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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 51
9 REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • WINTER 2013 - ISSUE 51 What is provocation in an Early Childhood Education and Care setting? As an educator, a provocation often starts with an uncomfortable feeling that something is amiss somehow: • Perhaps a parent has made a request about the care of their child that doesn't sit quite right with you, or the centre's philosophy, but isn't completely outrageous either -- is it reasonable to accommodate the request? • Perhaps you are going along with some inherited practices, but without conviction or clarity. • Maybe your team has become aware that an area of the children's program is lacking in some way, and you need to seek out additional knowledge and perspectives. • Maybe you've just realised that you use the same old words and phrases with the children, over and over again. These are just some of the myriad dilemmas that we, as early childhood educators, may find ourselves contending with. "Provocation" is a demanding and somewhat startling word, isn't it? In a general sense, to be provoked is to start from an awareness of a need to respond to a situation, whether from unease, inspiration or curiosity. In early childhood education and care (ECEC), the term "provocation" can also refer to the deliberate introduction of provocative stimuli, relevant to previous observations, to expand upon existing knowledge, attitudes and practices. This is undertaken as part of a reflective, continual cycle of learning. This concept of provocation leading to research and reflection can be applied to the process of planning, implementing, evaluating and documenting children's programs, but can also be applied by ECEC practitioners to a process of continual professional and personal development. Provocation for educators can initially come in the form of a gradual realisation, a dilemma, a flash of inspiration and possibility, or a grasping for words when asked a question. Or, it may come in the form of a robust debate among colleagues leading the individuals to question an aspect of their practice. How can ECEC colleagues work to establish or maintain a culture of provocation, collaboration and inquiry? Critical reflection, information sharing and a robust culture of professional inquiry are heavily emphasised in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) as important attributes for early childhood practitioners to cultivate. The increasing professionalisation of the ECEC workforce brings an expectation that practitioners are deliberately provocative and reflective. Educators are called upon to consider and examine their own attitudes and practices, including what their influences and prejudices are, what theories they draw upon, what they find challenging or confronting and why, and post-structuralist considerations of privilege, power, subjectivity and equity (AGDEEWR, 2009: 11-13). The nature of working in ECEC sees staff members working together closely and collaboratively, continually exposed to each other's ideas and practices.This collaborative energy can be harnessed in a focused way to promote innovation, reflection and evaluation of practices. At one of the Gowrie Victoria services, there are nine rooms staffed by over 40 educators, servicing the families of approximately 150 children per day. Working at such a large centre, especially as part of a wider organisation with a clearly articulated philosophy and track record of innovation, provides fertile ground for provoking and implementing ideas and grappling with issues, both on an informal and formal basis. Staff meetings and fortnightly pedagogical leaders' meetings provide a formal setting for provocation and discussion to occur, and each room is also expected to maintain a documented system of collegial reflection. Being a large centre, email is used as a method to communicate across the entire staff cohort. Many staff have taken up the opportunity to do a course with The Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership involving several days of lectures and a workplace-based research project. A relatively recent innovation that has occurred is that each permanent staff member is responsible for implementing a project during the year to benefit the service as a whole. Some of these projects have included new ways to collaboratively plan for the shared outdoor area, the introduction of a whole-centre puppet as a tool for discussing issues with children, and a shared meal where staff are encouraged to bring a dish relating to their culture (thus increasing awareness of the fantastic resource we have in terms of staff members' varied cultural backgrounds). The projects are a way for individual staff to identify areas they would like to explore, and also help to foster a sense of collaboration and information sharing at the centre.
Reflections Magazine Issue 52