Monday, July 4, 2011

Meeting National quality assurance in my classroom

This post might not be of interest to many of you. This is, however, of very high importance to anybody owning and developing their own services, to assure the children are provided with the best quality possible. This should be a prioity to all of us working in the early childhood education. Here, in Ireland,  the development of Siolta marked a milestone in this quest for quality. The number of childcare services has largely increased over the past decade, ranging from child-minding, day fostering, playgroups, cr√®ches, preschools etc.. Organisations have been created to support all these practitioners and help them provide quality services. These organisations have developed quality insurance plans over the last few years and these programs were taken into account by Siolta when establishing a national quality assurance system, which is now mandatory for all services willing to work under the ECCE scheme (which offers free places in creches, playschools, and preschools.)

I have become very aware of the principles and standards Siolta developed in the following areas: rights of the children, communication, professional practice, health and welfare, curriculum, planning and evaluating, parents and families, legislation, identity and belonging etc.. There are a total of 16 areas being dealt with. Settling into quality assurance was obviously going to be progressive and time-consuming. Yet, if I want to achieve a very high standard of quality, assessment needs to be continuous and self-reflective.

My question was last year: "How do I achieve this?".  I am such a practical person, and I like to have everything under control, laid clearly and simply. So I googled a lot. And I decided to evaluate my practices by writing a "continuing Improvement plan" as advised by the National Australian NCAC.  
To do so, I decided to resort to 2 actions.
  1. First, I  consulted with all stakeholders to identify areas which may need to be prioritised for improvement.
  2. Then I created a self assessing checklist (you can download it here)
 I adapt my results to the Siolta standards. As improvement should be an ongoing process, I decided to pick on several aspects which seemed quite urgent or important. Don't be fooled, the whole thing is a huge undertaking and I have had to show lots of perseverance, and consistence. I started the whole process because I am good at taking initiatives and I am not afraid of work and challenges. But be warned: it is very challenging because you have  to take stock of what I do and why I do it in a particular way. Being criticised or advised can sometimes be hurtful or even frustrating but I have learnt to anticipate change and to recognise that it can be beneficial to my service. I had to show empathy and consideration towards others without doubting my own ability as a teacher and a preschool manager. However, I am delighted and very proud with what I have achieved as this plan considers several goals I should be working towards as part of my service delivery.

These goals could be the following: obtaining further teaching qualifications (I have just started a new Montessori course), creating an informative but simple leaflet for parents describing the Montessori Method of education and the way we apply it in our curriculum, reviewing all our safety procedures, reviewing our guidelines in relation of child protection, reviewing our policies and procedures within the setting related to the promotion of positive identities and belonging, reviewing the structured activities in our classroom and see if they support the learning and development of each child in the service, updating my staff on the Montessori method and the use of equipment to prevent any misuse of the material and allow good quality in our teaching methods (by training within the classroom three times a year and go over each piece of Montessori equipment and by reminding them of the way it should be presented to the child and used. I  also put up signs over the several Montessori shelving units, with a summary of the 3 period lessons and a list of the equipment available at each level of development).... The list of goals goes on and on.

Sorry if this post was a bit "lengthy"... I got carried away. But this is a topic I have at heart. i want the best for the children you step into my classroom and this is one way for me to keep on my toes!!

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