Self review guidelines

For an organisation to grow and improve the quality of its services it is important it monitors its performance. Ngā Arohaehae Whai Hua/Self-review Guidelines for Early Childhood Education were created with this in mind.

Appendix 1: Review stories

Five early childhood education services outline their review stories in a variety of ways. They focus on a range of aspects of practice.


  • A rural playcentre
    • Our AGM was fast approaching, and some of us were feeling uneasy that a core group of people were taking responsibility for most of the jobs. We were concerned that those people were at risk of burning out and that others were unaware of the requirements of being a Playcentre parent.

      We looked at our mission statement, which said, “Parents should manage and govern the centre co-operatively”, and we asked ourselves, “What would co-operative processes look like if they were happening at a high level?”

      We decided we wanted to find out “To what extent are we equipping Playcentre members to be fully involved?”

      We decided that over the next two weeks, we would:

      • audit the enrolment process - including any oral or written information that is offered both from our centre and the Playcentre Association
      • talk to other Playcentres about how they convey expectations
      • survey our parents.

      Gathering was completed by different members of our team. Auditing the enrolment process involved recording all the steps in the welcoming process for new families that took place over three sessions with the information officer. All oral and written information given to new parents about our expectations for the involvement of parents in the Playcentre was also recorded.

      Our president talked with other Playcentres. She discussed options with the Association and other centres, and she collected examples of contracts used in other centres.

      We developed the survey questions carefully at our next meeting. We wanted to make sure that the questions were helpful — that they gave us the information we needed and didn't request extraneous information.

      We asked:

      • Why did you choose Playcentre for your child?
      • What is expected from you at Playcentre?
      • What do you think the minimum requirements for Playcentre members should be?
      • How does Playcentre accommodate your unique skills, strengths, interests, and needs?

      When the information was brought back to the larger meeting, there was a great deal of discussion. We were pleased to discover the extent of parents' enthusiasm about their involvement, and we realised that we already had a lot of information available for parents as a result. However, when we looked at some of the comments that parents had made, it was evident that the issues weren't clear-cut. We used an adaptation of Rogoff's (2003) Transformation of Participation diagram (see Appendix 2: Focuses of Analysis template) to explore some of the issues that our information raised.

      Aspect of analysis  Individual Interpersonal Cultural/Institutional
      Parent-help roster The Playcentre Association has a philosophy based on emergent leadership and parents playing an active role in their children's learning. We have an expectation that all parents attend planning sessions. Some parents, however, often didn't identify attendance as a requirement for these sessions. Others felt that their lack of contribution led to frustration for those who were actively involved on this level. Our president advised that several Playcentres were now using agreements (contracts) reached at enrolment. These were reported to be very successful. The survey responses revealed that parents had created good relationships with other Playcentre members at Playcentre sessions. They identified a strong sense of belonging and fulfilled their parent-help responsibilities with great enthusiasm. As a result, they felt that they had wonderful interactions with the children.

      We realised that these parents were very much part of the children's extended Playcentre experience. They communicated socially with other parents in the weekends or by email. We asked ourselves how we could support the needs of our unique community while being fair to everyone. When we looked at the roles our parents played outside the formal planning sessions, we realised that many of our parents who were reluctant to attend planning sessions were doing wonderful things elsewhere - there was the management of the finances, the funds raised by various individuals, the building being kept in pristine condition, the working bees, the shopping that got done, and the library that was so well organised.

      We asked ourselves if it was realistic and fair to expect all families to contribute in the same manner, given their different strengths, interests, and circumstances. We also asked whether parent participation had to be at the level of working during the session and wondered if other areas could be considered.

      We surprised ourselves by the shift in our thinking as we worked through this process. Up to that point, it was generally agreed that as members of our Playcentre, we were expecting everyone to be involved at all levels of teaching and learning as well as management and governance. By looking at the issue from a range of perspectives that were unique to our community, we realised that what we expected was not always realistic or perhaps even necessary to achieving our goals.

      Through our many discussions, we concluded that lots of things were going really well in relation to our enrolment process and parent involvement. We looked back at our review focus and decided that the enrolment process fully equipped our parents to be involved, but this review had exposed so much more.

      We recognised the value of the different ways people can contribute and how important it was for us to avoid being too rigid in our requests. We started to see that although our vision stated that “Parents are respected, valued, and supported”, our practices might not respect and value parents' strengths and interests. We demanded so much from them from the outset. We started to think that we might need to divide some of the tasks across our community so that people could do the things that they enjoyed. We decided that we would trial a contract that parents would complete at enrolment and that we would provide a range of contributions for families to choose from.

      Practices you could help with What you would be able to do and any additional talents or skills that you could offer
      The way we foster learning
      • Playcentre training 
      • Parent help on the roster 
      • What else?
      The way we work together
      • Working bees 
      • Maintenance 
      • Tidying up at the end of sessions 
      • What else?
      The way we manage this Playcentre
      • Attend meetings 
      • What else?

      We realised that circumstances are not the same for all families and recognised that people have different capabilities. We applied this understanding to the new commitment form.

      We also recognised the importance of discussions as well as written material. This applied not only to commitments to participate in our Playcentre but also to our developing a strong communal sense of belonging. As a result, we planned to hold social events. We developed a statement to help us to remember the things we value, and this is on the wall of our Playcentre.

      We also decided that having self-review on the agenda for every meeting from now on will keep us on track. Our meetings can be consumed with “business”, so this item allows us to focus on the things that really matter to us all. The process of reflecting individually and as a group is very empowering. Engaging in the process of self-review in a deliberate way was the beginning of creating a community of reflective practice and recording our progress. There’s always more to learn.

  • A Rudolf Steiner kindergarten
    • This spontaneous review was prompted by a five-year-old leaving our service to go to another school. The departure of this child created a ripple effect with other families, as parents started to doubt the benefits of their child staying at Steiner kindergarten until the age of six and then moving into the Steiner school.

      We discussed the issue at a board meeting. One of the parent representatives explained how hard it was to resist the pressure of other families in the area and the belief that “real” learning occurred only at school.

      Our director suggested that this issue could be linked to our service's vision for each child. She wondered if perhaps we were not taking sufficient time to explain this vision and how it is realised through the Steiner environment. For example, she reminded everyone of the Steiner realms of thought:

      • Thinking - Clarity
      • Feeling - Inwardness
      • Willing - Perseverance

      She wondered if parents realised that Steiner philosophy advocated learning that followed a holistic process from kindergarten through to secondary education.

      The discussion that ensued led us to formulate a review focus that asked:

      “How do we express our vision to families so that they can make informed choices about their children's education?”

      We decided that to answer this question, we would need to look at the issue from the perspectives of both management and parents. Were the messages we thought we were giving the same messages that parents were receiving?

      We decided that it would be important to find out by talking with parents, looking back over our communications, and talking with management. We chose the following methods:

      • A focus group of parents (we invited a group of first-time parents of four-year-old children), facilitated by an independent person. We chose to invite a colleague who worked in management outside the kindergarten and who had experience in focus group interviewing.
      • Management would list all the communications we made available. A partner of one of the parents on the board offered to lead this part of the review at our next meeting so that the Director could be part of the process. This was agreed.

      We prepared a budget for this work, which we decided would take place over the next three months. By the end of that time, we would meet with everyone to decide what to do as a result of the review.

      The focus group took place a month later. This required some organisation, such as finding the best time, ensuring that everyone understood the process, and working with the facilitator. Management did not attend the focus group, and all fifteen of our kindergarten families with first children aged four years were invited to attend. Out of fifteen, twelve were able to attend - an ideal number for a focus group. Food was provided, and other parents offered to provide care for children if it was required. Two families enthusiastically accepted this offer.

      The facilitator, in consultation with management, determined questions to prompt discussion. These were intended to provoke rather than drive discussion (as it was recognised that the focus group might choose to take a different direction). The questions were:

      • What factors contributed to your choice of childcare?
      • What makes this place right for your child right now?
      • What factors are likely to inform your choice about primary school education? What will you be thinking about when you make that decision?
      • In what ways, if any, does the vision of this service impact on your decision making - either now or in the past?

      Responses were recorded by audiotaping the focus group. No names were given, and all responses were anonymous.

      In preparation for the next management meeting, we were charged with the task of locating and listing all the documentation and archives that we had in relation to the focus. The next meeting, a month later, revealed a wide range of documentation about “expressing our vision” (evident in such things as our policy documents, our charter, and our management portfolio). However, the only evidence of this vision being conveyed to parents was in our strategic plan, our revised charter, and our enrolment pamphlet. Through discussion, we realised that in the enrolment process, we made an assumption that parents knew about the vision.

      Focus group results:

      The majority of parents chose this service as their preferred choice for reasons including staffing ratios, the teachers, the Steiner philosophy and, in three cases, location.

      All parents said that the fact that their child was happy and was learning a lot gave them a great deal of confidence in their choice. They talked at length about the importance to them of their child seeing themselves as a learner and of parents feeling that they too were part of the learning process.

      Parents indicated that their decisions about primary education were influenced by factors that ranged from location and friendships to a desire for the child to be involved in learning to read and write. Two parents were clear about their intentions to have their children continue in the Steiner school as they were very aware of what was happening across the Steiner service. Both these parents had friends whose children had gone on to the Steiner school and were doing very well. Five parents spoke about the pressure they felt to have their child succeed with literacy and their fears that their child would be left behind educationally if they stayed at kindergarten until aged six. The factors that affected their decisions about primary school were quite different from their reasons for selecting a kindergarten. Parents conveyed some anxiety about the choices they had to make and were keen to make the right one for their child.

      Four parents asked what the vision of the service was as they had not been aware of it at all, let alone been influenced by it in their decision making. Two parents (the same two who had already decided to send their children to the Steiner school) said that the vision had played a significant role in their decision making and was something they referred to in discussions with teachers about their children's learning. The remaining six parents said that they were aware of the vision but that it did not feature highly in their reasons for choosing a Steiner kindergarten.

      They were influenced by other factors. Several parents decided that it might be interesting to compare the vision of each school in the area before making a final choice about their children's primary schooling. Others felt that the vision was too “ethereal” for them to take account of it when making practical decisions.

      A Johari Window (see Appendix 2) helped us to analyse all our findings. Through this process, we were able to summarise everything we had learned and to recognise potential blind spots in our knowledge.

      It was clear that management and parents did not always share the same understanding of our vision or reasons for their choice of service. We now knew that our vision was not always accessible to everyone but, for some of those who were aware of it, it was highly significant in their decision making. For others it did not feature at all. This prompted us to decide on several new initiatives.

      • We decided to rewrite our vision in plain language so that everyone could see its practical relevance and the connection to Steiner philosophy. We would make this the focus of our next review.
      • Enrolment processes would involve a clear verbal explanation of the revised vision statement for this service as well as of the Steiner philosophy.
      • Advertising material in the newspaper and radio would include a reference to the revised vision statement for the service and ensure that there was emphasis on the whole education process rather than just on the kindergarten.
      • Teachers would ensure that a discussion of our service's vision would become part of their parent interview meetings.

      Review reminded us that we need to value what we do and also to value the importance of communication.

  • A home-based service
    • We were aware that the learning story approach to assessment was being used increasingly throughout other parts of the early childhood education sector. We wanted to find out more about it and decided to look at what assessment was already happening in each home base before we took on this new approach. We looked at our assessment goals, which included the following statement:

      "Educators provide each child with opportunities for learning that are based on the individual strengths of the child."

      We decided to explore how well we were doing this. Firstly we planned for our co-ordinators to make this a priority on their visits to educators - both as a discussion point and to invite educators to explore their assessment practice. This would be supported by weekly discussions between co-ordinators. We also planned to hold an educators' workshop in three months' time to which everyone would bring their thoughts about current assessment practices, informed by their prior discussions.

      During this time, we shared readings and circulated copies of Kei Tua o te Pae: Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars around the network. Co-ordinators collected examples of assessment records and shared ideas with educators and with one another. They recorded the differences between what was written in the assessments and what was actually happening as articulated by the educators.

      One of the co-ordinators worked with an educator to record the following learning story, in handwritten form.

      When we looked at the learning story that had been written, everyone was extremely positive, saying "I could do that!" and "This makes it real." Someone asked the question "How do you know that Lucas was delighted to see Henry?" as the photo didn't seem to demonstrate this. As a result, we started to get a lot more critical about the way we described learning and what we recognised as learning. The learning story became a prompt for our discussions about the learning that we recognised and valued.

      Together we completed a SWOT analysis (see Appendix 2) to help us explore the pros and cons of learning stories. We ended up being a little more cautious about jumping in "boots and all".

      The consensus from the group was that the current documentation was not working. Moreover, there was a new way of thinking about assessment that we wanted to know more about!

      We concluded our workshop with a plan for moving forward. We decided that educators and co-ordinators would spend the next three months writing learning stories together and sharing digital cameras to record learning. We would then analyse these using the Child's Questions framework (see Appendix 2).

      Management sent out a newsletter to families to families explaining what we were trying, and we began another review to see if it would work. We also planned to access professional development so that we could learn more about this new way of working and how we could deepen our understanding and appreciation of assessment.

  • A Tokelauan education and care service
    • We are a Pasifika education and care service that started as a Tokelauan language nest five years ago and has since become licensed and chartered - with lots of learning along the way!

      Staff were concerned about children who were consistently being picked up late at the end of the day as this had a spin-off effect in terms of staffing ratios for licensing requirements. Staff brought this issue to the committee, who looked at their policy on the collection of children.

      We discussed the policy and decided that it needed to be reviewed. The policy included a penalty clause: "If you are late and do not ring, you will incur a penalty late fee of $20.00". This surprised us as we had not been applying this penalty clause. The committee realised that it needed to bring this issue to the attention of everyone in the community (including the committee members, who had also been picking their children up late on occasion!). So we planned to increase parent awareness of this policy by placing it on a noticeboard for two weeks with a comment sheet attached.

      Pikaka o Taimati, text in Maori

      The noticeboard comment sheet remained empty for the two-week period. We found, however, that it prompted a great deal of discussion about the penalty between teachers, parents, and the committee members. This was mainly about the advantages and disadvantages of the penalty and the impact it could have on families. Staff made notes about these discussions in their daily diary. Names were not recorded - only the content of the discussion was included.

      The diary notes were read out at the next committee meeting. Overwhelmingly, the responses indicated that the community had not been aware of the policy or of the penalty. Most of the responses described a lack of awareness both of the need to ring if late and of the implications of lateness on staffing requirements. This was largely because families hadn't read the policy. We realised that as a number of our policies are written in Tokelauan, some of our families are unable to read them. Not all our families are Tokelauan. We have a wide range of ethnic groups, including African families, now attending the centre. This communication problem surprised us as we had not thought about the changing dynamics of our community and the implications of this since our beginnings in 2001.

      Our diary recordings showed that families didn't object to paying the penalty, just that they didn't know about it. We realised that this wasn't fair. We asked ourselves, "If they don't know, why should they pay?" However, we had to consider who would pay for the extra staffing required and where we would find the additional staff to be on call. By asking these questions, we realised that we had a real issue to resolve.

      The results showed clearly that families were unaware of centre policy and of the expectations held by centre staff. Management agreed that until the information was accessible to everyone, we could not impose the penalty payment. We decided to obtain signed confirmation from each family - so that we could be sure the information was understood for the future.

      We realised that we need to review our policies and procedures on a regular basis. We recognised that they all have a purpose and are important for the day-to-day running of the centre. As a result, we decided to translate all our policies and procedures into English and to set up a regular reviewing cycle.

      Here it is:

      Policy review table

      We found that when we used both languages, we got much better review feedback (including written feedback in both English and Tokelauan). As well, and most importantly, the policies and procedures came alive for everyone.

      While looking through our policies and procedures, we also realised that, conversely, our philosophy statement was in English and hadn't been reviewed for four years. We started a new review that took us into an exploration of our philosophy and how it shines through in our vision for the many cultures in our service. We also looked at the languages we use while maintaining our Tokelauan character, and our vision for children. This indicated to us the importance of language that is meaningful to all families in our service. We realised too, through all of this, the importance of integrating our Tokelauan values with Ministry requirements.

      Ko te Matiti Tokelau Akoga kamata he akoga Tokelau e whakavae i te aganuku ma te lotu, auala mai i na takutukuga a Matiti Tokelau Akoga kamata ma te Ministry of Education.

      Our philosophy statement now reads like this:

      philosophy statement in Maori

  • A kindergarten
    • The parents at our kindergarten had recently completed a term evaluation of our programme. Among other things, a few parent responses indicated that there was some congestion occurring at the main doorway that serves as the entrance and exit of the kindergarten.

      During this time, the teaching staff had been involved in professional development that assisted our centre to implement bicultural practices in our programme. Teachers had learned that this included the everyday things that occurred in the environment as much as celebrating significant cultural events.

      Looking at our entranceway through this bicultural-practice lens, we planned a review that asked: "To what extent does our entranceway reflect our bicultural heritage?"

      The review involved our teachers, in consultation with our parent committee members.

      We decided to ask whānau and local iwi about the history of the area. (Our committee president facilitated this.) We also decided to use the information we had from our term evaluations as a prompt for discussion. As well, over the next term, we took every opportunity to discuss the children's perspectives on the entranceway with them. (Teachers undertook to record this information.)

      Over the term, our discussions with children took place in groups and with individuals informally. When children were changing, putting their shoes away, or getting their lunchboxes, we took the opportunity to ask them about the most appropriate places for putting their things. These were considered in relation to what we now understood to be appropriate bicultural practice, such as separating hats and shoes from food. Feedback was shared at each staff meeting and summarised for analysis.

      Local iwi and whānau sourced information about the local legends for us. We learned about a local legend of the three whales that we in turn shared with the children through story, drama, and art experiences. Whānau invited children, teachers, and families to visit their property in a location where the mountains that represent the three whales are visible. A grandmother shared her stories about the significance of the property and its situation. We also visited our local marae, where the significance of the legend of the three whales and its relationship to the kindergarten were shared with the children and families/whānau. Over time, the legend was revisited often, and it soon became both significant and relevant to us all.

      During this time, we also looked more closely at our evaluation forms. Where comments had been made about the entranceway, these comments mentioned the fact that the lockers were right in the doorway and that the doorway was both an exit and an entrance. Although not many parents had made such comments, we felt that this may have been due to the fact that the questions we had asked were not sufficiently probing. Therefore, we could not dismiss this issue.

      At our end-of-term committee meeting, we presented the summarised information that we had gathered.

      We had developed an understanding of the significance of the legend of the three whales to our cultural heritage. We considered how we could represent this legend as one that we felt belonged to us all and that we honoured. Our local iwi endorsed our ideas.

      Many different images of whales were represented in our kindergarten throughout this time. Children were dramatising and representing images of whales in their artwork and storytelling. Children had made three images out of hardboard that they asked to be hung in the entranceway. This provoked a great deal of interest from parents and children alike.

      Our parent evaluations suggested to us that we needed to create a less congested entranceway and that this could be achieved by clearing more space and making it more attractive. This was reinforced by the comments provided by the children, who had some very clear ideas about how they wanted the area to look. Children also made suggestions about relocating lockers and their belongings in ways that would respond to our concern to separate hats, shoes, and food.

      We decided to relocate our lockers and purchase baskets for hats, shoes, and lunchboxes to ensure that they were kept separate from one another. We planned to review the outcome of this change in six months' time.

      Together, we determined that we would develop a mosaic of the three whales and have this in our entranceway instead of the lockers. We approached a student artist we knew and asked if she could develop a representation of the three whales. She agreed to this, and we had it made into a mosaic feature on the floor of our entrance. The intention is that it will always remain in this place, our place, and that it may provoke people entering our environment to learn more about the significance of the three whales represented in the mosaic. The legend itself is also written and displayed for parent and whānau information. The image of the three whales was later depicted as a watermark on written material in the kindergarten.