Is Gratitude Bad For Your Health?

a woman writing on her journal while lying in bed
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I am a big believer in the power of gratitude. 

In fact, if you are a regular reader of my blogs, you would know that I have been extolling the benefits of gratitude for years.

Gratitude has been and still is a transformative influence in my life, however, as with anything in life, there is a flip side to any practice. A Ying to the Yang – a delicate natural balance that needs to be upheld.  A shift too much to one side of the scale can be disastrous.

You might ask the question, “Can gratitude be harmful to my mental health?”

“Is there really a destructive side to expressin appreciation for life?”

I do believe that the answer can be “yes”.

Toxic Gratitude

There is a way that a regular gratitude practice can be toxic to our mental health.

Now you might be shaking your head at me as you read this but hear me out here.  There is a danger in switching straight to gratitude in every situation.

Emotions such as sadness, anger and disappointment are part of life. Our emotions are subjective to us and what we value.

A toddler may be overwhelmed with emotion over their distress at not getting the blue cup that they had their heart set on.

Teenagers might be heartbroken about the concert that was cancelled due to COVID restrictions.

An adult could become anxious because they are forced to work from home because of an increase in alert levels.

One thing that COVID has taught me is that none of us is bulletproof to disappointment and disruption to our lives.  We all had things that we were looking forward to which got cancelled like holidays, social events and concerts.  Many people have lost their jobs and some even their homes, businesses, loves ones and even their lives.

Through it all, we can almost always find someone else who has things tougher than us. And we can find a million reasons why we should be grateful.

As New Zealanders, we see people in other countries are struggling with COVID-19 or unrest. We might feel pressured to be grateful or to think “What right have I, to be sad or frightened about compared to (insert worse COVID-19 story) we live in the safety of New Zealand?”

woman doing hand heart sign
Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Pexels.com

Cognitive Bypassing

There is something recently learned about that I would like to share with you. And it is the term is Cognitive Bypass.

When we think of something we are grateful for our brain rewards us with a little hit of dopamine. Over time as we strengthen this practice our brains bypass our unpleasant emotions and switch straight to gratitude in order to get the hit of dopamine that feels so good to us.

Now I am not poo-pooing being grateful or practising gratitude. What I am cautious about is when we use positive psychology to inhibit us from feeling our emotions.

Grief is constantly pushed aside in our society. So much of our psychopathology is due to unresolved grief over the losses we’ve sustained… “Spiritual Bypassing” was a term coined in the 1980s by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood. He explains it as a “Tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” Cognitive Bypassing is the practice of avoiding feelings by detouring into cognitive ideas or beliefs. Cognitive bypassing operates under the assumption that every trauma and emotion can be fixed cognitively or restructuring the way you think. 

Dr Russell Kennedy

The truth of the matter is that we can both be grieving a loss and feel profoundly grateful at the same time.  They are not mutually exclusive to each other.

Allowing Yourself Time to Grieve

2020 was a year of deep loss for many.

2021 is the year where we grieve.

Grief is multi-faceted and is non-prescriptive in what it looks like and how long it should take. Grief is sneaky. You may think that you are done and then something unexpected happens to trigger you and you find yourself right back in the thick of it. When we force ourselves to move out of grief too soon or bypass our grief this can prolong the healing process.

We can only truly heal from our traumas when we allow ourselves to fully feel our emotions and allow ourselves to grieve.

When we suppress what we perceive as negative emotions and only allow ourselves to experience the ‘positive’ ones we leave no space to acknowledge or honour our feelings. This minimises our experiences. It minimises us. Just like brushing off a toddler’s heartbreak over not having the blue cup communicates not that the blue cup is not important, but that they aren’t important.

The Shame of Pain

Upon reflection into my own emotions during the last couple of years, I have found that my automatic shift towards appreciation is often in response to the emotion of shame.

This shame response comes from a place of “this (loss) is so insignificant compared to someone else, I don’t deserve to feel sad, or angry or frustrated about this.” or “I should feel ashamed for feeling upset about this – I should be grateful for all that I have.”

According to Brēne Brown and her research, we offload our shame in unhealthy ways.

  • Packing down our shame and bottling it up until we erupt.
  • Bouncing shame and attacking others.
  • Shutting down and use substances, sex and social media to numb ourselves.
  • Or becoming an “everything is awesome” happiness ticking time bomb.

Which is unhealthy for us in so many ways.

When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness. Full of shame or the fear of shame we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours and to attack or shame others.

Brene Brown

What to do Instead?

Am I suggesting that we ditch gratitude and simply wallow in self-pity?

No.

What I am suggesting is that we hold space for ourselves as we would for a dear friend to allow ourselves the time and space to fully feel our emotions.

Another part of the puzzle is to become literate in the vocabulary of our emotions. Often being able to acknowledge, name and allow ourselves to sit with our emotions as they move through us is a powerfully healing experience.

I would like us to normalise all of our emotions and our emotional experiences.

To be able to experience an emotion and say to ourselves;

“What I am feeling is… And it sucks, I am allowed to feel this way.”

or

“Something that I cared about is lost and I am sad, mad, angry, fearful, upset. It meant a lot to me and so feeling this way is the natural consequence of losing this.”

“I am a human being having a human emotion. I am allowed to feel all of my emotions.”

“It is okay if I give myself some time to process this emotion.”

And…

“I am grateful that I live in New Zealand, I still have my job and my family is safe and healthy.”

If you would like to find out more about how you can support other’s emotions while preserving your emotional health check out my online webinar on Emotionally Literate Leadership HERE.

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What is Holistic Leadership?

Holistic Leadership

Some of you may have noticed when you visited my website that the title under my name says “Holistic Leadership Coach”.

You may be wondering, “What does a Holistic Leadership Coach do?”

You may even be wondering, “What is Holistic Leadership?”

To help you to understand these concepts, I thought I would write this blog to create some clarity and transparency about how I define Holistic Leadership.

Holistic as a Definition

Many of us are familiar with the term “Holistic” when it comes to natural medicines or even spirituality.

When you Google the word “Holistic” you may find pictures of crystals, massage, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, or burning sage. But what does it mean in terms of leadership?

When I look at Holistic in terms of Early Childhood Education and Leadership, I like to refer to the definition found in Te Whāriki when it refers to Holistic Development:

Holistic development – children learn and grow in a holistic way. Their intellectual, social, cultural, physical, emotional and spiritual learning is interwoven across all their experiences.

Ministry of Education

Some of you may be familiar with my work and may have read my book Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki.

In my book, I speak about my belief that the needs that our children have in order to develop into confident, competent, whole-hearted, life-long learners are what the grown-ups need too. I also believe that the well-being, sense of belonging, ability to contribute, communicate and explore in our learning environments for everyone is intimately interconnected in one integrally, interwoven, beautiful, complex whāriki.

In other words, what affects one strand of our centre whāriki affects all the strands.

Simply put.

If we want great outcomes for children, then we need to look after teachers. And if we want great outcomes for teachers then we need to look after leaders.

Tanya Valentin

Holistic Leadership and Me

I have been in the education profession for many years. During this time there have been many popular philosophies for teaching and leading. One of the leadership philosophies that were popular when I was a new leader. was “leave your personal stuff at the door”.

And this is how I learned to view leadership:

You see, I was taught to believe that leadership was a role that I did at work. It was something outside of me. Leadership was something that was above me – just out of reach. Something that I had to work hard to achieve.

During my early years as a leader, I was taught that leadership was a top-down, hierarchical construct.

It took years to undo this learning. However, since then, my new learning on leadership has been:

  • Leadership is in me.
  • The person and the leader cannot be separated. You lead with your whole self. Which means that you lead from your strengths but also your challenges.
  • You are already a leader. You may not have a leadership title. However, by taking accountability for yourself, your thoughts, your beliefs, your decisions and your actions you are a leader.
  • We are all worthy and leaderful in our own right. Just as I am a “whole” person, flawsome and already worthy of love and acceptance, so are all the other people (child and adult) in our learning community a “whole” person, flawsome and already worthy of love and acceptance. I love the Te Ao Maori concept of AKO which speaks to the reciprocal sharing of the responsibility of teaching and learning, leading and following.
  • If we want leaders who lead with confidence, love and integrity, then we need to take care of the person at the heart of the leader.
  • Rather than the top-down model of leadership I was taught, I believe that leaders are the root system that forms the foundation from which the whole tree can thrive. If the roots are malnourished, then the whole tree withers.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini – My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective.

What does a Holistic Leadership Coach Do?

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we lead with our whole selves, and we lead others as whole humans. This can come with its challenges.

As illustrated in my diagram above on Holistic Leadership we are made up of many beautiful dimensions that influence who we are personally and professionally. If we neglect one dimension it will affect who we are and how we lead. The same goes for the people whom we lead.

Traditionally we have been taught to develop “leadership skills”. However, if we just focus on the leadership aspect of ourselves without addressing what is going on for the person then we can never hope to create strong, robust leadership for our profession we and all pay the price for this.

This certainly has been true for me. In an earlier blog, I reflected on my early experience with leadership:

In another lifetime, I would have done anything to not feel the discomfort and the pain of confronting myself – my truths.  My younger version was happy to keep myself safe, to do as I was told, to go with the flow, to not ruffle any feathers and to play it small.  I would do anything to avoid conflict.  If you met me on the floor of my centre, you would think, “wow she is always so calm” “she always looks so happy”.

Inside I was at war.  I was at war with myself.  I knew that there were truths that I was swallowing, conflicts that I was avoiding and incompetence, unkindness and prejudice in others that I was tolerating.  I was doing so to keep the peace.  I told myself that this was for the best for everyone involved. However, I was lying to myself – things that you bury have a way of festering and coming back up to the surface.

If I was being honest with myself, I was PETRIFIED.

I was petrified of admitting that I didn’t have the skills to handle the situation, of not having all the answers. I was petrified of making a mistake and letting my boss and my team down.  I was petrified of not being in control of the situation of not living up to my own, impossibly, high expectations of myself.   I put off challenging bad practice in others, because I was petrified about what shortcomings it would unearth about me.  I was petrified of looking like a fraud and I was petrified of appearing weak.  I was petrified of being wrong, and any feedback that wasn’t glowing praise. Paradoxically by the time the glowing praise had filtered through my brain it sounded like criticism to me anyway.

There was a thought loop, a narrative playing over and over in my head keeping me rooted to the spot.  In this thought loop I was telling myself that I was not good enough, that I just couldn’t do it, that I just wasn’t strong enough.

Tanya Valentin

I wrote these words in 2018, and what I have discovered again and again is that it isn’t the stuff outside of us that trips us up but rather the stuff on the inside of us.

It is not what we know that creates change, but how we implement it.

Each of us wages a silent war with ourselves against the things we were taught to believe about ourselves during our formative years.

As a Holistic Leadership Coach, I support leaders to create a clear vision for how they would like to live their lives personally and professionally based on what is important to them. I support leaders to look at what is currently happening for them and what might be holding them back. I then work with them to align their thoughts, values, beliefs, and behaviors so that they can implement strategies to help them to succeed.

If you would like to find out more about Holistic Leadership Coaching and how this might work for you feel free to book a FREE 30-minute Exploration Call you can do this HERE.

Download my FREE self-assessment tool to start your Holistic Leadership relationship with yourself.

Hey Lovely, I think that you are truly amazing and that you deserve a community all of your own that celebrates and nurtures the whole you. If you do too, check out the new community that I am building exclusively for Leaders in Education, HERE

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Hello, Have You Met My Avatar?

Tanya Valentin

Hello, my name is Tanya, have we met?

Some of you may have met me in person. Some of you may be family or friends. Some of you know me from my posts and videos on social media. If we have met, chances are you might have met my avatar.

Don’t be offended. We all have a socially acceptable version of ourselves that we send out into the world to play with the other avatars in the game, that we call life. 

Constructing an Avatar

When I was a young child in Sunday school, I remember hearing a passage in the Bible that said:

“God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.”

Genesis 2:7

The story goes, that for many years Adam was content, innocent, one with God, unashamed by his naked form.  It was only after their separation from God after eating the fruit of good and evil that Adam and Eve noticed and felt ashamed by their nakedness.

Now, I am not sure if you subscribe to this creation story or not (although many cultures have a similar creation story involving Gods forming humans from clay) one thing that struck me when reading this was that we were all originally made of clay filled with a divine spark – a divine self.  We all arrive in this world naked, innocent, and unashamed, connected to our divine selves – our knowing selves.  However, as we grow older we start to notice our nakedness, we add more and more clay around ourselves to hide our shame.  The more layers of clay we accumulate the more disconnected we become from our golden, divine selves.

What are we creating with all that clay? 

We are creating an avatar.  Our avatar is our representative, whose services we use so that we don’t need to be vulnerable and we can protect ourselves from pain.

Avatars and the Game of Life

Like all good games, we are not just restricted to just one character. We can choose different personas to suit different situations. I have often wondered if perhaps this is why so many of us feel as if we are imposters?

I have over my lifetime played the role of “good mother”, “dutiful daughter”, “doting wife”, “party me”, “professional me”, “happy me”. 

I have on many occasions had someone has been introduced to me through my work, approach me. And even though at that moment, I smile and act confident on the outside, on the inside I am struck with a sinking, sneaky fear at the pit of my stomach. “What if I don’t live up to their expectation of me?” is inevitable the first thought that goes through my head.

I have sat in my car before parties, before work gigs, palms sweaty, heart racing, or as I as I am about to step into my home after a long days work, and thought;

“Okay, which one should I be now?”

“Which one of my avatars will they like the best?”

Perhaps you have experienced this too. We go through life so invested in these avatars, feeling as if we would die if we let the facade slip. Fearful of the perceived rejection from those around us. We get so good at pretending, that often we ourselves cannot distinguish between what is the “real” us as opposed to our representative.

Tanya Valentin

Our Children and Avatars

As our children grow, we loving parents and educators, help them to create their avatars. The version of themselves that we feel will insulate our precious babies from the hard, dangerous world instead of teaching them to stay connected to their authentic selves. We do this because we know from the lessons that we have learnt about being human, that to be without clay is to live in loneliness outside of the dream of our domestication. In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, he writes about the domestication that all humans must go through, that hook our attention and tell us how and what to dream. 

“As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we agreed with the information that was passed to us from the dream of the planet via other humans.  The only way to store information is by agreement.  The outside dream may hook our attention, but if we don’t agree we don’t store the information.  As soon as we agree we believe and this is called faith. To have faith is to believe unconditionally.  That’s how we learn as children.  Children believe everything adults say.  We agree with them, and our faith is so strong that the belief system controls the whole dream of life.  We choose these beliefs, and we rebel against them, but we are not strong enough to win the rebellion.”

Don Miguel Ruiz

As humans, there is no avoiding clay.  I have contributed layers of clay to my husband, my friends, my family and my children, and even to strangers that I have yet to meet, and that is a reality of life.  Most of my clay has been contributed with loving intent. I could be that you have done this too, with equal loving motivation.

A Case for Living Without Avatars

In the world that we live in, our dependence on our avatars may seem necessary. You may ask yourself, “what would happen to us if we all walked around exposing our vulnerable selves to the world?”

“How would we survive our harsh realities, if we wore our insides on the outside?”

“Don’t we need our avatars to protect us?”

I hear you, at first the idea of giving up the protections that they offer us is a scary prospect. We live in a world where social distancing, barriers and walls are part of normal life and are often required to keep ourselves physically safe. However, walls do not only keep those out who would seek to harm us, they also keep out things we need like love and connection. Our armour (because that what our avatar is) weighs us down, limits us and hold us back in more ways than we can comprehend. Our avatars also serve as a barrier that keep us separate from ourselves, our emotional and interior lives – our deep yearnings, our potential to grow and create real, meaningful connections.

One could even go as far as to say that the reason that there are so many lonely, unhappy people in a world where we are never truly alone is due to our reliance on avatars.

There is a reason we find the genuine openness of authenticity and vulnerability so irresistable. It is our natural state.

You and Your Avatar

So over to you.

If I were to meet you, would it be a meeting with your avatar?

Do you let yourself and others around you know your true authentic self, or are you too, buried under layers of clay?

Who would you be without your representative?

What could you achieve in your life if you were free from your avatar?

Are you interested by what you have read and you would like to continue the conversation? Send me a DM Here.

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How To Practice Radical Acceptance

Tanya Valentin

The first thing that I did when I saw this photo was cringe.

My smile, my attitude, the look of confidence on my face, it was just plain embarrassing.  I confess that although this photo was taken two years ago, until today, I have been too ashamed to share it with a living soul.

“What will people think?” I asked myself, “Will they think that I am full of myself?”

“Who am I to be this confident?”

At the time when this photo was taken I used to colour my hair brown even though it was mostly grey.

I used to put off buying new clothes until I “lost my weight”. 

If I bought clothes they would be size 16 instead of the size 18 that I really am, just in case someone would see the label and think that I was fat.

I used to step off of the scale or look in the mirror at my extra chins, my saggy boobs, my stretch marks and my rolls with a sigh of disgust – just wishing that I were different. Just wishing that I were younger, skinnier, firmer, sexier.

I used to tell myself what a lazy, unmotivated, undesirable, undeserving slob I was all the time.

I used to do these things and I was miserable.

serendipity: (n.) finding something good without looking for it

And then one day I saw an ad on Facebook for a plus size clothing brand.  I fell in love with the stunning dress that the model was wearing. It was feminine, floaty, colourful, just stunning. The model, roughly a size 18, looked exquisite, confident, radiant – comfortable in her own skin. 

I decided, even though the dress was more than I would usually spend on myself, to place an order. 

I waited in anticipation for my frock to arrive. 

A couple of weeks later I found a parcel in my letterbox addressed to me.  I excitedly ripped open the package and gleefully put the dress on.

It was perfect!

For the first time since could remember I looked in the mirror and felt gorgeous. That small moment was a huge turning point for me.  I dawned on me that I could look beautiful no matter the size I was. 

You don’t become what you want, you become what you believe.

Oprah Winfrey

flawsome: (adj.) an individual who embraces their “flaws” and knows they are awesome regardless.

From that day on I vowed to (and religiously stuck to) only buying clothing that made me feel good. Outfits that made me feel like I did in that dress.

Slowly but surely I bought more clothes that made me feel beautiful. I stopped dyeing my hair brown and let myself go lighter until I made grey my friend.

Instead of using the mirror, the scale and my too tight clothing as a way to confirm my “not good enough” status or wishing that I was different, I started looking in the mirror and choosing to see myself as beautiful.

Tanya Valentin

It wasn’t easy. Some days I could find one small thing about myself to like.  Giving myself compliments and choosing to see the beauty in me felt so unnatural – I just wasn’t raised to think that way. As girls, we receive the message very early on in our lives that we have to act or think a certain way.  We are admonished for being vain, we are taught to be ashamed of compliments.  We learn that the most desirable feminine attribute is selflessness…

Perhaps the reason why this photograph bugged me so much my lack of humility – my apparent lack of selflessness? This photo to me said, “I am not little red riding hood – I am the wolf!

metania: (n.) the journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life

However, I persisted through the discomfort and I started practising radical acceptance. And what I found was that the more I accepted myself, the more joyful, confident and comfortable I felt in my own skin. 

Once I was no longer at war with myself, I had so much more energy to create the types of things I wanted in my life, and I could make space to discover new things about myself.

I recognised that if I was having a thought that hinged around “I am not good enough” or “who am I?” Then I was experiencing shame.  I started to challenge my thinking and getting curious about the things that triggered my feelings of shame. I became a shame detector. 

The emotion of shame in itself is not the villain we make it out to be. When processed with curiosity, shame has a very important message; “I have done something to hurt someone, I need to make amends”.  However, unchallenged shame can be so disempowering especially we use it to cause harm to ourselves. Or as a way to hold us back from living the life we want to live or from being the best, truest versions of ourselves.

Radical acceptance is not saying that the thing that happened to us or what we are currently going through is “okay” or that we shouldn’t take action to improve.  Radical acceptance is simply surrendering to the reality of “what is” at this moment in time and making peace with yourself.  As Byron Katie says in her book, Loving What Is;

When you argue with reality I lose – but only 100% of the time.

Byron Katie

Radical acceptance is simply deciding to stop the war that makes reality and yourself your own enemy.  Radical acceptance is merely a means of locating yourself – putting an emotional stake in the ground and saying to yourself;

“I am here. I am human, messy, full of flaws and imperfect in many ways and I am worthy of love and acceptance.” Radical acceptance is a way of taking responsibility for yourself where you are in life as well as the energy that you put out into the world.

sophrosyne: (n.) a healthy state of mind, characterised by self-control, moderation, and a deep awareness of one’s true self, and resulting in true happiness

If you want to transform your life then you have to transform your thinking.

The first step to transforming your thoughts is to become aware of them.

My challenge to you, for the next 24 hours is to intentionally eves drop in on your thoughts. Set a timer on your phone for hour intervals. Carry a notebook around with you and each hour when your alarm goes off;

  • Stop what you are doing
  • Observe your thoughts you had in the previous hour
  • Record them in your notebook
  • Review your thoughts at the end of the day. Were they motivating and empowering? Could your thoughts makeover?
  • Take stock of your thoughts, brainstorm what you can intentionally say to yourself instead
  • Keep going, challenging yourself with new thoughts can be a bit tricky at first and takes practice, but just keep going.

So how about it? Are you up for the challenge towards radical acceptance?

If the answer is “yes” then join the amazing community of women making themselves a priority by following this link here.

Making yourself a Priority is a private Facebook group for women who are on a journey towards self-care, self-love and self-acceptance. No matter where you are on this journey you are welcome here. Come learn, love and witness the beauty and transformation in yourself and others in this uplifting sisterhood of like-minded women

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What is Your Unwanted Identity?

I recently read about something called the Stockdale Paradox when I was doing research for an upcoming workshop on building resilience in the early childhood education profession. The Stockdale Paradox first mentioned in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, cautions readers to acknowledge your current difficulties intermixed with a positive belief that you will triumph in the end.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In a discussion between Jim Collins and James Stockdale (a former vice-presidential candidate, who, during the Vietnam War, was held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years), Stockdale speaks about how the optimists fared in camp. The dialogue goes:

“Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.” “The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.”The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘ We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

James Stockdale

Now it might be how I was feeling about the resurgence of Covid-19 in our New Zealand community, however, I must admit that reading this really triggered me. I have learnt over the years that when I am triggered this is when I need to probe a bit deeper with curiosity.

My curiosity was prompting me to ask “why?” It is my “why” I would like to discuss in this article today.

Why did my reading this cause a triggered emotional response in me?

Well to answer this question I first have a confession to make. I am an optimist. I am a naturally positive person. You may even say that I am a glass-half-full kind of gal.

I must also confess that this latest move in Alert Levels for New Zealand has thrown me. Just like the optimists in James Stockdale’s account, I, like so many Kiwis, I had firmly put Covid-19 in my rear-view mirror. I optimistically told myself with every ounce of my positivity, rose-tinted glasses firmly in place, that Covid-19 was something we had won the battle over. That it was no longer something to worry about. “Covid-19 is something that is happening in other countries, not in New Zealand,”

I allowed myself to plan, hope and embrace the future. Making plans (all be it local plans) for the next months… And then it all came crashing down around me. When I received the news about the latest community transmitted cases in Auckland, I must admit, I was shocked. Feelings like sadness, fear, anger, frustration, disappointment and even shame swirled around inside of me. Was I heading for death from a broken heart?

The other reason that I realised that I was feeling this way was that this account had awakened my unwanted identities.

What is an unwanted identity?

We all have our ideal identity, a way that we want the world and others to perceive us. Our ideal identity is nurtured in us from a very young age. When we are young children and we rely on others to feed us, clothe us, love us and accept us in order to secure our survival. During this time we are constantly asking ourselves “Who do I need to be in order for them to treat me this way?” (Weaver, 2019). Unbeknown to us this is who we become. This is our ideal identity. We set about proving, by behaving in alignment with our ideal identity, that we are good enough and worth loving.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We also receive from those around us, information about what loses us acceptance, love and approval and this becomes our unwanted identities. These are the traits that you would rather die than let others perceive you as.

Every choice that we make stems from us wanted to win approval (AKA love) of the significant adults and later peers. This is also a powerful motivator for us to avoid behaviours where approval is lost.

What is your ideal identity?

Think back to your childhood.

How did you want your parents and other important adults to see you? What kinds of praise set you aglow inside?

What meaning did you make up about this or yourself by the way you were praised or treated?

How did this praise prompt you to behave?

How did you want your school peers to see you? Were you the “kind one”, the “clever one”, the “sporty one”, the “funny one” the “hard-working one?”

Where did your work ethic come from?

Your dispositions?

Your desire to do things perfectly or to not let others down?

In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown, recounts how she comes across her unwanted identities of sick, unreliable, and undependable when she has to take time off after sustaining a concussion. How her German Texan upbringing leads her to have the unconscious belief that illness was a weakness. She talks about the shame and fear she felt when she perceived that others saw her in this way.

Which leads me back to my original “why?”. Why was I so triggered? On reflection, I realised that although I see myself as an optimist, and I want to be perceived as such, I do not want to be seen as weak or as a victim. These are two significant unwanted identities for me.

Why you should be aware of your unwanted identities?

Left unconscious our unwanted identities can dictate our thoughts and behaviours. These identities appear in all the areas of our life that matter to us. Left unchecked these identities can cause us to inflict hurt and shame on ourselves and others.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
Photo by Tasha Kamrowski on Pexels.com

Once we make the unconscious, conscious we can get real about them. As Joseph Campbell famously said,

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell

When you get curious about your unwanted identities, you’ll see that the perceptions you are working so hard to have and want to avoid are
totally unrealistic and can cause you unnecessary fear and shame.

The exercise below will help you to figure out how you want to be perceived around a specific identity.

For example, with regards to being a good leader, you might want to be perceived as organised, calm, knowledgeable and educated and not perceived as overwhelmed, stressed out, unreliable, lazy and disorganised.

When we reflect on our unwanted identities and get curious about them, we begin to understand the perceptions that lead to self-doubt, stress and shame. In doing this we can examine the hold that this has over us and create compassion and flexibility in how we see ourselves and allow others to see us.

Over to you…

Pick an area of your life where you know that you have ideal and unwanted identities. (Examples of this might be motherhood, work, body image etc)

List 3 ways that you would like to be perceived in this area of your life.

List 3 unwanted identities in this area of your life.

Looking at each of the unwanted identities on your list, ask yourself the following questions:

What does this perception mean to me?

Why is this identity so unwanted?

What experiences or messages are the source of this unwanted identity?

Is this showing me something that I’m frightened of?

Can you look at yourself with the kindness and compassion your reserve for someone whom you love?

Now ask yourself,

How is this serving me now?

What do gain from holding onto this unwanted identity?

What is it costing me?

Is there a way that I can create some flexiblity around how others see me?

Can you let this go and be happy knowing that you know you are a good human? That another’s perception of you is based on how they see themselves and world, based on their life experiences, not who you actually are?

Dr Libby Weaver

Was this exercise challenging for you?

Do you feel that this is something that you would like some support with identifying and working through?

Why not book a free discovery call with me where we can discuss how a coaching partnership could help you to relieve stress, and restore confidence, energy and balance to your life.

References:

https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/stockdale-paradox-confronting-reality-vital-success?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

Brown, B, (2018) Dare to Lead – Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Penguin Random House UK.

Weaver, L, (2019) The Invisible Load – A Guide to Overcoming Stress & Overwhelm, Little Green Frog Publishing Ltd.

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How To Help Yourself To Settle Back Into “Normal Life”

How are you doing? How has Alert Level 2 been for you?

Did you start out excited and joyful to see friends and family again, but now you feel a bit tired, overwhelmed or even just a bit off-kilter?

You are not alone in this. Alert Level 2 started with great excitement for most of us. Free from our homes and our bubbles, excited to see family and friends again. to go out to eat at a cafe, to go shopping and to reconnect with the children and people in our centres.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

For me the first few days felt great, I was buzzing with excitement. I was going to be so productive. I made lists of everything I would accomplish for work now that I was no longer homeschooling…

And then Tuesday came along and it was as if I had hit a wall.

I found myself feeling shaky, on the verge of tears, nauseous and unable to eat. I had so much that I wanted to do but found that I just couldn’t. After spending six weeks in my bubble, I could literally feel the stress, the hurry, the expectations and the busyness coming back into my life. It felt like a heavy weight on my heart. As you might already know, I am usually a pretty positive, motivated person, so I knew that something was up.

Have felt some of these feelings too? There is nothing wrong with you. You are 100% normal. You might just be experiencing a phenomenon known as reintegration anxiety.

What is reintegration anxiety?

Reintegration anxiety is sometimes called reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome.

The concept of reverse culture shock dates back to the early 1960s. US psychologists John and Jeanne Gullahorn observed that after travel and culture shock and homecoming, there’s more ups and downs: readjusting to what was once familiar.

James Purtill – Hack

In the past, you may have experienced similar feelings after been away on holiday or overseas for a period of time when adjusting to coming back home or to work. This is especially severe amongst explorers coming back from an Antarctic expedition or soldiers coming home from deployment.

After the joy of reuniting with friends, family and workmates come the reality of adapting and “fitting back in” to our pre-COVID lives. This can be challenging. It is unrealistic to assume that we can just snap our fingers and pick up where we left off.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Some of the symptoms that you or others may experience are:

  • Frustration
  • Restlessness
  • Physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms or a racing heart.
  • A shift in values, goals, priorities and attitudes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation or depression
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Overwhelm
  • Underwhelm

Changes, changes, changes…

If we think about it, it makes sense that we should be feeling this way to some degree. We have been through a lot of change during the last few weeks.

First, there was the shock of COVID 19 in our country and all the panic and anxiety that went with that.

Then there was self-isolation and the adjustment to being at home and doing everything online or remotely. Added to this all the language and messaging about how it wasn’t safe to be in our communities, to be around people (even friends and whanau) and that we needed to act like we all had COVID 19.

Then there was the shifting through the levels and the rules and restrictions, worries and anxieties that went with this.

And then it was decided that we were safe to go to level 2 and that we could go back to life as “normal” with the restrictions around this.

We have been constantly adjusting, adapting and going through various stages of shock and grief. If we think about it our nervous systems have been on alert over the last 4 months.

During Alert level 4 and 3 the majority of us spent our time in our bubbles, living at a much slower pace, shielded by noise pollution of life. However, we have suddenly switched realities. We are also adjusting to the new messaging about how it is safe to be at work, school and with other people (but don’t get too complacent, don’t stand too close to someone, use hand-sanitizer, wash your hands!) It is a lot to take in. This can feel confusing, frustrating and counter-intuitive. It is going to take a wee while for our brain’s, nervous systems and hearts to catch up to this change.

It is going to take time for us to get used to the hustle and bustle of life. To be able to trust being out in our communities – to be around people again without fear. Many of us will be grieving the simple joys of life in our bubbles.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Strategies to help yourself manage reintegration anxiety

  • Be patient and kind with yourself and those around you. Your feelings are normal. It is going to take 2-3 weeks to adjust and will involve a rollercoaster of emotions.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like being around others or catching up with family and friends let them know – your loved ones will understand.
  • Keep your expectations off yourself and others small and realistic. Don’t overschedule yourself for the next couple of weeks. It is normal to feel tired, demotivated or to need a little extra rest.
  • Notice when feelings come up for you and name them. It is okay to feel frustration, worry, anger and anxiety. The power in naming your emotions is that it helps your body to process the feeling and know what to do with it.
  • Remember, you are not your emotions. Just because you are feeling anger or anxiety this does not define you. Allow yourself to experience the emotion and tell yourself, “this too shall pass!”
  • Talk to a friend or someone you trust about how you are feeling. Chances are that they are feeling this too.
  • Give your relationships with others outside of your bubble time to “gel” again. Relationships are built through mundane everyday happenings and shared experiences. Our experience with “lockdown” might have been different from other people. These experiences will have changed us. It might take a bit of time to get in sync again.
  • Remember that how you are feeling will influence how you perceive others actions or situations, try to not take things too personally or make hasty decisions during the next few weeks.
  • Limit your screen time and time on social media. Give yourself some time to just “Be”.
  • If possible find time to intentionally move your body. Our emotions are stored in our bodies and when we move this helps us to release them.
  • Spend time outdoors. There is amazing healing in connecting with nature. Sunshine helps our bodies to produce vitamin D which is great for keeping bones strong, but also for boosting your mood.
  • Journal how you are feeling. We often give ourselves permission to be more honest or open about our thoughts and feelings on paper when we feel that no-one else will read it. This can be very helpful for working through your thoughts and feelings. (You can always rip up the page or burn it afterwards.)
  • If these feelings continue to persist past a few weeks reach out to your doctor for help.

Further Support

If you are feeling like life is just a wee bit stressful for you at the moment join me for a FREE WEBINAR: Coaching Yourself Through Stress

Or reach out for a FREE Health and Wellbeing Discovery Call where we can discuss how I can help you to make your health and wellbeing a priority.

Call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text “Help” to 4357.

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How to Reconnect as a Team After COVID 19?

As we begin the process of returning to work many of us are asking, “How do we reconnect as a team?”. “How do we get everyone working together again after being away from each other for such a long time?”

It is true for most of us, regardless of who you were as a team before COVID 19, this experience has probably shifted and changed things. None of us is the same as when we went into self-isolation. For many of us, having this time at home stripped of the noise of “normal” life has given us a new perspective on what is important to us.

We are the product of our experiences and this experience will have changed how you think, and feel about yourself, your life and your priorities in some way.

Alert Level 3 is weird in many ways. We are gearing to get ready for “normal” to return. But it can be a demotivating place to be – almost as if we are stuck in some sort of holding pattern. And as much as many of us would like to “get back to normal”, the truth is that “normal” is going to be different. The anticipation of what the difference might be can be unsettling and even frightening.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Pushing the Reset Button

So what does that mean for ourselves as teachers and leaders who are part of a centre whanau?

Some of us might have grown from this experience. Some of us might have not coped as well as others mentally and emotionally. And some of us might have had a shift in values and priorities.

Depending on what you have been thinking, watching, reading, listening to or the webinars you attended over this period, this too might have shaped your thinking as an individual.

For most of us, going back to our centres this will be a period of adjusting. Self-isolation has been a good time for “zooming in” and reconnecting with ourselves and our families. However, it is now time for many of us to “zoom-out”, to extend our bubbles, and to think about how we can reconnect with our wider centre whānau. This an exciting time and the adjustment period might include reflecting on how our new priorities and values might “fit” now that we are back together.

This might be a bit of an uncomfortable experience at times. It may challenge us in ways that we might not enjoy. However, growth does not happen in the comfort zone. Change need not be a bad thing, it can lead to amazing new possibilities.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

– M Scott Peck

Creating a Culture for Change

The foundation for all change to occur is through the relationship. After months of distancing ourselves from others, it is now a time to reconnect with each other one person to another. We need to ensure that together we weave a whāriki that is big and robust enough for us all to stand on.

In order for us to be able to feel that we are able to contribute, communicate how we are feeling and express our ideas or explore together as a team, we must first feel that we belong and that our wellbeing is taken care of. This highlights the need for us all to be part of an environment of physiological and emotional safety.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

 Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Amy Edmondson

When we have psychological safety we make space for being human and acknowledge that human emotions are part of this. Many of us don’t see vulnerability and professionalism as being part of the same story, but then wonder why we can’t relate or feel so disconnected from each other.

Just as how our children are unable to eat, play and trust a caregiver if they don’t feel safe. It is exactly the same for the adults in our places.

Leaders Belong Here Too

Many leaders that I speak to, to some extent feel that they don’t belong, that they are an outsider to the team. When I was a centre manager, I too felt like this from time to time.

Many leaders who have moved from teacher to leader in a centre, have spoken about the hurt they feel when they are no longer invited to be part of social events or excluded from group chats. It is almost like this is the accepted norm.

I have often wondered if this is a role that we cast ourselves in as leaders if this comes from our team or a bit of both?

I was really inspired by a Vince Gowmon’s workshop – Creating Healing Cultures on The Conscious Collective’s, Play to Heal the World Festival.

Vince spoke about how anything that we want to create on the outside, we must first create on the inside first.  You cannot create a culture of true belonging and safety if it does not feel true for you too.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

How many of you when looking for connection and belonging, as the leader but also as part of a community, get stuck like in disconnection from the past and hold onto this as evidence as to why you shouldn’t trust and be vulnerable in the future? We allow our fear of what might happen, as well as our distrust in ourselves and our own abilities, stop us from realising our potentials. And, as a result, we shy away from the very thing we are wired to do – connect… Do we hide behind labels, titles and roles as a way to keep ourselves separate and safe; in case we will need to have a difficult conversation with someone in the future? Frightened by the messiness of human relationships, we isolate ourselves behind our “management” armour and keep our “professional distance” denying ourselves the joy of whole-hearted human connection. Consequently, our centre cultures and children’s experiences are poorer because of it.

Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki – Tanya Valentin

How many of us in leadership positions have the courage to “buck this trend?”.

Do we feel that we are able to be vulnerable with the people in our teams and to express how we feel, to talk about our need to connect?

How do we go about breaking down some of these walls and together with our team to build an environment where everyone truly belongs?

What would these conversations look like?

What would the space look like, where we can all be vulnerable and brave?

What types of whole-hearted connections could be forged through this healing?

Tanya Valentin ECE

Going Forward

Now that you have had a bit of time and space between yourself and “business as normal” it might be time to do a bit of a stocktake of the last year. The team of the past.

It may be timely to assess what was working and you would like to keep. Or to decide what could be improved on. We could evaluate what was not working and we would like to leave in the past. We have a small window of opportunity here to pivot, change and reset if we so choose.

You have a unique opportunity here, especially if there was some conflict in the ranks before self-isolation, to bring everyone together through our collective traumatic experience – the commonality of what we are all going through. You have the opportunity to move people past the events of the past that caused a disconnect in your team and to inspire everyone towards working towards a common goal for the greater good of your learning community.  To create an “Us-ness” –  a deep-seated feeling of belonging for everyone who was part of this experience.

The guiding questions that stand out for me when going through this transition are “Who do we want to be?” as well as “What feels right for us”.

Some Practical Ideas for Reconnection

The Reverse Bucket-List

As a team chat together about the last six months, year (whatever period of time feels relevent for you). Talk about and list all the things that you have accomplished together as a team. Create a list of milestones and things that you can feel proud of as part of this team.

Create a Manifesto

A manifesto is a statement of what you value as a unit. It communicates, “this is who we are”. A manifesto provides an expression of unity and reminds us that we are part of something meaningful.

Some of the things you might reflect on are:

  • What are the things that we value?
  • What are the things that make us unique?
  • What are the things that we enjoy doing together?
  • What would we like to be known for?

Spot Each Other’s Superpowers

What we focus on is what we will see more of. When we focus on the annoying habits of others this is all that we will see. When we focus on strengths this is too is what we will see more of.

  • In your next team meeting, take a moment to list everyone in your team.
  • One by one name everyone on the list and discuss why you are grateful for this person and what their superpower might be.
  • Make a list of everyone’s superpowers and display this in your staffroom.
  • In the coming week take the time to notice when people are working in thier superpower and acknowledge them for this.

Play

As adults we too need to make time and place for play. Things seem so much better when marinated in fun.

  • At your next team meeting, brainstorm some crazy hair, pyjama wearing, cape brandishing opportunities and how often you will have these. (You might want to get ideas from the tamariki in your setting too).
  • Number the ideas and put all the ideas in a container.
  • Ask everyone to pick an idea out of the container – the number indicates the order in which the fun will occur, and the person who picked the idea out of the container will be responsible for making it happen.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Make Time for Gratitude

Let gratitude become the new norm in your place. Create a team ritual where you notice and speak to each other about the good things that happened in the day. Gratitude helps our body to release oxytocin that helps us to build and strengthen relationships and build trust.

For more connection ideas check out my books 3 Good Things for Teams and 3 Good Things for Children .

I would love to hear what has helped the people in your team connect in the past.

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How to Create Positive Change To Your Health And Wellbeing Using Small Steps

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Today is day 38 of being in COVID 19 self-isolation for New Zealanders and what an emotional roller coaster it has been for many of us.

Being in Alert Level 3 is also a bit of a weird place emotionally speaking. What we have been doing collectively as a country has paid off (Yay!) and there is light at the end of the tunnel… However, after five weeks of everything being on hold, it is normal to feel a bit stir-crazy, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed or demotivated (or all of the above).

We know that there is change on the horizon, our brains and bodies are trying to prepare us for change – but we don’t know when this change will occur and what it will look like.

Our brains are doing their jobs as nature intended, but are wired to prepare us for the worst-case scenario. This can mean that they are firing on alert, trying to keep us safe as we try to make sense of everything.

Overcoming Guilt and Shame About Feeling Lazy and Unproductive

You might also be feeling guilt and shame in yourself for wasting this time. Or for not being as productive as you feel that you should have been. Most of us went into this period of lock-down armed with a list of things that we wanted to achieve. You might not have achieved all or any of these things. Well-meaning social media posts could have fuelled these feelings of guilt by informing us that this was the perfect time to learn a new musical instrument, a new language or to write a book.

Now if you are feeling guilt and disgust in yourself for being lazy and unproductive at this time let me stop you right there! If you don’t emerge from lockdown more enlightened, more knowledgable or with a new skill or new side-hustle you are 100% normal. We have just been through a collectively traumatic event. Your body is still processing what has happened to it at a sub-conscious level. When you look at the diagram below (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) You might think that you should be at the level of self-actualisation (living out your full potential), but in reality, your body is crying out to have its basic needs of food, sleep, shelter, safety and security met. So give yourself a break.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Shifting Gears

If you find that you are still at this level, notice this without judgement and accept it. This doesn’t mean anything about you, nor does this mean that you will stay stuck here forever. You can choose to stay here if this feels right for you but realise that you have the power to move yourself out of this place if you so choose.

If you feel that you are ready to start shifting gears but not sure how here are some things that you can do to start creating a positive change in your life.

Acknowledge the feelings

Take the time to notice the feelings that are coming up for you, the fear, the anger, the disgust and thank them for such an amazing job of keeping you safe. Then gently tell your feelings that although you acknowledge how helpful they have been in the past at protecting you, you are in fact safe and ready to move on. You might need to release them through journaling (you could try this FREE downloadable reframing exercise), talking about them to a loved one or through exercise and movement.

Start Small

You might be tempted to move into “fix-it” mode and set yourself all kinds of goals, but start small. Choose just one new positive habit that you would like to embrace.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear, highlights how making just a 1% change can have a huge impact. For instance, an aeroplane that makes just 1% course deviation could end up in a different country compared to it’s intended destination.

Another reason I suggest that you start small, with just one thing is that you want the change to be sustainable. Starting too big can lead to self-sabotage, failure and a reinforce negative thought loops or a fixed mindset that you have about yourself and your abilities. Ultimately you want to reinforce an identity as a capable, competent person. You want to be able to trust yourself and your ability to succeed. Most sustainable changes start small which gives us the foundation on which to stack future successes upon. Good habits are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle. When we automate something as a habit it allows our brain space to engage in higher function thinking such as learning a new skill.

Just Start

What you choose to focus on is up to you. It might be the smallest thing that will give you runs on the board so that you can get a taste for success. Or it might be the thing that is causing you the most pain. It is not important where you start as much as that you start.

You can easily get stuck in preparation or planning because this feels like you are taking action. However, this is motion and a form of procrastination triggered by the fear that you will fail.

Don’t wait for perfect – Just start!

Set Yourself up for Success

In the book, Atomic Habits mentioned above, James Clear identifies four things that we need to do in order to successfully adopt a new habit. Make it Obvious, Make it Attractive, Make it Easy and Make it Satisfying.

When we make a habit obvious we first need to identify the habit that we would like to adopt and why, and then we need to create an environment for success. Say for instance you would like to adopt the habit of drinking 8 glasses of water a day you can make it both obvious and easy by ensuring that you place a glass next to each tap in your house as a reminder about your intention to drink more water. And so every time you wash your hands you are reminded to pour yourself a glass of water and to drink it.

You can make the habit of drinking water more attractive and satisfying by adding slices of fruit, cold brew herbal teas or infusions to your water. Another way of making the habit of drinking more water attractive and satisfying might be to track your progress on a habit tracker and reward yourself at the end of the week after completing your new ritual seven days in a row. (I have a FREE tool that you can download here.) You can also make this easier, more attractive and satisfying by implementing this change as a member of a group as nothing keeps us motivated like being part of a tribe.

How could you use these four principles to create success for yourself when embracing a new healthy habit?

Keep Going

We have all been there. You start implementing a new habit and for a couple of days or even weeks, you are doing really well… And then for some reason, you stop and all your good work is lost. You then use this as evidence that you can’t make the change, or even as a self-torture device to prove how useless you really are.

You are not alone in this. Keeping the momentum going on a new habit can be challenging especially if you don’t see immediate benefits. Most of us get stuck in the “Plateau of Latent Potential”. This is often what happens during the “in-between”. This is the time between starting a new healthy habit and seeing physical results or benefits.

What to do if you need an Extra Bit of Motivation?

It is important to be prepared for setbacks happen. We often have the hardest time sticking to commitments to ourselves. However, you can give yourself a bit of extra motivation by using a commitment device.

A commitment device is something that you create to make it easy for you to stick to your goals.

  • For example, you might enlist the help of a friend as an accountability buddy and give her/him permission to say or do certain things if you don’t stick to your commitment to yourself. There may be certain consequences if you don’t follow through on your commitment. You might even formalise this in a written contract.
  • You might delay gratification by not allowing yourself to do something you want to do unless you have completed your healthy habit. Such as no social media unless you exercise.
  • Or you might create cue cards reinforcing why you are committed to this new action for when you are tempted to go off track. For example, your new healthy habit is to take a lunch-break away from your desk. You might make yourself a little card and stick it to your computer that says, ” Hey you, I know that you think that you are too busy to have a lunch break, but remember this break is going to make you a healthier, happier, more resilient and productive person. You will have more energy and be nicer to be around Xx”.

So where will you start?

What can you commit to?

Remember that every day you practise your new habit is a vote for the person that you would like to become. Where you are going and who you would like to be is way more important than how fast you get there. Progress might be slow but you can do this!

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How To Lead Your Team Through The Transition From COVID 19

It has been a weird old time.  

One day you are going along with your business, battling the challenges of running an early childhood centre and the next we are all in lockdown and you find yourself adapting to a new set of challenges. How do you keep your business afloat? How do you remotely manage your team and how can you be there for your teachers during a time of crisis? You find yourself grappling for the delicate balance of keeping team connection and being compassionate to what is going on for your teachers at home? 

You might have struggled with dilemmas like, “If I’m paying staff, is it the moral thing for me to expect them to work during this time?” Or battling with the social media peer pressure of what you should be doing.  Perhaps you puzzles over how to keep connections with families and children?  You did this all while balancing our own emotions and fears and the needs of our own family as the cases of the virus rose. That was just in the first 2 weeks!

Fast forward to this week,  it is amazing that the number of cases of COVID 19 is decreasing, this means that what we are doing is working. However, this brings up with-in us a whole new set of fears and challenges. This is especially after yesterday’s announcement of what Level 3 will mean for ECE services. Regardless of how you make sense of this, for most of us, this means that yet another change is on the horizon in short succession. The transition of going back to work outside of our safe little bubbles. For most of us into the real world that is not the same as it was when we left it.  This can seem daunting, terrifying and totally overwhelming. 

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The Challenges for Early Childhood Centres

For most professions, the idea of leaving the safety of our bubbles can be scary. But if you are an early childhood centre owner or manager this can seem like a mammoth task. 

Our profession was stretched for staffing before this virus and this has just added another layer of complexity to the mix. We all know that our role is not just about managing tasks.  It is not simply taking ourselves back to work and being responsible for ourselves or a couple of others. We are responsible for (or feel responsible for) the health and wellbeing of many other people – teachers, children and their families.   

However, with our current ratios and the nature of our work, social distancing is just not possible.  Children need cuddles and care, they play in each other’s space, they put things in their mouths and they are still learning the basics of good hygiene. You might be wondering, “How do we do this and keep everyone safe?”

How to cope with these changes

You may be kept at night worried about all the “what ifs?” and all the possible scenarios.

You might be feeling upset or angry with the government decisions around Alert Level 3.

You might be thinking, “I don’t know how to do this!” or  “I don’t have the resources or the tools to do this!” or even “I am going to stuff this up!”

It is in our nature to leap to the worst-case scenario, things are always bigger, more terrible and scarier in our heads.  Let me stop you right here,  you are already enough!

It is not the case of resources, but rather a case of resourcefulness and believing in yourself. You already know how to do this. You know how to access the resources that you might need.

None of us has done this before, as I write this, even I struggle with the idea of advising as I have not done this before either. However, we have tackled tough things in the past and made it through with lessons and wisdom gained and this will be no different. Will you do it perfectly? – No (none of us will). Will you make mistakes? – Yes (all of us will.) But you can do this! 

You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable or the most capable, you simply need to show up day after day with your heart engaged and your work boots on – you just have to care and to show that you care.

Try not to get caught up in the drama of it all. It is all too easy to try to consume every bit of information and social media advice in your struggle to make sense of this all. But try to focus on what you can realistically control – your mindset and attitude, your thoughts, your actions, your media consumption and your half of interactions.  

Your mind is an amazing tool, you control how you use it by what you feed it.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

During this transition you are going to need three key things: a mindset for success, an end goal(or a reason why) and a plan.  

The Mindset for Success:

Your mindset and attitude are key.  Your mindset as the leader sets the tone for the whole team and whether this transition will be a success.  You might have to work-out and strengthen some muscles that you have not used in a while such as flexibility, adaptability, creative thinking, resilience, curiosity, and self-compassion.

Some questions you might want to ask yourself here are:

Who do I want to be during this process and what are the actions of this person?

When the people in my team, the children and families look back at this experience, how would I have made them feel about themselves and about being part of this centre family? 

You have a unique opportunity here, especially if there was some conflict in the ranks before self-isolation, to bring everyone together through our collective traumatic experience – the commonality of what we are all going through. You have the opportunity to move people past the events of the past that caused a disconnect in your team and to inspire everyone towards working towards a common goal for the greater good of your learning community.  To create an “Us-ness” –  a deep-seated feeling of belonging for everyone who was part of this experience.

The End Goal

This is where you “zoom-out” to six months or a year from now and ask yourself “What we would like to achieve as a team?” 

You might look at ways of how you are going to inspire others to be part of this.  This is going to be a bit of a marathon and none of us can do this alone without the support of others. We need our people to do this with us and this is going to need for us to trust them to be part of the process and leaderful in their own way. 

As Anthony Semann said recently in an interview on Facebook,

“The leaders we need are already here.” 

This end goal is made meaningful with your mission or your “why”. 

Try frame your goal like this:  Our goal for our centre is……………….. so that……………..

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The Plan

This is the what and how. Here are some of the things that should be on your plan:

Firstly, you should plan for managing yourself and your energy.  How well you take care of yourself will have a direct influence on your mindset and how you show up for others.

The number one thing on your plan should be:  

How am I going to preserve my energy so that I can last the distance? 

This should include a self-care plan and will be individual to you.  However, you should include things that bring you joy, feed your spirit and energise you.  Take stock of who you have in your support system and have someone outside of your centre who you can speak to when you are feeling stressed or having a hard day. You should also acknowledge and plan for barriers to your self-care as well as putting in place the boundaries that you will need to keep yourself and others emotionally healthy.

Once you have done this for yourself, the next step would be to facilitate this process for the teachers in your team.  Create a health and wellbeing team contract.  I know that many teaching teams are in regular contact with each other over this time so this might be something that you could map out together before you go back to work. 

How we take care of ourselves and each other is going to be vital to the transition process.  Tired, frazzled teachers will not be effective at being emotionally available for settling upset children or for supporting scared, worried families.  We will need to dig deep at times over the next few months and so keeping our own emotional cups full so that we have enough to give to others without depleting ourselves should be a priority.

Remember for this all to work, open and honest communication is the glue that keeps us all connected. You will need to keep things as safe and predictable as possible and this requires you to be fair and transparent about your communications with your team members and families. Be consistent with keeping your people informed with regular updates about what is happening, how people might be affected and how they can be part of the whole process. You also need to make it safe for people to express their feelings and have a plan for how you are going to support each other with this in an empowered way.

The next part of the plan is to work with your team to create an environment of safety for everyone in your centre.  You will need to review health and safety policies and adapt them to meet new health and safety procedures set in place by the MoE and the MoH. Discuss concerns with staff and parents and make them part of the consultation and problem-solving process.

If possible take a couple of “teacher only days” before the centre opens to regroup, reconnect with what is important in your setting and reset your environment. 

Create a plan for how you are going to welcome families and children back into your place and talk through the strategies that you as a team will use to help settle everyone back in. How you are going to ensure that everyone is kept physically and emotionally healthy.  Take it one day at a time.

Take stock of the rhythms and rituals of your place and how these will help you to create security and predictability for everyone in your place. 

Set realistic expectations, there are some things that you are going to have to let go of at this stage and that’s okay.  You are all human beings going through a human experience, caring for other humans and everyone is going through this in their own way. Have empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Trust each other and keep the best assumptions of each other in your heart.  Remember, everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have.

I know that it may be difficult at times but try not to let things become so dire that you forget to play, laugh and have fun. Talk about how well you are all doing and how proud you are to be part of this amazing team.

My last point is around gratitude.  One of the most significant protective factors of resilience and mental and emotional wellbeing is the ability to experience and express gratitude.  Look for the good things, the “golden” moments in your day and talk to each other about what went right.  Be a strength finder, catch each other doing good things and point these out, say thank you and be kind.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

If you would like to find out more information about how I can work with you to support the health and wellbeing of yourself and your team please follow the link HERE and I will be in touch soon with more info.

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Embracing Change During Self-Isolation

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

This year started for me with a with great anticipation. The promise of a new decade filled me with hope and excitement for what the future might hold.

I joined groups that dared me to dream and set big, audacious, scary goals. I reached out of my comfort zone, facilitating workshops further away from home. I invested in personal development for myself by booking time with some of my favourite inspirational speakers. I bought tickets to rock concerts and planned days in the city with my daughters. I planned trips away with friends…

And in the blink of an eye, this all changed…

One by one plans that had been months and even years in the making slowly were cancelled or postponed.

Hugs, handshakes and hongi disappeared.

The allowed group size of people continued to shrink. Until we were only allowed close contact with the people in our immediate bubbles.

All the things that had become a normal way of being and had seemed so important just a few weeks ago lost their urgency.

Responding to change

How life has changed…

We have gone from vague reports about a virus affecting people overseas and thinking, “This could never happen to us in New Zealand” to self-isolation in just a few months.

We are all collectively mourning. Mourning for the way things used to be and for the things that we have lost. Change happens to us all and change happens all the time. However, what has thrown most of us is the speed with which this change happened.

Please know that this is okay, and 100% normal to be feeling what you are feeling. No matter where you are – shock and denial, guilt and pain, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection or loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through or acceptance and hope, know that you are allowed to be here and so are the others around you. Own the stage you are in and don’t try to push yourself to the next stage before you are ready. Be kind and patient with yourself and those around you.

You might be feeling less than resilient right now, but be assured that you are stronger and way more resilient than you give yourself credit for.

Sometimes we can feel like we are buried under all the overwhelming things that are happening around us. But in reality we have actually been planted so that we can grow.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services.

We do not grow our resilience in the easy times. Just like our muscles need stress and exercise – little micro-tears to build and strengthen them – so do we need to stretch and tear our resilience muscles. Strength and resilience grow out of adversity.

Letting go

I know that I am the eternal optimist, but this time of self-isolation has been a gift in many ways. This has been a time for me to reflect and evaluate. It is almost like taking away some of the “noise” of life has allowed me time to focus on what is truly important to me.

The gift of time has allowed me to take a big long look at myself and how I was living – to engage in a real internal evaluation of self. To notice where my energy is flowing. To decide what is working and what I would like to keep. But also to think critically about the things that are not working and what I need to let go of. This time has allowed me to grow new skills and practice mental and emotional muscles that I might not have had the opportunity to if I hadn’t gone through this. I know that this experience will make me a stronger, more creative and resilient person if I just don’t get caught up in the drama.

Lessons from nature

This is something that is mirrored so beautifully in nature around me at the moment.

We have just gone through a drought up here in Northland and the cooler and sometimes wetter days has allowed the ground to rejuvenate and the dry fields around me to sprout with renewed green pasture.

However, paradoxically, other parts of nature are beginning to let go. The trees are starting to shed their leaves and are entering their rest phase to conserve energy.

In a changing world, the constant predictable transitions in nature are something that we can all take great comfort in and learn from.

We too need to let go of things to protect our mauri, our energy and allow new shoots to grow where we once thought it was barren. Holding onto the past will just cause us unnecessary pain and stress.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Things on my “to keep pile”

George Santayana, famously said, ” Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

And so I would be remiss to not take a moment to reflect on the lessons that I have learnt during this period in my HERstory.

  • First of all, I am extremely grateful to be a New Zealander right about now. Our Prime Minister has acted with decisiveness, and transparency through what must have been some really difficult decisions. She and the government were able to put aside differences with the best interests of us all at the heart of the matter. This has been tough, but I firmly believe that we even though there are still some challenges ahead for all of us, we as a nation will be much better off because of it. As a leader, this has given me lots of food for thought around courageous decision making, putting aside ego, trusting each other and the value of vulnerability.
  • The importance of connection is another important lesson for me. Connection with myself, my husband, my children, my friends and family and the other amazing people in our profession. Often the busyness of our day to day lives does not allow for this type of connection with others. Having time has allowed for time to journal, write and process feelings. Family time around the fire, board games, movie nights and bake-offs have become part of our everyday rhythms and rituals. This has become a time we all look forward to as a way to refill our emotional cups. I would like to make more time for this when we go back to work and school. To find a way to keep some of these new rituals going forwards.
  • Although we cannot physically visit friends and family at the moment, and I really miss this, regular video chats with them have become the norm. (I must admit I was guilty of going weeks sometimes without calling my mum, sisters or friends – life simply got in the way.) Why did it take a pandemic for me to seek to strengthen these connections?
Tanya Valentin ECE
  • Professionally it has been amazing to connect with and to be there for the members of my professional bubble. It has been so inspiring to tune into webinars and with some of the leading voices in ECE, there has been a smorgasbord of delicious PLD available for us to feast on. In a funny way, this “lock-down” has allowed me to be kinder, more generous and outwardly focused than I have been before.
  • I have learnt to appreciate the simple joys in my life that I would have normally taken for granted. With Easter approaching, I have been reflecting on how consumer-focussed this holiday has become. In years past I would have spent hours shopping at Kmart and other stores for paper plates, baubles and decorations. This year without those trappings to distract me, the season seems slower and more meaningful – more of a heart moment.
  • Lastly, I am recognising more and more the importance of faith. Faith in something bigger than myself (for me it is God). Faith in myself and my ability to grow and adapt. Faith in others around me and having the best of assumptions about them in my heart. And faith in us as a wider community that we can stand together and we can come out of this stronger, wiser and kinder than before.

What are some of the things that you have learnt about yourself and others during this time?

Support for you

As you might know if you have been following me I am working to support you during this time.

If you are finding this all a little bit too much and would like to chat, please reach out for a free video support call with me.

Please also get in touch if you would like some more information on how I can support you and your team with the transition process of going back to work.

Or tune into my free webinar on how to lead your team through a challenging time.

You don’t have to do this alone, support is available.

Have an amazing long weekend with your bubble.

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How To Be There For Someone Else During A Time Of Uncertainty

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

How are you?

I am aware that for most of us this is a bit of a loaded question. There are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around inside of us as we learn to cope with our new “normal” – this time of great uncertainty.

You might be experiencing rapid shifts to your emotions. You might be fine one moment and the next have tears rolling down your cheeks. Please know that all of this is perfectly normal and allowed. There is no right way to be feeling at this time.

Today I am not writing to you as a teacher or an ECE leader as I usually would, but rather as a person. A person without title, label or position. I do this as I feel that this virus, this situation we all find ourselves in is the greatest leveller. When we come down to it we are all just humans beings trapped in our own four walls somewhere, going through the same range of emotions, doing the best that we can.

As I am writing this, I am experiencing a myriad of different thoughts and feelings and I suspect that I will have to take some breaks in writing to compose myself along the way.

As a parent, the hardest thing for me is the sheer helplessness I feel. I hate watching my children going through strong emotions such: disappointment, sadness, fear, anxiety and anger. As a child, a sister or friend it is so difficult not being able to be there to help others during their time of need, because of physical separation.

The Temptation to “Fix-it”

I know that I am not alone in this, it is a very natural thing for us to want to solve problems, or act to “fix things”. For many of us, helplessness can bring up feelings of anxiety, fear and even anger.

However, how can I “fix” my ten-year- old’s sadness over not seeing her cousins for Easter? Or my fifteen-year-old’s disappointment that her birthday will happen during self-isolation and she won’t get to spend it with her friends, or that to her all the fun has been sucked out of her world? Or my seventeen-year-old’s fear or anxiety over what the future may hold? The short answer is I can’t and that sucks.

Having Empathy

One thing that I have learnt over the years is the importance of empathy – to feel the other person’s emotion with them. Often we forget that we have a different perspective of life to our children. We are a product of our experiences and my forty-five years of experience makes me see the world quite differently from my teenage daughter. Things that might be trivial to me can seem like the end of the world to her.

In the past, I might have dismissed her disappointment over the band that is no longer performing due to Covid 19. Or told her that it is okay, that they will come back. Or avoided feeling her pain because it feels so uncomfortable (and who likes to feel discomfort?). However, in order to support others, we first need to feel with them. There is power in stepping into the other person’s shoes, in sitting with them in discomfort.

Acknowledging Emotions

Something that we don’t tend to do very well is acknowledging emotions. Most of us don’t even do this for ourselves and so doing this for others can seem unnatural. The fear is that the other person will “milk” the situation or make this period of discomfort last longer if we acknowledge the emotion they are feeling.  We might try to distract someone from what they are feeling or tell them that it is going to be okay, as we feel that this will move them out of what going through quicker. However, when we practise empathy we realise that we all like to feel that someone understands what we are going through, that they get us. Giving voice to what others are feeling does just that.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Holding Space

Holding space means that we are willing to simply be there with another person in whatever they are feeling without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. This means curbing comments, withholding sage advice, and our need to rescue others from their feelings. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

When we hold space for with or for someone we acknowledge that they matter and that their feelings are valid and important. Holding space can feel like doing nothing and can be extremely difficult given our natural tendency for “fixing”. Holding space is often awkward as creates a feeling of vulnerability in us.

If we dismiss someone else’s feelings as unimportant (even if it is a toddler expressing outrage for not having the blue cup) or try to “logic” them out of emotions we have the opposite effect to what we intend. Instead of making them see that it’s not so bad we unintentionally send the message that their feelings are not important or even that they are not important.

Being There For Someone During Social Distancing.

Self-isolation shouldn’t stop us from being there for someone else. It is more important than ever to make consistent contact with your family and friends a priority, even though you might not be able to physically be with them.

Check-in regularly, let your loved ones know that it is okay to feel sadness, fear and anxiety and that you are there for them if they need you. Remember that trust is earned by us extending our trust to others in return. Banish ideas that you need to keep your feelings to yourself and that you don’t want to burden others with them. When we are vulnerable we make it okay for others to be vulnerable too and this nurtures real, wholehearted connection. Holding space with someone can be done over the phone or via video chat too.

Please remember that you are not alone.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or that you need to off-load to someone or to have someone holding space with you please reach out.

I care about your mental and emotional health and so I have made a limited number of FREE 30 minute chats available for people who would just like to connect and talk about what they are feeling. You can book a time with me HERE.

I also have a range of FREE webinars and other freebies and special offers available to support you during this time of self-isolation.

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Why You Should Include Gratitude As Part of Your Daily Practice

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Have you ever thought,“If only everyone could be just a little bit nicer?”

Or “I wish everyone could assume the best about each other instead of always focusing on the negative?”

You wouldn’t be alone in this, especially now with everyone panic buying etc. However, as a teacher and centre manager, I would often hear people complaining about each other and I wondered these exact things!

In these uncertain times when we are all experiencing a lot of fear and anxiety, this is, even more, prevalent. It is a tricky time for all of us, as we navigate managing our own fears and mindset, as well as keeping everyone else around us calm. We can easily get caught up in the habit of obsessively checking social media for updates every half an hour or unintentionally feeding the fear in each other. None of which is healthy for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

It is important as the world of unpredictability, to focus on what we can actually control. As an intentional teacher, the one practice that I ensure that I carry out daily is to remember to be grateful.

Now, you might be wondering why I would choose to say this especially with what is going on globally. But did you know that practising gratitude you can play a huge role in helping your teachers and the children in your centre to build resilience?

I am not downplaying everything happening around us or living in naivety. However, I do believe that one of the biggest impacts that Covid-19 will have on the majority of people will not be on their physical health, but rather on their mental health. It is time to look at how we can maintain a resilient mindset.

Our negative bias

The first step behind changing this behaviour is understanding some of the theory behind our natural inclination for negative thinking. We all have a tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive.

Your brain’s primary function which is to protect YOU. Which means that when your brain receives information that you are under threat (real or perceived) it will follow certain patterns in order to defend you. Because of our evolutionary urge for defence, we will always look for the “threats” (the negative) in every situation.

This could be the reason why even when we know a person really well and we are aware of all their good qualities, it can only take one small misstep for us to automatically think the worst in them.

Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.

Educate Inspire Change

Reprogramming our brains to be more positive

Mindfulness and gratitude are two ways that we can use to rewire our brains to be more positive.

Both of these practices ground us in the present. If we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to obsess over the past, or anxiously worry about the future. 

Gratitude is similar to mindfulness in another respect as well: it helps increase our resilience to stress. As one researcher states, it is an extremely effective way “to fill the resilient tank.” Other research has found that gratitude can act as a natural anti-depressant.

When we focus on something, the object of our focus is what we will see more of in our day to day lives. Our brains are programmed to selectively filter what is going on around us. This is another defence mechanism of your brain – it simply couldn’t process all the information that you are bombarded with daily. For example, if you buy a yellow car you might start seeing more yellow cars. Your brain starts filtering for the thing that you are putting your attention to.

Choose Gratitude

It may seem counter initiative to tell you to choose to be grateful, I know that many of you are going through genuine hardship. However, if we really think about it there is always someone worse off than us – a reason to be thankful.

The act of noticing and focusing on all the good things that you already have instead of what you don’t can help you to experience more joy. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improves their health, helps them to deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Studies have shown that gratitude can also improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Some research has shown that expressing gratitude over a sustained period of time can even change our brain structure.

Berkeley’s Great Good Science Center cites recent research showing how feeling grateful enhances functioning in regions of the brain governing social bonds, and our ability to read others. Moreover, even though we think of gratitude as an emotional state, it also enhances cognitive functioning and decision-making. In one study, writing gratitude letters produced measurable brain changes that lasted months after the intervention. This research confirms Barbara Fredrickson’s assertion that gratitude has a “broadening” effect on how we think, and at how we look at the world. It allows us to “discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting.” When we are grateful, we are more inclined to seek support from others, to reframe challenging situations through a positive lens, and to engage in creative problem-solving.

Naz Beheshti

How does being grateful help our work team culture?

When someone is nice for us, and we return the favour, that is what we would naturally expect. However, when people who are the recipients of acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, make a point of feeling grateful, they are also more likely to help a third party. Research into kindness has shown that the giver, the receiver and any witnesses to a kind act all will experience positive benefits to their wellbeing.

Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. As he points out, feeling grateful is a two-step process. First, we recognize the presence of something positive in our lives. Second, we acknowledge it comes from an external source, often another person. Gratitude involves a humble recognition that we are interdependent, that we need one another.

Gratitude can become a kind of “social glue” connecting not just individuals, but our centre communities.  One study found that when teammates actively practised gratitude towards each other they experienced a greater feeling of connectedness, belonging and better job satisfaction.

When we are trapped in a cycle of fear and worry we tend to think more inwardly and act selfishly. When we shift our mindset to being grateful it helps us to think outside of ourselves and it makes us a calmer, nicer and kinder person to be around. This is really powerful when we are trying to shape a culture that promotes the wellbeing and belonging of teachers, children and their families. Or when we are trying to help our people to get through tough times.

Putting this into practice

The great thing about gratitude is that it is free, it can be done anywhere and any place.

At home:

  • You can start by simply noticing the good things that already in your life or by creating a daily practice of writing these down.
  • You could have dinner time conversations with your children about the good things (even though they might be small) that happened today. Even though these are challenging times, I am sure that there are still many things in your life to be thankful for. Or you could use 3 Good Things For Children to create a family gratitude ritual.
  • Let your gratitude inspire you to a kinder, more tolerant and empathetic human being. Think of others, generously assume that other people are doing the best that they can, donate to your local food bank, check in on your elderly neighbours.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

At work:

  • Start noticing the good qualities of others or the kind things that the people around you do and make a habit to point these out to them regularly throughout the day.
  • Create a space in your staff room where people can leave each other “warm-fuzzy” notes of gratitude
  • Print of a bunch of gratitude cards (available in the freebies section of my website) and give these to your teachers and remind them to give these out freely to each other throughout the day.
  • Talk to the children in your centre about the good things that they have experienced in the day.
  • Start a gratitude practice with 3 Good Things for Teams.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services, 3 Good Things For Teams

Final Thoughts

Being grateful won’t solve all the problems make Covid 19 go away. However, it will help us all to focus on what we can do as opposed to what we can’t control. It will help us to experience more joy, less stress, build resilience and help us to emotionally healthy which is often the biggest struggle when times are tough. What is going to really matter after all of this has passed is how we treated each other.

You can’t calm the storm…so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.

Buddha

Kia kaha Aotearoa

Arohanui,

Tanya

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Do You Have A Fixed Mindset About Your Wellbeing?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Have you been following my Resilient Teacher Series of blogs? This year I have been working to support teachers and leaders to change their thinking about their wellbeing. My aim is to give you tools and strategies to build your resilience and enable you to make yourself more of a priority.

Why am I doing this?

Well for many reasons really. However, my number one motivator is to remind you about how important, precious and powerful you truly are as a person and as an early childhood education professional.

I firmly believe that the biggest influence on the wellbeing of our children (and future society) is the wellbeing of all the significant adults in their lives.

How intentional we can be as a teacher, leader or parent depends on how intentional we are with ourselves.

A fixed mindset about our wellbeing

I would like to challenge you to consider whether you have a fixed or growth mindset about your resilience and wellbeing.

Mindset is the attitude that underpins your thinking, feelings and behaviour. How you think about yourself has the power to make or break any new habits or behaviours that you are trying to embrace as part of your life.

If your mindset sees the amount of effort required to change your behaviour as “too hard”, then this could mean that you have a fixed mindset around this area of your life.

A fixed mindset is rigid and causes you to say things like, “I can’t”. We then put up walls that are a barrier to growth or change. A fixed mindset can cause you to self-sabotage your efforts and to see problems as unsolvable. When we have a fixed mindset we allow mistakes or minor setbacks to completely derail us.

In my previous blog; Getting Clear With Your Why – I discuss how the labels we give ourselves and the meaning that we attach to these labels can hold us back from making changes that we would like to make in our lives. This is a fixed mindset that we can have about our identity.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about how our habits can shape who we are or become part of our identity.

Our fixed belief that these habits are simply part of who we are can easily cause us to fall into the trap of saying things like:

“That’s just the way I am”

“I’m just not a gym person”

“I’m terrible at math”

or

I’ve always been like this, I can’t change now”

Once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognative slumber, blindly following the norms attached their identity… The more deeply a thought or an action is tied to your identity, the more difficult it is to change.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

Can you think of a specific time when you allowed your fixed mindset about who you are to hold you back?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The power of a growth mindset

While a fixed mindset has the power to hold you back, a growth mindset has the power to transform your life. Within a growth mindset, there is flexibility. It recognises that although things might not be achievable right now that this will not always be the case.

A growth mindset about ourselves and our identities leaves the room for us to think of ourselves as ever-growing, ever-evolving beings. We view ourselves as capable of adapting, learning and mastering new healthier habits. A growth mindset sees mistakes or setbacks as temporary and provides us with an opportunity to learn and grow.

Changing our mindset can be very tricky as some of this thinking can be deeply engrained, as discussed in my previous blog. How we think of ourselves or speak to ourselves takes self-awareness, work and time.

According to author James Clear in order for us to change our habits we need to change our perception of who we are or our identity.

For example instead of saying things like:

I would like to start running” we should say “I would like to be a runner”

or instead of saying:

I would like to eat healthier food” we should say “I would like to be a healthy person”

The same goes for our resilience. In order for us to be more resilient, we need to first believe that we are a resilient person.

We then need to assume this new identity and to ask ourselves “How would the person I would like to be, act?” “What choices would this person make?”

For example; if we were wanting to become a healthier person and we were faced with a decision between a pie or a salad – we could ask ourselves, “what would a healthy person eat?”

Or if we were faced with the choice of going for a walk after work or watching television, we could ask ourselves, “What would a healthy person do?”

The more we start acting in accordance with our new desired identity, the more this identity will be affirmed. As we gather more evidence for this new identity we learn to trust ourselves and it becomes part of the fabric of who we are.

The act of simply catching ourselves and correcting a fixed mindset thought with an empowering growth mindset thought can move us towards the growth and change that we desire.

Using the superpower of “Yet”

We all have a mixture of fixed or growth mindsets about various areas of our lives. The quality of our thoughts and internal dialogue matters.

I have found that the word “Yet” although small and unassuming in its make-up packs a powerful punch!

By simply using “Yet” at the end of a fixed mindset sentence we can transform it into a growth mindset statement.

For example:

“I can’t do this” becomes “I can’t do this yet”

or

“I don’t know how to do this” is transformed into “I don’t know how to do this yet”

By adding this little word to the end of a sentence it signals to our brain that although what we are wanting to do might not be achievable at this moment, our brains have the capacity to grow and learn new ways of being, thinking and doing.

This is a powerful example for our children because they learn how to be by watching us.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Children learn to learn in the way their parents, carers and teachers learn…  If they watch adults being experimental, inquisitive and tenacious in their learning, these habits will rub off…If their role models have no time for ideas or become angry the minute their efforts are frustrated, that too is what they will learn.  

Guy Claxton – Learning Power

Putting this into practice

Are there habits in your life that are part of your identity?

Is it time to rethink these habits or to perhaps open yourself up to the possibility that you could change them if you wish?

Perhaps, the next time when you catch yourself having a disempowering fixed mindset thought you could:

  • Become the objective observer of your thought
  • Ask yourself, “was this a fixed mindset or growth mindset thought?”
  • Evaluate if this thinking is part of the new identity you would like to embrace.
  • Reframe your thought to be more in keeping with your new desired identity or end the sentence with the power of “Yet”

It might be a bit tricky at first because some of your labels might be a wee bit sticky, but keep going. Once you become more aware of your fixed mindset in certain situations and the more you practice, the better you will be able to shift your thinking.

Look out for my next blog which will give you tools and strategies to support you to create more intentional habits.

Let me know how you go. I am always grateful to receive feedback or to hear your stories.

References:

James Clear – Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (2018), Penguin Publishers

Guy Claxton – The Learning Power Approach: Teaching learners to teach themselves (2018), Crown House Publishing

Are you part of my wellbeing community? Why not join me and other heart-led professionals making their wellbeing a priority?

Look out for my new book due to be released on 31 March 2020.

Weaving Your Leadership Whariki
Presales are available now

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Getting Clear With Why

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

This year I decided to make my physical health a priority. This has been the same goal that I have had for myself for the last 17 years. This is also the age of my oldest child. I put on a considerable amount of weight when I was pregnant with her that I haven’t been able to shift. So, in reality, I have spent 17 years trying to lose the “baby weight”.

Now I have had many cracks at this. I have been on many diets, joined gyms, read countless books… In fact, I could speak to you for hours on end debating the pros and cons of each weight-loss plan.

You can clearly see that my problem is not knowledge. I also don’t see motivation as my problem. If you have ever met me you would know that I am extremely self-motivated in many areas of my life.

But yet I remain “pleasantly plump”.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

“WHY” instead of “WHAT”

Maybe you could relate to my story above.

It could be that there is an area of your life that have been struggling with for quite some time.

That you too are an “expert” in the knowledge on how to make the change.

Perhaps you have asked yourself the same questions that I have of myself.

Maybe, you are a depleted mother, teacher or leader reading this. It is likely that you know WHAT you should be doing to make yourself less depleted. However, you could have like me (in my story above) made your self-maintenance a priority for a while but given up at the first hurdle…

Well, here is what I discovered that has made a HUGE difference in my life… It is not a question of “WHAT” or even “HOW” that is the issue.

It is more a series of questions beginning with “WHY”

Start with “WHY”

The first “WHY” question you need to get really clear with is:

WHY do I want to do this?

This is something that I had to really dig deep to find for myself. Sometimes the answer goes a lot deeper that you first thought.

For me, my obvious answer is :

I want to weigh less or to fit into smaller clothes.

But once I dug a bit deeper I discovered that I wanted to lose weight because:

  • I have spent so much time around family members and friends with avoidable weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, joint problems mobility issues and strokes. These illnesses really hamper them from doing certain things that they love as well as the overall enjoyment of life. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.
  • I have a legacy that I would like to leave and I need to take good care of myself in order to achieve this.
  • I would like to set a good example for my children so that they don’t repeat my behaviours
  • I want the energy to enjoy my work and to be present and available for my children instead of being tired all the time.

Once you move past the obvious there will probably be several deeper reasons “WHY” for you too.

In order for you, to do this for yourself I invite you to complete this sentence:

I want to ……………. so that ……………..

Keep this somewhere handy so that you can refer back to this when things get a bit wobbly.

Any type of transformational change is challenging. When we focus on “WHY” we want to change instead of “WHAT” we want to achieve, this inspires something deeper inside of us and keeps us going when the going get tough.

WHY do I continue to do WHAT I do even though I know WHAT I know?

Now, this is a much bigger “WHY” question.

I eat cake because I like cake

or I can’t exercise because I don’t have time

or I’m too tired might be obvious reasons why a person might be overweight.

You might have some pretty obvious and reasonable reasons why you are struggling to make changes in your life too.

Remember, you are stronger than your excuses. When we value something we make time for it, when don’t make something a priority we make excuses.

However, it goes a bit deeper than this. In order to make real and long-lasting changes to our behaviours and habits, we need to examine our habits our behaviours as well as how we view ourselves but we also need to examine how we would like others to view us.

Examining ourselves through a new lens

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

We all have received programming in our “downloadable years” about who we are, what our culture values or the behaviours that we need to exhibit in order to “fit in” or to be successful in life. Who we are and what we value is shaped by the environment and the culture that we grew up in.

The human brain is designed to be moulded by the environment it encounters.

Nathan Wallis

Think back to your childhood. What might have been some of your programmings around taking time for yourself or taking care of yourself? It could be that you received repeated messaging about the importance of hard work and the perils of being lazy.

You might have taken that to mean that: if you are not working really hard all the time – giving less than 110% – or if you take a sick day or time to meet your mental health needs, this is laziness.

What are your labels?

We all have labels that we attach to ourselves (and strive for). These labels might be kind, friendly, a good person, generous, fun-loving, a good teacher, a good parent, a good leader. What these labels mean to us depends on our experiences with people, places and things as we were growing up.

Depending on our experiences we develop a description for some of these labels. Some of these descriptions are helpful and some of them damaging.

Let me illustrate this point to you in the following example:

You might have had a mother who made you feel loved and safe as a child. Every morning she got up at 5am to make the school lunches and breakfast for everybody in the family. She worked really hard (often doing 2 jobs) to make sure that you got to do the ballet lessons or the swimming lessons rarely taking time for herself. She might have done everything for everyone and not accepted anyone’s offer of help…

If this was your upbringing you might have developed the perception that “a good mother” does everything for everyone and never prioritises her own happiness or asks for help. This could then become your description of “a good mother”. Which could be why, when you want to take some time for yourself you might feel guilty because this goes against your description of what “a good mother” does.

A leadership context

Or perhaps as a beginning teacher you might have had an amazing leader who seemed to have it all together. She was smart, funny, she always knew just what to say. Your leader never took a day off, she was the first one at the centre in the morning and worked till well after closing time every day – she was there even when she was sick. The whole team loved her and she never set a foot wrong or made a mistake…

This leader might have really connected with you and inspired you along your leadership journey. You might aspire to be “a great leader” and hold your perception of this person up as the leadership ideal. Your experience with this person has shaped your definition of what it means to be “a great leader” as unrealistic as it may be.

However, this unrealistic ideal is what we strive for. When we do something that deviates from this ideal, fearful of our perceived loss of approval from others, we criticise ourselves, put ourselves down and perpetuate a pattern of negative self-talk. This causes us immense amounts of stress and stops us from doing the things that we know that we should be doing for ourselves.

In my blog Leading From the Heart – The Principles, Strands and Goals of Te Whāriki for Teachers, as well as my new book Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki  I outline ways that leaders can take steps to keep their light burning bright as well as creating an environment where the Wellbeing, Belonging, Contribution, Communication and Exploration of everyone in our centres can thrive.

Flipping the paradigm

Unfortunately, our culture perpetuates the “toughen up” attitude. That asking for help, making mistakes or not having all the answers is a sign of weakness.

Fighting against our programming is challenging. We have had many years of repeating these behaviours and there is security in them. Often these ways of being have become coping mechanisms that have kept us safe. Change can be scary and painful and fill us with self-doubt.

Awareness is the first step. Recognising your “whys” as well as your “why nots”. But also an awareness of the label descriptions that are harming you and the ability that you have to change these at any time. Remember, you are powerful – YOU are the master of your thoughts and YOU get to determine your own self-worth.

Try thinking of ways to flip your disempowering or limiting beliefs of yourself and create new more empowering statements that you can use to upgrade your programming with. I have included a limiting beliefs worksheet in the freebies section of my website for you to work through to determine some of this thinking for yourself.

Further tools can be found on my Making Yourself a Priority Facebook page or catch-up with me at one of my live events.

I would love to hear from you! What are some of the labels or descriptions that continuously come up for you? Reach out if you would like to chat.

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But it’s Not MY Fault!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

I recently wrote a blog which posed the question:

“Is it time to change how we view resilience in early childhood education?”

This blog resonated with many of you, however, a comment I often get is – but it’s not my fault!

I firmly believe that the purpose of blogging is to provoke thinking and professional discourse. Not everyone is going to agree with me and that is okay.

My purpose for writing is not to highlight how important my opinions are, but to remind you of how important, precious and powerful you are.

Who’s fault is it?

It is so easy to feel disheartened by everything that is going on around us, or by the things we read on social media.

However, today I would like to challenge your thinking a little further, by talking about fault vs responsibility.

I am sure that we can all agree that there are many injustices in this world.

In the profession of early childhood education, there are many things that could and should change.

We could blame mental health issues in our sector or depleted teachers on the shortage of qualified teachers in our profession. Or perhaps on the amount of paperwork we have to do. (And you may be right)

We could find fault in the value that the government (and society) place on early childhood teachers and allow this to wear us down.

You could blame your poor wellbeing on the manager who you feel doesn’t value you in your workplace. Or perhaps the difficult colleague that you have to work with, or the parent who always complains, or the child with additional needs that you aren’t getting any support for.

Perhaps you are right and it is their fault!

After all, shouldn’t centre owners and managers provide an environment that promotes the wellbeing and belonging of everybody in the ECE setting including teachers?

The problem with assigning blame

But here is the problem with finding fault and assigning blame…

In the complex problem of teacher wellbeing, we all share responsibility.

There is a collective responsibility in any profession, but there is also individual responsibility.

When we focus on who’s fault it is, we focus on the problem. We cast ourselves as victims. We get stuck in place and are powerless to change or improve our situation.

When we focus on responsibility, we focus on the solution. We become empowered.

And as I said in my opening paragraphs – I truly believe that we are all important, precious and powerful!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

What I am responsible for?

In each and every day how we are with ourselves is all that we can control.

Our attitude, our habits, our thoughts, our actions, our choices, how we treat ourselves and allow others to treat us, how we treat others as well as our part in interactions with others. This is what we have direct influence over. You are responsible for yourself and the value you place on yourself, your happiness and your wellbeing.

You cannot control or change other people, the decisions or actions of others, what others think about you, things that happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

These things might concern you greatly, but this is where we start going down the path of blame.

You can, however, inspire and influence those around you. As kaiako, we have tremendous influence over our lives, the children in our settings and the other people around us. You have the power to change the narrative about our profession and what you post on social media. Where we focus is where our energies will flow.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Our first step is to put aside the blame game and to take ownership for our part in this issue and to stop seeing each other as the competition.

Three choices

In every situation, instead of complaining, we have three choices:

  • You can accept the situation – accept that this situation is unavoidable and part of life, plan for it and surrender the stress associated with it. For example: if someone close to you has been diagnosed with a serious illness there might not be much that you can do about it. You might have to accept that this is your new reality for a while and be there for the other person as well as planning ways for maintaining your own health and energy levels.
  • You can change it – if you feel frustrated with the current situation you can take action to improve it. For example, if you feel that someone in your workplace is being treated disrespectfully or being bullied you can speak up or take steps to improve your workplace culture.
  • You can leave it – if you feel that the situation is unbearable you always have the option to leave.

In every situation, we have the option to say “this choice, it’s mine and I accept whatever comes out of it.”

Justin Sebastian

So instead of feeling disheartened by what you read on social media. 

Next time you want to hang your head and say, I am just one person, what difference can I make? Remember that you can be the change that you wish to be in our profession. You have control over being the best possible version of you and you are already enough.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”

Martin Luther King

If you would like additional tools on how to make your health and wellbeing a priority please join me on the Making Yourself A Priority Facebook Group.

Or join me for a Building Resilience workshop. Click here to look for one in your area

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Is It Time To Change How We View Resilience For Teachers In Early Childhood Education?

Tanya Valentin ECE

This week I have been listening to a teacher wellbeing podcaster from Australia, Ellen Ronalds Keene. She has been discussing teacher resilience in a five-day workshop on Facebook. (You can access this here)

I have listened intently to what she has had to say. Ellen speaks about the education system in Australia and her work is aimed at primary and secondary school teachers. However, there is a lot that we can take away for early childhood education teachers in Aotearoa. I would like to share some of my key take-home points with you today, intermingled with my own thoughts and reflections.

Are you a depleted teacher or leader?

In her workshops, Ellen speaks about depleted teachers and the culture that perpetuates the depletedness.

The signs that you are a depleted teacher

Perhaps you might notice some of these signs in yourself or teachers around you (I know that I did).

  • Are you exhausted – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually?
  • Do you feel that you have to, “soldier on” no matter what and you rarely take time off even if you are sick?
  • Are you have trouble switching off at the end of the day?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping?
  • Do you skip meals, especially breakfast or lunch or both?
  • Are you habitually ignore your basic needs?
  • Do you find that you don’t go out or do anything fun because you don’t have any energy?
  • Are all of your friends other teachers with whom you constantly talk about work to?
  • Do you give everything to your work and your own children and family get what is left?
  • Are you finding yourself becoming irritable, short-tempered and impatient with the children or other teachers in your centre?
  • Do you know that you should exercise or look after yourself better but can’t find the time, the motivation or the energy to do it?
  • Are you are constantly wishing it was the weekend so that you can rest?
  • Are you consistently putting off your own personal or health or wellbeing goals because of other people or work?
  • Do you find that you have lost who you are outside of being a teacher or centre leader?
  • Do you find that you can’t remember why you became a teacher in the first place?
Tanya Valentin ECE

Once upon a time, I was a depleted teacher and centre manager too and so I know many of these symptoms really well.

I see depleted teachers and managers all the time in my work.

In fact, with the demands of settling children back into centre life after the holidays or settling new children or families, I am already witnessing depleted teachers. And some teachers have only been back at work for two weeks!

Let’s stop waiting

Teacher wellbeing is a complicated problem and there is not going to be a simple solution. But, I do feel strongly that we need to stop waiting.

The problem of depleted teachers and leaders is not going to go away any time soon.

We cannot afford to wait around for the day that the early education system will change. Or early childhood teachers will get pay parity and things will miraculously be okay.

We can’t afford to wait for the difficult parent or colleague to leave and then things will be better.

Collectively we can’t afford to wait for the teacher shortage to disappear and this will fix all of our problems.

We can’t afford to spend all of our time waiting for the weekend or the holidays to look after ourselves then and expect to thrive.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that some of these things that should change. However, they are not going to change overnight and we can’t afford to wait. You deserve better and the children in our centres deserve better.

Redefining resilience

Up until recently, I had been using the following definition for what it means to be resilient:

Resilience does not mean that you won’t feel devastated, hurt or pain or be affected deeply…It is rather your ability to experience the loss or disappointment and then to recover and thrive again.

I do feel that this is still true, however, I have been challenged to think about resilience more like a structural engineer.

Which is:

To respond to, absorb and adapt to, as well as recover from a difficult event with minimal damages and few disruptions to their effectiveness during the event, as well as be able to rapidly recover to similar or even better than pre-event level.

Wikipedia
Tanya Valentin ECE

In other words, when engineers build a bridge or a building they design and build it with disruption, like a flood or an earthquake in mind.

They plan for and design the piece of infrastructure to absorb the disturbing event and to maintain integrity. They also plan for and implement regular maintenance as well as undertaking repairs and strengthening after the event.

Now, doesn’t sound like a skill needed by early childhood teachers in 2020?

Events that can wear down your bridge

We live in the real world. Disruptive things are going to happen.

Professionally, this year you might have ERO visiting your centre. Or you might have a difficult parent. You might not always agree with all of your teammates or your manager. You might have children whose behaviour challenges you or have additional needs.

Personally, this year you might move house, suffer an injury, get sick (or have a family member get sick). Someone close to you might die or you might have a relationship break-up.

All these things can wear down your bridge, so to speak. This is on top of all the daily wear and tear of living life.

So what can we do?

First of all, I want to say if you are being bullied in your workplace. Or if the centre that you are working at is not a good fit for you, then you should leave.

If you feel that you have lost the love for teaching. If you feel that teaching isn’t the place for you anymore, then you should leave.

But, if you do have a passion for teaching and you do want to stay in teaching then there are things that you can do.

A series of realisations

It starts with you and your relationship with yourself.

It starts with the realisation that you are a depleted teacher and challenging how you are treating yourself and allowing others to treat you.

To move yourself off of the “when I get to it” list and back onto the priority list

It starts with a courageous conversation with yourself, forgiving yourself and a commitment to make changes.

It starts with placing equal value on your personal self-maintenance and development as you would for your professional self.

Strengthening and maintaining your structural integrity

I feel that now is the time to change your attitude to self-care from a form of indulgence or “nice to haves”. To start seeing it as vital for strengthening and maintaining your “bridge” so that you have plenty of resources for when it floods. So that one damaging event doesn’t leave you entirely devastated.

It is time to start seeing ourselves as people first and teachers, centre leaders, parents etc second.

If we look after the person the teacher will thrive and the children in our settings and our personal families with flourish because of it.

After all, we teach who we are. The culture around working ourselves into the ground needs to change if we are to prosper as a profession if we want to make a difference for ourselves and our children.

This starts with one person and lots of one person’s creating change together.

You have influence and power to change yourself and to inspire others to do the same.

As a profession, we have influence and power. Just think about what a group of like-minded, passionate individuals can achieve together.

A rising tide lifts all boats

John F Kennedy

Tools and resources

In the next few months, I will be blogging about ways that you can do to build your resilience as well as the resilience of our profession.

I will be putting myself and my own bridge-strengthening journey in my private Facebook community – Making Yourself a Priority and giving you resources that you can use to build your structural integrity. Please feel free to join here.

Get your free Self-Care design planner here.

I will also be facilitating workshops throughout the year and in different places around Aotearoa, so keep an eye out on my website or Facebook page for details.

If you would like me to work with your team or you would like some coaching to get yourself on track please feel free to contact me.

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What is Your Leadership Wake?

Tanya Valentin ECE

Happy 2020 everyone!

I hope that you all managed to have some time to rest, recharge and rejuvenate over the Christmas and New Year break.

This week was my first week back at work and I must confess that it has been a bit of a challenge switching gears back into work mode. I have spent most of this week dreaming about and planning what I would like to achieve this year and in fact this decade.

The beginning of a new decade is really exciting because it challenges us to think so much bigger. What we can achieve personally and professionally in a year is limited. However, what we can achieve in a decade is limitless.

During this process, I have been guided by two questions.

I would like to share these with you in this blog.

What is my leadership wake?

As a boat moves, it leaves waves and ripples behind it – a wake. As leaders, we are constantly moving – leading – and we too leave a wake behind whether we do this intentionally or not. Sometimes what we hope we are leaving behind us in our wake is very different from the actuality.

Tanya Valentin ECE - Leadership Wake

I have spent time reflecting on what I want to leave behind as my legacy, the impact that I would like to make, my purpose – what I would like to be known for.

I would like to be known for respect, kindness, for giving a voice to the emotional and mental health needs of children, teachers and leaders in early childhood education. For uplifting our sector, for serving and helping others.

Have you given consideration as what you want to be known for as a teacher, as a leader?

What you would like your early childhood setting to be known for?

Last year “intentional teaching” was a bit of a “buzz” word in ECE, but have we thought of ourselves in terms of intentional leaders?

I challenge you to reflect on the wake that you would like to leave behind.

My second guiding question is:

How am I going to look after myself so that I can achieve my legacy?

I have found through experience that how well I take care of myself (how connected I feel with myself and my purpose) the more intentional I can be about my wake.

Last year was a great year for me. I achieved many personal and professional goals. However, as aspirational as my intentions were to take excellent care of myself… I ended up crashing and burning towards the end of the year. I found myself experiencing the symptoms of burn-out.

Now I could spend time chastising myself about this and making myself feel worse.

But, I have instead decided to learn from this and commit to doing better this year at prioritising my health and physical wellbeing.

Tanya Valentin ECE - wellbeing

This is still new learning for me and so I know that I will sometimes fail, make mistakes or fall back into bad patterns of behaviour. I have been chatting about this live in my Facebook Group – Making Yourself a Priority so that I can support others as well as keeping myself accountable.

Some of the steps that I have put into place are:

  • To commit to keeping my word to myself
  • To create a better work-life balance by committing to boundaries around personal and professional time.
  • No social media in the weekends
  • A morning ritual focussed on gratitude
  • Healthy eating – keeping a food diary
  • Regular exercise
  • Doing one thing that is solely for the purpose of bringing me joy each week.
  • Planned admin days – especially after travelling to facilitate workshops
  • Planned time off through-out the year.

Over to you…

What will you do to love yourself better this year? I have included a free downloadable resource to help you to reflect on these two questions for yourself. This available in my Freebies Library, click here to access this.

If making time for yourself is on your to-do list, then I would like personally to invite you to join Making Yourself a Priority.

It is an uplifting, supportive group, where I share readings, tips and live video training on how to put yourself back on the priority list. Click here to join.

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What Your Feelings Are Telling You?

Tanya Valentin

Have you ever suffered hurt or disappointment?

Do you ever get angry with yourself or others, or feel guilty?

Have you ever had an emotional response that has left you so triggered that it is all you can think of for days and days?

Chances are that we have all felt these emotions in our lives from time to time. Sometimes these emotions can be really intense. We can really feel upset by them or feel so stuck that we just can’t move past them.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently…

I was facilitating a workshop and it was all going well. In the break, someone came to me and said, “Excuse me but, there is a typo on one of your slides.”

Now I acknowledge that it took a lot of courage for this person to come up to me and tell me this. I know that she was doing this because she cared about me and my professional integrity. I personally value professional discourse and honest direct feedback.

I know that to you this might seem trivial… So then why was I feeling so triggered?

To be perfectly honest this emotional response hung around me for days after the workshop like a bad smell. So I decided to put pen to paper and to curiously and courageously unpack some of what was going on for me.

I learnt this process at a personal development course that I attended a few years ago. I have since added my own bits to it so that works for me.

Today, I would like to share this experience and the process that I used with you. My hope is that this might help you with some of the feelings or emotions that have taken up residence in your mind and heart.

How I got myself out of Stucksville

First of all, I found a time where I was able to be undisturbed and I able to focus on my thoughts. I then tried to, as accurately as possible, to write down all the facts about the situation. (Just the facts)

I then tried to think about what I am projecting – something from my past (in this case, the first-ever presentation I did in front of a group of people many years ago) or was it fear or something that I am worried about for the future?

In this instance, I realised that I was in my circle of concern rather than my circle of influence and that I needed to move back into where my power was.

Tanya Valentin

I then confronted myself and wrote down everything that I was saying about myself and this situation.

I usually take a “no holds barred” approach to this as I feel that once these words are on paper they are no longer taking up the room in my head. I then acknowledge them and draw a line under what I had written to signify that I am now moving past them. I reminded myself that nothing has meaning except the meaning that I give it.

What are my feelings telling me?

The next step is to pinpoint the emotions that I am feeling.

For me, it was anger and disappointment.

I have three choices with these emotions. I can either wallow in them(and make them mean something about me) try to bury them (we can easily fall into the habit of labelling our emotions as “bad” and to try to avoid feeling them) or … I can see them for what they are information.

“Information for what?” You might be asking. Information for what my next move should be.

(I have included a list of common emotions that we don’t like to experience and what they might be telling you below.)

When I examined what my emotions were telling me, I realised that I had not met my own expectations of myself. I had also violated my “rule” about excellence and professionalism.

I then needed to challenge my expectations – were they realistic? As well as my perceptions around my “rules”.

What did excellence and professionalism mean to me?

Life is all about perception and what we tell ourselves at any given moment of time. Once we realise that we control the narrative of our lives it opens a world of new possibilities. What you tell yourself everyday will either lift you up or tear you down – YOU decide.

Decision time

So instead of perpetuating the narrative of not being good enough, not professional enough, et cetera, et cetera (that we all can fall prey to).

I chose to change the narrative.

I decided to tell myself that I am human. That everyone makes a mistake from time to time – even professionals.

I chose to tell myself that I will take action to do better in the future. However, I would probably still make mistakes and that this is okay.

I decided to take the lessons from this experience. To forgive my younger self for the disastrous workshop from years ago (and for my mistake in the recent one.) And to let it go.

What are your emotions telling you?

Here is a list of common “unpleasant” emotions and the action that they are telling you to take:

Fear – I am unsafe/I need to prepare – get prepared, change your situation or change your perception about the situation.

Hurt – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.

Anger – one of your “rules” has been violated by yourself or by others – You can accept the situation, take steps to change it or move away from it.

Frustration – what you are doing isn’t working – change your behaviour or try something new.

Sadness or Disappointment – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.

Guilt – you are out of alignment with your values – adjust your values or realign with your values.

All unpleasant feelings stem from some sense of loss – real or imagined.

What had I lost in this situation?

It turns out that my sense of loss was merely a projection, an idea that I was aspiring to be.

What about you?

How do you choose to deal with your feelings?

Have you ever thought about your emotions as feedback or information on an action that you had to take in your life?

Could use these often perceived “negative emotions ” as an agent for change or as a powerful way to empower you?

If you found these steps useful or helpful and you would like to chat with me about mentoring, wellbeing coaching or whole team PLD please get in touch.

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How To Show Meaningful Appreciation At Work

Tanya Valentin ECE

Have you have felt like you weren’t appreciated at work?

Or, tried to show appreciation towards someone else and felt that your efforts did not quite hit the mark?

It could be because you were not talking the same love language.

Showing gratitude towards the people in your setting is important for creating a thriving team where everyone feels valued and like they belong.

It has been my observation that not everyone likes to be acknowledged and have appreciation shown in the same way. In a parenting course I attended years ago I discovered the love languages, and this has been a strategy that I have applied as a parent time and time again.

I knew how this worked in a family context, but recently I discovered a book by Dr Gary Chapman and Dr Paul White entitled The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, which really made me think about how this can be applied in a work context.

The 5 Languages According to Gary Chapman and Paul White are:

Words of Affirmation:  People who have this love language thrive on and are motivated by kind words and praise. It could be about their performance, their character or their personal qualities. Let me give you an example:

Maria is the type of teacher that everyone likes. She is friendly to both teachers and parents. Children are instinctively drawn to her.

Where other teachers might enjoy tickets to the movies or a bunch of flowers as a sign of appreciation, this doesn’t really motivate her. What really makes Maria feel cared for is an encouraging word or praise for a job done well. Maria loves it when her Centre Manager gives her positive feedback about her work, or when her teammates tell her that her wall display is beautiful or when a parent pays her a compliment.

Do you have any Maria’s in your team? Do you have people who bask in the glow of verbal appreciation?

As a leader, it is important to ensure that you give positive feedback to the Maria’s in your team, however, don’t just praise for praise sake. Rather keep praise meaningful and specific. Lazy praise can have the opposite effect to what you intended.

Quality Time: People with this love language relish spending quality time with the leader or with the other people in the team. For example:

Tala is a team player, she likes to organise parent events at the centre and staff outings. She really enjoys talking to colleagues and parents and going the extra mile to ensure that everyone feels welcomed into the centre. What really helps Tala to feel supported and affirmed is when her Headteacher, Tracey, comes to spend the morning in her classroom and she can talk to her about all the amazing things that the children are doing. Tala also loves meeting up with her fellow teachers for a coffee or having conversations in the lunchroom.

As you can see, Tala’s love language is quality time. If you have people in your team who have this love language, show them that you care by giving them the gift of your time through one-to-one moments of full attention.

Acts of Service:  Kaiako with this love language feel your appreciation when you do things for them, like making them a cup of tea or helping them solve a problem. Here is an example:

Sam is a hard worker, he has loads of energy and he is extremely efficient. He doesn’t care about praise or recognition, he just likes to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job done well. What Sam really appreciates is when his workmates help him to tidy up the playground at the end of the day or rake the sand-pit.

You see Sam’s approach to appreciation is “don’t tell me that you care – show me.” If you have a Sam in your team keep this person’s heart tank filled by performing kind acts of service.

Gifts: Show this person you appreciate them by giving thoughtful gifts. Let me share this example with you:

Stephanie is a hard worker, she is meticulous at what she does. Stephanie has aspirations to be a manager and she thrives on a challenge. Although she appreciates positive feedback from her Centre Director, Sally, this doesn’t really motivate her. Stephanie loves it when Sally buys her, her favourite coffee from the local cafe and leaves this on her desk with a little note. Stephanie really feels special when a parent brings in home-baking for morning tea and her fellow teacher gives her a gift of fresh honey from her bees.

If you have a Stephanie in your team they will feel your appreciation with tangible gifts such as flowers, a massage voucher or time off.

A word of guidance of tangible gifts – get to know the other person and what they value. Think about what they would like when giving a gift and not what you would like to receive.

Physical Touch:  This can be a bit of a tricky one in the workplace as this can be a bit polarising for some people. However, you might have people in your workplace who thrive in this form of appreciation. Let me give you an example:

Jenny is a warm and bubbly person, she is quick to greet others with a hug or even a kiss on the cheek. Children love coming to her for cuddles or sitting on her lap for a story. It is little surprise that Jenny’s love language is physical touch.

Do you have a Jenny in your centre? Someone who loves hugs?

Some ways to show a person with this love language that you care for them is to give them a hug, a firm handshake, a high five or a pat on the back.

We are luckier than most in that appropriate physical touch is more readily accepted amongst colleagues in early childhood setting than in other professions. However, when you choose to use these actions really does depend on the person that you are showing appreciation to. Consider their comfort levels and how well you know them.

Tanya Valentin ECE

Further Ideas for Using Love Languages in Your Setting…

Spend some time getting to know the love languages of the people in your setting. Use this as a tool to build trust and meaningful connections.

You might want to discuss this at a team meeting or complete a quiz as an icebreaker exercise.

Our love language is usually how we choose to show love. Learn to show appreciation by observing your teammates and how they show love and appreciation to others.

Some further ideas for showing gratitude towards your fellow kaiako might be:

  • Giving a teacher time off so she can attend her child’s sports day.
  • Spending time having a conversation with fellow kaiako.
  • Cooking a meal for a kaiako who is sick or has had a bereavement in the family.
  • Leaving a hand-picked bunch of flowers and a hand-written note for a teacher who is going through a difficult time.
  • Speaking words of encouragement.
  • Paying someone a compliment.
  • Random acts of kindness.
  • Spending time with teammates outside of work.
  • Giving a hug.
  • Celebrating a teacher’s achievement or special moment.
  • Baking someone a cake.
  • Helping a teacher to tidy up at the end of the day.
  • Shouting morning tea.
  • Doing someone else’s job, like folding the washing, unpacking the dishwasher or tidying up the art sink.

What do you think?

Perhaps you have identified your love language or the love language of others in the examples below.

What makes you feel loved and valued?

How could you show that you appreciate and care for someone in your team, in your family, in your life?

I would love to hear from you.

Be sure to check out 3 Good Things for Teams, which is based on some of the research that I did on love languages. Find out how you can improve your wellbeing, belonging and happiness at work through the power of gratitude.

Tanya Valentin - 3 Good Things for Teams
3 Good Things for Teams

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The Struggle To Be Real

Tanya Valentin

When I started writing my blog today I had a different subject in mind but for some reason, I kept on being pulled to this photo… So I decided to shelve the blog that I was halfway through and follow my heart and write this instead. This is a bit more of a personal blog from me, but I felt that it was something that I really wanted to share.

I have been challenged by my mentor to have more of “ME” on my website. To let you all get a glimpse of who the “REAL ME” is. This meant spending a morning being followed by a photographer, while she captured me and my story. I worked with the amazing Nykie Grove-Eades who was super fun and easy to work with. She took some amazing pics as you would have seen on my new, fresh looking website.

But this is something that I really struggled with( because if you know me, I am really more of a behind the scenes type of girl).

Acceptance

Amongst all the amazing photos that Nykie took that day this was one of them. Now I have to confess (this is going to sound a bit vain), that at first when I saw this photo all that I saw was all the chins! I immediately wanted to reject the photo because I didn’t look perfect and I was worried about other people would think. In fact a year ago I wouldn’t have dared to post such a chinny photo of myself anywhere, let alone on a blog for everyone to see.

However, I have been doing a lot of work on accepting myself and loving myself for who I am. So I chose to view it through a kinder more loving lens. And what I saw was ME! This is the real me – no filters, no air-brushing, happy, having fun at one of my favourite places in the world, the beach. When I look at myself through this lens, I see someone who is grateful for her health, her body, her life, her purpose. I see all the hard work that I have put into feeling better about myself.

Expectations

There is so much pressure out there to live up to expectations of what we should look like, who we should be and what we should say. Through-out my life I have really been challenged by this and the need to please others. I battled crippling self-doubt when I first started blogging. I fought against myself to write what was true for me and not what I felt other people wanted to hear. Discouraging and down-right mean thoughts would flood my brain each time that I would go to post anything. However, I became aware that these thoughts are just my brain’s defence system. Instead, I chose to be vulnerable, to be courageous, to trust my community and myself and forced myself to post regardless.

I do this because I know that I am not alone in this. I see others struggling with this all the time too and I know intuitively that through sharing my thoughts, ideas and fears I am able to help others to find their voice and to speak their truth. To find the courage be more true to who they are too. Thankfully, I have become better at managing my inner critic and posting has become much easier for me now, but it was really difficult for me at first.

I know that there are many people who struggle with just being themselves and speaking their truth. It is all too easy to get caught up in what others will think about us or give in to the fear of rejection. This fear can hold us back and make us tolerate things in our lives or behaviour from others that we know in our hearts that we shouldn’t. We can get so caught up in the fear of being found out to be lacking, flawed, “not perfect”. These are the primary reasons why people don’t challenge bad practice or avoid have those “courageous conversations”.

The need to be accepted and to belong is a strong innate drive in all of us. In my own learning journey, I have learnt to pay more attention to my intuition and what feels right for me. This has required of me to consciously let go of years of cultural programming, others expectations (or perceived expectations) of me and ideas of who I thought that I should be and to simply BE ME.

In my quest I have found inspiration the words of Brene Brown:

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you make it your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you are not enough. You will always find it because you have made it your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods, we don’t negotiate their value in the world. The truth of who we are lives in our hearts.

Brene Brown

Lessons from my journey…

I would like to share a few lessons that I have learnt while I worked to love and accept myself:

  • We all battle with doubts, the fear of rejection or being seen to be an imposter – Speak your truth anyway.
  • We think that other people are watching us and judging us… But really most of the time they are so preoccupied with what is happening in their own lives that they fail to see what is going on for us.
  • If someone does judge you or says mean things it is a reflection on how they are feeling inside about THEMSELVES.
  • Sometimes it is your fault. We all make mistakes, it is part of being human. Although it is important to learn from our mistakes, recognise that mistakes are part of the learning process. Don’t use them as a self-torture device and let them occupy unnecessary room in your mind and your heart. Learn to be self-curious, not self-critical.
  • Hurt feelings aren’t fatal – objectively take the lesson from other’s comments and move on.
  • Just giving yourself permission to be yourself is incredibly scary at first, but once you get more confident it is really freeing and empowering.
  • When we are honest and authentic this inspires others to trust us, which inspires change.

Building Trust

In our profession, building trusting relationships is the most important aspect of our jobs. Our ability to build trust within our centre environments with the people in our team, with children and their families is vital to providing a safe nurturing environment for everyone in our setting. Without trust, there is no accountability, commitment or growth within our practice.

We can’t develop trust when there is no authenticity.

The more you allow yourself to be vulnerable and real the easier you make it for other people to be vulnerable and real around you. This is the beginning of the whole-hearted connection, relationships and trust with others.

Remember there is only one YOU. Even though you are imperfect and wired to struggle you are worthy of your own love and acceptance. The world needs the REAL YOU.

Our children are downloading from you, what it means to be human. They need the real you to make it okay for them to be imperfectly, beautifully, courageously real through your imperfect, beautiful, courageous example!

Have a wonderful weekend,

Kia Kaha

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Mind Those Unrealistic Expectations

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Teacher well being has been in the media a lot lately as well as many self-care ideas and strategies that we can utilise to look after our own well being.

These are all fine and well, but what I am finding more and more when working with tired teachers and managers are that these strategies are great and are something that can benefit us all…. But they don’t address some of the important issues at the heart of teacher and manager stress and burn-out.

I am talking about the unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves and others.

Our Expectations at Leaders

Let me share this example with you:

Lani is a teacher in an early childhood centre, she has 16 children in her portfolio group and her centre requires each kaiako to be responsible for leading an in-depth internal review during the year.  Lani is also completing her induction and mentoring programme towards her full teacher certification, as well as overseeing the health and safety of her room.

When she first started at her centre she used to get 2 hours a week to complete her planning, children’s learning stories, internal review and health and safety paperwork.  Getting everything done in the allotted time was challenging, but through innovative thinking, self-discipline and by implementing time management strategies, Lani made it work. 

During the year she has noticed that things at her centre things have changed.  The centre manager has created a new assessment system with the intention that it will make children’s learning more visible and strengthening practice but is more time consuming for teachers.

Added to this, due to the changes in employment law around compulsory tea breaks the centre owner has decided to cut teacher non-contact time to one hour a week in order to mitigate staffing costs to the centre. 

Lani does her best, but she is getting further and further behind with her planning and admin tasks.    She doesn’t want to take her work home with her but is finding that she is having to do this more and more.  The stress of this is getting to her and her colleagues and it has gotten to a point where this issue is all that they speak about with each other. This constant negativity has seriously impacted the team’s emotional hygiene. This is also causing tremendous stress and frustration for her and her fellow kaiako which is impacting on Lani’s health, her confidence as a teacher and her overall enjoyment of her job.  Lani is becoming so disillusioned with teaching that she is considering leaving teaching and retraining in another field.

If you are reading this, you might feel for Lani as this might be something that you are currently experiencing as a teacher or leader in early childhood education.

I know that there might be some of you that might be thinking, well that’s just part and parcel of being a professional teacher. 

This is a complex issue however, Lani’s example illustrates how expectation sometimes does not align with reality.  Her manager made a well-meaning decision which was intended to improve outcomes for children. However, when we look at the above example we can clearly see that the expectations on Lani – the amount of work that she is expected to do in the time that she was given to do it, is just not realistic and in many ways, she has failed before she has even started. 

We know through research that stressed out, distracted, over-scheduled teachers adversely affects learning outcomes for children, as teachers are focused on meeting compliance and admin expectations and worried about how they will do this. This distracts them from being emotionally available for children and they find it challenging to be attuned to the children’s needs. 

Your Expectations of Yourself

The other expectations trap that we can fall into is trying to live up to our own impossible expectations. 

Let me give you an example:

Mira is the centre manager of a large centre.  Her centre is licenced for 100 children and she has twenty kaiako in her team.  Mira’s role is very demanding, and she often feels like she is just treading water and putting out fires.

Often when she is busy on the floor in her centre, kaiako will come to her and ask her for advice or ask her to do things for them.  Mira doesn’t want to disappoint anyone or let anyone down, so she says “yes” to everyone and all requests that come her way without considering if she can realistically follow through with all of them or not.

Mira has so much to do that she often forgets what she has promised to do, so things don’t get done. The kaiako feel frustrated that she hadn’t followed through with what she has said that she would do.  They start talking amongst themselves and gossiping about how unreliable and incompetent Mira is a centre manager. They feel that she doesn’t value them and can’t be trusted to keep her word.

In the account above Mira over committed to the people in her team and then under-delivered. This caused the people in her team to lose trust in her and to doubt her integrity as a leader.  Mira’s expectations and what she could realistically do were out of kilter. 

 

Beware the “Expectation Trap”

Other “expectations traps” that we might fall into that can be destructive to us and our relationships are:

The expectation that we can control life and every situation or person whom you encounter. 

The expectation that we have to be perfect or do everything perfectly and never make any mistakes.

The expectation that things, events and other people will make us happy.

The expectation that we will be or have to be right all the time, or that we will have or are expected to know all the answers like some amazing, all-knowing, all-seeing oracle.

A big one for a lot of us is the expectation that we are “superhuman” – you might know this one….

You (like me) might expect that it is realistic to run on full energy all the time, always busy always rushing- giving, giving, giving without any time to relax or to take care of yourselves.

Or we expect that we have super immunity and we are never going to catch a cold or a virus or need a sick day.  Not only this, but we put ourselves down for being “weak”, getting tired or needing a bit of recuperation time. 

I was extremely disheartened and saddened to see a Facebook poll recently where the question was asked of early childhood teachers:  “Do you feel that you can take time off when you need to when you are sick?

There were about a hundred respondents and most said “No”. 

Now I know what this feels like and a few years ago I probably would have said “No” too.  

From my own experience, I know that I would have answered “No” because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Or, if I would have taken the time off and I would have been so wracked with guilt about not being at work and would have phoned my centre several times a day to make sure that everyone was okay.  I know now how counter-intuitive this as to why I would have needed the time off in the first place…. 

Yes, my expectations of myself were out of whack.  Thinking about it rationally now,  I realise that I deserved to take time off to meet my needs and that there were amazing teachers in my team who were perfectly capable of running things smoothly while I was gone.  I know now that my worrying while I should be resting and ringing into the centre was not only damaging to my wellbeing but that I was also sending a message to my teachers that I didn’t trust them or doubted their capability which was not my intention. 

I can now see that I was a victim to some more subtle (but equally destructive) unrealistic expectations.  I am talking about my expectation that I could control every situation, by not taking time off from work or phoning into the centre while I was away.  I was also of the disillusioned expectation that I by being a martyr, I could control people’s perception of me.

Kindness and compassion starts with how we treat ourselves. You are person first with human needs, however our unrealistic expectations stop us from tuning into our bodies and meeting these needs for ourselves.  When we treat ourselves badly we unknowingly perpetuate a cycle of unrealistic expectations self-abuse through our role modelling. 

When our expectation doesn’t align with reality this erodes the love and passion that most of us felt when we started teaching, breaks down our confidence (we all want to do our best), our self-esteem and ultimately we pay the price with our health and wellbeing.  We are losing great teachers and leaders in our profession because of this.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

So what can we do about it?

Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t have high expectations for yourselves or those around you, what I am saying is that we need to check to see if our expectations are realistic.  Here are some ways that you can achieve this:

Be realistic – Consider, “can this task realistically be done in the allotted time?” This applies to our expectations of ourselves and others.  Be honest with yourself and others.  We are all human beings and we need to have balance in our lives order to stay healthy.  We are all given the same 24 hours and there is only so much that we can realistically do.   

Before you make changes think them through – how is this going to impact on you or the people in your team?  Will you be able to give your kaiako enough time to accomplish this?

Also consider how realistic your expectations are on individuals, bearing in mind that we are all at differing stages of our professional journey as teachers and we have varying strengths, skills and abilities.  Encourage open and honest feedback with-in your team.  Let your fellow teachers know that it is okay to say if something doesn’t feel realistic and that you are open to creative ways to overcome barriers.

Work smarter not harder – Do you or someone in your team have the mindset that things always have to be done a certain way because that’s the way it has always been done? Or, do you promote a learning focussed culture where teachers are encouraged to think outside of the square and come up with simpler, smarter ways of doing things?  Is there a way that we can support each other to be more efficient with our time and energy?  Can we use the same bits of paperwork in multiple ways?  Are there apps or computer automation systems that we can use that can make our lives a bit easier?

Prioritise – If you have a lot to do try listing your tasks in order of priority.  Or if you are short of time ask yourself, “what is causing me the most pain?” or “what is the smallest thing that I can do that is going to have the biggest impact?” and do this first.

Beware of self-imposed stress – So often we play the mind-reading game were we presume to know what other people are thinking of us and this can create self-imposed stress.  I know how difficult this next line is going to be for some of you… but, stop worrying about what other people think about you!  The majority of the time it isn’t even real it is just our perception.   

Set boundaries and say “No” – I know that this can be challenging for all of us “people-pleasers” out there.  I feel your pain! You might not like saying “No” as you feel that you are letting people down.  However, the truth is if you say “Yes” and you can’t deliver you will let people down anyway.  I am not telling you to stop helping others, but I am advocating for being realistic and selective of what you say “Yes” to.

If you are truthfully being honest with yourself you can’t and shouldn’t do everything for everyone.  This behaviour can rob someone else from an important learning experience and you of your emotional and mental health and can be another source of self-imposed stress.

Perhaps it is time for a bit of introspection – how realistic are your expectations of yourself and others?

I would love to hear your story and some of the things that have worked for you.

Until next time,

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Are You a Resilient Leader?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE services

I can clearly remember the first time that resilience was mentioned to me in terms of leadership.  I was in a really low point in my life after suffering a setback and my manager at the time suggested that I start a leadership growth assignment on building my resilience. 

Thinking back to this time I can clearly see how far I have come and the significant difference that intentionally working on and growing my resilience has made in my life. This has been a catalyst that has led me to want to make a difference in the early childhood profession. It has prompted me to work to support the building of resilience and well-being of leaders and teachers in our profession. 

With all that is going on in our professional and personal lives, resilience (or our ability to cope with change and stress and to recover) is a vital quality that all of us need.

Resilience can be broken down into the following dimensions:

Physical resilience:

Which can be broken down into – Physical flexibility, endurance, strength and vitality.

Emotional resilience:

Which speaks to – Our emotional range and how flexible we are, our self-regulation abilities, the quality of our relationships and how adaptable we are to change.

Mental resilience:

Which can be broken down into – How flexible and adaptive we are to mental challenges, our ability to focus on a problem and to find a solution, how optimistic we are and whether we are able to see things from other’s point of view.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
Dimensions of Resilience

This blog is mainly focused on our emotional and mental resilience and the good news is that most of us already have a natural human survival skill to experience stress and to recover from it.  In some of us, this is stronger than in others, however, resilience is a skill that can be learnt and developed and we are all capable of this.

Life is a mixture of good and not so good moments.  We all have to live with disappointments and sometimes experience loss and devastation in love, life and work.  Resilience does not mean that you won’t feel devastated, hurt or pain or be affected deeply…It is rather your ability to experience the loss or disappointment and then to recover and thrive again.

There are no quick fixes and magic pills, but rather a series of small intentional steps that accumulate over time.  You can’t just want to be more resilient – you have to put in the work.

Helping our children to develop resilience

Building resilience starts right from when we are babies.  Every time that a baby cries, they experience stress and when their need is met in a respectful, responsive way, or they are comforted or cared for by an empathetic caregiver they recover growing their resilience.  Children learn resilience by actively doing – free play and nature-based play is important for supporting children to develop a host of skills including resilience.

It is not our job to shield our children from adversity but to allow them to have opportunities to experience challenge, take safe, age-appropriate risks and make mistakes and then to be there for them and to support them to recover.  They learn this through repeated experience and by our role modelling, our empathy as well as our attitude to mistakes and failures. 

“Remember always that our children are learning how to be human by watching you”

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

As teachers and leaders, this can be challenging than at times – especially during times of stress when our ability to bounce back can be diminished. 

We can all use a little boost from time to time, here are some ways that I have found have helped me to boost my resilience over time.

RECOGNISE  

I get in tune with your internal cues and acknowledge your feelings when they come up.  Studies have shown that people who allow themselves to experience a full range of emotions are more resilient because of it.  

Try keep things in perspective recognise whether the thing that you are worried about is in fact something that is in your influence to change or if it is something that concerns you, but you are unable to change at this point and time.

An example of this might be:  You might be concerned about the prevalence of workplace bullying and the general wellbeing of early childhood teachers in the profession.  However, it is probably not in your power to do anything about this for the whole profession.  What you can directly influence is your thoughts, your mindset, actions and interactions at your place.  You can control how you promote teacher wellbeing in your setting, how you support the teachers in your team or the example that you set as the leader for the other teachers in your setting.  

When we spend time worrying unnecessarily about things out of control, this just causes us unneeded stress and anxiety about things that we can’t change.  This can really deplete our resilience levels. 

When we work within what we can influence we are more likely to experience more success which in turn energises us and empowers us and those around us.  The changes that we make within this space accumulate over time.  This can end up having a positive trickledown effect which influences others and can indirectly influence some of the things that are in our area of concern.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

REFRAME

Learn to change your mindset around mistakes.  Mistakes are not the end they are just part of the learning process.  Try to nurture a positive view of yourself as a curious researcher on a life-long journey of discovery. Many well-known inventors made many mistakes along the way to success.  

Research has shown that truly resilient people don’t take their failures and mistakes personally, because they know that to learn is to fail.  Instead of beating themselves up about their mistake and asking “Why?” they look for the lesson – instead, they ask “What is this here to teach me?”

THE OBSTACLES ARE THE PATH – Remember our children are watching, stay courageous and curious!

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

Albert Einstein

REFOCUS

It is a universal truth that what we focus on grows.  Take stock of your attitude and what you are focussing on.  If we are focussed on the negative aspects of our lives and our jobs, we will experience more negativity.  If we are instead focussed on the positive aspects of our day, our lives and the people around us we will experience more positivity.  I urge you to get into the practice of looking for the GOLD in every situation – there is always something to be grateful for even if it is small.

Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.

Tony Robbins

REINFORCE

Often when we are going through a tough time, our self-esteem can take a bit of a knock.  Spend some time making a list of all the things that you are good the obstacles that you have already overcome and the problems that you have already solved in the past.  Now list all the skills that you already have to solve this problem.  Reinforce this message by feeding yourself positive comments, such as “You can do this”, “I am great at solving problems” or “I am good at my job.”

RELAX, REST, REFUEL, RECHARGE

Give yourself permission to rest when you need to.  As teachers, leaders or parents we often place our happiness and joy way down on the priority list.  As people who are outwardly focussed on caring for others, we can sometimes think that prioritising having fun or focusing on what brings us joy as selfish, frivolous or unimportant.  However, resilient people place a priority on their own happiness and on the things that energise them.

Joanna Barsh, author of “How Remarkable Women Lead” worked women leaders including those from fortune 500 companies. During her research, she discovered that resilient leaders manage their energy by identifying what saps it and what recharges it.  They make strategic adjustments to allow for this in their environment and schedule. 

They also utilise “flow” – a phenomenon that happens when your skills are well matched to an inspiring and challenging task and you or working towards a clear goal.  She discovered that “flow” reinforces resilience. 

We have all experienced this at some point in our life – when we are doing something where we are totally focused and present, busy, effortlessly enjoying and in “the zone” with what we are doing.  Some people experience this during exercise, some during creative pursuits, perhaps you experience this while cleaning, pottering in the garden or walking attuned to nature or your surroundings?

Take some time to think about things that bring you joy and energise YOU. What things that sap your energy?

How are balancing energising activities with ones that sap your energy?  Are you doing things that bring “flow” into your life?

Perhaps it is time to rediscover some of these things and make more place for them in your life?

It is okay to take some time to reflect, re-evaluateand regroup.

RECONNECT

What is your purpose, do you know what motivates you and what your values are?

Resilient people have a strong sense of purpose and meaning.  They know “why” as well as “what” the end goal is.  This sense of purpose gives their life, their work and their struggles meaning. A sense of purpose helps them to keep going and push themselves towards their goal when things get tough.

In his book “A Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl survived and remained resilient as a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.  In his book he describes his experiences, and how he survived his ordeal by identifying a purpose in life, creating a positive feeling about this purpose and immersively imagining that outcome. 

Viktor connected with his purpose and his end goal.  He focused on the fact that the war wouldn’t last forever, that he had the power to choose his attitude and on his end goal which was seeing his wife again and delivering an academic lecture on the horrors of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.

“Pain is only bearable if we know it will end, not if we deny it exists.”

Viktor Frankl

RELATIONSHIPS

When problems arise, we can often not want to bother other people with our problems or appear weak or vulnerable by asking for help or leaning on someone else.

Studies have shown that resilient people have good support systems.  They recognise the importance of strong relationships with family, friends, colleagues and within their communities.  Good relationships are critical for physical and mental health – they draw strength from these connections. 

To be vulnerable, it means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you are feeling. To have the hard conversation.

Brene Brown

When times are tough it can be part of our cultural programming to push people away.  However, fight against this and reach out, vulnerability strengthens connection – don’t isolate yourself.

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.  Remember to have self-compassion – building your resilience is a skill that you will continue to grow and develop over time. 

For more great information about building your resilience visit  The American Psychological Association for lots of great tools that might be able to help you build your resilience.

I would love to hear your resilience story why not email me at tanya@tanyavalentin.com?

Until next time…

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I Wanted To Speak Up But I Couldn’t…

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Have you ever had the situation happen to you when you witnessed another teacher yell at child or treat them roughly? You knew that it was wrong. It really didn’t feel right, and you wanted to say something…. However, when you wanted to challenge the behaviour you just couldn’t do it. Something stopped you.

Or perhaps you are a student or in a team meeting and you have brilliant idea that you would like to share or a question that you would like to ask… You know that you should speak up and ask the question or share your idea, but something stopped you.

Have any of these situations happened to you? Has this lack of courage made you reflect inwards and caused you to criticise yourself for not speaking up when it counted?

I know that in the past when this has happened to me, I would get very upset and angry with myself. I would use this as a way to berate myself and tell myself what a useless person/teacher/leader/mother I was. I would use this as evidence to prove that I couldn’t do anything right and how powerless I was as a person.

Later in my teaching journey and my life apprenticeship I became really curious as to “why?”

I wanted to know why myself and countless other good people out there are afraid to speak up. Is this something that you have been curious about too?

What is Stopping us?

There are a number of things at play here, that really run a lot deeper than you would initially think.

Firstly, there is our innate desire to belong and to be part something much larger than ourselves. Our biological make-up, our urges, our hormones are all programmed for survival. In order for us to survive as a human being we need to connect with other human beings – we depend on each other for survival. Relationships and connectedness are vital to our well-being and physiologically we will do anything to belong. This drive is so strong that we see this in our young children, our teens and ourselves and we are often misguided in our thinking that in order to belong we must to “fit-in”.

Ironically this fear of not “fitting in” and rejection stops us from stepping up to challenge behaviours that we know aren’t right and is a barrier to vulnerability which is the prerequisite for courage and meaningful connection with other human beings.

Secondly, we are a product of our experiences and cultural programming. This starts from when we are infants and continues through our experiences and our relationships with our parents, extended family, our teachers at school, our peers and significant relationships with others. Even if the messages were subtle or implied, they can become our inner voice and our core beliefs from which we operate.

Our natural propensity for to think disobediently is constrained by something silent and controlling. It grew up with you and stands attentively just behind your shoulder. It is your social editor. It got into bed with you last night and accompanied you on your way to work this morning. It is the cautioning voice that says “no” to your ideas because they might sound silly, or they might not work or they might be unstable, or they might make you look like a fool. Your social editor has phenomenal power and causes you to function at levels far below your potential. It trains you to approach problems complicitly. In the pursuit of social integration, it teaches you not to stand out and shuts down initiatives that potentially might lead to disruption. It also suggests that you are not empowered to change things.

Welby Ings – Disobedient Teaching (2017)
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Vestiges of Childhood

I was really inspired by a video I watched on Linkin by communications consultant, Jessica Chen. In her video she speaks about how the Asian culture of being an obedient child can unknowingly disadvantage people from being successful in the workplace as adults. Her reasoning is that as children they are programmed to obey and not to speak up.

This really made me think about my upbringing, and although I am not Asian, how this “programming” has helped or hindered me in my career. I am sure that is true in many cultures and over many generations. This is even more challenging for many women, because as girls many of us were discouraged from taking risks and instead we were tacitly encouraged towards perfection.

Perhaps like me you were part of the “seen and not heard” generation of children – when it was frowned upon to be part of “adult conversation” or to have any opinion other than that of your parents and your teachers?

Perhaps you were ‘disciplined’ for challenging the status quo or for being disobedient?

Perhaps you had a dis-empowering experience with a teacher or with the education system when you were a child, and this is being triggered when you have a confrontation with a colleague in your setting?

When I reflected on this I realised that this, is something to think about when I am responding as a parent, a teacher, a leader and as a friend.

I have reflected deeply about what the implications are for us as teachers and parents of future generations of adults?

Do we spend our time (knowingly or unknowingly) telling children to “grow up” or to “shut up”?

Do we brush aside feelings with, “you’re okay” when children clearly aren’t?

Do we demand absolute obedience without considering the child’s mana in our request?

Are we holding up a mirror to our own behaviour and walking the talk?

Are we unwittingly perpetuating this cycle of teaching children that their thoughts, ideas and opinions don’t matter?

Are we sending mixed messages to our children about obeying and not challenging, but then expecting them to go against this programming and challenge bullying and other discriminatory behaviour that they may encounter?

“Grow up, ” we say. “Stop crying,” we plead. “Be quiet,” we scream. “Do as you’re told,” we demand. And then we wonder why there are so many adults that can’t find the courage to speak, or feel, or create. Maybe there are so many wild souls in cages because we put them there.

Brooke Hampton
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Let me share my own experiences as a child and how this has affected me in my adult and professional life:

I grew up in a strict religious household with my father as the pastor of our local church. There was a distinct message growing up that we needed to be an example of our faith to others. Now I am not wanting to throw my parents under the bus here – as an adult looking back I can see that my parents’ intentions where not to harm me and they were just living from what they were taught from their parents. However, what they didn’t mean to happen and what did happen, was that I took this as a message that I had to be perfect. That I couldn’t make mistakes and that just being myself was not good enough. I grew up with the perception that someone was always watching, and I lived in fear of disappointing others especially my parents.

My “have to be perfect” persona and my “need to please” has proved very difficult to shake and I am still challenged by this from time to time. It is only in the past few years since I started this blogging journey, that I have been able to examine the vestiges of my childhood for what they are. I have been able to challenge my need to “fit in” and to be liked and have started inquiring into who I authentically am under all the cultural programming and childhood experiences. This has been an inquiry into how to authentically and truly belong to me.

True Belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, to get uncomfortable, and to learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.

Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness (2017)
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

The Healing Power of Self-Awareness

The great news is that if this is something that you want to change about yourself you can. The first step starts with self-awareness.

  • Dig deep – Be curious and courageous and ask yourself why. “Why do I find it hard to speak up and share my ideas?” “Why do I find it difficult to admit that I don’t understand and ask a question?” “Why do I find it painful to challenge behaviour that I find unacceptable?” “Why do I find challenging to speak about what I believe in?” “Why can’t I back myself?” What cultural programming are you fighting against?
  • Get real about the payoffs vs the costs – You might be looking at this point and think “There isn’t a payoff”, but there always is. The possible payoffs could be: Keeping yourself safe, controlling the situation, not having to be responsible, and being a victim (powerless to change). In this situation you might need to ask yourself what your payoffs are costing you. Are they costing you your joy, passion and love for teaching or life in general? Perhaps your inability to speak up is causing you to wage an internal war in yourself and you are feeling angry, frustrated, lonely or a little sad. Perhaps this internal struggle is all you speak about with your family and friends and this is impacting the quality of your relationships with others. Perhaps it is costing you, your integrity. It is up to you to decide whether the payoffs outweigh the costs and which you would rather live with.
  • Let go of the past – Once you have figured out “why?” and analysed he payoffs vs costs don’t dwell there. You have been living from that “why” for most of your life and it has been holding you back. Acknowledge its presence in your life as part of your life apprenticeship, but don’t use it as a crutch to keep you in victim mode. It will only keep you stuck, and you can’t change what is in the past. Instead forgive and move on. Concentrate on what you have influence over, the present – the here and now.
  • Courage vs Comfort – You can’t be courageous and comfortable at the same time. Being courageous requires us to be vulnerable and I don’t know anyone who would consider vulnerability as comfortable. It is up to us as individuals to choose which of these is more important to us. Comfort or Courage, Empathy or Apathy, Authenticity or Fitting In, Compliance or Disruption, Innovation or Stagnation?
  • Be aware – Notice how this comes up for you in interactions with others. The key here is not to spiral into harmful, self-deprecating self-talk. Instead focus on strategies that you can use to change your behaviour.
  • Take baby steps – Just because you want to start speaking up, it doesn’t mean that you will. Plan to take small steps each day to speak up. Perhaps you might challenge yourself to just be courageous and share your thoughts and ideas just once through-out the day? Or that you will be brave and challenge the bad practice of another teacher when you feel that it is causing harm to a child? Perhaps you will stand up to gossip in the break room? It might seem a bit strange at first – it is not something that has been a reality for you, so it is going to take some getting used to.
  • Back yourself and be brave – Part of the reason we don’t speak up is that we are not confident in ourselves and what we have to share. Or we are not clear about what we believe or why we believe this is important. Ask yourself what you believe and why you believe this? Role-play situations where you might need to back yourself and what you would say. If this is embarrassing for you practice in the shower or when you are alone in the car. A common misconception is that we have to be confident before we act – without realising that it is action that makes us confident. Quite often when we are prepared, appear confident and can back up what we are saying, people will respect us for our perspective even if they don’t agree. On occasions when I have had to have a challenging conversation it hasn’t been half as daunting in real-life as it has been in my head leading up to the conversation. The other person might even surprise you and share your opinion.
  • Be flexible and stay open to being a learner – Even though you believe in your perspective stay open to other people – they may have valid perspectives that they believe in too. Stay flexible to learning from others. Some people might never agree with you and you might not be able to change that. That is okay, it is not your job to make everyone agree with you. Respect others rights to their thoughts, experiences and opinions – you can’t change others, you can only change yourself. Learn from your interactions with others and let go of things that don’t serve you.
  • Be compassionate – This applies to yourself and to others. As with acquiring any new skill, you will make mistakes and that is part of any learning process. But also, be compassionate to others – just as you have your life apprenticeship that has shaped you, so do the other people who you encounter in your life.

So over to you…

What were your childhood experiences and how has your cultural programming shaped who you are and how you are with yourself and other people?

What steps can you take to speak up for what you believe in or to share some of your amazing ideas?

I would love to hear your stories, thoughts and experiences.

Until next time….

References:

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness – The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Thorndike Press.

Ings, W. (2017). Disobedient Teaching. Otago University Press.

Chen, J. http://soulcastmedia.com/

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Why Learning Dispositions Matter

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

In my experience as a SELO provider and a facilitator for teacher professional development I work closely with centres on their assessment, documentation and planning. More often than not I have noticed that teachers seem to focus exclusively on the interests of the child when identifying the learning that has been happening in the learning story.

I have often asked why? Knowing the interests of the child is an important aspect of curriculum design. Could this be because interests are easy to see and easy to plan for?

However, when we focus all our attention on interests this is only half the picture and we only scrape on the surface of what is really happening and it can be misguiding.

Let me give you an example: Tui is a teacher in the toddler’s room. She has noticed Aria at the puzzle table diligently trying to place the puzzle pieces into the frame. Aria spends most of the morning doing this and finally after lots of concentration and effort she manages to place all the pieces of the puzzle into their correct place. She looks up at Tui and gives her a big grin – proud that all her hard work has paid off.

Now Tui could look at this situation and think Aria is interested in puzzles and she would probably be right, Aria is probably interested in puzzles. However, if Tui just documents the interest she might only end up with a singular learning story about Aria’s interest in puzzles.

If Tui chose to dig a bit deeper into the learning that is happening for Aria. If she chose to consider Aria’s dispositions for learning, she would notice that there something more complex afoot. If Tui noticed Aria’s persistence and determination while at the puzzle table, she might be aware of her inclination to this learning disposition in other interest areas.

Suddenly a singular story about and interest in puzzles becomes the starting point for a learning journey about Aria’s persistence, resilience, determination and perseverance. Very soon a learning thread emerges about who Aria is as a learner.

What are learning dispositions?

The object of assessment and documentation is to inform planning and curriculum design.

Assessment are the foundation for planning the curriculum. Documentation and assessment have little value unless they directly inform the curriculum.

Anne Stonehouse


Another function of assessment and documentation is help children to understand who they are as a learner and a thinker. Interests alone don’t really do this accurately. If we are wanting positively influence children’s identity as capable and competent lifelong learners, then we need to take a closer look at their learning dispositions.

By the time this [early childhood] period is over, children will have formed conceptions of themselves as social beings, as thinkers, and as language learners, and they will have reached certain important decisions about their own abilities and their own worth.

Kei Tua ote Pae Booklet 10

Te Whāriki talks about dispositions as “habits of the mind”. We can think of them as our inclination to think, act and to behave in a certain way and this shapes who we are as a person and a learner.

Some dispositions you might have come across are: Courage, Kindness, Playfulness, Creativity, Curiosity, Perseverance, Shyness, Collaboration, Adventurous, Resilience, Flexible, Assertive, Brave, Optimistic, Methodical.

How are dispositions formed?

We are born with some of these dispositions. You might have inherited the shy gene from one of your parents or you might be naturally curious or adventurous, or perhaps you might be more cautious and observant.

Other dispositions we learn through experiences with the environment and people around us.  Children especially in the first three years of life are programmed to be data gatherers. They gather evidence through their interactions with the environment and the significant people in their lives as to what dispositions are valued and those that we don’t value. 

Think about yourselves for a moment:  What are some of your dispositions? How has your experiences and environment shaped you as a person, as a teacher, as a learner as a thinker?

What dispositions where valued by your parents, your teachers, your peers, your culture or perhaps the media?

Dispositions are environmentally sensitive and can be weakened or strengthened by the interactive experiences of educators and teachers. It is critical in the early years to support children’s positive learning dispositions to enhance their overall motivation and engagement as capable learners with unique strengths

Dispositions are not fixed traits, rather responsive to and developed by the experiences and the people around us. They are lifelong learning capabilities that require nurturing.

Kelly Goodsir

How can we spot dispositions and how can we plan for them?

You can spot dispositions by how children approach learning and through their interactions with others around them.  Dispositions can’t be taught through a structured learning experience or at specific places or time. 

Reflect here about your own learning. Under which circumstances did you do the most learning about who you were as a person and what you are capable of?

For young children, play is the best way to foster and nurture dispositional learning.  Play is interactive and complex learning and allows children to integrate and to test out their dispositions across all learning contexts. Another way is when we allow children to be part of authentic real life experiences – when they are part of a culture or a community.

When we are communicating with parents about their children’s learning it is important that we highlight how and why dispositions are important for their children’s learning and how critical this is to their success as a human being.

When planning for dispositions, I believe the best way to foster this is through complex experiences. Think about the dispositions listed below; what experiences could you plan in order to nurture a child’s inclination towards:

Responsibility

Collaboration

Leadership

Persistence

Enrich the experience by using empowering language when talking to children or about your children’s learning.

Guiding questions

When we plan we should be guided by:

Is the child ready? Is it developmentally appropriate?

Are they willing? Do they want to do it? Is this demonstrated by the sensitivity to the occasion ?

Are they able? Do they have the knowledge and skills?

Remember we can encourage and make the experience available, but this type of learning can’t be a forced. If we force our intentions on children this just causes stress and stress hampers learning.

Perhaps after reading this you might feel inspired to take a closer look at some of the dispositions for learning that you might notice in your setting.

I have included a free resource to get you started.

Click here inorder to download a free dispositions resource.

TIP: print this off and keep it next to your computer for a quick reference when writing your learning stories.

I would love to here how this went for you.

Until next time…

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Deciding What Matters

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

What matters in your setting?

Do you know why you do what you do?

Do you have a shared set of core beliefs and values that helps you to steer the ship?  Or are you a motley crew of people with their own agendas or are you rowing together with the same destination in mind? 

More importantly do you share the same vibe, is your “what matters, a meeting of the heart and minds of the whole team?

Let me share an example with you:

Sally is inspired by the work of Emmi Pikler, she believes in a peaceful, respectful curriculum for infants.  She allows the infants in her space lots of time for uninterrupted play while she says present as the observer allowing the child to lead their own learning through play.  Sally believes in following the infant’s cues for mealtimes and sleep and being flexible in her approach.

Maria believes in teacher-led learning for infants. She believes in strict routines for meals and sleep times.  Maria prefers mat-times and structured table-top activities. 

These two teachers work in the infant’s room together and both believe passionately in their way of doing things.  However, every time Sally allows an infant to play independently on the floor while she quietly observes this really grinds at Maria – she sees Sally as lazy and neglectful. Maria thinks that Sally should use her time more wisely.  Similarly, Maria’s practice really upsets Sally.  Every time Maria summons the babies to mat-time or insists that all the babies need to sit at the table and eat together this results in Sally rolling her eyes saying uncomplimentary things about Maria under her breath. 

The two teachers have started complaining to other teachers in the centre and are at an odds with each other.  This is causing friction in the centre and creating an extremely unpleasant environment in the infant’s room. You can feel “the vibe” the minute you walk through the doors.  This is having a profound effect on the children who are unsettled as a result.

Until Sally and Maria sit down together and talk through their issues and create a common vision and philosophy for the infant’s room there is always going to be discord and issues with camaraderie within this team.

It is likely that Sally and Maria if they are to work together they will need some support and professional develop to reach a place of empathy and mutual respect grounded in what is best for the children in their place.  There is likely to be some conversation, unpacking of beliefs and values and some compromise from both parties in order to work together as a team.  The two teachers might need to unearth the values that they have in common – and focus on the things that bind them together instead of focusing on the things that will tear them apart. 

Having this courageous conversation might seem daunting to both parties. However, the consequence of not having a shared understanding of “what matters”, is that each teacher will wage a war with-in herself and that the team, the emotional hygiene of the centre and the children will suffer because of it.  This is also not great for the teachers themselves because this is causing upset, anger and stress which robs them of their peace, passion and joy.

Why we should decide what matters?

This concept of “what matters” although it has it’s roots in the philosophy, spans much wider and deeper than just philosophy.  “What matters” is not just merely a statement of what we value but speaks to the core of who we are as a service, as a team and as a community.

We are now two years on from the publishing of the latest iteration of our Early Childhood Curriculum – Te Whāriki.  This is an incredibly deep document and as a profession we are still unpacking it fully.

One of the differences in the new document is the importance that it places on each service using the curriculum framework to weave a localised curriculum of “what matters”.

“Te Whāriki interprets the notion of curriculum broadly, taking it to include all the experiences, activities and events, both direct and indirect, that occur within the ECE setting. It provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes that foregrounds the mana of the child and the importance of respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships.  This framework provides a basis for each setting to weave a local curriculum that reflects its own distinctive character and values.”


Te Whariki, Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 7
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

The localised curriculum is informed by the priorities of learning within the setting and can and does differ greatly dependent on the values, beliefs and philosophy of the people in a setting.  This should take into account “what matters” not only for teachers but also for children, whanau, hapu, iwi and the community.  When considering the holistic development of the child we need to consider the child within the context of the whanau and through the lens of their culture. 

“Curriculum and pedagogy recognise that family and community are integral to learning and development, with every child situated within a set of nestled contexts that includes not only the ECE setting but also the home, the whanau, community and beyond”


Te Whāriki, Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 60

Many services have an informal “what matters” that is assumed. However, I would like to challenge you in that until you have unpacked this fully as a learning community and have developed a shared understanding of what this means for everyone invested, you will never achieve synergy within your team.

Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – Let us keep close together not far apart.

Having a shared understanding of “what matters” is at the foundation of all assessment, planning, documentation, professional discussions as well as our intentions a teachers.  Your shared understanding of “what matters” acts as a foundation from which all meaningful learning can unfold.

How do you decide what matters?

When you think about your place, what would you consider to be the what defines your setting, the people there and the learning for the children? 

What makes you special?

Does everyone in your setting have the same view?

I would like you to think about the following questions when I unpacking this for yourself:

  • How are you deciding what matters? (Who do you involve – whose voices are we including?)

Here you might like to think your philosophy as well as how you are including the children, their whanau aspirations and the community? You might consider the theories that underpin your practice as well as the cultures of the children in your place and how this might influence your curriculum design. 

This might entail asking yourselves and the other members of the learning community :

How do we view children as learners and leaders in their own learning? 

What world do they live in and will be inheriting?

What do we think is important for them to learn?

How do we think that they should learn this?

  • How do you ensure a shared understanding of what matters?

When we are considering this question is important that we are not just considering teachers.  We should consider children’s voice, as well as the views and aspirations of whanau, hapu, iwi and the local community.

We need to decide:

How are we leading this?

What is the intentions of those leading this and how are we collating everyone’s understanding and making sense of this? 

Is the lens that we are using to create a shared understanding inclusive and equitable for everyone? 

How are we communicating about this within the setting?

It is important to consider that just as our children are all different and learn in different ways, so do our parents. You might need to consider the dispositions and communication style of the families in your setting and to be flexible and adapt your approach in order to connect with them. 

You might gain a better understanding of what this means for whanau through informal conversations where you share ideas.  Or you might use more formal channels such as parent evenings, emails, surveys or assessment documentation.

You might want to prompt your parents and whanau with a few questions such as:

In our family we value…

The qualities that I would like my child to possess are…

When my child finishes at (service name), I would like them to….

When think about my child being a successful adult, I would like them to be….

As a team you would discuss this when reviewing your philosophy, completing The Quality Practice Template, engaging in professional development or through unpacking the principles and strands of Te Whāriki together. 

Being grounded in your educational aspirations and intentions will determine the types of experiences children and their families will have in your service.  Whether you are a home-based service, playcentre, kindergarten, kohanga reo, or early childhood centre, having a clear philosophy is a way of guiding thoughtful practice and preserving the ethos of your setting.”


Christie,T. Loader, M. Childspace, 2017.
  • How is this reflected in your practice and documentation?

Here I would like you to consider how do put this shared understanding into practice?

You might like to think about how this shared understanding is interwoven into the fabric of who you are and how you communicate within your setting.

How does this influence what you bring, what you do and the outcomes for children?


What matters should be interwoven into core documents for your setting such as your philosophy, strategic plan, internal evaluation, position descriptions, appraisal, policies, assessment, planning, documentation and curriculum design.  How has this influenced your leading documents how is this being put into practice in your setting? 

How are we using Te Whāriki?

Are these just documents that we aspire to in theory or are they living breathing documents? 

Are we aware of how we are enacting our shared understanding within our practice and how this is been evidenced?

Differences in how we interpret “what matters” as well as how this looks for everyone involved can vary from person to person depending on personal experiences and life context and this can be confusing.  It is important for us to regularly revisit “what matters”, using this as a reflection tool and to talk to each other about it.

One way that you might do this is to create indicators of practice for what it will look like if you are in fact living your philosophy. This would serve to create an awareness of who you are and what you value as a community and how this is being enacted in everyday practice. You could use this as a base-line in your conversations with each other and parents.  You might create a photograph display with examples of your philosophy “in action” which would make these indicators visible and could help you to communicate these concepts to children and their whanau. 

Where to from here?

Having a shared understanding or who we are – our philosophy and our vision, provides the purpose from which teachers and whanau can work together in order to allow all learning to unfold.  This gives our children a solid foundation on which to stand as they navigate their learning pathways into the future and beyond.

You might want to reflect on some of this within the context of your own setting and unpack some of these questions with the members of your learning community.

Where are you on your making sense journey of “what matters” to you? I would love to hear from you. If you need some support along any stage for you and your team contact me for some tailor made professional development.

Until next time.

References:

Ministry of Education, (2017), Te Whariki – Early Childhood Curriculum.

Loader, M., Christie, T. (2017), Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood.

Te Whariki Online,
https://tewhariki.tki.org.nz/en/professional-learning-and-development/te-whariki-webinars-nga-kauhaurangi/

Teaching Council,
https://teachingcouncil.nz/content/our-code-our-standards

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How To Raise Emotionally Literate Children?

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

Yesterday was Gumboot Friday, a day where we are all encouraged to “Gumboot Up” and walk through mud to support people with depression and mental illness. The particular emphasis of this awareness was to raise money for children’s counselling.

It shocked me when I was doing the research for this blog, to find that New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and that it can take up to six months for kids to get help from a counsellor.

What can we do?

This really made me think…. Although I think that children having access to counselling services is important and essential, this is only one part of the picture. I think that it equally important for us to look at how we are supporting children to develop the tools that they need to develop emotional literacy and resilience.

This is not a new bit of thinking and there are many studies that prove that when you build your resilience you have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety and PSD. You will also improve your longevity, happiness and satisfaction in life. So, if we know this, then why do we not place a greater emphasis on teaching children emotional self-help skills?

How do we empower our children to prioritise their own emotional hygiene and teach them that it is okay to ask for help when they need it?

I think here of a TED talk that I watched recently where Guy Winch speaks about the disparity between the priority that we place on caring for ourselves physically vs how we care for ourselves emotionally. He relates a story of how he observed a five-year-old brushing his teeth and slipping and scraping his leg. The boy then without asking for assistance reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a plaster and covered the wound. We teach children self-help skills all the time on how to take care of themselves physically, yet do we place the same emphasis on teaching them self-help skills to care for themselves physiologically?

I believe that we need to start teaching our children emotional literacy from a very young age and that this starts right from when they are infants.

The Dyad

In his video on the importance of relationships in children’s brain development Nathan Wallis speaks about the significance of the dyad relationship (this simply means “two”) between the infant and the most significant adult in their lives.

The first relationship that children have with their primary carer – whether it is Mum, Dad, Grandma, Aunty is crucially important to helping a baby to develop a healthy, complex brain. This first relationship is where the infant learns about self-regulation, trust and the world around him or her. The quality of the learning and the brain connections the infant forms is dependant on how en tuned the adult is to the infant.

Our children are constantly downloading from us. They are taking in our words, our actions and our energy. We are the windows from which our children view the world and therefore the quality of role-modelling is extremely powerful.

Our children are learning from us through our every word and action, about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly they’re learning about themselves, their abilities, their worth and their place in our hearts and in the world.

Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care

How do we teach this?

  • Empathy and Respect – This starts with even the youngest infant and our perspective of them. Do we view them as a whole, complete, holistic human being worthy of our respect? When we look at infants, do we view them as “helpless” or do we view them as dependant, but already capable? This is important, as it sets the tone for our relationship with our children and supports them to develop their identity of who they are. If we respect someone, then we put ourselves in their shoes and ask – “How is this experience for them?” or “how would I feel if I was being treated like this, or in this situation?” This is one of the first ways that we communicate to our infants that what they feel matters, that we trust them and that we value what they are communicating to us. Remember we learn empathy by experiencing empathy.
  • Self-Awareness – One thing that I am really grateful to my training as an early childhood teacher for, is that it caused me to reflect on my upbringing. This caused me to challenge my “operating system” of how I was parented, in my interactions with children. Just as we are powerful role-models in the lives of children, we once upon a time had powerful role-models in our lives too. Some of how we were parented was great and some of it was not so great. Until we become self-aware to this, we just repeat what we know.

Do the best with what you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou
  • Pay Attention to Your Attitude to Mistakes and Failure – How do you respond to children making mistakes and their failures? Are these treated as learning opportunities or do we respond with anger and disappointment? Our children learn how to deal with disappointments and obstacles in life through our example. There is a correlation between how children view mistakes and failures to how resilient they are, as well how likely they are to take risks. Your attitude to mistakes and failure are also really important if you want your children to come to you for help when they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation and can’t cope on their own. What is equally important to note in this instance is that it is not just how we deal with our children’s mistakes and failures that are important, but also how we deal with our own mistakes and failure. Remember our children are always watching and downloading from us.
  • Give Full Attention and Communicate About the Small Things – Often our children will tell us things that seem insignificant and unimportant to us. These things might be small to us; however it means the world to them. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns or fears because they seem silly to you. Instead acknowledge how they are feeling in this moment and time. Try responding with, ” That must be really scary for you.” Our children need small moments of our full attention, these are important times to top-up their emotional tanks. If we invest in our children in this way, we communicate to them that what they say is important to us, that they are important. In doing this our children will be less likely to try to get our attention through negative ways such as bad behaviour. If we make time to listen to the little things, they are more likely to share the big stuff with us when the time comes.

Telling a child that something that matters to them isn’t important doesn’t convince them that it doesn’t matter. It just convinces them that it doesn’t matter to you, it often makes them feel that they don’t matter, either. Remember, caring about the little things that matters to little people creates big connections.

L.R. Knost
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services
  • Accept and Encourage Children’s Emotions – One thing that I notice with a lot of adults (myself included) is that we are often frightened by our children’s emotions. One of the reasons that we are so confronted by our children’s big emotions is because triggers something within us. We might feel anxiety, unease, fear, guilt, shame, anger or fear in response to our child’s big emotions and we try to look for the quickest way to solve the problem. We want to help our children, but we also want to stop feeling the emotion that has been triggered in us. Some of the things that we might do, would to be to try to stop our children from experiencing the emotion by saying things like “Stop it”, “Don’t cry” or “Turn that frown upside down”. Or we might try to deflect or detract children from their feelings, by saying things like “let’s go play with the blocks” or “let’s find all the pink things in the room.” If we practice empathy and put ourselves in our children’s shoes in this situation, then we probably wouldn’t feel too great if our friends or partners spoke to us in this way if we were feeling sad or angry. If we relate this to a physical reaction like limping because we broke our leg, we wouldn’t find it helpful if someone gave us advice to “walk it off” or for someone to to try to distract us from the pain. When we are responding to children in these ways about their feelings, what are we communicating to them about the value of their emotions, their perspectives and how we value them?
  • Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge – Another learning for me, has been that I don’t have to be the “fixer” of my children’s feelings. A powerful example in my life has been helping one of my children through a tough time in her life. In the past when she expressed her sadness, anxiety or fears to me this set off the “fixer” in me. I wanted to stop her pain (and my own) and I reacted with “helpful” suggestions and strategies that she could use to “fix” the situation. I was being a “Mum” and what she wanted was a friend. She just needed someone to cuddle her, comfort her, listen to her, to acknowledge her feelings and to tell that it was okay to feel this way. She wanted someone to tell her that it would be okay. It is the same with young children – we don’t need to “fix” them out of their problems. For example, if a toddler is upset because their mother just left for work, it is okay to say, “I can see that this is really upsetting for you. I know that you wanted mum to stay. I will sit with you until you feel that you are able to go and play.” Acknowledging children’s feelings, especially for our very young children, might feel a little bit strange to us at first. However, once again when we practice empathy we realise that this is how we all like to be treated. We like to feel that someone values our feelings, understands us and what we are going through and will be there to support us if we need them.
  • Mirror, mirror – Young children cannot differentiate between their feelings and themselves. It is our job to teach our children about emotions and that a full range of emotions are part of the human experience. When we are teaching our youngest children about their emotions one of the ways that we can do this is by mirroring their emotion back to them via our facial expression. For example, if they are feeling sad, we mirror a sad expression back to them when we are talking to them. Or we might add words to our mirroring – sad expression + “I can see that you are feeling sad”. This way the child learns that this feeling that I am experiencing is called “Sad” and it looks and feels like this.
  • Books – We can talk to children about emotions while reading books to them or looking at pictures and discussing how the characters in the books are feeling. We could support children to think about a time when they might have felt like the character in the book.
  • Help Children to Develop Problem-Solving Skills – Generally once children feel that they have been understood and that we have accepted their emotions they are more likely to be open to problem-solve and think in a reflective way. It is important for us to accept all emotions and to not label some as “bad” and some as “good”. However, it is up to us to teach children how to regulate their emotions so that can manage the behaviour that may be a consequence of their emotions. As the adult in the situation it is up to us to set the boundaries. We might say something like this, “I know that Sam made you feel really angry when he took your toy, but it is not okay to hit. Let’s think of what we might do next time.”

These are just some ways that we can help to teach children emotional literacy and support them to build resilience. Have you used any of these strategies with the children who you teach or perhaps your own children?

Let us never loose sight of the amazing human beings that our children are and view our children through the eyes of gratitude and love. Let us feel privileged that out of all the other billions of people in the world, we have been chosen to play this important role in the life of a child.

Until next time….

References:

Elevating Child Care – Janet Lansbury, 2014

How to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch ( TED 2015)

The Crucial Dyad Relationship for Infants – Nathan Wallis (Storypark 2017)

5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child – Dr Laura Markam (2019)

Teaching Young Children About Their Emotions – Dr Kaylene Henderson (Storypark 2017)

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Be Careful What You Teach…

Power and Influence in the Early Years
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about an incident that she had witnessed where a teacher had withheld food from a toddler because they were banging their plate on the table. She was horrified with what she had witnessed, but also equally horrified by that the teacher, when called on her practice didn’t see anything wrong with it. The teacher didn’t recognise the power and control that she had in that moment over the child to shape how they see themselves for the rest of their lives – their identity, their inner dialogue and their future relationship with food.

First Do No Harm

As adults and teachers, we often don’t realise the tremendous influence we have in the young lives of the children in our settings. When reflecting on this subject this brings to mind the oath that doctors make to “First do no harm.” I reckon that this is something that teachers who hold tremendous power, but also tremendous responsibility, should aspire to as well.

In order for us to recognise this power and influence we need to put on our glasses of empathy.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

If we say that we respect children, then this requires empathy. In my opinion respect and empathy go hand in hand.

When you respect another person “accept each person as an individual with rights and freedoms … you are prepared to receive each person without them being who you might want them to be.

Toni Christie

If we show respect for someone it requires us to put ourselves in their shoes and to ask ourselves, “How would I feel if I were that person in this situation?” Empathy requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of the children in our care and ask – How would I feel if….

I was picked up physically without any warning?

I was passed around to people I didn’t know?

Someone made me say I was sorry, when I was not sorry?

I was forced to share a beloved personal item with someone who I didn’t want to share it with?

If I were hungry and I wasn’t allowed to eat, or if I weren’t hungry and I had to eat? How would I like to be made to eat everything on my plate?

I was talked about, in front of me, as if I didn’t exist, or spoken to in a way that was disrespectful, belittled me or made me feel bad about myself?

“Being respectful to children, empathising with them. Listening when they speak and showing kindness is not “coddling,” “spoiling,” or treating them like “special snowflakes.” It is just treating children like human beings.”

Rebecca Eanes

Power and Influence

Children are extremely vulnerable; their brains are still developing. They are at the stage where they are developing their identities and figuring out what it means to be human. Young children are way more susceptible to believing anything we tell them, even if this is untrue. Because they are ‘egocentric” they can only see things from their own point of view and internalise words from others and events to make it mean something about themselves.

Young children have very little control in their lives. In most cases they don’t get to decide where they go, what they will do or when they will do it, what they will eat, when they will eat, when they sleep or where they will sleep. These decisions are primarily made by the adults in their lives.

Our influence over them is so powerful that we even control what is programmed into their internal dialogue.

We all have experiences from our childhood positive or negative that we remember. Those pivotal moments when something was said by a significant person in our lives which caused us to think or believe something about ourselves. These beliefs (true or untrue) can becomes “truths” that we hold onto, to define us as a person. When these beliefs are negative, they can rob us of our self-worth and self-confidence. We have this same power and influence in the lives of children.

“Children have this amazing way of becoming exactly who we tell them they are.

If we tell them they are strong, they become strong. If we tell them that they are kind, they become kind. If we tell them that they are capable, they become capable.

Speak life into your kids, so that they will have what takes to tackle their own life one day.”

Amy Wentherly

“With” and not “To”

I think it is important to remember what Dr Emmi Pikler said about doing things with children and not to them. When we truly respect children, we see them as unique human beings with rights and choices. We view them as capable and competent partners in their own care and learning and trust them and their right to choose.

We prepare children in advance for what is coming next and when change does happen we go slowly at their pace and allow them to be an active partner in the care ritual.

Madgda Gerber, who worked with Emmi Pikler and then later founded Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), based off of Emmi Pikler’s teachings said:

When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know that you intend to give him a chance to respond. You assume that he is competent and you involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems.

The same goes for discipline, it is important to know the distinction between discipline and punishment. Discipline is something we do with the child to support them to manage their behaviour whereas punishment is something we do to the inflict suffering for the past behaviour. To be effective, true discipline should be from a place of love, respect and empathy.

Keeping Everybody Safe

As you can see from the discussion above, as the adults we need to be mindful of our actions, our words the tremendous power that weld. To reflect on our actions and words using the filter of empathy and to be intentional with our thoughts, words and actions.

We need to remember that we are the “adults” and to have control over ourselves especially when we are feeling emotional or triggered.

It is worth mentioning that how we react to behaviours of children or those around us has less to with the behaviour of others and more about how we are feeling in the moment. This requires us to be courageous about figuring out what is triggering us and to beware of how these triggers make us react so that we can self-regulate our emotions.

This might require us to be the courageous advocate of others if we witness undue influence and power-struggle types of behaviour in our settings.

We might need to intervene when we feel that the rights of others are being infringed on.

This could take the form of stepping in and offering to take over when we feel the stress of a team mate and we recognise that in this moment they are triggered and about to lose control in a situation. This should be followed up with a conversation (coming from love for the child, but also from the place of respect and empathy for the teacher) where we address the situation and what could be done in future to avoid similar situations from happening.

This could mean reporting a teacher if the behaviour was abusive. This is never an easy or pleasant thing to do. However, as teachers if we are to “first do no harm” then that applies to us not sitting idly back and by our inactivity allowing the behaviour to occur. Our first responsibility is with the children and their parents who placed their precious children in our care. They trust that we will promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of their child. We should always ask ourselves, “Would that behaviour be okay if the parent was in the room?”

I leave you with the thoughts of Dr Stuart Shanker, a prominent neuroscientist in the field of self-regulation.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary understanding of the importance of a teacher in the early years of a child’s life.  Whereas early years educators were once seen as little more than  substitute caregivers, watching over a child until the process of education proper could begin, they are now being recognised as the guardians of a society’s future wellbeing.  The more we learn about the development of the brain in the early years of life, the better we understand how the teacher plays a critical role in the development of the core neural systems that underpin a child’s mental and physical health throughout their lifespan

Until next time look after each other.

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The Importance of Being a Playful Adult

Tanya Valentin, wearing sunglasses and a sunhat being a playful adult

Happy New Year to all of you! (I hope that it is still okay to say “Happy New Year” in February!!!) Hasn’t the summer weather been amazing? I hope that you all had some well-deserved time over the festive season to unwind, have fun and recharge your batteries. I am sure for some of you the holidays are fond and distant memory.

I am one of those shameless summer lovers. I know that it is hot, but I try my best to get the most out of the beautiful kiwi summer. I am really grateful for our amazing uncrowded beaches and native bush especially in my new home Northland.

a person having fun with a boogie board and the ocean in the distances

Me the sea and a boogie board…

I have been reflecting lately about the importance of being and staying a playful adult. You see, I have this boogie board that my hubby bought me for Christmas 10 years ago. It is a bit banged up and faded but it is still going. It is without a doubt, one of the all-time favourite gifts that anyone has ever given me – because it allows me to be playful.

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know that the ocean is a special, magical place for me. When I am at the beach it is impossible for me to feel angry or stressed. In fact, just looking out at the ocean has a calming, rejuvenating effect on me.

When I am in the ocean with my board, I am able to be fully present in the moment, enveloped in the sensations that only swimming in the waves can give you. The pure joy of being alive and in this place in time, connected to all that is.

Sometimes I play with my children in the waves, or I become one with the surf and I catch a wave into the shore. Often, I will just float for a moment without a care in the world. I absolutely love the feeling of being one with the effortless flow of nature, whether bobbing up in the water with the sun on my skin or catching a wave.

Life lessons from the ocean

There are lessons that I have learnt from my time in the waves; about life, but also about my dispositions as a person.

I have learnt that if you are swimming or surfing in the ocean that you have to be fully focused and present. One of the reasons is safety, if take your eyes off the waves or the shoreline this could spell disaster. You could be caught unawares by a big wave or you could get caught up in a dangerous undercurrent or rip. You have to be fully present to changing tides and read the cycle of the swells in order to catch the perfect wave. If you catch the wave too soon or too late – never mind, there always another opportunity with the next wave. It is an incredibly mindful experience, even if you have other people around you it is just you and the wave, and it is up to you as to whether or not you will rise to the invitation to take the risk and play.

The same could be said for our life’s journey. We need to be focused on the here and now. We need to be mindful of the subtle changes in our thoughts and attitudes as well as the tides and undercurrents of those around us. If we remain present and in the moment, we are anchored into the joy of the here and now. Even though others are around us we are walking with us, we are all on our own journey, catching our own waves making our own decisions alongside others. Ultimately, we responsible for our own lives, the risks we take, how we play as well as our own happiness.

Another lesson I have learnt is about control and fear. When you are standing in front of a huge wave, you can either be fearful of the wave and try to get out of the way or stubbornly stand your ground. Either way this ends in being bowled over by the wave or for it to pummel into you painfully. Or you can surrender control and catch the wave – you experience the joy and exhilaration of the present moment, moving in perfect balance with nature and what was meant to be. In life we can give into fear and end up “doing” life instead of listening to our intuition and living in “what else is possible?”

Isn’t that what play is? Not overthinking things, not trying to control the situation but going with the flow, having fun and discovering the pleasure and joy in the moment and perhaps learning something about ourselves and others along the way.A

Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.

Catherine Rippenger
two hands forming a heart over the ocean - being playful can bring you joy and happiness

Allow uninterrupted time for play


When I think about being a playful adult I think about what Dr Emmi Pikler said about allowing children uninterrupted time for play as well as the exploration goal in Te Whariki :

Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised.

Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 47

As early childhood teachers we know the powerful learning benefits of free, interrupted play for children. Often when we get caught up in the grown-up business of being busy or in our efforts to being viewed as “professional” we forget the simple joy of play and being playful adults.

As we strive for recognition for our profession, we can often dismiss others outside our profession who say, “aren’t you lucky that you get to play with children all day!”  We can often take offence and try to convince the other person and ourselves about the seriousness and importance of our role. 

I for one, value my role and the important job that all of us as early childhood professionals do. I know that there are times where we need to be serious and responsible, but…… I am extremely grateful to have a job that allows me to play, be creative, imaginative and joyful.  I count myself lucky to work in a profession that allows me to come to work in my pyjamas, or with crazy hair, or brandishing a cape!

Being playful at crazy hair day

As adults we need to time to for “free play”, for enjoyment, for creativity, for innovation and creative problem solving.  Play keeps us young, builds resilience and helps us to stay excited about life and full of wonder.

Time for “play” daily inside our settings as well as outside of the environment of the early childhood setting as a team builds relationships and comradery. 

After all a team that plays together, stays together.

It is important to gift ourselves the time and flexibility to learn and to be creative.  Brain research has proven that we are far more likely to learn something new when we feel safe and are having fun.  Play comes naturally to human beings, it allows us to experience joy, think outside the box and to be better critical thinkers. Playful people are often happier and have better quality relationships.

Feeling safe and having fun is great for team cultures, as feel good hormones such as Serotonin and Oxycontin get released into our bodies which boosts our confidence in ourselves and our collective pride in our teams, strengthens our relationships and builds trust and co-operation amongst team members. 

A team who plays together and who have strong relationships and high levels of trust and co-operation are more capable of being there for each other and get through tough times or disagreements. They are more present for the children in their settings and are powerful role models as to the importance of play, team work and how to have strong healthy relationships with each other.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Over to you…

So how playful are you?

How will you allow yourself uninterrupted time for play this weekend?

I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on the quality of your play.

So until we meet again… I hope that you find time do something that leaves your feet dirty, your hair messy, your heart racing and your eyes sparkling.

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Pause for the Applause – Taking Time to Celebrate the Wins

wine glasses toasting

It’s that time of year again… Time for prize givings, awards ceremonies and year end functions.  There is merriment, gift giving and recognition for all the great things that have been done and achieved through-out the year.

2018 is fast coming to a close and December might have been a joyful yet frantic, busy time of the year for you and those around you.  If you are anything like me you are stressing out, thinking about all the things that you haven’t done or still need to do before you can have some much needed time to relax with family and friends. 

You might be beating yourself up about all the things that you haven’t achieved yet; that learning. story that you still need to write, the self-review that still needs evaluating or the teaching inquiry that you still need to write reflections for.  There might be a family corner that needs a bit of love or an area in your centre that needs a jolly good clean.

Honestly, we can be our own worst enemies, our harshest critics and we can so easily get caught up in a negative mind loop.  If we look for it, we can always find more things to do, or things that we could have done better.  However, there comes a time when you just need to say to yourself, “I have done enough and that is good enough.”

Often we find it so easy to praise others around us for all the fabulous things that they do.  However, how many times have you stopped this year to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back for your achievements and your wins big or small?

Yeah sign and confetti

Celebrate the wins

Now I know that you might need a bit of encouragement to do this for yourself. We are not programmed to sound our own trumpets. 

But I urge you to sit down today (with a cuppa or maybe something a bit stronger) and write down all your wins and achievements big and small. Here are somethings that might get the ball rolling…

Write about obstacles that you have overcome this year about how strong and resilient you are – Yeah!

Write about ticking something off your bucket list. Yeah!

Write about the days when you felt that you couldn’t face the day, but still found the inner strength of character to get dressed and get out there because you knew that someone else was depending on you. Yeah!

Write about being a good friend, colleague, partner, sister, daughter, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and all-round good person. Yeah!

Write about the families that you connected with, the children’s lives that you have made a difference in and are forever changed because of who you are. Yeah!

Write about how amazing you are for juggling a career and being someone’s parent and managing to finish assignments and bossing them. Yeah!

Write about how you inspired and empowered others and how they grew as teachers and people because of your feedback and encouragement. Yeah!

Write about your failures and mistakes, the lessons you learnt along the way and how you grew as a person. Yeah!

This might feel a bit strange at first, but once you get going you will be astonished by just how much you have accomplished in your personal as well as your professional life.   

And then it is time to take a moment to reflect on your list of achievements, pause for the applause and celebrate all the amazingness that is you!

Thanks for reading.  I wish you an amazing 2019 – Here’s to more of those wins!

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When “Smarter Not Harder” Is Not Always Best

Spending time together and meaningful interaction that focus on connection this Christmas

I am sure that you have all heard the saying; “work smarter not harder”.  As teachers, parents and human beings with a lot to do and not a enough hours in the day, this saying sets us in good stead. 

I mean, we would be silly not to use our time wisely so that it serves two purposes. Like for instance, checking your emails while eating your lunch, or wrapping gifts while the Christmas cookies are in the oven, or using one piece of documentation for our planning and as evidence for our teacher registration – Right?

For the most part, learning to multi-task is an essential life skill.  We are all time-poor and “time management” is often a skill that we are constantly working on.  Getting the most out of your time and being more productive is a human obsession – you just have to look at the internet and social media – after all who doesn’t love a good “life hack”?

When we shouldn’t multi-task

Multi-tasking is all good and well for tasks.  However the danger creeps in we are trying to “multi-task” our interactions with the people in our lives. 

As life gets busier and especially at this time of the year when there is so much to do, it might be tempting to do “something” while having a conversation with someone.

Dr Emmi Pikler spoke about

Full Attention – especially when involved in caring moment 

The relationship is all.

Now this principle was in the context of caring for infants and toddlers, however, I recon that this is a pretty good principle to use to live life by.

How many of us have had a conversation with someone and switched to “multi-tasking mode” by doing something else (like thinking about we will say next, thinking about what’s for dinner, typing on the computer, texting, checking an email, checking your status). 

I get it, we are busy people trying to get the most out of our work hours.  Our minds get really busy with everything that we have to do and we are easily distracted.

However, how would you feel if you if you are on the receiving end of such an interaction?

I am sure that we have all had conversations with someone where we haven’t felt listened to.  Where the other person’s focus has been elsewhere or they have made a random comment that didn’t pertain to the conversation at hand?   I am sure that we might have felt hurt, undervalued, angry and frustrated.  We might have thought to ourselves “well that was a big waste of my time” or “why did I even bother?”

We often do the same to children.  How many of us teachers have been feeding a baby a bottle or changing a nappy while talking to a colleague or another child? How many of us have been distracted when we should have been engaged in a moment of connection with the child and missed the opportunity to fill their emotional tanks? Only to complain about how impossible their behaviour is when they try to get their needs met in another, often disruptive way?

Either we spend the time meeting children’s emotional needs by filling their cup with love, or we spend the time dealing with the behaviours caused by the unmet needs.  Either way we spend the time. Pam Leo.

As leaders  the same applies to our akonga (learners), the people in our teams.  If we don’t spend the time connecting with them in a meaningful way we spend the time putting out fires from not meeting their needs.

The gift of time

One of the most important things that you can gift someone is your time. 

When we give some-one the gift of our full attention it communicates to them that we care for them. 

We are saying; I respect you, you are important to me. Your thoughts, needs and opinions matter to me. I value this time that we are spending together. I value you.

So how do we do this? How do we give someone the gift of our time and our full attention?

We can start with being intentional about having more meaningful, respectful interactions.

  • Create a hygge.  A hygge is a danish art-form of creating intimacy, warmth and contentment in any given moment. A hygge is not a thing, or a place, it is about the feelings this evokes.  It is the feeling you get when you curl up in front of a fireplace or a child curls up on your lap for a warm hug.  Infusing more hygge into your interactions means being prepared in your heart as well as your head.
  • Plan to set this time aside to give the other person your full attention.  This could mean having a conversation with your team about how important connection time during care moments is and supporting each other to be more present with the child in that moment with no interruptions. Or as the leader you might have an understanding that if you are speaking to someone in your office with the door closed, that this means no interruptions. As a parent it might mean letting your other children know that this is your special time to spend with this child, and that their turn will be later.
  • Get rid of distractions. Switch your mobile phone or your tablet off and put it away. Close your lap-top or switch of your computer.
  • Slow down.  This is the time for connecting in a meaningful way with another person.  Rushing or conveying that you are in a hurry to end the conversation is counter-intuitive and will not serve you in this instance.
  • Be an active listener.  Active listening is listening to the other person and hearing everything that they are saying.  It means being interested and present in the conversation – not thinking about what you will do later or how you will respond or that clever anecdote that you just have to add to the conversation. This interaction although beneficial to you, is not about you it is about the other person.
  • Look them in the eye.  You can’t give someone your full attention when you are looking at someone or something else.
  • Be aware of body language.  Our interactions and and conversations are often so much more that what is being said verbally.  What is the other person’s facial expressions and body language telling you? Use this to tune into cues of how they are feeling in the moment. What are your facial expressions and body language communicating to the other person?
  • Listen with empathy and respect.  Meet the person where they are at in that moment of time and accept them even if they are not who you would like them to be, but rather a person who has rights and freedoms and is worthy of your respect.  

Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it.  It is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message, “You are not alone” Brene Brown.

In this festive, busy time, although we might have a lot to do, this is also a time for love, joy and connection. So remember to slow down and be present and give your loved ones the gift of you time. 

I would like to take this time to thank you all for your kindness and support during this year and for giving me the gift of your time. 

I wish you and yours, a Christmas that is decorated with cheer and filled with love. Have a wonderful holiday!

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SIX WEEK ONLINE WEAVING YOUR LEADERSHIP WHĀRIKI LEADERSHIP PROGRAMME

Weaving Your Leadership Whariki

 

The comprehensive holistic six-week online course for leaders in education based on the principles and strands of New Zealand’s world-leading early childhood curriculum.

Be the leader that you have always wanted to be and look after yourself.

Invest in yourself personally and professionally.

  • Discover what it means to be a holistic, compassionate, heart-centred leader.
  • Create a compelling vision for yourself and your leadership.
  • Identify your limiting beliefs and behaviour patterns that keep you from being the leader that you know you are.
  • Shift these limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviours and create powerful new beliefs and behaviours.
  • Show up for yourself and your team, align with your values.
  • Build resilience as a leader so you can thrive in your role and beyond.
  • Develop life-changing emotional literacy skills.
  • Become a confident communicator who resolves conflicts with grace and ease.
  • Create great outcomes for teachers, children and families by building a Whāriki that you can all stand on.
  • Build an amazing and cohesive team culture in a rich, learning-focused environment.
  • Create an action plan to transform your leadership and keep you motivated and focused even after this programme has concluded.
  • Learn, grow and build new support structures alongside an amazing community of like-minded leaders.
  • Leave this programme inspired, motivated and re-energised with practical tools and strategies in your kete that you can use to become the leader that you have always wanted to be.
  • 6 x two-hour live masterclass webinars which will be recorded and you can revisit as many times as you would like.
  • 3 x one-one half-hour coaching sessions with Tanya. (value $300)
  • Weekly live Q&A sessions.
  • A welcome pack including your own printed copies of Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki3 Good Things for Teams, self-care reminder cards and a journal. (value $110)
  • A workbook with reflective questions to support you to put our webinars and coaching sessions together in practice and keep as evidence for your professional growth cycle.
  • A 90-day leadership action plan to continue to get results after the programme has ended.
  • Peer to peer connection through our exclusive community.
  • A small intimate group of like-minded leaders to ensure that you get the individualised time and attention that you need to support your leadership journey.
  • As part of this programme, you will be matched with another leader who will be your accountability buddy during the programme.
  • A certificate on completion.

Emotionally Literate Leadership

Have you ever wondered how to lead people through emotionally challenging times while looking after your own emotional health?

In our ever-changing landscape of increasing demands and uncertainty, our workplaces can become emotionally charged spaces.

According to Marc Brackett, director of The Yale Centre for Emotional Development,

“Our emotional intelligence largely impacts whether we approach or avoid, the decisions we make, our intellect, mental health, creativity and performance. How we deal with life has the biggest impact on us in the long term.”

What is covered in this workshop:

  • The fundamentals of emotional literacy
  • How shame shapes team culture
  • How to build shame resistance
  • Honing your emotional competency and self-awareness skills
  • Understanding your emotions and emotional response
  • How to coach others through strong emotions
  • How to take care of your own emotional health

This webinar will be recorded and sent out to participants.

AUTHENTIC TEAM COMMUNICATION

Create a culture of authentic, open, team communication.
Have you ever noticed how you are able to communicate authentically with the people in your family or perhaps even with strangers but you struggle to do this with the people in your team?
Have you ever wondered why this is, even though you spend the majority of your waking hours with the people in your team?
In this interactive 2 hour online workshop:
✨You will discover why you communicate the way that you do.
✨Unpack the barriers that stop you from communicating with others in an open and authentic way.
✨Discover your communication style the communication style of the people in your team.
✨Discover why conflict is healthy in teams and how to handle conflict with confidence.
✨Take away tools that can make you a better communicator.
Research has shown that change is more sustainable if embraced within a team culture so bring your whole team.
Ask me about invoicing your centre directly.
This session will be recorded and sent out to everyone who registers
Click HERE to register.

SUPPORTING CHILDREN WITH THEIR BIG EMOTIONS

2020 has been a tough year for all of us. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns profoundly affect our children’s resilience and our children’s emotional and mental health.
As a parent, nothing worries me more than not knowing what to do when I can see my children suffering.
Many parents and teachers I speak to, feel unsure how to support their children especially with their big emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry, sadness and anger, which have been more intensely felt since the rise of COVID 19.
This live webinar, based on the acclaimed Tuning into Kids course from the University of Melbourne is suitable for parents and educators who would like to learn how to better support their children.
In the webinar you will learn:
  • What emotional intelligence/competency is.
  • Why it is important for you and for your children.
  • The fundamentals of Emotions Coaching.
  • Honing your self-awareness and emotional competency skills.
  • Support you to understand your own emotions and emotional response.
  • How to support children with strong emotions such as Anger, Worry, Anxiety and Fear.
The webinar will be recorded. Participants who are unable to make it live will receive access to the recordings.
Click HERE to register

SIX WEEK ONLINE WEAVING YOUR LEADERSHIP WHĀRIKI LEADERSHIP PROGRAMME

Weaving Your Leadership Whariki

Enrollments for the April cohort is now closed – New cohort for June enrolling in May

The comprehensive holistic six-week online course for leaders in education based on the principles and strands of New Zealand’s world-leading early childhood curriculum.

Be the leader that you have always wanted to be and look after yourself.

Invest in yourself personally and professionally.

  • Discover what it means to be a holistic, compassionate, heart-centred leader.
  • Create a compelling vision for yourself and your leadership.
  • Identify your limiting beliefs and behaviour patterns that keep you from being the leader that you know you are.
  • Shift these limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviours and create powerful new beliefs and behaviours.
  • Show up for yourself and your team, align with your values.
  • Build resilience as a leader so you can thrive in your role and beyond.
  • Develop life-changing emotional literacy skills.
  • Become a confident communicator who resolves conflicts with grace and ease.
  • Create great outcomes for teachers, children and families by building a Whāriki that you can all stand on.
  • Build an amazing and cohesive team culture in a rich, learning-focused environment.
  • Create an action plan to transform your leadership and keep you motivated and focused even after this programme has concluded.
  • Learn, grow and build new support structures alongside an amazing community of like-minded leaders.
  • Leave this programme inspired, motivated and re-energised with practical tools and strategies in your kete that you can use to become the leader that you have always wanted to be.
  • 6 x two-hour live masterclass webinars which will be recorded and you can revisit as many times as you would like.
  • 3 x one-one half-hour coaching sessions with Tanya. (value $300)
  • Weekly live Q&A sessions.
  • A welcome pack including your own printed copies of Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki3 Good Things for Teams, self-care reminder cards and a journal. (value $110)
  • A workbook with valuable information, tools, reflective questions to support you to put our webinars and coaching sessions together in practice and keep as evidence for your professional growth cycle.
  • A 90-day leadership action plan to continue to get results after the programme has ended.
  • Peer to peer connection through our exclusive community.
  • A small intimate group of like-minded leaders to ensure that you get the individualised time and attention that you need to support your leadership journey.
  • As part of this programme, you will be matched with another leader who will be your accountability buddy during the programme.
  • A certificate on completion.

Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki

Holistic, Heart-Centred ECE Leadership

Great leadership isn’t just one thing that makes a great leader, but rather a weaving together of many strands.  No leader’s Whāriki would be the same as we all weave our own unique pattern of experiences, strengths, talents, dispositions, wisdom and characteristics into our Leadership Whāriki.

Many of us have been using Te Whāriki for years as kaiako but most have us have never thought to use the strands and principles on ourselves or to use it as a tool for holistic, empowered leadership. However, when we think about how interconnected we all are with each other it makes perfect sense that we should apply this wisdom on ourselves. Of course, we need to belong, to be well within ourselves, to be able to communicate, contribute and explore if we want this for children.

We can’t give what we don’t have so if we want a place where children can thrive then the adults in the whanau need to thrive too.

In this workshop we will explore how we can use Te Whāriki as a powerful leadership framework.

Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki will:

  • Provoke reflection, deepen your understanding of holistic leadership.
  • Help you to gain insight into the chemistry of team culture.
  • Explore tools for emotionally literate leadership.
  • Give you practical strategies to build resilience into your own role.
  • Support you with practical ways that you can use the principles and strands of Te Whāriki in your practice as a leader.

Mā te whiritahi, ka whakatutuki ai ngā pūmanawa ā tāngata. – Together weaving the realisation of potential.

Morning Tea and lunch provided