How to Reconnect as a Team After COVID 19?

As we begin the process of returning to work many of us are asking, “How do we reconnect as a team?”. “How do we get everyone working together again after being away from each other for such a long time?”

It is true for most of us, regardless of who you were as a team before COVID 19, this experience has probably shifted and changed things. None of us is the same as when we went into self-isolation. For many of us, having this time at home stripped of the noise of “normal” life has given us a new perspective on what is important to us.

We are the product of our experiences and this experience will have changed how you think, and feel about yourself, your life and your priorities in some way.

Alert Level 3 is weird in many ways. We are gearing to get ready for “normal” to return. But it can be a demotivating place to be – almost as if we are stuck in some sort of holding pattern. And as much as many of us would like to “get back to normal”, the truth is that “normal” is going to be different. The anticipation of what the difference might be can be unsettling and even frightening.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Pushing the Reset Button

So what does that mean for ourselves as teachers and leaders who are part of a centre whanau?

Some of us might have grown from this experience. Some of us might have not coped as well as others mentally and emotionally. And some of us might have had a shift in values and priorities.

Depending on what you have been thinking, watching, reading, listening to or the webinars you attended over this period, this too might have shaped your thinking as an individual.

For most of us, going back to our centres this will be a period of adjusting. Self-isolation has been a good time for “zooming in” and reconnecting with ourselves and our families. However, it is now time for many of us to “zoom-out”, to extend our bubbles, and to think about how we can reconnect with our wider centre whānau. This an exciting time and the adjustment period might include reflecting on how our new priorities and values might “fit” now that we are back together.

This might be a bit of an uncomfortable experience at times. It may challenge us in ways that we might not enjoy. However, growth does not happen in the comfort zone. Change need not be a bad thing, it can lead to amazing new possibilities.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

– M Scott Peck

Creating a Culture for Change

The foundation for all change to occur is through the relationship. After months of distancing ourselves from others, it is now a time to reconnect with each other one person to another. We need to ensure that together we weave a whāriki that is big and robust enough for us all to stand on.

In order for us to be able to feel that we are able to contribute, communicate how we are feeling and express our ideas or explore together as a team, we must first feel that we belong and that our wellbeing is taken care of. This highlights the need for us all to be part of an environment of physiological and emotional safety.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

 Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Amy Edmondson

When we have psychological safety we make space for being human and acknowledge that human emotions are part of this. Many of us don’t see vulnerability and professionalism as being part of the same story, but then wonder why we can’t relate or feel so disconnected from each other.

Just as how our children are unable to eat, play and trust a caregiver if they don’t feel safe. It is exactly the same for the adults in our places.

Leaders Belong Here Too

Many leaders that I speak to, to some extent feel that they don’t belong, that they are an outsider to the team. When I was a centre manager, I too felt like this from time to time.

Many leaders who have moved from teacher to leader in a centre, have spoken about the hurt they feel when they are no longer invited to be part of social events or excluded from group chats. It is almost like this is the accepted norm.

I have often wondered if this is a role that we cast ourselves in as leaders if this comes from our team or a bit of both?

I was really inspired by a Vince Gowmon’s workshop – Creating Healing Cultures on The Conscious Collective’s, Play to Heal the World Festival.

Vince spoke about how anything that we want to create on the outside, we must first create on the inside first.  You cannot create a culture of true belonging and safety if it does not feel true for you too.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

How many of you when looking for connection and belonging, as the leader but also as part of a community, get stuck like in disconnection from the past and hold onto this as evidence as to why you shouldn’t trust and be vulnerable in the future? We allow our fear of what might happen, as well as our distrust in ourselves and our own abilities, stop us from realising our potentials. And, as a result, we shy away from the very thing we are wired to do – connect… Do we hide behind labels, titles and roles as a way to keep ourselves separate and safe; in case we will need to have a difficult conversation with someone in the future? Frightened by the messiness of human relationships, we isolate ourselves behind our “management” armour and keep our “professional distance” denying ourselves the joy of whole-hearted human connection. Consequently, our centre cultures and children’s experiences are poorer because of it.

Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki – Tanya Valentin

How many of us in leadership positions have the courage to “buck this trend?”.

Do we feel that we are able to be vulnerable with the people in our teams and to express how we feel, to talk about our need to connect?

How do we go about breaking down some of these walls and together with our team to build an environment where everyone truly belongs?

What would these conversations look like?

What would the space look like, where we can all be vulnerable and brave?

What types of whole-hearted connections could be forged through this healing?

Tanya Valentin ECE

Going Forward

Now that you have had a bit of time and space between yourself and “business as normal” it might be time to do a bit of a stocktake of the last year. The team of the past.

It may be timely to assess what was working and you would like to keep. Or to decide what could be improved on. We could evaluate what was not working and we would like to leave in the past. We have a small window of opportunity here to pivot, change and reset if we so choose.

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 guiding questions that stand out for me when going through this transition are “Who do we want to be?” as well as “What feels right for us”.

Some Practical Ideas for Reconnection

The Reverse Bucket-List

As a team chat together about the last six months, year (whatever period of time feels relevent for you). Talk about and list all the things that you have accomplished together as a team. Create a list of milestones and things that you can feel proud of as part of this team.

Create a Manifesto

A manifesto is a statement of what you value as a unit. It communicates, “this is who we are”. A manifesto provides an expression of unity and reminds us that we are part of something meaningful.

Some of the things you might reflect on are:

  • What are the things that we value?
  • What are the things that make us unique?
  • What are the things that we enjoy doing together?
  • What would we like to be known for?

Spot Each Other’s Superpowers

What we focus on is what we will see more of. When we focus on the annoying habits of others this is all that we will see. When we focus on strengths this is too is what we will see more of.

  • In your next team meeting, take a moment to list everyone in your team.
  • One by one name everyone on the list and discuss why you are grateful for this person and what their superpower might be.
  • Make a list of everyone’s superpowers and display this in your staffroom.
  • In the coming week take the time to notice when people are working in thier superpower and acknowledge them for this.

Play

As adults we too need to make time and place for play. Things seem so much better when marinated in fun.

  • At your next team meeting, brainstorm some crazy hair, pyjama wearing, cape brandishing opportunities and how often you will have these. (You might want to get ideas from the tamariki in your setting too).
  • Number the ideas and put all the ideas in a container.
  • Ask everyone to pick an idea out of the container – the number indicates the order in which the fun will occur, and the person who picked the idea out of the container will be responsible for making it happen.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Make Time for Gratitude

Let gratitude become the new norm in your place. Create a team ritual where you notice and speak to each other about the good things that happened in the day. Gratitude helps our body to release oxytocin that helps us to build and strengthen relationships and build trust.

For more connection ideas check out my books 3 Good Things for Teams and 3 Good Things for Children .

I would love to hear what has helped the people in your team connect in the past.

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How To Show Meaningful Appreciation At Work

Tanya Valentin ECE

Have you have felt like you weren’t appreciated at work?

Or, tried to show appreciation towards someone else and felt that your efforts did not quite hit the mark?

It could be because you were not talking the same love language.

Showing gratitude towards the people in your setting is important for creating a thriving team where everyone feels valued and like they belong.

It has been my observation that not everyone likes to be acknowledged and have appreciation shown in the same way. In a parenting course I attended years ago I discovered the love languages, and this has been a strategy that I have applied as a parent time and time again.

I knew how this worked in a family context, but recently I discovered a book by Dr Gary Chapman and Dr Paul White entitled The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, which really made me think about how this can be applied in a work context.

The 5 Languages According to Gary Chapman and Paul White are:

Words of Affirmation:  People who have this love language thrive on and are motivated by kind words and praise. It could be about their performance, their character or their personal qualities. Let me give you an example:

Maria is the type of teacher that everyone likes. She is friendly to both teachers and parents. Children are instinctively drawn to her.

Where other teachers might enjoy tickets to the movies or a bunch of flowers as a sign of appreciation, this doesn’t really motivate her. What really makes Maria feel cared for is an encouraging word or praise for a job done well. Maria loves it when her Centre Manager gives her positive feedback about her work, or when her teammates tell her that her wall display is beautiful or when a parent pays her a compliment.

Do you have any Maria’s in your team? Do you have people who bask in the glow of verbal appreciation?

As a leader, it is important to ensure that you give positive feedback to the Maria’s in your team, however, don’t just praise for praise sake. Rather keep praise meaningful and specific. Lazy praise can have the opposite effect to what you intended.

Quality Time: People with this love language relish spending quality time with the leader or with the other people in the team. For example:

Tala is a team player, she likes to organise parent events at the centre and staff outings. She really enjoys talking to colleagues and parents and going the extra mile to ensure that everyone feels welcomed into the centre. What really helps Tala to feel supported and affirmed is when her Headteacher, Tracey, comes to spend the morning in her classroom and she can talk to her about all the amazing things that the children are doing. Tala also loves meeting up with her fellow teachers for a coffee or having conversations in the lunchroom.

As you can see, Tala’s love language is quality time. If you have people in your team who have this love language, show them that you care by giving them the gift of your time through one-to-one moments of full attention.

Acts of Service:  Kaiako with this love language feel your appreciation when you do things for them, like making them a cup of tea or helping them solve a problem. Here is an example:

Sam is a hard worker, he has loads of energy and he is extremely efficient. He doesn’t care about praise or recognition, he just likes to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job done well. What Sam really appreciates is when his workmates help him to tidy up the playground at the end of the day or rake the sand-pit.

You see Sam’s approach to appreciation is “don’t tell me that you care – show me.” If you have a Sam in your team keep this person’s heart tank filled by performing kind acts of service.

Gifts: Show this person you appreciate them by giving thoughtful gifts. Let me share this example with you:

Stephanie is a hard worker, she is meticulous at what she does. Stephanie has aspirations to be a manager and she thrives on a challenge. Although she appreciates positive feedback from her Centre Director, Sally, this doesn’t really motivate her. Stephanie loves it when Sally buys her, her favourite coffee from the local cafe and leaves this on her desk with a little note. Stephanie really feels special when a parent brings in home-baking for morning tea and her fellow teacher gives her a gift of fresh honey from her bees.

If you have a Stephanie in your team they will feel your appreciation with tangible gifts such as flowers, a massage voucher or time off.

A word of guidance of tangible gifts – get to know the other person and what they value. Think about what they would like when giving a gift and not what you would like to receive.

Physical Touch:  This can be a bit of a tricky one in the workplace as this can be a bit polarising for some people. However, you might have people in your workplace who thrive in this form of appreciation. Let me give you an example:

Jenny is a warm and bubbly person, she is quick to greet others with a hug or even a kiss on the cheek. Children love coming to her for cuddles or sitting on her lap for a story. It is little surprise that Jenny’s love language is physical touch.

Do you have a Jenny in your centre? Someone who loves hugs?

Some ways to show a person with this love language that you care for them is to give them a hug, a firm handshake, a high five or a pat on the back.

We are luckier than most in that appropriate physical touch is more readily accepted amongst colleagues in early childhood setting than in other professions. However, when you choose to use these actions really does depend on the person that you are showing appreciation to. Consider their comfort levels and how well you know them.

Tanya Valentin ECE

Further Ideas for Using Love Languages in Your Setting…

Spend some time getting to know the love languages of the people in your setting. Use this as a tool to build trust and meaningful connections.

You might want to discuss this at a team meeting or complete a quiz as an icebreaker exercise.

Our love language is usually how we choose to show love. Learn to show appreciation by observing your teammates and how they show love and appreciation to others.

Some further ideas for showing gratitude towards your fellow kaiako might be:

  • Giving a teacher time off so she can attend her child’s sports day.
  • Spending time having a conversation with fellow kaiako.
  • Cooking a meal for a kaiako who is sick or has had a bereavement in the family.
  • Leaving a hand-picked bunch of flowers and a hand-written note for a teacher who is going through a difficult time.
  • Speaking words of encouragement.
  • Paying someone a compliment.
  • Random acts of kindness.
  • Spending time with teammates outside of work.
  • Giving a hug.
  • Celebrating a teacher’s achievement or special moment.
  • Baking someone a cake.
  • Helping a teacher to tidy up at the end of the day.
  • Shouting morning tea.
  • Doing someone else’s job, like folding the washing, unpacking the dishwasher or tidying up the art sink.

What do you think?

Perhaps you have identified your love language or the love language of others in the examples below.

What makes you feel loved and valued?

How could you show that you appreciate and care for someone in your team, in your family, in your life?

I would love to hear from you.

Be sure to check out 3 Good Things for Teams, which is based on some of the research that I did on love languages. Find out how you can improve your wellbeing, belonging and happiness at work through the power of gratitude.

Tanya Valentin - 3 Good Things for Teams
3 Good Things for Teams

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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

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