As we prepare to open our first service in the new year, we have been pleasantly surprised by the large number of enthusiastic, quality early educators that applied to work with us. We recognised that in the current labour market being spoiled for choice was a good problem to have and we really wanted to find a way to accommodate these amazing, high-quality candidates. However, we knew that the traditional centre leadership model likely wouldn’t provide these stellar educators with the opportunities for pedagogical and centre leadership that they were looking for.
Amplify's interview with Euroka Children's Centre boosted Futuro's confidence in taking an innovative leadership approach
Inspiration struck whilst mulling over our organisationl structure one morning. We had planned to have a full time non-contact educational leader, but we thought "why not take that wage and hours and distribute them across more team members, and empower more educators to become pedagogical leaders?" We came across CELA's article about distributed leadership at Euroka Children’s Centre in the Blue Mountains, which gave us the confidence to push forward with the idea.
We chatted with our new team to see what they thought of the idea and everyone was enthusiastic. These conversations were candid. We acknowledged that we are trying quite a lot of new things at Futuro and that we may not get everything right. However, we agreed that if you don't try new things you can't grow, and at Futuro we are focused on creating a safe space for everyone to learn and grow, including the team!
We then reached out to Euroka's Director, Lorriene Bullivant. Lorriene extended an invitation that we couldn't refuse; to visit the centre and observe their distributed leadership model in action. Lorriene and the team took the time to talk us through the keys to making the distributed leadership model a success, including documentation, rosters and the unique context of their service.
Inspired by passion, commitment and openness
We were inspired by their passion, commitment, and openness with one another. Lorriene explained that if something is not working or someone is not ready to take the lead on a project, that's fine, but "if not, why not". The same curiosity that underpins our interactions with children underpins Euroka's discussions with the team on pedagogical leadership. Every discussion or observation is used as an opportunity for critical reflection (not criticism) to support the development of new practices and to promote quality.
When we asked how the centre secured a consistent approach with respect to pedagogy and documentation, Lorriene replied that the goal isn't to achieve consensus. We couldn't agree more! The diversity in perspective that comes from running this model is its strength, not its weakness.
Chloe Flannery, Futuro’s Quality & Operations Manager, absorbing Euroka’s amazing materials
How we attracted a great team of quality educators
We put a lot of effort into our recruitment. We began by taking a lot of advice from colleagues in the sector, and we also spoke with a contact working in recruitment in the South West of Sydney to get a gauge on where we could find the best people. Some of this advice included using social media to build our profile. Because we are new, no one has ever heard of us before, so social media has been critical in helping people understand who we are and what we are doing.
From our experience, we know that educators appreciate the opportunity to work near their homes and that quite a few people would be driving past our site, so we ensured that our builder was proactively funnelling enquiries to us from families and potential team members. We also spent a lot of time working on our Employee Value Proposition, ensuring it was effectively articulated on our website. In a previous role, I worked with people in corporate Australia's remuneration and benefits space. I have seen first-hand how valuable such initiatives can be when they are meaningful to staff and not tokenistic.
Ultimately, those who choose to work in our sector see it as a vocation or a calling. They are passionate about educating young children, and they value being provided with the quality resources they need to do their jobs well. Putting a fruit box in the staff room is just a box-ticking exercise. It’s a lot harder to think about what you can do as an employer to lighten the load and bring the joy back into early childhood education and care, especially after a fraught couple of years working on the front line during a global pandemic.
We are offering paid parental leave for staff. Our sector predominantly comprises women, and we wanted to give new parents as much time off with their children as possible. However, because it’s pretty much unheard of in the sector, it is challenging to predict the cost of offering this benefit, so we plan to start relatively small with a view to ramping that benefit up over time. We are also offering five days’ paid miscarriage leave. Miscarriage is a tragedy, and we feel very strongly that sick leave shouldn’t be used for a miscarriage.
We are passionate about food at Futuro, and our kitchen has been designed by celebrity chef Justin North. We are using that beautiful kitchen to prepare nutritious meals for children and staff as well, as we want the staff to have a delicious, cooked lunch.
Our community partnerships have also really resonated with the team. I reached out to a colleague at Foodbank who introduced us to an amazing Camden-based not-for-profit organisation. We agreed to make our lovely kitchen available for their food outreach programs. We are also sourcing a part-time kitchen hand through Job Support, an employment agency for people with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.
And last but definitely not least, we are in the final stages of being certified carbon neutral in our operations. It’s a complex and lengthy process that people value—educators and families alike.
Much thought has been put into training, professional development, induction and programming time. All of those things then directly impact the quality of care. We know that care is in short supply in Gledswood Hills, but we don’t want families to come to us because they have nowhere else to go—we want them to come to us and stay with us because they are confident that they are getting early childhood education and care of the highest possible standard.
We are excited to continue this professional partnership with Euroka, which wouldn’t exist without Amplify! and the opportunities for connection afforded to CELA members. We are planning to open in April next year and will have a launch event for our team, suppliers, builders and families once we have opened. We also plan to invite other centres in the area. People can be a bit funny about "competitors", but that’s not how we see it. We want to create professional relationships with our neighbours (like what we have done with Euroka). If we can collaborate together on ways to better support the families of South West Sydney, everyone wins.
Amplify! The benefits of distributed leadership at Euroka Children's Centre
CELA training relating to this topic
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Megan is the General Manager of Futuro Early Learning. She started her career in commercial litigation and policy law, before moving into the early learning space to work for Guardian Early Learning Group. She worked in various roles at Guardian for over 5 years, most recently as General Manager for new centres.