Bespoke practice

‘We encourage educators to think about what they are doing and why, and to talk about their questions and ideas with each other. We promote innovation and creativity – not change for its own sake, but reasonable risk taking and having a go at making things better. We have worked for a long time to create a place where everyone – all educators and other staff – knows that their insights and ideas are valued, where there is trust and respect and where it is safe to make a mistake – to try something, discover it hasn’t worked and learn from that.’ (Manager of a large education and care service)

The service referred to above has a strong statement of philosophy that is taken seriously. The aim is to manifest it in all areas of practice. Each year they identify a major area of focus that everyone prioritises. The team in each room team devises its own ways of recording children’s learning and program plans that enact the philosophy and focus area. Teams share ideas with each other, but without any intention of homogenising practice or ways of documenting children’s learning and plans.

The quote above reflects what an authentic community of learners is – a place where everyone – educators, other staff, families and children – is both a teacher and a learner.

The term bespoke, meaning ‘made to order’ and often applied to fashion, is relevant here. The increasing number of kits or programs available for purchase by care and education services give the mistaken impression that it is possible achieve high quality by reducing documenting children’s learning and planning the program to a one-size-fits-all or copy-and-paste job.

Good practice in education and care services is bespoke practice. There are no recipes or formulae to apply. The privilege of witnessing excellent practice – immaculate conversations and interactions between educators and children, deep warm connections between educators and families, well set up environments, attractive and purposeful learning opportunities – is inevitably a reminder that working well as an educator is complex and highly creative when done well.

Each child’s experience needs to be bespoke, tailored for that child and based on educators’ deep understanding and respect. Just as there are principles and skills that apply to all excellent tailoring and dressmaking, so are there common principles that inform every child’s experience and all planning and practice in education and care programs, but each child’s experience is unique.

Participating in a learning community demands thinking outside the square, being creative, resisting being formulaic and adamant about the rightness or wrongness of many aspects of practice and opening yourself up to consider possibilities that you may at first reject. Most importantly, considered creative thinking must translate into action, doing something, not just thinking about it.

What are some examples of the ways you differentiate experiences for each child?

What’s the craziest most ‘out-there’ idea you or a colleague has had recently that has turned out to be a good idea?

Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

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