From birth to three: exploring educators’ understandings of agency
The Australian Early Years Learning Framework promotes the need to recognise children’s participation rights and for educators to be responsive to opportunities and demonstrations of agency. However, recent research documents concern that this rights-based discourse has not yet penetrated infant caregiving contexts. This study aims to explore how educators working with infants and toddlers understand agency, and what role they ascribe to themselves in infants’ and toddlers’ realisation of agency. Research was undertaken in early childhood settings in the metropolitan area of Brisbane in late 2019 and early 2020. Interviews and reflection activities were conducted with 15 educators working with children under three years, and responses coded through thematic analysis. Within the findings, participants provided some working definitions of agency and made some connection to supporting children’s agency in their everyday practices. However, participant responses largely revealed confusion and limited understandings of agency. This was exacerbated in instances where educators reported nil or irregular access to professional learning opportunities. Through engaging a critical feminist paradigm, a connection between the status provided to educators who work with infants and toddlers, and the impact upon their knowledge and practice is proposed, and recommendations put forward for increased opportunities for professional learning relating to birth to three pedagogy.