Environment makeover: Interview with Tanya Semmler

Tanya Semmler is the nominated Supervisor of Campbell Street Childcare and Early Education Centre in Queanbeyan, NSW. Early in 2012, together with her committee and staff, Tanya agreed to lead a process of change to the physical environment and to work with Early Childhood Australia (ECA) to document this journey through film and conversations.

The video footage clearly demonstrates the close relationship between all the standards in the National Quality Standard and the impact the physical environment has on these in terms of quality practices.

Now that your environment makeover project is nearly complete, how are you feeling?

I am feeling relieved, because it was a very lengthy and intense process. I am also feeling proud of the results we have been able to achieve and the collaboration that occurred throughout the project in all sectors of the service—staff, families, management, community and the children. The conclusion of this element of the makeover also highlighted to us other areas of our practice that we can adapt, evolve and reflect on. It has given me more of a focus in where I want to take the centre in the future.

Apart from the obvious changes to the physical environment both inside and out, what has been the most significant change for children, educators, parents and yourself as a leader?

The most significant change for myself as a leader has probably been the way I have questioned my strategies as the director, and how what I do impacts upon every facet of the service. I can now make a plan for moving forward, which focuses on the key areas I have outlined. This informs adaptations to my new Quality Improvement Plan in collaboration with the completed report after our assessment visit.

Our staff have embraced the reflective nature of the project—it is always easier to think about areas you can change if you have a form of reference and examples of how to consider those elements differently; our workshops and conversations with the two ECA consultants Luke Touhill and Judy Radich did that for us.

I think the most significant change that has occurred for the families is their involvement in our centre—the working bees gave families an opportunity to meet and get to know one another, building more of a sense of community.

There have been significant changes in the children’s behaviour and learning since the completion of the project. With the increased challenges in both the indoor and outdoor environment, the children are calmer. They interact in a more positive way with one another and are building a greater sense of responsibility for their own environment.

You recently attended the ECA conference in Perth (sponsored by Modern Teaching Aids), where the first showing of some of the footage was seen—how did that make you feel?

During the recent ECA conference in Perth, I had the opportunity to view the snapshot of our project. I guess the first thing that went through my head was the possibility that both myself and the staff would be judged.
I feel that is a normal response, given that the documentary is available to every centre on the website. But ultimately I am very proud of them for being brave enough to be involved in this project and to move to where we are now. I feel that what people will see is what 75 per cent of centres in Australia are going through at the moment. I hope that our story can help them to make a plan and get where they want to be, because it is an intense process and it won’t just happen overnight or within six months.

Where to from here?

Well, we still have some elements to the environment makeover plan to continue with and budget for a water tank, a pump in the sandpit, a pergola, and the junior preschool yard upgrade. Right now it’s time to focus more on our practice and the direction we want to move in. We need to continue to challenge ourselves. As a leader, I need to make sure that my strategies are in place to facilitate opportunities for further change and reflection. Further professional development for our centre will be the key in moving forward, because the more you are exposed to as an educator and the more conversations you are involved in, the greater your capacity for considering something new and different. We will need to create a plan in collaboration with the management committee that we can chip away at, to achieve the outcomes we want, in both the short- and long-term future.

As Tanya says, this was an intense and at times confronting process but well worth the hard work and struggle. The Environment makeover. National Quality Standard ideas to actions documentary on the ECA website is testament to this and indicates there is more work to do, both physically and around practice. ECA thanks Tanya and her team for exposing their service and practices to the wider early childhood community so that the lessons they have learned can be explored and possibly replicated in services across the country.

To watch this documentary, please click here.

Tanya was interviewed by Catalina Voroneanu
(Project Manager, NQS-PLP)

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