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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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
Do you ever get angry with yourself or others, or feel guilty?
Have you ever had an emotional response that has left you so triggered that it is all you can think of for days and days?
Chances are that we have all felt these emotions in our lives from time to time. Sometimes these emotions can be really intense. We can really feel upset by them or feel so stuck that we just can’t move past them.
Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently…
I was facilitating a workshop and it was all going well. In the break, someone came to me and said, “Excuse me but, there is a typo on one of your slides.”
Now I acknowledge that it took a lot of courage for this person to come up to me and tell me this. I know that she was doing this because she cared about me and my professional integrity. I personally value professional discourse and honest direct feedback.
I know that to you this might seem trivial… So then why was I feeling so triggered?
To be perfectly honest this emotional response hung around me for days after the workshop like a bad smell. So I decided to put pen to paper and to curiously and courageously unpack some of what was going on for me.
I learnt this process at a personal development course that I attended a few years ago. I have since added my own bits to it so that works for me.
Today, I would like to share this experience and the process that I used with you. My hope is that this might help you with some of the feelings or emotions that have taken up residence in your mind and heart.
How I got myself out of Stucksville
First of all, I found a time where I was able to be undisturbed and I able to focus on my thoughts. I then tried to, as accurately as possible, to write down all the facts about the situation. (Just the facts)
I then tried to think about what I am projecting – something from my past (in this case, the first-ever presentation I did in front of a group of people many years ago) or was it fear or something that I am worried about for the future?
In this instance, I realised that I was in my circle of concern rather than my circle of influence and that I needed to move back into where my power was.
I then confronted myself and wrote down everything that I was saying about myself and this situation.
I usually take a “no holds barred” approach to this as I feel that once these words are on paper they are no longer taking up the room in my head. I then acknowledge them and draw a line under what I had written to signify that I am now moving past them. I reminded myself that nothing has meaning except the meaning that I give it.
What are my feelings telling me?
The next step is to pinpoint the emotions that I am feeling.
For me, it was anger and disappointment.
I have three choices with these emotions. I can either wallow in them(and make them mean something about me) try to bury them (we can easily fall into the habit of labelling our emotions as “bad” and to try to avoid feeling them) or … I can see them for what they are information.
“Information for what?” You might be asking. Information for what my next move should be.
(I have included a list of common emotions that we don’t like to experience and what they might be telling you below.)
When I examined what my emotions were telling me, I realised that I had not met my own expectations of myself. I had also violated my “rule” about excellence and professionalism.
I then needed to challenge my expectations – were they realistic? As well as my perceptions around my “rules”.
What did excellence and professionalism mean to me?
Life is all about perception and what we tell ourselves at any given moment of time. Once we realise that we control the narrative of our lives it opens a world of new possibilities. What you tell yourself everyday will either lift you up or tear you down – YOU decide.
So instead of perpetuating the narrative of not being good enough, not professional enough, et cetera, et cetera (that we all can fall prey to).
I chose to change the narrative.
I decided to tell myself that I am human. That everyone makes a mistake from time to time – even professionals.
I chose to tell myself that I will take action to do better in the future. However, I would probably still make mistakes and that this is okay.
I decided to take the lessons from this experience. To forgive my younger self for the disastrous workshop from years ago (and for my mistake in the recent one.) And to let it go.
What are your emotions telling you?
Here is a list of common “unpleasant” emotions and the action that they are telling you to take:
Fear – I am unsafe/I need to prepare – get prepared, change your situation or change your perception about the situation.
Hurt – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.
Anger – one of your “rules” has been violated by yourself or by others – You can accept the situation, take steps to change it or move away from it.
Frustration – what you are doing isn’t working – change your behaviour or try something new.
Sadness or Disappointment – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.
Guilt – you are out of alignment with your values – adjust your values or realign with your values.
All unpleasant feelings stem from some sense of loss – real or imagined.
What had I lost in this situation?
It turns out that my sense of loss was merely a projection, an idea that I was aspiring to be.
What about you?
How do you choose to deal with your feelings?
Have you ever thought about your emotions as feedback or information on an action that you had to take in your life?
Could use these often perceived “negative emotions ” as an agent for change or as a powerful way to empower you?
If you found these steps useful or helpful and you would like to chat with me about mentoring, wellbeing coaching or whole team PLD please get in touch.
The phone rings at 6 am, it is one of your opening teachers calling in sick followed by another and yet another. You get yourself ready to go in and cover the opening teachers 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 your 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 an early childhood centre. For most of us it is a role we love and we enjoy making a difference in the lives of others, but… 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
When I am feeling exhausted or overwhelmed it is a sure sign that I am not taking enough time for myself. The role of a leader can be at times a lonely, isolating one. Each of us has the responsibility to take care of our own health and wellbeing by practising self-care.
Are you taking time to replenish your vessel?
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.
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 regularly moving your body. When we neglect our basic needs, this can have detrimental consequences for our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, and we become more susceptible to depression, anxiety and emotional outbursts. Neglecting our needs makes us vulnerable to colds, flues and other viruses. You are a person first and a leader second.
Either you spend the time nourishing yourself and meeting your needs. Or you spend the time dealing with the consequences and the behaviours that result from not meeting those needs. Either way, you spend the time.
Take time off when you need it – As the leader, we can often feel duty bound to be at work no matter what. When a member of our team comes to us with a leave request, we try our best to accommodate this as we know how important personal time away from work is for teacher wellbeing and team morale.
However, when it comes to our own leave (sick leave or holiday) we often find it extremely difficult to give ourselves permission to take the time for ourselves. Often, we will drag ourselves to work when we are sick – feeling very sorry for ourselves or justified for doing “the right thing” or we spend the day at home feeling guilty for not being at work and letting everyone else down. Perhaps for you, it is duty that compels you to be there, or you secretly long for recognition for how dedicated you are and then feel hard done by when no one says anything. You might think that you are doing the right thing, but you are not doing yourself or anyone else any good.
Check your personal boundaries – Life happens and some mornings it is inevitable that you are going to be woken up by the phone. On occasions, it may be necessary to finish a piece of “paperwork” at home. However, this should not be the norm.
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? If you are staying up till midnight every night doing admin tasks, then
you need to check your boundaries.
You need adequate rest in order to keep yourself healthy and to do your best. Try banishing your phone, computer and anything relating to work from your bedroom.
before we go to bed and first thing in the morning are important for nurturing
your physical, emotional and mental health.
The first and final moments of our day set the tone for the minutes and
hours in between.
closer look at what your habits are in the hours before you go to bed?
conducive to slowing down and signalling to your body and brain that it is time
for rest and renewal?
How are you starting the day? Do you have a morning self-care ritual that helps you prepare yourself emotionally, physically and mentally?
Maybe, you need to put in some boundaries around taking on too much by being compelled to say “Yes” when you really should be saying “No”.
Know “WHY” According to self-care experts having a clear sense of purpose can help to stave off feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and even burn-out.
Train your mind and control your thoughts – Be the guardian of your mauri, your energy. 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?
Think back on your day…
it really a bad day, or was it a bad five minutes that you milked all day?
Our brains are wired to focus on the negative aspects of our day. Even though there were parts of the day that were challenging and stressful if you look for them, 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 or teachers being kind and compassionate to each other. A kind word from a parent or a fellow teacher.
These moments are 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 .
I found that I became a lot less stressed and a lot more focused and positive in my mindset when I started a gratitude journal. I keep my gratitude journal next to my bed. At the start of the day, I write down three things that I am grateful for, my intention for the day and a positive affirmation. In this way, I have trained 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, journaling or meditation. Lately, I have started a Sunday evening self-care ritual that helps me to prepare myself for the week ahead. There is no right or wrong way to do this – tune into your own cues and figure out what brings you joy and make time for this in your life.
Be Prepared – Self-care is about treating yourself with love and it is okay to indulge yourself with luxuries and pampering.
However, self-care is also about boring everyday stuff that allows you to take better care of yourself and those around you. I am talking here about taking a realistic look at your life at the moment and intentionally planning and preparing so that when the proverbial hits the fan that you have things in place to keep yourself nourished and nurtured. For example, have a stock of quick “go-to” items in your pantry or prepare a meal plan for the week ahead. Invest in a slow-cooker or cook extra portions so that you can have a stand-by meal ready in the freezer as well as extras for lunch.
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 you. 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? Is there clutter that needs to be cleared out? This may or may not be your thing but, I always feel heaps better after I have cleaned my house or tidied out a messy cupboard. For me, organisation has a calming effect. Perhaps you suffer from mental clutter – jobs that you have been putting off, but need to be done?
Be intentional with your environment it has a life of its own. Surround yourself with beauty such as plants, fresh flowers, homely touches, art, candles and essential oils – whatever is your jam!
I can hear you say, “But, Tanya I don’t have time/money/know how…” 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! –
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, scouts, 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?
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?
Ask yourself “Am I worthy of imitation?”
Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done.
I know that you spend a lot of time taking care of others and it is your turn for someone to take care of you. At the retreat, I will support you to create your personalised self-care plan which will enable you to refuel your tank and build resilience as a professional leader and as a person. Click here to find out more information.