Promoting equity and agency within early childhood education means using a strength-based approach to ensure that every child is supported to engage in the program in achievable, child-led ways. As professionals, we often reflect on and engage with this concept without realising. This could include things like offering specific children fidget toys when concentration is required.
It’s widely acknowledged that our practice must centre around making children feel comfortable, confident and connected. The EYLF highlights the significance of these concepts in its practices and principles, emphasising that these underpinnings are essential for quality early childhood practice. However, one standard practice across many preschool programs seemingly fails to embed the above-mentioned essential underpinnings of agency, equity and being strength-based. Unfortunately, this practice is end-of-year kinder concerts.
The EYLF defines agency as ‘being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world’ (EYLF, 2009. P.48). Though it fails to define equity, the framework emphasises the need for practice to be centred around children’s safety, and for professionals to embed adaptive and flexible ways of teaching, to ensure that every child can participate in programs with dignity and confidence. We aim to allow each child to flourish in individual ways, knowing that success looks vastly different for each child.
Representing your teaching philosophy through events
As a teacher, I work to ensure that my teaching is centred around the children themselves. I aim to ensure that each child feels safe, secure and confident. So naturally, this means that I spend much of the year reiterating to children that our classroom is a space that belongs to them. This year, I found planning our end-of-year celebration really challenging. In previous years, the children have performed a concert of songs and Christmas carols while their families watch on.
Personally, I find end-of-year concerts hard to square with my teaching philosophy. I can’t turn around after working hard to promote equity and confidence within my classroom and, at the end of Term 4, ask the children to do something I would never willingly do. Standing up in front of a room of adults (some of whom are familiar, and some are less so) and performing is something which most adults find scary.
This year, I am not doing it.
I’m not doing it in consideration of the child with clear behavioural challenges who I know will draw the crowd's attention. I’m not doing it out of respect for the child who was so shy that she didn’t begin to speak to her peers until Term 3. I’m not doing it for the family whose child is undergoing assessment and is developmentally different from his peers.
This year, I won’t be standing behind children, desperately hoping that they will stand still for the concert. I won’t watch my students run to their parents, crying because performing in front of large groups can be confronting, scary, and is generally a new experience for them. I won’t be pasting a smile on my face when those same children are sent back up to the front by disappointed parents.
I want the end of the kinder year to reflect what my teaching is all about- ensuring that my students feel safe and confident and that the space belongs to them.
Months ago, in Term 3, I had a chat with my class about the end of the year and what our options were. I talked about how we have lots of songs we love and how I wanted them to choose if they would like to do the songs together as a class group or if they wanted to sit with their families instead. So we voted, using small pebbles from the yard. Overwhelmingly, and I admit, unsurprisingly, the result was that eight wanted to perform, and thirty-one elected to sit with their families.
I strongly feel that as a teacher, my role is to advocate for the children. And despite the fact that many parents enjoy the concert format, the view that "my older child did it, and it was cute" simply doesn’t outweigh the stress, concerns, and other negative feelings the children may experience. So instead, my invites for our end-of-year celebration are labelled "End of Year Sing-Along Picnic". I must admit, I feel a little nervous about this. I’m worried that my deep reflection on this topic won’t be visible to families and that some may feel let down by the more informal structure of the event. However, if this event is to be truly equitable, then I need to feel confident in what I’m asking of children. I think there’s something beautiful about this event being one more closely shared with families, and the children’s vote seems to point to the same.
Reflective questions to consider in relation to this topic:
Who is this concert for?
What would a child-led end-of-year celebration look like?
How have you embedded the children’s voice within your end-of-year celebration?
What is my view of children within the classroom, and will this be visible in our celebration?
What is the philosophy of my service, and does this celebration align with that?
Where to from here:
Have one-on-one or small chats with your class group. Ask them, “How would you like to celebrate the end of preschool with your family?” or “What sort of things could we show/teach your grown-ups when they come to preschool at the end of the year?”
Vote, vote, vote! And I don’t mean “hands up if you like this song!” When I invite my class to vote, I explain the concept to them, then give them a chance to individually tell me their thoughts. It takes the pressure, and sometimes confusion, out of it.
Think about your teaching philosophy—the end-of-year celebration should also be a celebration that reflects you as a teacher. If you focus on art and craft, have an art gallery! If you love reading books, get your class to make a book and video them looking through it! If you really value free play, show a slideshow of photos of all the messy fun they’ve had!
Further reading on this topic:
Amplify! Missed moments
Amplify! Preschool graduations—who are they really for?
Creative Spirits: Aboriginal Cultural Festivals
Amplify! Survive and thrive through the season