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A collaborative approach to goal setting in education and care services – Jennifer Ribarovski

Setting goals for children
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One of Amplify’s favourite writers and provocateurs, Jennifer Ribarovski, returns this week to look at what ‘goal setting’ for children might mean in your service. 

Are you comfortable with the balance of family and educational input into individual children’s goals?

Where are the children’s voices in your goal setting? What about the community context?

Do you avoid pre-set goals altogether and let your programming set the progress and monitor the outcomes?

Jennifer’s story was inspired by observing the annual discussions on the topic on social media where educators often express concern that the very act of collaborating with families for children’s goal setting creates an environment where parents can feel obliged to submit highly aspirational goals for their young children.

Her article looks at the thinking behind individual goal setting, and – without dictating a ‘right’ way – proposes a collaborative approach that sets children’s needs to the fore.

Collaborative approach

Collaboration is a word that had edged its way into just about every aspect of education and care over recent years.

Much of this focus on collaboration is informed by the growing influence of socio cultural theory. The theory that reminds us that children don’t exist in isolation; that children don’t come to us at education and care services as empty vessels, waiting to be filled.

Children bring their own experiences, backgrounds, social capital and knowledge developed through connection with family and community. What shapes every single child’s experience is unique.

This socio-cultural understanding has influenced the strengthening of cultural inclusion in the guiding documents and codes that underpin the provision of education and care. But culture, just like children, does not exist in isolation. It too is shaped by individual circumstances and experiences, and the way that we both experience and express our culture is different for each one of us.

So, what does this all have to do with setting goals for children’s learning and development?

Family goals

As families are generally the primary influence in children’s lives, we are reminded of the uniqueness of every family, and the individual ways in which they approach life and experience the world. If we agree that this is so, then this provides the rationale for collaborative goal setting.

As educators, when we work in partnerships with children, families and communities, then it makes sense that setting goals becomes a shared interest. The National Quality Standard reminds us that:

“supportive, respectful relationships with families are fundamental to achieving quality outcomes with children” Guide to the National Quality Framework, p.252)

What we know in theory is sometimes challenging in practice. Hence the expression “well that’s all very well in theory!” But it is theory that provides is with our professional knowledge, our expertise and skills as practitioners. Without theory, we’d just be winging it! This brings me to my next point.

Educators’ goals

As educators, we have our own professional knowledge and skills, courtesy of our various qualifications, experience and ongoing professional learning in the sector.

Our practice and curriculum are also guided by mandated documents such as the Education and Care Services National Law, National Regulations, the National Quality Standard, approved learning frameworks and professional codes such has the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics.

Our practice and curriculum might also draw on a range of other contemporary theoretical influences, like Pikler’s theories on working with infants and toddlers, for example. We have a lot to offer when it comes to setting goals for children’s learning and development and we should not disadvantage children by shying away from this.

……and who else has knowledge about children?

Well let’s not forget those that are so often forgotten in policy, curriculum and most considerations about children – children themselves!

Children’s goals

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care acknowledges the important role of identity as one of the key learning outcomes for children.

As with all the learning outcomes of the Frameworks, identity is an evolving and a fluid concept. I often liken this to the sense of identity in my own life. Some days, I know exactly who I am and where I fit in, and other days I am far less certain about this.

The same can be said for children. I’ve seen many a child whose sense of identity changes depending on which children and adults are in the room, or the environments that they might be in.

This assumes that children come to us at education and care services with a developing sense of identity, and therefore their own ideas about who they are at any given time, positioning them as valuable contributors to their own learning and development goals.

A bonus of involving children in goal setting is that it will of course increase their engagement in the program.

Community goals

Children exist in the context of community, and so exist in a place where there are ideas and expectations about the ways in which children learn, interact with and contribute to community.

This changes from community to community. For example, when I visited a service in rural Western Australia in 2016, it was culturally relevant and appropriate for preschool children to be involved in wild pig shooting. I learnt this as the children re-enacted a pig being shot through their play.

I’d like to qualify that there was a great deal of kindness and consideration of the comfort of the pig in that re-enactment. Empathy has many faces. Regardless, it’s fair to say that the same scenario is highly unlikely to be appropriate in the inner Sydney suburbs of Sydney.

Community goals matter, because children are part of communities.

The challenges

To set relevant goals when it comes to children’s learning and development, the challenge is in bringing all these stakeholders together to create goals that are negotiated and agreed upon.

This calls for educators to orchestrate a process that ultimately results in the establishment of goals that reflect a shared vision. If we don’t seize the opportunity to bring everyone together in establishing goals for learning and development, then this can result in uninformed practices that discredit the knowledge children bring from home, and community knowledge, rather than infusing that knowledge into the curriculum. (Thirumurthy & Szeci, 2012)

The benefits

Through respectful relationships, educators work in partnership with children, families and communities to share knowledge and expertise to support quality learning and developmental outcomes for children.

The establishment of learning and development goals is a clear and measurable strategy that supports these outcomes, and it is a very important component of our professional toolkit.


ACECQA (2017). Guide to the National Quality Framework. Retrieved from http:// Guide-to-the-NQF-180118.pdf. Quality Area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and communities

Thirumurthy, V., & Szeci, T. (2012) Sociocultural contexts for learning in families and communities: An introduction. Childhood Education, 88(5), 283 – 285.

More articles from Jennifer Ribarovski

Find Amplify articles here.

Find her feature on Our Missing three-year olds in Issue 124 of Rattler+Broadside magazine here

Jennifer Ribarovski

Jennifer Ribarovski has over thirty years experience in the education sector, including playing a key role in the implementation of the National Quality Framework for both the NSW Regulatory Authority and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

View all author posts →

2 thoughts on “A collaborative approach to goal setting in education and care services – Jennifer Ribarovski

  1. I don’t use outdated development goals or goals in general as it keeps children looked in pre-defined boxes holding them back. By removing these we allow children to explore their full potential.

    In her book, 2007 Olsson says “we need to focus on ‘process’ rather than ‘position’, as positioning of any kind, such as learning goals or developmental stages, hampers movement; working with methods that recognize science’s inventiveness and productivity, demonstrating how the events in which children take part can remain open-ended and in movement; re-considering the dichotomy between the individual and society as a ‘cause and effect’ relationship, which immobilizes subjectivity and learning and hinders experimentation. Challenging dominant ways of thinking, Movement and Experimentation in Young Children’s Learning offers new possibilities for change and provokes a re-evaluation of the educational system’s current emphasis on predetermined outcomes and fixed positions.”

    Furthermore the EYLF doesn’t use goals in the way you describe in your article, the only reference to a goal are Goal 2 of the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians, that:
    All young Australians become:
    • Successful learners
    • Confident and creative individuals
    • Active and informed citizens.

    And educatros promote learning outcome 2, for example, when they:

    • model language that children can use to express ideas, negotiate roles and collaborate to achieve goals.

    1. Thanks for your input Matthew and apologies that I haven’t responded sooner to your comments, but I’ve only just stumbled across them. I’m interested in your views, as I think we seem to be saying much the same thing. What I’m suggesting in this post is that we work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including children, to do exactly what you’re suggesting, and that is to explore children’s full potential. This post was certainly not advocating for holding children back or expecting children to do things at particular times or in particular ways, certainly not! I absolutely agree that process is critical to providing children with individualised learning programs, hence there was no reference in my post to developmental stages. In reference to your comments regarding the EYLF, I actually find many references to working in collaboration with a range of stakeholders and a strong underpinning mandate grounded in socio cultural theory throughout it. Of course, as early childhood practitioners we always draw on a broad range of theories to inform our thinking, and to promote ongoing reflection and critical thinking as we grow and develop as professionals. By the way, are you the same Matthew Stapleton that I communicated with several times in my role as NSW State Operations Manager for the NSW Regulatory Authority? Amazing how paths cross in this sector, isn’t it!

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