Saturday, January 8, 2011

About Teacher’s Ink.

I am an Early Childhood Teacher who also has a TAFE College (Technical and Further Education) Diploma in child care and education. I have been working in formal children’s services for 12 years. I have been caring for children since I was 12 when I began babysitting regularly for the neighbourhood infants! Times have changed a great deal since then, and I’m not sure how many people would hire 12 year olds to care for 9 month olds these days. But that, nonetheless is my start in caring for children. I began work as a nanny when I left high school, and those children are now adults and the same age as some of my dearest friends! Funny how these things work!

I just continued on this path of caring for children. My interest grew and grew as did my desire to further my education. At this point in time, I’m more interested in learning through collaboration, specialist courses on subjects of my interest, and research and reading.

My work experience:
· as a short term contract assistant in a family run private long day care centre (it was feral)
· an assistant coordinator of a before and after school care (BASC) program and vacation care programs
· acting coordinator of BASC
· as a casual team leader for long day care centres through multiple agencies,
· as a team leader in a nursery with 15 children aged 6weeks to 2 years,
· as a team leader in toddler room with ratios both 1:8 (16 children) and 1:6 (12 children)
· as team leader in a 30 place preschool room with children aged 2-5s

Friday, January 7, 2011

Introduction to Teacher's Ink Portfolios

This is not a “How To” publication. This is more of a “How I Did It” publication... I’m hoping to be an encouragement to other practitioners so that they feel inspired to share their practices with others. It is so important that we network and learn from each other.  This publication has evolved from my role as mentor and leader. I have been mentoring a series of my work colleagues who hold both diplomas and certificates in child care and education. I have also been supporting past colleagues who have since moved on to other places of employment but who maintain friendships with me. You can’t help but talk about your profession and career can you?

I have asked my fellow professionals if they have had any success searching on the internet and they’ve said no.  I have searched on the internet under many topics and still come up with sparse results on portfolios. As I am writing this, I have been unable to source a great deal that is relevant to the early childhood context in Australia.

Sure, there are plenty of books, publications, chapters in books etc. and there is even less content that is detailed and accessible on the internet. The more I look, the more I see very culturally exclusive or image heavy flashy websites and books that make amazing promises about their special curriculum product or assessment tool which is the only one that will truly prepare your children for school and for life. Get lost. There is no “one” way of doing anything.

I don’t have all the answers and I shouldn’t. I only have some of the answers that are right for me at this point in time, and they might be right for you too. If not, take them and improve upon them or change them and do something different that works for you in your context. I am simply sharing my style, experience, and philosophy of the portfolio.  The more I engage with my current work colleagues and friends, the more I see a need for something. Now my style of “something” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that is perfectly ok. If I can reach some of the many educators out there, I will be happy. If someone looks at my efforts and thinks they are capable of different or more or better and they are the motivated to then share their brilliance, then I’m a happy educator.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Personal Journey With Portfolios ...

I didn’t understand portfolios at first. I really didn’t understand what they meant or how to work on them. Five years out of university, and I get it. I’m always reflecting upon my practice as well as trying to improve upon my understanding and technique. I still find this really challenging. It’s hard! Asking questions and finding out what it is that is really behind children’s interests and learning and such. Sometimes the children just like dinosaurs or rainbows and its ok not to beat it to death by trying to understand “why”. I like rainbows because they are beautiful and colourful and bright. I think they are magical and they make me feel good and I am amazed when I see them in the sky. It really ruins it for me if someone says “It’s just light refracting off a raindrop” ... Seriously, I just think it is magic and I don’t care about the mechanics of the trick of nature. 

First Time With Portfolios ... Preschool

 I had a contract position at a work based long day care centre which really had a long history with portfolios and documentation. They did amazing work and the educators there really knew their stuff. It didn’t matter if they were an ECT or a Diploma or an Assistant ... they had focus children and they did the work. The staff were mentored by the ECTs as well as the very hands-on director and they worked together in this way to create relevant portfolios for the children in their care.

I had seven portfolios and the children were going to school at the end of the year. I remember being really overwhelmed by the task. I am not sure how relevant my work actually was, but I am sure if I was lagging behind, I would have been supported and guided in the direction they wanted me to go. We also all shared a computer in the staff room ... There were I think 8 or 9 staff who maintained portfolios and shared one desk and one computer in the staff room, occasionally the administrators computer and there were a couple of computers in the rooms to maintain the daily reflective journals.

I can’t remember how much portfolio time I had, but I think it might have been an hour and a half every fortnight or something along those lines. My colleagues put in so much effort and time on their books ~ including working on the weekends. I did some work at home as I was under so much pressure I felt for maintaining the books at a certain standard. I honestly don’t know if I did that ... I think I might have been a bit out of my depth at the time. I know that it was all in my own head.

It was the first time I had ever done anything like that and I felt that there was so much pressure because everyone else had had so much practice!  I remember that some of the educators took their books home each weekend and worked on them for hours.  I understand that portfolios are a valuable tool, but I think it’s too easy to get obsessed and too involved. It’s important to maintain balance and have a life!

So that was my first ever time with portfolios ... Other than that, I don’t remember much! I thankfully had the foresight to take photos of some of my work so I could remember where I came from in my professional journal!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Round Two: Toddler Room Team Leader

When I started at this job, I had 24 focus children or the like and these giant cumbersome art portfolios that were A3 sized and totally unrealistic. The idea I think was that these books could be used for the child’s whole possible 5 years in care. I don’t understand the point of that though ... they were horrible.  To get this job, I totally B.S.ed my way from 7 portfolios to 24 ... or maybe they just had confidence in my abilities!?

The type of work that they did in those books was based upon group developmental goals.  I don’t believe that their style reflected a picture of the child as a whole person. I didn’t feel that they represented the child’s development within the relevant social context either. They would put a sticker with a developmental domain printed on it, such as “Cognitive Development” and then they would have little strips of observation with a little photo and then the child’s name underlined so they could keep track of which observations with multiple names went in which portfolios. There were reference numbers which linked the observations to the national accreditation scheme quality indicators. There were drawings and paintings and summaries. That pretty much summed it up for those books. What was the purpose of even having that information in the book? If a child left the centre, the few pages that were done on that child were then ripped out and handed over. That system really made no sense to me.
I remember feeling overwhelmed, submissive and unsure of myself ... I am lightyears away from that person ... but it’s all part of the journey isn’t it?

Other than that, I don’t remember what went in them. I also don’t even remember what their day books looked like. I think they may have been handwritten without images or even written in exercise books. They had a photo slideshow of the day on display in the hallway. I do remember doing things differently. I purchased an art diary for the daybook and I know I used photos to illustrate what occurred in the day. I remember that I was asked to reference everything to the NCAC QIAS indicators which was a huge pain in the ... a pain in the proverbial.

I learned how to manage 24 or so portfolios without any professional support from a stable (as in both consistent and mentally competent) director and without any real idea of what I was doing. I learned some strategies to deal without having much programming time ... I was supposed to get an hour a week, but that often didn’t happen, and we never had any relief for it anyway.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Round Three: Toddler Room Team Leader

The most growth I experienced in regards to portfolios happened in this job. This job ended up being the job from hell, but I learned a great deal and there were amazing supports in place. I also formed a really good relationship with the other ECT room leader and together we forged the portfolio frontier at this particular service.

I worked in a long day care service in a toddler’s room with 13 children aged 2-3 years old with a certificate III trained assistant. My team partner was not comfortable with managing portfolios, so the task of looking after the content of about 32 books fell to me. She did in time though develop excellent skills in helping me file the content and put them into the books. It was invaluable support.

I had 30 minutes of programming time per child per month and then a further hour per week for program reflections. It worked out to be about 3 hours one week and 5 hours the next based upon my shifts (early shift = 7am start and late shift = 10am start).

In subsequent drafts of this publication, I wrote a pretty scathing description of the portfolios. Since I have started writing this book, I have come to realise that some people do their best and others don’t care. There is no reason to pass judgement on their work. This publication is not about their work. It’s about my work and my thinking and my learning and growth. So having said that, I grew professionally because I was able to critique their work and improve upon it. I will simply say that much of their work was handwritten with photos that didn’t necessarily match up with the written work. There was no linking to development or any curriculum framework. There were a great many gaps in their work in my opinion.

We used A4 art diaries and we had to paste the content into the books. It meant we had to cut all A4 sized papers down with a margin so that they would fit into the books. It was quite time consuming and with 32 books to maintain, it was ALOT of time during sleep time and other quiet times during the day putting content into books.  This cutting and sticking, was a colossal waste of time and natural resources.

Each page of paper in an art book, had another page stuck to it. One page of content would consist of: slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided sticky tape and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing. Then line up page and stick down. All this work for ONE single observation.

So, if you had five entries over a month: (1) slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing. (2) slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing. (3) slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing. (4) slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing.  (5) slice, slice, slice, slice, pull double sided and rip, then stick, rip, stick rip, stick rip, stick rip. Peel backing, peel backing, peel backing, peel backing. That is in one book ... Image that for 32 children who had a range of two to seven entries per month. I don’t know how I made it through all that work on top of the actual creation of the observations and collections of artefacts!

It was at this time that I became really passionate about working with portfolios and when I wanted to work on a book with my colleague. Suffice it to say, I’m now doing this on my own, but ideas sprang from shared discussions and research. If we had written a book at this time, it would look totally different to the one I am now working on. My understanding, experience, skills, philosophy have changed so much in the past 2 years, as they will in the next 2 years I would imagine! Carpe Diem though ...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Round Four: First Year as Toddler & Preschool Room Team Leader

In my next context, I worked with roughly 45 children (30 per day) aged 2-5years old with a team of four including myself. It is a long day care service and it is called the preschool room. I started to work with an almost Diploma and two assistants. My team and the groupings of children have changed so much over the course of 18 month that I am not even going to go into them all. There were 12 changes. TWELVE. I’m the ONE consistent adult in the room. It’s actually quite frustrating, why plan on something, when in a month’s time it will be obsolete or changed. At the moment I have a qualified partner and two assistants with 26 children aged 2-5 years old. I design the program and implement it with their help and support.

I get 2 hours a week programming which is often interrupted and I find it difficult getting into the groove of it all. I also did alot of work in the room alongside my children or when they are asleep or when things are quiet. I only coped with this role because of the skills I learned in my previous two jobs ~ especially the latter. I have learned that challenge leads to growth and innovation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Round Four: Second Year as Toddler & Preschool Room Team Leader

I have had to rethink how I engage with portfolios this year. I have engaged in a great deal of reflection at home, while at the shops, even while having coffee, in the shower or making dinner.

In my previous experience, portfolios have been these open ended creations individual to the child, the service and the educator. I think that can be quiet dangerous. In my experience of the past few years, the children who come full time, or who are more extroverted, or who spend the most time with their educators are the ones who get the most content in their portfolios. The children who are more timid and shy, more independent of their educators or who simply have more quiet personalities or just don’t “take” to the whole early childhood service experience are the ones who miss out. So what do we do to try and even out the playing field? 

The answer I came up with was to create sort of format to use. This would mean:
· that all the staff, regardless of their experience or education, would know what the portfolios was expected to look like.
· each child would have a more consistent and even portfolio
· there would be balance within the content of the portfolio.
· that when portfolios are transferred with the children to another educator, then the educator can easily continue with that child’s progress.
· It is easier for educators to ask for help and support. 

I am the one who hates to be told what to do and how to do it. I do not like following “focus child systems” where you have to observe Samara on Monday, and Olivia on Tuesday and Aiden on Wednesday. I do not operate like that. I know that others do, and they thrive on it, but that is simply not me.

The Australian government has put out a national learning framework for the early childhood years which is to be implemented nationally.  This will of course change the way that many practitioners operate. I know that not all centres use portfolios for the children attending their service. I also know that many services also use a portfolio of artwork and photos and maintain separate developmental information on each child. That is just so much work in that. What if you could streamline things? What if you could have everything in the one place? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Well, I think it does.
I have found that I was somewhat frustrated at times because I have only set aside a certain amount of space for individual observations. As a result, my prolific children who are getting ready to go off to school, are doing more work than I have space for, and I’m strongly driven to document their efforts and creations. These books are all about them after all. So, as a result, I am slightly altering the format for those children. I am giving them more space, and allowing them more opportunity to construct their own books.  I have still set a “minimum” for the portfolios, but I’ve relaxed the structure and come to a happy medium. I am pleased with where this is heading.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Personal Philosophy of The Portfolio ...

I’ve been doing lots of research on children’s developmental portfolios ... I’ve been doing it for years and years actually. I don’t remember what was discussed at university at all ... so even if it were, it obviously didn’t make much of an impression.  What I have read about portfolios places such a huge emphasis on “assessment” and “development” and what the child can or cannot do. How much of that is really important? Yes, a child should be confident in achieving certain milestones at little school, but how much of that is really truly important? We all develop in our own ways, in our own time. We all get there in the end.

So how do I view portfolios today? I love them. I resent them at times to be honest, but for the most part, I greatly enjoy creating them and working on them with the children and sharing them with the families. I love it when the parents tell me how much they love the portfolios and how much they have enjoyed looking at them with their children and families. I appreciate the feedback about the learning that the children are taking home.

So what do I think of when I am putting together a portfolio?
·    Does this make a good story? Does this story share an aspect of the child’s unique personality? Has the child learned someone wonderful about the world? Or themselves? Does this story illustrate the relationships the child has? Why is this moment special?  What does it say about the child and their experience?
·    How many children are involved in this experience (and therefore, how many portfolios can I put this into?!? 5? 7? 10? Whoohoo!).
·    All these photos are really charming, but on their own, can I really justify the time and expense of putting this into a single observation? i.e. I have to frame it, write about it in context, and then relate it to something of importance (not all the time mind you, but sometimes).
·    Does this help to reflect the child’s experience within their social contexts? (learning environment, home, local community?)
·     Does this entry reflect the curriculum of the learning environment?
In thinking about putting this book together I started to look at my own past work and it was really quite enlightening. When I was looking at some of my previous work, I had a book of photos of a full portfolio... I then photocopied this so there four images of A4 pages upon the one page ... I could then look at them critically and write ideas and notes on the large white margins. I could see my style of work from two years ago ... what I thought was memorable and important, what I said what I should have said, or what I would say now! I could also see how the portfolio came together and whether it flowed for me (the professional) and how it might look to a parent or another professional.