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Opinion: Authentic documentation is like an onion

In my work as an education and care consultant, I am often asked questions about documentation, including how much to document and what to document. The realm of documentation is complex and often fills educators with great anxiety and stress.

I wonder what can happen if we step back and simplify our approach. Would our perception change?

Seeking to understand who the child really is means that documentation can be flexible. It can move away from a frantic need to gather copious amounts of data (to ‘prove’ we are meeting regulatory requirements) to one that sees educators collecting meaningful gems about the child’s experiences. These gems are the moments that invite us to reflect on what we are seeing, hearing or feeling with the child. When we engage on this level, we have access to rich knowledge about the child’s world.

So, how can an educator begin to tune in to the child on a deeper level? The following ideas provide food for thought.

A starting point

Begin by making the Education and Care Services National Regulations your friend! Also form relationships with the National Quality Standard and the Early Years Learning Framework. Read what these organisations and their publications say about documentation and then deconstruct them by highlighting important words, rewriting sentences and discussing them with colleagues. Make their messages meaningful for you and your team.

What will the documentation look like?

For documentation to be authentic, it needs to reflect the background, cultures and interests of children and families. Similarly, the lens that an educator views their practice through is formed by their personal and professional experiences. This means each educator will have a unique way of relating to a child, and their documentation must show this relationship. For example, one educator may express this through a poem or letter, while another may choose a photograph. Be courageous in your approach and let it be a true expression of your experiences with the children.

Create an ‘in-between’ space

For educators, choosing what to document in the busy nature of daily practice can be a challenge. Being aware of how we notice the children’s experiences is a good starting point. After noticing a child’s experience, create a moment to pause before rapidly moving to write up the experience. What happens when we allow ourselves to be fully present in this in-between time? Perhaps we become aware of what’s authentic and meaningful.

Authentic documentation is like an onion

The onion is a good analogy for the process of documentation, because with each layer we peel back, we make new discoveries about the child as well as about ourselves. Try to view documentation as something that you can pull apart, discuss and form theories about. We make discoveries about who the child is when we unravel and then piece together different threads of documentation.

While documentation can be overwhelming and complex, it can also be a valuable opportunity for our practice. Being brave and playful, and leaving room to consider documentation in new ways can unlock its true value: a tool for deepening professional practice.

Jessica Horne-Kennedy is a Gowrie NSW consultant.

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