Getting Clear With Why

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

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

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

But yet I remain “pleasantly plump”.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

“WHY” instead of “WHAT”

Maybe you could relate to my story above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start with “WHY”

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

WHY do I want to do this?

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

For me, my obvious answer is :

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

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

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

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

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

I want to ……………. so that ……………..

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

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

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

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

I eat cake because I like cake

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

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

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

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

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

Examining ourselves through a new lens

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

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

Nathan Wallis

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

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

What are your labels?

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

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

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

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

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

A leadership context

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

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

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

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

Flipping the paradigm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But it’s Not MY Fault!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

I recently wrote a blog which posed the question:

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

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

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

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

Who’s fault is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you are right and it is their fault!

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

The problem with assigning blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

What I am responsible for?

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

Three choices

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

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

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

Justin Sebastian

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

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

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

Martin Luther King

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin ECE

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

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

Are you a depleted teacher or leader?

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

The signs that you are a depleted teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s stop waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining resilience

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

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

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

Which is:

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

Wikipedia
Tanya Valentin ECE

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

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

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

Events that can wear down your bridge

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

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

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

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

So what can we do?

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

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

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

A series of realisations

It starts with you and your relationship with yourself.

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

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

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

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

Strengthening and maintaining your structural integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rising tide lifts all boats

John F Kennedy

Tools and resources

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

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

Get your free Self-Care design planner here.

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

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

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