I Wanted To Speak Up But I Couldn’t…

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Have you ever had the situation happen to you when you witnessed another teacher yell at child or treat them roughly? You knew that it was wrong. It really didn’t feel right, and you wanted to say something…. However, when you wanted to challenge the behaviour you just couldn’t do it. Something stopped you.

Or perhaps you are a student or in a team meeting and you have brilliant idea that you would like to share or a question that you would like to ask… You know that you should speak up and ask the question or share your idea, but something stopped you.

Have any of these situations happened to you? Has this lack of courage made you reflect inwards and caused you to criticise yourself for not speaking up when it counted?

I know that in the past when this has happened to me, I would get very upset and angry with myself. I would use this as a way to berate myself and tell myself what a useless person/teacher/leader/mother I was. I would use this as evidence to prove that I couldn’t do anything right and how powerless I was as a person.

Later in my teaching journey and my life apprenticeship I became really curious as to “why?”

I wanted to know why myself and countless other good people out there are afraid to speak up. Is this something that you have been curious about too?

What is Stopping us?

There are a number of things at play here, that really run a lot deeper than you would initially think.

Firstly, there is our innate desire to belong and to be part something much larger than ourselves. Our biological make-up, our urges, our hormones are all programmed for survival. In order for us to survive as a human being we need to connect with other human beings – we depend on each other for survival. Relationships and connectedness are vital to our well-being and physiologically we will do anything to belong. This drive is so strong that we see this in our young children, our teens and ourselves and we are often misguided in our thinking that in order to belong we must to “fit-in”.

Ironically this fear of not “fitting in” and rejection stops us from stepping up to challenge behaviours that we know aren’t right and is a barrier to vulnerability which is the prerequisite for courage and meaningful connection with other human beings.

Secondly, we are a product of our experiences and cultural programming. This starts from when we are infants and continues through our experiences and our relationships with our parents, extended family, our teachers at school, our peers and significant relationships with others. Even if the messages were subtle or implied, they can become our inner voice and our core beliefs from which we operate.

Our natural propensity for to think disobediently is constrained by something silent and controlling. It grew up with you and stands attentively just behind your shoulder. It is your social editor. It got into bed with you last night and accompanied you on your way to work this morning. It is the cautioning voice that says “no” to your ideas because they might sound silly, or they might not work or they might be unstable, or they might make you look like a fool. Your social editor has phenomenal power and causes you to function at levels far below your potential. It trains you to approach problems complicitly. In the pursuit of social integration, it teaches you not to stand out and shuts down initiatives that potentially might lead to disruption. It also suggests that you are not empowered to change things.

Welby Ings – Disobedient Teaching (2017)
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Vestiges of Childhood

I was really inspired by a video I watched on Linkin by communications consultant, Jessica Chen. In her video she speaks about how the Asian culture of being an obedient child can unknowingly disadvantage people from being successful in the workplace as adults. Her reasoning is that as children they are programmed to obey and not to speak up.

This really made me think about my upbringing, and although I am not Asian, how this “programming” has helped or hindered me in my career. I am sure that is true in many cultures and over many generations. This is even more challenging for many women, because as girls many of us were discouraged from taking risks and instead we were tacitly encouraged towards perfection.

Perhaps like me you were part of the “seen and not heard” generation of children – when it was frowned upon to be part of “adult conversation” or to have any opinion other than that of your parents and your teachers?

Perhaps you were ‘disciplined’ for challenging the status quo or for being disobedient?

Perhaps you had a dis-empowering experience with a teacher or with the education system when you were a child, and this is being triggered when you have a confrontation with a colleague in your setting?

When I reflected on this I realised that this, is something to think about when I am responding as a parent, a teacher, a leader and as a friend.

I have reflected deeply about what the implications are for us as teachers and parents of future generations of adults?

Do we spend our time (knowingly or unknowingly) telling children to “grow up” or to “shut up”?

Do we brush aside feelings with, “you’re okay” when children clearly aren’t?

Do we demand absolute obedience without considering the child’s mana in our request?

Are we holding up a mirror to our own behaviour and walking the talk?

Are we unwittingly perpetuating this cycle of teaching children that their thoughts, ideas and opinions don’t matter?

Are we sending mixed messages to our children about obeying and not challenging, but then expecting them to go against this programming and challenge bullying and other discriminatory behaviour that they may encounter?

“Grow up, ” we say. “Stop crying,” we plead. “Be quiet,” we scream. “Do as you’re told,” we demand. And then we wonder why there are so many adults that can’t find the courage to speak, or feel, or create. Maybe there are so many wild souls in cages because we put them there.

Brooke Hampton
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Let me share my own experiences as a child and how this has affected me in my adult and professional life:

I grew up in a strict religious household with my father as the pastor of our local church. There was a distinct message growing up that we needed to be an example of our faith to others. Now I am not wanting to throw my parents under the bus here – as an adult looking back I can see that my parents’ intentions where not to harm me and they were just living from what they were taught from their parents. However, what they didn’t mean to happen and what did happen, was that I took this as a message that I had to be perfect. That I couldn’t make mistakes and that just being myself was not good enough. I grew up with the perception that someone was always watching, and I lived in fear of disappointing others especially my parents.

My “have to be perfect” persona and my “need to please” has proved very difficult to shake and I am still challenged by this from time to time. It is only in the past few years since I started this blogging journey, that I have been able to examine the vestiges of my childhood for what they are. I have been able to challenge my need to “fit in” and to be liked and have started inquiring into who I authentically am under all the cultural programming and childhood experiences. This has been an inquiry into how to authentically and truly belong to me.

True Belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, to get uncomfortable, and to learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.

Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness (2017)
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

The Healing Power of Self-Awareness

The great news is that if this is something that you want to change about yourself you can. The first step starts with self-awareness.

  • Dig deep – Be curious and courageous and ask yourself why. “Why do I find it hard to speak up and share my ideas?” “Why do I find it difficult to admit that I don’t understand and ask a question?” “Why do I find it painful to challenge behaviour that I find unacceptable?” “Why do I find challenging to speak about what I believe in?” “Why can’t I back myself?” What cultural programming are you fighting against?
  • Get real about the payoffs vs the costs – You might be looking at this point and think “There isn’t a payoff”, but there always is. The possible payoffs could be: Keeping yourself safe, controlling the situation, not having to be responsible, and being a victim (powerless to change). In this situation you might need to ask yourself what your payoffs are costing you. Are they costing you your joy, passion and love for teaching or life in general? Perhaps your inability to speak up is causing you to wage an internal war in yourself and you are feeling angry, frustrated, lonely or a little sad. Perhaps this internal struggle is all you speak about with your family and friends and this is impacting the quality of your relationships with others. Perhaps it is costing you, your integrity. It is up to you to decide whether the payoffs outweigh the costs and which you would rather live with.
  • Let go of the past – Once you have figured out “why?” and analysed he payoffs vs costs don’t dwell there. You have been living from that “why” for most of your life and it has been holding you back. Acknowledge its presence in your life as part of your life apprenticeship, but don’t use it as a crutch to keep you in victim mode. It will only keep you stuck, and you can’t change what is in the past. Instead forgive and move on. Concentrate on what you have influence over, the present – the here and now.
  • Courage vs Comfort – You can’t be courageous and comfortable at the same time. Being courageous requires us to be vulnerable and I don’t know anyone who would consider vulnerability as comfortable. It is up to us as individuals to choose which of these is more important to us. Comfort or Courage, Empathy or Apathy, Authenticity or Fitting In, Compliance or Disruption, Innovation or Stagnation?
  • Be aware – Notice how this comes up for you in interactions with others. The key here is not to spiral into harmful, self-deprecating self-talk. Instead focus on strategies that you can use to change your behaviour.
  • Take baby steps – Just because you want to start speaking up, it doesn’t mean that you will. Plan to take small steps each day to speak up. Perhaps you might challenge yourself to just be courageous and share your thoughts and ideas just once through-out the day? Or that you will be brave and challenge the bad practice of another teacher when you feel that it is causing harm to a child? Perhaps you will stand up to gossip in the break room? It might seem a bit strange at first – it is not something that has been a reality for you, so it is going to take some getting used to.
  • Back yourself and be brave – Part of the reason we don’t speak up is that we are not confident in ourselves and what we have to share. Or we are not clear about what we believe or why we believe this is important. Ask yourself what you believe and why you believe this? Role-play situations where you might need to back yourself and what you would say. If this is embarrassing for you practice in the shower or when you are alone in the car. A common misconception is that we have to be confident before we act – without realising that it is action that makes us confident. Quite often when we are prepared, appear confident and can back up what we are saying, people will respect us for our perspective even if they don’t agree. On occasions when I have had to have a challenging conversation it hasn’t been half as daunting in real-life as it has been in my head leading up to the conversation. The other person might even surprise you and share your opinion.
  • Be flexible and stay open to being a learner – Even though you believe in your perspective stay open to other people – they may have valid perspectives that they believe in too. Stay flexible to learning from others. Some people might never agree with you and you might not be able to change that. That is okay, it is not your job to make everyone agree with you. Respect others rights to their thoughts, experiences and opinions – you can’t change others, you can only change yourself. Learn from your interactions with others and let go of things that don’t serve you.
  • Be compassionate – This applies to yourself and to others. As with acquiring any new skill, you will make mistakes and that is part of any learning process. But also, be compassionate to others – just as you have your life apprenticeship that has shaped you, so do the other people who you encounter in your life.

So over to you…

What were your childhood experiences and how has your cultural programming shaped who you are and how you are with yourself and other people?

What steps can you take to speak up for what you believe in or to share some of your amazing ideas?

I would love to hear your stories, thoughts and experiences.

Until next time….

References:

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness – The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Thorndike Press.

Ings, W. (2017). Disobedient Teaching. Otago University Press.

Chen, J. http://soulcastmedia.com/

Why Learning Dispositions Matter

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

In my experience as a SELO provider and a facilitator for teacher professional development I work closely with centres on their assessment, documentation and planning. More often than not I have noticed that teachers seem to focus exclusively on the interests of the child when identifying the learning that has been happening in the learning story.

I have often asked why? Knowing the interests of the child is an important aspect of curriculum design. Could this be because interests are easy to see and easy to plan for?

However, when we focus all our attention on interests this is only half the picture and we only scrape on the surface of what is really happening and it can be misguiding.

Let me give you an example: Tui is a teacher in the toddler’s room. She has noticed Aria at the puzzle table diligently trying to place the puzzle pieces into the frame. Aria spends most of the morning doing this and finally after lots of concentration and effort she manages to place all the pieces of the puzzle into their correct place. She looks up at Tui and gives her a big grin – proud that all her hard work has paid off.

Now Tui could look at this situation and think Aria is interested in puzzles and she would probably be right, Aria is probably interested in puzzles. However, if Tui just documents the interest she might only end up with a singular learning story about Aria’s interest in puzzles.

If Tui chose to dig a bit deeper into the learning that is happening for Aria. If she chose to consider Aria’s dispositions for learning, she would notice that there something more complex afoot. If Tui noticed Aria’s persistence and determination while at the puzzle table, she might be aware of her inclination to this learning disposition in other interest areas.

Suddenly a singular story about and interest in puzzles becomes the starting point for a learning journey about Aria’s persistence, resilience, determination and perseverance. Very soon a learning thread emerges about who Aria is as a learner.

What are learning dispositions?

The object of assessment and documentation is to inform planning and curriculum design.

Assessment are the foundation for planning the curriculum. Documentation and assessment have little value unless they directly inform the curriculum.

Anne Stonehouse


Another function of assessment and documentation is help children to understand who they are as a learner and a thinker. Interests alone don’t really do this accurately. If we are wanting positively influence children’s identity as capable and competent lifelong learners, then we need to take a closer look at their learning dispositions.

By the time this [early childhood] period is over, children will have formed conceptions of themselves as social beings, as thinkers, and as language learners, and they will have reached certain important decisions about their own abilities and their own worth.

Kei Tua ote Pae Booklet 10

Te Whāriki talks about dispositions as “habits of the mind”. We can think of them as our inclination to think, act and to behave in a certain way and this shapes who we are as a person and a learner.

Some dispositions you might have come across are: Courage, Kindness, Playfulness, Creativity, Curiosity, Perseverance, Shyness, Collaboration, Adventurous, Resilience, Flexible, Assertive, Brave, Optimistic, Methodical.

How are dispositions formed?

We are born with some of these dispositions. You might have inherited the shy gene from one of your parents or you might be naturally curious or adventurous, or perhaps you might be more cautious and observant.

Other dispositions we learn through experiences with the environment and people around us.  Children especially in the first three years of life are programmed to be data gatherers. They gather evidence through their interactions with the environment and the significant people in their lives as to what dispositions are valued and those that we don’t value. 

Think about yourselves for a moment:  What are some of your dispositions? How has your experiences and environment shaped you as a person, as a teacher, as a learner as a thinker?

What dispositions where valued by your parents, your teachers, your peers, your culture or perhaps the media?

Dispositions are environmentally sensitive and can be weakened or strengthened by the interactive experiences of educators and teachers. It is critical in the early years to support children’s positive learning dispositions to enhance their overall motivation and engagement as capable learners with unique strengths

Dispositions are not fixed traits, rather responsive to and developed by the experiences and the people around us. They are lifelong learning capabilities that require nurturing.

Kelly Goodsir

How can we spot dispositions and how can we plan for them?

You can spot dispositions by how children approach learning and through their interactions with others around them.  Dispositions can’t be taught through a structured learning experience or at specific places or time. 

Reflect here about your own learning. Under which circumstances did you do the most learning about who you were as a person and what you are capable of?

For young children, play is the best way to foster and nurture dispositional learning.  Play is interactive and complex learning and allows children to integrate and to test out their dispositions across all learning contexts. Another way is when we allow children to be part of authentic real life experiences – when they are part of a culture or a community.

When we are communicating with parents about their children’s learning it is important that we highlight how and why dispositions are important for their children’s learning and how critical this is to their success as a human being.

When planning for dispositions, I believe the best way to foster this is through complex experiences. Think about the dispositions listed below; what experiences could you plan in order to nurture a child’s inclination towards:

Responsibility

Collaboration

Leadership

Persistence

Enrich the experience by using empowering language when talking to children or about your children’s learning.

Guiding questions

When we plan we should be guided by:

Is the child ready? Is it developmentally appropriate?

Are they willing? Do they want to do it? Is this demonstrated by the sensitivity to the occasion ?

Are they able? Do they have the knowledge and skills?

Remember we can encourage and make the experience available, but this type of learning can’t be a forced. If we force our intentions on children this just causes stress and stress hampers learning.

Perhaps after reading this you might feel inspired to take a closer look at some of the dispositions for learning that you might notice in your setting.

I have included a free resource to get you started.

Click here inorder to download a free dispositions resource.

TIP: print this off and keep it next to your computer for a quick reference when writing your learning stories.

I would love to here how this went for you.

Until next time…

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

How To Raise Emotionally Literate Children?

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

Yesterday was Gumboot Friday, a day where we are all encouraged to “Gumboot Up” and walk through mud to support people with depression and mental illness. The particular emphasis of this awareness was to raise money for children’s counselling.

It shocked me when I was doing the research for this blog, to find that New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and that it can take up to six months for kids to get help from a counsellor.

What can we do?

This really made me think…. Although I think that children having access to counselling services is important and essential, this is only one part of the picture. I think that it equally important for us to look at how we are supporting children to develop the tools that they need to develop emotional literacy and resilience.

This is not a new bit of thinking and there are many studies that prove that when you build your resilience you have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety and PSD. You will also improve your longevity, happiness and satisfaction in life. So, if we know this, then why do we not place a greater emphasis on teaching children emotional self-help skills?

How do we empower our children to prioritise their own emotional hygiene and teach them that it is okay to ask for help when they need it?

I think here of a TED talk that I watched recently where Guy Winch speaks about the disparity between the priority that we place on caring for ourselves physically vs how we care for ourselves emotionally. He relates a story of how he observed a five-year-old brushing his teeth and slipping and scraping his leg. The boy then without asking for assistance reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a plaster and covered the wound. We teach children self-help skills all the time on how to take care of themselves physically, yet do we place the same emphasis on teaching them self-help skills to care for themselves physiologically?

I believe that we need to start teaching our children emotional literacy from a very young age and that this starts right from when they are infants.

The Dyad

In his video on the importance of relationships in children’s brain development Nathan Wallis speaks about the significance of the dyad relationship (this simply means “two”) between the infant and the most significant adult in their lives.

The first relationship that children have with their primary carer – whether it is Mum, Dad, Grandma, Aunty is crucially important to helping a baby to develop a healthy, complex brain. This first relationship is where the infant learns about self-regulation, trust and the world around him or her. The quality of the learning and the brain connections the infant forms is dependant on how en tuned the adult is to the infant.

Our children are constantly downloading from us. They are taking in our words, our actions and our energy. We are the windows from which our children view the world and therefore the quality of role-modelling is extremely powerful.

Our children are learning from us through our every word and action, about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly they’re learning about themselves, their abilities, their worth and their place in our hearts and in the world.

Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care

How do we teach this?

  • Empathy and Respect – This starts with even the youngest infant and our perspective of them. Do we view them as a whole, complete, holistic human being worthy of our respect? When we look at infants, do we view them as “helpless” or do we view them as dependant, but already capable? This is important, as it sets the tone for our relationship with our children and supports them to develop their identity of who they are. If we respect someone, then we put ourselves in their shoes and ask – “How is this experience for them?” or “how would I feel if I was being treated like this, or in this situation?” This is one of the first ways that we communicate to our infants that what they feel matters, that we trust them and that we value what they are communicating to us. Remember we learn empathy by experiencing empathy.
  • Self-Awareness – One thing that I am really grateful to my training as an early childhood teacher for, is that it caused me to reflect on my upbringing. This caused me to challenge my “operating system” of how I was parented, in my interactions with children. Just as we are powerful role-models in the lives of children, we once upon a time had powerful role-models in our lives too. Some of how we were parented was great and some of it was not so great. Until we become self-aware to this, we just repeat what we know.

Do the best with what you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou
  • Pay Attention to Your Attitude to Mistakes and Failure – How do you respond to children making mistakes and their failures? Are these treated as learning opportunities or do we respond with anger and disappointment? Our children learn how to deal with disappointments and obstacles in life through our example. There is a correlation between how children view mistakes and failures to how resilient they are, as well how likely they are to take risks. Your attitude to mistakes and failure are also really important if you want your children to come to you for help when they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation and can’t cope on their own. What is equally important to note in this instance is that it is not just how we deal with our children’s mistakes and failures that are important, but also how we deal with our own mistakes and failure. Remember our children are always watching and downloading from us.
  • Give Full Attention and Communicate About the Small Things – Often our children will tell us things that seem insignificant and unimportant to us. These things might be small to us; however it means the world to them. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns or fears because they seem silly to you. Instead acknowledge how they are feeling in this moment and time. Try responding with, ” That must be really scary for you.” Our children need small moments of our full attention, these are important times to top-up their emotional tanks. If we invest in our children in this way, we communicate to them that what they say is important to us, that they are important. In doing this our children will be less likely to try to get our attention through negative ways such as bad behaviour. If we make time to listen to the little things, they are more likely to share the big stuff with us when the time comes.

Telling a child that something that matters to them isn’t important doesn’t convince them that it doesn’t matter. It just convinces them that it doesn’t matter to you, it often makes them feel that they don’t matter, either. Remember, caring about the little things that matters to little people creates big connections.

L.R. Knost
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services
  • Accept and Encourage Children’s Emotions – One thing that I notice with a lot of adults (myself included) is that we are often frightened by our children’s emotions. One of the reasons that we are so confronted by our children’s big emotions is because triggers something within us. We might feel anxiety, unease, fear, guilt, shame, anger or fear in response to our child’s big emotions and we try to look for the quickest way to solve the problem. We want to help our children, but we also want to stop feeling the emotion that has been triggered in us. Some of the things that we might do, would to be to try to stop our children from experiencing the emotion by saying things like “Stop it”, “Don’t cry” or “Turn that frown upside down”. Or we might try to deflect or detract children from their feelings, by saying things like “let’s go play with the blocks” or “let’s find all the pink things in the room.” If we practice empathy and put ourselves in our children’s shoes in this situation, then we probably wouldn’t feel too great if our friends or partners spoke to us in this way if we were feeling sad or angry. If we relate this to a physical reaction like limping because we broke our leg, we wouldn’t find it helpful if someone gave us advice to “walk it off” or for someone to to try to distract us from the pain. When we are responding to children in these ways about their feelings, what are we communicating to them about the value of their emotions, their perspectives and how we value them?
  • Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge – Another learning for me, has been that I don’t have to be the “fixer” of my children’s feelings. A powerful example in my life has been helping one of my children through a tough time in her life. In the past when she expressed her sadness, anxiety or fears to me this set off the “fixer” in me. I wanted to stop her pain (and my own) and I reacted with “helpful” suggestions and strategies that she could use to “fix” the situation. I was being a “Mum” and what she wanted was a friend. She just needed someone to cuddle her, comfort her, listen to her, to acknowledge her feelings and to tell that it was okay to feel this way. She wanted someone to tell her that it would be okay. It is the same with young children – we don’t need to “fix” them out of their problems. For example, if a toddler is upset because their mother just left for work, it is okay to say, “I can see that this is really upsetting for you. I know that you wanted mum to stay. I will sit with you until you feel that you are able to go and play.” Acknowledging children’s feelings, especially for our very young children, might feel a little bit strange to us at first. However, once again when we practice empathy we realise that this is how we all like to be treated. We like to feel that someone values our feelings, understands us and what we are going through and will be there to support us if we need them.
  • Mirror, mirror – Young children cannot differentiate between their feelings and themselves. It is our job to teach our children about emotions and that a full range of emotions are part of the human experience. When we are teaching our youngest children about their emotions one of the ways that we can do this is by mirroring their emotion back to them via our facial expression. For example, if they are feeling sad, we mirror a sad expression back to them when we are talking to them. Or we might add words to our mirroring – sad expression + “I can see that you are feeling sad”. This way the child learns that this feeling that I am experiencing is called “Sad” and it looks and feels like this.
  • Books – We can talk to children about emotions while reading books to them or looking at pictures and discussing how the characters in the books are feeling. We could support children to think about a time when they might have felt like the character in the book.
  • Help Children to Develop Problem-Solving Skills – Generally once children feel that they have been understood and that we have accepted their emotions they are more likely to be open to problem-solve and think in a reflective way. It is important for us to accept all emotions and to not label some as “bad” and some as “good”. However, it is up to us to teach children how to regulate their emotions so that can manage the behaviour that may be a consequence of their emotions. As the adult in the situation it is up to us to set the boundaries. We might say something like this, “I know that Sam made you feel really angry when he took your toy, but it is not okay to hit. Let’s think of what we might do next time.”

These are just some ways that we can help to teach children emotional literacy and support them to build resilience. Have you used any of these strategies with the children who you teach or perhaps your own children?

Let us never loose sight of the amazing human beings that our children are and view our children through the eyes of gratitude and love. Let us feel privileged that out of all the other billions of people in the world, we have been chosen to play this important role in the life of a child.

Until next time….

References:

Elevating Child Care – Janet Lansbury, 2014

How to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch ( TED 2015)

The Crucial Dyad Relationship for Infants – Nathan Wallis (Storypark 2017)

5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child – Dr Laura Markam (2019)

Teaching Young Children About Their Emotions – Dr Kaylene Henderson (Storypark 2017)

They Are Us

Teaching children about respecting diversity in Aotearoa
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Like all of you I was shocked and horrified by the traumatic and inhuman acts of violence carried out by the gunman in Christchurch last Friday.

My thoughts immediately went out to all of those who senselessly lost their lives and their poor families whose lives will be changed forever. Like most of you I asked myself in disbelief, “How can this happen in New Zealand?”

I mourned the lost illusion, that we live in a country where things like this just don’t happen.

I have spent many hours reflecting and asking myself why? How I can explain this tragic act of terror to my children, or even make sense of this myself?

I have been so inspired by the outpouring of support and the stand of solidarity from New Zealanders all over the country.

However, I have also been reflecting about how much truth is in statements such as; “This is not us” and “These Australians came to our country a bad name”. Along with many posts that I have read on social media from people standing with the Muslim community. These have been inspiring and heart-warming, I have also read numerous posts from people in New Zealand speaking out about racism that they have encountered as an everyday occurrence.

This has caused me to ponder on the following questions:

Have we grown so apathetic to everyday prejudice and discrimination that it takes something so horrible to wake us up to this hard fact?

And, how can we remedy this going forwards? Can it even be remedied?

No Child is Born Racist….

No child is born racist. No child is born with hate in their heart, but it doesn’t stay this way. Even the gunman who killed all those innocent people was not born racist or with hate in his heart.

My question for you is how do we keep our children this way?

How do we teach children to celebrate people for being people regardless of race, gender or age?

How do we as teachers fulfil our responsibility under our curriculum to support children to:

Experience an environment where: There are equitable opportunities for learning irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity or background.

and

They are affirmed as individuals

Te Whariki 2017 pg 37.

Start with the man or woman in the mirror

Children are extraordinarily intelligent beings, in the first three years their brains are on a data gathering, fact finding mission. Our children are constantly downloading from those around them trying to figure out what it means to be human. We as significant adults in children’s lives have tremendous influence over shaping their minds and ultimately their lives. Our children pick up on our emotions, our words, our actions and our prejudices.

No you may not view yourself as discriminatory or racist, but….

I would like you to take a moment to critically reflect on things that you might have said in front of your children or the children in your care.

Sentences that begin with words like: “I’m not racist but…” or “look at that damn Asian driver!” You might have used a derogatory nickname to describe a culture of people, or you might have linked a certain behaviour to a race of people. This is all discrimination and racism.

We may be ashamed to admit it, but we might have been guilty of this in the past. If you were not, you might have heard someone else say it and not agreed but given an embarrassed laugh or pretended that you didn’t hear the remark.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

And that my dear New Zealanders is where we need to start! Let’s all check what dormant racism or prejudices we have in our closet – lurking from our childhoods or our pasts and examine them through the lens of respect and empathy.

Ask yourself, “is this kind?”

“Would I like to be treated like this or be spoken to or about like this?”

Let us recognise discrimination and racism in others and courageously challenge it when we see it. If you see something, or hear something that doesn’t feel right, let’s say something. It might not be our fault, but it is all of our responsibility. We cannot change others around us, but we can change ourselves.

And remember that our children are always watching downloading and learning from us.

Let us be mindful of this and teach our children lessons that will make this world a better place and not teach them about hate which will tear us apart.

We are all New Zealand.

The past is where you learn the lesson. The future is where you apply it.

Unknown

Kia kaha Aotearoa.

If you would like to support the victims of the Christchurch shooting you can donate at the Victim Support Give a Little page by clicking here.

Be Careful What You Teach…

Power and Influence in the Early Years
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about an incident that she had witnessed where a teacher had withheld food from a toddler because they were banging their plate on the table. She was horrified with what she had witnessed, but also equally horrified by that the teacher, when called on her practice didn’t see anything wrong with it. The teacher didn’t recognise the power and control that she had in that moment over the child to shape how they see themselves for the rest of their lives – their identity, their inner dialogue and their future relationship with food.

First Do No Harm

As adults and teachers, we often don’t realise the tremendous influence we have in the young lives of the children in our settings. When reflecting on this subject this brings to mind the oath that doctors make to “First do no harm.” I reckon that this is something that teachers who hold tremendous power, but also tremendous responsibility, should aspire to as well.

In order for us to recognise this power and influence we need to put on our glasses of empathy.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

If we say that we respect children, then this requires empathy. In my opinion respect and empathy go hand in hand.

When you respect another person “accept each person as an individual with rights and freedoms … you are prepared to receive each person without them being who you might want them to be.

Toni Christie

If we show respect for someone it requires us to put ourselves in their shoes and to ask ourselves, “How would I feel if I were that person in this situation?” Empathy requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of the children in our care and ask – How would I feel if….

I was picked up physically without any warning?

I was passed around to people I didn’t know?

Someone made me say I was sorry, when I was not sorry?

I was forced to share a beloved personal item with someone who I didn’t want to share it with?

If I were hungry and I wasn’t allowed to eat, or if I weren’t hungry and I had to eat? How would I like to be made to eat everything on my plate?

I was talked about, in front of me, as if I didn’t exist, or spoken to in a way that was disrespectful, belittled me or made me feel bad about myself?

“Being respectful to children, empathising with them. Listening when they speak and showing kindness is not “coddling,” “spoiling,” or treating them like “special snowflakes.” It is just treating children like human beings.”

Rebecca Eanes

Power and Influence

Children are extremely vulnerable; their brains are still developing. They are at the stage where they are developing their identities and figuring out what it means to be human. Young children are way more susceptible to believing anything we tell them, even if this is untrue. Because they are ‘egocentric” they can only see things from their own point of view and internalise words from others and events to make it mean something about themselves.

Young children have very little control in their lives. In most cases they don’t get to decide where they go, what they will do or when they will do it, what they will eat, when they will eat, when they sleep or where they will sleep. These decisions are primarily made by the adults in their lives.

Our influence over them is so powerful that we even control what is programmed into their internal dialogue.

We all have experiences from our childhood positive or negative that we remember. Those pivotal moments when something was said by a significant person in our lives which caused us to think or believe something about ourselves. These beliefs (true or untrue) can becomes “truths” that we hold onto, to define us as a person. When these beliefs are negative, they can rob us of our self-worth and self-confidence. We have this same power and influence in the lives of children.

“Children have this amazing way of becoming exactly who we tell them they are.

If we tell them they are strong, they become strong. If we tell them that they are kind, they become kind. If we tell them that they are capable, they become capable.

Speak life into your kids, so that they will have what takes to tackle their own life one day.”

Amy Wentherly

“With” and not “To”

I think it is important to remember what Dr Emmi Pikler said about doing things with children and not to them. When we truly respect children, we see them as unique human beings with rights and choices. We view them as capable and competent partners in their own care and learning and trust them and their right to choose.

We prepare children in advance for what is coming next and when change does happen we go slowly at their pace and allow them to be an active partner in the care ritual.

Madgda Gerber, who worked with Emmi Pikler and then later founded Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), based off of Emmi Pikler’s teachings said:

When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know that you intend to give him a chance to respond. You assume that he is competent and you involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems.

The same goes for discipline, it is important to know the distinction between discipline and punishment. Discipline is something we do with the child to support them to manage their behaviour whereas punishment is something we do to the inflict suffering for the past behaviour. To be effective, true discipline should be from a place of love, respect and empathy.

Keeping Everybody Safe

As you can see from the discussion above, as the adults we need to be mindful of our actions, our words the tremendous power that weld. To reflect on our actions and words using the filter of empathy and to be intentional with our thoughts, words and actions.

We need to remember that we are the “adults” and to have control over ourselves especially when we are feeling emotional or triggered.

It is worth mentioning that how we react to behaviours of children or those around us has less to with the behaviour of others and more about how we are feeling in the moment. This requires us to be courageous about figuring out what is triggering us and to beware of how these triggers make us react so that we can self-regulate our emotions.

This might require us to be the courageous advocate of others if we witness undue influence and power-struggle types of behaviour in our settings.

We might need to intervene when we feel that the rights of others are being infringed on.

This could take the form of stepping in and offering to take over when we feel the stress of a team mate and we recognise that in this moment they are triggered and about to lose control in a situation. This should be followed up with a conversation (coming from love for the child, but also from the place of respect and empathy for the teacher) where we address the situation and what could be done in future to avoid similar situations from happening.

This could mean reporting a teacher if the behaviour was abusive. This is never an easy or pleasant thing to do. However, as teachers if we are to “first do no harm” then that applies to us not sitting idly back and by our inactivity allowing the behaviour to occur. Our first responsibility is with the children and their parents who placed their precious children in our care. They trust that we will promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of their child. We should always ask ourselves, “Would that behaviour be okay if the parent was in the room?”

I leave you with the thoughts of Dr Stuart Shanker, a prominent neuroscientist in the field of self-regulation.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary understanding of the importance of a teacher in the early years of a child’s life.  Whereas early years educators were once seen as little more than  substitute caregivers, watching over a child until the process of education proper could begin, they are now being recognised as the guardians of a society’s future wellbeing.  The more we learn about the development of the brain in the early years of life, the better we understand how the teacher plays a critical role in the development of the core neural systems that underpin a child’s mental and physical health throughout their lifespan

Until next time look after each other.

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