Yesterday I went to the DECKTA (Diamond Valley and Eltham Kindergarten Teachers Association) conference in Mill Park where 150+ teachers and educators meet annually to discuss key industry issues, enjoy a formal social lunch and participate in a choice of practical workshops.
The day opened with an award presented, based on 25 years of service, which I think was absolute gold! Unfortunately our industry does very little recognise the achievements of its teachers, and this is one way this association is addressing this. It also clearly shows that experience, measured by length of service, really has great value and should be recognized.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Kathy Walker. While I didn't agree with everything she said (she was extremely controversial) I loved listening to her and was inspired to really think about the issues she raised. The reoccurring theme in her presentation (and subsequent workshop of hers that I attended) was that the recent changes to the framework should not make teachers completely rethink their teaching practice and potentially change everything they do, but rather use the framework as another tool to help you critically assess, reflect and improve what you already do. Kathy gave example after example of why what Kindergartens already have been doing for so long is the right way and how some of the new language, terms and issues are so confusing and creating unnecessary angst in the teaching community.
Kathy made some key points:
- relationships are what matters in preschool. Kathy made reference to key research on brain development and other numerous early childhood research and explained how consistently the evidence supports how the development of relationships was key over all other learning domains: I particularly liked one example she gave, where she noted that a smile between a child and an adult, fires up all parts the brain over 50% more than doing an activity, reading a book providing flash cards etc.
- educators should really display their diplomas/degrees and be proud of their early childhood profession;
- Play based curriculum is the only key curriculum that we all must follow, other emerging influences from Regio Emilia to Te Whariki have no real basis on their own that supports their style or view of the world exclusively. I would like to note here particularly that 5 years on and the New Zealand government have been reviewing the effectiveness of the Te Wharaki approach and there are many issues and criticisms emerging, so it is very important to take care when jumping too quickly on the band wagon of popular approaches (also reinforced numerous times over by Kathy throughout the day. Kathy also expressed extreme dismay at how some educators are wrongly using the term 'emergent' learning. She said teachers must always be intentional and thus have fully formed plans for each lesson, but that they must then only be sensitive or informed by children and flex their teaching to this as they intentionally deem best. Kathy argued that children "don't know what they don't know" and hence it is ridiculous to have all learning be emergent on the day. I agree emphatically with Kathy and point further that such an approach conjures the timeless problem of the chicken and the egg, which comes first?
- Preschool is not about a year in preparation for school, it is about providing a year for children to do preschool and be preschoolers. Kathy's belief is that too often children are pushed too quickly into formal learning approaches and she was very happy now that the government are now moving the first two years of school to be play based.
- Kathy expressed concern at the emerging trend of using the 'Voice of the child'. Kathy argued that some approaches are emphasising the child make choices in life changing events such as when and where to go to school. Kathy emphatically rejected this approach and argued that the voice of the child is just one part of informing the teacher, but that the teacher and then ultimately the parent under the advice of the teacher, are the ones with the brain capacity and life experience to make important decisions on behalf of the child.
- Kathy expressed her concerns with the use of terminology in the framework like outcomes and suggested educators view these as goals. Kathy noted that she had observed some educators using the framework like a check list and since their are actually thousands of way each outcome could ultimately be expressed, she said applying a checklist approach was dangerous.
- Kathy noted that the new terminology was very confusing and while educators should move to learn the new terms, they should continue, particularly in communication with families, use simple and easily understood language. Kathy also noted that primary teachers have had a formal state governed curriculum for many years now and as a rule it completely changes every few years, such that not too much emphasis or effort to change using the current curriculum should be implemented. I must say I found this part of Kathy's presentation hard to accept, as it effectively argued that we will walk the same rocky road the primary schools have over the last 100 years. I am hopeful that this is not the case. While I agree that some of the terms are a little academic and should be used sparingly till they are absolutely well understood by all stakeholders, this does not mean the that it will be acceptable to undertake a half effort wait and see what's next approach. I personally love the viewpoint that we should uptake the curriculum at a rate where we can safely and with quality, intergrate the new idealology into our practice, no more and no less with a positive view to refining the current approach, rather than waiting for it to be completely reinvented.
- Finally Kathy expressed significant disappointment with the government's management of the transition statements. Kathy argued that transition statements should be much simpler, three or four points at most which would actually help primary school teachers, not create an administrative nightmare for all. Kathy advised the group to take great care at keeping the statements as brief and to the point as possible and to never ever cut and paste indicators into the plan.
I have to congratulate the DEKTA team! The workshops of the day were fantastic and it really was a great pratical and very professionally ran conference which needs to be noted since it is run by such a small group of volunteers.
Raise Learning participated in the trade fair, exhibiting our new service LIFT (Learning Involving Families and Teachers) which is an online program planning and child documentation software service which allows parents and educators to easily login and access information about their children and programs. It was wonderful to get such great feedback about our product and we look forward to working with you all in the coming weeks.