What we heard
We heard that access to professional learning and opportunities to network and share knowledge with other teachers and educators is highly valued, but it can be difficult to find the time or the backfill.
The challenges that arise during a day on the floor, such as how to incorporate effective inclusion and support children with a range of learning needs, are best overcome with on-the-job supports and additional career development opportunities.
Teachers and educators told us a wealth of skills and knowledge exists within the kindergarten workforce, and professionals with many years’ experience are a critical source of support and expertise for their colleagues. It is important for these experienced professionals to be supported to extend their own practice and we heard career development supports are often not targeted to this group.
We heard that being recognised, valued and supported in the contribution individuals make to delivering high-quality kindergarten programs is important to maintaining wellbeing. We also heard that supporting workforce wellbeing and preventing burnout is an important factor in retaining staff.
What we are doing
Well-targeted career supports, wellbeing initiatives and professional development opportunities support the delivery of quality kindergarten programs, bolster confidence and job satisfaction and contribute to retention.
It is important that we continue to work with the sector to provide these supports for the workforce as it grows and assist services to implement local solutions to improve retention.
We have seen strong uptake in a range of department-led professional development and career supports. Almost 1,000 early childhood teachers have participated in the End-to-End Workforce Supports program, which includes coaching, communities of practice and an alumni conference, since its launch in 2021. More than 4,000 early childhood professionals have also engaged in the Three-Year-Old Teaching Toolkit professional learning package. Peer learning is also being supported through the 65 Early Years Learning Networks which have been established across Victoria.
Since the release of the 2021 strategy, we have extended our suite of career supports with the introduction of a new Early Childhood Coach and Mentor Training program which provides an important career development opportunity for experienced teachers and educators to develop their coaching and mentoring capabilities. In addition, we have expanded the Victorian Early Years Awards to broaden the recognition of our highly skilled early childhood professionals. Two new categories were introduced in 2023 to recognise Aboriginal inclusion and perspectives in services and highlight the achievements of educators.
At this time of significant change, there is more we can do in partnership with the sector to support teachers and educators throughout their careers and assist services in their efforts to lift workforce wellbeing and retention.
Building on our existing supports, we will:
- Work with teachers and educators to design new ways to expand the career pathways of our experienced kindergarten workforce. This will include the development of a new Experienced Teacher Mentoring project to utilise the expertise of experienced teachers in sustainable ways to build the skills of the broader workforce.
- Support experienced teachers and educators to continue to build their skills by expanding professional development offerings that are tailored to their needs and interests. These new professional learning opportunities will be co-designed with the workforce, including the Early Childhood Education Workforce Reference Group.
- Strengthen the process for accessing support for children with disability, complex medical needs and developmental delay through the Kindergarten Inclusion Support program. The Preschool Field Officer program will also be boosted in growth areas of the state, to provide targeted advice about how teachers and educators can develop their programs and practice to be more inclusive and responsive to children with additional needs.
- Increase awareness across the sector of best practice workforce retention strategies through the development of an evidence-informed guide. This guide will highlight the effective strategies and practices being implemented by services to support workforce wellbeing and successfully retain their staff.
- Encourage service providers to develop and implement innovative place-based solutions to retain educators, as well as early career teachers, by expanding the successful Innovation Grants program.
Innovative ‘scenario-based’ tool for new teachers
Every day is different in early childhood education, with teachers encountering situations that are as varied as the children themselves. This can be overwhelming for early career teachers and educators.
In response, the experienced team from Monash Vale and Bridge Road Early Learning Centres created the ‘EMPOWER’ tool. A dynamic online coaching and networking tool, EMPOWER can support early career teachers through myriad everyday scenarios. It was co-created with teachers, using funding from the Victorian Government’s Innovation Grants Program.
“There is so much you can’t really learn until you’re out there on the floor,” says Karen Turner, centre pedagogical leader. “It might be to do with the support needs of children, or the practicalities of setting up a classroom … The tool will give you professional advice, ideas and feedback on a wide range of specific scenarios.”
“We had already mapped the various skills, challenges and needs of our own staff, so we could support them in a really targeted way,” says Anna Moutzouris, centre director and an industry veteran of more than 30 years. “The grant has allowed us to extend this thinking to help others.”
Scenarios are grouped under seven themes: transition to work, professional skills, teaching and curricula, relationships with children, engagement with families, teamwork, and mentoring and support.
The team are now establishing EMPOWER’s day-to-day management and operation, before launching it online, to ensure its long-term success.