Do you ever get angry with yourself or others, or feel guilty?
Have you ever had an emotional response that has left you so triggered that it is all you can think of for days and days?
Chances are that we have all felt these emotions in our lives from time to time. Sometimes these emotions can be really intense. We can really feel upset by them or feel so stuck that we just can’t move past them.
Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently…
I was facilitating a workshop and it was all going well. In the break, someone came to me and said, “Excuse me but, there is a typo on one of your slides.”
Now I acknowledge that it took a lot of courage for this person to come up to me and tell me this. I know that she was doing this because she cared about me and my professional integrity. I personally value professional discourse and honest direct feedback.
I know that to you this might seem trivial… So then why was I feeling so triggered?
To be perfectly honest this emotional response hung around me for days after the workshop like a bad smell. So I decided to put pen to paper and to curiously and courageously unpack some of what was going on for me.
I learnt this process at a personal development course that I attended a few years ago. I have since added my own bits to it so that works for me.
Today, I would like to share this experience and the process that I used with you. My hope is that this might help you with some of the feelings or emotions that have taken up residence in your mind and heart.
How I got myself out of Stucksville
First of all, I found a time where I was able to be undisturbed and I able to focus on my thoughts. I then tried to, as accurately as possible, to write down all the facts about the situation. (Just the facts)
I then tried to think about what I am projecting – something from my past (in this case, the first-ever presentation I did in front of a group of people many years ago) or was it fear or something that I am worried about for the future?
In this instance, I realised that I was in my circle of concern rather than my circle of influence and that I needed to move back into where my power was.
I then confronted myself and wrote down everything that I was saying about myself and this situation.
I usually take a “no holds barred” approach to this as I feel that once these words are on paper they are no longer taking up the room in my head. I then acknowledge them and draw a line under what I had written to signify that I am now moving past them. I reminded myself that nothing has meaning except the meaning that I give it.
What are my feelings telling me?
The next step is to pinpoint the emotions that I am feeling.
For me, it was anger and disappointment.
I have three choices with these emotions. I can either wallow in them(and make them mean something about me) try to bury them (we can easily fall into the habit of labelling our emotions as “bad” and to try to avoid feeling them) or … I can see them for what they are information.
“Information for what?” You might be asking. Information for what my next move should be.
(I have included a list of common emotions that we don’t like to experience and what they might be telling you below.)
When I examined what my emotions were telling me, I realised that I had not met my own expectations of myself. I had also violated my “rule” about excellence and professionalism.
I then needed to challenge my expectations – were they realistic? As well as my perceptions around my “rules”.
What did excellence and professionalism mean to me?
Life is all about perception and what we tell ourselves at any given moment of time. Once we realise that we control the narrative of our lives it opens a world of new possibilities. What you tell yourself everyday will either lift you up or tear you down – YOU decide.
So instead of perpetuating the narrative of not being good enough, not professional enough, et cetera, et cetera (that we all can fall prey to).
I chose to change the narrative.
I decided to tell myself that I am human. That everyone makes a mistake from time to time – even professionals.
I chose to tell myself that I will take action to do better in the future. However, I would probably still make mistakes and that this is okay.
I decided to take the lessons from this experience. To forgive my younger self for the disastrous workshop from years ago (and for my mistake in the recent one.) And to let it go.
What are your emotions telling you?
Here is a list of common “unpleasant” emotions and the action that they are telling you to take:
Fear – I am unsafe/I need to prepare – get prepared, change your situation or change your perception about the situation.
Hurt – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.
Anger – one of your “rules” has been violated by yourself or by others – You can accept the situation, take steps to change it or move away from it.
Frustration – what you are doing isn’t working – change your behaviour or try something new.
Sadness or Disappointment – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.
Guilt – you are out of alignment with your values – adjust your values or realign with your values.
All unpleasant feelings stem from some sense of loss – real or imagined.
What had I lost in this situation?
It turns out that my sense of loss was merely a projection, an idea that I was aspiring to be.
What about you?
How do you choose to deal with your feelings?
Have you ever thought about your emotions as feedback or information on an action that you had to take in your life?
Could use these often perceived “negative emotions ” as an agent for change or as a powerful way to empower you?
If you found these steps useful or helpful and you would like to chat with me about mentoring, wellbeing coaching or whole team PLD please get in touch.
I recently read a story about a village where the women all washed clothes together at the river. When their fortunes changed and they all got washing machines the depression rates in the village went up drastically. No one could initially figure out why.
It wasn’t the technology or owning a washing machine that was at fault, but rather the sense of isolation that these women felt because they were no longer spending time together down by the river. Their sense of community was missing.
The Invisible Load
This really resonated with me, because at various times in my life and career I have felt this isolation too.
The first time was when I took a break from teaching to welcome my first child into the world. I went from being part of a busy centre to being a stay-at-home mum. I love being a mum, and I really wanted to love being a stay-at-home mum. However, I really missed the sense of community that my job had given me. Along with all the hormonal things that were going on, the absence of adult company really took its toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing.
The second instance that I can remember feeling this way, was when I decided to become a home-based educator for a brief stint when my children were preschoolers.
When I was promoted from being a teacher to became a centre manager. Now this one came out of leftfield. I was part of a team, I was surrounded by people, some of whom I called friends. However, the feeling of loneliness and isolation I experienced was really profound.
I know now, that this is something that many leaders struggle with. It is often lonely at the top. Especially when you work in a small stand-alone centre and you don’t other centre managers to talk to.
This can become an invisible load of stress and emotional labour that only we can see and feel. This load can have a damaging impact on our feelings of belonging and wellbeing in our own centres. Which is ironic really because we feel responsible for building a culture of wellbeing and belonging for the people around us and yet we are often doing this from a place of lack and loneliness. We can feel the weighed down under the expectation of being the example worthy of imitation.
We’re “fine,” we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. “We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now,” we say as days turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.
We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back. It’s so hard to know how to even begin to build the kind of relationships our hearts need which could mean the difference between thriving and surviving.
And, as a result, we shy away from the very thing we are wired to do – connect.
We live in a culture where we have our own “washing machines” and we don’t really depend on each other for much of anything if we’re being honest. We hide behind labels, titles and roles as a way to keep ourselves separate and safe; in case we will need to have a difficult conversation with someone in the future. Frightened by the messiness of human relationships, we isolate ourselves behind our “management” armour and keep our “professional distance”, denying ourselves the joy of whole-hearted human connection. Consequently, this has a detrimental impact on ourselves and our centre cultures and children’s experiences are poorer because of it.
In Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, she likens the damaging effects of being lonely on overall wellbeing and even the length of our life expectancy to be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I don’t say that to freak anyone out, but to let you know that the longing for connection is REAL.
I think we’ve treated friendship and our relationships like a luxury for far too long. Feeling part of a community – having a genuine sense of belonging isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Building a Sense of Community
We need it. Remember the leader is part of the team, and you set the tone for the culture and the relationships. How many of the kaiako in your team are carrying similar pain and are struggling with their own courage and vulnerability “stories” too? For us to have true empathy, we must first be able to relate. By taking the lead and being brave and real, we make it okay for others to do the same thing.
If you are a teacher reading this, look out for each other but also check in on your leaders. They are people first and foremost and they might need a little help and support too (even though they might not ask for it.)
Remember that we are all part of a wider teaching community. It is our community and it is our responsiblity to strengthen and uplift it. We can get so caught up in the idea that we are in competition with each other. There might be people in this community that might not be your “tribe”. However, what would happen if you changed the “story” that we tell ourselves and took a chance?
It is very likely that there are many other teachers, leaders, owners and centre managers in your neighbourhood that are feeling a similar sense of isolation. Why not reach out and get to know them? Or reach out to an independent coach or mentor. There so many benefits to having a person outside of your centre for you to talk to or to gain a perspective outside of your own.
Be independent. Be proud of it. But be an independent person who realizes the value and the importance of opening the door to other good people.
You can do it alone, but you don’t have to. Islands are only fun for so long.
There is true magic when people come together and share ideas, share stories and struggles. You use your gifts, and I’ll use mine, and then we’ll invite the person over there who brings a completely different set of skills to the whariki we are building, and we’ll watch together as something miraculous unfolds.
If some of this is a challenge for you and you would like to chat with me about how I might be able to support you, please click the button below to book a 15-minute no-obligation chat over the phone or via video call.
Have you have felt like you weren’t appreciated at work?
Or, tried to show appreciation towards someone else and felt that your efforts did not quite hit the mark?
It could be because you were not talking the same love language.
Showing gratitude towards the people in your setting is important for creating a thriving team where everyone feels valued and like they belong.
It has been my observation that not everyone likes to be acknowledged and have appreciation shown in the same way. In a parenting course I attended years ago I discovered the love languages, and this has been a strategy that I have applied as a parent time and time again.
I knew how this worked in a family context, but recently I discovered a book by Dr Gary Chapman and Dr Paul White entitled The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, which really made me think about how this can be applied in a work context.
The 5 Languages According to Gary Chapman and Paul White are:
Words of Affirmation: People who have this love language thrive on and are motivated by kind words and praise. It could be about their performance, their character or their personal qualities. Let me give you an example:
Maria is the type of teacher that everyone likes. She is friendly to both teachers and parents. Children are instinctively drawn to her.
Where other teachers might enjoy tickets to the movies or a bunch of flowers as a sign of appreciation, this doesn’t really motivate her. What really makes Maria feel cared for is an encouraging word or praise for a job done well.Marialoves it when her Centre Manager gives her positive feedback about her work, or when her teammates tell her that her wall display is beautiful or when a parent pays her a compliment.
Do you have any Maria’s in your team? Do you have people who bask in the glow of verbal appreciation?
As a leader, it is important to ensure that you give positive feedback to the Maria’s in your team, however, don’t just praise for praise sake. Rather keep praise meaningful and specific. Lazy praise can have the opposite effect to what you intended.
Quality Time: People with this love language relish spending quality time with the leader or with the other people in the team. For example:
Tala is a team player, she likes to organise parent events at the centre and staff outings. She really enjoys talking to colleagues and parents and going the extra mile to ensure that everyone feels welcomed into the centre. What really helps Tala to feel supported and affirmed is when her Headteacher, Tracey, comes to spend the morning in her classroom and she can talk to her about all the amazing things that the children are doing. Tala also loves meeting up with her fellow teachers for a coffee or having conversations in the lunchroom.
As you can see, Tala’s love language is quality time. If you have people in your team who have this love language, show them that you care by giving them the gift of your time through one-to-one moments of full attention.
Acts of Service: Kaiako with this love language feel your appreciation when you do things for them, like making them a cup of tea or helping them solve a problem. Here is an example:
Sam is a hard worker, he has loads of energy and he is extremely efficient. He doesn’t care about praise or recognition, he just likes to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job done well. What Sam really appreciates is when his workmates help him to tidy up the playground at the end of the day or rake the sand-pit.
You see Sam’s approach to appreciation is “don’t tell me that you care – show me.” If you have a Sam in your team keep this person’s heart tank filled by performing kind acts of service.
Gifts: Show this person you appreciate them by giving thoughtful gifts. Let me share this example with you:
Stephanie is a hard worker, she is meticulous at what she does. Stephanie has aspirations to be a manager and she thrives on a challenge. Although she appreciates positive feedback from her Centre Director, Sally, this doesn’t really motivate her. Stephanie loves it when Sally buys her, her favourite coffee from the local cafe and leaves this on her desk with a little note. Stephanie really feels special when a parent brings in home-baking for morning tea and her fellow teacher gives her a gift of fresh honey from her bees.
If you have a Stephanie in your team they will feel your appreciation with tangible gifts such as flowers, a massage voucher or time off.
A word of guidance of tangible gifts – get to know the other person and what they value. Think about what they would like when giving a gift and not what you would like to receive.
Physical Touch: This can be a bit of a tricky one in the workplace as this can be a bit polarising for some people. However, you might have people in your workplace who thrive in this form of appreciation. Let me give you an example:
Jenny is a warm and bubbly person, she is quick to greet others with a hug or even a kiss on the cheek. Children love coming to her for cuddles or sitting on her lap for a story. It is little surprise that Jenny’s love language is physical touch.
Do you have a Jenny in your centre? Someone who loves hugs?
Some ways to show a person with this love language that you care for them is to give them a hug, a firm handshake, a high five or a pat on the back.
We are luckier than most in that appropriate physical touch is more readily accepted amongst colleagues in early childhood setting than in other professions. However, when you choose to use these actions really does depend on the person that you are showing appreciation to. Consider their comfort levels and how well you know them.
Further Ideas for Using Love Languages in Your Setting…
Spend some time getting to know the love languages of the people in your setting. Use this as a tool to build trust and meaningful connections.
You might want to discuss this at a team meeting or complete a quiz as an icebreaker exercise.
Our love language is usually how we choose to show love. Learn to show appreciation by observing your teammates and how they show love and appreciation to others.
Some further ideas for showing gratitude towards your fellow kaiako might be:
Giving a teacher time off so she can attend her child’s sports day.
Spending time having a conversation with fellow kaiako.
Cooking a meal for a kaiako who is sick or has had a bereavement in the family.
Leaving a hand-picked bunch of flowers and a hand-written note for a teacher who is going through a difficult time.
Speaking words of encouragement.
Paying someone a compliment.
Random acts of kindness.
Spending time with teammates outside of work.
Giving a hug.
Celebrating a teacher’s achievement or special moment.
Baking someone a cake.
Helping a teacher to tidy up at the end of the day.
Shouting morning tea.
Doing someone else’s job, like folding the washing, unpacking the dishwasher or tidying up the art sink.
What do you think?
Perhaps you have identified your love language or the love language of others in the examples below.
What makes you feel loved and valued?
How could you show that you appreciate and care for someone in your team, in your family, in your life?
I would love to hear from you.
Be sure to check out 3 Good Things for Teams, which is based on some of the research that I did on love languages. Find out how you can improve your wellbeing, belonging and happiness at work through the power of gratitude.
When I started writing my blog today I had a different subject in mind but for some reason, I kept on being pulled to this photo… So I decided to shelve the blog that I was halfway through and follow my heart and write this instead. This is a bit more of a personal blog from me, but I felt that it was something that I really wanted to share.
I have been challenged by my mentor to have more of “ME” on my website. To let you all get a glimpse of who the “REAL ME” is. This meant spending a morning being followed by a photographer, while she captured me and my story. I worked with the amazing Nykie Grove-Eadeswho was super fun and easy to work with. She took some amazing pics as you would have seen on my new, fresh looking website.
But this is something that I really struggled with( because if you know me, I am really more of a behind the scenes type of girl).
Amongst all the amazing photos that Nykie took that day this was one of them. Now I have to confess (this is going to sound a bit vain), that at first when I saw this photo all that I saw was all the chins! I immediately wanted to reject the photo because I didn’t look perfect and I was worried about other people would think. In fact a year ago I wouldn’t have dared to post such a chinny photo of myself anywhere, let alone on a blog for everyone to see.
However, I have been doing a lot of work on accepting myself and loving myself for who I am. So I chose to view it through a kinder more loving lens. And what I saw was ME! This is the real me – no filters, no air-brushing, happy, having fun at one of my favourite places in the world, the beach. When I look at myself through this lens, I see someone who is grateful for her health, her body, her life, her purpose. I see all the hard work that I have put into feeling better about myself.
There is so much pressure out there to live up to expectations of what we should look like, who we should be and what we should say. Through-out my life I have really been challenged by this and the need to please others. I battled crippling self-doubt when I first started blogging. I fought against myself to write what was true for me and not what I felt other people wanted to hear. Discouraging and down-right mean thoughts would flood my brain each time that I would go to post anything. However, I became aware that these thoughts are just my brain’s defence system. Instead, I chose to be vulnerable, to be courageous, to trust my community and myself and forced myself to post regardless.
I do this because I know that I am not alone in this. I see others struggling with this all the time too and I know intuitively that through sharing my thoughts, ideas and fears I am able to help others to find their voice and to speak their truth. To find the courage be more true to who they are too. Thankfully, I have become better at managing my inner critic and posting has become much easier for me now, but it was really difficult for me at first.
I know that there are many people who struggle with just being themselves and speaking their truth. It is all too easy to get caught up in what others will think about us or give in to the fear of rejection. This fear can hold us back and make us tolerate things in our lives or behaviour from others that we know in our hearts that we shouldn’t. We can get so caught up in the fear of being found out to be lacking, flawed, “not perfect”. These are the primary reasons why people don’t challenge bad practice or avoid have those “courageous conversations”.
The need to be accepted and to belong is a strong innate drive in all of us. In my own learning journey, I have learnt to pay more attention to my intuition and what feels right for me. This has required of me to consciously let go of years of cultural programming, others expectations (or perceived expectations) of me and ideas of who I thought that I should be and to simply BE ME.
In my quest I have found inspiration the words of Brene Brown:
Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you make it your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you are not enough. You will always find it because you have made it your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods, we don’t negotiate their value in the world. The truth of who we are lives in our hearts.
Lessons from my journey…
I would like to share a few lessons that I have learnt while I worked to love and accept myself:
We all battle with doubts, the fear of rejection or being seen to be an imposter – Speak your truth anyway.
We think that other people are watching us and judging us… But really most of the time they are so preoccupied with what is happening in their own lives that they fail to see what is going on for us.
If someone does judge you or says mean things it is a reflection on how they are feeling inside about THEMSELVES.
Sometimes it is your fault. We all make mistakes, it is part of being human. Although it is important to learn from our mistakes, recognise that mistakes are part of the learning process. Don’t use them as a self-torture device and let them occupy unnecessary room in your mind and your heart. Learn to be self-curious, not self-critical.
Hurt feelings aren’t fatal – objectively take the lesson from other’s comments and move on.
Just giving yourself permission to be yourself is incredibly scary at first, but once you get more confident it is really freeing and empowering.
When we are honest and authentic this inspires others to trust us, which inspires change.
In our profession, building trusting relationships is the most important aspect of our jobs. Our ability to build trust within our centre environments with the people in our team, with children and their families is vital to providing a safe nurturing environment for everyone in our setting. Without trust, there is no accountability, commitment or growth within our practice.
We can’t develop trust when there is no authenticity.
The more you allow yourself to be vulnerable and real the easier you make it for other people to be vulnerable and real around you. This is the beginning of the whole-hearted connection, relationships and trust with others.
Remember there is only one YOU. Even though you are imperfect and wired to struggle you are worthy of your own love and acceptance. The world needs the REAL YOU.
Our children are downloading from you, what it means to be human. They need the real you to make it okay for them to be imperfectly, beautifully, courageously real through your imperfect, beautiful, courageous example!
Teacher well being has been in the media a lot lately as well as many self-care ideas and strategies that we can utilise to look after our own well being.
These are all fine and well, but what I am finding more and more when working with tired teachers and managers are that these strategies are great and are something that can benefit us all…. But they don’t address some of the important issues at the heart of teacher and manager stress and burn-out.
I am talking about the unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves and others.
Our Expectations at Leaders
Let me share this example with you:
Lani is a teacher in an early childhood centre, she has 16 children in her portfolio group and her centre requires each kaiako to be responsible for leading an in-depth internal review during the year. Lani is also completing her induction and mentoring programme towards her full teacher certification, as well as overseeing the health and safety of her room.
she first started at her centre she used to get 2 hours a week to complete her
planning, children’s learning stories, internal review and health and safety paperwork. Getting everything done in the allotted time
was challenging, but through innovative thinking, self-discipline and by implementing
time management strategies, Lani made it work.
During the year she has noticed that things at her centre things have changed. The centre manager has created a new assessment system with the intention that it will make children’s learning more visible and strengthening practice but is more time consuming for teachers.
to this, due to the changes in employment law around compulsory tea breaks the
centre owner has decided to cut teacher non-contact time to one hour a week in
order to mitigate staffing costs to the centre.
Lani does her best, but she is getting further and further behind with her planning and admin tasks. She doesn’t want to take her work home with her but is finding that she is having to do this more and more. The stress of this is getting to her and her colleagues and it has gotten to a point where this issue is all that they speak about with each other. This constant negativity has seriously impacted the team’s emotional hygiene. This is also causing tremendous stress and frustration for her and her fellow kaiako which is impacting on Lani’s health, her confidence as a teacher and her overall enjoyment of her job. Lani is becoming so disillusioned with teaching that she is considering leaving teaching and retraining in another field.
If you are reading
this, you might feel for Lani as this might be something that you are currently
experiencing as a teacher or leader in early childhood education.
I know that there might
be some of you that might be thinking, well that’s just part and parcel of
being a professional teacher.
This is a complex issue however, Lani’s example illustrates how expectation sometimes does not align with reality. Her manager made a well-meaning decision which was intended to improve outcomes for children. However, when we look at the above example we can clearly see that the expectations on Lani – the amount of work that she is expected to do in the time that she was given to do it, is just not realistic and in many ways, she has failed before she has even started.
We know through research that stressed out, distracted, over-scheduled teachers adversely affects learning outcomes for children, as teachers are focused on meeting compliance and admin expectations and worried about how they will do this. This distracts them from being emotionally available for children and they find it challenging to be attuned to the children’s needs.
Your Expectations of Yourself
The other expectations
trap that we can fall into is trying to live up to our own impossible expectations.
Let me give you an
Mira is the centre manager of a large centre. Her centre is licenced for 100 children and she has twenty kaiako in her team. Mira’s role is very demanding, and she often feels like she is just treading water and putting out fires.
Often when she is busy on the floor in her centre, kaiako
will come to her and ask her for advice or ask her to do things for them. Mira doesn’t want to disappoint anyone or let
anyone down, so she says “yes” to everyone and all requests that come her way
without considering if she can realistically follow through with all of them or
Mira has so much to do that she often forgets what she has
promised to do, so things don’t get done. The kaiako feel frustrated that she
hadn’t followed through with what she has said that she would do. They start talking amongst themselves and
gossiping about how unreliable and incompetent Mira is a centre manager. They
feel that she doesn’t value them and can’t be trusted to keep her word.
In the account above Mira over committed to the people in her team and then under-delivered. This caused the people in her team to lose trust in her and to doubt her integrity as a leader. Mira’s expectations and what she could realistically do were out of kilter.
Beware the “Expectation
Other “expectations traps” that we might fall into
that can be destructive to us and our relationships are:
The expectation that we can control life and every situation or person whom you encounter.
The expectation that we have to be perfect or do
everything perfectly and never make any mistakes.
The expectation that things, events and other
people will make us happy.
The expectation that we will be or have to be right all the time, or that we will have or are expected to know all the answers like some amazing, all-knowing, all-seeing oracle.
A big one for a lot of us is the expectation that we are “superhuman” – you might know this one….
You (like me) might expect that it is realistic to run on full energy all the time, always busy always rushing- giving, giving, giving without any time to relax or to take care of yourselves.
Or we expect that we have super immunity and we are never going to catch a cold or a virus or need a sick day. Not only this, but we put ourselves down for being “weak”, getting tired or needing a bit of recuperation time.
I was extremely disheartened and saddened to see a Facebook poll recently where the question was asked of early childhood teachers: “Do you feel that you can take time off when you need to when you are sick?
There were about a hundred respondents and most said “No”.
Now I know what this feels like and a few years ago I probably would have said “No” too.
From my own experience, I know that I would have answered “No” because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Or, if I would have taken the time off and I would have been so wracked with guilt about not being at work and would have phoned my centre several times a day to make sure that everyone was okay. I know now how counter-intuitive this as to why I would have needed the time off in the first place….
Yes, my expectations of myself were out of whack. Thinking about it rationally now, I realise that I deserved to take time off to meet my needs and that there were amazing teachers in my team who were perfectly capable of running things smoothly while I was gone. I know now that my worrying while I should be resting and ringing into the centre was not only damaging to my wellbeing but that I was also sending a message to my teachers that I didn’t trust them or doubted their capability which was not my intention.
I can now see that I was a victim to some more subtle (but equally destructive) unrealistic expectations. I am talking about my expectation that I could control every situation, by not taking time off from work or phoning into the centre while I was away. I was also of the disillusioned expectation that I by being a martyr, I could control people’s perception of me.
Kindness and compassion starts with how we treat ourselves. You are person first with human needs, however our unrealistic expectations stop us from tuning into our bodies and meeting these needs for ourselves. When we treat ourselves badly we unknowingly perpetuate a cycle of unrealistic expectations self-abuse through our role modelling.
When our expectation doesn’t align with reality this erodes the love and passion that most of us felt when we started teaching, breaks down our confidence (we all want to do our best), our self-esteem and ultimately we pay the price with our health and wellbeing. We are losing great teachers and leaders in our profession because of this.
So what can we do about
Now I am not saying
that you shouldn’t have high expectations for yourselves or those around you, what
I am saying is that we need to check to see if our expectations are realistic. Here are some ways that you can achieve this:
realistic – Consider,
“can this task realistically be done in the allotted time?” This applies to our
expectations of ourselves and others. Be
honest with yourself and others. We are
all human beings and we need to have balance in our lives order to stay
healthy. We are all given the same 24
hours and there is only so much that we can realistically do.
make changes think them through – how is this going to impact on you or the
people in your team? Will you be able to
give your kaiako enough time to accomplish this?
consider how realistic your expectations are on individuals, bearing in mind
that we are all at differing stages of our professional journey as teachers and
we have varying strengths, skills and abilities. Encourage open and honest feedback with-in
your team. Let your fellow teachers know
that it is okay to say if something doesn’t feel realistic and that you are
open to creative ways to overcome barriers.
Work smarter not harder – Do you or someone in your team have the mindset that things always have to be done a certain way because that’s the way it has always been done? Or, do you promote a learning focussed culture where teachers are encouraged to think outside of the square and come up with simpler, smarter ways of doing things? Is there a way that we can support each other to be more efficient with our time and energy? Can we use the same bits of paperwork in multiple ways? Are there apps or computer automation systems that we can use that can make our lives a bit easier?
– If you have a lot
to do try listing your tasks in order of priority. Or if you are short of time ask yourself, “what
is causing me the most pain?” or “what is the smallest thing that I can do that
is going to have the biggest impact?” and do this first.
of self-imposed stress – So
often we play the mind-reading game were we presume to know what other people
are thinking of us and this can create self-imposed stress. I know how difficult this next line is going
to be for some of you… but, stop
worrying about what other people think about you! The majority of the time it isn’t even real it is just
Set boundaries and say “No” – I know that this can be challenging for all of us “people-pleasers” out there. I feel your pain! You might not like saying “No” as you feel that you are letting people down. However, the truth is if you say “Yes” and you can’t deliver you will let people down anyway. I am not telling you to stop helping others, but I am advocating for being realistic and selective of what you say “Yes” to.
If you are truthfully being honest with yourself you can’t and shouldn’t do everything for everyone. This behaviour can rob someone else from an important learning experience and you of your emotional and mental health and can be another source of self-imposed stress.
Perhaps it is time for a bit of introspection – how realistic are your expectations of yourself and others?
love to hear your story and some of the things that have worked for you.
I can clearly remember the first time that resilience was mentioned to me in terms of leadership. I was in a really low point in my life after suffering a setback and my manager at the time suggested that I start a leadership growth assignment on building my resilience.
Thinking back to this time I can clearly see how far I have come and the significant difference that intentionally working on and growing my resilience has made in my life. This has been a catalyst that has led me to want to make a difference in the early childhood profession. It has prompted me to work to support the building of resilience and well-being of leaders and teachers in our profession.
With all that is going on in our professional and personal lives, resilience (or our ability to cope with change and stress and to recover) is a vital quality that all of us need.
Resilience can be broken down into the following dimensions:
Which can be broken down into – Physical flexibility, endurance, strength and vitality.
Which speaks to – Our emotional range and how flexible we are, our self-regulation abilities, the quality of our relationships and how adaptable we are to change.
Which can be broken down into – How flexible and adaptive we are to mental challenges, our ability to focus on a problem and to find a solution, how optimistic we are and whether we are able to see things from other’s point of view.
This blog is mainly focused on our emotional and mental resilience and the good news is that most of us already have a natural human survival skill to experience stress and to recover from it. In some of us, this is stronger than in others, however, resilience is a skill that can be learnt and developed and we are all capable of this.
Life is a mixture of good and not so good moments. We all have to live with disappointments and
sometimes experience loss and devastation in love, life and work. Resilience does not mean that you won’t feel
devastated, hurt or pain or be affected deeply…It is rather your ability to
experience the loss or disappointment and then to recover and thrive again.
There are no quick fixes and magic pills, but rather a
series of small intentional steps that accumulate over time. You can’t just want to be more resilient –
you have to put in the work.
Helping our children to develop resilience
Building resilience starts right from when we are babies. Every time that a baby cries, they experience stress and when their need is met in a respectful, responsive way, or they are comforted or cared for by an empathetic caregiver they recover growing their resilience. Children learn resilience by actively doing – free play and nature-based play is important for supporting children to develop a host of skills including resilience.
It is not our job to shield our children from adversity but to allow them to have opportunities to experience challenge, take safe, age-appropriate risks and make mistakes and then to be there for them and to support them to recover. They learn this through repeated experience and by our role modelling, our empathy as well as our attitude to mistakes and failures.
“Remember always that our children are learning how to be human by watching you”
As teachers and leaders, this can be challenging than at times – especially during times of stress when our ability to bounce back can be diminished.
We can all use a little boost from time to time, here are some ways that I have found have helped me to boost my resilience over time.
I get in tune with your internal cues and acknowledge your
feelings when they come up. Studies have
shown that people who allow themselves to experience a full range of emotions are
more resilient because of it.
Try keep things in perspective recognise whether the thing that you are worried about is in fact something that is in your influence to change or if it is something that concerns you, but you are unable to change at this point and time.
An example of this might be:
You might be concerned about the prevalence of workplace bullying
and the general wellbeing of early childhood teachers in the profession. However, it is probably not in your power to
do anything about this for the whole profession. What you can directly influence is your
thoughts, your mindset, actions and interactions at your place. You can control how you promote teacher
wellbeing in your setting, how you support the teachers in your team or the
example that you set as the leader for the other teachers in your setting.
When we spend time worrying unnecessarily about things out
of control, this just causes us unneeded stress and anxiety about things that
we can’t change. This can really deplete
our resilience levels.
When we work within what we can influence we are more likely to experience more success which in turn energises us and empowers us and those around us. The changes that we make within this space accumulate over time. This can end up having a positive trickledown effect which influences others and can indirectly influence some of the things that are in our area of concern.
Learn to change your mindset around mistakes. Mistakes are not the end they are just part
of the learning process. Try to nurture
a positive view of yourself as a curious researcher on a life-long journey of
discovery. Many well-known inventors made many mistakes along the way to success.
Research has shown that truly resilient people don’t take their failures and mistakes personally, because they know that to learn is to fail. Instead of beating themselves up about their mistake and asking “Why?” they look for the lesson – instead, they ask “What is this here to teach me?”
THE OBSTACLES ARE THE PATH – Remember our children are
watching, stay courageous and curious!
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
It is a universal truth that what we focus on grows. Take stock of your attitude and what you are
focussing on. If we are focussed on the
negative aspects of our lives and our jobs, we will experience more
negativity. If we are instead focussed
on the positive aspects of our day, our lives and the people around us we will
experience more positivity. I urge you
to get into the practice of looking for the GOLD in every situation – there is
always something to be grateful for even if it is small.
Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.
Often when we are going through a tough time, our
self-esteem can take a bit of a knock.
Spend some time making a list of all the things that you are good the obstacles
that you have already overcome and the problems that you have already solved in
the past. Now list all the skills that
you already have to solve this problem.
Reinforce this message by feeding yourself positive comments, such as “You
can do this”, “I am great at solving problems” or “I am good at my job.”
RELAX, REST, REFUEL, RECHARGE
Give yourself permission to rest when you need to. As teachers, leaders or parents we often place our happiness and joy way down on the priority list. As people who are outwardly focussed on caring for others, we can sometimes think that prioritising having fun or focusing on what brings us joy as selfish, frivolous or unimportant. However, resilient people place a priority on their own happiness and on the things that energise them.
Joanna Barsh, author of “How Remarkable Women Lead” worked women leaders including those from fortune 500 companies. During her research, she discovered that resilient leaders manage their energy by identifying what saps it and what recharges it. They make strategic adjustments to allow for this in their environment and schedule.
They also utilise “flow” – a phenomenon that happens when your skills are well matched to an inspiring and challenging task and you or working towards a clear goal. She discovered that “flow” reinforces resilience.
We have all experienced this at some point in our life – when we are doing something where we are totally focused and present, busy, effortlessly enjoying and in “the zone” with what we are doing. Some people experience this during exercise, some during creative pursuits, perhaps you experience this while cleaning, pottering in the garden or walking attuned to nature or your surroundings?
Take some time to think about things that bring you joy and energise YOU. What things that sap your energy?
How are balancing energising activities with ones that sap your energy? Are you doing things that bring “flow” into your life?
Perhaps it is time to rediscover some of these things and make more place for them in your life?
It is okay to take some time to reflect,re-evaluateand regroup.
What is your purpose, do you know what motivates you and what your values are?
Resilient people have a strong sense of purpose and meaning. They know “why” as well as “what” the end goal is. This sense of purpose gives their life, their work and their struggles meaning. A sense of purpose helps them to keep going and push themselves towards their goal when things get tough.
In his book “A Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl survived and remained resilient as a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. In his book he describes his experiences, and how he survived his ordeal by identifying a purpose in life, creating a positive feeling about this purpose and immersively imagining that outcome.
Viktor connected with his purpose and his end goal. He focused on the fact that the war wouldn’t last forever, that he had the power to choose his attitude and on his end goal which was seeing his wife again and delivering an academic lecture on the horrors of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Pain is only bearable if we know it will end, not if we deny it exists.”
When problems arise, we can often not want to bother other people with our problems or appear weak or vulnerable by asking for help or leaning on someone else.
Studies have shown that resilient people have good support systems. They recognise the importance of strong relationships with family, friends, colleagues and within their communities. Good relationships are critical for physical and mental health – they draw strength from these connections.
To be vulnerable, it means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you are feeling. To have the hard conversation.
When times are tough it can be part of our cultural programming to push people away. However, fight against this and reach out, vulnerability strengthens connection – don’t isolate yourself.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. Remember to have self-compassion – building your resilience is a skill that you will continue to grow and develop over time.
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)
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.
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)
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Enrich the experience by using empowering language when talking to children or about your children’s learning.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Ministry of Education, (2017), Te Whariki – Early Childhood Curriculum.
Loader, M., Christie, T. (2017), Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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)