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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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How To Be Your Priority?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The phone rings at 6 am, it is one of your opening teachers calling in sick followed by another and yet another.  You get yourself ready to go in and cover the opening teachers 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 your 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 an early childhood centre.  For most of us it is a role we love and we enjoy making a difference in the lives of others, but… 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

When I am feeling exhausted or overwhelmed it is a sure sign that I am not taking enough time for myself. The role of a leader can be at times a lonely, isolating one.  Each of us has the responsibility to take care of our own health and wellbeing by practising self-care.

Are you taking time to replenish your vessel?

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 regularly moving your body.  When we neglect our basic needs, this can have detrimental consequences for our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, and we become more susceptible to depression, anxiety and emotional outbursts.  Neglecting our needs makes us vulnerable to colds, flues and other viruses.  You are a person first and a leader second.

Either you spend the time nourishing yourself and meeting your needs.  Or you spend the time dealing with the consequences and the behaviours that result from not meeting those needs.  Either way, you spend the time.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Take time off when you need it – As the leader, we can often feel duty bound to be at work no matter what.  When a member of our team comes to us with a leave request, we try our best to accommodate this as we know how important personal time away from work is for teacher wellbeing and team morale. 

However, when it comes to our own leave (sick leave or holiday) we often find it extremely difficult to give ourselves permission to take the time for ourselves.  Often, we will drag ourselves to work when we are sick – feeling very sorry for ourselves or justified for doing “the right thing” or we spend the day at home feeling guilty for not being at work and letting everyone else down. Perhaps for you, it is duty that compels you to be there, or you secretly long for recognition for how dedicated you are and then feel hard done by when no one says anything.  You might think that you are doing the right thing, but you are not doing yourself or anyone else any good. 

Check your personal boundaries – Life happens and some mornings it is inevitable that you are going to be woken up by the phone.  On occasions, it may be necessary to finish a piece of “paperwork” at home. However, this should not be the norm.

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?  If you are staying up till midnight every night doing admin tasks, then you need to check your boundaries. 

You need adequate rest in order to keep yourself healthy and to do your best. Try banishing your phone, computer and anything relating to work from your bedroom.

The hours before we go to bed and first thing in the morning are important for nurturing your physical, emotional and mental health.  The first and final moments of our day set the tone for the minutes and hours in between.

Take a closer look at what your habits are in the hours before you go to bed?

Are they conducive to slowing down and signalling to your body and brain that it is time for rest and renewal?

How are you starting the day?  Do you have a morning self-care ritual that helps you prepare yourself emotionally, physically and mentally?

Maybe, you need to put in some boundaries around taking on too much by being compelled to say “Yes” when you really should be saying “No”.

Know “WHY” According to self-care experts having a clear sense of purpose can help to stave off feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and even burn-out.

Train your mind and control your thoughts – Be the guardian of your mauri, your energy. 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?

Think back on your day…

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

Our brains are wired to focus on the negative aspects of our day. Even though there were parts of the day that were challenging and stressful if you look for them, 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 or teachers being kind and compassionate to each other.  A kind word from a parent or a fellow teacher.

These moments are 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 .

I found that I became a lot less stressed and a lot more focused and positive in my mindset when I started a gratitude journal.  I keep my gratitude journal next to my bed. At the start of the day, I write down three things that I am grateful for, my intention for the day and a positive affirmation.  In this way, I have trained 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, journaling or meditation. Lately, I have started a Sunday evening self-care ritual that helps me to prepare myself for the week ahead. There is no right or wrong way to do this – tune into your own cues and figure out what brings you joy and make time for this in your life.

Be Prepared – Self-care is about treating yourself with love and it is okay to indulge yourself with luxuries and pampering.

However, self-care is also about boring everyday stuff that allows you to take better care of yourself and those around you. I am talking here about taking a realistic look at your life at the moment and intentionally planning and preparing so that when the proverbial hits the fan that you have things in place to keep yourself nourished and nurtured. For example, have a stock of quick “go-to” items in your pantry or prepare a meal plan for the week ahead. Invest in a slow-cooker or cook extra portions so that you can have a stand-by meal ready in the freezer as well as extras for lunch.

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 you.  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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

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? Is there clutter that needs to be cleared out? This may or may not be your thing but, I always feel heaps better after I have cleaned my house or tidied out a messy cupboard. For me, organisation has a calming effect. Perhaps you suffer from mental clutter – jobs that you have been putting off, but need to be done?

Be intentional with your environment it has a life of its own. Surround yourself with beauty such as plants, fresh flowers, homely touches, art, candles and essential oils – whatever is your jam!

I can hear you say, “But, Tanya I don’t have time/money/know how…” 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, scouts, 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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Am I worthy of imitation?

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?

Ask yourself “Am I worthy of imitation?”

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

Rudy Francisco.

If this blog resonated with you and you would like to give yourself the gift of your own self-care why not join me and other centre directors at the Prioritise Yourself – Winter Wellness One Day Retreat for Teachers?

I know that you spend a lot of time taking care of others and it is your turn for someone to take care of you. At the retreat, I will support you to create your personalised self-care plan which will enable you to refuel your tank and build resilience as a professional leader and as a person. Click here to find out more information.

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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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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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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But We Tried That And It Didn’t Work!

How to make positive changes in early childhood.

You might know this scenario well:

You are part of a teaching team, or perhaps the leader of a team of teachers.  You have been observing the care routines in the setting and you know in your heart that there is a different way of doing things that would have better learning outcomes for the children, make things less stressful for the team or improve practice.  You reflect on this, do your research as to why this would benefit the team and you decide to share your idea with your team.

Only to come against the brick wall of all responses, “We tried that, and it didn’t work” or “That won’t work.”

Or perhaps you are familiar with this scenario:

You and your team decide to make a change.  Let’s say for argument sake, you have observed the children at mealtimes and have decided to give rolling kai times a go.  The day arrives for you to implement this change and it is disaster!  One of the teachers shakes their head, roll their eyes and say, “See I told you that this wouldn’t work!”

So why did it not work when we tried it?

There are a number of reasons why new ideas or ways of doing things do not work in an early childhood setting.

Mindset

Many a great idea has died a quick death at the hands of a negative mindset or attitude.

Sometimes we can approach a new idea or situation with the mindset that it won’t work.  Unfortunately, a journey that starts with this attitude is more than often doomed to failure.

“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities.  If you believe it won’t you’ll see obstacles.” Wayne Dyer.

It is easier to stay in the comfort zone

As a teacher or even as a team it is often easier to stick to what we know, what is easy or doesn’t take much effort.  When we are in the comfort zone it is safe and comfortable, and we have the illusion of control.

It can be tempting to stick to what we know and how we have always done things.  However, if it doesn’t require discomfort you probably aren’t growing as a teacher.

Commitment

We might like the idea in principle but for whatever reason, perhaps out of fear or it was way more work than we thought it was going to be, we fail to commit to change and so we set ourselves up to fail.

“The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.” Mark Twain.

You either have to commit and do the work or say that you don’t want to do it right at the start.  If say that we are committed but don’t follow this up with action, then we are quite frankly just wasting everybody’s time and inadvertently sabotaging everyone else’s effort.

We were not all on the same page

Many new ideas or initiatives are unsuccessful because we were not clear in our communication towards each other.  We followed our own assumptions and did not ask enough questions or clarify expectations or intentions.

When embark on a new journey together as a team it is important that we all know where we are going, why we are going there and how we are getting there.  We need to be open and honest in our communication, ask the difficult questions and clear with what we mean.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. When we clarify assumptions, expectations and intentions we save ourselves a lot of confusion and frustration along the way.

We fail to plan

Benjamin Franklin once said:

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”

Any change that we make as a team requires planning.  This plan can be done informally as a discussion but can also be documented as part of a formal internal review.

During this process we:

  • Prepare – This is where we decide what we will review and how we will review.
  • Gather – This is where we decide what evidence, information, readings etc we will need for the review.
  • Analyse – This were we decide WHAT the information gathered says.
  • Decide – This is what we DO as a result of what we have learnt.
  • Implement This is where we ACTION the what we decided to do.
  • Evaluate – What was the outcome? What impact did it have on practice? How can we sustain the changes?

We fail to plan for obstacles and failure

Sometimes we are afraid to speak to each other about the possible barriers and obstacles that may occur.

When we have planned for obstacles or detours along the way, we are prepared for them and they are way less likely to derail our efforts or our moral if things don’t turn out the way that we hoped.  We are more likely to see the barriers and even failure as part of the learning journey.

It is important to stay open, curious, courageous and see it as a process of “trial and error”.

Instead of saying, “I can’t do this.” try saying, “I can’t do this yet”.  Or instead of, “This is just too difficult” try saying, “this is difficult at the moment, we haven’t figured it all out yet.”

We didn’t give the change a chance

Change is often challenging to begin with.  In early childhood settings there are many variables as to why something might not work the first time.   Not everybody responds to change in the same way and some people can be particularly fearful of change.  A disastrous start to the change can sometimes be the proof, the justification that we were right not to take the risk or trust the change.  It can be used as evidence that we needed to prove that we don’t have to change and that we can go back to where it is comfortable and safe.

Remember that it takes approximately two months to form a new habit, so it might take a bit of encouragement to get everyone (children, teachers and families) to embrace the new idea or routine.

Final Words

So, if you believe that in your idea and that it will make a positive difference in the lives of children, families, your team or your setting, be courageous, stay curious and remember:

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end” Robin Sharma.

What barriers have you encountered to change in your setting?  I would love to hear how this has gone for you.

Until next time,

Arohanui,

If you would like to chat to me further contact me here

 

 

 

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