As teachers in early childhood education the one thing that I feel that we are constantly trying to evidence to others outside of our sector is our ‘professionalism’. At Mairtown Kindergarten this is a huge part of our teaching teams’ practice and philosophy. Together we aim high to provide a high-quality service for our children, their whānau, the community and each other. We are very lucky to have a great amount of professional support from the Northland Kindergarten Association who are our umbrella organisation and who make sure that their teachers are providing an excellent service for their community.
But how do our teachers at Mairtown display their professionalism on a day to day basis? How do we make it visible to our whānau that we are working hard to provide a high-quality educational service for their children? How do we prove to society that we are a very important part in the chain of our countries growth and development?
“The first years are the most important in the life of every child as they set the basis for overall success in life. They are also very important for every society as this is the best chance to influence future prosperity, inclusiveness and social stability. Early childhood development is considered to be the most powerful tool to address inequities, a chance to provide opportunities to all children to develop their full potential. Every child is needed, and every child has the right to get a good start.” (Radocaj, 2014)
Although research shows that the first years of a child’s life have a huge impact on the rest of their life, our profession still seems to be undermined, not only in the education sector but also in general. So, how do we make sure that our community understands that we are hard working professionals? And what does professionalism look like at our kindergarten?
All teachers are governed by the Education Council who provide us with ‘Our Code, Our Standards – Code of professional responsibilities and standards of teaching profession’. This is a wonderful document that reinforces our practice and makes us accountable for what we do. In its opening statements its shares, “As teachers, we respect our trusted position in society and recognise the influence we have on learners, their understanding of the world and the future well-being of our society.” (educationcouncil.org.nz)
From the deep reflection that our teaching team has done to unpack this document we have become more aware of how we uphold ‘Our Code’. This has then enhanced our awareness of how to create a learning environment that authentically considers the six standards (Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, Professional learning, Professional relationships, Learning-focused culture, Design for Learning and Teaching) which has the child at the heart of the matter all the time. We believe that as a collective we provide and design a learning environment that reflects our community that we serve and that the ‘child’ is the driving factor that influences what we do and why we do it. ‘Our Code, Our Standards’ is a wonderful piece of work that helps guide our professionalism to a high quality and uplifts our teaching vocation, particularly in ECE.
When this is broken down it can be seen in many different areas of practice. For example how we honour the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, how we use professional learning to extend on our knowledge and better our practice, how we build and maintain professional relationships, how we seek to create a learning focused culture in the places that we design for learning and then how we teach in this environment. I am going to break these standards down and give some examples of what they look like at Mairtown, however I also would like to note that our practice is not limited to these aspects because if I wrote everything we did down you would be reading for hours!
How do we honour the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership? We cherish the dual heritage of Aotearoa/New Zealand and work to uphold the spirit and intent of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, fostering an environment where children will experience the values, traditions and language of the bi-cultural heritage of Aotearoa. We celebrate Māori success and acknowledge our tamariki Māori as leaders in their own learning journey and as being able to positively recognise their learning progress and potential. Inherent in our practice is our focus on being welcoming and inclusive of the diversity of all our children and whānau. We love to acknowledge and celebrate cultural diversity within our community, and value the opportunities that enable us to learn about different people, their beliefs and way of life.
Bicultural practice is something that we have a lot of respect for and through our work I feel that this is represented in the way we celebrate and hold the Te Āo Māori values of manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga in high regard. The relationships we uphold and continue to build on daily are a credit to this. We feel that it is part of our role as early childhood educators to help create a culture of respect towards tikanga, te reo and everything Te Āo Māori, as well as supporting and building on our community’s knowledge and understanding of this, as it is an important and integral part of our nations identity. This can be seen in our daily interactions with whānau, making sure everyone feels welcomed and acknowledged. It can be seen through our assessment from a Te Āo Māori lens in the children’s portfolio’s, through the te reo that we use, through the waiata that we sing and through the whānau participation that we have within our service.
“Te Whāriki affirms the identities, languages and cultures of all children, whānau, kaiako, and communities from a strong bicultural foundation. All children are given the opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritages of the partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi. Each ECE setting’s curriculum whāriki recognises the place of Māori as tangata whenua of this land…The integration of kaupapa Māori concepts (Māori values and philosophy) and te reo Māori (Māori language) supports cultural, linguistic, social, and environmental diversity and enables all peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand to weave their perspectives, values, cultures, and languages into the early learning setting…From a bicultural foundation, the early childhood curriculum supports the identities, languages, and cultures of all children, affirms and celebrates cultural differences, and aims to help children gain a positive awareness of their own and other cultures.” (tewhariki.tki.org.nz)
How do we use professional learning to extend on our knowledge and better our practice? As a teaching team we are reflective, regularly reviewing our practice and our environments to provide successful and rewarding learning outcomes for children. We all share a passion for inspiring young minds through our dedication to excellence in teaching. We believe life is a learning journey for all, and are committed to our own ongoing professional development and professional dialogue. Our team works collaboratively to support one another on their professional development journey, often sharing inspiring and forward-thinking articles and research with one another. The teaching team undertake lots of professional learning opportunities and engage in professional dialogue during termly meetings and appraisals and this enhances their teaching practice in meaningful ways and has a positive impact on the children that the team work alongside due to them being more aware of a wider range of teaching strategies that they can implement. This is evidenced in many ways, including our internal evaluations, the research we use in our assessment, blog posts and documentation, the way in which we set up our kindergarten environment with intent and how we communicate why we do the things we do with our kindergarten whānau and the wider educational community.
“Ongoing professional development keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools for the classroom, new curriculum resources, and more. The best professional development is ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and connected to and derived from working with students and understanding their culture.” (Edutopia, 2008)
How do we build and maintain professional relationships? Relationships and partnerships, based on trust, respect and open communication are central to our philosophy. Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face conversation) is something that we value immensely. When these genuine, authentic and reciprocal relationships are established, Mairtown Kindergarten becomes a welcoming, safe and inclusive place for children, whānau and teachers. This secure and warmly respectful environment supports children to explore, play freely and fosters their ability to be learners and leaders. We believe that everyone in our learning community is beautifully unique and has a wealth of knowledge, which we love to honour. This is shown through our day to day practice, through the participation levels of our kindergarten whānau and through the relationships that we have with external organisations and other services in the education sector. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships is a common thread through all the teachers personal teaching philosophy. This, I feel, is one of the key factors that underpins our success as a team as we are all passionate about being great role models for the profession. We all understand the importance of positive partnership and relationships with all parties that we work with and our success is a group effort supported by professional relationships.
“Professional relationships asserts that teaching is not a professional activity that exists in isolation, but that we need to build and foster a range of relationships in the interests of learning and improvement for all involved: with colleagues, with family/whanau, with community.” (educationcouncil.org.nz)
To be continued in part two of this blog...
To be continued in part two of this blog...
Nāku noa, nā