, but as the team make up the core stakeholders it is a good idea to start with educators’ personal philosophies. Personal philosophies are a reflection of an individual educator’s beliefs surrounding early childhood education and are usually slightly less comprehensive than a service philosophy (though this will entirely depend on the educator). Building a personal philosophy is an important step in knowing oneself as an educator. Without knowledge of who we are now, we are unable to reflect and grow through our career.

Given that early childhood is a sector which evokes great passion in educators, it can be difficult to know where to begin when developing a personal philosophy. It is a process of not only reflecting on beliefs, but prioritising those beliefs also. This is an area in which educators may need strong guidance and assistance from the EL. It can be helpful to start by making some notes, whether this is achieved through mind mapping, graphing ideas, bullet points —  it really doesn’t matter. Furthermore, it is always useful to have a core idea at the centre of the philosophy, something which becomes an ultimate goal, so to speak. For instance if one chooses to mind map their ideas, they might start with something like ‘best outcomes for children’ as the core of their belief system and grow the ideas from there. What practices are important to best outcomes for children? How will/can those practices be achieved? These are the sorts of questions educators will need to ask themselves throughout this process and the EL should mentor and support them through this. It is only once a belief system has been established that the educator would sit down and write these ideas into a statement of goals, ideals, and beliefs. Once this process is complete, educators will know what they most highly value in early childhood education and be able to contribute to the development of a sincere service philosophy.

Building and sustaining a service philosophy which reflects all stakeholders

The critical factor to keep in mind while developing a service philosophy, is that it must always be a genuine reflection of the practices employed at the service. This will be unquestionably significant throughout the assessment and rating process. But perhaps even more importantly, it sets a clear guide and set of expectations for all stakeholders involved in the service. With that in mind, the first step in developing a philosophy is to gather ideas from those stakeholders. This process will have been started as the EL mentored the team through the development of their personal philosophies. In addition the EL will need to gather ideas from families, community members, upper management (where the service is part of a larger company), and most importantly from the children who attend the service.

A common issue heard throughout the sector regards the difficulty of getting parents involved in the services processes, and interestingly enough it could be said that philosophy is the start of this. Asking the parents to be involved in this process invites them in the door and allows them to see how their ideas are reflected in service decisions. Including this value within the philosophy will further reinforce the ideal, setting the foundation for future collaboration. How each service invites families to contribute to the development of philosophy will depend on the established processes for communication. Some services use foyer displays which can be inviting, emails are often used and are particularly helpful in corporate care services, online forums and social media pages are other ways families can be invited in. However this is approached, it is always a good idea to keep all the ideas collated in one place.

The children are the easiest stakeholders to involve! It is amazing how many services still don’t consult the children on the decisions made regarding the provision of their own education and care. Children will always have an opinion on the philosophy of the service and they have an inherent right for that opinion to be heard. Sit down with the children and ask them what they think they should get when they come to the service. The important factor to consider, is that whatever is recorded is a real representation of the children’s voices and not an educator’s own interpretation. The educators should record exactly what the children say in the way they choose to say it.

Involving the community members can be little bit more difficult, but social media is an excellent platform for networking with the community. Facebook polls, for instance, can be a good way to gather information quickly. Furthermore any service will encounter members of the community in their day to day operations, for example the tradesman that come in to the service, or the people you encounter on excursions. Ask everyone for their ideas, it will always be surprising how much people have to say about early childhood education.

All of these ideas then need to be collated into a statement of philosophy. If they have been effectively gathered, it won’t matter who actually writes the statement and it is often a good idea to find an educator who enjoys the written word to complete this part of the journey. It also doesn’t matter what format the philosophy takes. Some services choose to use bullet points, some write a complete statement and others divide it in to segments. There is no right or wrong: it should be a reflection of the kind of thinking which happens within the service.

Once a statement of philosophy is created, it is important to ensure everyone who is involved in the service is happy with the way the information has been presented. Thus the next step is to share the statement with all stakeholders, including the children and adjust according to any feedback. It is a good idea to make adjustments in a different colour font so stakeholders can identify any changes made and provide further comment if they feel it is needed. This process of going back and forth and reviewing the statement can take a few months, but once completed the philosophy will be a true reflection of the ideals and beliefs of the service, children, educators, families and community members. Creating a philosophy in this way will result in practice which is inherently reflective of the statement.

Sustaining the philosophy means it needs to remain meaningful to current stakeholders. For this reason, the philosophy statement will need to be regularly reviewed. The beginning of the year is usually a good time to review, as this is when most services see the largest influx of new families and children. Reviewing the philosophy means going back through the above processes, but a yearly review will ensure this won’t take nearly as long to complete as it did to first establish the philosophy. Additionally, having a strong connection to the philosophy in practice should mean there will not be many adjustments which need to be made. In between the yearly reviews, it is important to remember that if the service’s critical reflection and quality improvement process leads to any great changes to the approach in practice (for instance the implementation of a new theory), this change would be most effective if also reflected in the philosophy.

What does philosophy mean for practice?

One of the most important roles philosophy plays in practice is to set a clear vision for the service pedagogy and this is why it is so relevant to the EL role. If a service follows the aforementioned steps to develop a strong and meaningful philosophy, it can become the first tool the Educational Leader uses to introduce new educators and families to the service approach. It will demonstrate who you are as an early childhood service and how you value early childhood education from the onset. The same is true for the authorised officer when it comes time for assessment and rating, which is why it is placed so prominently at the front of the quality improvement plan. It provides an overarching guide to practice and underpins the values held within the service.

Early childhood practices are often very open to interpretation and the readers experience of the philosophy may differ. To ensure a comprehensive understanding, a ‘philosophy in practice’ file can be quite helpful. This involves breaking the philosophy down in to small segments alongside evidence of how each segment is reflected through the practice in the service (using photos, samples of work etc). This can ensure everyone understands exactly what the philosophy involves and how it is being interpreted in the service. It is a tool which the Educational Leader can then use to guide their team’s pedagogy.

Conclusion

It has become abundantly clear how valuable philosophy is in guiding practice and how the connection to the Educational Leader role is of the utmost importance. If the EL is to drive program and practice, which is guided by philosophy, it is paramount they are a driving force in the development and review of said philosophy. Furthermore, when effort is put in to constructing a genuine and meaningful philosophy, it can become a strong tool for driving quality throughout the entire service and across all platforms of curriculum. When taking on the Educational Leader role for the first time, a philosophy review may be a good place to start, to ensure an understanding of the practice being driven and that those practices are a reflection of the EL and their team’s beliefs regarding education. Finally, it becomes clear how a strong service philosophy can support the Educational Leader in the provision of quality educational programs. A thoughtful philosophy will create a shared vision and drive best outcomes not only for the service itself, but for the children, the educators, the families and the community.

References

ACECQA (2017). Guide to the National Quality Framework. ACECQA: Sydney

ACECQA (2019) The Educational Leader Resource. ACECQA: Sydney

Connor, J. (2011) Our Philosophy. The Early Years Learning Framework Professional Learning Program. No. 15 retrieved from http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/nqsplp/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/EYLFPLP_E-Newsletter_No15.pdf

Gould, K & Matapo, J. (2016) What’s in a philosophy? A critical discourse analysis of early childhood centre philosophy statements in Aotearoa/New Zealand. He Kupu. 4(3) retrieved from

https://www.hekupu.ac.nz/article/whats-philosophy-statement-critical-discourse-analysis-early-childhood-centre-philosophy

 

Kate Hodgekiss

Kate has been in the sector for over 20 years. She earned her bachelor degree in Early Childhood Education from Macquarie University, and spent many years working as a teacher both inside and outside of Australia before commencing her management career. Kate has since taken on a variety of roles including nominated supervisor, educational leader, start up consultant, quality consultant, regional manager and online program development creative head. Now the owner/director of Engaging Curriculum Solutions, Kate enjoys passing the wisdom of her experience onto fellow educators and teachers.