Team Talk

Sebastopol’s recipe for success: “We love what we do, and we believe in it.”


Interview with Melissa, Centre Manager in Sebastopol

“Exceeding NQS is going above and beyond what is expected at the Meeting NQS level,” that’s the definition of what we all strive for. You can try to fulfill all the categories to receive that assessment. Or you can simply try to do everything you do to the best of your ability and then realize, somewhat surprisingly, that you also reach the goal. Just like Melissa and her team in “Sebas,” as she affectionately calls her centre, Sebastopol. 


From bad experiences

When Melissa thinks back to her last assessment, she still feels a slight dread. Back then, the centre was still family-owned, and the assessment overall was far from a positive experience. She had just returned from her maternity leave and into covering the CM role for another Educator that was on MAT leave, and she found the whole process to be entirely unconstructive. Minor details suddenly became disproportionately important, and in the end, the entire team was simply unsettled. The result was a “working toward ” rating. But overall, it wasn’t the most positive experience yet a time that we simply ‘got’ past, then turned into an opportunity and the best starting point to prove ourselves and how far we have come.


To good beginnings

But this time, she wanted to do things differently. And yes, it was also about proving herself as a centre manager. In mid-February, the time had come, they had ten days to submit their QIP until March 2nd. Looking back, Melissa says her QIP was ok, but they could have included much more. But once it was submitted, it was done, and doubts are probably normal. Then nothing happened for a while. Until April 20th when they were told: “They will come next week.” 


Everything as usual

Instead of now conveying do’s and don’ts to all team members, the motto was: Stay calm. “We wanted to do everything as usual, and we don’t want to have any extra bodies in the centre,” says Melissa. And indeed, the uncertainty was initially great. Questions about whether, for example, the program should be adjusted in the rooms were rejected according to their own motto: “We do what we do. We don’t introduce anything new separately, and we don’t leave out anything we would normally do.” 
In preparation, Melissa could have the full support of Casey, the ED Leader in Sebastopol, as they are two peas in a pod. Besides a long-shared work history, the two also share many things: friendship and the fact that they are absolutely aligned when it comes to their work. Melissa and Casey met 15 years ago on their first day at TAFE and have been working together for 13 years. 

It has been one of these crazy days

In fact, the day of the visit was one of those crazy days that just happen everywhere from time to time. Melissa’s Early Childhood Teacher had finished in mid-March, and Melissa had taken over the room as an ECT. For Melissa, it was only natural because, with this solution, the children felt in good hands and were not left alone. And that counts more than anything else here in Sebastopol. 

In addition, one of her cooks had just undergone surgery, and her EL stepped into the kitchen for the five weeks leading up to the visit. Melissa didn’t want any unfamiliar faces in the centre. “Such days just happen; those people coming for a review know that too. We wanted to be authentic.” 

Everything done happens for a reason

There was a lot to organise. And because Melissa was in the 4-year-old Kinder room, Casey took over the greeting. The appointment was supposed to last 4 hours, but together they ended up talking continuously for 5 hours, first Casey, then Melissa. In retrospect, they realised that they almost magically covered all quality areas 60/60 (a bit of an overlap there) without any prior agreement. 
They looked into a file, but they knew that they were all just perfect. They had a solid foundation, and they could offer to show more, but that was no longer necessary. Probably the most important aspect was always the “why”. Everything that is done in Sebastopol happens for a reason and is embedded in their vision and aspiration to want the best for children and families. Nothing is forced or imposed. And that’s why it was easy for everyone to answer questions. This honesty and authenticity also made it easier for the team to deal with the unfamiliar situation. An aspect that Melissa was also very concerned about after her own rather unfortunate experiences 5 years ago.  
The evidence folder was no longer relevant (they showed it anyway). Instead, Melissa was asked what she was proud of. They had just had Grandparents’ Day in Sebastopol, and she showed the wonderful posts and the families’ reactions to them. 

A good plan that went overboard

Somehow, they already had a feeling that the next day would be the day when the result would come. When Melissa looked at her phone early in the morning, there was this one missed call from Ryan. Now there was no holding back. She threw the plan overboard, checked her emails, and there it was. Due to excitement, she first opened the wrong attachment. And she read the correct attachment once, then again, and for safety’s sake, a third time before she moved the email so that the team wouldn’t stumble upon it in the morning. 

And then it couldn’t go fast enough


She grabbed her kids, who were supposed to get ready for the day, and put them in the car in their pyjamas to drive to Casey’s house, just down the street to share the excitement. Casey was, of course, more than surprised. 

In fact, the two had already looked at how the other centres in Ballarat had performed. Exceeding was rare, more often a “working towards,” so their expectations for themselves were somewhat tempered. They expected a “meeting” rating. Instead, Melissa stood in Casey’s hallway and shouted in complete excitement, “WE ARE… EXCEEDING!” And Casey? She was by no means prepared for that. Unable to react. Frozen. So much so that even her children initially asked if Mom was okay, and Melissa had to explain that their mom was just very, very happy. 

A crazy, beautiful day. It ended with the two making a reveal video for the team.

A well-deserved Exceeding


Looking back, Melissa says, “I read the report. And with everything listed there that contributed to us receiving the Exceeding rating, I thought to myself, ‘Yes, we actually do that.’ And the thought slowly arose that the result was not a coincidence but deserved. 

Sebastopol is an area where families are simply very grateful when more support is offered. Everything is focused on the needs of children and families. There is a second food program for families, and overall, everything is focused on community engagement, health & safety, and family needs. Not to fill boxes on a form but simply because that’s what is needed here. 

We are evolving but comfortable in what we are doing. Maybe that’s part of the recipe for success. But one thing is certain, Melissa’s attitude: “We love what we do, and we believe in it.” 


Congratulations to the whole team in Sebastopol for this great achievement.