Embracing Change During Self-Isolation

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

This year started for me with a with great anticipation. The promise of a new decade filled me with hope and excitement for what the future might hold.

I joined groups that dared me to dream and set big, audacious, scary goals. I reached out of my comfort zone, facilitating workshops further away from home. I invested in personal development for myself by booking time with some of my favourite inspirational speakers. I bought tickets to rock concerts and planned days in the city with my daughters. I planned trips away with friends…

And in the blink of an eye, this all changed…

One by one plans that had been months and even years in the making slowly were cancelled or postponed.

Hugs, handshakes and hongi disappeared.

The allowed group size of people continued to shrink. Until we were only allowed close contact with the people in our immediate bubbles.

All the things that had become a normal way of being and had seemed so important just a few weeks ago lost their urgency.

Responding to change

How life has changed…

We have gone from vague reports about a virus affecting people overseas and thinking, “This could never happen to us in New Zealand” to self-isolation in just a few months.

We are all collectively mourning. Mourning for the way things used to be and for the things that we have lost. Change happens to us all and change happens all the time. However, what has thrown most of us is the speed with which this change happened.

Please know that this is okay, and 100% normal to be feeling what you are feeling. No matter where you are – shock and denial, guilt and pain, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection or loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through or acceptance and hope, know that you are allowed to be here and so are the others around you. Own the stage you are in and don’t try to push yourself to the next stage before you are ready. Be kind and patient with yourself and those around you.

You might be feeling less than resilient right now, but be assured that you are stronger and way more resilient than you give yourself credit for.

Sometimes we can feel like we are buried under all the overwhelming things that are happening around us. But in reality we have actually been planted so that we can grow.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services.

We do not grow our resilience in the easy times. Just like our muscles need stress and exercise – little micro-tears to build and strengthen them – so do we need to stretch and tear our resilience muscles. Strength and resilience grow out of adversity.

Letting go

I know that I am the eternal optimist, but this time of self-isolation has been a gift in many ways. This has been a time for me to reflect and evaluate. It is almost like taking away some of the “noise” of life has allowed me time to focus on what is truly important to me.

The gift of time has allowed me to take a big long look at myself and how I was living – to engage in a real internal evaluation of self. To notice where my energy is flowing. To decide what is working and what I would like to keep. But also to think critically about the things that are not working and what I need to let go of. This time has allowed me to grow new skills and practice mental and emotional muscles that I might not have had the opportunity to if I hadn’t gone through this. I know that this experience will make me a stronger, more creative and resilient person if I just don’t get caught up in the drama.

Lessons from nature

This is something that is mirrored so beautifully in nature around me at the moment.

We have just gone through a drought up here in Northland and the cooler and sometimes wetter days has allowed the ground to rejuvenate and the dry fields around me to sprout with renewed green pasture.

However, paradoxically, other parts of nature are beginning to let go. The trees are starting to shed their leaves and are entering their rest phase to conserve energy.

In a changing world, the constant predictable transitions in nature are something that we can all take great comfort in and learn from.

We too need to let go of things to protect our mauri, our energy and allow new shoots to grow where we once thought it was barren. Holding onto the past will just cause us unnecessary pain and stress.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Things on my “to keep pile”

George Santayana, famously said, ” Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

And so I would be remiss to not take a moment to reflect on the lessons that I have learnt during this period in my HERstory.

  • First of all, I am extremely grateful to be a New Zealander right about now. Our Prime Minister has acted with decisiveness, and transparency through what must have been some really difficult decisions. She and the government were able to put aside differences with the best interests of us all at the heart of the matter. This has been tough, but I firmly believe that we even though there are still some challenges ahead for all of us, we as a nation will be much better off because of it. As a leader, this has given me lots of food for thought around courageous decision making, putting aside ego, trusting each other and the value of vulnerability.
  • The importance of connection is another important lesson for me. Connection with myself, my husband, my children, my friends and family and the other amazing people in our profession. Often the busyness of our day to day lives does not allow for this type of connection with others. Having time has allowed for time to journal, write and process feelings. Family time around the fire, board games, movie nights and bake-offs have become part of our everyday rhythms and rituals. This has become a time we all look forward to as a way to refill our emotional cups. I would like to make more time for this when we go back to work and school. To find a way to keep some of these new rituals going forwards.
  • Although we cannot physically visit friends and family at the moment, and I really miss this, regular video chats with them have become the norm. (I must admit I was guilty of going weeks sometimes without calling my mum, sisters or friends – life simply got in the way.) Why did it take a pandemic for me to seek to strengthen these connections?
Tanya Valentin ECE
  • Professionally it has been amazing to connect with and to be there for the members of my professional bubble. It has been so inspiring to tune into webinars and with some of the leading voices in ECE, there has been a smorgasbord of delicious PLD available for us to feast on. In a funny way, this “lock-down” has allowed me to be kinder, more generous and outwardly focused than I have been before.
  • I have learnt to appreciate the simple joys in my life that I would have normally taken for granted. With Easter approaching, I have been reflecting on how consumer-focussed this holiday has become. In years past I would have spent hours shopping at Kmart and other stores for paper plates, baubles and decorations. This year without those trappings to distract me, the season seems slower and more meaningful – more of a heart moment.
  • Lastly, I am recognising more and more the importance of faith. Faith in something bigger than myself (for me it is God). Faith in myself and my ability to grow and adapt. Faith in others around me and having the best of assumptions about them in my heart. And faith in us as a wider community that we can stand together and we can come out of this stronger, wiser and kinder than before.

What are some of the things that you have learnt about yourself and others during this time?

Support for you

As you might know if you have been following me I am working to support you during this time.

If you are finding this all a little bit too much and would like to chat, please reach out for a free video support call with me.

Please also get in touch if you would like some more information on how I can support you and your team with the transition process of going back to work.

Or tune into my free webinar on how to lead your team through a challenging time.

You don’t have to do this alone, support is available.

Have an amazing long weekend with your bubble.

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How To Be There For Someone Else During A Time Of Uncertainty

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

How are you?

I am aware that for most of us this is a bit of a loaded question. There are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around inside of us as we learn to cope with our new “normal” – this time of great uncertainty.

You might be experiencing rapid shifts to your emotions. You might be fine one moment and the next have tears rolling down your cheeks. Please know that all of this is perfectly normal and allowed. There is no right way to be feeling at this time.

Today I am not writing to you as a teacher or an ECE leader as I usually would, but rather as a person. A person without title, label or position. I do this as I feel that this virus, this situation we all find ourselves in is the greatest leveller. When we come down to it we are all just humans beings trapped in our own four walls somewhere, going through the same range of emotions, doing the best that we can.

As I am writing this, I am experiencing a myriad of different thoughts and feelings and I suspect that I will have to take some breaks in writing to compose myself along the way.

As a parent, the hardest thing for me is the sheer helplessness I feel. I hate watching my children going through strong emotions such: disappointment, sadness, fear, anxiety and anger. As a child, a sister or friend it is so difficult not being able to be there to help others during their time of need, because of physical separation.

The Temptation to “Fix-it”

I know that I am not alone in this, it is a very natural thing for us to want to solve problems, or act to “fix things”. For many of us, helplessness can bring up feelings of anxiety, fear and even anger.

However, how can I “fix” my ten-year- old’s sadness over not seeing her cousins for Easter? Or my fifteen-year-old’s disappointment that her birthday will happen during self-isolation and she won’t get to spend it with her friends, or that to her all the fun has been sucked out of her world? Or my seventeen-year-old’s fear or anxiety over what the future may hold? The short answer is I can’t and that sucks.

Having Empathy

One thing that I have learnt over the years is the importance of empathy – to feel the other person’s emotion with them. Often we forget that we have a different perspective of life to our children. We are a product of our experiences and my forty-five years of experience makes me see the world quite differently from my teenage daughter. Things that might be trivial to me can seem like the end of the world to her.

In the past, I might have dismissed her disappointment over the band that is no longer performing due to Covid 19. Or told her that it is okay, that they will come back. Or avoided feeling her pain because it feels so uncomfortable (and who likes to feel discomfort?). However, in order to support others, we first need to feel with them. There is power in stepping into the other person’s shoes, in sitting with them in discomfort.

Acknowledging Emotions

Something that we don’t tend to do very well is acknowledging emotions. Most of us don’t even do this for ourselves and so doing this for others can seem unnatural. The fear is that the other person will “milk” the situation or make this period of discomfort last longer if we acknowledge the emotion they are feeling.  We might try to distract someone from what they are feeling or tell them that it is going to be okay, as we feel that this will move them out of what going through quicker. However, when we practise empathy we realise that we all like to feel that someone understands what we are going through, that they get us. Giving voice to what others are feeling does just that.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Holding Space

Holding space means that we are willing to simply be there with another person in whatever they are feeling without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. This means curbing comments, withholding sage advice, and our need to rescue others from their feelings. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

When we hold space for with or for someone we acknowledge that they matter and that their feelings are valid and important. Holding space can feel like doing nothing and can be extremely difficult given our natural tendency for “fixing”. Holding space is often awkward as creates a feeling of vulnerability in us.

If we dismiss someone else’s feelings as unimportant (even if it is a toddler expressing outrage for not having the blue cup) or try to “logic” them out of emotions we have the opposite effect to what we intend. Instead of making them see that it’s not so bad we unintentionally send the message that their feelings are not important or even that they are not important.

Being There For Someone During Social Distancing.

Self-isolation shouldn’t stop us from being there for someone else. It is more important than ever to make consistent contact with your family and friends a priority, even though you might not be able to physically be with them.

Check-in regularly, let your loved ones know that it is okay to feel sadness, fear and anxiety and that you are there for them if they need you. Remember that trust is earned by us extending our trust to others in return. Banish ideas that you need to keep your feelings to yourself and that you don’t want to burden others with them. When we are vulnerable we make it okay for others to be vulnerable too and this nurtures real, wholehearted connection. Holding space with someone can be done over the phone or via video chat too.

Please remember that you are not alone.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or that you need to off-load to someone or to have someone holding space with you please reach out.

I care about your mental and emotional health and so I have made a limited number of FREE 30 minute chats available for people who would just like to connect and talk about what they are feeling. You can book a time with me HERE.

I also have a range of FREE webinars and other freebies and special offers available to support you during this time of self-isolation.

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Getting Clear With Why

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

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

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

But yet I remain “pleasantly plump”.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

“WHY” instead of “WHAT”

Maybe you could relate to my story above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start with “WHY”

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

WHY do I want to do this?

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

For me, my obvious answer is :

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

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

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

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

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

I want to ……………. so that ……………..

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

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

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

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

I eat cake because I like cake

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

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

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

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

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

Examining ourselves through a new lens

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

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

Nathan Wallis

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

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

What are your labels?

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

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

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

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

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

A leadership context

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

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

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

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

Flipping the paradigm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But it’s Not MY Fault!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

I recently wrote a blog which posed the question:

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

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

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

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

Who’s fault is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you are right and it is their fault!

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

The problem with assigning blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

What I am responsible for?

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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

Three choices

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

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

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

Justin Sebastian

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

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

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

Martin Luther King

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

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

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

Tanya Valentin ECE

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

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

Are you a depleted teacher or leader?

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

The signs that you are a depleted teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s stop waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining resilience

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

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

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

Which is:

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

Wikipedia
Tanya Valentin ECE

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

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

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

Events that can wear down your bridge

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

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

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

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

So what can we do?

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

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

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

A series of realisations

It starts with you and your relationship with yourself.

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

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

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

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

Strengthening and maintaining your structural integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rising tide lifts all boats

John F Kennedy

Tools and resources

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

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

Get your free Self-Care design planner here.

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

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

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What Your Feelings Are Telling You?

Tanya Valentin

Have you ever suffered hurt or disappointment?

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.

Tanya Valentin

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.

Decision time

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.

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A Sense of Community

Tanya Valentin ECE

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.

And…

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.

Tanya Valentin ECE

I’m Fine!

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.

Tanya Valentin Book a time to talk

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How To Show Meaningful Appreciation At Work

Tanya Valentin ECE

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. Maria loves 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.

Tanya Valentin ECE

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.

Tanya Valentin - 3 Good Things for Teams
3 Good Things for Teams

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The Struggle To Be Real

Tanya Valentin

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-Eades who 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).

Acceptance

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.

Expectations

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.

Brene Brown

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.

Building Trust

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!

Have a wonderful weekend,

Kia Kaha

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Mind Those Unrealistic Expectations

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

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.

When 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.

Added 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 example:

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 not.

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 Trap”

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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

So what can we do about it?

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:

Be 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.   

Before you 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?

Also 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?

Prioritise – 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.

Beware 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 our perception.   

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?

I would love to hear your story and some of the things that have worked for you.

Until next time,

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