In pursuit of Excellence

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Today I sat and started the long and dubious task of writing our re-application for our Excellence Rating in our service.  It’s been an interesting three years – a time that has in some circles seen me rise to ECEC “Rock Star” status.  As the first service in Australia to receive the award, we were spotlighted pretty strongly.  It’s not always been easy.  And at times, it’s outright hard.  When everyone watches and judges your every move.

I’ve been of two minds as to whether I even wanted to go there again.  My good friend Narelle, who also holds an Excellence rating hit the nail on the head – twice!  Firstly that it now feels like an obligation, and secondly – that we have created a monster!

I decided to tell the whole story in the reapplication.  The part that is almost what I call the ugly truth of it all.  And as I was writing this little ‘prelude’, I decided I wanted to share it wider than the Excellence panel in ACECQA.  I think everyone should read it.  So here it is, in first draft form, but pretty much as it will leave my hands.  And this is so others get some grasp of the struggle of this all, and my innermost feelings about being graded, rated and assessed.

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Firstly, before I begin this re-application, I’d like to say a few things and address this process.  I’ve become quite wary of this system.  The whole rating system.  As I delve further and further into researching the way we work with children, I become quite despondent of the way we treat, prod, poke and test them throughout their lives.  Almost like they are nothing more than a statistic, or something to grade adults that work with them by.  Why is any of this necessary, can we not just let life evolve.  Let people be.  Bring in some joy. 

I recently read an excerpt from the Norwegian Framework Plan for the Content and Tasks of Kindergartens.  It says:

“The children shall be able to develop their creative zest, sense of wonder and need to investigate.”  What government document in our country comes close?  This addresses children at their core.   It goes on to say “The Kindergartens shall meet the children with trust and respect and acknowledge the intrinsic value of childhood.  They shall contribute to well-being and joy in play and learning….”.

I’m worried that we have forgotten that in essence, what we are dealing with is childhood.  Pure and simple.  We ought be concentrating on far deeper things than “outcomes” in a curriculum framework.  If we would allow life to happen – we would meet far more than these prescribed outcomes.  We are so focused on them, that the real stuff is being pushed aside in favour.

As I write this, sitting at our property that has become our “Nature Kindy” visit site (Mayfield), having watched a small group of children and two educators head off down the hill to the river…… I recall what has so far happened for these children today.

These are the things they learned just in the 20 minutes from leaving our centre, to arriving at the site……. They learned about speed limits and why they are important. They learned about why it is important for children to not be left unattended in a car (the tag on the car seats says so).  They learned what the word “unattended” means.  They taught one another how to whistle, and had huge laughter and joy in their attempts.  They learned about left and right.  They talked about and planned what they would do during their visit.  They recalled their previous visit, and addressed rules (all by themselves!).  And WE learned to be humbled in the presence of children as they share their lives with us through conversation.

Where are the outcomes?  Does it even matter?  Are we too obsessed?  And what does this mean?  For me, it means have we become also too obsessed with our own outcomes?  What if we had no rating system?  Where would we be?  What would our work look like?  For us – I can, hand on heart, say that we would be in the exact same place.  Because we care about caring for children.  We care that they get the best out of life every moment they are with us.  The “tick” of approval really doesn’t mean all that much.  Is it an acknowledgement of our work?  I guess so – but I come back again to asking why that is needed.

Why are we re-applying?  Is it because it is now hard not to?  Been there, now have to retain that standard?  (But would that standard be any different with or without the tick? – NO!).  Is it recognition?  Not really.  There’s plenty of recognition when we just sit in our space and see how wonderfully joyful our children are.  Is it obligation?  (To who?).  The one reason I can think of – is that it allows us to showcase at a different level.  It allows us to back up what is possible.  It allows us to say – being different than “the norm” is okay.  It allows us to advocate for children.

Yes, we can do all those things still without a rating.  But the truth is – OTHERS care an awful lot about ratings.  We see that in the tagging of what is “Exceeding” practice constantly.  What I am finally learning – is that this Excellence Rating gives us some punch.  It makes others stop and listen.  It backs us up, and then allows others to have ‘permission’ to put children first.

And so, here I sit – doing this application – that at some part of me, goes against everything my heart believes.  But I DO do it – with the intention that it can help change the way things are in some spaces.  That it CAN do something for the betterment of early childhood practices beyond the scope of our service.

And so now – enjoy the story of our journey over the past three years, and our thinking into the future……

And that part?  That part you might never get to read.  I feel this deep seeded, ingrained, imbedded ‘something’ inside of me – that obligates me to do what I can to even make a difference to one other child (and hopefully many more).  And yes – I’ve created a monster.  But it’s my monster – and I’m gonna keep feeding it.

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