Winton is a small rural and remote town located in central-west Queensland. It has a population of around 900 people and the community relies heavily on the tourism industry as their main sources of income. Little Swaggies Child Care Centre is a licensed 41-place centre that operates from 7:30am to 5:30pm 5 days a week. Before and after school care, as well as vacation care, is offered. There are 3 rooms in the service – 6 weeks to 2 years, 2 years to 3.5 years and the kindergarten room for 3.5 to 5 years.
In the past, Little Swaggies Child Care Centre has experienced issues recruiting and retaining a qualified Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) to run the kindergarten program. An interchange agreement was negotiated between Winton Shire Council and the Department of Education to ensure the kindergarten program would be run by a qualified ECT.
Susan, a fully registered primary school teacher, agreed to take the opportunity offered through the interchange agreement while on maternity leave. She began the ACECQA approved, diploma-level education and care qualification (ECT bridging course) and undertook some of the modules while on leave. Susan also completed the practicum requirements of the course at the centre which she found very helpful, as they gave her the opportunity to familiarise herself with staff and children at the centre, along with the different room routines. Susan completed the remaining modules and practicum once she was working in her role as a kindergarten teacher.
In August 2019, Susan applied to be part of the Mentoring Early Childhood Teachers (MECT) program. To support her learning, the MECT program provided access to all the features of the Mentoring Preservice Early Childhood Teachers program, including access to a fully trained and qualified mentor ECT and professional learning opportunities based on the National Quality Standards.
Susan was matched with a mentor who had become an Early Childhood Teacher through a similar pathway. The similarity proved very beneficial for the mentoring partnership. Susan's mentor could readily understand and empathise with the struggles that Susan was experiencing as a first time ECT in an early childhood setting. Susan was very keen to address the big shift from teaching in primary school to teaching in an early childhood setting and she recognised that her participation in the MECT pilot program would offer further opportunity for professional development.
The initial mentoring partnership session was completed over the phone. Susan and her mentor teacher agreed it would be most convenient to communicate via email, which happened on an as-needed basis. They discussed many topics, including the differences between primary teaching and kindergarten teaching, how to ensure continuity of learning for children who attend only 3 days a week and those who attend 5 days a week, interest area setup ideas, diversity and inclusion and creating transition statements.
Susan is striving to be the best early childhood teacher she can be as she strongly believes that children in rural communities deserve the best. Like all teachers, she sometimes has moments of self-doubt. Susan has had conversations with the Central Queensland Early Childhood Lead Mentor and this has helped her work through some moments of uncertainty. Susan is not afraid to ask for help and she actively participated in or viewed the webinars offered as part of the mentoring program. In her opinion, the webinars are a valuable part of MECT Program. The topics are relevant and the guest speakers are informative.
The information and support of the MECT program has helped Susan build a positive work culture. She shares information about the approved learning framework and curriculum planning to support the other educators in the centre. Susan uses her new knowledge to set goals to improve her teaching practice and regularly engages in professional conversations with the staff at her centre and her wider networks. After almost 12 months in the role, Susan feels more confident and with the support received from the mentoring program, follows the interests of the children and plans activities that will allow them to grow as learners.
Susan completed her diploma qualification in February 2020 and her relationship with her mentor formally concluded.
Susan found kindergarten teaching very different to primary school teaching. In her new kindy setting, she enjoys being able to follow the interests of the children as they really buy-in to the learning experiences.
The remote location of Winton can produce challenges. Responding to children's interest areas and curriculum planning often requires educators at Little Swaggies to be imaginative and resourceful. They often stock up on items 'just in case' when they are in the big city as they cannot pop down to the cheap shop or K-Mart to gather resources and supplies for a particular interest area.
Another challenge for Susan was the fact that she was the only kindergarten teacher in town. She finds substantial benefit in connecting with other ECTs. When possible, she asks experienced early childhood teachers' questions and has found that their answers are often different. This can sometimes result in moments where she doubts what she is doing and she worries that she's not doing enough for the children in her class or she's doing too much. Susan believes that it would be very beneficial to observe another kindy teacher at work and visit another kindy room.
Susan plans to continue her learning journey in her role as an Early Childhood Teacher. She is considering enrolling in a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, so she will have opportunities to observe and learn from more experienced teachers and to expand her knowledge of early childhood education. Susan continues to participate in the webinar sessions offered as part of the mentoring program. She would also like to visit other kindy rooms in other day care centres, observe how they are run and ask the teacher about their planning and programming.
Although the mentoring partnership has concluded, Susan is still able to contact her mentor for support when necessary. Her professional network has expanded and she intends to continue to access departmental staff such as the Early Childhood Lead Mentor and the Early Years Coaches at the Central Queensland Regional Office.
Case studies and mentoring studies