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What to do when you are feeling blue?

teacher depression

I was saddened last week to hear about the unexpected death of news reader, Greg Boyed and his battle with depression.  His death has renewed conversations about depression and mental health and has made me reflect on my own battle with depression and the battles of those close to me.

Depression is an old friend of mine that has come to visit me during various periods of my life. I am sure that there are many of you out there that are fighting your own battles with this familiar foe.

In a profession where we give so much of ourselves to so many, the needle on our emotional tanks can so easily point to empty.  In a sector with alarming burnout rates due to stress, high child to teacher ratios, mounting paperwork, and the challenges of working in close proximity with others with differing beliefs and pedagogy it is easy for us to feel a bit disillusioned and sometimes even depressed.  Yet we often feel pressured to put on our “happy face” and to be there for others when we are feeling really low inside.

What we are not talking about….

I belong to many of the online ECE social media forums and I often see posts from teachers who have “lost their spark”, feel unsure how to deal with challenging behaviours and who are stressed out by the demands put on us by teachers.  I recently surveyed 100 teachers at random about their satisfaction in our sector. I was saddened to find that only 26% of teachers who took part in the survey where happy in their current job.  That is 74% of teachers who were somewhat happy to not happy at all.

Some teachers wrote about working in “great homely environments with supportive management” and “working for fantastic owners with great ratios…well-resourced and great remuneration”.  However, many teachers wrote about feeling unsupported by their leaders, or feeling the strain of quality vs budgets. Many teachers spoke about the pressures of never-ending paperwork and being expected to work unpaid overtime. A high proportion of teachers reported to work in centres with high child teacher ratios or in centres where the ratios “on paper” did not match what happened in reality.

Teacher mental health and the effect on children

The survey results saddened me on many levels, but the thing that saddened me the most was the children in the middle of all of this.  The children who do not have choices about which setting they attend or the people that they are around.  It saddened me that our children are around so many stressed out, unhappy people and spend sometimes 8- 10 hours in sometimes emotionally toxic environments.

There are many brain development studies out there documenting the effects that educator/parent mental health has on the developing child’s brain and mental health. In fact, a study undertaken by Ohio State University in Columbus across 15 American cities found:

a direct relationship between teacher depression and “externalizing” problems in children, such as anger and aggression, as well as “internalizing” problems, such as anxiety, sadness or withdrawal.

Walter S. Gilliam, the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. Gilliam’s research found that “prekindergarten teachers and child-care staff who report elevated symptoms of depression are somewhat more likely to engage in child-care practices that are rated as less sensitive to children’s needs, more intrusive, and more negative.

The reason for this is that our children are constantly downloading from us.  Our mood, our emotions, how we are responding to them and to others around us.  Our youngest children, our infants and toddlers are designed to learn by being in a dyadic (two way) relationship with a receptive, in tuned adult.  Teachers who are depressed and unable to emotionally connect with themselves cannot emotionally connect with others.

Our children are spending longer hours in early childhood settings and are often in ECE centres for more waking hours in the week compared to being at home.  What emotional frequencies are they picking up on?  How can they become happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient collaborative and successful human beings if they are not having this modelled to them?

This is only learnt through having relationships with happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient adults.

 

What can you do?

Let me start off with saying, your mental health is important.  You are not alone in this, one in six New Zealanders (more common in women than men) experience some form of mental disorder including depression.

Some of the symptoms of depression that you shouldn’t ignore are:

  • constantly feeling down or hopeless
  • loss of enjoyment or interest in doing the things you used to enjoy doing
  • negative thinking and sleep problems
  • You may even feel so bad that you have thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.

If you notice that you are suffering from these symptoms it is important that you get help.  I know from my personal journey with depression that this is very difficult.  We often don’t what to “burden” others with our problems.  Or we don’t like to admit vulnerably, but the sooner you find help, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.

Some of the ways that you can do this, is by talking to someone you can trust.  Your GP is a great place to start.  Your GP can check to see if you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals such as iron, vitamin B or vitamin D (especially in the winter months), help you with regular check-ins, medication (if you need it) as well as coping tools or a referral to a counsellor.  In most cases this is free.

  • Get Support – You can also speak to a friend or a trusted colleague, ideally someone who has known you for a while and can help you put your current situation into perspective – after all a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s natural to want to dive under the covers and hide when you’re feeling depressed. Avoid feeling isolated by reaching out if you are able. Make a coffee date, invite a friend over for take-out pizza.
  • Talk about it – Speak about your feelings and avoid keeping things that are bothering you bottled up inside. Remaining silent or bottling can cause you to wage a war within yourself.  These conversations might feel challenging at first, but they do get easier with practise.
  • Consider your environment – are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that you might feel guilty about leaving the children and families or letting your team down, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.
  • Focus on today – When we focus too far in the future it can be very overwhelming.  Instead focus on what you can do today.  About 99% of what we worry about in the future never even happens, all you truly have is today.
  • Get moving – Dust of your walking shoes and get out in the fresh air for a walk.  It sounds like cross purposes but even though you might not feel like have the energy to exercise, participating in regular exercise can boost those “feel good” chemicals, your energy levels and your mood.  You are never going to feel like it, sometimes you have to push yourself do it, in order to make yourself feel better.
  • Know your triggers – Think about the children in your settings, through time and careful observation you get to know their behaviour triggers.  You know that the wheels are going to come off if you ignore the tired or hungry signs.  Or that behaviour is going to escalate if you don’t take time to give the child who is feeling hurt or upset a much-needed cuddle.  We are no different, we “play up” emotionally when we are not meeting our own needs.
  • Take care of yourself – Be vigilant about your self-care.  I am not talking about a trip to the spa of a candle-lit bath here (although this is a lovely way to treat yourself).  By this I mean be mindful of your nutrition, unplug from screens and the internet and create a sleep ritual that ensures that you are getting the rest that you need. Be careful with your personal boundaries, create a healthy space for yourself away from external negativity – beware of those energy pirates!
  • Pay attention to yourself talk – When we think negative thoughts we cannot expect to have positive results. Our negative thoughts become “negative affirmations” holding us back and leading us to repeat the same behaviours over and over again, this can become a habit loop.  We need to pay attention to our thoughts and intentionally replace the negative affirmation with a positive thought.  This can be can be hard work, but it trust me it does get easier.
  • Become mindful – Gift yourself a bit of time in the morning to practise, gratitude and mindfulness and set yourself up for the day. Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of stress and perceived stress.   Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to change the structure of your amygdala which is the part of your brain that controls feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Realize that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Make a habit of noticing the goodness that is already yours first thing in the morning, and you will see more goodness everywhere you look throughout the day.

Marc and Angel.

  • Find yourself in the service of others – Looking for a natural “high”? Helping others or doing kind things for others can have a positive effect on your happiness and well-being.  Studies have shown the just witnessing acts of kindness produces Oxycontin, the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health.  Oxycontin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.  Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical which helps to heal your wounds, calm you down, and makes you happy! Being kind to others reduces pain, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 23%, anxiety and depression.  Being altruistic is linked to lowering blood pressure and increases heart health.
  • Rekindle a passion – Think back to a time when you were happiest, what things where you doing that you no longer do?  What passion or leisure activity can you rediscover? Create a network of people who have similar interests and whom you will look forward to meeting up with on a regular basis.
  • One step at a time – Remember that only one little step is all that is ever needed.  There is always hope, you won’t always feel this way.  One day you will look back to this day and realise how far you have come.

Knocked down,

But not out;

Crying but still breathing;

Broken

but Brave;

I’m strong

Enough to survive this

– the love yourself challenge.

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  If you or someone you care about is suffering with depression please reach out to Lifeline on 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO), or www.depression.org.nz for online resources as well as Depression Helpline, free phone 0800 111 757 and Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389).

Kia kaha,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s Fault Is It?

Who's fault is it?

Early childhood education in New Zealand has been in the media a lot this week, first there was the infamous New Zealand Herald opinion piece by Deborah Hill Cone comparing ECE centres to “factory farming children” and then there was the article by National’s ECE spokesperson, Nicola Willis with an opposing view.  Then on Thursday there was another article from a mother’s point of view by Cecile Meier, on Stuff, encouraging people to not judge parents for having to work and put their children in “daycare”.

These stories stirred up heated discourse online and in social media forums.  As parents, centre owners, leaders and teachers we felt attacked, undervalued, anger, indignation and guilt.  We felt that we needed to defend ourselves, our calling, our right to work and in many cases our need to work to provide for our families.  We felt that our very motivations to own centres, to be teachers and our judgement about what is right for our children was under attack.  This spurred us to go into defensive mode and in defensive mode we start to assign blame.

Who’s right? Whose fault is it?  Who’s to blame? Who can we attack in response to this?  Quite often we attack the only people that we can, other people in our profession, other teachers, other parents, ECE providers.

Why? Because we can.  Unfortunately, when we lash out at each other we all suffer as a consequence. This causes many teachers who are already feeling, run down after a long hard winter and feeling the pressures of teacher shortages, regulations and increased documentation pressures to feel even more demotivated and undervalued.

Fault vs Responsiblity

How this has played out in the media got me thinking about an inspirational video that I saw this week by Will Smith (Yes, you heard right – the actor, AKA the Fresh Prince) but he made some really great points about fault vs responsibility.  In his video he speaks about how it may not be your fault that something is broken, but it might still be your responsibility to fix it.  For instance, it is not our fault that people, like Deborah Hill Cone, has a negative opinion of all Early Childhood Centres, that’s on her, but it is our responsibility  as teachers, leaders, team members, and carers to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.

When we focus on whose fault something is, we get stuck in victim mode powerless to change the situation. The power is in taking responsibility for your heart, your life, your happiness.  Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt, you are not admitting that you are wrong.

What are we taking responsibility for?  We are taking responsibility for ourselves.  Worrying about what other people are doing, saying and thinking is a waste of our energy.  We have no control over any of those things.  The only thing that we can control are what we think, what we say and what we do.

Tanya Valentin - things I can control

As a Teacher What is Your Responsibility – What can you control?

Firstly, you are responsible for yourself. Your attitude, mindset, emotions, thoughts, heart, life and happiness.

Are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that there are teachers that are loyally “hanging in there” for the children and families, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.

It is your responsibility to fill your own cup of happiness , so that you are capable of serving others – no one else can do this for you.

Have the courage to do things that make you happy, emotions are infectious – be a positive infection!

You are responsible for the lens with which you see others.  Are you viewing others with kindness, compassion and empathy? Or are you viewing others through a deficit model?  Are you looking to assign fault, blame and guilt?  Is your motivator to be right at any cost?

“In our profession people are quick to point out the not quite rights and are slower to come forward with the positives.  We can change this within our teams by extending the strengths lens (that we apply to children) to the adults within our setting.  Notice and comment on the positives.  Pass on any great feedback given to anyone in the team who didn’t hear it first-hand. Let your positivity infect others so that they can do the same.” The Heart School 2018.

It is your responsibility to ask, “who is this for?” to be curious, courageous and a life-long learner. Do you have an open heart and an open mind? Are you a reflective practitioner? Do you question the status quo? Do you inquire into your own pedagogy?

It is your responsibility to be worthy of imitation, to hold the child at the heart of what you do and not to walk past things that don’t feel right. It is our collective responsibility to strive for excellence and to not settle for “good enough”.

It is your responsibility to create a homelike, safe, inclusive, supportive learning environment. A place where children, whanau and fellow teachers feel a sense of belonging and where the aroha and manaakitanga are palpable when you walk into a space.

It is your responsibility to create equitable opportunities for all children to develop across all areas of Te Whariki, and to affirm and value a child’s language and culture.

It is your responsibility to be a playful adult and to have fun!

It is your responsibility to promote the wellbeing of children and to advocate for children – their right for respect as unique human beings, their right to be, their right to play, make choices, to be seen, heard and for us to be an emotional safe haven for them.

It is your responsibility to build a relationship trust with children, to get to know them through careful, reflective observation.  To respond to their needs and cues, to be prepared and to respond intentionally to children’s learning. It is your responsibility to build relationships with parents and whanau and to engage them in their child’s learning and respect their aspirations for their child.

It is your responsibility to be emotionally literate human beings, respectful to others, uplifting and supporting others in our community.  By doing this we provide the blue print for children as how they are to treat others. When we show respect to others even if they are undeserving, it reflects our character.  We earn respect by respecting others.

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers not thunder.” Rumi

As the ECE community it is our responsibility to lobby the minister of education if we feel strongly about certain areas.  We are also responsible for working with our colleagues not only in our centres but in those around us to come up with ideas around where to next for ECE in Aotearoa. Together we can make a lot of noise about what quality could look like in the future.

These are the things that you have control over – your practice, your heart, your happiness, your responsibility.

If you are feeling that this a long list of responsibilities…

Take heart, chances are that you are probably already doing many of these things  and you just needed a bit of reminding.  Like most of us you are probably the most critical of yourself, so remember to treat yourself with a good dose of compassion and kindness.

So instead 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 enough.

This brings to mind the Martin Luther King Jnr quote,

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

 

So as you go into this day or week, take time to celebrate yourself and the amazing job that you are doing and while you are at it tell someone else that they are doing a great job too!

 

Kia Kaha,

 

Join me at my upcoming Auckland workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher, click here for more details.

 

 

 

 

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The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Conversations for Change

 

conversations for change

Love them or hate them, fear them or get excited by them, conversations for change are an essential part of being not just an early childhood leader or teacher, but also fundamental to being human.

Even though our brains do not like change we need change.  As a society are constantly striving for excellence and innovation.  How can we do things better? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we work smarter not harder? What is the next big thing?

As teachers we are taught to reflect on our practice and how things are done. We undertake internal evaluations into the running of our rooms and centres, our policies and our pedagogy.  We attend professional development or read literature, exposing us to new ideas and research provokes new thinking and action.

Why then are so many of us afraid of change and afraid of even having conversations with others about change?  The answer to this is rooted in Emotional Literacy.

 

What is Emotional Literacy?

If we are emotionally literate we have self-awareness and recognise our own feelings and we know how to manage them. Emotional Literacy also includes being able to recognise and adapt to the feelings of other people, whilst at the same time, learning how to manage and express our own emotions effectively.

If our goal is to be effective change agents, we need to recognise that the reason why change and even having conversations for change, are difficult for us, is because we are having an emotional response.

You have activated the part of your brain called your amygdala which is essential to your ability to feel certain emotions and to perceive them in other people. You are in fact experiencing an amygdala hijack.

An amygdala hijack can be defined as:

“An Amygdala Hijack is an immediate and overwhelming emotional response out of proportion to the stimulus because it has triggered a more significant emotional threat. The amygdala is the part of our brain that handles emotions. During an Amygdala Hijack, the amygdala “hijacks” or shuts down the neo-cortex.” Daniel Goleman

Let me put this into context for you.  You can see that change that needs to happen, you know why it needs to happen, you even know how to make the change happen.  This is all perfectly rational and part of our neo-cortex function of our brain.

However, for most people the thought of change does not stay in our rational, thinking part of our brain.  As human beings our brains are wired for our first response to be an emotional one. We get triggered by past experiences of change and feelings of fear and uncertainty and this causes an emotional response in our brains. This some cases can cause a physical response in us, like sweaty palms, a racing heart, feeling flushed, dry mouth and a queasy stomach. This is in short, an amygdala hijack and this is triggering your fight or flight reflex due to a perceived attack.

How do we move past this emotional response and take action?

You may not be able to control the emotional response, but you can control the thoughts that follow an emotion if you are aware of it.  I will clarify this for you in the steps below:

  • Recognise – Emotional literacy starts with you and your self-awareness. You need to recognise within yourself that you are in fact having an emotional reaction. Motivational speaker, Mel Robbins talks about using the five second rule in this instance.  When you are experiencing an emotional response, recognise it for what it is and count backwards from five to one.  This helps you to shift from the limbic part of your brain which controls emotions into your neo-cortex where you process rational thought.
  • Observe the emotion impartially and name the emotion. For example, “I am feeling fear”.
  • Analyse – Where did this feeling come from? Most feelings come from our past experiences, or the messages that we heard from others growing up, or as part of our cultural programming. We then use these to attach meaning to situations we are currently dealing with or faced with in the future.

For example, most people when faced with addressing practice in others or change, might have an internal dialogue of, “Why should they listen to me?” “If I give them feedback about their practice, they will look at me and see that I am not perfect all the time.” “If I suggest that we change this, it could cause disagreements.” “It might not work and then everyone with think badly of me, blame me for the failure or be angry with me.” “They will think that I am incompetent as leader.” “This will expose me as a fraud and that I don’t know what I am talking about.”

You might like to unpack some of this and write down the self-talk that is going on for you.

This where self-management comes in – rationally work through what you made things mean. What is the worst-case scenario? What is the likelihood of your worst-case scenario even happening?

Part of being emotionally literate is that you develop the mind-set that you don’t always get it right and you don’t always have to have all the answers.  Our failures are just and opportunity for us to grow and learn new things about ourselves and others.  One of the most powerful things that we can do as leaders is to admit it when we have made a mistake.  Vulnerability inspires respect.

Being emotionally literate means that you are the quiet observer of your thoughts and emotions. Often, we’ve received a message about ourselves from an outside source, and real or perceived we hold onto it as TRUTH which robs us of our self-worth and self-confidence.  When we become the objective observer of our thoughts, we can then intentionally recreate the narrative of who we are and who we were meant to be.  Your subconscious mind believes everything you tell it.  Feed it love, feed it kindness, feed it truth.

  • Connect with your why – One of the most powerful tools you have is your vision. Why is the change necessary? Having self awareness and then knowing why, are your best tools to moving you from a state of fear and self-doubt and motivating you to take action.

Consider this scenario:  Perhaps you are a teacher in a toddler’s room.  You have noticed that meal-times and sleep times are chaotic.  Children are being “herded” from one area to another with little or no connection between teachers and children.  Children are given little or no choice and their natural rhythms and need to connect during care moments are not being respectfully met.  Teachers have become “crowd control officers” and this is very stressful and not very empowering nor respectful for anyone.

This doesn’t sit right for you and you would like to make a change.

The first thing that you need to do is to decide, what you would like to happen in its place. Why this is important to you, the children and the other stake holders?  You might like to curate research and readings as evidence for your vision.  If you are still feeling unsure about having the conversation or making the change – ask yourself, what are the consequences if I do nothing? How will me not acting influence the rights of others and how does this resonate for me?

Once you are armed with your vision you can ignite the other part of your “why” – your passion!

You might be passionate about respectful interactions between teachers and children.  You might feel passionate about children’s rights to have calm, respectful, emotionally satisfying care moments.  You might feel passionate about creating a culture that is rooted in respect, kindness and peace.

In this moment, even though you are fearful of change and having a conversation for change with the other members in your team, you know why the change needs to happen. You are aware of the consequences for your inaction and you feel passionate about your vision.

You have the tools to manage your emotional state in order to take action.  You are armed with the catalyst initiate a conversation for change.

Passion led us here

Influencing others to change

Whether we successfully create change in our settings largely depends on whether you can get buy in from your fellow team members to make the change and to sustain it.  This relies heavily on our emotional literacy skills in social awareness and social management.

Social awareness is our ability to have empathy for others as well as read the dynamics and power relationships of a group of people.  Social management is our ability to motivate and inspire others to trust us and go on a journey with us.  It is our ability to coach and mentor others, work together as part of a team as well as how to cope with and manage conflicts and barriers as they arise.

“The work get done through people, in order to influence we must first connect” Joelle Hadley.

If we look at this from a “conversation for change” context we can apply the following steps:

  • Have empathy – The other members of your team are probably having similar emotional responses to change. Have some compassion for where they are and the emotions that they are experiencing.  Recognise that they are having an emotional response, don’t take this as a personal attack against you and your vision.  Instead give them space and help them to name the emotion.  You might say something like, “I see that you are feeling angry do you want to talk to me about what is going on for you?”
  • Choose the right time to share your vision – Early childhood centres are busy places. Choose a time when you can have everyone’s full attention, such as a staff meeting or non-contact time.  Be clear and succinct about communicating your vision.  Your vision, your “why” is what will drive passion and behaviour.
  • Be aware of different personalities and power dynamics – Not everyone has the same motivators or ways that they like to be communicated with. What is their “why”, their values, passions and beliefs? Do you have values, passions and beliefs in common? How, can you motivate and inspire them to take a risk and trust you, to share your vision? This comes from being interested in others and getting to know them on a personal level.

According to Simon Sinek, “The very survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we do.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe trust emerges.  Trust is a feeling that comes from common values and beliefs.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe, we are more confident to take risks, to experiment and take chances.”

  • Create a common goal – Get everyone on board through open and honest communication, share concerns and barriers that come up for people. Design a plan, problem solve strategies for success and create a time-line to keep everyone accountable.
  • Acknowledge uncertainty and adversity – Discuss the fact that not everything will go according to plan all the time and setbacks are part of the process. Predict what some of these barriers to success might look like and how you will deal with this as a team when they arise. Reinforce that this a safe space to be curious together, reflect, refine and to make mistakes.
  • Commitment – Commit to the vision – “the why” the plan and the process. You need to hold onto the vision and the passion, as a means to get through adversity and that takes discipline and commitment.

 

I would like to leave you with the following quote from Charles Darwin,

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who can be manage change.”

The Emotionally Literate Teacher, Tanya Valentin ECE

Thank you for reading this blog if you find the subject of Emotional Literacy interesting and would like to unpack this further click here to find out about my upcoming workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

During this workshop we will dig deeper into Emotional Literacy. We will be inquiring as to why teachers need high levels of Emotional Literacy.  We will be exploring tools to enhance your self-awareness, manage self as well as how to connect with others and enrich your relationships.

Arohanui,

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Being Courageous – Becoming Comfortable With Discomfort and Fear

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about courage and what it means to be courageous.  I have come to the realisation that courage can look different to different people depending on where they are in their lives.

For me being courageous is overcoming my self-doubt, pushing myself to write this blog and share my thoughts with you.  It has also been overcoming my fear of looking stupid in public and appearing live on my Facebook live sessions.

Courage however might look different for other people. It may be that you stop ignoring a lump in your breast and see a doctor to get it checked.  It may be that as a mum you confront your addiction to your mobile phone and realise how much time it is taking from your children.  It may be that you need courage to admit to yourself that you are feeling unhappy and you need to do something about it. For you courage might be getting up every morning, getting dressed and getting through the day. Being courageous may be saying “no” to someone because you know that one more “yes” will push your life into overwhelm. Courage might be choosing to do something for yourself or to follow a passion or a dream. Courage may be letting go of a toxic relationship or things in your life that no longer serve you.

As a teacher, courage might be reflecting on your practice and “the way it has always been done” or speaking to a team member about something that they did to upset you.  As a centre director, it may be having that difficult conversation with a parent whose baby has been bitten by another child. It may be having a courageous conversation that addresses someone’s practice.

Being vulnerable hurts

As human beings, we do not like to be uncomfortable and we hate change.  Change often requires us to feel vulnerable and to confront thoughts and feelings that hurt. It can make us feel a little panicked and even defensive. We can be so fearful of discomfort and change that it can cause us to feel physically sick.  Being vulnerable and confronting yourself is not for the weak or the faint-hearted.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness – Brene Brown.

Pain = Growth

We have no problems accepting discomfort and pain as something that is needed for our physical bodies.  I am sure that we have all at one time visited the gym or done some form of physical exercise where we have pushed ourselves and felt the pain of stiff muscles the next day.  “It’s a good pain” we told ourselves.  Children with growing limbs go through “growing pains” all the time.

If you have ever injured yourself and seen a physiotherapist, they will actually give you stretches and exercises that make you feel pain and discomfort in order to strengthen the muscles and heal you.  Even the healing act of massage require an element of pain interwoven with the feelings of pleasure. We accept this on a physical level, we tell ourselves, “No pain, no gain” but we have a really hard time accepting this at an emotional level.

Our brains don’t like change, they will do anything to take the easy way out and to maintain status quo.  However, our brains need change.

In fact, I challenge you that change and discomfort are essential for growing your emotional intelligence, your resilience and your staying power or grit.  Think of these moments of pain and discomfort as burpees for the brain.  We know that it is going to hurt, but it is oh so good for us.

Accepting that it is going to hurt and going there anyway.

In another lifetime, I would have done anything to not feel the discomfort and the pain of confronting myself – my truths.  My younger version was happy to keep myself safe, to do as I was told, to go with the flow, to not ruffle any feathers and to play it small.  I would do anything to avoid conflict.  If you met me on the floor of my centre, you would think, “wow she is always so calm” “she always looks so happy”.

Inside I was at war.  I was at war with myself.  I knew that there were truths that I was swallowing, conflicts that I was avoiding and incompetence, unkindness and prejudice in others that I was tolerating.  I was doing so to keep the peace.  I told myself that this was for the best for everyone involved. However, I was lying to myself – things that you bury have a way of festering and coming back up to the surface.

If I was being honest with myself, I was PETRIFIED.

I was petrified of admitting that I didn’t have the skills to handle the situation, of not having all the answers. I was petrified of making a mistake and letting my boss and my team down.  I was petrified of not being in control of the situation of not living up to my own, impossibly, high expectations of myself.   I put off challenging bad practice in others, because I was petrified about what shortcomings it would unearth about me.  I was petrified of looking like a fraud and I was petrified of appearing weak.  I was petrified of being wrong, and any feedback that wasn’t glowing praise. Paradoxically by the time the glowing praise had filtered through my brain it sounded like criticism to me anyway.

There was a thought loop, a narrative playing over and over in my head keeping me rooted to the spot.  In this thought loop I was telling myself that I was not good enough, that I just couldn’t do it, that I just wasn’t strong enough.

But here’s the rub… this fear, was literally keeping me frozen in place, unable to move and grow as a teacher, a leader and as a person.  And the sad truth is that those whom we serve, our children, our families our teams can’t afford for us to be disconnected and living in a state of denial and fear.

If you are reading this and feeling this right now, thinking that you are not strong enough….

Then let me be the one to tell you

You are filled with infinite, untapped reserves of strength, courage, creativity, persistence and possibilities – more than you will ever know.

As a child you could have been anything and everything your imagination allowed you to be.  You haven’t lost it, you have just forgotten that you had it. You are just out of practice on how to use it.  Have faith in yourself and listen to your intuition – you are just one choice away from being brave, from doing what feels right and doing something amazing that will change your life forever.

How to feel the fear and do it anyway

I have been told that fear is a projection and isn’t real, but I know first-hand that fear is very real.  In some instances, such as stopping yourself from jumping off a cliff or protecting a loved one, fear is not only extremely real but vitally necessary.  As human beings we have an innate sense of self preservation.

The fear that I am challenging you to tackle today is the crippling fear of not being right, not being in control, not trying, not speaking your truth and not living your potential as a human being.

We all have a purpose for being here, we all have a gift to give.  Figuring out your true purpose might be the scariest thing that you do.  It might mean feeling emotions and letting go of things that you have relied on to keep you safe. When you suppress your truth and wage a war within yourself you are allowing your fears to stop you from doing what you are meant to be doing.

The clincher is that the only thing that you can control is your own thoughts, feelings and actions.  You cannot change other people and their thoughts, feelings and actions. The only person that you can change is yourself and that is enough.

 

Mastering yourself, your thoughts and your fears might be the most courageous thing that you ever do.

So how do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

These are some of they ways that I have helped me to move blocks in my life and overcome the fear.

  • Be vigilant of your thoughts – realise that your thoughts have power. Your reality is shaped by your thoughts. You have a choice to allow the thought to control you or for you to control the thought. This might involve digging a bit deeper into the core beliefs that you have about yourself and doing a bit of spring cleaning of the soul – I know scary stuff!
  • Your brain is a muscle – capable of growth and change.  Watch your language, a key learning for me was to replace ” I can’t do it” with “I can’t do it yet”.  Think of challenging situations as an opportunity for your brain to grow, develop and learn new skills.
  • They are just feelings – as scary as they seem, feelings themselves can’t hurt you. They have as much power as you give them.  Tough feelings and emotions are the price of admission to a meaningful life.  Suppressing or denying feelings will only make them more difficult to deal with in the long run.  Instead ask yourself, “what is this feeling here to teach me about myself?” “What am I making it mean?” Learn to observe your feeling from a distance, label it accurately and focus on the unfulfilled need at the root of the feeling.
  • Replace self-pity with self-compassion – there is a big difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling kind towards yourself. Self-pity is a bottomless pit of misery that sucks you deeper and deeper into the feeling of despair. Self-pity allows you to perpetuate the endless cycle of being a victim.  Victim thinking allows you to abdicate responsibility for yourself, your thoughts and your actions – it is never your fault.  Self-pity is a form of control – it allows you to avoid making mistakes and possibly failing and getting some-one else to feel sorry for you.   Self-compassion on the other hand is empowering and uplifting.  When you choose to be kind and gentle towards yourself you are choosing to acknowledge that although this new way of thinking can be challenging, and you will make mistakes, it is not because you are not good enough it is just part of the journey of staying curious and courageous about yourself.  You are acknowledging the emotional and personal growth that you are undertaking, the strength, persistence and resilience that this takes.  Wisdom comes from knowing yourself – when you need to push forward and when you need to rest.
  • Start a gratitude ritual – no matter how dire your life might feel, there is always something to be grateful for.  At the very least you have been blessed with another day and you are breathing.  Starting a gratitude practice will reshape your brain and your responses to life.
  • Anchoring your thoughts with your “why” – according to Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker, the extraordinary fact about fear, is that fear and excitement have the same physical symptoms in your body. The only difference is what your brain is doing.  You can trick your brain to believe that you are excited instead of fearful by using an anchoring thought. Next time you are about to do something that you find challenging and makes you nervous such as having a courageous conversation you can use an anchoring thought to help yourself to take action.  Connect with why it is important for you to have the conversation, then picture yourself after the conversation is finished.  Picture yourself telling someone how well the conversation went and the positive impact your action has had and take this feeling into you meeting.
  • Take action – making any type of change is scary and can be completely overwhelming.  Instead sending yourself into panic-mode, do an honest “internal review” into yourself and ask, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take now?” And then once that is done, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take? And so forth.

Often all that is needed is the 10 seconds of courage that it takes to make the decision to take action – Nadine Champion.

I challenge you in the week ahead, dig deep and find your 10 seconds of courage to take the action that you need to in your life, one small shaky step at a time.  All journeys are accomplished one step at a time.

There is no value in playing small, but there is huge potential in starting small – Natasha Vanzetti.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, please comment below.  I love to hear from you.

Arohanui,

 

If you are interested in the topic of emotional literacy and how you use it to unlock your skills as a heart-led teacher and leader contact me about my PLD The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unpacking the learning – Carpentry in Early Childhood Education

I recently had the privilege of observing two children playing at the carpentry table.  The two boys (around the age of three and four) had been working side by side, when one of the boys wandered over to where a piece of wood had been fixed onto a small bench with a vice.  He started to saw the wood but was battling because the bench was wobbling.  His friend who was still at the carpentry table seeing his struggle went over and sat down on the bench to steady it.

Not many words were exchanged between the two but the manaakitanga between them was so touching to observe, that it made an instant impression on me.  When the boy with the saw tired of his efforts, his friend swapped roles with him, having a turn to saw the wood while the other boy steadied the bench. They worked together like this for some time reversing roles and sharing the workload with each other, until they got distracted by another friend and ran off to play robots.

Unpacking the learning

As the observer I was really touched by this powerful learning experience.   I could have so easily intervened, and the magic would have been lost.

In unpacking some of this learning I have interwoven some of the principles, strands and goals of Te Whāriki , MoE 2017 as well as dispositions for learning.  I have also made links to Te Ao Māori learning concepts found in Te Whatu Pōkeka, MoE 2009 and Tataiako, MoE 2017.

Firstly, these two children did not need my help at all.  They did not need to me to mitigate risk, to extend their play nor to provide a mediator for social competence.

It was all part of Ngā āhuatanga o te tamaiti – their way of being (I contribute my own ideas and participate, I can take responsibility for myself, people and things.)

They were empowered, capable, confident and the experts in the moment, learning how children learn best through play. This was such rich learning which encompassed many learning dispositions and holistic learning.

In an empowering environment, children have an agency to create and act on their own ideas, develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them and, increasingly, to make decisions and judgements on matters that relate to them. (Te Whāriki, MoE 2017)

I was immediately struck by the confidence and the mana with which the children approached the experience. They had a plan that  they knew how they were going to implement .

The kindergarten that I was working at has a philosophy based in a strong sense of Whakamana (seeing children as competent and able.)  Kaiako encourage tamariki to take calculated risks and the children are trusted in their own abilities to use the carpentry tools safely.   The boys returned the trust shown by the teachers in their abilities, by making responsible choices and managing themselves. This is a wonderful example of Tangata Mauri (knowing the rules of the kindergarten and being trusted to make decisions.)  This also links strongly to the well-being and belonging strands of Te Whāriki .  (Well-being goal 3 – keeping themselves and others safe from harm and Belonging goal 4 – knowing the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour.)

There was a lot of turn taking, give and take. and both children shared responsibility for helping and taking care of each other.  The kindness they showed each other and camaraderie of accomplishing a shared tasks helps to forge a friendship and fostered a feeling of connectedness and belonging.  This is at its core, Ako (I am confident to share my ideas with and learn from others.) This also links to the contribution strand of  Te Whāriki – (Contribution goal 3 -Children are encouraged to learn and work alongside others.)

During this process the children where developing working theories about the physical and material world and problem-solving skills. As well as experiencing ways to become confident with their bodies and developing their fine and gross motor skills (Exploration goals 2,3,4).  This experience helped to develop persistence, perseverance and resilience which relates to Hinengaro – (I think and know, I can think in abstract ways) and Taha Tinana – (I challenge myself physically.)

Getting past the barriers

I know for some teachers and parents the carpentry table is a bit of a pain point.  Parents feel wary around the risk of allowing young children to play with real tools such as hammers, nails, saws and drills.  Teachers sometimes struggle with articulating how the benefits outweigh the risks to parents.

It is often a bone of contention for teachers, because someone must supervise the carpentry and the outdoor area. It can become a power struggle of reinforcing safety “rules” and asking children to “bring that back to the carpentry table”.

Often, we are unsure of carpentry ourselves as it is not something that we grew up with or were encouraged to play with as a child.  There can be different cultural barriers for teachers and whanau.  It is often an area of the curriculum that we dump in the “too hard” basket.

However, as you can see, this one experience of carpentry encompasses so many strands of the Early Childhood Curriculum.  In fact, if loose parts play is defined as “materials that can be moved, redesigned, put together and taken apart in a variety of ways” then carpentry is loose parts play at its core. It is the very essence of a holistic learning experience.

Because children develop holistically, they need a broad and rich curriculum that enables them to grow their capabilities across all dimensions…A holistic approach sees the child as a person who wants to learn, the task as a meaningful whole greater than the sum of its parts. Te Whāriki, MoE 2017.

How can we improve the carpentry experience we offer at our ECE settings?

Some of the ways that you can improve the carpentry experience for the tamariki in your place are:

  • Get comfortable and excited about carpentry yourself.  Research carpentry PD in your community, attend a free workshop at your local hardware store, watch Youtube videos.  Building stuff with your hands is fun!  Your attitude to the experience is key.
  • Create ground rules with your tamariki, get them to come up with responsible choices at the carpentry table.  Use mat times and group times to go over this with everyone.  Get buy-in from the children, if they help to make the rules they will be your allies in reminding each other about making good choices.
  • Review your carpentry area, do you have a range of quality, child sized tools in good working order?  You don’t need to get everything right now, make a list prioritise and get a few things each month.
  • Have a variety of untreated pieces of wood in different shapes and sizes available for tamariki to use creatively.
  • Provide a wide range of loose parts and “junk items” to fuel the imagination, invention, allow open ended play and problem solving.
  • Provide occupational, safety gear in your carpentry area.  Hardhats, gloves, safety goggles, ear-muffs and high-viz vests are great for provoking creative play as well as discussions about how to keep ourselves safe and making responsible choices.
  • Don’t forget, carpentry is a great way to provide meaningful literacy and numeracy opportunities through play.  Stock your carpentry area with tape measures, builder’s pencils, clipboards, paper, blueprints, plans and books on architecture, building and engineering.

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experience – Loris Malaguzzi

Happy building!

Arohanui

The kind folks at Curiate Resources have created a special promo for the readers of this blog who are in the market for some quality carpentry tools for their centre.  Simply click the link here.

Use the promo code  WOOD20 for a sweet discount.

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Rediscovering Your Creative Genius

 

Before my move to Northland, I fell in love…. With the idea of being an artist.  I discovered mixed media art and I knew instantly that I wanted to do it.  I watched endless Youtube clips online for inspiration, purchased canvases, gesso, modelling paste, paint brushes and then put them all away in my cupboard in the spare room.  I kept on making excuses not to paint; I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t have the space to paint, I needed to spend time with the children, it was Christmas…. and then the ultimate excuse… I needed pack up the house because we decided that we were moving to Northland.

Now these are probably good reasons not to pull out a canvas and some paints and to get busy.  However, one of the real reasons I was so hesitant was fear.  A thousand thoughts went through my head “What if I was no good”  “What if I made a mistake” “I’m not an artist” “What if…”(insert your excuse here).

Rediscovering your creative genius

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Big Magic” (a book I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to live a creative life).  In it she introduced me to the concept of our creative genius.  Everyone has one, your creative genius is very closely related to your intuition.  Another name that you might know it as is inspiration.

I times when we are relaxed and mindful or doing something enjoyable, our creative genius whispers ideas to us.  I hear my creative genius speaking to me when I am going for a walk, or I am relaxed and just about to fall asleep.  We often become so busy and stressed in our daily lives that we block out our creative genius or tell it to go away by thinking negative thoughts and doubting our abilities.  Our creative genius doesn’t like drama, it will just move to the next person until it finds someone who will work with it. Which is why often, after you thought of an idea and dismissed it you will notice someone who has had the exact same idea and has turned it into a success.

But, if you hear your creative genius and accept the invitation to work with it, that is where the magic happens.  I know that you might wonder about my sanity, but it is almost as if a magical force is working with you in the creative process, you just have to be open to it.  If you learn to listen to your inspiration it will spam you with so many good ideas that you will have to write them all down before they disappear.

Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts, said,

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.

Overcoming fear

So, today I decided to stop making excuses.  I went to the cupboard of my new home where I had unpacked all the art supplies, I had purchased before my move and was too afraid to use. I made the decision to be courageous.  I will be honest with you; the hardest part of this experience was opening the supply cupboard.

Once I made the choice to silence the fear and trust my creative genius I realised that I had nothing to worry about.  There was no right or wrong way of doing this, there were no mistakes.  Instead of fear, I felt joy and at peace – I was living my bliss.  (I also discovered that while I was painting that my creative genius gave me another gift – the inspiration for this post.)

In fact, there are many scientifically proven mental health and brain boosting benefits of creating art.  Relieving stress, raising self-esteem, reducing feelings of depression, increasing our empathy, tolerance and feelings of love to name a few.  Creating art increases our brain connectivity and plasticity.  Creating visual art, has been proven to enhance the quality of life for people suffering from dementia.  So, there are loads of great reasons to get creative.

Your divine birth-right

We were all born to be creative beings.  Being creative is an innately human ability.

Steve Jobs once said:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It just seemed obvious to them after a while.

As parents and a teachers, we see this all the time.  Children don’t even think, they just create!

Our young children are full of infinite creative energy, imagination and self-belief. They live in the moment and experience the pure joy of putting paint and colour onto a page.  They thrive on the sensory rich experience of seeing colour, feeling cold paint between their fingers, tasting it and just being.  They are not particularly worried about the end result or whether they will make mistakes.  Often once they have completed their art piece, they forget about the product and move onto the next thing.  We were all once like this and as a role model in our children’s lives our attitude towards our own creativity has an enormous impact as to whether our children will remain like this.

 

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up – Pablo Picasso

When, did we as adults lose this ability to just be creative? Not to over-think it, or to worry about mistakes? But to just listen to our creative genius and enjoy the process?

To just be?

I issue you with a challenge today:

  • Next time your creative genius whispers in your ear, listen.  The more aware you are of it the more you will hear it.
  • Think of a way of being creative that has always interested you.  This might be something that you have done in the past, or it might be something completely new. It may not be painting, it may be pottery, cooking, gardening, knitting, crochet, cake decorating or scrap-booking.
  • Find a class, a community group, watch some Youtube tutorials or join a Facebook group.
  • Buy some materials.
  • Make some time and just start being creative.

Starting is the hardest part, but I guarantee that you will love it. You will wonder what took you so long to get started.

Happy creating!

 

 

 

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Seeing the Greatness in You.

 

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about pay fairness for all teachers and whether an ECE teacher has the same worth as a secondary calculus teacher.  There has also been some talk about who should be legally allowed to call themselves a teacher.  I know from reading indignant and angry comments across the many social media forums that this touches us all and there are many teachers that feel hurt and undervalued by this.

I have been reflecting on this and it has brought up some thought provoking questions for me to ponder around qualifications and how we see ourselves.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague whom is a well-regarded, successful early childhood teacher and business owner and whom I respect immensely; about how my qualification (a diploma of ECE) made me feel inferior and not professional enough.  Her response to me was, “what do you think I have?” With all her successes her original ECE qualification is a diploma of teaching too.  My response to her was “but that doesn’t matter, look how professional and successful you are, what a great teacher you are, how much experience you have!”

Light bulb moment! Why was I able to see this in her, but not myself?

Which brings me to the subject of my post today?

Why are we able to see the greatness in others but we are unable to see the greatness in ourselves?

Perhaps like me, you were taught as a child to be seen and not heard and to be humble.

After all;

Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka

The kumara does not say how sweet he is

Perhaps it is the fear of judgement. Perhaps it is the fear that we will be seen as a fraud or that we will make a mistake.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we all walk around bragging about how great we are and I am certainly not discounting anyone’s qualifications or experience either. We are all working hard on our own teaching journey. This is not about comparing or judging.

I am talking about something a lot more personal that you may be able to relate to.

Is this you?

Someone pays you a compliment, and your automatic response is to feel uncomfortable and to say something to contradict or downplay the compliment?

Why are we so lousy at taking compliments? Why are we so awful at being kind and compassionate to ourselves and owning our greatness?

Have you mislabelled yourself?

In Danielle Krysa’s book “Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk” she writes:

“Labels are sticky. They’re great for organizing your cupboard; but when people put clingy, hard-to-remove labels on themselves, it can prevent creative growth. And sometimes labels have incorrect information! That’s why what’s inside the can matters.”

Have you stuck a big old label on yourself with incorrect information?  Do you say things like, “I am just an teacher”, ” I only have a diploma”, “I am only a parent”, ” I am only a reliever”, “I am only a new grad”, “I am only an untrained teacher”, ” I am only a centre director”, “I am only….” the list is endless.

Have we forgotten to look inside the “can” at our strengths and talents and own and celebrate these within ourselves. We are so much more than just the labels we have given ourselves.

You were given your strengths and talents for a reason. If we can’t acknowledge them and own them, then how are we going to be able to use them to create magic in our lives, and the lives of our children, and teams and centres? Who knows what we can achieve if we remove the big old sticky label.

How do we remove the label?

As I have previously posted, we are often cruel and unkind to ourselves in the way that we speak to ourselves – we are often our worst critic.  We would never dream of speaking to others the way that we speak to ourselves.  Yet it has been scientifically proven time and time again that our thoughts have the power to shape our reality.

 What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” – Buddha.

If we have given ourselves a label we are likely to do two things:

  • Find enough evidence to prove it to ourselves.
  • Discount anything to the contrary of our belief.

Even if this label is a false one.

Some ways that we can remove the label are:

Awareness:  Healing comes from awareness.  Actively listen to what you are telling yourself.  The more you practice being mindful of your thoughts. The more aware you become, you will see just how destructive they can be.

Be kind: Replay some of your internal dialogue, ask yourself; where you being kind to yourself? Where you treating yourself with the same respect and compassion you would show to others?

Where did it come from? Dig a little bit deeper, where does this self-doubt, destructive self- talk and label come from? Is the label you created for yourself, a way of keeping yourself safe?

Stop comparing: We all have our own talents and strengths that make us unique.  Comparing yourself  to others will only rob you of your joy.

Find new evidence: Be open to finding and believing new evidence that contradicts the label that you have given yourself. Accept those Compliments!

Trust your intuition: Sometimes we spend so much time believing damaging thoughts that we learn not to trust our intuition. Listen for it, your intuition may be but a whisper, but it is there if you look for it.

Practice, practice, practice and fake it till you make it:  As with any new skill, you will fumble and make mistakes, but practice makes perfect. Treat yourself with compassion.

 

Acknowledging the greatness in ourselves

So whatever label you have given yourself, it is time to rip it off and acknowledge yourself for all greatness that you have within you.

It will take practice, persistence, perseverance and a present mind to achieve this, but don’t give up…

You are worth it.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Arohanui

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home is Where the Art is

 

 

As some of you may know my family and I have just made a move from Auckland to Whangarei to align our lifestyle with our family values.

One of the things that really stood out for me when we packed up our house in Auckland was how much art affects how a place feels. Our Auckland homes’ walls were covered in art that I loved: over-sized scrabble pieces that spelled out our family members names, original framed creations crafted by my children and artistic friends, prints, quirky industrial pieces and photos of those that I hold dear to me.

It took seven years of collecting and curating and they were part of the place that I called home. These pieces brought me much joy, but it wasn’t until after I took them down did I realise just how much they contributed to the feel of my home.  Some of this I had taken for granted, but as we took down piece by piece and packed them away and I looked at my bare walls where my masterpieces once hung I realised two things.

Firstly, that over the years I had spent a small fortune in command strips and secondly a home without art is just a house.

It has filled me with much bliss to rediscover my buried treasures and turn our new house into our home.

This has made me reflect on the environments that I worked over the years as an early childhood teacher and how they made me feel.

Why do we value beauty?

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; it’s loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness – John Keats

Now there are people out there who think that things like pictures, pretty trinkets, candles, plants and quirky bits are just superficial and not important, but  I would like to challenge your thinking on this.

To experience beauty in our lives is a fundamental human need. Beauty speaks to the soul of who we are – we are holistic beings it is imprinted in our DNA to create beautiful things and to be surrounded by beauty. Our environment evokes an emotional response in us it’s a reflection of who we are as people.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart – Helen Keller

We have all experienced this when we walk into a home or an early childhood centre we feel the wairua of the place and the people before anyone has even said a word

 

 

The Holistic Lens

Let’s take a look at this through a holistic lens.

When we are happy and at peace in our environment we feel a deep-seated feeling of belonging.  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after meeting our basic needs and safety, belonging is our next most important need.

Once our teams, our children and our families feel that they belong they are able to contribute in a positive way.  When beautiful “real things” are freely available for children to play with we are saying “I trust you”. When we create beautiful environments, we are saying ” I respect you.” “I value you” “I love you”.

Expressions of creativity, the freedom to exchange ideas and explore freely is only possible in an environment where we feel safe to do so.

Are our environments allowing our teams and children the emotional nourishment to feel love and belonging?  Do our centres feel right?

Living beautifully is a unique expression of our divine nature – The Virtues Project

Take Stock of Your Environment

In my previous post “Why you should be your priority” I wrote about taking stock of your environment.

How is your environment making you feel? What have you taken for granted in your environment?  Does it reflect the people in the home or the centre? Is it time for a clean out?

Perhaps it is time to take an emotional internal evaluation of each space and reflect on how that space is not only looking but how it feels. What emotional response is your environment evoking?

Is it a space that feels home-like, filled with beauty that inspires awe and wonder? Or is it a chaotic, busy space that makes you feel overwhelmed by being in it?  Has a collection of junk and debris accumulated over time and we have become oblivious to it?  Or is it a space where carefully curated treasures have been lovingly displayed?

Our children are constantly downloading our wairua, but they are also downloading the wairua of the spaces where they spend their time.

Our teams, children and families deserve a beautiful environment.  We deserve a beautiful environment.

It is not enough to create efficiency – we also need to create beauty because it is a fundamental expression of our humanity, of who we are. If we deny beauty we deny our humanity… and our future. – David Truebridge.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  I would love to see some of the ways you create beauty in your place.  Please feel free to share them in the comments

Arohanui

 

 

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Why You Should Be Your Priority

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

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

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

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

The short answer is YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for the gold.

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

Are you replenishing your vessel?

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

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

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

Some ways that we can do this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become a priority to yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I worthy of imitation?

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

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

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

Thank you for reading, chat soon.

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Don’t Look Back, You Are Not Going That Way

Daily Mindfulness Rituals

Going to the beach before work to have my morning coffee to complete my daily mindfulness ritual has become my way of setting myself up for a focused, positive and productive day.  My job as a centre director of a busy ECE centre, often entails early morning starts with teachers ringing in sick.  This has me scrambling for relief teachers and reorganising my scheduled roster.  Add on top of this the Auckland traffic and the school run and you have the recipe for one frazzled woman.

I do not want to remain in this state of mind.  As I am in a position that requires me to be emotionally present for adults and children, I have created this ritual to prepare myself for the day.

Building a positive ritual, sets us up for something more beautiful than if we leave things to chance.  It means we are truly preparing ourselves in the head, heart and hand. – Kimberley Crisp

The Debris in the Way

The ocean has always been my calming place and it has become my ritual to go there before work to breath in the sea air and feel the sun on my face.  I close my eyes, concentrate on my breathing and think of all reasons I have to be grateful.

Today when I arrived at my happy place I was faced with debris strewn all over the beach.

Disappointed, I nearly turned back as I thought that my ritual would be ruined.   I nearly turned my car around and didn’t get out.  However, I talked myself into getting out of the car and going to the beach to have a look.  As I stepped over the debris I was rewarded with the most amazing view.

In getting past the obstacles in my way,  I was still able to enjoy my morning ritual and start my day off in a positive frame of mind.

So why I am I telling you this story?

Well, when I reflected on this experience I realised that it was a great metaphor for life.

The lessons I learnt were:

  • Life will always throw debris into your path. Those inconvenient, messy bits that make life challenging and threaten to ruin your “view”.
  • It takes faith and resilience to overcome the hurdles in life.  If we have faith and remain positive we will be rewarded with an amazing outcome.  The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it – Moliere
  • Once you are experiencing the fantastic view don’t let the debris in the background ruin it for you.  Leave the past in the past.  Don’t look over your shoulder and let the mess in your past ruin your present.  Don’t look back, you are not going that way!  Live in the present and enjoy being  in this beautiful moment.

And there you have it, three short lessons learnt on a beach.

Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future.  It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift – Oprah Winfrey.

If you would like to experience more mindfulness and joy in your life.

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