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Highlighting the diversity, originality and significance of early childhood research.

The diversity, originality and significance of early childhood research is reflected in this latest edition of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood. Eight papers on eight very different topics are presented covering workplace well-being, children's spirituality, educational leadership, cultural identity, parent-teacher portfolio sharing conferences, transition to school, children's social behaviour and attitudes to science. The authors have also come from diverse countries: Australia; New Zealand; China; and Taiwan. This diversity of research is evidence of the strength of the early childhood education and care sector in addressing new and challenging aspects of their work to improve the quality of the sector.

Workplace well-being is increasingly being researched in order to support health and productivity. Acknowledging the dearth of research into healthy workplace well-being among early childhood educators, the paper by Catherine Jones, Fay Hadley, Manjula Waniganayake and Melissa Johnstone aimed to clarify the concept of educator workplace well-being and understand the factors influencing educator workplace well-being within long day care (LDC) centres. Using self-determination theory as a theoretical framework, 22 early childhood educators in LDC centres were interviewed. Most educators conceptualised workplace well-being as a psychological construct that was influenced by social, economic, environmental and relational factors. Participants also expressed the complexity of well-being and the interplay of factors required to support well-being. Three key themes emerged from the data analysis which influenced educator workplace well-being: a strong sense of belonging; workplace equity; and the concept of 'workplace flow'. Findings from this paper highlight the individual, relational and contextual factors impacting early childhood educators' workplace well-being. Also highlighted was the importance of working from a strength-based approach so educators feel valued, appreciated and knew they belonged. The authors suggest various strategies to improve workplace well-being.

Attending to the spiritual capacity of young children is considered an essential component of a holistic approach to education and care in the early years. In her paper, Christine Robinson presents findings from a qualitative investigation to determine early childhood educators' understandings and practices around promoting young children's spirituality in the context of religious childcare centres in Western Australia aligned with a focus on nature engagement. A social constructivist theoretical perspective with a phenomenological and interpretivist paradigm framed the research. Participants were nine educators across eight three- to four-year-old rooms and three childcare centres. Interview and observational data were collected and analysed through interpretative phenomenological analysis. While educators were able to articulate the connection between spirituality and engagement with nature, in practice they rarely offered opportunities for children to experience nature. Recommendations include the provision of professional development in the area of children's spirituality and its connection with nature, and the creation of pedagogical practice guidelines that afford children opportunities to engage with their spirituality through nature.

Within the Australian early childhood education and care sector, the formal recognition and nomenclature of the educational leader is relatively new. Thus, the research by Kate Barnes, Fay Hadley and Sandra Cheeseman fills a significant gap in describing the role of educational leaders within preschool settings. Using the theory of practice architecture as an analytical framework, 153 New South Wales preschool educational leaders were surveyed to determine how they believe their position is translated into practice. The survey included questions relating to educational leader employment characteristics, educational leader roles and practices, and attitudes towards educational leader roles. The findings from this paper indicated that preschool educational leaders were experienced, educated and enacted their roles in varied ways. Practices tended to be informal and collaborative, and responded to the different preschool contexts. Preschool educational leaders believed that good communication, professional knowledge, relationship building and enthusiasm were the most important personal qualities needed for an educational leader. Many of the educational leaders used practices which focused on leading from within a team and developing professional knowledge. Differences were found in the practices of educational leaders who were designated as directors and those who were designated as teachers. The authors conclude with a discussion around the broadly defined and enacted role of the educational leader.

Australian scholarly research that explores how an individual's cultural background impacts on foster care policy and practice is sparse. The paper by Manjula Waniganayake, Fay Hadley, Matthew Johnson, Paul Mortimer, Tadgh McMahon and Kathy Karatasas presents an exploratory study on maintaining and supporting the cultural identity of children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) family backgrounds in New South Wales foster care placements. Applying a phenomen-ological approach, foster carers from a variety of cultural backgrounds (n = 26) and caseworkers (n = 15) who respectively live and work with children from CALD backgrounds were interviewed by individual or focus group interviews. Findings from the research affirmed the desirability of cultural maintenance in foster care placements: culturally matching the child, the carer and/or caseworker was considered helpful in nurturing children's sense of belonging and identity in relation to their cultural heritage. The authors encourage public discourse on cultural responsiveness and supporting cultural maintenance in foster care placements.

Children's emergent writing is an active process of constructing and interpreting their environment. Yu-Ju Hou and Ming-Fang Hsieh describe how a Taiwanese teacher conducted one-on-one portfolio sharing conferences with parents to help them understand their children's emergent writing performances. Parents/grandparents of three five-year-old children participated. Data were collected over a period of 12 months and included children's writing samples, parent interviews, parent-teacher portfolio-sharing conference records, teacher interviews and the teacher's reflective journals. Findings from this paper indicated that parents' perspectives on their children's writing reflected their concerns regarding the children's transition to elementary education and limited understanding of the development of emergent writing. After the conferences, the parents developed a more in-depth understanding of children's emergent writing and acknowledged the benefits of one-on-one portfolio-sharing. Advantages of sharing children's writing portfolios and using parent-teacher conferences are outlined, including building parent-teacher rapport. The authors emphasise the importance of early childhood teachers communicating with parents early to explain what and how their children are learning.

Drawings combined with narratives are an effective method to gain a deeper understanding of children's knowledge about and perception of experiences. Catherine Kaplun's paper uses a draw-write-tell activity to capture children's understandings of their transition to school. Fifty-seven New South Wales children were interviewed using the draw-write-tell activity over a 12-month period to identify the elements that impacted their transition to school. The children's drawings demonstrated their growing comfort with school over time, with the classroom and the playground being the most important elements in their drawings. Also reflected in the children's drawings was the changing roles that people played in their lives: as they moved from home to school, friends and sometimes teachers were becoming more important than family members as a source of support at school.

Social behaviours are important in the development of children's social competence. Jessica Smith, Tara McLaughlin and Karyn Aspden investigated New Zealand early childhood teachers' perspectives of four social behaviours (prosocial behaviours, social leadership, social dominance and aggressive behaviours) and how the gender of young children influenced these perspectives. Twenty kindergartens in the North Island of New Zealand participated in the mixed methods online survey. Findings from the study indicated that early childhood teachers believed that they had a generally non-gendered view of social behaviours. However, potential gender stereotypes were identified in girls being more prosocial, and boys being more aggressive. A proactive approach to combating potential gender stereotypes is suggested by the authors to enhance gender equity.

Acknowledging that science education fosters curiosity in young children and encourages them to explore the world around them, Pey-Tee Oon, Bi Ying Hu and Bing Wei described preschool teachers' views on teaching science in the Guangdong Province of China. A translated Chinese version of the Preschool-Teachers' Attitudes and Beliefs Toward Science Teaching (P-TABS) was used to collect data from 245 teachers from 60 preschools. Using Rasch analysis, the Chinese version of P-TABS was found to be both valid and reliable. While the preschool teachers were well-informed about the importance of teaching science in the preschool years and supported child-centered learning, they were uncomfortable in planning and demonstrating science activities that engaged preschoolers. They reported low confidence in their ability as teachers of science and perceived themselves to have inadequate science knowledge. Various challenges associated with the teaching of science were also noted, including overloaded teaching commitments and the lack of resources for use in science activities. Notably, the preschool teachers did not support teaching more science concepts in the classroom and did not see the potential for integration of science with literacy and numeracy. The importance of professional learning to overcome these attitudes is highlighted by the authors.

I am sure you will enjoy this eclectic collection of papers that provoke much reflection. How can you enhance gender equity at your centre or classroom? What can you start doing to develop young children's spirituality? Such self-reflection is the starting point of potential change.

Christine Howitt

Graduate School of Education, University of Western Australia

DOI: 10.1177/1836939119875232
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Howitt, Christine
Publication:Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2019
Words:1484
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