Friday, 18 October 2019 04:57

ECA NATIONAL CONFERENCE - A Personal Expereince

The MICCC team on the Hobart ECA stage The MICCC team on the Hobart ECA stage

DAY ONE

Day One of the conference started just as I had hoped, a colourful and textured rainbow lighting display spread across the stage and the music of Dwayne Everett Smith. Dwayne opened the conference with a Welcome to Country. His presence alone demanded attention, with deep breaths between his sentences the audience was captivated. He easily interchanged between languages showing how simple it is to interchange key Indigenous words into the English language. Dwayne’s Welcome to Country was so meaningful, thanking people for the food, medicine and crafts they share with us and reminding us that vulnerability leads to growth, strength and power. The Tasmanian map he displayed on the stage and left for the entirety of the conference kept capturing my eye as it was covered with interesting Aboriginal artefacts.

After local and national politicians shared figures relating to universal preschool access, it was clear that some of our most vulnerable children are still not attending preschool. It was lovely to hear these politicians share their appreciation of early childhood educators willing to advocate for all children. A sentiment also shared by ECA CEO Samantha Page and National President Christine Legg as they made it clear that conferences like this need to remain accessible for all and not just the ‘chosen few’ that can afford to attend.

So the first Keynote Session with Professor Peter Moss really set the tone for the days ahead. He turned the word quality on it’s head and had everyone in the room scrambling to think of alternative and more meaningful words to use in their presentations and conversations. It would seem that by simply exploring the multiple perspectives and understandings of what quality is and can be, the word itself either controls us by not accomodating diverse concepts/change or it becomes meaningless with its many definitions. Professor Peter Moss oozes intellect and you can see through his research and books that he is a genuine perspective seeker, a collaborator that likes to work with people that challenge his thinking. He made it abundantly clear that our role as early childhood educators is to prepare children for living in the future. I felt as though he valued the whole audience as an academic equal with the child at the centre of all our thoughts. It was great to identify with shared values and I came away thinking about how we use the word quality at MICCC and how the values of children, staff and families shape what quality looks, feels and sounds like at MICCC. It also had me brainstorming ways to engage in bigger projects, to have our young global citizens working meaningfully with older children at local schools.

The first concurrent session I attended was titled ‘Working together to ensure equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Early Years.’ It was lovely to see ECA CEO Samantha Page step in and present with Aunty Geraldine Atkinson. It brought a smile to my face listening to both presenters hesitate whenever the word ‘quality’ came up in their presentation. It really did show how reflective and adaptive our industry is. Their presentation highlighted the resilience of Indigenous peoples and the continued effort to ‘close the gap,’ however many children are still extremely vulnerable and not accessing childcare or universal access preschool. Aunty Geraldine’s strong voice was trembling with emotion and passion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children. Even with both presenters admitting challenges exist between SNAICC and ECA, one thing remained very clear, they want to move forward together. Indigenous children need an integrated and nurturing family focused support program, one that engages families in meaningful ways. They desperately need access to safe community services to move beyond quality. All children thrive when they have a strong identity and we need more Indigenous educators and more cultural awareness in services all across Australia. I totally agree that children, educators and families would benefit from a cultural competence framework that is trauma informed and supports disadvantaged services to meet the NQS. 

My second concurrent session on day one was Titled ‘Re-Imagining Educational Leadership: Collaboration and Vision’ by Dr Catherine Hamm and Sharon Jordan. Straight off the bat I loved their Acknowledgement of Country, acknowledging the leaders who “keep culture strong and vibrant.” I was taken on a journey, watching their 5 year project evolve before my eyes as they showed how they were building the children’s relationship with place. The key role of their Educational Leader linked clearly to the role I play at MICCC and reinforced just how important our continuous reflective dialogue sessions are to show how I work with teams to facilitate and embed pedagogy across the whole centre. “A deep understanding of pedagogy is at the heart of all the exceeding themes” I took this as an affirmation that our decision to create a system truly unique to our own centre context was the right one. I will continue to collaborate with the MICCC team to design systems, structures and visuals that enhance our pedagogy, ensuring that we remain relevant to our own context and aren’t adjusting our pedagogy to fit into a mold.

My third concurrent session really spoke to me as Professor Mitchel Byrne presented ‘Integration is more than just being there: Improving the social and educational experience of children with Autism.’ Professor Byrne spoke of inclusion as an environment that “enhances presence, participation, acceptance and achievement.” From the get go I could feel his connection to Autism, a man that had lived a life striving for the best for his own child. Children with Autism need ‘social ramps’ to access everyday life, if we can provide physical ramps for children who require aids for walking/moving then surely we can work on building social ramps with our children. With prejudicial attitudes and thinking developing from age four and evidence to show that bullying exists in early childhood, it is so important to think about the language, attitudes and gestures that are influencing our children’s behaviours towards their peers. Professor Byrne and his associates have created a series of books that were designed to reduce bullying, enhance engagement and enable peer initiated problem solving. I was so proud to see that the main character of these books was not a child with Autism and the word Autism was barely used, in fact these books can be used to build a truly inclusive environment for everyone. In their research investigation each focus book was read everyday over a two week period and the resulting observations and changes in behaviours spoke volumes. I am excited to add these books to our MICCC resources.

My final concurrent session for day one was ‘Inclusion beyond support for children with additional needs’ presented by Rhyan Bloor from the Government Education Department.  Everything Rhyan spoke about identified that they were working closely with educators and services to provide the best support for the children that educators deem in need of support, even if there is no official diagnosis. While the support from inclusion services like Gowrie are consistent and committed there were still glaringly obvious concerns in regards to the barriers of local government departments. It was great to see the case study presented by Gunn St Discovery ELC in Tasmania. In a centre where 70-80% of children were impacted by physical abuse or trauma, the biggest barrier was the limited skills and knowledge of educators in knowing how to best respond to challenging behaviours. I really enjoyed listening to the journey that these educators went on, the support they received from the Gowrie and viewing the spaces that they were able to create for the children to learn to self regulate (some of which would fit in our own MICCC environment). I could hear the seriousness and urgency in her voice as she declared they were “trying to break the cycle,” an admirable ambition for a group of amazing educators advocating for children.

My final keynote session for day one by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, rounded out a day of inclusion and advocacy with ‘The power of child rights: Every child, everywhere, every day.” Like the movement spreading across the globe, it was identified that children need more opportunities to engage in dialogue about any decisions that will impact them. Our young global citizens are born with rights and need opportunities for deep learning, problem solving and creative thinking, particularly in relation to climate change.

DAY TWO

Day two keynote speaker Gunilla Dhalberg connected to day one by reminding us that the voices of children are a powerful protest and that “no one is to small to make a difference.” The key word from Gunilla’s presentation was LISTEN, something that all educators should be embracing and embedding in their pedagogy... “to listen is to care”. Like with Professor Peter Moss, I get a real academic vibe from Gunilla, with her knowledge entrenched in ideas of philosophy and her practice influenced by the 100 languages. She asked “when do you really feel alive?” And then went on to indicate that the moments when educators try to “tame” children may be in the moment where a child really feels alive so it is important to unpack and support that feeling with them. As I was sitting there I was writing a poem to encourage educators, children and families at MICCC to keep wondering about the world around them and ask questions so we can all listen and wonder together.

I wonder who? I wonder why?

I wonder who invented why?

I wonder what? I wonder how?

I‘m wondering about something right now!

I wonder when? I wonder where?

I wonder what will happen if I share?

Following on from Gunilla, I went to a session titled ‘Children’s voices in abuse prevention: Approching national principals for child safe organisations with confidence’ presented by Lauren French. Lauren was a very calm and confident speaker who had a real awareness of everyone in the room. It breaks my heart and blows my mind every time I hear the National statistics about child sexual abuse... 1 IN 5! ONE IN FIVE! There was silence in the room and you can’t help but do the maths, thinking about how many children are at your centre. With children aged birth to five the most vulnerable it is up to us the educators and parents, to protect our children and empower them with awareness and consent. With 89% of offenders already known to the children we really must continue to establish trust networks with the children and harp on the idea of persistence. There are people out there (that you know, friends, family) using power and authority to involve children in sexual activity. What frightened me most was the notion that 50% of perpetrators were aged 12-17 years.

At MICCC we have a big focus on child rights and child voices being heard and valued. All children have the right to feel safe and to say NO, unless of course it is a health, safety or hygiene concern. All of our Coral Room educators have undertaken ‘Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum’ training and embed keeping safe ideas, language and role modelling into daily practices, they also set aside a week of each term to specifically engage the children in the Child Protection Curriculum focus areas. This has been a really beneficial way to reinforce concepts and to ensure that all children are grasping these vital concepts. During term 2 this year our CPC week turned into a month long project as the children were so interested in learning more about their feelings and their rights. One thing that keeps coming up in this world of social media is taking photos of children, here there seems to be a blurred line that I would like to explore further.

For the second session on day two I listened to Sharleen Keleher and Dr Anita Nepean-Hutchinson present about ‘Children and Stress.’ While a lot of what they were discussing was more relevant to areas more prone to natural disasters, like Queensland, I found it profoundly interesting. Their research highlighted the need for immediate support during and after natural disasters. They noted that parents who weren’t coping had a negative impact on their children and they also noted that if children under five show concern for the weather it can lead to mental health issues. I must admit I hadn’t really thought of sensory experiences as ‘triggers’ before this session, but it makes sense that sleep/rest music like rain or nature sounds, the smell of smoke, the touch of water or mud could all potentially be a trigger for someone that has experienced a natural disaster. It was great to see that they had developed some books about a ‘little birdie’ experiencing natural disaster situations and learning to cope. The books had a positive impact when used to support children dealing with parent separation and suicide too.

The third session I attended on day two was about the ‘Think Equal Australia’ initiative presented by the Geelong Grammar School ELC team. With emotional responses and habits formed by age 4-5 years it is vitally important that we have supported children to be kind global citizens with an appreciation of diversity, fairness, acceptance and inclusion. A lot of what was being discussed about this pilot program is what we already have embedded in our centre, something I am so very proud of. One thing that I loved was the idea of a ‘friendship garden’ an ongoing art project where children can add their unique creations over time to show what has grown from their friendship seed. The garden idea shows that we are all different but that we are all needed to make a whole, such a beautiful concept.

Knowing that Robin Christie was presenting my fourth session for day two, I was super excited. I love seeing all the creative ideas from the play spaces crew and ‘Engineering Creativity: Celebrating loose parts play’ didn’t disappoint! I was totally immersed in Robin’s Maori start, as always he is captivating, passionate and animated. He talked about protected spaces that empower children and immediately my mind was visually scanning all the spaces at MICCC. Loose parts play is something that we do really well at MICCC, with all children having unlimited access to loose parts it makes sense to provide even more inside too. It is always great to see what the Christie’s have added to their pool of creative resources and I was not disappointed! Before the end of the session I had purchased two bilge pumps and found a camouflage net too, I had also written a wish list of recycled items for me to share with our MICCC families and search for around Adelaide. It is always great to be on the same page about risk and providing authentic opportunities for children to challenge themselves. Another thing I will take from this presentation is the idea of ‘sock’ wrestling, our children love to wrestle on the big crash mat but adding the challenge of trying to take someone’s sock off sounds perfect. 

To round off day two Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney shared his keynote presentation ‘How do I improve my teaching to and through Aboriginal learners’ cultural strengths?’ I am always excited about Professor Rigney presentations, he has such a distinguished presence and empowers educators with bold statements, “the preschool does the work of a Nation.” I was truly surprised to learn that there have only been four longitudinal studies about Aboriginal children and I share in the notion of developing an Australian culturally responsive pedagogy where there is a relationship and planning shift to move towards validation, affirmation, building and bridging.

DAY THREE

Gee, did ECA save the best for last or what?!? Even though it wasn’t specifically about early childhood. Rachel Robertson’s keynote ‘Leading on the Edge - The future of teamwork and why respect trumps harmony’ WAS AMAZING! This presentation had everything, Rachel was so personable and direct and I just loved how she remained true to her values and could bring almost any situation back to the idea of respect (or lack there of). The concept of harmony being an illusion was perfect, we all know people who don’t speak up because they don’t want to rock the boat, sometimes it is me, sometimes you. Rachel’s quote “I’d rather regret what I did than what I didn’t do” has really stuck with me and has become a bit of a personal mantra. I loved everything about Rachel Robertson, I mean who has the courage to apply for a job based purely on personal attributes and then be the first woman to lead a very unique team in Antarctica, and survive the Antarctica winter. I mean she got on a boat, that’s something I’m still not keen on. Her idea of leadership hit the nail on the head, it’s not about having a title, it’s about doing something when it needs to be done and anyone can do that. It’s about collaborating and knowing everyone’s strengths, “protecting the tribe so the child thrives.” It’s not about what you do but rather how you make people feel. The “no triangles” rule upheld the idea of integrity, if you have a problem don’t tell me, go talk to the person and having the power to simply say “no triangles” is priceless. What hit me the most was that continued underlying tone of respect, noting that when someone leaves a mess or a cup in the sink it is not that they are lazy it is a sign of disrespect, implying that their time is more important than yours.... and that is not ok. I only wish that everyone was able to experience this keynote presentation because to be honest it is the one presentation that has stayed with me everyday since and it generated the most conversation amongst the MICCC team in Hobart. It also made me realise that my child is an ‘answer shopper’ continually asking people around her until she gets the answer she wants to hear ?... now to combat that.

Our interactive poster presentation from the conference will be displayed in the MICCC front foyer next to a wonder wall. Please share your wonderings about the conference topics we have displayed on there.

OLLIE LAUDER - MICCC EDUCATIONAL LEADER 

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