To duty roster or not to duty roster, that is the question? During my 14-year teaching career, I have taught in a learning service WITH assigned duty rosters, and am currently working in a learning service WITHOUT duty rosters. When I started in my current learning service and was told there were no rosters I felt a little uneasy. “How do we ensure children’s needs are attended to?”, “how do we ensure the workload is spread evenly and fairly for educators?”, “it must be chaotic without rosters?”, “how do we ensure children aren’t missed!” Well, let me tell you, my transition to working without rosters was a pleasant surprise! In this learning service, we are assigned “key children.”
In my previous learning service, teachers were rostered on a weekly basis to an area of the centre, or to attend to care routines. There were outside teachers, inside teachers, toileting/nappy teachers, and sleep room teachers. It was hard in winter when you were rostered to outside duties for a whole week! It was at times bitterly cold, and I would stare longingly inside at everybody doing nice, warm, “insidey” type things. Reading books on big floor cushions, looking oh so comfortable in their inside clothes. Meanwhile, I was outside, braving the elements and wearing enough layers of clothing to be mistaken for an adventurer about to embark on an Arctic exploration.
Other weeks I would spend several hours in a quiet, dark room. Gently supporting a large group of small, wriggling people to get to sleep en masse should really be worthy of an Olympic medal. This was also hard on the body. Being in a dark room for several hours a day for an entire week is neither good for your eyes, your back, or your emotional well-being. Some children would not be happy to have me support them to sleep, and who could blame them? They wanted their own special teacher! One that they had a stronger relationship with. One that knew the special way to rub their forehead as they drifted to sleep. They wanted their special person. But they were stuck with me because this was my week to be in the sleep room. It could be another 4 weeks before their special teacher was on sleep room again, 4 weeks is a very long time when you are small.
When on these rosters, a week could go by where you didn’t actually spend quality time with any number of children. This made it challenging to support children’s learning with any continuity. Close relationships would need to go on hold for a week if you were rostered to a duty that did not align with the rhythm of particular children’s day. This was hard, on both teachers and children.
Fast forward to a learning service that “threw out the duty rosters”.
I must admit, initially, I had my doubts that this system of managing routines and responsibilities could possibly work without complete and utter carnage ensuing. But my doubts were very quickly laid to rest as I observed the calm and unhurried way routines were attended to.
Each teacher has “key children” that are assigned to them upon each child’s enrolment at our learning service. One of the responsibilities that go with having key children are working with the family to settle the child into our learning service. Having a key point of contact for the family means important information about individual children is relayed to the rest of the teaching team. The key teacher often develops a close relationship with both the family and the child, although individual children naturally develop close bonds with other teachers as well. Teachers quickly learn their key child’s “ways of being”. Their quirks, their preferences, their cues for tiredness, and the things they enjoy doing. They get to really know them well.
Key teachers are responsible for ensuring individual children’s routines are followed and met. For the team, this means we are all flexible, and aware of each other’s needs to attend to children’s routines. This requires a great deal of communication and flexibility amongst the teaching team. We need to be accommodating, and very in tune with each other. When a new child starts, a key teacher may need to spend extended amounts of time working closely with that child. We understand the need for children to develop a secure attachment to their one special teacher, and we all support each other with this. So if a new child prefers to spend a large part of the day indoors, and needs the support of their key teacher, the other teachers will work around this and give the key teacher support to ensure they can work closely with their key child.
When it comes to care routines, we see them as “quality times” where children’s preferences as to who supports them during this time, are respected and accommodated. To an outsiders eye, this can appear to be quite chaotic. Individual teachers are taking children to and from the bathroom, having quiet times together while younger children have a bottle on their key teacher’s lap, and taking turns to settle children into the sleep room at different times.
Although to the outsider’s eye, it can appear to be a little disorganised, it is, in fact, an extremely calm and unhurried system that is only possible when the teaching team are in tune with each other, and communicate effectively.
Children are not hurried or rushed into the sleep room in a large group. They are able to have their own special teacher soothe them to sleep, at a time when their body clock is ready. Each child is able to have their nappy changed by the one person they have an attachment to. If on any particular day they request a different teacher support them through these care routines, you guessed it, we respect their wishes. We understand that children deserve to have some autonomy when it comes to having their personal needs met during these times.
As a team, we need to communicate effectively. We need to respect each other’s workloads and be flexible and accommodating. We need to be aware of each other and support each other. We need to be a well-oiled machine!
Working without duty rosters equates to respect for children. Children are calm, unhurried and having their needs met by the people they have a close relationship with. I have to admit, there are times when it can be challenging, but for the majority of the time, it works perfectly. At the end of the day, having no rosters ensures children are at the heart of the matter. If you have ever considered moving to a system such as ours, you will probably be pleasantly surprised as to just how easy it is!