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

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.

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!

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!

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

 

 

 

The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Mindful Decision Making

Mindful decision making

 

I was recently reflecting on my leadership journey and a piece of advice that I was given by my manager when I was a brand-new leader in early childhood education twelve years ago.

It is advice that I am sure that many of you might have received during your own journey as a leader, “Take your team along with you for the journey”.  Sounds simple enough, right?  What many of us, and certainly I, didn’t realise at the time was that not only was I bringing my baggage along for the ride, but so was everyone else.  I didn’t realise that part of my role was to help my team to manage their baggage and I hadn’t even started learning about how to manage my own.

During a workshop I attended I was asked, “did you plan your role, or did you land in your role?”

I recon that most of us land in it.  We are good teachers with, great ideas, motivation, initiative and “leadership potential”.  Someone “taps us on the shoulder” and says, “How would you like to be a head teacher?” We receive a rush of emotion and we usually feel extremely honoured that someone saw the potential – the value in us.  We crash land in these roles with very little formal experience of how motivate, inspire and lead others.  All the while we are dealing with our own baggage of self-doubt, overly high expectations of who we should be and guilt for not living up to our own expectations and our perceived expectations from others.   Not only this, but we also feel responsible for helping others to carry their baggage.

One of the key areas that we have little to no training in is sound decision making.  No one trains us to make mindful decisions so we go into emergency mode – we go into reactive mode. We spend our whole day putting out fires and making decisions from a place of weakness – it is overwhelming and it is exhausting!

Hitting Reset and Getting Yourself Out of Reactive Mode

It always starts with us.

In order for us to influence we first have to connect and the first person we need to connect with is ourselves.

There is no magic secret, quick-fix, but the first step in the journey is self-awareness.  In order for us to be self-aware we need to stop living in denial.

We first have to admit to ourselves that we have baggage and own up to that baggage, even if it is tempting to try to hide the extra weight in our cabin luggage or the extra bag that we don’t want to declare.

This luggage could be in the form of narratives that we have made up of our lives, behaviour loops, dispositions, mindsets, emotions and self-doubt.  Owning up to this can be difficult, confronting and sometimes a bit messy, but self-awareness is also incredibly healing.

Are you making decisions when you are running on empty?

When we are depleted, not getting enough sleep, worrying too much, stressed out and not nourishing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually it is very easy for us to go into reactive mode.

A quote that I love, from Nanea Hoffman puts this beautifully into words,

You know how you’ll eat anything when you’re starving? Like, you’ll go to the grocery store on an empty stomach and just come home with weird stuff that you don’t need?

Yeah don’t go out into the world with an empty soul.  You’ll fill up on all kinds of weird crap.  Be sure to nourish yourself first.

I have learnt over time, that I don’t make the best decisions when I am tired or stressed out.  I have realised that I should give serious decisions the time and clarity that they deserve, by choosing to delay the decision till I am physically, mentally and spiritually full.

I know that this might seem pretty obvious and slightly ludicrous when you read this – I know, duh, you don’t make good decisions when you are emotional, tired or stressed??? But when you are caught up in reactive mode, you just react!

There is no denying it, we are defined by our decisions and our decisions are largely influenced by the filter of our values.

Decision-making is a lens that sharpens your values and brings them into focus and makes them materialise in the choices that you make. – Dr Joe Arvai

Therefore when making an important decision, I find it helpful to reconnect with my vision, my core values, my “why”. I also give myself permission to percolate:

 

When we brew coffee and allow it to stand, the coffee strengthens and becomes richer in flavor and aroma.

When we give ourselves time and space to percolate, our ideas become richer and more complex.
We become more focused on the direction we would like to take and clearer on our intentions.
Sometimes when we give ourselves space, solutions or creative ideas might just “appear” in our head.

We often get into the habit of thinking that we have to give an immediate answer to everything and everyone that comes our way.  This switches us into reactive mode and we make decisions that we might not have made if we had given ourselves the time and space to apply wisdom.

What type of a decision maker are you?

Part of this process is owning what kind of a decision maker you are. Perhaps you might recognise yourself in one of the following decision-making styles.

The Creative – you have a spark of inspiration and you leap into taking action.

The Creative is really comfortable with change, they are passionate, have lots of momentum and often inspire others with their passion, energy and creative ideas.  If you need decisive action, then The Creative is your go to person.

The Creative can often act with-out thinking through the consequences of the decision and the “how”.  They often rely on their ability to problem solve on the spot.  Creatives often take action from narrowly gathered information or without considering anyone else in the decision- making process.

The Collaborator – you need to get everyone’s input before you can make the decision.

The Collaborator is democratic and flexible in their approach.  They are flexible to change, and they are working from the place of “what is best for the collective good”.  They like to bounce ideas off other people and make a decision by what suits the team.  Collaborators make decisions from a wide range of information and often make sound decisions.

However, Collaborators can sometimes get caught up in other people’s drama and find it challenging to make the “hard” decision when it falls to only them.  They can come across as indecisive and “wishy washy”.

The Procrastinator – you always find something more pressing to do that stops you from making a decision.

The Procrastinator dislikes change and will do anything to avoid making a decision or embracing change.  Procrastinators will often find things that are more important to do or leave the decision to the last possible moment.  Procrastinating behaviour often stems from some underlying narrative about themselves or some underlying barrier that they are in denial from, which stops them from acting decisively.

The Planner – you need to look at the decision from all angles and then look at it again before you can make the decision.

The Planner likes to be in control, they are not entirely comfortable with change and taking risks scare them.  They need to work through every possible scenario of what could happen as a result of the decision.  They need to know “How”.  Planners are super organised and have sound decision making processes.

However they can sometimes “over-think” things and create a lot of stress for themselves and the others around them.  Planners need to control the situation and often find it challenging to let others be part of the decision-making process.

Which one are you?  We can sometimes see a little of each of these in ourselves depending on the situation.  For many of us the type of decision maker we are stems from the narrative we have about ourselves, as well as our dispositions.  We also need to be aware with our behaviour loops (behaviour patterns that we default to).  Are you a serial controller? Do you have the tendency to sabotage? Do you fall into the trap of “I don’t know?” or “what do you think?”

Beware of decision fatigue

Decision fatigue (yes it is a real thing!) – the average person switches between tasks 566 times a day – especially in this digital age.  These constant “micro decisions” deplete our neural resources and slowly strips us from our focus, willpower and energy causing decision fatigueThis reduced focus and energy can deteriorate our ability to make good decisions.  This can be both exhausting and overwhelming.

Some ways to guard yourself from decision fatigue are:

  • Simplify the choices that you need to make through-out the day.  Decide the night before what you are going to wear and eat the next day.  If you prepare the night before this amounts to less decisions that you need to make in the morning, safeguarding precious neural resources for more important decisions later in the day.  It has been documented that Barrack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs all simplified their work wardrobe to one or two choices in order to counteract decision fatigue.  This is why you always see Mark Zuckerberg in his signature grey t-shirt and jeans and Steve Jobs in his polo-neck sweater and jeans.  Barrack Obama only wore blue or grey suits in his entire 8 years in the oval office.
  • Keep your important decision making for earlier in the day when your energy levels are higher.
  • Link similar tasks and decisions together.
  • Stop unnecessary internet surfing.  Do you need to constantly check your emails and social media status? All this unnecessary browsing is sucking up important decision making energy!
  • Spend some time during the day doing nothing.   Percolate!!! When we do nothing, this allows our brain the time and space make new connections and better decisions.

How to make more mindful decisions?

It is important to note that as with any leadership skill, the skill of sound decision-making is something that you can learn over time.  With awareness, reflection, personal risk-taking and an open mind and heart.

Firstly, it is important to pay attention to the narratives about yourself that are playing in your subconscious.  These are the things that you tell yourself about yourself.

Are you a Planner who is sub-consciously saying to yourself “I can’t trust anyone else, so I need to do everything myself”? Are you a Collaborator, who is subconsciously saying “I can’t trust myself, so I have to get everyone else to make the decision for me”? Or are you a Procrastinator who is subconsciously saying “I am so afraid of making a decision because something bad may happen, I will just avoid it”?

I challenge you to look at your past experiences, whether in childhood or adulthood and determine where these messages came from, examine their validity and the power you are giving them over your decisions.  Are they causing you to make bad decisions?  Are you subconsciously sabotaging yourself, choosing to be the victim or going to “I don’t know-ville”?

I know that thinking like this and examining yourself through this lens is scary and it takes extraordinary courage, but remember that fear is just a feeling and strong emotions are the price of admission to a full and empowered life.

I then challenge you to find new evidence in your life for the person that you REALLY are. When you catch yourself saying mean and horrible things about yourself, you then purposefully tell yourself a new truth – a kinder truth of self-love and empowerment.  Think about how you would talk to others.  Remember your brain is a muscle, you have the power to rewire it.  You have the potential to learn new habits – to learn new knowledge and apply this to your life.  Over time you will learn to trust yourself and listen to your heart and gut about what “feels” right.

Once you are self-aware use the following steps to make better decisions:

  • Analyse your goals and objectives (what is the desired outcome?).
  • What options do you have to choose from?
  • What are the possible consequences that result from your choices?
  • What are the costs or trade-offs of your decision and can you live with them?
  • Reflect, evaluate and practise, practise, practise….

decision making building code

Remember that you are still learning, most of the decisions that we make are not fatal. If you make a bad decision you can always admit that you made a mistake and that this is something that you are working on and make a different decision next time.  After all, don’t we tell our children that mistakes are okay and part of how we learn?

What decisions will you make today, and how will you approach them?

If you want to find out more about growing your emotional literacy skills go over to www.arohanuicollective.com and check out the course The Emotionally Literate Teacher

where we will unpack tools for self-awareness and self-management as well as examining how we can use emotional literacy to unlock tools for inspirational leadership and building team cultures.

Until next time,

Ka kite,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Fault Is It?

Who's fault is it?

Early childhood education in New Zealand has been in the media a lot this week, first there was the infamous New Zealand Herald opinion piece by Deborah Hill Cone comparing ECE centres to “factory farming children” and then there was the article by National’s ECE spokesperson, Nicola Willis with an opposing view.  Then on Thursday there was another article from a mother’s point of view by Cecile Meier, on Stuff, encouraging people to not judge parents for having to work and put their children in “daycare”.

These stories stirred up heated discourse online and in social media forums.  As parents, centre owners, leaders and teachers we felt attacked, undervalued, anger, indignation and guilt.  We felt that we needed to defend ourselves, our calling, our right to work and in many cases our need to work to provide for our families.  We felt that our very motivations to own centres, to be teachers and our judgement about what is right for our children was under attack.  This spurred us to go into defensive mode and in defensive mode we start to assign blame.

Who’s right? Whose fault is it?  Who’s to blame? Who can we attack in response to this?  Quite often we attack the only people that we can, other people in our profession, other teachers, other parents, ECE providers.

Why? Because we can.  Unfortunately, when we lash out at each other we all suffer as a consequence. This causes many teachers who are already feeling, run down after a long hard winter and feeling the pressures of teacher shortages, regulations and increased documentation pressures to feel even more demotivated and undervalued.

Fault vs Responsiblity

How this has played out in the media got me thinking about an inspirational video that I saw this week by Will Smith (Yes, you heard right – the actor, AKA the Fresh Prince) but he made some really great points about fault vs responsibility.  In his video he speaks about how it may not be your fault that something is broken, but it might still be your responsibility to fix it.  For instance, it is not our fault that people, like Deborah Hill Cone, has a negative opinion of all Early Childhood Centres, that’s on her, but it is our responsibility  as teachers, leaders, team members, and carers to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.

When we focus on whose fault something is, we get stuck in victim mode powerless to change the situation. The power is in taking responsibility for your heart, your life, your happiness.  Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt, you are not admitting that you are wrong.

What are we taking responsibility for?  We are taking responsibility for ourselves.  Worrying about what other people are doing, saying and thinking is a waste of our energy.  We have no control over any of those things.  The only thing that we can control are what we think, what we say and what we do.

Tanya Valentin - things I can control

As a Teacher What is Your Responsibility – What can you control?

Firstly, you are responsible for yourself. Your attitude, mindset, emotions, thoughts, heart, life and happiness.

Are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that there are teachers that are loyally “hanging in there” for the children and families, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.

It is your responsibility to fill your own cup of happiness , so that you are capable of serving others – no one else can do this for you.

Have the courage to do things that make you happy, emotions are infectious – be a positive infection!

You are responsible for the lens with which you see others.  Are you viewing others with kindness, compassion and empathy? Or are you viewing others through a deficit model?  Are you looking to assign fault, blame and guilt?  Is your motivator to be right at any cost?

“In our profession people are quick to point out the not quite rights and are slower to come forward with the positives.  We can change this within our teams by extending the strengths lens (that we apply to children) to the adults within our setting.  Notice and comment on the positives.  Pass on any great feedback given to anyone in the team who didn’t hear it first-hand. Let your positivity infect others so that they can do the same.” The Heart School 2018.

It is your responsibility to ask, “who is this for?” to be curious, courageous and a life-long learner. Do you have an open heart and an open mind? Are you a reflective practitioner? Do you question the status quo? Do you inquire into your own pedagogy?

It is your responsibility to be worthy of imitation, to hold the child at the heart of what you do and not to walk past things that don’t feel right. It is our collective responsibility to strive for excellence and to not settle for “good enough”.

It is your responsibility to create a homelike, safe, inclusive, supportive learning environment. A place where children, whanau and fellow teachers feel a sense of belonging and where the aroha and manaakitanga are palpable when you walk into a space.

It is your responsibility to create equitable opportunities for all children to develop across all areas of Te Whariki, and to affirm and value a child’s language and culture.

It is your responsibility to be a playful adult and to have fun!

It is your responsibility to promote the wellbeing of children and to advocate for children – their right for respect as unique human beings, their right to be, their right to play, make choices, to be seen, heard and for us to be an emotional safe haven for them.

It is your responsibility to build a relationship trust with children, to get to know them through careful, reflective observation.  To respond to their needs and cues, to be prepared and to respond intentionally to children’s learning. It is your responsibility to build relationships with parents and whanau and to engage them in their child’s learning and respect their aspirations for their child.

It is your responsibility to be emotionally literate human beings, respectful to others, uplifting and supporting others in our community.  By doing this we provide the blue print for children as how they are to treat others. When we show respect to others even if they are undeserving, it reflects our character.  We earn respect by respecting others.

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers not thunder.” Rumi

As the ECE community it is our responsibility to lobby the minister of education if we feel strongly about certain areas.  We are also responsible for working with our colleagues not only in our centres but in those around us to come up with ideas around where to next for ECE in Aotearoa. Together we can make a lot of noise about what quality could look like in the future.

These are the things that you have control over – your practice, your heart, your happiness, your responsibility.

If you are feeling that this a long list of responsibilities…

Take heart, chances are that you are probably already doing many of these things  and you just needed a bit of reminding.  Like most of us you are probably the most critical of yourself, so remember to treat yourself with a good dose of compassion and kindness.

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

This brings to mind the Martin Luther King Jnr quote,

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

 

So as you go into this day or week, take time to celebrate yourself and the amazing job that you are doing and while you are at it tell someone else that they are doing a great job too!

 

Kia Kaha,

 

Join me at my upcoming Auckland workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher, click here for more details.

 

 

 

 

The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Conversations for Change

 

conversations for change

Love them or hate them, fear them or get excited by them, conversations for change are an essential part of being not just an early childhood leader or teacher, but also fundamental to being human.

Even though our brains do not like change we need change.  As a society are constantly striving for excellence and innovation.  How can we do things better? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we work smarter not harder? What is the next big thing?

As teachers we are taught to reflect on our practice and how things are done. We undertake internal evaluations into the running of our rooms and centres, our policies and our pedagogy.  We attend professional development or read literature, exposing us to new ideas and research provokes new thinking and action.

Why then are so many of us afraid of change and afraid of even having conversations with others about change?  The answer to this is rooted in Emotional Literacy.

 

What is Emotional Literacy?

If we are emotionally literate we have self-awareness and recognise our own feelings and we know how to manage them. Emotional Literacy also includes being able to recognise and adapt to the feelings of other people, whilst at the same time, learning how to manage and express our own emotions effectively.

If our goal is to be effective change agents, we need to recognise that the reason why change and even having conversations for change, are difficult for us, is because we are having an emotional response.

You have activated the part of your brain called your amygdala which is essential to your ability to feel certain emotions and to perceive them in other people. You are in fact experiencing an amygdala hijack.

An amygdala hijack can be defined as:

“An Amygdala Hijack is an immediate and overwhelming emotional response out of proportion to the stimulus because it has triggered a more significant emotional threat. The amygdala is the part of our brain that handles emotions. During an Amygdala Hijack, the amygdala “hijacks” or shuts down the neo-cortex.” Daniel Goleman

Let me put this into context for you.  You can see that change that needs to happen, you know why it needs to happen, you even know how to make the change happen.  This is all perfectly rational and part of our neo-cortex function of our brain.

However, for most people the thought of change does not stay in our rational, thinking part of our brain.  As human beings our brains are wired for our first response to be an emotional one. We get triggered by past experiences of change and feelings of fear and uncertainty and this causes an emotional response in our brains. This some cases can cause a physical response in us, like sweaty palms, a racing heart, feeling flushed, dry mouth and a queasy stomach. This is in short, an amygdala hijack and this is triggering your fight or flight reflex due to a perceived attack.

How do we move past this emotional response and take action?

You may not be able to control the emotional response, but you can control the thoughts that follow an emotion if you are aware of it.  I will clarify this for you in the steps below:

  • Recognise – Emotional literacy starts with you and your self-awareness. You need to recognise within yourself that you are in fact having an emotional reaction. Motivational speaker, Mel Robbins talks about using the five second rule in this instance.  When you are experiencing an emotional response, recognise it for what it is and count backwards from five to one.  This helps you to shift from the limbic part of your brain which controls emotions into your neo-cortex where you process rational thought.
  • Observe the emotion impartially and name the emotion. For example, “I am feeling fear”.
  • Analyse – Where did this feeling come from? Most feelings come from our past experiences, or the messages that we heard from others growing up, or as part of our cultural programming. We then use these to attach meaning to situations we are currently dealing with or faced with in the future.

For example, most people when faced with addressing practice in others or change, might have an internal dialogue of, “Why should they listen to me?” “If I give them feedback about their practice, they will look at me and see that I am not perfect all the time.” “If I suggest that we change this, it could cause disagreements.” “It might not work and then everyone with think badly of me, blame me for the failure or be angry with me.” “They will think that I am incompetent as leader.” “This will expose me as a fraud and that I don’t know what I am talking about.”

You might like to unpack some of this and write down the self-talk that is going on for you.

This where self-management comes in – rationally work through what you made things mean. What is the worst-case scenario? What is the likelihood of your worst-case scenario even happening?

Part of being emotionally literate is that you develop the mind-set that you don’t always get it right and you don’t always have to have all the answers.  Our failures are just and opportunity for us to grow and learn new things about ourselves and others.  One of the most powerful things that we can do as leaders is to admit it when we have made a mistake.  Vulnerability inspires respect.

Being emotionally literate means that you are the quiet observer of your thoughts and emotions. Often, we’ve received a message about ourselves from an outside source, and real or perceived we hold onto it as TRUTH which robs us of our self-worth and self-confidence.  When we become the objective observer of our thoughts, we can then intentionally recreate the narrative of who we are and who we were meant to be.  Your subconscious mind believes everything you tell it.  Feed it love, feed it kindness, feed it truth.

  • Connect with your why – One of the most powerful tools you have is your vision. Why is the change necessary? Having self awareness and then knowing why, are your best tools to moving you from a state of fear and self-doubt and motivating you to take action.

Consider this scenario:  Perhaps you are a teacher in a toddler’s room.  You have noticed that meal-times and sleep times are chaotic.  Children are being “herded” from one area to another with little or no connection between teachers and children.  Children are given little or no choice and their natural rhythms and need to connect during care moments are not being respectfully met.  Teachers have become “crowd control officers” and this is very stressful and not very empowering nor respectful for anyone.

This doesn’t sit right for you and you would like to make a change.

The first thing that you need to do is to decide, what you would like to happen in its place. Why this is important to you, the children and the other stake holders?  You might like to curate research and readings as evidence for your vision.  If you are still feeling unsure about having the conversation or making the change – ask yourself, what are the consequences if I do nothing? How will me not acting influence the rights of others and how does this resonate for me?

Once you are armed with your vision you can ignite the other part of your “why” – your passion!

You might be passionate about respectful interactions between teachers and children.  You might feel passionate about children’s rights to have calm, respectful, emotionally satisfying care moments.  You might feel passionate about creating a culture that is rooted in respect, kindness and peace.

In this moment, even though you are fearful of change and having a conversation for change with the other members in your team, you know why the change needs to happen. You are aware of the consequences for your inaction and you feel passionate about your vision.

You have the tools to manage your emotional state in order to take action.  You are armed with the catalyst initiate a conversation for change.

Passion led us here

Influencing others to change

Whether we successfully create change in our settings largely depends on whether you can get buy in from your fellow team members to make the change and to sustain it.  This relies heavily on our emotional literacy skills in social awareness and social management.

Social awareness is our ability to have empathy for others as well as read the dynamics and power relationships of a group of people.  Social management is our ability to motivate and inspire others to trust us and go on a journey with us.  It is our ability to coach and mentor others, work together as part of a team as well as how to cope with and manage conflicts and barriers as they arise.

“The work get done through people, in order to influence we must first connect” Joelle Hadley.

If we look at this from a “conversation for change” context we can apply the following steps:

  • Have empathy – The other members of your team are probably having similar emotional responses to change. Have some compassion for where they are and the emotions that they are experiencing.  Recognise that they are having an emotional response, don’t take this as a personal attack against you and your vision.  Instead give them space and help them to name the emotion.  You might say something like, “I see that you are feeling angry do you want to talk to me about what is going on for you?”
  • Choose the right time to share your vision – Early childhood centres are busy places. Choose a time when you can have everyone’s full attention, such as a staff meeting or non-contact time.  Be clear and succinct about communicating your vision.  Your vision, your “why” is what will drive passion and behaviour.
  • Be aware of different personalities and power dynamics – Not everyone has the same motivators or ways that they like to be communicated with. What is their “why”, their values, passions and beliefs? Do you have values, passions and beliefs in common? How, can you motivate and inspire them to take a risk and trust you, to share your vision? This comes from being interested in others and getting to know them on a personal level.

According to Simon Sinek, “The very survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we do.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe trust emerges.  Trust is a feeling that comes from common values and beliefs.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe, we are more confident to take risks, to experiment and take chances.”

  • Create a common goal – Get everyone on board through open and honest communication, share concerns and barriers that come up for people. Design a plan, problem solve strategies for success and create a time-line to keep everyone accountable.
  • Acknowledge uncertainty and adversity – Discuss the fact that not everything will go according to plan all the time and setbacks are part of the process. Predict what some of these barriers to success might look like and how you will deal with this as a team when they arise. Reinforce that this a safe space to be curious together, reflect, refine and to make mistakes.
  • Commitment – Commit to the vision – “the why” the plan and the process. You need to hold onto the vision and the passion, as a means to get through adversity and that takes discipline and commitment.

 

I would like to leave you with the following quote from Charles Darwin,

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who can be manage change.”

The Emotionally Literate Teacher, Tanya Valentin ECE

Thank you for reading this blog if you find the subject of Emotional Literacy interesting and would like to unpack this further click here to find out about my upcoming workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

During this workshop we will dig deeper into Emotional Literacy. We will be inquiring as to why teachers need high levels of Emotional Literacy.  We will be exploring tools to enhance your self-awareness, manage self as well as how to connect with others and enrich your relationships.

Arohanui,

Being Courageous – Becoming Comfortable With Discomfort and Fear

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about courage and what it means to be courageous.  I have come to the realisation that courage can look different to different people depending on where they are in their lives.

For me being courageous is overcoming my self-doubt, pushing myself to write this blog and share my thoughts with you.  It has also been overcoming my fear of looking stupid in public and appearing live on my Facebook live sessions.

Courage however might look different for other people. It may be that you stop ignoring a lump in your breast and see a doctor to get it checked.  It may be that as a mum you confront your addiction to your mobile phone and realise how much time it is taking from your children.  It may be that you need courage to admit to yourself that you are feeling unhappy and you need to do something about it. For you courage might be getting up every morning, getting dressed and getting through the day. Being courageous may be saying “no” to someone because you know that one more “yes” will push your life into overwhelm. Courage might be choosing to do something for yourself or to follow a passion or a dream. Courage may be letting go of a toxic relationship or things in your life that no longer serve you.

As a teacher, courage might be reflecting on your practice and “the way it has always been done” or speaking to a team member about something that they did to upset you.  As a centre director, it may be having that difficult conversation with a parent whose baby has been bitten by another child. It may be having a courageous conversation that addresses someone’s practice.

Being vulnerable hurts

As human beings, we do not like to be uncomfortable and we hate change.  Change often requires us to feel vulnerable and to confront thoughts and feelings that hurt. It can make us feel a little panicked and even defensive. We can be so fearful of discomfort and change that it can cause us to feel physically sick.  Being vulnerable and confronting yourself is not for the weak or the faint-hearted.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness – Brene Brown.

Pain = Growth

We have no problems accepting discomfort and pain as something that is needed for our physical bodies.  I am sure that we have all at one time visited the gym or done some form of physical exercise where we have pushed ourselves and felt the pain of stiff muscles the next day.  “It’s a good pain” we told ourselves.  Children with growing limbs go through “growing pains” all the time.

If you have ever injured yourself and seen a physiotherapist, they will actually give you stretches and exercises that make you feel pain and discomfort in order to strengthen the muscles and heal you.  Even the healing act of massage require an element of pain interwoven with the feelings of pleasure. We accept this on a physical level, we tell ourselves, “No pain, no gain” but we have a really hard time accepting this at an emotional level.

Our brains don’t like change, they will do anything to take the easy way out and to maintain status quo.  However, our brains need change.

In fact, I challenge you that change and discomfort are essential for growing your emotional intelligence, your resilience and your staying power or grit.  Think of these moments of pain and discomfort as burpees for the brain.  We know that it is going to hurt, but it is oh so good for us.

Accepting that it is going to hurt and going there anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s the rub… this fear, was literally keeping me frozen in place, unable to move and grow as a teacher, a leader and as a person.  And the sad truth is that those whom we serve, our children, our families our teams can’t afford for us to be disconnected and living in a state of denial and fear.

If you are reading this and feeling this right now, thinking that you are not strong enough….

Then let me be the one to tell you

You are filled with infinite, untapped reserves of strength, courage, creativity, persistence and possibilities – more than you will ever know.

As a child you could have been anything and everything your imagination allowed you to be.  You haven’t lost it, you have just forgotten that you had it. You are just out of practice on how to use it.  Have faith in yourself and listen to your intuition – you are just one choice away from being brave, from doing what feels right and doing something amazing that will change your life forever.

How to feel the fear and do it anyway

I have been told that fear is a projection and isn’t real, but I know first-hand that fear is very real.  In some instances, such as stopping yourself from jumping off a cliff or protecting a loved one, fear is not only extremely real but vitally necessary.  As human beings we have an innate sense of self preservation.

The fear that I am challenging you to tackle today is the crippling fear of not being right, not being in control, not trying, not speaking your truth and not living your potential as a human being.

We all have a purpose for being here, we all have a gift to give.  Figuring out your true purpose might be the scariest thing that you do.  It might mean feeling emotions and letting go of things that you have relied on to keep you safe. When you suppress your truth and wage a war within yourself you are allowing your fears to stop you from doing what you are meant to be doing.

The clincher is that the only thing that you can control is your own thoughts, feelings and actions.  You cannot change other people and their thoughts, feelings and actions. The only person that you can change is yourself and that is enough.

 

Mastering yourself, your thoughts and your fears might be the most courageous thing that you ever do.

So how do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

These are some of they ways that I have helped me to move blocks in my life and overcome the fear.

  • Be vigilant of your thoughts – realise that your thoughts have power. Your reality is shaped by your thoughts. You have a choice to allow the thought to control you or for you to control the thought. This might involve digging a bit deeper into the core beliefs that you have about yourself and doing a bit of spring cleaning of the soul – I know scary stuff!
  • Your brain is a muscle – capable of growth and change.  Watch your language, a key learning for me was to replace ” I can’t do it” with “I can’t do it yet”.  Think of challenging situations as an opportunity for your brain to grow, develop and learn new skills.
  • They are just feelings – as scary as they seem, feelings themselves can’t hurt you. They have as much power as you give them.  Tough feelings and emotions are the price of admission to a meaningful life.  Suppressing or denying feelings will only make them more difficult to deal with in the long run.  Instead ask yourself, “what is this feeling here to teach me about myself?” “What am I making it mean?” Learn to observe your feeling from a distance, label it accurately and focus on the unfulfilled need at the root of the feeling.
  • Replace self-pity with self-compassion – there is a big difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling kind towards yourself. Self-pity is a bottomless pit of misery that sucks you deeper and deeper into the feeling of despair. Self-pity allows you to perpetuate the endless cycle of being a victim.  Victim thinking allows you to abdicate responsibility for yourself, your thoughts and your actions – it is never your fault.  Self-pity is a form of control – it allows you to avoid making mistakes and possibly failing and getting some-one else to feel sorry for you.   Self-compassion on the other hand is empowering and uplifting.  When you choose to be kind and gentle towards yourself you are choosing to acknowledge that although this new way of thinking can be challenging, and you will make mistakes, it is not because you are not good enough it is just part of the journey of staying curious and courageous about yourself.  You are acknowledging the emotional and personal growth that you are undertaking, the strength, persistence and resilience that this takes.  Wisdom comes from knowing yourself – when you need to push forward and when you need to rest.
  • Start a gratitude ritual – no matter how dire your life might feel, there is always something to be grateful for.  At the very least you have been blessed with another day and you are breathing.  Starting a gratitude practice will reshape your brain and your responses to life.
  • Anchoring your thoughts with your “why” – according to Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker, the extraordinary fact about fear, is that fear and excitement have the same physical symptoms in your body. The only difference is what your brain is doing.  You can trick your brain to believe that you are excited instead of fearful by using an anchoring thought. Next time you are about to do something that you find challenging and makes you nervous such as having a courageous conversation you can use an anchoring thought to help yourself to take action.  Connect with why it is important for you to have the conversation, then picture yourself after the conversation is finished.  Picture yourself telling someone how well the conversation went and the positive impact your action has had and take this feeling into you meeting.
  • Take action – making any type of change is scary and can be completely overwhelming.  Instead sending yourself into panic-mode, do an honest “internal review” into yourself and ask, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take now?” And then once that is done, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take? And so forth.

Often all that is needed is the 10 seconds of courage that it takes to make the decision to take action – Nadine Champion.

I challenge you in the week ahead, dig deep and find your 10 seconds of courage to take the action that you need to in your life, one small shaky step at a time.  All journeys are accomplished one step at a time.

There is no value in playing small, but there is huge potential in starting small – Natasha Vanzetti.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, please comment below.  I love to hear from you.

Arohanui,

 

If you are interested in the topic of emotional literacy and how you use it to unlock your skills as a heart-led teacher and leader contact me about my PLD The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Be Your Priority

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

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

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

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

The short answer is YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for the gold.

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

Are you replenishing your vessel?

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

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

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

Some ways that we can do this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become a priority to yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I worthy of imitation?

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

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

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

Thank you for reading, chat soon.