We chat with Bear Park teacher Cathie-Lee about her opinions on non-contact time for early childhood teachers and why Bear Park's approach is unique.
How is Bear Park’s non-contact time structured?
We tend to use the phrase ‘collaborative planning’ instead of ‘non contact time’ as it best describes what we do off the teaching floor.
Each teaching team benefits from ample collaborative planning time: 3 hours of off the floor time each week, during day time hours. This time is used to discuss, reflect, test out ideas and plan provocations for the coming week, and ensures that we provide children with the best possible learning outcomes. We are able to do this thanks to a team of Bear Park support teachers who cover teams throughout the week, moving between the classrooms as needed.
How is this different to other early childhood centres?
In my experience, non contact time is just that, time a teacher is given off the floor to work on learning stories or to collate the teams ideas in a reflective sense, evaluating the week's progress. The amount of non-contact time is often based on the number of learning stories that need to be written that week, so it's always changing. What’s forgotten is all the other aspects of the teaching role: documentation, resourcing and not to mention researching and reflecting on how to better support a child’s development.
During my time in other centres, non contact time meant years of meeting late at night to discuss the group's learning as a team or in rushed quick moments throughout the day. It takes away from your own family time and personal life. I’ve reflected a lot on my many years working under this type of model and it wasn’t enabling me to be the best possible teacher for children under my care. It's what many of my fellow colleagues work with each day and you just get on with it and do the best you can, as that is all you can do isn’t it?
In your opinion, when a centre places an emphasis on quality non-contact time, how do teachers benefit?
Most importantly, it helps us feel valued as teachers. We all know that early childhood teachers wear many other hats throughout the work day: nurse, friend, mediator and cleaner to name a few.
Having a set time each week when my team and I can come together means we can stop, reflect and make sense of what we have observed earlier that day or week. We can problem solve together. I can voice my opinion without feeling rushed or resentful because the non contact time is eating into personal time. It also helps set a teaching intention for the week to come.
What are the benefits for the children?
If I feel valued professionally, I’ll provide positive, richer learning outcomes for the children. When there’s time to reflect on a child’s learning and development, it’s that much easier to see new and interesting pathways to enrich their development. Our children come first!
“Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu”
“With the feathers of knowledge, the bird will fly”
When learning through a Reggio lens, why can planning in isolation or in small groups be a disadvantage to the centre’s learning environment?
If we are really inspired and looking through a Reggio lens then we are always looking through a collaborative mindset and how we as a community can share our voice and expertise together. If we work in isolation or small groups then we only reflect on one or two perspectives. This does not foster a learning environment rich with multiple perspectives.
Carlina Rinaldi once said “Adults are required to be very organised with a schedule so that our work with children is not left to chance” - what does this make you think of in relation to collaborative planning time and your role as a teacher?
For many years a part of my teaching practice I was challenged to find ways to prevent my work being ‘left to chance’, purely because I didn’t have enough time each week think things through away from the classroom. This happened in many ways: decisions I made for my team, or letting a decision slide through that was made by others, even though I wasn't able to share my voice. This happened simply because of time constraints. We had to focus on the next part of the day for the care of the children.
When you do not leave it to chance, as I have experienced here at Bear Park, when you purposefully schedule and plan then you know in your heart that you are able to really do your best for the children, parents and teachers in your learning community. This enables us to find the balance as a teacher. We can be our best selves and have a better life work balance, making what we do every day magical!
How can teachers better support each other outside of the classroom?
We are able to share our stories, our moments of struggle or success, and hear that we are not in it alone. We become stronger, get to know our team and value each other for our different strengths.
How does unhurried teacher reflection help you make meaning of experiences in the early childhood classroom?
Reflection is a vital foundation for teachers to make sense of what they have observed. It enables us to think about the potential possibilities of what has happened and where to go next. If we are rushed in this process then we are not able to critically reflect and delve deeper. We simply reflect at a surface level to simply get the job done. But given time to reflect we are able to then provide rich learning situations possibilities. Ones that could lead us down a completely different path than we ever thought possible.