It has been a weird old time.
One day you are going along with your business, battling the challenges of running an early childhood centre and the next we are all in lockdown and you find yourself adapting to a new set of challenges. How do you keep your business afloat? How do you remotely manage your team and how can you be there for your teachers during a time of crisis? You find yourself grappling for the delicate balance of keeping team connection and being compassionate to what is going on for your teachers at home?
You might have struggled with dilemmas like, “If I’m paying staff, is it the moral thing for me to expect them to work during this time?” Or battling with the social media peer pressure of what you should be doing. Perhaps you puzzles over how to keep connections with families and children? You did this all while balancing our own emotions and fears and the needs of our own family as the cases of the virus rose. That was just in the first 2 weeks!
Fast forward to this week, it is amazing that the number of cases of COVID 19 is decreasing, this means that what we are doing is working. However, this brings up with-in us a whole new set of fears and challenges. This is especially after yesterday’s announcement of what Level 3 will mean for ECE services. Regardless of how you make sense of this, for most of us, this means that yet another change is on the horizon in short succession. The transition of going back to work outside of our safe little bubbles. For most of us into the real world that is not the same as it was when we left it. This can seem daunting, terrifying and totally overwhelming.
The Challenges for Early Childhood Centres
For most professions, the idea of leaving the safety of our bubbles can be scary. But if you are an early childhood centre owner or manager this can seem like a mammoth task.
Our profession was stretched for staffing before this virus and this has just added another layer of complexity to the mix. We all know that our role is not just about managing tasks. It is not simply taking ourselves back to work and being responsible for ourselves or a couple of others. We are responsible for (or feel responsible for) the health and wellbeing of many other people – teachers, children and their families.
However, with our current ratios and the nature of our work, social distancing is just not possible. Children need cuddles and care, they play in each other’s space, they put things in their mouths and they are still learning the basics of good hygiene. You might be wondering, “How do we do this and keep everyone safe?”
How to cope with these changes
You may be kept at night worried about all the “what ifs?” and all the possible scenarios.
You might be feeling upset or angry with the government decisions around Alert Level 3.
You might be thinking, “I don’t know how to do this!” or “I don’t have the resources or the tools to do this!” or even “I am going to stuff this up!”
It is in our nature to leap to the worst-case scenario, things are always bigger, more terrible and scarier in our heads. Let me stop you right here, you are already enough!
It is not the case of resources, but rather a case of resourcefulness and believing in yourself. You already know how to do this. You know how to access the resources that you might need.
None of us has done this before, as I write this, even I struggle with the idea of advising as I have not done this before either. However, we have tackled tough things in the past and made it through with lessons and wisdom gained and this will be no different. Will you do it perfectly? – No (none of us will). Will you make mistakes? – Yes (all of us will.) But you can do this!
You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable or the most capable, you simply need to show up day after day with your heart engaged and your work boots on – you just have to care and to show that you care.
Try not to get caught up in the drama of it all. It is all too easy to try to consume every bit of information and social media advice in your struggle to make sense of this all. But try to focus on what you can realistically control – your mindset and attitude, your thoughts, your actions, your media consumption and your half of interactions.
Your mind is an amazing tool, you control how you use it by what you feed it.
During this transition you are going to need three key things: a mindset for success, an end goal(or a reason why) and a plan.
The Mindset for Success:
Your mindset and attitude are key. Your mindset as the leader sets the tone for the whole team and whether this transition will be a success. You might have to work-out and strengthen some muscles that you have not used in a while such as flexibility, adaptability, creative thinking, resilience, curiosity, and self-compassion.
Some questions you might want to ask yourself here are:
Who do I want to be during this process and what are the actions of this person?
When the people in my team, the children and families look back at this experience, how would I have made them feel about themselves and about being part of this centre family?
You have a unique opportunity here, especially if there was some conflict in the ranks before self-isolation, to bring everyone together through our collective traumatic experience – the commonality of what we are all going through. You have the opportunity to move people past the events of the past that caused a disconnect in your team and to inspire everyone towards working towards a common goal for the greater good of your learning community. To create an “Us-ness” – a deep-seated feeling of belonging for everyone who was part of this experience.
The End Goal
This is where you “zoom-out” to six months or a year from now and ask yourself “What we would like to achieve as a team?”
You might look at ways of how you are going to inspire others to be part of this. This is going to be a bit of a marathon and none of us can do this alone without the support of others. We need our people to do this with us and this is going to need for us to trust them to be part of the process and leaderful in their own way.
As Anthony Semann said recently in an interview on Facebook,
“The leaders we need are already here.”
This end goal is made meaningful with your mission or your “why”.
Try frame your goal like this: Our goal for our centre is……………….. so that……………..
This is the what and how. Here are some of the things that should be on your plan:
Firstly, you should plan for managing yourself and your energy. How well you take care of yourself will have a direct influence on your mindset and how you show up for others.
The number one thing on your plan should be:
How am I going to preserve my energy so that I can last the distance?
This should include a self-care plan and will be individual to you. However, you should include things that bring you joy, feed your spirit and energise you. Take stock of who you have in your support system and have someone outside of your centre who you can speak to when you are feeling stressed or having a hard day. You should also acknowledge and plan for barriers to your self-care as well as putting in place the boundaries that you will need to keep yourself and others emotionally healthy.
Once you have done this for yourself, the next step would be to facilitate this process for the teachers in your team. Create a health and wellbeing team contract. I know that many teaching teams are in regular contact with each other over this time so this might be something that you could map out together before you go back to work.
How we take care of ourselves and each other is going to be vital to the transition process. Tired, frazzled teachers will not be effective at being emotionally available for settling upset children or for supporting scared, worried families. We will need to dig deep at times over the next few months and so keeping our own emotional cups full so that we have enough to give to others without depleting ourselves should be a priority.
Remember for this all to work, open and honest communication is the glue that keeps us all connected. You will need to keep things as safe and predictable as possible and this requires you to be fair and transparent about your communications with your team members and families. Be consistent with keeping your people informed with regular updates about what is happening, how people might be affected and how they can be part of the whole process. You also need to make it safe for people to express their feelings and have a plan for how you are going to support each other with this in an empowered way.
The next part of the plan is to work with your team to create an environment of safety for everyone in your centre. You will need to review health and safety policies and adapt them to meet new health and safety procedures set in place by the MoE and the MoH. Discuss concerns with staff and parents and make them part of the consultation and problem-solving process.
If possible take a couple of “teacher only days” before the centre opens to regroup, reconnect with what is important in your setting and reset your environment.
Create a plan for how you are going to welcome families and children back into your place and talk through the strategies that you as a team will use to help settle everyone back in. How you are going to ensure that everyone is kept physically and emotionally healthy. Take it one day at a time.
Take stock of the rhythms and rituals of your place and how these will help you to create security and predictability for everyone in your place.
Set realistic expectations, there are some things that you are going to have to let go of at this stage and that’s okay. You are all human beings going through a human experience, caring for other humans and everyone is going through this in their own way. Have empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Trust each other and keep the best assumptions of each other in your heart. Remember, everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have.
I know that it may be difficult at times but try not to let things become so dire that you forget to play, laugh and have fun. Talk about how well you are all doing and how proud you are to be part of this amazing team.
My last point is around gratitude. One of the most significant protective factors of resilience and mental and emotional wellbeing is the ability to experience and express gratitude. Look for the good things, the “golden” moments in your day and talk to each other about what went right. Be a strength finder, catch each other doing good things and point these out, say thank you and be kind.
If you would like to find out more information about how I can work with you to support the health and wellbeing of yourself and your team please follow the link HERE and I will be in touch soon with more info.