Fulfillment and four-wheel driving: The life of an ECA Inclusion Professional

ECA: You’re an Inclusion Professional with Early Childhood Australia Northern Territory. What does your job involve? What is an Inclusion Professional?

Alex: My job involves a wide range of hats and roles. No one day is the same. You can find me in the office or out at services, both remote and regional. While in the office, I develop funding cases that support services to increase their inclusion capacity, developing resources such as visuals and support plans. At services, I complete observations on children, environments and educators, and support educators with practice, programming and planning. I conduct coaching and mentoring sessions for early childhood staff to build upon their knowledge base.

For me, being an Inclusion Professional means to be an advocate, support and guide for children, families, educators and services at large. It means to look beyond barriers and think innovatively about solutions to exclusion, segregation, isolation and integration. It is about seeing children for who they are and allowing them to embrace this wherever they are.

Jacinta: My job involves working closely with directors, educational leaders, early childhood teachers and educators to embed inclusive practice and address barriers to inclusion experienced by children with additional needs. Working in partnership with families and other professionals to make informed and thoughtful decisions relating to curriculum, care and support is also an important part of the role. As Inclusion Professionals, we are often the people that support the whole team in creating solutions to inclusion barriers, so all children can participate fully and benefit academically and socially from interacting and participating in inclusive settings.

Although there is no national definition of ‘additional needs’, some of the children that may require specific considerations or adaptations to participate fully in services may have a disability or developmental delay, present with challenging or trauma-related behaviours, or have a serious medical or health condition—including mental health. Additionally, Inclusion Professionals support educators to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and children from refugee or humanitarian backgrounds, to ensure that these children all have equitable access to resources and participation and experience positive outcomes.

ECA: What was your most meaningful day at work as an Inclusion Professional?

Alex: There are countless days that have been uplifting, meaningful and fulfilling for me. The most fulfilling and meaningful times in my role as an Inclusion Professional have been those where I can see children benefitting from the work I do. It is bittersweet when I am no longer needed as the barriers to inclusion have been broken down and the children I was working with have become part of the service without judgment, barriers or struggles. They are an active and valued member of the service.

Another part of my role is my coaching and mentoring sessions. I leave these sessions buzzing with excitement and full of motivation and meaning. Working with early childhood educators to develop and increase their knowledge is fun and fulfilling for me. My last coaching and mentoring session was with a service in Katherine. It was extremely interactive and fun for all involved. Being able to be fulfilled and have a sense of meaning within my career has been the greatest highlight as an Inclusion Professional. You don’t hear many people who can truly say, ‘I love my job’. When I say this to my friends and family, they think I am being sarcastic. It is true, I really do love my job. I love it because it has meaning for me, for the people I work with, and for the place I work in.

Jacinta: A really meaningful day at work was supporting a director who was very distressed due to a significant number of children in the three to five years room with high support needs, and educators who were new and inexperienced. The director was very concerned that a high-quality learning program wasn’t being provided and felt overwhelmed about where to start—she was also the educational leader at the time and the assistant director was on extended leave. I was able to sit with the director and really listen to the challenges she and the educators faced daily. Once the director had shared their story, I was able to turn the focus to the positive relationships that you could see the educators had built with the children. Although the learning environment and activities on offer for the children were very limited, the educators were engaged with the children and sat and played with them, doing their best to provide some experiences for all children to enjoy.

ECA: You are based out of Darwin and regularly travel to remote communities. Where do you visit and what is it like seeing remote parts of Australia?

Alex: I love travelling and adventure. It is part of who I am. To have this also be part of my job role and embraced by ECA is beyond amazing. I have navigated long highways in four-wheel drives, been a passenger in a small aircraft with only four seats, and jumped on a boat to cruise across to the beautiful Tiwi Islands. I have been able to not just see remote Australia, but also become a working part of the communities that live in these areas. I have been welcomed with open arms by the people in these stunning, unique and, at times, harsh places.

One thing I have truly come to realise is that no two remote communities are the same—they all interact and engage differently. This is both challenging and enjoyable for me. Although remote travel is a way I fill my need for adventure, it can be tough and it comes with a difficult challenge—we only have a limited amount of time to work with communities. Because of this, we work hard when travelling remotely. I return home tired but filled with stories about the places I went, the experiences I had, and the things I learnt from the communities.

I have the honour of seeing lots of unique places that many people do not. We are invited onto sacred lands and get to work with very special people. It is something I feel deeply honored to experience and call part of my job!

Jacinta: As Inclusion Professionals, we are very privileged to visit the spectacular locations in the Top End and meet and work with Aboriginal communities and families. Inclusion Professionals always travel in pairs, and I love the camaraderie that is shared when we travel via commercial airlines, single engine scheduled flights, chartered flights and road trips. Inclusion Professionals work closely together on remote trips to provide the most beneficial support to the service whilst also learning and growing as an important part of the Inclusion agency team. 

During our work, we get to see and experience many parts of the country that most people don’t have the chance to visit. We are fortunate to be invited into creches and early learning centres and share the ways of learning and knowing with local children, educators and families. The communities we visit are very welcoming and friendly and often don’t want us to leave! We build close partnerships with the directors and educators in the remote locations. The communities appreciate that we play and interact with the children and sit and talk with educators and other adults, sharing our knowledge and experience and valuing their diverse ways, customs and traditions. As an Inclusion Professional, I can’t wait for the next remote trip and feel very blessed to have this opportunity to visit and work with many different remote services as well as travelling and working with my ‘travel buddy’.

ECA: What advice do you have to anyone considering becoming an Inclusion Professional?

Alex: My biggest piece of advice is to be open. Be open to the experiences, challenges, struggles and moments of pure joy that come with the role. Be open to the quiet times in between the workload. Be open to the people you encounter and the hardships they bring to you. Be open to how difficult it can be to create inclusion. Lastly, be open to how diverse and wide-ranged the role of an Inclusion Professional is.

Jacinta: Working for ECA as an Inclusion Professional is a very special role that allows you to share your knowledge, experience, passion and commitment for all children to be given the best start in life. As part of the professional, supportive and progressive organisation that is ECA, the opportunities that will come your way will be countless and varied—learning new skills, professional development opportunities, meeting and working with Allied Health Professionals. 

Your job will offer the privilege of sharing the challenges, hopes, dreams, joys, inspirations and laughter of many directors, educational leaders and educators, and you will have the chance to truly make a difference in a child’s life.

Are you interested in being a game changer in our early childhood education and care sector?

Do you have particular interest and skill in working with children experiencing multiple and complex vulnerabilities to get a fair go?

If so, then come and work with Early Childhood Australia, NT.

Inclusion Professional based in Darwin

Inclusion Professional based in Alice Springs

Jacinta McInnerney joined the Early Childhood Australia Northern Territory (ECA NT) Inclusion Support team in October 2021. Jacinta has many years’ experience in centre-based services as an educator, Educational Leader and Assistant Director, as well as the Coordinator of a Mobile Children’s Service.

Her passion lies in inspiring and mentoring educators to provide rich and diverse learning environments that support all children’s growth and development, build resilience, and foster positive relationships. Jacinta believes that meaningful partnerships with families and the wider community are vital for children to thrive and reach their full potential.

Alex Kastellorizios

Alex Kastellorizios is an Inclusion Professional in the Darwin Top End team and is about to start a Masters of Occupational Therapy at Charles Darwin University. Alex is a born and bred Territorian and enjoys everything the Northern Territory has to offer. She completed her early years and primary education in the Northern Territory, and from a young age struggled with learning and experienced barriers to inclusion. Alex often felt judged by those around her due to her learning needs. This experience ignited a passion to change the patterns and preconceived views and ideas within our early education sector. From a teenager, Alex knew she wanted to work with children who experience struggles and barriers to inclusion, like she did. She is a voice and strong advocate for children to be embraced and nurtured for who they are.

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