Deciding What Matters

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

What matters in your setting?

Do you know why you do what you do?

Do you have a shared set of core beliefs and values that helps you to steer the ship?  Or are you a motley crew of people with their own agendas or are you rowing together with the same destination in mind? 

More importantly do you share the same vibe, is your “what matters, a meeting of the heart and minds of the whole team?

Let me share an example with you:

Sally is inspired by the work of Emmi Pikler, she believes in a peaceful, respectful curriculum for infants.  She allows the infants in her space lots of time for uninterrupted play while she says present as the observer allowing the child to lead their own learning through play.  Sally believes in following the infant’s cues for mealtimes and sleep and being flexible in her approach.

Maria believes in teacher-led learning for infants. She believes in strict routines for meals and sleep times.  Maria prefers mat-times and structured table-top activities. 

These two teachers work in the infant’s room together and both believe passionately in their way of doing things.  However, every time Sally allows an infant to play independently on the floor while she quietly observes this really grinds at Maria – she sees Sally as lazy and neglectful. Maria thinks that Sally should use her time more wisely.  Similarly, Maria’s practice really upsets Sally.  Every time Maria summons the babies to mat-time or insists that all the babies need to sit at the table and eat together this results in Sally rolling her eyes saying uncomplimentary things about Maria under her breath. 

The two teachers have started complaining to other teachers in the centre and are at an odds with each other.  This is causing friction in the centre and creating an extremely unpleasant environment in the infant’s room. You can feel “the vibe” the minute you walk through the doors.  This is having a profound effect on the children who are unsettled as a result.

Until Sally and Maria sit down together and talk through their issues and create a common vision and philosophy for the infant’s room there is always going to be discord and issues with camaraderie within this team.

It is likely that Sally and Maria if they are to work together they will need some support and professional develop to reach a place of empathy and mutual respect grounded in what is best for the children in their place.  There is likely to be some conversation, unpacking of beliefs and values and some compromise from both parties in order to work together as a team.  The two teachers might need to unearth the values that they have in common – and focus on the things that bind them together instead of focusing on the things that will tear them apart. 

Having this courageous conversation might seem daunting to both parties. However, the consequence of not having a shared understanding of “what matters”, is that each teacher will wage a war with-in herself and that the team, the emotional hygiene of the centre and the children will suffer because of it.  This is also not great for the teachers themselves because this is causing upset, anger and stress which robs them of their peace, passion and joy.

Why we should decide what matters?

This concept of “what matters” although it has it’s roots in the philosophy, spans much wider and deeper than just philosophy.  “What matters” is not just merely a statement of what we value but speaks to the core of who we are as a service, as a team and as a community.

We are now two years on from the publishing of the latest iteration of our Early Childhood Curriculum – Te Whāriki.  This is an incredibly deep document and as a profession we are still unpacking it fully.

One of the differences in the new document is the importance that it places on each service using the curriculum framework to weave a localised curriculum of “what matters”.

“Te Whāriki interprets the notion of curriculum broadly, taking it to include all the experiences, activities and events, both direct and indirect, that occur within the ECE setting. It provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes that foregrounds the mana of the child and the importance of respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships.  This framework provides a basis for each setting to weave a local curriculum that reflects its own distinctive character and values.”


Te Whariki, Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 7
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

The localised curriculum is informed by the priorities of learning within the setting and can and does differ greatly dependent on the values, beliefs and philosophy of the people in a setting.  This should take into account “what matters” not only for teachers but also for children, whanau, hapu, iwi and the community.  When considering the holistic development of the child we need to consider the child within the context of the whanau and through the lens of their culture. 

“Curriculum and pedagogy recognise that family and community are integral to learning and development, with every child situated within a set of nestled contexts that includes not only the ECE setting but also the home, the whanau, community and beyond”


Te Whāriki, Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 60

Many services have an informal “what matters” that is assumed. However, I would like to challenge you in that until you have unpacked this fully as a learning community and have developed a shared understanding of what this means for everyone invested, you will never achieve synergy within your team.

Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – Let us keep close together not far apart.

Having a shared understanding of “what matters” is at the foundation of all assessment, planning, documentation, professional discussions as well as our intentions a teachers.  Your shared understanding of “what matters” acts as a foundation from which all meaningful learning can unfold.

How do you decide what matters?

When you think about your place, what would you consider to be the what defines your setting, the people there and the learning for the children? 

What makes you special?

Does everyone in your setting have the same view?

I would like you to think about the following questions when I unpacking this for yourself:

  • How are you deciding what matters? (Who do you involve – whose voices are we including?)

Here you might like to think your philosophy as well as how you are including the children, their whanau aspirations and the community? You might consider the theories that underpin your practice as well as the cultures of the children in your place and how this might influence your curriculum design. 

This might entail asking yourselves and the other members of the learning community :

How do we view children as learners and leaders in their own learning? 

What world do they live in and will be inheriting?

What do we think is important for them to learn?

How do we think that they should learn this?

  • How do you ensure a shared understanding of what matters?

When we are considering this question is important that we are not just considering teachers.  We should consider children’s voice, as well as the views and aspirations of whanau, hapu, iwi and the local community.

We need to decide:

How are we leading this?

What is the intentions of those leading this and how are we collating everyone’s understanding and making sense of this? 

Is the lens that we are using to create a shared understanding inclusive and equitable for everyone? 

How are we communicating about this within the setting?

It is important to consider that just as our children are all different and learn in different ways, so do our parents. You might need to consider the dispositions and communication style of the families in your setting and to be flexible and adapt your approach in order to connect with them. 

You might gain a better understanding of what this means for whanau through informal conversations where you share ideas.  Or you might use more formal channels such as parent evenings, emails, surveys or assessment documentation.

You might want to prompt your parents and whanau with a few questions such as:

In our family we value…

The qualities that I would like my child to possess are…

When my child finishes at (service name), I would like them to….

When think about my child being a successful adult, I would like them to be….

As a team you would discuss this when reviewing your philosophy, completing The Quality Practice Template, engaging in professional development or through unpacking the principles and strands of Te Whāriki together. 

Being grounded in your educational aspirations and intentions will determine the types of experiences children and their families will have in your service.  Whether you are a home-based service, playcentre, kindergarten, kohanga reo, or early childhood centre, having a clear philosophy is a way of guiding thoughtful practice and preserving the ethos of your setting.”


Christie,T. Loader, M. Childspace, 2017.
  • How is this reflected in your practice and documentation?

Here I would like you to consider how do put this shared understanding into practice?

You might like to think about how this shared understanding is interwoven into the fabric of who you are and how you communicate within your setting.

How does this influence what you bring, what you do and the outcomes for children?


What matters should be interwoven into core documents for your setting such as your philosophy, strategic plan, internal evaluation, position descriptions, appraisal, policies, assessment, planning, documentation and curriculum design.  How has this influenced your leading documents how is this being put into practice in your setting? 

How are we using Te Whāriki?

Are these just documents that we aspire to in theory or are they living breathing documents? 

Are we aware of how we are enacting our shared understanding within our practice and how this is been evidenced?

Differences in how we interpret “what matters” as well as how this looks for everyone involved can vary from person to person depending on personal experiences and life context and this can be confusing.  It is important for us to regularly revisit “what matters”, using this as a reflection tool and to talk to each other about it.

One way that you might do this is to create indicators of practice for what it will look like if you are in fact living your philosophy. This would serve to create an awareness of who you are and what you value as a community and how this is being enacted in everyday practice. You could use this as a base-line in your conversations with each other and parents.  You might create a photograph display with examples of your philosophy “in action” which would make these indicators visible and could help you to communicate these concepts to children and their whanau. 

Where to from here?

Having a shared understanding or who we are – our philosophy and our vision, provides the purpose from which teachers and whanau can work together in order to allow all learning to unfold.  This gives our children a solid foundation on which to stand as they navigate their learning pathways into the future and beyond.

You might want to reflect on some of this within the context of your own setting and unpack some of these questions with the members of your learning community.

Where are you on your making sense journey of “what matters” to you? I would love to hear from you. If you need some support along any stage for you and your team contact me for some tailor made professional development.

Until next time.

References:

Ministry of Education, (2017), Te Whariki – Early Childhood Curriculum.

Loader, M., Christie, T. (2017), Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood.

Te Whariki Online,
https://tewhariki.tki.org.nz/en/professional-learning-and-development/te-whariki-webinars-nga-kauhaurangi/

Teaching Council,
https://teachingcouncil.nz/content/our-code-our-standards

Pause for the Applause – Taking Time to Celebrate the Wins

wine glasses toasting

It’s that time of year again… Time for prize givings, awards ceremonies and year end functions.  There is merriment, gift giving and recognition for all the great things that have been done and achieved through-out the year.

2018 is fast coming to a close and December might have been a joyful yet frantic, busy time of the year for you and those around you.  If you are anything like me you are stressing out, thinking about all the things that you haven’t done or still need to do before you can have some much needed time to relax with family and friends. 

You might be beating yourself up about all the things that you haven’t achieved yet; that learning. story that you still need to write, the self-review that still needs evaluating or the teaching inquiry that you still need to write reflections for.  There might be a family corner that needs a bit of love or an area in your centre that needs a jolly good clean.

Honestly, we can be our own worst enemies, our harshest critics and we can so easily get caught up in a negative mind loop.  If we look for it, we can always find more things to do, or things that we could have done better.  However, there comes a time when you just need to say to yourself, “I have done enough and that is good enough.”

Often we find it so easy to praise others around us for all the fabulous things that they do.  However, how many times have you stopped this year to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back for your achievements and your wins big or small?

Yeah sign and confetti

Celebrate the wins

Now I know that you might need a bit of encouragement to do this for yourself. We are not programmed to sound our own trumpets. 

But I urge you to sit down today (with a cuppa or maybe something a bit stronger) and write down all your wins and achievements big and small. Here are somethings that might get the ball rolling…

Write about obstacles that you have overcome this year about how strong and resilient you are – Yeah!

Write about ticking something off your bucket list. Yeah!

Write about the days when you felt that you couldn’t face the day, but still found the inner strength of character to get dressed and get out there because you knew that someone else was depending on you. Yeah!

Write about being a good friend, colleague, partner, sister, daughter, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and all-round good person. Yeah!

Write about the families that you connected with, the children’s lives that you have made a difference in and are forever changed because of who you are. Yeah!

Write about how amazing you are for juggling a career and being someone’s parent and managing to finish assignments and bossing them. Yeah!

Write about how you inspired and empowered others and how they grew as teachers and people because of your feedback and encouragement. Yeah!

Write about your failures and mistakes, the lessons you learnt along the way and how you grew as a person. Yeah!

This might feel a bit strange at first, but once you get going you will be astonished by just how much you have accomplished in your personal as well as your professional life.   

And then it is time to take a moment to reflect on your list of achievements, pause for the applause and celebrate all the amazingness that is you!

Thanks for reading.  I wish you an amazing 2019 – Here’s to more of those wins!

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,