Creative approaches to accessing professional learning and development

As with all professions, it’s important to be continuous learners. No matter what our current level of qualification, there’s always more to learn and be challenged by. That’s why ongoing professional learning and development is so important. It means we can keep up-to-date with the latest research and thinking about the work we do.

For early childhood educators, this is even more important. Research and thinking about learning in the Birth – 5 years has dramatically increased recently, and every day seems to reaffirm how important those foundational years are. The knowledge that underpins the sector is changing and updating all the time, which means we need to change and update our thinking all the time as well!

Yet despite how important it is, accessing professional learning and development has never been harder for educators. The Federal Government has cut funding to the State and Territory Professional Support Coordinators. The Long Day Care Professional Development Fund (LDCPDP) will wrap up next June, with very little likelihood of more funding being released. Long opening hours and staffing issues make sending educators to workshops incredibly challenging for leaders in the sector,  and low wages and shift-based work makes sourcing your own training just as difficult.

This is a very unfortunate position for the sector to be in, and unfair to the educators who are expected to carry out the critical work of early childhood education. Advocacy efforts can and must continue to ensure all Governments understand how important funding professional learning and development is – but until that advocacy pays off, we must also look at creative and “outside the box” approaches to supporting the learning of ourselves and our colleagues.

The suggestions below are by no means exhaustive, and each have their own benefits and drawbacks. One of the great things about how connected people are through modern technology is how easily we can share great ideas with each other – which is just as true in Early Childhood! If you have your own ideas or suggestions, make sure you share them with the networks and forums you’re a part of.

 

Formal Online Learning

The ongoing advances in technology – and how we interact with it – means that self-paced learning online is becoming more and more prevalent. Internet access isn’t yet good enough everywhere in Australia, but the majority of services can now readily get on board with the growing field of online learning.

“Formal” online learning means professionally-developed modules that tackle a particular topic, and include assessment of comprehension through a test or review.

The benefits of quality formal online learning are clear – easy access from the service, or from educators’ own homes, on a range of devices; the ability for services to monitor their own learning; and access to modules developed by experts that might be inaccessible otherwise to name just a few.

As with all professional learning, ensuring that the organisation providing it are providing quality-assured and NQF-focused training is important. Go with one of the big names below, or check with your networks to ensure you’re getting value for money.

If you’re looking to take your first step into the world of online training, you should start with Child Australia’s Online Centre, which provides a range of courses with a strong practitioner focus.

The Early Childhood Australia Learning Hub is also a great place to start, with modules provided by “guest speakers” on a range of topics.

 

Informal Online Learning

The Internet has also made it much easier for early childhood professionals to access what I term “informal” online learning. This can cover a whole range of resources, guides, stories of practice and take the form of online documents, videos, interviews and more. Often these can be available for free, and still contain fantastic engagement with professional development from the best thinkers in the sector.

Obviously the risks of poor-quality or ill-informed approaches is greater with this online approach, so professionals should always try to do a common-sense check on whether these resources are appropriate. A good general rule is to see if the organisation publishing it is a well-known organisation in the sector, if they refer strongly to the National Quality Framework and if they are not charging for “templates” that will “solve” your problems.

The loss of the Professional Support Coordinators in June is a great loss to the sector, but luckily a lot of the resources developed by the PSCs – including Child Australia – are still available online. If you’re looking for a place to start with free, easily-accessible resources I would very much recommend the IPSP Library. This portal collects a range of quality-assured and NQF-aligned documents that support early education practice, and is a risk-free and effective way to learn more about the work we do.

 

Staff Meetings

Regular Staff Meetings are important opportunities for teams of professionals to come together. They are also the perfect venue to engage in professional learning and development that is contextual and specific to individual centres.

Reflect on your current approaches to Staff Meetings – are they mostly focused on “operational” issues such as lunch breaks, dishes, shifts and cleaning? These issues can be handled in other venues than Staff Meetings – these opportunities where a team has come together can be used to explore professional development and critical reflection. Individuals could research particular topics and present their findings to their colleagues. Services could network with others in their community and invite them to present.

The wealth of online resources available can support services to facilitate their own team-based professional development, and ensure it is completely tailored to their own specific needs.

 

Podcasts

Podcasts are relatively new on the radar – indeed I would guess that most of the people reading this have yet to delve into one! Think of them as basically “radio on demand” – they are audio that you can download to your device of choice to listen to at any time.

The benefits of podcasts for professional development are that they are free, that they are easy to find an access (if you have an Apple device you have the Podcasts app already installed) and most importantly you can listen to them while doing other things. They are a great way to pass a long car drive, go for walks or (my personal favourite) make housework a bit more bearable!

There are not a whole lot of Early Childhood-specific podcasts available at the moment, but I will declare a selfish interest here and recommend that you could start by checking out mine! I am the co-host of The Early Education Show where, with my wonderful colleagues Lisa and Leanne, we discuss all issues related to working in the Birth-5 space.

Some other great shows to check out are the Gowrie NSW Podcast Show and UNICEF Radio.

 

The future of funded professional development is very uncertain in our sector, and while we must continue to advocate for its restoration, we should also make sure we are taking the initiative and finding professional learning options that will work for us.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of e-child TIMES, published by Child Australia.

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