Transcript of Transition to school at Tarro Public School
Kelly O’Shea Principal
Carolyn Wilson Transition teacher, Early intervention
Jacqui Ward – Welcome to today's podcast in the Early Learning Matters series. My name is Jacqui Ward and I’m the Early Learning Coordinator with the Department of Education and today I'm joined by Kelly O'Shea, Principal of Tarro Public School in the Hunter region, and Carolyn Wilson, the Transition Support Teacher, Early intervention and we're also joined by Donna Deehan, who is the Transition Adviser within Early Learning.
Today we're talking about how Tarro Public School connects with their school community to provide a positive transition and how they've made some changes and thought outside of the box to work within the restrictions of COVID in 2020.
So, welcome today Kelly and Carolyn, it’s really great to talk to you today and thank you for generously sharing lots of information and your wisdom and your expertise in this area. We really appreciate it.
I'm going to jump straight into our first point for discussion which is, why is transition to school important at your place at Tarro?
Carolyn Wilson – I'll take that question Jacqui. Here at Tarro, we believe that a strong start creates successful learners and that a positive transition to school is what sets the foundation for lifelong learning. We see it as the opportunity for us to make those positive educational connections and to build those trusting relationships that can strengthen the learning pathways. So from our perspective, we consider effective transitions to embrace that holistic approach, that they generate excitement about the next step on the learning continuum, and we do that by creating that strong sense of belonging and connectedness, not only to the learning but to the school community and we definitely see it as our bedrock for success.
Jacqui Ward – Yes, I couldn't agree more, and that's exactly what the evidence based tells us as well. That it’s such an important part of having a really positive and successful experience within children’s whole schooling careers. It’s time and money well spent, I guess to invest in these transition practices because they have such a long lasting impact.
Carolyn Wilson – We definitely agree, absolutely.
Jacqui Ward – So what do you guys think high quality transition practices look like? What do you think they comprise off? You mentioned relationships being really important in creating that sense of belonging.
Carolyn Wilson – Yes, at Tarro and across our whole LMG really, we talk about having optimum transitions and that involves establishing not only positive practices, but us having vital behaviours and a toolkit of resources that we employ.
High quality transition practices are really those that are extensive, thoughtful and planned, and that's definitely what we do here and we believe it incorporates that whole of the community approach.
It involves all the stakeholders, all the partners in all sectors. It definitely needs to be flexible and responsive and we focus on making sure we've got a place for every face.
It’s important that we deliver on personalised learning and planning and that we provide those supports and adjustments that are required and key to this is making sure that we're mindful and respectful of the values, the needs and interests and strengths of not only our local community, but the families participating in our programs and the children transitioning.
So in terms of Tarro public school and certainly we've adopted this across our whole LMG, we embrace the ready, ready, ready approach and that’s ready schools, ready families, ready communities, equals ready children. In fact, we've developed a simple pro forma that we're sharing across our LMG and using as a measure of this and what we do to make sure that we're actively considering all of those domains and addressing them when we're planning for our transition programs.
Jacqui Ward – I think that sounds amazing and I really think it's fantastic to have a school, sharing practice about the idea that sort of blows that notion of children and school readiness out of the water, because if we think about Bronfenbrenner's theory about children and how they learn, they do learn within the context of their family and community, and so those people and their supports, that support them as such, are key players in making sure that transition is as smooth as possible and their learning is recognised and there's a continuity of learning for children.
That is awesome to hear. Thank you.
So I guess moving on to the million dollar question here. What do you see is particularly important for transition for the 2021 Kindergarten cohort, because it's been a bit of a different year for us all and for those little ones that might not have had their 600 hours of universal access to a preschool, or they’ve at a minimum had it disrupted. What are your thoughts around that?
Kelly O’Shea – Well, we were treating 2021 transition like we would have regarded any transition really, it's important for any cohort of transition. The purpose of transition from Tarro’’s perspective is that it creates a meaningful connection with children and their families. So, for the 2021 cohort transition it's particularly important because we need to provide the children and their families in the community with an opportunity to engage in stability in our increasingly complex and changing global environment. So by this I mean that we need to connect families with the school and develop a solid partnership and ensure that our families are being supported to participate in unique transition practices because we still need to set up our incoming kinders for success.
So what we're doing at the moment is certainly nowhere near what we would refer to as the norm. However, as a school, we are recognising the needs within our community and addressing these in a variety of ways. Whether that's virtually or making over the phone contact as opposed to that personal contact that we've done previously.
Jacqui Ward – I absolutely love that too, that you've said, so that ideology is the same, isn't it? It's about thinking about different ways to do the same kind of practices and drawing on the strengths of what you've already done. Yes, amazing, that's great.
So what are the sort of special considerations at this time do you think from your point of view as a school, and obviously the families and children? You can speak to those separately or together. What sort of other things have you had to go ‘ah what about you know’?
Kelly O’Shea – So really, it was about finding ways to maintain the robust delivery of the key elements of an onsite transition program. First of all we had to identify platforms for communication and we had to connect in multi ways with our children’s services providers to gain the information we would normally gather from our programs.
So, that might have meant providing photos of our incoming kinders so that our staff here at Tarro were becoming familiar with the faces and the names, because normally they would get to see our little joey’s friends in the playground, but that's not happening at the moment.
In terms of our families, in the considerations for our families, we had to be mindful of the pressures and the stresses that are impacting our families at the moment, and addressing these, and reassuring them that in spite of transition looking and feeling different, we’re still well prepared.
We're acknowledging the anxiousness around the current state and the impact that it's had, but we're still sending out information that is providing them with the resources that they need and to get them prepared and their children prepared for school.
We found that doing this, providing information in a family friendly way which was easy to understand and consume. So we're using visuals, putting out video clips were offering social stories. We're also offering opportunities throughout the year to conference, like a Zoom for Q and A. Zoom for incoming kinder parents. We’re trying to engage them on a variety of platforms that they're comfortable with using and that they can easily access to give them what we would have given them in person, virtually. And for our kids, we're really fortunate that we've already established contact with many of our incoming kinders through our transition support teacher role because Cass has visited our local services. She's been doing that since the start of the year. Which is one of our priorities that Cass makes contact with our incoming kinders and we know, what we need to work on with them and so our next step in that is to have a roadshow visit where the kinder teacher for next year will go with Cass to the centres and spend time with the children and provide the kids with a little show bag of activities information related specifically to Tarro and what they can expect from coming to big school.
Jacqui Ward – That sounds so beautiful. What a lovely way for children to feel so valued and cared for, you know that you guys are reaching out to their space. You know where they've come from and what a great opportunity I think to make some really, build some great relationships and connections with the early childhood teachers and educators.
That sounds amazing and I guess. As you said, there's still room to do all of those sorts of things. They’re just looking a little bit differently and I think you make a really good point. There's a lot of anxiety out there for families about what their child is missing out on, and I think we need to make sure that we make a big effort to say, it's OK. It's not missing out, it's just looking different in this year and it's part and parcel that supporting people I guess, to be a little bit more resilient in this time, which has been a stressful year for everybody hasn’t it?
Carolyn Wilson – And Jacqui, offering that reassurance via our children’s services and the staff that we work with in partnership has been really critical to that, so I'm certainly gathering feedback around and the questions families are asking and the anxieties that are presenting, and so we're making sure that we're including that, not only in Tarro’s delivery of information but across our whole LMG. We're addressing that, so it's really acting as a guide for what to make sure we are including and making sure that those questions are answered in an upfront manner so parents have that reassurance.
Jacqui Ward – I love that. Yes, that's really something that I guess again an example of a high performing practice, isn't it, that you're being responsive and that you're adjusting things as you go, because I think that's one of the things we need to think about. Transition to school, it's not formulae, because in one context or in one particular cohort, things might work for that particular group that don't work for another. So we do need to be thinking about being adaptive and responsive and innovative at all times.
Carolyn Wilson – It's not a static program, it has to be fluid and always responding to the context.
Jacqui Ward – Yes that’s awesome, we might move on to thinking specifically about your community and your demographic there at Tarro. I'm really interested to hear what sort of data or evidence do you guys have in terms of measures of success, because this is one that I think schools find a little bit tricky and if they were thinking about putting a strategic direction on their school plan, including transition, what does it look like? What are your success measures? So, what do you guys use in terms of your data or evidence?
Carolyn Wilson – We're very lucky at Tarro. We have people who are passionate about joeys and making sure that all our little friends are well looked after and catered for in terms of data collection. Maxine Chapman is my community liaison officer and she is actually the coordinator of all of our joey’s programs and she works with a joey like a member of my teaching staff with the joey's teacher and they complete observation checklists and they collect work samples on each student.
At the beginning of joeys, the work samples of simple things like, are they able to write their name unassisted or can they recognise their name in print? However, as the program continues, this data becomes an important point of reference for the joey’s teacher as they'll start the following year knowing exactly where each child strengths and areas of development are. And I guess it's like any program we run at Tarro. We're continually asking for feedback and evaluating success through a variety of means and joeys certainly falls under this category.
One of the main benchmarks we used to evaluate the success of joeys is how successfully the kinder cohort begins the following year. 2020 is certainly been our best year yet as we had all of the puzzle pieces working cohesively to ensure it was successful. We had an experienced early childhood educator as the joey's teacher. Cass was completing observations in gathering feedback from the EC services and as well as providing joeys and their families and the school with the support where it was required. Maxine was building relationships with the families to ensure that all needs were catered for and that each family felt comfortable within the school setting and how joeys was operating and I made sure that I was available to chat with parents and carers during the joeys sessions. I would often pop down to the hall and just informally chat to people about how things were going, just to get their feedback and I always attend the LST meetings regarding our incoming kinder friends so that I know what supports we need and I can play my role in supporting families, supporting Cass, supporting Maxine to make sure that we have a ready school for ready kids.
Jacqui Ward – That sounds amazing and I love the fact that you've got that real focus on the importance and the value of information sharing. I'm really interested to hear how does the transition to school statement from early childhood services fit in your picture, in that sort of data collection?
Carolyn Wilson – Well Jacqui, one of the things that we're really fortunate to have are those connections with our feeder children services as a result of this dedicated role operating across the LMG. So we've really taken a proactive approach to gathering information about our students transitioning to school and we invite all of our centres to share the relevant information through whatever channel suits them best.
I'm certainly routine in contact and visiting our services across the community. We hold regular network meetings and we share information across other platforms. We also advocate the use of the department's early childhood transition to school referral for any children with additional learning and support needs and tools like the transition to school statements, end of year reports, observational data interviews and checklists are just some of the ways that we are routinely receiving and exchanging information in support of transition to school.
Now with COVID, we've certainly had new challenges with the information gathering and we've worked through our services to individualise the best ways to ensure the practices continue. I guess for us and I think Kel’s talked a little bit throughout this, the key to it has been the multi-pathway approach that we don't rely on one format for transition planning and information gathering. But rather we ensure our services have got multi options to share and engage with us.
Now many of our centres are providing summative statements and they're happy to provide that at various times throughout the year, but our best results really are coming from establishing the face to face partnerships. It’s the combination of the school delivered programs like joeys, that Kelly spoke about, the community outreach role that I provide, and the early ongoing contact that we have across that whole 12 months period prior to starting school that's making the difference. It really is allowing us to engage in that collaborative, consultative process to bring about the best outcomes for all of our pre K students.
Jacqui Ward – That sounds great. I guess one last thing I'd like to ask you is how has the transition work that you guys have been doing featured in school planning? Have you got an element on your school plan that particularly focuses in on this particular area?
Carolyn Wilson – Yes, absolutely, it's part of the combined planning that the school engages in.
Kelly O’Shea – Yes, so from Tarro’s perspective, strategic direction 3 around community and involving the community in regular opportunities to engage in a range of activities to support learning and develop that collaborative partnership. Our real focus for this direction is to create an authentic learning partnership where parents and carers are part of the learning process that happens, so we run parent workshops during joey sessions, and the idea behind this is that we’re building foundations for this learning partnership by encouraging parents to engage and be present and be interested in what's going on.
Jacqui Ward – That sounds amazing
Kelly O’Shea – Yes, and it's to support them to provide them with the knowledge to successfully support their child without the fear of being wrong I guess, because a lot of parents don't want to work with their child because they think they will show them the wrong way, if that's not the way they're doing it at school. But it's also trying to take away that intimidation, particularly in this community that some of the parents may feel because they've had bad experiences or not positive experiences with school themselves.
Jacqui Ward – That’s such an important aspect, isn't it? Again, the evidence base tells us if families are involved in students’ learning, then the children have improved outcomes so that's such an important aspect of that, and I love the fact that you know children pick up on the anxiety from families as well, so that's going to impact on how ready they are to start school. If a parent is not feeling as well supported and transitioned as well so you know, you can't look at a child without looking at that child within the context of their family and community I think. So I think that's really amazing what you guys are doing. I wish I had a child attending Tarro Public School, it sounds amazing and it really sounds like you guys should really be applauded and recognised for all the great work that you are doing.
Is there anything else? I'm just mindful that we've probably gone on for a while now.
Is there any last sort of messages that you'd like to share with anyone about what you're doing and anything else?
Carolyn Wilson – I think the last thing I guess we'd like to share is around that continuous improvement and really this COVID period has reinforced the importance of being responsive as you were saying to our community, and being responsive to the partners within it and being prepared to do things differently and being open to change and I think if we're talking about continuous improvement, then that's what we need to be focusing on. That it's about creating sustainability with the changes we put in place by always being prepared to adapt and adopt new and better ways of doing things.
Jacqui Ward – I think that's a great message and hopefully we've all learned in our lives, but also within our schools that that's really an important message of this, the whole COVID and learning from home situation, that we need to be brave and I guess, give something new a try and you never know how that might impact children and make a difference, I guess in children and families lives.
So thank you both Kelly and Carolyn, it's been amazing talking to you today and I really appreciate you giving of your time.
Carolyn Wilson and Kelly O’Shea
Thank you very much.
End of transcript