ECEC Spotlight Series: Alex Sutherland

Alex Sutherland has found his calling working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) since a career pivot from film set design. In this ECEC Spotlight profile, he discusses his motivation, the importance of creativity in the profession and his upcoming international scholarship.

Alex Sutherland is standing on stage with Premier Chris Minns and Deputy Premier Prue Car to accept his scholarship award. Alex Sutherland is standing on stage with Premier Chris Minns and Deputy Premier Prue Car to accept his scholarship award.
Image: Alex received the Early Childhood Education Scholarship in October 2023 and will travel to Sweden and Wales next month.

The sky’s the limit for early childhood teacher Alex, who will travel to Sweden and Wales next month to conduct research as a recipient of a NSW Premier's Teacher Scholarship.

The annual scholarships program funds up to 5 weeks of dedicated study in Australia or abroad. Alex was awarded the Early Childhood Education Scholarship in October 2023 to explore the 'Original Learning Approach', developed by Swedish education consultant, Suzanne Axelsson.

“It’s a reflective tool to support early childhood professionals, driven by 10 principles such as wonder, curiosity and risk,” Alex explains.

“My research will explore how it can be utilised used by educators in an Australian context to engage children in big concepts like sustainability and justice.”

A creative approach to ECEC

Alex was 26 when he pivoted from a career in film and TV set design to early childhood, following in the footsteps of his mother, who is also an early childhood teacher.

While studying his Bachelor of Teaching, he did his final placement at Hamilton Childcare Centre in Newcastle. He is still working there today, where he and his colleagues employ the ‘loose parts play theory’, which focuses on providing children with materials and environments that encourage creative imagination.

"It’s about giving children the autonomy and freedom to work with materials they might not have at home, and to take some calculated risks to work through problems,” explains Alex.

Alex enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to engage little learners.

“Early childhood is such a creative field, and it never stays still,” he says.

“I was working with a group of children that wouldn’t sit still for an art project we were doing on measurement. Eventually I thought we could make it more interactive by bringing in parkour! I got charcoal and huge paper and they got to express their ideas of measurement through movement.”

Discover a rewarding journey in ECEC

Alex encourages anyone considering a career in early learning to “go for it!”

“It’s fulfilling and rewarding seeing these little humans grow into confident, capable people over time, and knowing that you’ve had a positive impact on them.

I see early childhood as one of the most important professions. As an early childhood teacher, you’re an advocate for their voice and for children’s rights. And you’re laying the foundations for children to be strong and have a good sense of justice.

Alex’s 3-week study tour begins in Wrexham, Wales, where he will observe an approach called Playwork. He’ll then go to Stockholm to visit some ECEC services, and finally to Gothenburg, Sweden to view an art studio that follows similar principles. On return he will collate and share his findings with colleagues and the wider sector.

“I'm excited to undertake this transformative experience and look forward to sharing my findings with the broader community,” he said.

Alex Sutherland poses with Premier Chris Minns holding his scholarship award. Alex Sutherland poses with Premier Chris Minns holding his scholarship award.
Image: Alex, with Premier Chris Minns, receiving the 2023 Early Childhood Education Scholarship at a reception in Sydney on 17 October 2023.

Where could you go on a 5-week study tour?

The NSW Premier's Teacher Scholarships provide $10,000 or $15,000 for a 5-week study tour within Australia or abroad.

The program is open to permanent and temporary teachers in NSW government and non-government schools, on TAFE NSW campuses and across early childhood centres.

The Premier's Early Childhood Education Scholarship is open to degree-qualified early childhood teachers who are currently teaching in ECEC services in NSW. The scholarship is for study in any aspect of early childhood education.

The program is an initiative of the NSW Premier's Department and is administered by the NSW Department of Education.

Applications for the next round close 11:59pm (AEST), Friday 3 May 2024.

This profile was part of our ECEC Spotlight Series, where we shine a light on passionate, excellent ECEC professionals as well as services, programs and initiatives from around NSW. If you have a story, we’d love to hear it! Contact us through this nomination form.

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