Rediscovering Your Creative Genius

 

Before my move to Northland, I fell in love…. With the idea of being an artist.  I discovered mixed media art and I knew instantly that I wanted to do it.  I watched endless Youtube clips online for inspiration, purchased canvases, gesso, modelling paste, paint brushes and then put them all away in my cupboard in the spare room.  I kept on making excuses not to paint; I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t have the space to paint, I needed to spend time with the children, it was Christmas…. and then the ultimate excuse… I needed pack up the house because we decided that we were moving to Northland.

Now these are probably good reasons not to pull out a canvas and some paints and to get busy.  However, one of the real reasons I was so hesitant was fear.  A thousand thoughts went through my head “What if I was no good”  “What if I made a mistake” “I’m not an artist” “What if…”(insert your excuse here).

Rediscovering your creative genius

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Big Magic” (a book I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to live a creative life).  In it she introduced me to the concept of our creative genius.  Everyone has one, your creative genius is very closely related to your intuition.  Another name that you might know it as is inspiration.

I times when we are relaxed and mindful or doing something enjoyable, our creative genius whispers ideas to us.  I hear my creative genius speaking to me when I am going for a walk, or I am relaxed and just about to fall asleep.  We often become so busy and stressed in our daily lives that we block out our creative genius or tell it to go away by thinking negative thoughts and doubting our abilities.  Our creative genius doesn’t like drama, it will just move to the next person until it finds someone who will work with it. Which is why often, after you thought of an idea and dismissed it you will notice someone who has had the exact same idea and has turned it into a success.

But, if you hear your creative genius and accept the invitation to work with it, that is where the magic happens.  I know that you might wonder about my sanity, but it is almost as if a magical force is working with you in the creative process, you just have to be open to it.  If you learn to listen to your inspiration it will spam you with so many good ideas that you will have to write them all down before they disappear.

Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts, said,

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.

Overcoming fear

So, today I decided to stop making excuses.  I went to the cupboard of my new home where I had unpacked all the art supplies, I had purchased before my move and was too afraid to use. I made the decision to be courageous.  I will be honest with you; the hardest part of this experience was opening the supply cupboard.

Once I made the choice to silence the fear and trust my creative genius I realised that I had nothing to worry about.  There was no right or wrong way of doing this, there were no mistakes.  Instead of fear, I felt joy and at peace – I was living my bliss.  (I also discovered that while I was painting that my creative genius gave me another gift – the inspiration for this post.)

In fact, there are many scientifically proven mental health and brain boosting benefits of creating art.  Relieving stress, raising self-esteem, reducing feelings of depression, increasing our empathy, tolerance and feelings of love to name a few.  Creating art increases our brain connectivity and plasticity.  Creating visual art, has been proven to enhance the quality of life for people suffering from dementia.  So, there are loads of great reasons to get creative.

Your divine birth-right

We were all born to be creative beings.  Being creative is an innately human ability.

Steve Jobs once said:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It just seemed obvious to them after a while.

As parents and a teachers, we see this all the time.  Children don’t even think, they just create!

Our young children are full of infinite creative energy, imagination and self-belief. They live in the moment and experience the pure joy of putting paint and colour onto a page.  They thrive on the sensory rich experience of seeing colour, feeling cold paint between their fingers, tasting it and just being.  They are not particularly worried about the end result or whether they will make mistakes.  Often once they have completed their art piece, they forget about the product and move onto the next thing.  We were all once like this and as a role model in our children’s lives our attitude towards our own creativity has an enormous impact as to whether our children will remain like this.

 

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up – Pablo Picasso

When, did we as adults lose this ability to just be creative? Not to over-think it, or to worry about mistakes? But to just listen to our creative genius and enjoy the process?

To just be?

I issue you with a challenge today:

  • Next time your creative genius whispers in your ear, listen.  The more aware you are of it the more you will hear it.
  • Think of a way of being creative that has always interested you.  This might be something that you have done in the past, or it might be something completely new. It may not be painting, it may be pottery, cooking, gardening, knitting, crochet, cake decorating or scrap-booking.
  • Find a class, a community group, watch some Youtube tutorials or join a Facebook group.
  • Buy some materials.
  • Make some time and just start being creative.

Starting is the hardest part, but I guarantee that you will love it. You will wonder what took you so long to get started.

Happy creating!

 

 

 

Seeing the Greatness in You.

 

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about pay fairness for all teachers and whether an ECE teacher has the same worth as a secondary calculus teacher.  There has also been some talk about who should be legally allowed to call themselves a teacher.  I know from reading indignant and angry comments across the many social media forums that this touches us all and there are many teachers that feel hurt and undervalued by this.

I have been reflecting on this and it has brought up some thought provoking questions for me to ponder around qualifications and how we see ourselves.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague whom is a well-regarded, successful early childhood teacher and business owner and whom I respect immensely; about how my qualification (a diploma of ECE) made me feel inferior and not professional enough.  Her response to me was, “what do you think I have?” With all her successes her original ECE qualification is a diploma of teaching too.  My response to her was “but that doesn’t matter, look how professional and successful you are, what a great teacher you are, how much experience you have!”

Light bulb moment! Why was I able to see this in her, but not myself?

Which brings me to the subject of my post today?

Why are we able to see the greatness in others but we are unable to see the greatness in ourselves?

Perhaps like me, you were taught as a child to be seen and not heard and to be humble.

After all;

Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka

The kumara does not say how sweet he is

Perhaps it is the fear of judgement. Perhaps it is the fear that we will be seen as a fraud or that we will make a mistake.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we all walk around bragging about how great we are and I am certainly not discounting anyone’s qualifications or experience either. We are all working hard on our own teaching journey. This is not about comparing or judging.

I am talking about something a lot more personal that you may be able to relate to.

Is this you?

Someone pays you a compliment, and your automatic response is to feel uncomfortable and to say something to contradict or downplay the compliment?

Why are we so lousy at taking compliments? Why are we so awful at being kind and compassionate to ourselves and owning our greatness?

Have you mislabelled yourself?

In Danielle Krysa’s book “Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk” she writes:

“Labels are sticky. They’re great for organizing your cupboard; but when people put clingy, hard-to-remove labels on themselves, it can prevent creative growth. And sometimes labels have incorrect information! That’s why what’s inside the can matters.”

Have you stuck a big old label on yourself with incorrect information?  Do you say things like, “I am just an teacher”, ” I only have a diploma”, “I am only a parent”, ” I am only a reliever”, “I am only a new grad”, “I am only an untrained teacher”, ” I am only a centre director”, “I am only….” the list is endless.

Have we forgotten to look inside the “can” at our strengths and talents and own and celebrate these within ourselves. We are so much more than just the labels we have given ourselves.

You were given your strengths and talents for a reason. If we can’t acknowledge them and own them, then how are we going to be able to use them to create magic in our lives, and the lives of our children, and teams and centres? Who knows what we can achieve if we remove the big old sticky label.

How do we remove the label?

As I have previously posted, we are often cruel and unkind to ourselves in the way that we speak to ourselves – we are often our worst critic.  We would never dream of speaking to others the way that we speak to ourselves.  Yet it has been scientifically proven time and time again that our thoughts have the power to shape our reality.

 What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” – Buddha.

If we have given ourselves a label we are likely to do two things:

  • Find enough evidence to prove it to ourselves.
  • Discount anything to the contrary of our belief.

Even if this label is a false one.

Some ways that we can remove the label are:

Awareness:  Healing comes from awareness.  Actively listen to what you are telling yourself.  The more you practice being mindful of your thoughts. The more aware you become, you will see just how destructive they can be.

Be kind: Replay some of your internal dialogue, ask yourself; where you being kind to yourself? Where you treating yourself with the same respect and compassion you would show to others?

Where did it come from? Dig a little bit deeper, where does this self-doubt, destructive self- talk and label come from? Is the label you created for yourself, a way of keeping yourself safe?

Stop comparing: We all have our own talents and strengths that make us unique.  Comparing yourself  to others will only rob you of your joy.

Find new evidence: Be open to finding and believing new evidence that contradicts the label that you have given yourself. Accept those Compliments!

Trust your intuition: Sometimes we spend so much time believing damaging thoughts that we learn not to trust our intuition. Listen for it, your intuition may be but a whisper, but it is there if you look for it.

Practice, practice, practice and fake it till you make it:  As with any new skill, you will fumble and make mistakes, but practice makes perfect. Treat yourself with compassion.

 

Acknowledging the greatness in ourselves

So whatever label you have given yourself, it is time to rip it off and acknowledge yourself for all greatness that you have within you.

It will take practice, persistence, perseverance and a present mind to achieve this, but don’t give up…

You are worth it.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Arohanui

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home is Where the Art is

 

 

As some of you may know my family and I have just made a move from Auckland to Whangarei to align our lifestyle with our family values.

One of the things that really stood out for me when we packed up our house in Auckland was how much art affects how a place feels. Our Auckland homes’ walls were covered in art that I loved: over-sized scrabble pieces that spelled out our family members names, original framed creations crafted by my children and artistic friends, prints, quirky industrial pieces and photos of those that I hold dear to me.

It took seven years of collecting and curating and they were part of the place that I called home. These pieces brought me much joy, but it wasn’t until after I took them down did I realise just how much they contributed to the feel of my home.  Some of this I had taken for granted, but as we took down piece by piece and packed them away and I looked at my bare walls where my masterpieces once hung I realised two things.

Firstly, that over the years I had spent a small fortune in command strips and secondly a home without art is just a house.

It has filled me with much bliss to rediscover my buried treasures and turn our new house into our home.

This has made me reflect on the environments that I worked over the years as an early childhood teacher and how they made me feel.

Why do we value beauty?

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; it’s loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness – John Keats

Now there are people out there who think that things like pictures, pretty trinkets, candles, plants and quirky bits are just superficial and not important, but  I would like to challenge your thinking on this.

To experience beauty in our lives is a fundamental human need. Beauty speaks to the soul of who we are – we are holistic beings it is imprinted in our DNA to create beautiful things and to be surrounded by beauty. Our environment evokes an emotional response in us it’s a reflection of who we are as people.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart – Helen Keller

We have all experienced this when we walk into a home or an early childhood centre we feel the wairua of the place and the people before anyone has even said a word

 

 

The Holistic Lens

Let’s take a look at this through a holistic lens.

When we are happy and at peace in our environment we feel a deep-seated feeling of belonging.  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after meeting our basic needs and safety, belonging is our next most important need.

Once our teams, our children and our families feel that they belong they are able to contribute in a positive way.  When beautiful “real things” are freely available for children to play with we are saying “I trust you”. When we create beautiful environments, we are saying ” I respect you.” “I value you” “I love you”.

Expressions of creativity, the freedom to exchange ideas and explore freely is only possible in an environment where we feel safe to do so.

Are our environments allowing our teams and children the emotional nourishment to feel love and belonging?  Do our centres feel right?

Living beautifully is a unique expression of our divine nature – The Virtues Project

Take Stock of Your Environment

In my previous post “Why you should be your priority” I wrote about taking stock of your environment.

How is your environment making you feel? What have you taken for granted in your environment?  Does it reflect the people in the home or the centre? Is it time for a clean out?

Perhaps it is time to take an emotional internal evaluation of each space and reflect on how that space is not only looking but how it feels. What emotional response is your environment evoking?

Is it a space that feels home-like, filled with beauty that inspires awe and wonder? Or is it a chaotic, busy space that makes you feel overwhelmed by being in it?  Has a collection of junk and debris accumulated over time and we have become oblivious to it?  Or is it a space where carefully curated treasures have been lovingly displayed?

Our children are constantly downloading our wairua, but they are also downloading the wairua of the spaces where they spend their time.

Our teams, children and families deserve a beautiful environment.  We deserve a beautiful environment.

It is not enough to create efficiency – we also need to create beauty because it is a fundamental expression of our humanity, of who we are. If we deny beauty we deny our humanity… and our future. – David Truebridge.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  I would love to see some of the ways you create beauty in your place.  Please feel free to share them in the comments

Arohanui

 

 

Why You Should Be Your Priority

The phone rings at 6 am, it is one of your opening teachers calling in sick followed by another and another.  You get yourself ready to go in and cover the opening teacher and organise your children to have before and after school care, it is going to be one of those days….

On the way to work you are calling relievers and rearranging staff hours while driving, to meet the needs of the children, teachers, and the centre.    You get to work and dive right into your day, settling in children, reassuring staff and parents. The pile of paper and deadlines on your desk will have to wait.  Before you know it, it is lunchtime and you haven’t even eaten breakfast.

At the end of the day you go home feeling tired and drained.  You pick the children up from after school care and your children eat Weetbix for dinner.

This is a common scenario in the life of a centre director.  In my previous post I wrote about the importance of meeting the needs of your teachers as a leader in ECE.  However, in a profession where you are so much to so many, how do you keep your love and inspiration flowing?  How do you keep your energy levels up so that you can serve others?  Who looks after you the leader?

The short answer is YOU.

Be kind to yourself so that you can be kind to others

The role of a leader can be at times a lonely one.  In the scenario above, it is all too easy to wallow in self-pity, drama and play the victim and the martyr. Or you could flip this all on its head and ask yourself what this situation has to teach you?  Learn to guard your thoughts and watch your self-talk.  We often say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to anyone else.  Be compassionate, and kind to yourself. Would you treat one of your teachers the way that you are treating yourself?

Be the guardian of your wairua, your energy.  Be aware of energy pirates! You can be there for your team without taking on  problems and getting immersed in any of the  drama.

Was it really a bad day, or was it a bad five minutes that you milked all day?

Even though there were parts of the day that were challenging and stressful, there are always moments that are gold.

Moments where you witness persistence in a child that pays off.  Moments where you lose yourself in being fully present in the learning of a child.  Moments where you witness children being kind and compassionate to each other.  A kind word from a parent or a fellow teacher.

This is the gold; our reasons why we have chosen this vocation.  The gold is what energises us as leaders and as teachers and keeps us inspired and motivated.

Look for the gold.

Whaia te iti kahurangi ki te tuohu koe me he maunga teitei  – seek the treasure in what you value most dearly, if you do bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain (Maori Proverb).

Are you replenishing your vessel?

When I am feeling overwhelmed it is a sure sign that I am not taking enough time for myself, that I am not practicing enough self-care.

Rest and self-care are so important.  When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.  Self-care is not selfish, you cannot serve from an empty vessel.  Eleanor Brownn

As leaders, teachers, parents and grandparents we are the care takers of others.  We give so much of ourselves every day to others and we can quickly be running on empty if we do not take time to replenish our vessel.

Some ways that we can do this:

Meet your basic needs – As simple as this sounds, we often neglect ourselves and our basic needs.  You cannot serve others without nourishing yourself with regular nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, hydrating yourself by drinking enough water and exercising.    When we neglect our basic needs, this can have detrimental consequences for our emotional well-being.  It also makes us vulnerable to colds, flues and other viruses.

Check your personal boundaries – Some mornings it is inevitable that you are going to be woken up by the phone.  However, this is not always the case.  Are you reaching for the phone as the first thing you do in morning to check emails, messages and notifications, before you have had a chance to ease into the day?  Then you need to check your boundaries.  Try banishing your phone from your bedroom.

Train your mind and control your thoughts – I found that I became a lot less stressed and a lot more focused and positive in my mind-set when I started a mindfulness journal.  I keep a mindfulness journal next to my bed. In it I write three things that I am grateful for, my intention for the day and a positive affirmation. I do this first thing every morning .  In this way I am training myself to be more intentional in the energy I give out to others.  I am choosing to control my thoughts and attitudes and for them not to control me.

Your mind will always believe everything that you tell it – Feed it truth.  Feed it faith.  Feed it love.

Self-care rituals – The rituals you choose to practice will depend on what feeds your spirit.  For me it is taking a bath with essential oils and candle-light, going for a walk out in nature, sitting on the sand looking out at the ocean, practising yoga or meditating.  Figure out what brings you joy and make time for this in your life.

Reconnect with your passions –  This is closely related to the point above.  Many of us have passions and talents not related to our jobs.  Maybe you like to write, paint, garden, surf, read, spend time with friends. Perhaps, it is something that you used to love doing but have stopped doing for some reason. It may be something you always wanted to do but have always found an excuse not to do.  Look at yourself from a holistic perspective, there are many layers and dimensions to us.  We were not just born to work, pay bills and survive .  Embracing your passions will make you a more joyful, well balanced person – it will add depth and value to you as a leader and a teacher.

Take stock of your environment –  Never underestimate the influence the environment has on you. Scan your surroundings as if you are seeing it from someone else’s perspective. Is it messy and chaotic?  Be intentional with your environment it has life of its own. Surround yourself with beauty such as fresh flowers, art, candles and essential oils.

I can hear you say, “But, Tanya I don’t have time…” which leads me to my next point.

Become a priority to yourself

You won’t always be a priority to others, and that’s why you have to be a priority to yourself. Learn to respect yourself, take care of yourself, become your own support system. Your needs matter.  Start meeting them.  Don’t wait for others to choose you. Choose yourself today! -marcandangel

If you are anything like me, you will wake up early and ensure that you pack your children a healthy lunch.  You will prepare and ensure that your family have a healthy breakfast before they leave for work, school, daycare or playgroup.  We will actively seek out after school activities such as dance lessons, sports teams, girl guides, swimming lessons for our children and make the necessary sacrifices to pay for it.  At work we will be punctual for work, come prepared, meet deadlines and work extra when required.

Why is it okay for us to use the excuse “I don’t have time” to deprive ourselves of a nutritious breakfast and lunch that will ensure that we have the energy to meet the needs of others?

Why is it okay for us use the excuse “I don’t have the money” not to prioritize our own physical and mental wellbeing, by depriving ourselves of exercise, leisure activities and creative pursuits?

Why is it okay to use the excuse ” I am too tired/I don’t have time” to break our promises and commitments to ourselves.

If we deprived our children of meals it would be neglect and abuse.  If we spoke to our friends and family the way, we speak to ourselves we would have no friends left.  If we broke promises and commitments at work, we would have no job.

Why then is it okay for us to treat ourselves with such little respect?

It is not about having the time, it is about seeing yourself as a priority to yourself and making the time.

Am I worthy of imitation?

In a recent PD that I attended with Kimberley Crisp she posed the question, ” Are you worthy of imitation?” This is something that I have carried around with me as a yardstick to measure myself against.  As leaders our team look up to us an example to aspire to, in their careers. What example are we giving them to aspire to?  What legacy are we leaving for the teaching profession?  What qualities do we want to see in our future leaders?

Is my example good enough? Am I role modelling how to be a resilient leader who respects herself and is responsible for her own well-being?

Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done – Rudy Francisco.

Thank you for reading, chat soon.

Leading From the Heart – The Principles, Strands and Goals of Te Whariki for ECE Teachers

Who are our priority learners?

I recently attended professional development hosted by the Education Council on the Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession.  There was much discussion about the inquiry model for collecting evidence to maintain full certification as an ECE professional teacher. One of the questions for this model is “what are the needs of your learners?”

This got me thinking, as a ECE leader who are my priority learners?  Over my career as an ECE teacher when planning and inquiring into my own practice I have considered my learners to be the children.  However over the past few years my thinking has shifted to consider the teachers I work with to also to be learners.

We can’t have a wonderful place for children if we don’t have a wonderful place for teachers – The Heart School

 

Surely, if my focus is on meeting  teacher’s needs and creating a supportive team culture then they will feel emotionally available to meet the needs of the children.

Be your teacher’s primary caregiver so he or she can go off and be peaceful and engaged with children.  As a leader it is important that you put your teacher’s needs first. When they are acknowledged and supported in their roles, they will be able to put the children’s needs first. – Toni Christie

The Principles, Strands and Goals for Teachers

In researching for this post, I read Toni Christie’s book Leading with Heart and Soul.   In her book she speaks of how the strands and goals not only relate to children, but relate to teachers too. I have been reflecting on this and I am going to unpack this thinking a bit further in relation to the new Te Whariki 2017.

The Principles

Poipoia te kakano kia puawai – Nurture the seed and it will blossom.

Empowerment

As a leader it is our job create an environment that  empowers teachers as learners and respects them as individuals.  Teachers well-being should be promoted and they experience equitable opportunities to grow as teachers and contribute to the centre environment.  Teachers need to feel empowered to bring their ideas, talents and passion into the centre environment and comfortable to share these with the other members of the team.

Holistic Development

As people we learn and develop in a holistic way.  A person is made up of many dimensions: Cognitive, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual and Emotional/Social.

As a leader it is important to see your teachers through a holistic lens.  Not only do you need to provide an environment where teachers are provoked to think about their practice and to grow as a teacher cognitively.  You also need to be asking yourself; do we promote our teacher’s health and wellbeing? Is this a safe place for them to contribute and share their culture, creativity, talents, passions and ideas?  Do I support my teachers’ emotional wellbeing?  Do my teacher’s feel that they can approach me if they are having challenges and difficulties.  Do I foster an environment where we as a team we support a teacher who is having a bad day? Do we celebrate our teachers for who they are and their achievements?

Family, Community and Relationships

Our collective well-being as a centre is interwoven with each other.  As human beings it is a basic need to feel connected to each other – to a larger tribe.

As a leader is can seem easier and less emotionally messy not to mix our professional and our personal lives.  However if you can walk the fine line between being a supportive and connected leader and an unprofessional people pleaser, the rich connection that you foster with each teacher as an individual can be very rewarding.  How do we as leaders find ways to show that we care?  What rituals and gestures of kindness can we use to show our gratitude?  Do we know what is important to our teachers and motivates them?

Teachers that feel trusted, cared for, supported, respected as individuals and part of an extended whanau are way more likely to model this to the children in their care.

These teachers will feel confident, present and emotionally available for children and their families.  These teachers have a greater sense of belonging, joy and physical and emotional wellbeing.

This means better job satisfaction, loyalty and less sick days.

Strand and Goals

Wellbeing

Me mahi tahi tatou mo te oranga o te katoa – We should work together for the wellbeing of everyone.

Just as children need to have their health promoted, their emotional wellbeing nurtured and be kept safe from harm, so do we need to do this for our teachers.

As a leader we need to care about the health and safety of everyone at our centre.  We need to ensure that the emotional hygiene at the centre is healthy and that our teachers feel emotionally safe in the centre environment.

Belonging

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari, he toa takitini – Success is not the work of one, but the work of many. 

 

It is important for the teachers to feel a sense of belonging at the centre, they need to feel comfortable with the routines, customs and regular events of the centre.

We all have the need to know the rhythms, rituals and routines of day to day centre life.  Even if your place has no written down routines and rosters it is in our nature as human beings to feel comfortable in the regular flow of the day.

It is also our role as leaders to set the boundaries of what is acceptable in the environment.

What we walk past we allow – Kimberley Crisp

We have to be very clear in our communication and what we allow, as to what is acceptable.  We put boundaries in out of love and consideration for everyone in the centre.

Contribution

Ma mua ka kite a muri, ma muri ka ora a mua –  Those that lead give sight to those that follow. Those that follow give life to those that lead.

We all want to feel valued in our work environment and affirmed as individuals.  As leaders we need to provide an inclusive, equitable environment where teachers feel safe and that they have a voice.

Just as with children teachers should be encouraged to work and learn alongside others.  It is the role of a skilled leader to facilitate ways for team members  to resolve conflicts in a peaceful, respectful way that leaves everyone’s mana intact.  We set the tone for what learning matters here, as well as the culture of the team.

Communication

He aha te kai o te rangatira? He korero, he korero, he korero. – What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge, it is communication.

One of the key areas that most leaders and teachers are constantly working on is better communication skills.  We all like to be communicated with respectfully, accurately and in a timely manner.   In teams that I have lead it has been my experience that we all have varying ways that we like to receive feedback and to be communicated with.

Teachers need to learn a range of verbal and non-verbal skills to communicate with each other, children and whanau. Quite often it is not only what we say, but how we say it and also what our body language is saying.

We need to create an environment for our teachers where their culture, language and identity are affirmed, so that they can do this for the children and whanau in our centres.

As a leader we need to be worthy of imitation, when it comes to communication.  We need to adapt our communication style to suit the person and the situation.  Bearing in mind that we need to have integrity, honesty, respect and be tactful and courageous when need be. It is also important to know as a leader you will not always get it right and that we too are on a learning journey. The most powerful thing you can do as a leader is to admit you could have done something differently.

Exploration

Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro nona te ngahere, Ko te manu e kai ana i te  matauranga nona te ao – The bird that consumes the Miro berry owns the forest, the bird that consumes knowledge owns the world.

As human beings we are constantly exploring, learning and evolving.

If we are to foster the legacy of a lifelong learner in children, teachers need to be modelling curiosity, inquiry, and a love for learning.  Teachers need to embrace uncertainty and use this as an access point to develop working theories and learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning.

As leaders we need to know our people, and mentor and guide them on personalised pathways for their professional development as teachers.   We need to provide a rich curriculum for our teachers that empowers them to follow their curiosity as learners.

Learning Dispositions for Life

In the ever-changing world that is the inheritance of future generations, the focus of what and how we learn has shifted.  The focus has dramatically shifted from what we know, to how we can find out the knowledge we need.

The acquisition of “soft skills” are even more important for today’s learner.  Children learn through imitation, it is important that teachers role model these learning dispositions; such as courage, curiosity, trust, playfulness, perseverance, confidence, responsibility, reciprocity, creativity, imagination and resilience.

People are people

He aha te mea nui o te au? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! – What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

No matter at what age and stage of life we are at, whether we are an infant, a toddler, a young child, teacher or centre director we all have the same basic needs.

According to Maslow we all must have our basic needs met, to feel safe, that we belong and have our social emotional needs met.  Leadership in ECE is not for the faint-hearted, it takes a lot of courage and requires you to listen to your heart and your intuition.  We all make mistakes along the way, but then the same principles, strands and goals apply to us too.  We are also on our journey as lifelong learners.

Stay courageous, stay curious, stay grateful and lead from your heart.

I would love to work with you and your team on unpacking the new Te Whariki, understanding the codes for the teaching profession and on-going mentoring and support for provisionally registered teachers.

Please click here to contact me,  for personalised professional development to suit your place.

 

Don’t Look Back, You Are Not Going That Way

Daily Mindfulness Rituals

Going to the beach before work to have my morning coffee to complete my daily mindfulness ritual has become my way of setting myself up for a focused, positive and productive day.  My job as a centre director of a busy ECE centre, often entails early morning starts with teachers ringing in sick.  This has me scrambling for relief teachers and reorganising my scheduled roster.  Add on top of this the Auckland traffic and the school run and you have the recipe for one frazzled woman.

I do not want to remain in this state of mind.  As I am in a position that requires me to be emotionally present for adults and children, I have created this ritual to prepare myself for the day.

Building a positive ritual, sets us up for something more beautiful than if we leave things to chance.  It means we are truly preparing ourselves in the head, heart and hand. – Kimberley Crisp

The Debris in the Way

The ocean has always been my calming place and it has become my ritual to go there before work to breath in the sea air and feel the sun on my face.  I close my eyes, concentrate on my breathing and think of all reasons I have to be grateful.

Today when I arrived at my happy place I was faced with debris strewn all over the beach.

Disappointed, I nearly turned back as I thought that my ritual would be ruined.   I nearly turned my car around and didn’t get out.  However, I talked myself into getting out of the car and going to the beach to have a look.  As I stepped over the debris I was rewarded with the most amazing view.

In getting past the obstacles in my way,  I was still able to enjoy my morning ritual and start my day off in a positive frame of mind.

So why I am I telling you this story?

Well, when I reflected on this experience I realised that it was a great metaphor for life.

The lessons I learnt were:

  • Life will always throw debris into your path. Those inconvenient, messy bits that make life challenging and threaten to ruin your “view”.
  • It takes faith and resilience to overcome the hurdles in life.  If we have faith and remain positive we will be rewarded with an amazing outcome.  The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it – Moliere
  • Once you are experiencing the fantastic view don’t let the debris in the background ruin it for you.  Leave the past in the past.  Don’t look over your shoulder and let the mess in your past ruin your present.  Don’t look back, you are not going that way!  Live in the present and enjoy being  in this beautiful moment.

And there you have it, three short lessons learnt on a beach.

Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future.  It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift – Oprah Winfrey.

If you would like to experience more mindfulness and joy in your life.

Click here to subscribe to my newsletter for your free printable mindfulness and gratitude planner.

How to Raise Kind Caring Children

Kindness

Teaching Soft Skills

I was recently watching very interesting speech Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, delivered to the world economic council.  In the interview he was talking about how in a society that was becoming increasingly saturated with technology, how important it is to change how we educate children.   Mr Ma spoke about how important it is for our children to learn “soft skills”.

For those who are new to this terminology,  hard skills are knowledge based, they are the “things” you know.  Soft skills are the intangible skills such as values, teamwork, independent thinking, resilience, adaptability,  belief, creativity, empathy,  kindness and caring for others.

So how do we teach our children to kind, caring members of our community?

Mr Ma spoke about the importance of teaching children  art, music and sport.  Although these things are great I think it starts way before they go to school.  I am sure that we have all heard the quote, “Charity begins at home.”  Well I believe that the same holds true for kindness.  Our children are constantly watching us and downloading information from us about what it means to be human.  Children learn way more from who we are than what we are trying to teach them.

The first three years

It starts from when they are wee babes.  Infants form an a attachment with their parent or primary caregiver and connect with them via an “emotional bluetooth”.  Most parents have witnessed first hand how sensitive their babies are to the emotions of others.  During these early stages babies learn about love, empathy and kindness from their parents.  When they cry they are comforted, when they are hungry they are fed.  When the baby needs to be changed, bathed or to be put to bed these needs are met.  It is during the respectful meeting of an infant’s basic needs that they learn that the world is a safe place that they can trust.

Lack of early attachment has been shown to correlate
with poor social competency, lower teacher ratings of educational competence
and other outcomes in teenage years.
The experiences essential for activating neurons and promoting synapse
formation need to be the right ones. When a child is nurtured, played with,
sung to, cuddled and stimulated positively, he or she will be programmed in a
positive fashion. This type of experience sets a child up for life.  Dr Claire Dale.

The science of kindness

It is during these early years that children learn how to have empathy for others.  They learn this by having empathy shown towards them.  When children watch compassion and kindness in action has beneficial brain effects.

A Harvard study tracked the serotonin levels (the chemical found in Prozac and other antidepressants) of students watching a video of Mother Teresa caring for poor people in Calcutta, and found increased levels of serotonin in their saliva. So what do we learn from this study? That what you watch matters.

Watching others perform acts of kindness  has the same effect as performing the kind acts.   Endorphins and hormones like oxytocin are released.  This boosts our sense of connection, love, trust and optimism, which increases our serotonin levels and reduces our cortisol levels.  Children who regularly witness acts of kindness and empathy are way more likely to be kind and empathetic themselves.

Lessons in kindness.

  • Build your child’s kindness toolbox with the language of kindness.  Make your praise of them meaningful, avoid using “good boy”, “good girl”. Tell them why you are praising them. Be mindful of the language you use – your words will become their inner dialogue.  Hold each other accountable for disrespectful language.  No one can serve from an empty cup, make your child’s overflow!
  • Admit when you are wrong, this teaches children that mistakes are okay.  They will be way more likely to be compassionate and forgiving of the mistakes of others.
  • Prioritise kindness and service to others. Be a strong moral example and hold your children to high ethical expectations.
  • Practice gratitude daily – start a family gratitude ritual where you discuss as a family what you are grateful for.
  • Hold your child accountable for unkind behaviour, teach them that their actions have consequences.
  • Teach your child the value of focusing outwards.  In a world that is increasingly focused inwards (hello Selfies!) and everyone is wondering “what is in this for me”.  Teach them to be kind for the sake of being  kind and not for recognition.  Help them to practise kindness, firstly within your immediate family and then teach them to expand their circle of concern to their sports team or school community and then to the wider community.
  • Plan random acts of kindness together. Volunteer or support a local charity.
  • In an instant world, teach your child the value of delayed gratification and patience.
  • Train them to be mindful of their feelings and manage destructive behaviours.  Teach your child that although the feeling is okay the behaviour is not.  Practise calming breathing and meditation together.  Be mindful of your own emotions and behaviour and remain calm during the process.

When little people are overwhelmed with big emotions. It’s our job to share our calm and not to join their chaos.  L.R. Knost

Are you inspired by the kindness of others? Do you want to practise more kindness in your daily life? Do you have a kindness story to share, that will inspire others?

Join The Kindness Project Facebook group.

It is new and just starting out, but I am hoping that if we all share our kindness stories, random acts of kindness and thoughts on being kind then we can truly change the world one kind act at a time.

Observe More, Do Less: Lessons I Learnt During Water Play.

Children Playing with Water

Toddlers and a Water Hose a Recipe for Magic

I love watering the many plants around the centre with the water hose.  I find the task of tending to plants and watering them to be incredibly peaceful and grounding.  It is during this peaceful state of being that I always seem to attract the infants and toddlers.

Water is something that fascinates our young ones.  I love watching them test out their working theories in their rapidly developing brains. The children were drawn to the irresistible urge of placing their hands under running water.

On this particular day; one child was figuring out ways to get the water from her hand into her mouth. There was another little scientist working within the transformation schema. She was turning dirt into mud, and then repeatedly dirtying her hands so that she could wash them clean under the water.

During this time we  chat about the water – how nice and cool it, the scientific processes that are happening and about taking care of plants.

Once I had finished watering the plants I placed the trickling hose on the grass and sat back to watch the magic of play unfold. It wasn’t long before a group of 4 children had congregated around the hose, they ranged between 16 months and 2 1/2 years of age.  There was a bit of squabbling about who would hold the hose.  My immediate response was to intervene and “help” them sort out their conflict.  However I forced myself to sit back and observe how they solved their own problem.  There was a bit of grizzling, but soon the group decided to let one of the children hold the hose and while another children went off to find a bucket to be filled with water.  Once again there was  bit of conflict about the bucket, but soon the one of the children saw that there was another bucket nearby and went off to get it. Now with the conflict resolved, the children happily continued filling buckets, tipping them and then filling and tipping.

Observe More Do Less

I could have so easily intervened and robbed these children of the rich learning of resolving their own conflict. Teachers often fear judgement of being seen to be “not doing their job” by standing back and allowing children to resolve their own conflicts.

Magda Gerber teaches about seeing infants and young children as unique, capable, confident people worthy of respect as individuals.  If we rush into intervene we risk teaching children reliance on an adult to solve their problems and teach them learnt helplessness.

These children did not need a rescuer, they were fully capable of solving their own problem.

According to Alison Gopnik, psychologist and infant brain researcher, infants are born with phenomenal learning abilities, unique gifts, deep thoughts and emotions.

They were capable of solving a problem that some adults find challenging.

Would I have intervened if the situation had escalated and the children had needed my support? Yes, definitely, but it is our job as mindful practitioners is to observe sensitively, look and listen closely and carefully before we respond.  We need to see our children through the lens of being the beautifully, capable human beings that they are.   We need to”be” instead of “do”. Be heart led and intuitive instead of reactive and doing what we perceive others think we should be doing.

We empower our children with our respect and trust in them. They in turn grow up to see themselves as capable, empowered beings.

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”  W.E.B DuBois.

ECE Rituals That Show You Care.

Tanya Valentin | ECE Rituals, The Birthday Tray
ECE Rituals, The Birthday Tray

I am often asked as a Centre Director how do you ensure that your team feel valued? I have been on a bit of a reflective journey on what heart led leadership truly means to me as a leader for the last few years. My latest discovery along the the way has been rituals.

What are rituals:

Rituals offer a sense of wonder and delight. They turn the every day mundane routines into something special and full of love. Rituals communicate that you value those around you. That you have taken the time to plan and execute something that is meaningful and heartfelt for the people involved.

Take for instance the birthday tray that we use to celebrate our fellow teachers birthdays.  A hot drink and a piece of home baking presented beautifully on fine bone china cups and saucers with fresh flowers and a candle.
It is not the cost of the gesture that counts, but more the thought and time put into the ritual that matters. Being presented with this beautiful birthday trays never fails to put a smile on the face of the recipient.

“By recognising someone in this way you are communicating: I see you, you are special to me, I care about you.”

What are the rituals you use at your ECE centres to show that you care?

Please comment below. I would love to hear from you.