Why You Should Be Your Priority

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

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

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

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

The short answer is YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for the gold.

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

Are you replenishing your vessel?

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

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

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

Some ways that we can do this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become a priority to yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I worthy of imitation?

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

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

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

Thank you for reading, chat soon.

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

Who are our priority learners?

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

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

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


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

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

The Principles, Strands and Goals for Teachers

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

The Principles

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


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

Holistic Development

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

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

Family, Community and Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Strand and Goals


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

What we walk past we allow – Kimberley Crisp

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Learning Dispositions for Life

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

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

People are people

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

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

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

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

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

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


ECE Rituals That Show You Care.

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

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

What are rituals:

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

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

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

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

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