The introduction of the National Quality Framework, with its emphasis on quality learning environments, has led to an abundance of workshops, articles, and resources on this topic. However, they’ve been focussed largely on the physical environment, which may have given the misleading impression that quality learning environments are synonymous with quality physical environments.
This overlooks the pivotal role educators play in any successful care and education setting. Educators are more important than the environment and resources. Your effectiveness as an educator also depends on your personal characteristics, as well as your practices.
Understandably, the recruitment of educators focuses on the regulatory requirements of formal qualifications, experience, positive working with children checks, current first-aid, asthma and anaphylaxis training, and child protection training. Other requirements emphasised include: Belonging, Being and Becoming 2009 (BB&B) and My Time, Our Place 2011 (MTOP); ability to relate to children, families and staff; enthusiasm; and, a passion for working with children.
Once employed, professional development invariably focuses on programming and documentation, intentional teaching, reflective practice, collaborative partnerships with families, effective teamwork and guiding children’s behaviour. However, a quality educator needs more than these.
Haim Ginott, the child psychologist and parent educator who wrote Teacher and Child (1972), identified the essential characteristic of quality educators is the ability to recognise that…
…they have enormous power over the children in their care, and the responsibility this places on them to use this power appropriately. They can determine the type of day the children will have. They can influence how children feel about themselves. They can also affect how children feel about and treat each other.
Other researchers have also identified important characteristics for educators, such as being kind, authentic, empathetic, caring, compassionate, creative, adaptable, a life-long learner, forgiving, inspirational, organised, resilient, patient, resourceful, positive, accepting of mistakes, a good listener, able to negotiate and solve problems, persistent, fair and equitable, consistent, able to cope with ambiguity, and balanced in our own lives.
Further, educators need to have the life skills of ‘a positive attitude, teamwork, cooperation, constructive use of the imagination, perseverance and determination, pride in our work, communication, acceptance of diversity and a multi-cultural society, recognising opportunities, setting goals, facing challenges, coping with change …’ (Peter Price, Early Edition Winter 2014, p. 2).
What would we see from quality educators using these positive characteristics? They would:
- Recognise and seize opportunities to build resilience in a child who spills their lunch and cries—instead of focussing on stopping the child crying, the educator would help the child deal with the problem of what he/she will now have for lunch.
- Use encouragement rather than praise—it takes a moment to use and is subtle, but it values the child more.
- Skilfully respond to a parent speaking in disparaging terms about their child in front of the child—a quality educator also knows how to manage a parent who is criticising another educator or suggests that the educator can discipline their child inappropriately.
- Communicate with a parent, wanting to leave an unwell child at the centre, in a way that educates the parent about the busy day their child has at the centre, and how difficult that might be for the child when they are unwell, even if they have been playing at home.
- Imbue children with purpose, with that walk and look of ‘I know what I am doing. I know what I am about’.
- Model inclusion when recognising that a child has difficulty joining the group or being accepted.
- Share information with a parent about a child’s dispositions—for example, ‘He is really imaginative and a great problem-solver. He was upset but then found a toy he enjoyed so he self-soothed. It’s so good that he has the ability to sort out his problems. His curiosity will be very helpful to him as he continues with his learning. He was very resourceful today.’
- Delay aspects of their response to a child exhibiting inappropriate behaviour until the child is ready to receive the guidance—and this guidance is not witnessed by onlooking children.
Quality educators provide quality physical environments. However, they contribute far more to the learning environment by being determined to be the best person they can be, as well as the best teacher. That is the essence of a quality educator.