One educator’s Beyond Tomorrow conference journey

Written by Reach your Potential* recipient, Ebony Knox, from Birralee Childcare Centre. 

Everyone has a journey. It is unique to them and holds characteristics which shape their identity. It can be life in whole, a single phase or a series of moments. 

My professional early childhood journey began when I started an afterschool job at our local childcare centre when I was 16 years old. I would finish school, catch the bus into town and start my shift by filling up buckets of water for cloth nappies and putting a load of bibs and art smocks into the wash. For the next two hours I would help clean paint pots, pack away toys, stack and unstack the dishwasher and of course, I’d always be asked to pack away the sand toys in pouring rain or endless heat. 

Ten years later, I am still working at our local childcare centre, however, today I am proud to say I am a four year trained early childhood teacher. 

To get to where I am today I have studied Certificate III and Diploma in Children’s Services, Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, attended professional development sessions, countless meetings, changed an estimated 12000 nappies and most recently on Friday the 15 th August, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the ECMS ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ Conference. The theme was ‘Inspiring Journey’s’- a phrase well suited to a gathering of people who dedicate their lives to improving the next generation of journeys. 

To begin the day, I joined Heather Barnes as she presented a discussion about the importance of reflective practice. The acronym TEMPS provides an easy way to collectively evaluate our day: time, environment, materials, people and space. We also need to allow ourselves to turn off. I liked Heather’s idea of using a landmark on the way home to remind us that work is over and we can shift our focus to other matters occupying our mind. 

During Luke Touhill’s session titled ‘Changing spaces: how the physical environment shapes teaching, learning and behaviour,’ I found myself thinking further about the balance that is required between artificial and natural materials in an early childhood environment. A photo of a very artificial almost cartoon-like environment flashed onto the projector and received horrified gasps from the audience. While a photo of an idyllic bush setting caused “ohhhhs” and “ahhhhhs”, with the audience nodding in appreciation. I reflected on the environment at my own workplaces and felt almost apologetic for the city dwellers missing out on the opportunity to create and engage in environments such as these. In a modern world with ever evolving technology, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to advocate for the importance of surrounding children with natural products. This quote from Luke also stood out for me, “it’s not what you can buy but what you can add.” Op shops, gardens and roadsides can provide valuable resources. While I noticed the popularity of enviro-friendly products and sustainability initiatives in the Trade-Fair earlier in the morning and over lunch, there was a noticeable absence of branches, seed pods, garden products, stones, rocks and timber available to purchase. These, we need to be proactive and source ourselves. Luke caused me to add to my list of things to do; sourcing guttering and a timber pallet to make a water wall, modify the layout of block area and create a ‘work in progress’ sign. 

Following more delicious food, I was inspired about Anna Bartoli’s work at Eastern Ranges School, where she is committed to delivering a rich educational learning experience for children with additional needs. Being committed to children’s individual needs requires innovation. Employing a structured teaching and learning environment enables children to reach maximum potential, something which provokes me to think about my own knowledge regarding teaching to different styles. Again, I add to my list of things to do: print out and laminate a visual schedule. 

Time, space, materials, persistence and individuality are themes which remerged over each of the three sessions I attended. Each theme playing its part in creating an inspiring journey and today, my attendance at the ECMS conference inspired my journey to continue. 

*Reach your Potential - Presented in partnership with Modern Teaching Aids, the Reach your Potential program enabled 23 early childhood professionals who do not have the funds available for professional development to attend ECMS’s 2014 Beyond Tomorrow conference.