How To Be Your Priority?

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

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. 

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 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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

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.

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?  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.

The hours 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.

Take a closer look at what your habits are in the hours before you go to bed?

Are they 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…

Was 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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

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! –

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, 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.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

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.

Rudy Francisco.

If this blog resonated with you and you would like to give yourself the gift of your own self-care why not join me and other centre directors at the Prioritise Yourself – Winter Wellness One Day Retreat for Teachers?

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.

Until next time…