a group of people in a panel discussion

16 MayTHRIVE: Inspiring Sustained Excellence in Early Childhood Education and Care

Posted on 16 May 2024

By Kine Asgautsen

Yesterday, Wednesday May 15, 2024, over 160 early childhood education and care professionals from across Victoria convened at Melbourne Connect for ELAA’s face to face THRIVE event. It was a wonderful day of insightful discussions, presentations, and coming together as a sector. 

The day commenced with a traditional Welcome to Country by Wurundjeri Elder Tony Garvey, setting a respectful and inclusive tone for the event. ELAA (Early Learning Association of Australia) board member, Tracey McKay, opened the day by highlighting the significance of fostering excellence and innovation in early childhood education and care. 

Our first session, led by Matt Connell, General Manager of People & Culture at Cultura, emphasised the “Importance of Inclusive Practice”. Matt delved into cultural awareness, humility, and the importance of fostering intercultural communication. His presentation stressed the need to understand and address cultural biases and promote acceptance to create inclusive environments for our colleagues, families and children.  

In response to Matt’s presentation, Kim Knersch, Kindergarten Reform Lead from Baw Baw Shire Council said,” I‘m aware of my white privilege, but (for) those around me, I see it happen every day. I think there is a lot of work to be done in that area and I’m enthused to do it. I feel excited and invigorated (after the session).”  

Dr. Zid Mancenido from the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) presented on “Improving Outcomes Through Effective Use of Evidence” alongside his colleague Rowena Shirtcliff. They highlighted the critical role of data-driven decision-making in enhancing educational outcomes. He introduced participants to evidence-based resources related to family engagement and connectedness, urging the use of resources to support sustainable improvements in practice. This interaction session provided a chance for our attendees to talk about their services and share their expertise.  

Dr. Mancenido’s presentation intrigued our members to think about how to better utilise research in their day-to-day education practice. Nancy Drever from Best Chance Family Care said, “I’m reflecting a lot on how we can support our services to think more about research and how they’re using it.” 

Moderated by Andrew Cameron, our government panel included Bronwen FitzGerald from the Victorian Department of Education, Rhonda Livingstone from ACECQA, and Greg Norton, from the Victorian Government Quality Assessment and Regulation Division. This panel offered valuable insights into the National Quality Framework and Victorian ECEC policies and discussing the future directions of early childhood education regulation and support. 

Melissa from Glen Education appreciated the panel’s insights and their recognition of the sector. She said, “It was really important to hear from government officials this morning to get that overall vision and really a clear intent for the reforms. And just their acknowledgement of the work that we have done in the sector. To hear some of the statistics around how Victoria is (doing), I think it is incredible and how we are forging ahead across all the states.” 

The “Growing and Retaining a Workforce” panel discussion, moderated by Sage Michaels, featured insights from Mike Barker (HESTA), Sue Chamberlain-Ward (Gowrie Victoria), Russell Green (Yarra Warra Preschool), Lisa Hunter (Kids First Australia), and Stephanie Simopoulos (anzuk Education). The panellists discussed challenges and solutions related to workforce development, emphasising the importance of creating supportive and engaging work environments to retain skilled educators. 

Our focus shifted to ELAA members with the “Best Start, Best Life: How Do We Prepare?” session moderated by Leanne Rodriguez. This featured Mandy Baxter (Meli), Melissa MacMaster (Glen Education Inc.), and Sue Knowles (Waverley Meadows Preschool). The discussion centred on the implementation of funded three-year-old kindergarten programs and preparations for the upcoming Pre-Prep rollout. Panellists shared their experiences and strategies for overcoming potential barriers, providing practical advice for other service providers. 

Sally Norman, Director of Renown Kindergarten South Yarra said, “We saw the educators that are in the moment, they’re currently dealing with the bigger picture. And so really great seeing their practical strategies that they’re trying to put in place for their services, for me that was that’s kind of been the most valuable.” 

The final panel of the day, “Exceeding National Quality Standards”, showcased ELAA members who have achieved the NQS ‘Exceeding’ or ‘Excellent’ ratings. Moderated by ELAA board member Stacey Fox, the panel included Sean Bundy (Kinglake Ranges Children’s Centre), Hayley Gerber and Shelley Fallowfield (Kids First Australia). Our panellists shared their approaches and best practices, offering inspiration and actionable insights for others working towards an exceeding or excellence rating. Sean’s story became the highlight of the session and was a perfect ending for the day. Our members were deeply touched and inspired by Kinglake Ranges Children’s Centre’s journey of survival and transformation from natural disaster and trauma. 

As we farewelled our members at the door at the end of this incredible one-day event, we genuinely believed that THRIVE not only provided valuable insights but reinforced the collective commitment to achieving sustained excellence in early childhood education and care. We look forward to coming together again to continue our shared journey of thriving in ECEC. 

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