Educator in the spotlight: Jessica Crooks

Published on Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Last updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2021

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Every month we showcase an outstanding early childhood educator to showcase the wonderful work happening around the country and to motivate and inspire other educators.

This week we are delighted to introduce you to Jessica Crooks the sustainability champion at Guardian’s McKinnon service in Victoria. 

If you work with someone who deserves to be profiled email and let us know!

What is your name and where do you work?

My name is Jessica Crooks (but definitely just ‘Jessie’ to all the children and families!) and I’m 35 years old.

I’m lucky to work at Guardian McKinnon. We are a 30-person strong team in a 140-place centre. I have incredible opportunities to work with a broad range of professionals and get to meet so many incredible children and families and share in their unique experience with us.

What is your professional background and career experience?

I began my work with children as an in-home aid, providing respite care for children and adults with additional needs. A big focus of that role was ensuring the siblings of those children felt safe, supported and valued.

What attracted you to a career in the early childhood sector?

Having worked with small groups of siblings and direct with families, I anticipated a move to an early learning setting would be a great challenge for me to grow my skills and extend my knowledge in supporting various and diverse personalities and needs. I am so passionate about creating incredible outcomes for all children, and this passion drives me every day.

What does a ‘normal’ day look like for you?

My day always begins with a barrage of cuddles! There is no greater feeling than a child’s excitement when they greet you first thing in the morning.

Our class pet Blizzy the Blue Tongue Lizard is my responsibility, so together with the children we see to his daily routine, starting with some fruit for breakfast.

As sustainability champion at Guardian McKinnon, I also make sure to check in on our veggie garden, herbs and flower beds and tend to them as needed.

But my day is ultimately shaped by the children’s interests. I’m always ready to provide a silly song that reflects their current curiosity or dance our hearts out to channel some of their super and infectious high energy.

I’m a big supporter of creative expression in children so will often be found covered in paint or glue amongst the children as we find new mediums and projects to provide an outlet for them to explore and learn.

I enjoy sitting down to reflect at documentation times once the children are asleep, capturing the children’s learning in a way that truly paints a picture of each special moment. I share these moments with our families on the StoryPark app, so mums, dads, grandparents and other carers can come along on the journey with us and be included in the amazing moments and milestones that happen here at Guardian.

Then it’s time to get up dancing again or whatever activity will lead us through to home time!

What makes your service unique?

The Guardian Mckinnon management team is extremely supportive and works collaboratively with me as I navigate my role and responsibilities as Sustainability Champion, imparting a sense of encouragement and belief in my practices. 

We have a wonderful team from so many different cultural backgrounds, and I’m constantly learning from the team and strengthening my practices through our collaboration.

We have a great range of additional programs visiting us throughout the week - from sports to music and movement, to dramatic story telling to add variety and excitement to our weekly program.

I may be a little biased, but one of the best things about our centre has to be Blizzy the Blue Tongue Lizard. While he resides with me in the Goanna room (which is very fitting!), he truly is a centre pet and is showered with love by all of the children and their families.

I think it is so important for children of this age to connect with animals and begin to recognise how to care for and respect another creature. Blizzy travels all over the centre (often on my shoulder as I go about my daily tasks!) and adds something truly special to our community spirit. 

The children at Guardian McKinnon use the centre as a collaborative community, as opposed to being constantly in their separate class groups. And Blizzy really does bring us together as one big family.

What are some of the advantages of working in early childhood education and care?

Being able to build on my experience with children, while championing in my own personal projects - such as being a great motivator, sharing my love of the environment with the children, and all the while having them teach me how to be a better and more responsive educator. This career is so incredibly rewarding.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector?

From a sustainability perspective we can be a very ‘high waste’ sector; paper, glitter, food waste, sanitary items etc all add up to an overwhelming amount of excess waste. We are very focused on reducing our environmental impact as an organisation at Guardian. And I think McKinnon is a wonderful example of this.

How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?

With the support of my management team, we are attempting to do our part by making small but impactful changes where we can - from a donation station where families contribute and benefit from shared craft, food and clothing items, to recycling initiatives with the children.

Every little bit counts, and small actions by many combine to make a big impact – that’s a really important lesson for our children to understand.

How does the early childhood industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?

It can be difficult being a passionate voice in a sea of many, as projects that will bring big sustainable change often require all hands-on deck. As a sector, I believe we need to find a way to make sustainability practices accessible and easy for educators and families alike.

What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in early childhood education and care?

Give it a go! There is so much fun and joy to be found in each working day. Even through the challenges, you will learn and develop, and be helping children to do the same. There are wonderful opportunities to experience other cultures, beliefs and communities through the families and fellow educators you will meet. It is such a rewarding career path.

And there aren’t many jobs where you get greeted by warm hugs and giggles each morning!

I would encourage more educators to advocate for a pet within your centre! Nothing brings a community together quite like caring for the same little creature with all the love we have.

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