The Issues of Early Childcare Setting

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The Northside Early Childcare Centre (NECC) has been without a supervisor for 3 months. One member of the teaching team named Jan Bainbridge, (albeit an inexperienced, young teacher) was asked to fill in as head teacher in the interim. Jan had been trying to do her best but the other young teachers were arguing with her and not respecting her position. This was when a new supervisor stepped in and took over. The centre was in crisis, with systems a mess and many curriculum areas in a very poor state. The newly appointed supervisor Marilyn Burns wanted to develop a team culture of respect and care for everyone within the centre. The previous supervisor, who had been supervising while being in training herself, had set up systems that were stressful to manage and hard to follow. There was no motivation, or direction within the team. There was unresolved conflict and there had not been any collaboration, consultation or communication about rosters, plans and curriculum that had been set in place. As a direct consequence, teaching staff felt disempowered and there were many aspects of the daily routines that were in chaos. Job descriptions for all staff were inadequate and some staff had never been given one since starting at Northside. Staff members were clearly stressed and teachers were frustrated. Additionally, parents were confused and had concerns that they were never sure who to talk to about the needs of their child. Sometimes feedback about their child's day came from an array of different NECC staff which was found at times to be inaccurate.

Leadership style;

A mixed model of leadership style: Collaborative, participatory, yet leading from the front.

While there exist areas which call for authoritative leadership of teaching staff through decisive direction and difficult decision-making, including allocation of resources within budgetary constraints, Marilyn Burns chose to also model a participatory style of leadership, due to the particular brand of cultural values she wished to instill at NECC. In one role-play at a staff meeting, Marilyn asked teachers and caregivers to consider the different circumstances where a variety of verbal modes of communication might be warranted. These communication styles included friendly, creative, decisive and analytical modes, exemplified by statements respectively, such as "You have great ideas!" "What if we flipped that around?" "Let's not waste time!" and "We need more evidence!" (Carter 2001:70).

Leadership and Management;

The goal of leadership and management includes overseeing the development of the strategic plan; establishing the tone of best practice within all aspects of the centre's operational practice; modelling quality relationships with children, teaching staff, parents and other interested community members. Becoming conversant with the operational aims and practices of neighbouring ECC's, establishing networks of collegiality with the same, establishing meetings and dialogue with teaching staff from the network to broaden knowledge of best practice and pool resources to address foreseeable industry challenges.

Additional aims include the building of rapport with the key stakeholders of the organisation, in this case, each child in care and the current staff. This can be achieved by understanding their current teaching approach and the supporting parents who entrust their children to the NECC for day care and educational preparation. To convey to teaching staff the importance of a unified vision of current best practice in early childhood education To establish among the teaching staff the value of unity and diversity, so that a unified and innovative strategic plan can be implemented. This will enable children to feel an environment of nurture and trust underpins the operation of NECC.

An additional responsibility of leadership and management involves the process of review and improvement of the curriculum offered to the children. To head a committee of curriculum review, calling upon the advice and assistance of local proven curriculum writers in the ECC industry. To facilitate every teaching staff member having meaningful input into the curriculum review and improvement process, by ensuring staff are conversant with current curriculum guidelines, content and best teaching practices. Also, the setting in place of a reliable system to ensure effective implementation of best teaching, including monitoring staff, ensuring teacher feedback is a collective and reflective process shared directly with colleagues to foster team spirit and growth in teaching practices.

Collaborative Leadership

A mixed model of leadership, if clearly articulated to avoid ambiguity, is the desired leadership model. While an authoritarian approach to leadership has little value in 21st century society, (with the exception of life and death situations), a collaborative approach to leadership requires greater skill but ensures fellow teachers invest a greater sense of themselves in the enterprise, in this case, the proper nurture and instruction of children at ECC age. Collaborative leadership has the additional benefit of allowing fellow staff members to acquire skills of management and leadership, becoming more effective and mature teachers more quickly than if their ECC working environment relies upon an authoritarian leadership style, where all of the decision making is vested in the sole leader and the teaching staff merely implements the will of the head teacher or perhaps the ECC board. Collaborative leadership will inject NECC with greater adaptability of scheduling and programming. Diversity of approaches will also be a positive outcome of adopting such an approach.

Developing vision

This worthy goal requires skill and flows out of the construction of a strategic plan. Assuming a plan has recently been supportively devised and is in the early stages of implementation, building the vision within the community of the NECC is a subsidiary aim that has much merit. If the centre becomes known as a centre of excellence, where ECC children are prized, stimulated, challenged and nurtured, the centre has the capacity to build resilience in the children its care and equip each of them very well for KS1. Key components of the strategic plan can be highlighted on a schedule over the course of a 6 month period, to keep the vision before the eyes of the NECC community. Furthermore, the teachers can incorporate key components of the strategic plan into the curriculum they teach, so that the children learn to hear and value the underpinning best principles of learning and healthy socialisation.

Strategic Planning

The importance of facilitating equitable stakeholder input into the development of a strategic plan. Since NECC is a community facility, the community's interests need to be heard and taken into account in the development of the master plan for how the centre will operate and what its identified aims are. This input phase will be more effective if survey respondents are accurately informed about the survey's purpose and some of the attendant issues that have in the past, prevented the centre from operating in an optimum manner.

Marilyn was conversant with research literature which indicates that while "good quality pre-school education can be found in all kinds of settings, however the EPPE data indicates that integrated centres and nursery school provision have the highest scores on pre-school quality" (BAECE 2006:1). An integrated centre refers to one which equally values education and caring, and has this equilibrium reflected through programs and the weekly schedule of the operation. While BAECE (2006:1) indicated DFES states that on average in England, early childcare centres had an average of 0.5 trained teachers, here at NECC there are in fact two trained teachers. As part of the strategic plan, Marilyn directed that the two teaching staff members be directly involved in the process of reviewing and rewriting curriculum material, to foster a more engaged, stimulating and caring environment, placing the holistic view of children and their needs at the centre of the enterprise.

Implementing

To assist this the process of implementing new initiatives and procedures to allow NECC to operate more efficiently and to cultivate a work place more conducive to happiness and energy, Marilyn asked each staff member to indicate what they would expect to see as the indicators in each area of the ECC program. (Carter 2001:68). At a subsequent staff meeting, Marilyn facilitated a discussion of the ways each NECC employee, including trained teachers and nursing staff, understood the ingredients of effective communication. Since ambiguous communication had contributed to poor worker morale, employees were quite vocal about this topic, yet in summary, iterated the value of "talking, listening, writing and body language" (Carter 2001:68). The agreed communication guidelines were role-played in the second half of the meeting, as a reinforcement mechanism. They were then revisited every 60 days for review (Carter 2001:68).

monitoring and carrying out management plans;

Teams; and Staff Development,

While there is no dispute within professional best practice discourse that teamwork and collaboration are signature attributes of an effective ECC, Carter (2001:68) underscores the challenges of translating these principles into practical reality. For one, since NECC is quite a typical ECC in terms of the high concentration of time for which teachers and directors are directly devoted to the supervision of children, time is scarce to devote to adults working collaboratively on the conception and implementation of new initiatives. Carter (2001:68) also forewarns that teamwork building is often neglected due to other pressing administrative duties and only foregrounded in the event of a crisis at the centre which demands a team response to get through it.

To facilitate the establishment of better staff morale, (which makes team work more effective), Marilyn conducted an all staff meeting to establish the NECC's core values of trust and respect. She then articulated what this ethos would look like practically to an outsider, who may be inspecting the centre to potentially enroll their child or appraise it professionally. Asking what specific types of behavioral practices would demonstrate respect and trust on a weekly basis, staff members mentioned actions such as not arriving late for work, sharing personal information with colleagues, asking for help, giving and receiving criticism and adopting a different approach to another co-worker, to the completion of a task (Cater 2001:99).

Another way to effectively build teams is to facilitate NECC workers becoming more aware of each other's values and attitudes, so that when they surface in the course of caring for children and instructing them, they are less likely to disrupt a teams' approach to the quality of childcare service delivery. At a brainstorming meeting, it is useful to post commonly heard statements which express certain value positions regarding a range of parental and adult expectations concerning children's development and care. Statements such as "children should call adults by their first names," "children should be allowed to get messy and dirty when they play in our program" illustrate the tenor of the questions and the ways implicit values will impact the effectiveness of the NECC's operation.

To redress the presenting problems at NECC, when newly appointed supervisor Marilyn Burns arrived, she met personally with each staff member to ascertain what they do each week at the centre. She then devised temporary job descriptions to be reviewed in 3 months, in order to give some immediate direction to existing staff and give her a basis upon which she could assess the relative skills and performance of each of her respective team members. Marilyn delineated the specific responsibilities for different aspects of the NECC operation, in order to encourage and acknowledge each teacher for the quality of the work they completed.

When Marilyn interviewed each staff member, she asked for their confidential and honest reflections on what made working at NECC stressful and what suggestions they each had for the centre to operate more efficiently. Marilyn asked each staff member to name one thing that would improve their daily working experience. The responses included an array of things, such as knowing clearly when my duties begin and end; knowing the limit of my responsibilities; knowing when decisions would be made to change the way things would be done and also how such decisions would be reached.

In line with EPPE data, Marilyn Burns (in her capacity as the new supervisor of NECC), arranged rosters so that the centres two teachers were working in a 'hands on' capacity along-side colleagues to support children's learning. Applying the specialist knowledge of children's learning and development from 0-5, these two teachers were given some delegated responsibility to "lead colleagues and work closely with other early years staff in observing, planning, supporting and extending children's learning" (see BAECE 2006:2).

Additional Strategies

An additional strategy Marilyn introduced as the new supervisor at NECC was the preparation of weekly 'report' cards for parents, as a standardised means of clearly communicating to families and care-givers what the children in early childhood care had achieved is the foregoing week. While the reception of this plan was met with a cool reception by some staff initially, with their defensiveness based upon a resistance to any measure that further increased work load, once the template was displayed, indicating a tick-a-box method, printed off the pre-scheduled weekly list of activities, the anxieties were reduced. The responsibility to also include a brief comment was delegated to specific carers, who were aligned with particular children, so they could track the child's weekly performance, on an ongoing basis. The ethical issues associated with making judgements about children's 'performance', particularly at such a young age, concerned the potential subjectivity of the remarks or the lack of educational training of the care givers, making them unqualified to make educational judgements about children or their ethical or social behaviour. A pre-designed check list allowing staff to tick task completion and categories addressing social demeanour and interaction were informative for parents and helpful for staff to reflect on the social progress of children in their care over time. The matter of the need for cultural sensitivity also carried ethical responsibilities. From a Christian perspective, the values of respect and tolerance are modeled and are consistent with the centre's overall core values. While Christian gazetted festivals such as Easter and Christmas were celebrated and enjoyed by the young children, children from other cultural backgrounds, where Christianity is not practiced, were invited to participate in learning about Christian traditions, and most engaged in learning activities from a spirit of curiosity. To accommodate the cultural traditions of other faiths represented by the families whose children attend NECC, appropriate festivals of different faiths were also introduced to the children in a manner appropriate for their age and setting. In this way, the insights gained from projects like 'Children of Immigrants in Early Childhood Settings in Five Countries were gradually implemented within our curriculum. Utilising its celebration of diversity, the NECC also adopted the "first goal of (their) project is to give a voice to the hopes, beliefs, and concerns of immigrant parents about the education and care of their young children"

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