Get to know your AOs: Linda Page
Linda Page, an Authorised Officer from the Western Metro team shares examples of collaborative partnerships with families and communities in a variety of service contexts. The Western Metro team works in quality assessment and compliance in the North West of Greater Sydney.
What is your role and where are you based?
I am a Senior Field Officer in the Western Metro team. I live on the land of the Bidjigal clan of the Darug nation (also spelt Dharug, Daruk or Dharik). I also work from the Parramatta office on the lands of the Burramattagal clan of the Darug nation.
What is your professional background and qualifications?
I have a degree and experience in early childhood and secondary teaching. I have also tutored at a university in early childhood. I began my career in high schools, primarily supporting children with learning difficulties. It was through my work in a wonderful secondary school that I became aware of the importance of collaborating with families and communities.
I engaged with families and teachers to implement literacy programs across different curriculums. I was able to visit local primary schools to assist children in the smooth transition to high school. I recognised that some children had been disadvantaged in their early education and that it was important to ‘catch them while they are young’ if we are to promote literacy and a love of learning. This led me to complete my degree in early childhood education and work in a number of community-based services.
Education and care services are encouraged to collaborate with families and communities. What are some ways you have observed services working in partnership with families and adapting their practices according to the community context of the service?
I really like this question! It is at the heart of what guides good practice and promotes a sense of belonging. I often hear people comment about finding an ‘out of the box’ idea. This seems strange to me as I feel that services need to consider what is ‘in their box’ when making decisions - the children, families, educators and their community context.
I have always felt it was important to engage with families and the community to promote diversity and to incorporate their cultures and languages. Providing books and learning experiences that reflect the cultures of the community and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is essential. Families can be involved in choosing resources, providing items from their homes or sharing their stories and songs as part of the daily program.
For example, a service placed signs in Braille in their play environment, as some of the children’s family members were visually impaired and they wanted to provide a sense of inclusion for all families. Another example is a family creating an artwork called a Rangoli to celebrate Diwali in the foyer of the service, enriching the understanding of educators, children and families of this cultural event.
I have also been inspired by services that have developed new ways to continue their connections with their community and families, particularly throughout the pandemic. Some ways that services have been able to connect with their families and communities:
- providing playdough and activity packs to families who are unable to attend the service
- using technology such as Zoom to meet with children and families or to provide online learning experiences
- using online systems to connect with community groups, yoga teachers, Aboriginal Elders, zoos/wildlife and other services to continue programs for children that were established prior to the pandemic
- engaging children in writing letters or sending artwork to aged care services
- supporting families who may be experiencing financial hardship, including providing a community pantry of staple foods or nappies
- engaging with local schools to continue to support the smooth transition to schools and using this information to plan experiences for children to build on their confidence about going to ‘big school’
- connecting with inclusion and therapy services to discuss ways to support children with any additional needs, including children who may experience anxiety during the current challenging times
- making regular contact with all families, including those whose children may not be currently attending, to demonstrate that they and their child are missed and that they will be warmly welcomed on their return.
What benefits do services gain from embedding a community engagement approach?
I believe that the main benefit of this approach is to provide all children and families with the feeling that they ‘belong’. Meaningful engagement and building on connections with families and the local community is the basis of children developing their confidence as learners.
Children can only feel confident if they, and their languages and heritages, are accepted and valued. It has never been more important for children to be supported emotionally. This only occurs if family and community partnerships are strong. Educators who use this approach are critically reflective of their own practices and contribute to real and ongoing service improvement.