Inclusive environments empower everyone: A whole learning community approach presented by Emma Woods and Emma Pierce.
Hello, and thanks for joining us today for our discussion, titled 'Inclusive environments empower everyone: A whole learning community approach.'
My name is Emma Woods and I'm an Early Childhood Australia Be You Consultant. I'm an early childhood teacher who has engaged in a number of education and care settings in the past 12 years. I advocate for families, educators and children to be provided with culturally sensitive, inclusive and mentally healthy education and support. I have with me Emma Pierce and we will be presenting together today. Emma, would you like to introduce yourself and provide some further insights on what the session's about today?
Yes. Hi, I'm Emma Pierce. I'm resource coordinator with the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency. I work for KU Children's Services, I'm also a teacher by background and I've worked across federal and also New South Wales inclusion support programs, also as an academic, as a project manager and prior to that, I worked in the early childhood intervention space for around 20 years. Makes me feel very old.
This session is appropriate for early childhood professionals and it explores how inclusive environments lead to positive outcomes for children, for families, and also for sector professionals through the lens of empowerment. So we hope that today is going to provide moments of affirmation that confirm the great work that you're already doing, some ideas around innovation and reflection as we explore frameworks, resources and tools to support your environments and your communities to be inclusive for everybody.
So now Emma's going to share an Acknowledgement of Country.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are meeting on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respect to the Elders, past and present. Budyeri kamaru, which means hello in the Gadigal Language, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which the Sydney CBD is built. Gadigal Country is part of the Eora nation from Port Jackson, the Parramatta River and the coast.
I would also like to acknowledge my mother's Country by saying Yirdhu Marang Mudyigalang, which means G'day in Wiradjuri Language as I have a very spiritual connection to that place. I'd also like to acknowledge where I currently come from and the land I live on by saying Kaya, which is hello in Wadjuk Noongar Language.
Today we have people joining us from all over the country. So it would be wonderful if people could share their own acknowledgement by putting the name of Country they are on in the chat, or just taking a moment to sit and pay your respects to that Land that you're on personally. I would like to recognise the resilience, strength, and bravery of all of these First Nation communities across the place we call Australia.
So in today's session, we aim to provide a safe space to discuss information around personal and team reflection.
As part of making our virtual space safe - that's a bit of a tongue tie, but I got there - please consider confidentiality and privacy throughout the sessions when using the discussion forum and the chat box.
So we would like to hear from you throughout the session, so please feel free to participate through the discussion forum, chat and polls that will be made available to you.
Now the image that you can see on your screen has contact details for Beyond Blue, Headspace and a number of other services that you may find useful should you need to reach out for some external support. This is a poster resource. It's also available on our website.
We acknowledge that each of us come to this session, possibly being faced with many difficult challenges. And we thank you for making the time to join us, to learn more about inclusion and the power in which it provides.
We hope that you will come away from this session feeling empowered to try some new strategies or recognise the strategies that already work for you, as Emma had said during the introduction.
So for those of you who don't know about Be You, or haven't been in one of our Virtual Conferences before, Be You is the national mental health initiative for educators and are the organisers of this conference. It is led by Beyond Blue, in partnership with Early Childhood Australia and Headspace. It's completely free, available to every educator, early learning service and school in Australia.
Be You empowers educators to support children and young people's social and emotional wellbeing and their own mental health. It offers educators online Professional Learning, fact sheets, webinars and other resources. It offers learning communities, tools and processes to implement a whole learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.
To support this, you will be provided with a contact consultant whose role is to support your exploration and use of these resources. In fact, you have the support from a whole team of Be You Consultants throughout a variety of sessions and events. If you're interested in finding out more about Be You, head to our website: beyou.edu.au or explore the implementation story, which has been added to the chat for you as well.
Now, Emma, you're going to just run us through the session outline today, so we can get started into discussing the powerful topic of inclusion and the intersectionalities with mental health and wellbeing.
So you know what to expect today, we're going to be setting the scene by exploring what inclusion, empowerment and advocacy are. And then we're going to be covering how inclusive environments or empowering environments and what this may entail. And then we're going to look at how empowered, confident, competent educators can be strong advocates for inclusive practices. And we're going to highlight the importance that strong collaborative relationships play in realising an inclusive environment too.
So during our discussion, we invite your contribution and responses to the reflective questions in the discussion forum chat box.
We'd love to read your thoughts. We have a team working behind the scenes to support your engagement. They are the wonderful Louis, Cris and Tahlia. Tahlia will be sharing relevant links in the discussion forum chat, as we mentioned resources and tools during our discussion, Cris will be controlling the polls and Louis is in the chat ready to engage with you all. Welcome to the team and thank you for your support.
Now to start the session, we will begin with a poll. Now this should now be shown on your screen, I'm hoping. So the question we are asking you is to choose from the statements available that resonate most with you when considering the term inclusion.
We have a number of statements and you may find yourself needing to select more than one. We decided on starting with this poll to help set the tone of our discussion today, before we see the results. Emma, could you share with us why our audience might find the poll challenging and then chat about these results as well?
No problem. So, I guess the reason that people will find it perhaps a little bit challenging is that it's hard to define. Inclusion is hard to define and people will see it in really different ways and it does make it challenging to choose.
I really love a statement that I read recently made by Dr Kathy Collogon, and she said that "inclusion is not an end point. It's a process. It's a philosophy and an ever-evolving set of practices". And to me that sums it up. We don't just get to, 'Okay, We're completely inclusive'. We have to keep reflecting and keep on working on this.
So let's have a little look at the results from our poll. I can see that lots and lots of people are choosing 'differences being recognised, explored, explored and supported', which is great to see, but there's also, people are responding right across all of those statements there. Big response for 'supporting an individual to participate' too and 'supporting families, to gain access to services and support' is also coming up too.
It's great to see and, you know, while we've got that really large coming through on there, the differences being recognised, we can still see how, you know, the audience is still picking out of the rest of those statements.
So next we'd like to look at what we really mean by these statements: inclusion, empowerment and advocacy. So to start off with inclusion. Inclusion does occur when the strengths and rights of every child and young person are recognised, but not just recognised, encouraged and supported.
Inclusion is not just about children with disabilities being with their typically developing peers. It's about ensuring that children of all cultural backgrounds, abilities, every child is able to access and participate fully in the early childhood education and care setting.
So inclusion is based on that premise. As I said before, that every child has the right to participate in a high quality early childhood education setting. And I guess inclusion really happens when all children are viewed as being capable learners and viewed as being able to contribute. So that view of the child, again, our image of the child is important.
Inclusion isn't about fixing or changing the child so that they fit in. It's about actually changing what we do as educators so that all children are able to participate. So it's more about us than about the child in many ways.
Inclusion does happen when the focus is on the whole environment and not just on an individual child. It happens when diversity is acknowledged when it's respected and viewed as an opportunity for learning and growth too. So all educators need to be able to identify inclusion barriers and learn about ways that they can overcome them.
So it also happens when people are encouraged to do things independently, when children are supported to contribute. When they're enabled to make their own choices and when they're able to play with their same age peers. And, really importantly, when children feel safe and valued. So really that surely should almost come first because everything else is going to flow from that. And when children have opportunities to explore and learn new things. So, Emma, would you be able to tell us a little bit about how empowerment relates to inclusion?
Sure. So empowerment. While this is the theme of the Be You Virtual Conference, we want it to highlight how an empowering and an inclusive environment go hand in hand. An empowering environment is one where everyone has a voice, can participate and have routine opportunities for leadership. They help to foster resilience and positive social and emotional learning.
Let's take a moment to consider: What are the things that make you feel empowered? Please share your thoughts in the discussion forum.
While exploring empowerment, this also made us think of the term building capacity, which Emma and I were discussing during our preparations for today's session and we are in agreeance that capacity building is an important stepping stone towards becoming an empowered environment.
So we'll just see if there's any comments coming through from that question that we did have out to the audience. Yeah, I can see some people saying, being heard and being able to make decisions. Feeling like being heard, once again, being valued and respected, feeling supported some really great terms of being used here. Yep. Heaps, there's more coming through.
Being heard, being listened to, being valued. Fantastic.
Working collaboratively was another one that came through there. So we wanted to make that connection between these terms as one does not go without the other. And they may be seen as similar practice, so that's building capacity and empowered environments.
So, which also makes me think of the term then advocacy, you know, one of those terms that we hear and, Emma, would you like to explore this term with the audience?
Yeah, sure. So as educators, we do have a responsibility for promoting an empowering environment, but also for collaborating with key people in a child's life, to uphold the rights of children so that children are able to actually exercise agency and autonomy. But in doing that, educators need to be able to advocate, to promote the value also, and the importance of the role of early childhood educator. So we often talk about how maybe it's not as valued as it should be, but I think we can actually play a really key role in facilitating that and letting the community know about why it's such an important role. So we need to be able to become confident in articulating what it is that we do and why working in an inclusive way is vital. So there might be times when someone might question the value of inclusion, or might suggest that you do something that doesn't quite sit right with you and with your philosophy around inclusion. We need to be able to say why it's so important and why educators knowledge of children's needs to be heard. So in that way, educators are not only educating children or working with children, it's educating the whole community to have far more reaching impacts.
So it is best practice for an environment to be set up, to be inclusion ready. And this is a concept that I think is really important to think about for any child or family that might come in through the front door. So, what that means is planning for the environment and as part of that, the educators to be as prepared as possible to welcome and include children from diverse abilities, from every cultural background. It means identifying any current barriers as being a good starting point to plan for inclusion readiness too.
So when families, children, educators all feel welcome and have that sense of belonging, it'll come as no surprise to everybody, that's when we're best placed to actually participate meaningfully in all of the experiences that are on offer. So an example might be, a very specific example might be, if a child comes along, perhaps they're 3 or 4 and they come along to enrol in a preschool or kindergarten setting and they're not yet toilet trained. So it would be really thinking about what needs to happen to ensure that that child can attend, because sometimes there'll be some accidental exclusion that might occur where the family think, oh, well there's no change facilities here, so we might go somewhere else where there are those change facilities. So we really need to be thinking proactively about what we can do to make sure that we're set up to take any child that comes along. It might be accessing something like a specialist equipment library through the inclusion agency to access something like a hydraulic change table or it might be thinking about other ways that we can prepare for that too. So educators are really important at doing that.
Yeah. And I love that term you used, accidental exclusion, and it can, you know, it can happen, can't it? We don't even realise we're doing it. And thank you, I'm also going to pick up on something else you were talking about. You suggested about your barriers and identifying those. And it's, you know, sometimes it can be challenging to be aware of or to notice barriers when the community may not have identified individual needs and requirements. So ways that we do this, and I know I have is, to use enrolment form information, family interviews, you know, those 'about me' surveys that might go out interactions, those conversations we have with families and observations of children's learning. These allow us to gain insights into the needs of the child and their family, so that adaptions can be made if they are required.
So it does bring to mind a Be You resource, the Be You Behaviours, emotions, thoughts, learning and social relationships Observation Tool, known as the BETLS tool. And this tool provides educators with a template to gather and document information and observations about any particular concern. So, Emma, it makes me think now what other ways could we be become more aware of these barriers?
I think that probably regular critical reflection as a team, but also individually is, is the best way to determine where those inclusion barriers lie and to plan to actually address them. So, yes, you might identify that you've never enrolled a child from a particular cultural background that you know exists within your community. So you might make a plan to build connections with that community, or to learn more about that culture to make sure that your program's more welcoming when families come along. And I would also mention as a tool, the strategic inclusion plan that underpins the federal inclusion support program is a fantastic tool for determining that barriers in partnership with an inclusion professional for those federally funded services. Those people are all very experienced early childhood educators who are able to help you reflect and help you work out what you might want or need to do.
So let's consider what each of these environments, as you can see, we've got on, on our screen there: inclusive environments are empowered environments. So, as I was saying, let's consider what each of these environments are calling for on their own.
So Felicity Menzies, the CEO of Include-Empower, recognises four factors for an inclusive environment. These are to have respect, create a sense of belonging, allow fair opportunities and allow space for empowerment.
Now the Diversity Council of Australia identifies that inclusion occurs when a diversity of people, so people of different ages, cultural backgrounds or genders feel valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their environment.
Those two definitions, I've just said, that is what an inclusive environment is calling for. You might've already be connecting these definitions with what you know is, you know, an empowered environment. So to explore this further, I do turn to the Be You 'Planning for Empowerment: Growing a mentally healthy generation' resource. This provides foundational elements for creating an empowering environment. And some of these are: Growing positive relationships, valuing and viewing children as capable and competent learners, which we've already had a little discussion about and mentioned, so providing opportunities for children to take increasing control of decisions. Having critical reflection, intentionality and educated actions that connect to philosophy, pedagogy practices, processes and curriculum.
So now that we have some understanding of what these environments are calling for on their own, I think it really does highlight that how can we have one without the other? And then I turned to you, I mean, one of the definitions had the other within it.
Absolutely, Emma. I would like to mention, I guess what's known as the social model, as opposed to a medical model of thinking about disability. With the medical model, it tends to place that emphasis on the more disabling results of the interaction between people with impairments and an environment that might be filled with physical attitudinal or communication or social barriers. So with the social model, there's that implication that these barriers need to actually change to enable the people living with an impairment of some sort to participate in society on an equal basis with others. This also can be considered in relation to cultural inclusion as well. When we consider, again, those similar challenges around whether a physical or the attitudinal or communication or social environment is either enabling people to feel more comfortable and participate or disabling that from happening. So all of these components are needed to actually create an accessible learning environment.
And so that makes me also think - I've got lots of thinking happening - but it does make me think, how are we to advocate for anyone's needs without their voice. And how do we hear their voice without the elements of empowerment to ensure that the environment meets their needs? So, what does this look like? What practical strategies, actions, and reflection can we engage in as early learning professionals? Emma, I you're going to share some projects and resources that the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency have developed to build that educator capacity around that.
Yeah, I'd really like to let people know about a project that the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency embarked on. It started off a couple of years ago, but the goal was to capture children's voices around the themes of inclusion, diversity and fairness. So the aim was to actually highlight children's knowledge, their feelings, their perspectives on those themes and how it can actually inform educators, reflection and planning in their everyday work with children, but also when they're actually thinking about addressing some of those broader issues of social justice and equity. The other thing we wanted to do was actually utilise and listen to children's voices and have that inform and guide inclusion professionals' work in supporting educators to be inclusive too.
So what you'll notice on this slide as well is there's a couple of images there. What we asked children about in this project was the topics of belonging, of difference and around the 26th of January, also known as Australia Day. So we're going to talk a bit here a little bit about what those children said, but you'll notice on the right-hand side, there, there's a drawing by a little girl called Clytie, who was seven at the time, this reflected what her family would do on Australia Day and how her family viewed that day as Survival Day and celebration of survival was what she talked about in her drawing. So she didn't talk very much verbally about that, but she actually drew her feelings and her thoughts there.
You'll notice in the image on the left-hand side there's a little girl, who's a little bit hard to see, but she's using a visual support to indicate what choice of book she would like to read. So this is a photo taken in a service near Illawarra in New South Wales, where this service has embedded visual supports and keywords sign right across their under twos program. The educators are really attuned at reading children's behaviour, their non-verbal communication and putting in place methods for children to be able to indicate choice and communicate their needs and wants, which is fantastic.
It's actually become even more important, I think, to think about not just those verbal voices, but also ensuring that nonverbal voices are heard as well. So we really need to think about how we can facilitate that as educators. So it really highlights the themes we've spoken about. And I guess it, it prompts a question which we'd love you to respond to in the chat, in the discussion forum. So the question is: how do we create opportunities to hear children's voices? So we'd love to hear what you do in your service. We'd love you to share those thoughts. And as you're entering that in, I would love to share a couple of the responses that children gave in that Children's Voices project that I was talking about too.
You're actually able to download the resource from, from the Inclusion Agency, NSW/ACT website too. So I can see some nice responses coming through there: expressing ideas through artwork, floor books, art - lots of art.
The traveling Ted there.
Yes. Yes. Lots of good art circles. Circle time, group time. Morning and afternoon minutes. So, all sorts of great ideas are coming through their Proloquo2Go great, to see some augmentative and alternative communication being used too. Using the iPad, mindmaps fantastic. Lots of examples there. Thank you.
So I'd love to just share a couple of responses that the children gave. So I'll just wait for that next slide to come up for me.
Thanks for all of you for adding to the chat - continue to do that.
So many great ideas. So, yes, this is the resource that you're able to download from the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency website. And you should have the link there that you can download that free resource. And a couple of really lovely responses from children. So this first question posed was: what makes other people different?
Tim who's five years old, had a very clear response, "If they like different stuff". And we had nice response from Evie, who's nine years old. She said, "I mean, everything makes everyone different - language, culture, just who you are. Everyone's different".
I particularly love this response to the question: what do you think people should do to help new people feel welcome?
I like "cushions", that's just such a lovely, practical response about the environment too. And what, for her, made that environment inclusive and welcoming. And I also find it really interesting to look at the responses that children had to this question: What does it feel like when you're new? So James, he said, "I feel little".
Now, if you do do download that resource, you'll find in there many responses from children that are quite great provocations, but there's also lots of reflective questions and things that educators can use as a springboard or a sounding board to get started on more thought around children's voices.
That's great. So we're going to move into just looking at how we can consider them through with our mental health lens on. So to do this, let's just take a moment to consider the Be You Mental Health Continuum. So we know that our mental health state can move along the continuum from flourishing at one end, and then on the other end, being severely impacted by everyday activities. Now throughout anybody's life, there are a range of influences and events, both positive and negative, that impact an individual's mental health.
These influences and events are known as risk and protective factors. Now risk factors may be biological. So for example, genetic, psychological, such as temperament and your personality, or it might be social as well. For example, family or the learning and community environments that you're in. Now protective factors are characteristics that reduce the likelihood of poor mental health, either on their own or when risk factors are present, and may be thought of as strengths or assets that help to be resilient and maintain good mental health and wellbeing.
So having an environment which supports children of all abilities, provides a protective factor for those who engage.
Now things we have been talking about so far support children to maintain or move towards the flourishing end of the continuum.
So look, I can really see that connection, I guess, between protective factors and children's voices. So when educators really plan to listen to and respond to everything that a child says or does it can provide that opportunity and agency for children to contribute to their environment and experiences. And I think it also really reinforces that they're valued. So I can see that link with mental health quite clearly there, which is really nice. So it increases their sense of self-esteem and belonging. If a child is able to communicate and is heard, they're going to be a lot less frustrated. So what, what services have told us is that they see less challenging behaviour as a result and they're feeling that everybody's calmer and happier when they're able to really listen to those children's voices, but also provide opportunities for children to have a voice where they may not have been heard previously.
And you can see how that would foster mental health, but from a really early age, which was so crucial, given everything we know about the earlier the better. So, yeah, when you're, I guess, adopting an inclusive framework for your environment, it is actually providing that positive mental health focus and outcomes for all children. So belonging's really at the centre of that.
So, I'll let you talk a little bit more about that.
So to further explore this, Emma, you just mentioned looking at an inclusive in our framework and the Be You Disability Inclusion Guide shares the Universal Design for Learning. Now the Universal Design for Learning outlines a set of principles that gives all children and young people equal opportunities to learn. It's a framework based on the idea that we all learn in different ways and therefore need different ways to access information, and to demonstrate what we know as well.
So the typical or average child does not exist. Children and young people have different interests and motivations for wanting to learn or discover things. And the way they do this best is diverse as well.
So by providing a range of resources and flexibility children and young people are empowered to engage in learning. This links back to our conversations about empowering learning environments, supporting all children to feel a sense of belonging and have the opportunity to thrive in learning and in relationships. And this is a protective factor for mental health. So the Universal Design for Learning has three principles, which are shown on your screen. These are to provide multiple means of engagement, to provide multiple means of representation and to provide multiple means of action and expression.
So, let me share an analogy from Dr Katie Novak, and this is the ice cream truck analogy. So I want you to imagine that you're at home and you can hear the sweet melody of that ice cream truck coming in the distance. You're getting really excited. It's a really hot day.
And you're thinking right, what am I going to choose from this ice cream truck? I'm so excited. Now let's just transport ourselves to be in that truck where the ice cream person is, coming along the street. And so, in their preparations today, they've created this one ice cream, which is just so delicious. They've taken care and thought, and it's an ice cream full of nuts and it's strawberry flavoured.
And they're thinking, yes, this is going to sell out. It's the best ice cream ever, okay? Everyone's going to love it.
So now let's just think about the reality of this, okay. So not all customers are going to be able to have it. And these are the reasons why, and I'm sure many of you picked up that I did put in that ice cream, some nuts. And maybe the first thing you're going, oh, is allergies, so that might be one reason. Also, you might just not like strawberry. Oh, I don't like that flavour.
Or it might be that you while you heard that melody you're going, yes, I've picked this and you're wanting something else. You know, you're wanting that choc top that you've had before. So, and you're really excited about that. So this shows us that an ice cream truck cannot just sell one product.
Now the same thing goes for our environments. When we are setting up play areas or teaching a new concept or a concept, we cannot just offer it in one way, because if we do, everyone gets really excited to come and engage in the environment, only to find they cannot have the same opportunities that others have, because it was only represented or provided to them in one way.
So let's transform this analogy and discuss what this looks like in an early childhood setting. So let's think about our block area and Emma, what might this look like if we were applying the Universal Design for Learning principles?
I think blocks are a great example to think about as they're in every early childhood service. What I guess sometimes happens with blocks is we might just put them all in a pile, or we might perhaps even have them neatly packed in a basket and hope that children are just going to go over to that basket or pile and use their imagination and create something that they want to create of their own choosing. And absolutely some children will do that and will initiate that and will know how to enter, play and do all of that.
But for other children, they might really benefit from some scaffolding, for example, some use of visual supports. Maybe to present choices about what they can play with or some of the different ways that they might use those materials, if they might have some need for some support around coming up with ideas and things. Or if they haven't ever played with blocks before, if they don't know what to do.
So by offering a range of support, this is actually more equitable. It's ensuring that children are actually able to make a choice in their play. Whereas if we just were to offer the same thing for everybody, it's not really going to be equitable because it might actually mean that people can't all participate.
Yeah. And for those blocks, if you've just got that one type of block is the other. You know, while we've got all those different ways we can play with them. But the different shapes in the, you know, the different sizes is also important. So our audience might be thinking, this is what we do on a daily basis. And I ask you to reflect and share in the chat: How do you use the Universal Design for Learning in your setting?
So this might be a bit of that affirmation time that we spoke about during the introduction. It's also good to note that our Early Years Learning Framework echoes these Universal Design for Learning principles, such as having high expectations and equity and as well as having respect for diversity. So while those responses come through, Emma, are there any examples or thoughts you have where Universal for Design for Learning are considered?
Good question, and it's great to see, as some of those responses are starting to come through, that people are really embedding practices that might have originally started with a strategy that you established based on a child with a disability's needs. So it might be that, for example, you put into place a visual support for the rhythm of the day because one child was having trouble knowing when their parent was coming to pick them up. But then what we discover is that actually that's really beneficial for all children.
Or a keyword sign, they're probably really good examples of some of those practices that can be used with all children and actually benefit everybody. And that way they're actually, it is actually inclusive. It's not pointing out one child was being different. It's not making something special for one person, that's actually doing things in an inclusive way. So great to see some of those responses coming through. Open-ended experiences. Yep. Some. Placing resources at different levels, yep. So yeah, a combination of things coming through there, blocks on tables, you know, in different places, in different locations, thinking about different sensory areas. And yes, so many good examples.
There are some coming through where it's not just focusing on the inside and looking on the outside and our outdoor environments as well, which, which is, which is really great that we're acknowledging, you know, we know that. It's across every environment that those children are engaging in while they're learning. Yeah.
So there were some great connections in examples, which leads us into our next discussion around our role as educator to be strong advocates for inclusive environments. But before we go there, and then you're going to share, that to be able to do this, we need to consider our perspectives on the way that children learn.
And I think that really early childhood educators are our experts in this. I'm not going to be telling you anything that you don't already know, but hopefully it is really affirming because the research certainly supports also that children do learn through play and through those key relationships with people. So the well-known researcher, Tim Moore, that's a nice quote from him there. And there's also a lovely quote from the Be You Disability Inclusion Guide there too. But this image of the jelly beans. If we were to say that there were 91 jelly beans in this jar. And we would think about that as 91 hours that a child who is, say about 3, is awake in a week.
If you were to think about how many of those hours that in the, in their waking week that they would be with you, say in an early childhood service, maybe they'd be with you for say 24 hours in the week. That's a big chunk of their week when they're learning with you. A big chunk of their week when they're learning with their parents. But often they will have heard, say from a paediatrician or medical professional, that they need to access something like therapy. But what we'll find is that that's actually probably only one hour in a week or one hour in a fortnight. So really, learning is going to be happening across that whole week. So that's a really important key message about how children learn through natural situations through those relationships with everybody, rather than necessarily in a one-to-one setting with a therapist. A small chunk of their week. The other thing, I'd probably add there is that the trusting relationships that educators build with children and families really does enable you to advocate for those benefits of inclusion too.
So in supporting children to understand and embrace difference. That's another key role. So for all children, but also helping families to, to see all of that learning that's occurring in your setting and therapists who are visiting too. So it's that advocacy again, coming through.
So that sort of takes us here and to empowered educators are strong advocates for inclusive practices.
So while the leadership team of early learning services and schools have a vital role creating and achieving inclusion in a learning community, every educator plays a significant role as Emma has just discussed with the jelly bean and analogy, educators are well-placed to support and promote inclusion, regardless of what is happening in your learning community. Where the leadership is emerging or the structural barriers you can and do make a difference as an educator, as you have the agency to get to know families, build relationships, to facilitate collaboration, be committed to identifying the strengths of every child and implement strategies and change. And I think that analogy I'm going to go back to it again with those jelly beans, Emma set the scene that it really is across our learning environments and our families.
So educators have great insights, training and knowledge of a child's development and, as such, are enabled to be great advocates for children. So the language that we use can support our advocacy and understanding the power of language. So the Be You Disability Inclusion Guide has a mini guide within it. It's called the 'Quick guide to inclusive language'. It's important to use inclusive language because language is influential and, Emma, inclusive language?
So it's, it's an interesting one, isn't it? Language is so important. We also need to remember that there's going to be different sets of language used when we dissect with families. So we all can tend to accidentally fall into jargon. So I think that's worth being conscious of, there'll be different sets of language that therapists will use from all their different backgrounds and also schools, different language there too. So it's also, we're thinking about differences in preference. So generally we're often told that person-first languages is a good way to go as a rule of thumb. So, for example, a child who has Down syndrome. But many autistic advocates actually prefer to use disability-first language, as they may see the neurodiversity is a really vital part of their identity.
And they may like to state that up front, but again, it's different for different people. So I think it's always a good idea to ask people about their preferences.
And, you know what I'm hearing that thing coming through and hoping that that term, this term is coming to you all as well. Is relationships. So the guide also has an 'Inclusion myth buster' within it. It contains quick reminders of what inclusion is or isn't.
It is useful when you might need to dispel some of those, some of the common myths and misconceptions about the value of inclusion in a learning community. You might use this in an all-team meeting as a reminder, or to, you know, explore by heading into small groups to discuss and then possibly researching some of the myths further. It also might encourage you to create a list of myths that relate to the needs in your learning environment as well.
So Emma, are there any others that you can think of, or have observed?
I think there is still that big myth out there that including children with additional needs may disadvantage typically developing children. Even though the research categorically tells us that actually there is so many benefits of inclusion for children. It's still out there, so we need to dispel that myth and uphold children's rights.
So it's important to recognise that being in this role is a journey and to be considerate to your own wellbeing and mental health.
When we take on new information or we reflect on our practices, this can heighten your stress levels as you have discovered you're needing to possibly unlearn and then relearn practices or attitudes or views, you know, to be able to move forward. And stresses are presented in many different ways. To learn more about stress and strategies to reduce stress, explore the Be You resource 'Planning for Wellbeing: mine, yours, ours'. Now identifying and reducing stress is a protective factor for mental health and is also a self-care strategy.
So reflecting on what skills you need for inclusion practices can be difficult. I'm going to share some listed from the Be You Disability Inclusion Guide. So there are five skills. So the first one, sorry, is to understand what you're working towards. And it's important to recognise that you're not going to have all of the answers. So that's the first skill there.
The next one is to consider your image of the child. So thinking about, you know, how you interact, how you talk with that child can be impacted on how you view them. So having a look at that, having high expectations, learning what you can do and to collaborate as well,
is another one there. So, Emma's going to now talk through inclusion support and where we can get some of that support to maybe to help us with those skills that I've just spoken about.
I think the key message is that people don't have to do this on their own, that there is inclusion support out there. So all federally-funded, early childhood education services will - so that's long daycare, family daycare, out of school hours care - have access to an inclusion professional, who they can work with to develop a strategic inclusion plan. So there should be a link there that will give you a little bit more information about strategic inclusion plan in the chat. And I'd also mentioned that state-funded preschools and kindergartens, you would be able to contact your state department of education for details on where you can access inclusion support too. So that map roughly shows us where they all are.
So the importance of strong, collaborative relationships. I mean, we linked that into some of the conversation that we had before. Is there anything further Emma that we could do, you know, regarding that?
I think it's about listening, working in partnership with families, finding out what their priorities are. That mutual sharing so that we can work together on shared goals and strategies is probably the main thing.
So those collaborative relationships, relationships that we do have. So now it's going to lead into, so while we're having those collaborative relationships, you've got something to tell us about a tool that might help us with this.
Yes. And I guess something in the last 5, 6 years has been the advent of the National Disability Inclusion Scheme, which has meant that families have that choice and control about how they access therapy. And I guess, again, an added accidental side effect of that has been that there's been many more therapists asking to visit services and schools. And sometimes not working in an inclusive way. So sometimes there's been exclusion happening, perhaps therapists working in a segregated way. And so there's a resource that's been developed called the Working Together Agreement that has been developed by a whole group of early childhood organisations who you'll see their logos there, to clarify those roles and priorities. And I guess to promote again, that idea of educators being advocates. So the link should be there, that you can download that free resource to support you to set up an agreement around clear roles and boundaries, and so on.
So here's just some information of what's next. So you might connect with a consultant and you can see them there. We do have a Be You conversation, which is just for the audience here today. And to book into that, the link has been added to the chat for you. We did have a poll there for you to choose, but I want you to, just to go away thinking what one of those resources you might go away with.
So we want to say thank you. A little bit more about Be You is to register as a whole learning community. Once again, information going through with the chat and visit our website and also our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Another really great place that you might like to subscribe to is the YouTube channel with Be You and you get new videos, which are really great resource to use with your educators or just for yourself for some further professional learning. So we'd like to say thank you. And thank you, Emma, for joining us today.
It's been wonderful having this discussion with you and the team in the room with us for helping the session run smoothly. A special thanks to Louis, Tahlia and Cris for your support behind the scenes, ensuring that our audience has space and time to engage during this discussion today. And, of course, thank you to our wonderful audience for attending and we hope that today's session has reaffirmed or sparked an interest in exploring inclusive practices and considerations at your place. And I hope to see you online. So thank you.
Thanks for participating. Thanks, Emma. It's been a great conversation.
Yeah. So lots of resources that you might like to go back and have a look at. So, as we said, hopefully they're all popping in the chat for you. So thank you for coming along and I hope we're all walking away thinking about inclusion and our practices.
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Inclusive environments empower everyone: A whole learning community approach
Last updated: July, 2022