I have been in the education sector for a number of years. I was director of another early learning site in this region for ten years. Then I took some time off, and did a few other roles before coming to Wombat Preschool Centre. I’ve been here five years. I’ve actually had some fairly concrete Professional Development over the last four years in relation to the Reggio Emilia approach. We had some choices about the PD we wanted in our regional learning groups, and I chose to learn about the Reggio Emilia approach for 12 months. And since then, I have been getting together with around six to eight educators once a term, sometimes twice a term, to discuss our practice and our pedagogy, and different ways that we embrace the Reggio Emilia approach in our own sites. In relation to working with Aboriginal families, my professional development has been more hands-on, building connections with Aboriginal children and Aboriginal families. When I was director at one of my earlier sites I had lots of involvement in doing that, building connections with community leaders and a few Elders.
For the action research, I introduced a six-week programme of Beach Kindy. I had my focus children who were part of a bigger extended group. So I had a group of 10 children. But once we got to the beach, it was more like focusing on the conversations and the interactions and the relationships with the children who I had identified for language and speech support. I was another person that they could relate to and have connection time with. But I was also mindful that I had primary duty of care for all of the children.
My main focus was on my pedagogy of listening; being the listener rather than the ‘teacher’. Listening to the children’s viewpoints, providing the provocations and the wonderings, then trying to build on their wonderings or their theories or their questions. Enhancing their curiosity, building their language and their ability to be a narrator, to use their oral language and their vocabulary to describe and express, to extend. And to be collaborative with the other children. So if the children came up with an idea such as, ‘Can we go and explore over there?’ I would talk to them, ‘Well, yes, what do you think would be over there? How do you think you might like to explore? What does explore mean?’ And then we would all communicate with each other, and then go.
Most of our Aboriginal students were attending Monday and Tuesday, and my teaching days were Wednesday and Thursday. So in my group of focus children I ended up with only one Aboriginal child, Grace. Her family lives locally. Lots of our Indigenous families are only just embracing the fact that they’re Indigenous. So they identify on their enrolment form as being Indigenous, but quite often when you have a conversation with them, and you ask, ‘Well, how are you connected?’ they might say, ‘Oh, I don’t know’ or ‘It’s on my partner’s side’. And I think maybe until they’ve actually come into our centre, they may not even have thought about it.
I think the main change for Grace was her confidence to participate as a group member. That was certainly one thing that stood out to me. She’s quite confident in her own learning and her own decision-making. But she certainly developed a lot more confidence to be a group participant. She was able to present to the large group and use the microphone and be quite expressive in lots of her describing. And I think the main area where I felt that she really showed a lot of strength was her resilience and her persistence and her self-help skills. And her independence to carry through and be a bit more forthright and being capable of having a go. I think that’s held her in good stead. I think it’s part of that extra challenge, that higher intellectual challenge. But it was also a physical challenge for her. And her Mum certainly supported it. Grace’s dynamics were such that she would probably take the easy option or opt out because, physically, it was too energetic for her. Whereas we were saying, ‘Well, yes, you can walk’. And she loved Beach Kindy.
All the children showed a lot more confidence and willingness and excitement to come to me and tell me about things, and to be able to talk about them with the group, and to speak using the microphone to describe what they were doing. So I felt that they came out of their shells a lot more than they possibly would have if I hadn’t had that involvement in the project and that intervention with them.
My understanding of the action research is something that I would utilise again. I think it’s probably reinforced my practice rather than changing it. The readings, the pre-readings and the networking and the discussion. But I can see myself more as a co-constructor now. So the children have got a lot more of that direction and initiative, and I’ve got less of the instructional framework. I’m more at ease and excited to go with being a listener, being quiet, having those moments of silence where nobody says anything because the children are thinking. And then letting them have conversations amongst themselves.
Because you virtually become less of a participator, but you have got your understanding and your framework and your questioning to keep the momentum going. But quite often the children will take what they know and it can go on a completely different tangent. That’s exciting because we can go down that path rather than have a perceived direction of what you want to achieve. Like the thematic approach says you start with an idea, and then you go here, here, here. Whereas this is a different sort of approach. More of a facilitator approach.
We have some families from international cultures that will come with their child and I think will be more respectful to listen and to hear what they want to say. I’ve quite often been an inquirer, but I’ve not necessarily been as much of a listener. So I think my relationships with families will be more empathetic and more respectful of their parenting approach, rather than me being a knower of information.
In future, I think it’s more probably reflecting on how I approach things and what questions I might ask. Whether I come across sort of a little bit too knowledgeable, or inquiring rather than listening. I’ve just had some chats with some of our families that are coming into our centre next year. So some of the questions that I’ve asked have been more about getting to know them and what they’re bringing to the kindy and how they see their child. The research project opens some of those viewpoints at these chats.
The main challenge was probably just the coordination required to be involved in the project. I committed to the project, but I wasn’t a 100% sure what I was committing to because that evolved over time. I knew that it would involve the travel times and the workshop days and the extra involvement. I wasn’t 100% sure of who else was going to be involved in the project.
The networking with other early learning was very valuable. That was pretty motivating for me to be there and attend each session. And the fact that there was lots of opportunity for discussion. And because I was on my own, for it to be valuable for me, I was needing to interact with other people, and to get some insight into what other sites were doing, and how other educators were working. And I’ve always been a bit of a networker.
And my staff team was so supportive of my professional development opportunity. There were always questions asked about how they could help and assist in what I was doing. So I think the fact that I was only attending myself made me more of a communicator, because I needed to be able to bring back to the staff team what we had been doing and be able to express the ideas or the directions.
Each fortnight, when we got together with our staff tea, I had a 20 minute or 30 minute time slot on the agenda. So that’s when I tossed up all my ideas such as what my research question was going to be, and how it was going to fit in with the centre, and what other staff thought about it. I asked them to give me some reflection on my approaches and my pedagogy with the children. I asked them if they would be prepared to listen to some of my audio recordings of my interactions with children and give me some written feedback about my approach. So some of that critical reflection.
So it was certainly a staff team approach, even though they physically weren’t in Adelaide, sitting around the table at the workshops. We were having similar conversations each fortnight back at our own site. And they were looking at my pedagogical documentation, and we were talking about who was going to participate, and which children I could support. Every little step along the way we had that collaboration; they were all on board, every one of them. I think it’s reinforced what we were trying to do as a staff team anyway, as far as our site learning plan goes. Because we were trying to make a focus about wondering times and our communication with each other. So it connected with that, it complemented it.