This is the next in the series of interviews with influential and inspiring men in the Early Childhood Education and Care field. The first in fact of an Aussie, Neville Dwyer.
Now many of you, especially those of you not from Australia, might not know who Neville Dwyer is. So let me give you a quick run down of his bio. Neville is currently the Director of Dorothy Waide Centre for Early Learning in Griffith, NSW. He is the Secretary/Treasurer of Community Connections Solutions Australia, a not-for-profit, non-government, membership-based organisation that supports the management of high-quality early childhood services and other community organisations. In 2004 Neville was awarded the National excellence Award for Teaching in Early Childhood.
So now onto the interview, although as with most of these posts, it's not so much an interview as a series of questions that I sent to Neville and which he replied with his responses. Check out the Centre's Facebook page where you can see photos of their wonderful renovations and read about the exceeding standards rating they recently received. Truly a guiding light in the provision of quality Early Childhood Education and Care.
When did you first consider entering the Early Childhood profession?
I entered early childhood by mistake I think. In 1981 when I graduated I was part of the first cohort of primary teachers, who while having a scholarship, completed Uni without guarantee of employment. In fact there were no teaching positions. It was just casual, and even then there weren't many opportunities. I took a part job as an assistant with the Griffith Mobile Resource Unit, having zero idea of what it did - I thought it provided resources for schools. Reality was it provided what would be regarded today as supported playgroups and community programs to small communities out of Griffith. Hillston, Merriwagga, Darlington Point, Yamma Homestead.
There were just two of us and a Toyota coaster bus filled with a few toys and other resources - not much really, operating out of a neighbourhood centre. Within 6 weeks of starting I was the coordinator, and then over 5 years had transformed the service in to a mobile preschool, with an adult education component and also community arts program.
We ran preschool sessions in Rankin's Springs, Weethalle, Goolgowi, Darlington Point and Merriwagga, Playgroup in Hillston and a Dept of Housing Estate in Griffith as well caravan parks.
Was there ever anything else you wanted to do?
Theatre and film.
In your time as an Early Childhood professional have you noticed a change in the way men who enter the field are regarded?
I have never known discrimination against males personally. In fact in my community I don't think it’s really been noticed, we also have a high number of males across all the primary schools - even in early stage one. While there have never been lots of males in the early years, there have always been a few around the local area. We have two male Directors in the community, so we are probably punching above our weight per capita in the EC Sector.
I often hear of problems in other locations, particularly the metro areas where it is often difficult to attract and keep guys in the sector. I have heard of discrimination and active resistance to having men on early childhood teams. I have many friends across the state who would love to have men on their teams, but find it difficult to attract or keep them.
Do think the numbers have changed much, regardless of what the statistics say?
I think it’s growing. Part of that due to the growing understanding of the importance of the early years and that men have a role to play in the early years as well. I know it’s not the money! I know in my team, one of my colleagues reckons he has it made, he finds it one of the most enjoyable careers, and says that there can be few jobs in the world where you can have so much impact in a positive way on the lives of children and families.
I think it will continue to grow as we get better in articulating what it is we do in the early years and when men see that have a space there. We have to build that space and also say what it is we do. Sometimes we don't do that well, and men and women don't work the same way in this space, they complement each other, but bring different qualities and work skills. It also takes children's services to make their space a safe space for men - not only for males working in the service, but even for fathers and their children. Often I have found in some settings, men (fathers) feel alienated by the staff. In our setting dads are integral to what we do and all our team have great relationships with both parents.
Who is/was your inspiration (if you had any) when you first began working with young children? Note: it doesn't necessarily have to be a male.
I am not sure I was inspired by anyone really, not in the early years of teaching because it was pretty lonely and there were few role models in my world. I was lucky though that I had opportunities to work with June Jeremy from Contact, Judy Finylason from Network (we put on the first Mobile Services Conference in Griffith) and that friendship has lasted a lifetime. When you are in the company of June you get to do some amazing things and meet some incredible people.
When I started at the Centre, I had the opportunity to participate in a Directors course that had been started up by Community Child Care Coop as well. This brought together directors from across the state, in my group mostly from rural NSW, all struggling with this new idea called child care! I met some amazing people then as well - June Wangman, Wendy and John Schiller. I think being around these people provided me with opportunities to see different possibilities.
When I’m in the company of colleagues I have known for years, I’m often say that I’m only here because I stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m lucky I have worked in the sector for a long time, as DWC for 27 years alone. I have worked with lots of people from across the early childhood sector, each person I meet shares with me part of their journey in EC. I still get invited to Mobile Meets, I think I am the only person who has been going to them sense the early days, I get to most of those. Being surrounded by people who work in difficult environments, challenges and who just get the job done, and make a difference inspires me.
Over the last 5 years I have had the great privilege if wing invited to the Aboriginal Children's Services Conference (Aboriginal Early Childhood Support & Learning), we share our stories and I leave lifted up by incredible examples of connected practice built on strong relationships. Some incredibly gifted EC practitioners.
Who inspires you now?
Children and families - everyday. Always amazed that parents entrust their children into our care, and always amazed at the complexity of children's thinking and knowing. I don't get that some EC practitioners don't get this and find it so hard to see learning and wonder in young children.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Ahh that’s a hard question. Children are the centre of my world - I know that can sound trite, but in essence they are. I am friends with kids who I worked with when I first started out. I have been to their birthdays, weddings etc. I even go to music festivals with them. I think being ivied into a child's world and into a family is an incredible opportunity.
I am lucky, I get to travel a bit in my role now, thanks to my board, but I get to share our stories and practice and also get invited in to others spaces to listen to their stories work with their teams – that’s a rare privilege.
I also get to be involved with a few different projects. I sit on the MacKillop Rural Community Services Board. This operates out of Dubbo and provides children, family, disability and youth services in eight remote and isolated communities across NSW. I have sat on the board of the CCSA since 1992, in that role we have seen the organisation evolve into one of the key management support services in children's services. I also have the opportunity to work closely with ECA national office, especially in the delivery of support programs for the EYLF and the NQS.
What was your aim/goal when you began this career? What would you say is your goal professionally these days?
It’s always been the same - be the difference in someone’s life. It’s always been about the journey and about doing what is right and has the best outcomes for everyone - but most importantly for the child and their family. I’m lucky I have worked in the community I have grown up in. That’s rare for most of us.
I think what is different now is that I have a greater understanding of what I do and how it makes a difference. I also get to influence the debate, for some reason people listen to me - sometimes important people listen to me - maybe it’s that hard head!!!
Around our EC practice – it’s not to win awards, or be regarded as "exceeding" our goal is to our best, for just that reason alone. Providing the best experience for the child and family, the fall out is that our team benefit because they get to work in a space that values what they do and supports them. What we do is more complicated than rocket science, we are building brains, to do this well and ensure that each and every child has an opportunity to reach their potential we have to be prepared to think mindfully how this is done each day and that it will be different.
In your capacity as a leader in the EC profession, how have you impacted on the sector as a whole?
I never intended to be a leader. My only goal was do my best and to encourage those around me to do the same. I have been lucky that I have gathered around me people who get how my head works - which can be a struggle for me and others sometimes. We just do our job. I am often surprised that people look to us an example - because we don't seek that. I certainly don't, what may surpass most is that I actually don't like people very much, I struggle with adults all the time. Yes I can talk in public, but it’s a struggle for me - a bit like a performance really.
I’m not sure I impact in a huge way on early childhood. I think the profile i seem to have at this moment can be contributed to my hard headedness and maybe a letter I wrote to Maxine McKew a few years ago, it lead me to being part of the early development of the Early Years Learning Framework, I was one the few EC practitioners at the symposiums that began thinking on the EYLF. Prior to that my role with CCSA lead me to sit on the Advisory committee that developed the NSW Curriculum Framework.
Have you influenced many men considering or already engaged in a career in early childhood education?
Some of my staff that I work with were children in my care, including one of the guys I worked with. Not sure I'm the best role model for blokes, but I do have opportunities now to talk with students at Uni and am often talking with male students. Hopefully it gets them into the sector. Or maybe encourages others to take men on.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for guys out there considering or beginning a career in ECE?
Best job in the world. Seriously, we should be doing the thing that we enjoy and that brings a smile to our dial everyday. It’s not about competing with anyone but ourselves. Understanding that men and women bring different and complimenting qualities to an early childhood space is important.
We all need to do the thing we are passionate about and do it with the best intention, and do it well. In early childhood this is a shared role, we share in the lives of families, we support and build families, and we give them the power to make good decisions. We empower children to dream and grow.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of the universe. You’re playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. ........... It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” This is one of my favourite quotes by Marianne Williamson (author) it drives me to be mindful about my role and to dream big. Being a leader isn't about being out the front, in fact the best leaders are those you don't see, or who you notice from a distance, but when you get up close its difficult to define them, or point them out, because they are surrounded by leaders.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t working in early childhood?
Theatre or film, but hey I get to do that now anyway. I run an arts event management project, do part time film work, graphic design, websites, and community development.
Is there anything else you would like to add; a funny story perhaps?
We were celebrating 30 years of CONTACT Inc with a cocktail party at the Governor Generals sydney residence. I have known Quentin Bryce for years, in fact when she took on the role of head of NCAC we invited her to a regional conference in Wagga and it was one of her first presentations in that role. Anyway, at the Cocktail party, which happened to fall on my birthday, the GG broke all protocols by singing happy birthday to me, something her advisors said was a rare privilege as the representative of the Queen. A great friend, and a wonderful, respectful woman, who has done a lot for early childhood.