Amanda Ford is a graduate of the Early Childhood Australia Leadership Program and was named winner of a 2021 National Excellence in Teaching Award (NEiTA).

Amanda leads a team of 17 at KU ANSTO, Lucas Heights, NSW and is an innovative and enthusiastic leader driven to learn and actively promote professional learning for the team. Her sustainability initiatives, such as a children’s clothing swap market, a program to reduce food waste, a recycling hub, extending the kitchen garden, and developing a system to improve waste management all lay emphasis on the environment in her teaching.

Describe your approach to teaching and which philosophies and practices of education have made the greatest impact on your teaching.

I began teaching in 2000. I am driven in my desire to provide inclusive and respectful early education and pursue professional learning for further inspiration and growth. My practice is based on philosophies of attachment theory. Approaches such as ‘Circle of Security’® and Resourcing Infant Educaring® principles ensure educators are emotionally available to children. The establishment of a secure base for children from which learning can take place is best developed through respectful relationships and attachments; and is fundamental to our work.

I am privileged to work in a beautiful, architecturally designed early childhood space. Supporting children’s play and learning in thoughtfully designed light filled, natural spaces enrich our collective experience. Our play spaces offer open ended, flexible environments where children’s agency is supported ensuring children make decisions which are important to them.

Relationships within the team at KU ANSTO are nurturing, professional and firmly grounded in trust. This allows for robust reflection about practice which elevates the quality of our programs. Overtime, professional learning communities, inspired by educators’ interest in various aspects of our work have emerged. This culture of inquiry allows educators to stretch and grow. I see my role in support of their continued professional development.

What are your three best qualities as a teacher?

I would say ethical, inclusive and open, and unwavering commitment. I’ll explain each one.

Ethical. Leaning into dispositions of respect, kindness, and empathy. This moral compass underpins my work; the work we do with children has the capacity to impact development, wellbeing, and confidence into the future. I want that impact to be positive. This affords opportunities to develop warm relationships with families. The impact of my work travels beyond the immediate centre, into family and community life where the vision for sustainability, inclusion, reconciliation, and wellbeing continues.

Inclusive and open. I see myself as one part of a bigger picture and work alongside colleagues who have varied experiences and knowledge. The importance of knowing my colleagues, understanding, and respecting who they are and the qualities they hold. This inclusive way of being stems to the broader community as I entwine these values through reconciliation and connecting to country.

Unwavering commitment. I have a deep, intrinsic motivation to serve this community, including the children, their families and the educators within my team. I live and breathe this commitment, ensuring that the pedagogical work I do and the team I lead is of a very high standard.

What would you see as your greatest teaching innovations and how have you evaluated their effectiveness?

Leading a team with a philosophy centred on relationships and embedding it through every aspect of the curriculum has been and continues to be a triumph. Early childhood settings continue to evolve; families move on, educators take leave and so the cycle of change remains. Ensuring practices are ingrained and centred around our children and families means systems are fluid and current needs are always met.

‘Looping’ educators with children as they transition through the early childhood service is an aspect of this practice that I have implemented over the past several years. Looping was introduced to me through my engagement with RIE Educaring®. Again, taking a step back, and looking at the bigger picture with children and families at the core of decisions I make. Children transitioning through different rooms of the service can be a significant change that is placed upon children with often not a lot of thought. Through our ‘looping’ approach at the service, which will take several months, an educator will spend time with each child in their soon to be new environment. Sitting as a base as they begin to connect in their new space, forms connections with new peers and educators.

What do you believe will be the most significant challenges to be addressed in the future of your career?

There will always be hurdles and challenges, particularly when we focus on quality practice, as our knowledge of children and learning continues to evolve. Change is inevitable! Communities change, family structures change, our team changes, I change, nothing remains constant. I believe challenges require us to lift and dig deep, struggles can strengthen us. A strong personal philosophy and pedagogical belief ensures that challenges will be met head on and with a commitment to resolution.

Relationships and belonging are integral to a well lived life for all people. The important journey of reconciliation with First Nation Peoples, calls upon us to continuously learn and seek change both within ourselves and our society.

Environmental sustainability will be a future challenge and I maintain a hopeful vision that our children, in who we support to develop creative, problem-solving dispositions and resilience will grow in their relationship with the earth. Our practice continues to become more sustainable and over the past year we have pursued projects such as composting, eliminating plastics, family clothing swaps which lighten our impact on earth. We continue to reflect and set new directions to become more sustainable.

How did you deal with the challenge of COVID-19 in 2020 and what were your greatest learnings and successes?

COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life and as a leader. I have needed to be flexible; shifting my priorities as colleagues required significant emotional support and time. I had to be mentally strong, available, compassionate and to be braver than I had ever been before.

As I said before, challenge can strengthen us and over the past 18 months, as essential workers, we have continued to work. Our work certainly looked different: increased staff anxiety, heightened family concern, limited face to face connections, regular changes to procedures, additional cleaning responsibilities, shifting pedagogy to focus on wellbeing and finally the introduction of mask wearing at work have all marked our COVID experience. However, with lower numbers of children attending at peak times of COVID this created time for educators. Time in education is often elusive and so we were able to undertake additional online training to develop practice. I have been able to work alongside educators closely for additional mentoring and a sustainability project we had begun before COVID took precedence. I was able to work closely with the team, engage with both families and children to significantly lessen our carbon footprint.

Please share with us your experience as a mentor.

Mentoring plays a significant aspect of my role as I lead a high-quality early childhood service. Our team includes 17 teachers and educators; each on their own journey both personally and professionally. My role is to enable them to provide the best early childhood experience for each child and family in keeping with the vision of our service philosophy. Ensuring I know each educator as a person, understanding their knowledge, experience, interests, skills, and beliefs and how this contributes to the culture of our team is important to me. Every educator in my team is valued and I believe that encouraging them to lean into their strengths and interests in their work with children is key to supporting them not only in their own professional journey but as a part of a larger team working toward a common vision.

I have, over the years realised the importance of both role modelling and mentoring and use my skills and position to support developing leaders to expand their knowledge, share their skills and lead projects, ensuring this culture of learning and leadership is embedded within the ethos at KU ANSTO.