Driving Professional Growth
by Kate Hodgekiss on June 11
The role of the educational leader (EL) is becoming increasingly recognised for the significance it holds in the provision of quality early childhood education and care and there are many aspects which lead to the success of the EL role, one of which is driving the professional growth of the team. Professional growth is a fundamental player in the quality of educator practice and approach. This is a sector in which we see research changing and evolving constantly, making it of the utmost importance that we continue to develop ourselves professionally, not becoming complacent in our original qualifications. Our willingness to continue to learn and grow in our profession should be an innate trait of the teacher/educator. After all, how can we teach, if we can not learn? Professional growth is something which should be an organic process in the service. It is something which needs to be inspired and not demanded. In previous articles from the series, we looked at critical reflection and then the educator as a researcher, which are important steps towards reaching our professional potential. Driving professional growth includes both these processes of reflection and research, but in this article we take it a few steps further, to explore mentorship, professional development sessions, and appraisals.
Creating Professional Growth Files
There are many ways Educational Leaders and Managers like to organise the paperwork and documentation of the service. But how do you show an overall picture of the growth of the team? One way to do this would be to set up professional growth files. For example take a folder and ensure each educator in the service has a section. Start with an introductory page which lists the educators basic and required qualifications (including their child protection, first aid and working with children checks) and behind this put a copy of those qualifications. This will save you so much time in the future when you are checking numbers for rostering and so on. Now that the fundamentals are out of the way you may want to consider keeping all the documentation we will discuss below, in the same file. As you read on you will see how this will create that space for revisiting our own professional growth and commitment.
Introducing the Mentorship Programme
Having a strong, organic mentorship program in place within your service, is one of the best ways to keep your educators inspired and proactive. For this reason, you don’t want this process to feel forced, but rather you should let educators take some accountability in the way in which they engage with the program. One of the mistakes many services seem to make is to assign educators with a mentor, which takes their control away from the process immediately. Mentorship is about staying inspired and so it is beneficial to let educators choose someone who they enjoy learning from, discussing ideas with and feel comfortable with. Of course, you may have to put some limitations in place, discuss who is experienced enough in the service to actually be a mentor. Perhaps you will let your educators choose someone they don’t work with – although this is much more difficult to oversee and maintain.
Once each educator has chosen an appropriate mentor it is important that they have an initial mentor meeting to discuss their professional goals. This should be recorded in written form with the mentor coming up with ideas for how these goals may be achieved (feel free to download the free mentorship forms from the Engaging Curriculum Solutions website). After the first sitting, mentorship meetings should flow with the mentees interests and again each meeting should be recorded. You don’t need much depth in your documentation, but it is important that mentees and mentors can track their process. For instance, perhaps the mentee is interested in developing their philosophy, they have a 30 minute discussion with the mentor about how they might go about this, and they would record a one paragraph summary of this discussion. The next step is for the mentor to create a ‘follow up’ based on that meeting, just the same way you would when extending on an observation of a child, allowing for a cycle of learning between mentee and mentor.
How often you expect your educators to engage in mentorship meetings may vary depending on the size of your team and service, and particularly the availability of time. As mentioned it should be an organic process and time should be made for meeting when the need arises. A half hour meeting once a month per educator, seems to be a good starting point for mentorship, although there is nothing stopping you from spending more time on this extremely useful and motivating process, if you have it! These mentorship meetings can often lead in to the research in investigations we discussed in a previous article of this series. The mentorship documentation can be the next thing you place in the professional growth files you are now developing.
Attending Professional Development – Internal and External
Professional development sessions are probably the best way of keeping your team up to date on current events, trends and research from the sector. Professional development can be internal or external, online or in person, accredited or not, and it’s important to know how to find reputable and meaningful professional development. It should always be an enjoyable learning experience, which reflects the interests of individual educators and the needs of the service. One of the most important things to remember when selecting professional development for educators is to know who you’re selecting it for and why. Different educators will hold different strengths and interests. Just like when we work with children, learning is best achieved when the learner is engaged and confident. Often leaving the selection of professional development to the educators themselves, and their mentors, can be the most successful process for ensuring it stays meaningful.
A lot of bigger childcare providers with multiple settings, will provide internal professional development, whether through employing a CPD provider to do so, or creating and delivering their own courses. This is a great opportunity for team building and keeping your educators on the same page in regard to philosophy. If you are part of a smaller company or single service, as an EL it can be a good idea to start creating some small professional development sessions of your own which are meaningful to your service (be it the quality improvement process or interests arising among educators). Many educators find internal training to be less intimidating as it is usually provided in a familiar environment, and includes their colleagues. If it is offered frequently, without pressure, educators’ attendance seems to increase naturally. Keeping the team inspired as a group is fundamental to team unity and fluidity of curriculum and spaces.
Keeping reflections, resources, or notes written on the day, is important as this information can be shared at staff meetings (or through mentorship). Again this ensures your educators are all gaining something from the professional development you select, and are being informed by the same sorts of ideas and theories. These notes, along with any certificate of attendance can be kept after the mentorship forms in your educators professional growth file.
Appraisals or reviews are one of the best ways for a leader to ensure they are taking the time to follow up on the progress of all educators, particularly if there are multiple mentors throughout the service. Appraisals are also an important way for educators to reflect on their practice, progress and goals on a regular basis. How often you choose to complete appraisals will again depend on the size of your service. In a large service it can be a very time-consuming process, particularly when done well. Biannually seems to work for most services, but if you have a strong and well documented system in place for mentorship and professional development, then yearly would suffice.
There are various different types of appraisal formats out there and a quick google search will produce many that you can download and adjust for your service. However, it is important to make sure the values on the appraisal match those reflected in the setting’s philosophy and approach. A lot of appraisals ask educators to rate themselves with no room for comments and this is reminiscent of the old checklist we used to use with children. It is much more beneficial when they have space for comments and reflections.
Another issue that many services seem to have with their appraisal process is what to do after they are completed. How do they serve a purpose? Firstly, a discussion between the provider and the individual educators is important to make this a meaningful process. This should be less like an exam on which educators are being personally assessed, and more of a collaborative process of reflection and development. Once you have met with the educators and discussed their appraisal they can be added to that wonderful file you have now developed for them, and these appraisals can feedback into the mentorship and professional development selection. Now you have a professional growth file for each educator which starts with their basic information and fundamental qualifications, is followed up by their mentorship goals and progress, then their professional development records and finally their appraisals. This will give a complete picture of their professional growth in your service, and allow them to see for themselves how they are developing and reaching their full potential. These become a source of inspiration to continue professional growth!
There is no argument that professional growth and development is important in the early childhood sector. As mentioned previously, part of this growth happens from the professional collaboration, reflection and research which we have discussed in previous articles in the series. However, here we have shown that there is much more we can do to keep our team inspired, motivated and proactive. As an Educational Leader we must also lead by example, participating fully and passionately in each step we are expecting our educators to engage with. ELs will also have a mentor, attend professional development, and complete their own appraisal. It is important to remember that whatever position we are in, however much experience we have, or however high our qualifications, there is always more to learn, more ways in which to improve and room to grow. All of the processes we have discussed throughout all articles in this series can feed into each other to create a truly organic culture of quality, improvement, growth and innovation. Find what inspires you, what inspires your team and grow together to be the best educators you can; the educators all children deserve.