The Pyramid Model
We have a real challenge. It is an holistic and broad challenge that will affect every one of us. And there has never been a better time to focus on and improve upon the inputs and outcomes. How to ensure inclusive practice and quality, timely early intervention. With the introduction of a nationwide insurance scheme that will draw attention to and emphasis on individuals with disability and/or developmental delay, Australia is listening more; but are we acting?
Early childhood services are increasingly inclusive in their philosophy of practice. The National Quality Framework requires more reflection and overview (in some cases, overhaul) of policies and practices that impact on how we develop our relationships and reflect awareness of individuals and their families. But how are we really getting on? How is our system supporting us and our capacity? Are adult capabilities increasing and the target of intentional professional development, or are we fixated on ‘fixing’ the child, still removing and even expelling challenging behaviours from the very place a child might be able to learn to overcome them.
The Pyramid Model provides a systemic approach to self-reflection and reflective practices, supporting early childhood educators and early intervention educators and therapists to ask the right questions and dig in the appropriate places to ascertain the relevant and necessary markers for change. It advocates for regular coaching for successful implementation, and review for validity of practice. It calls for teams who collaborate for the benefit of the child’s development. And it begs an understanding of child development, particularly in the areas of social and emotional skill acquisition, recognising the stages of learning and relevance in all we do.
In early childhood and early intervention services, an inclusive philosophy is a terrific starting point. Practicing inclusion, however, is deeper and often made more challenging by behaviours that may increasingly baffle, undermine and overwhelm an educator or therapist who does not have the necessary supports – human or otherwise – to cope. Not all children with disability and/or developmental delay present challenging behaviours; however not all children with challenging behaviours have a diagnosis, either. In this regard, it is very important that professional development and coaching is driven on building adult capacity and capabilities, rather than throwing blame or throwing out the child due to an inability to cope.
Even more necessary than what is essentially the most important and foundational level of the pyramid, nurturing responsive relationships, is effective workforce. This is to ensure sustained implementation of evidence-based policies and practices; possibly the hardest element to achieve when training educators and therapists in isolation,but without which, change and sustainable inclusive practice may be least likely to succeed.
Since the magical Mary Louise Hemmeter brought the Pyramid Model to life for me, I have had the pleasure of providing premarin online training to almost 200 early childhood educators and early intervention educators and therapists. The most effective and change driven occurred in two different formats – when combining local early intervention service staff with local early childhood directors and lead educators at training, or all staff in-service training with regular on the floor coaching. When the director (teaching or otherwise) is involved, the implementation is highly likely. When there is buy in from all staff, coaching is regularly sought and an in-house Pyramid Model facilitator is appointed, implementation is exponentially more likely to stick.
So what do I feel are the biggest drivers for successful inclusive practice even the face of challenges and challenging behaviours? Anticipating how to ensure all may meaningfully participate. A true desire to engage all children and therefore taking time to discover every child’s strengths, interests, challenges and fears. Open collaborative teams around the child and their family, all striving for the same positive outcome. And regular self-reflection to enable planning and participating in relevant training, coaching and supports that build your own capabilities.
Our challenge is to walk the talk and practice what we philosophise about. Our challenge is to ensure peak bodies are working together to ensure our inclusion policies and papers are read and understood. Our challenge is to enable ourselves to be the change we wish to see. Our challenge is to be inclusive – for real.