Embracing Change During Self-Isolation

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

This year started for me with a with great anticipation. The promise of a new decade filled me with hope and excitement for what the future might hold.

I joined groups that dared me to dream and set big, audacious, scary goals. I reached out of my comfort zone, facilitating workshops further away from home. I invested in personal development for myself by booking time with some of my favourite inspirational speakers. I bought tickets to rock concerts and planned days in the city with my daughters. I planned trips away with friends…

And in the blink of an eye, this all changed…

One by one plans that had been months and even years in the making slowly were cancelled or postponed.

Hugs, handshakes and hongi disappeared.

The allowed group size of people continued to shrink. Until we were only allowed close contact with the people in our immediate bubbles.

All the things that had become a normal way of being and had seemed so important just a few weeks ago lost their urgency.

Responding to change

How life has changed…

We have gone from vague reports about a virus affecting people overseas and thinking, “This could never happen to us in New Zealand” to self-isolation in just a few months.

We are all collectively mourning. Mourning for the way things used to be and for the things that we have lost. Change happens to us all and change happens all the time. However, what has thrown most of us is the speed with which this change happened.

Please know that this is okay, and 100% normal to be feeling what you are feeling. No matter where you are – shock and denial, guilt and pain, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection or loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through or acceptance and hope, know that you are allowed to be here and so are the others around you. Own the stage you are in and don’t try to push yourself to the next stage before you are ready. Be kind and patient with yourself and those around you.

You might be feeling less than resilient right now, but be assured that you are stronger and way more resilient than you give yourself credit for.

Sometimes we can feel like we are buried under all the overwhelming things that are happening around us. But in reality we have actually been planted so that we can grow.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services.

We do not grow our resilience in the easy times. Just like our muscles need stress and exercise – little micro-tears to build and strengthen them – so do we need to stretch and tear our resilience muscles. Strength and resilience grow out of adversity.

Letting go

I know that I am the eternal optimist, but this time of self-isolation has been a gift in many ways. This has been a time for me to reflect and evaluate. It is almost like taking away some of the “noise” of life has allowed me time to focus on what is truly important to me.

The gift of time has allowed me to take a big long look at myself and how I was living – to engage in a real internal evaluation of self. To notice where my energy is flowing. To decide what is working and what I would like to keep. But also to think critically about the things that are not working and what I need to let go of. This time has allowed me to grow new skills and practice mental and emotional muscles that I might not have had the opportunity to if I hadn’t gone through this. I know that this experience will make me a stronger, more creative and resilient person if I just don’t get caught up in the drama.

Lessons from nature

This is something that is mirrored so beautifully in nature around me at the moment.

We have just gone through a drought up here in Northland and the cooler and sometimes wetter days has allowed the ground to rejuvenate and the dry fields around me to sprout with renewed green pasture.

However, paradoxically, other parts of nature are beginning to let go. The trees are starting to shed their leaves and are entering their rest phase to conserve energy.

In a changing world, the constant predictable transitions in nature are something that we can all take great comfort in and learn from.

We too need to let go of things to protect our mauri, our energy and allow new shoots to grow where we once thought it was barren. Holding onto the past will just cause us unnecessary pain and stress.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Things on my “to keep pile”

George Santayana, famously said, ” Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

And so I would be remiss to not take a moment to reflect on the lessons that I have learnt during this period in my HERstory.

  • First of all, I am extremely grateful to be a New Zealander right about now. Our Prime Minister has acted with decisiveness, and transparency through what must have been some really difficult decisions. She and the government were able to put aside differences with the best interests of us all at the heart of the matter. This has been tough, but I firmly believe that we even though there are still some challenges ahead for all of us, we as a nation will be much better off because of it. As a leader, this has given me lots of food for thought around courageous decision making, putting aside ego, trusting each other and the value of vulnerability.
  • The importance of connection is another important lesson for me. Connection with myself, my husband, my children, my friends and family and the other amazing people in our profession. Often the busyness of our day to day lives does not allow for this type of connection with others. Having time has allowed for time to journal, write and process feelings. Family time around the fire, board games, movie nights and bake-offs have become part of our everyday rhythms and rituals. This has become a time we all look forward to as a way to refill our emotional cups. I would like to make more time for this when we go back to work and school. To find a way to keep some of these new rituals going forwards.
  • Although we cannot physically visit friends and family at the moment, and I really miss this, regular video chats with them have become the norm. (I must admit I was guilty of going weeks sometimes without calling my mum, sisters or friends – life simply got in the way.) Why did it take a pandemic for me to seek to strengthen these connections?
Tanya Valentin ECE
  • Professionally it has been amazing to connect with and to be there for the members of my professional bubble. It has been so inspiring to tune into webinars and with some of the leading voices in ECE, there has been a smorgasbord of delicious PLD available for us to feast on. In a funny way, this “lock-down” has allowed me to be kinder, more generous and outwardly focused than I have been before.
  • I have learnt to appreciate the simple joys in my life that I would have normally taken for granted. With Easter approaching, I have been reflecting on how consumer-focussed this holiday has become. In years past I would have spent hours shopping at Kmart and other stores for paper plates, baubles and decorations. This year without those trappings to distract me, the season seems slower and more meaningful – more of a heart moment.
  • Lastly, I am recognising more and more the importance of faith. Faith in something bigger than myself (for me it is God). Faith in myself and my ability to grow and adapt. Faith in others around me and having the best of assumptions about them in my heart. And faith in us as a wider community that we can stand together and we can come out of this stronger, wiser and kinder than before.

What are some of the things that you have learnt about yourself and others during this time?

Support for you

As you might know if you have been following me I am working to support you during this time.

If you are finding this all a little bit too much and would like to chat, please reach out for a free video support call with me.

Please also get in touch if you would like some more information on how I can support you and your team with the transition process of going back to work.

Or tune into my free webinar on how to lead your team through a challenging time.

You don’t have to do this alone, support is available.

Have an amazing long weekend with your bubble.

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Why You Should Include Gratitude As Part of Your Daily Practice

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Have you ever thought,“If only everyone could be just a little bit nicer?”

Or “I wish everyone could assume the best about each other instead of always focusing on the negative?”

You wouldn’t be alone in this, especially now with everyone panic buying etc. However, as a teacher and centre manager, I would often hear people complaining about each other and I wondered these exact things!

In these uncertain times when we are all experiencing a lot of fear and anxiety, this is, even more, prevalent. It is a tricky time for all of us, as we navigate managing our own fears and mindset, as well as keeping everyone else around us calm. We can easily get caught up in the habit of obsessively checking social media for updates every half an hour or unintentionally feeding the fear in each other. None of which is healthy for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

It is important as the world of unpredictability, to focus on what we can actually control. As an intentional teacher, the one practice that I ensure that I carry out daily is to remember to be grateful.

Now, you might be wondering why I would choose to say this especially with what is going on globally. But did you know that practising gratitude you can play a huge role in helping your teachers and the children in your centre to build resilience?

I am not downplaying everything happening around us or living in naivety. However, I do believe that one of the biggest impacts that Covid-19 will have on the majority of people will not be on their physical health, but rather on their mental health. It is time to look at how we can maintain a resilient mindset.

Our negative bias

The first step behind changing this behaviour is understanding some of the theory behind our natural inclination for negative thinking. We all have a tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive.

Your brain’s primary function which is to protect YOU. Which means that when your brain receives information that you are under threat (real or perceived) it will follow certain patterns in order to defend you. Because of our evolutionary urge for defence, we will always look for the “threats” (the negative) in every situation.

This could be the reason why even when we know a person really well and we are aware of all their good qualities, it can only take one small misstep for us to automatically think the worst in them.

Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.

Educate Inspire Change

Reprogramming our brains to be more positive

Mindfulness and gratitude are two ways that we can use to rewire our brains to be more positive.

Both of these practices ground us in the present. If we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to obsess over the past, or anxiously worry about the future. 

Gratitude is similar to mindfulness in another respect as well: it helps increase our resilience to stress. As one researcher states, it is an extremely effective way “to fill the resilient tank.” Other research has found that gratitude can act as a natural anti-depressant.

When we focus on something, the object of our focus is what we will see more of in our day to day lives. Our brains are programmed to selectively filter what is going on around us. This is another defence mechanism of your brain – it simply couldn’t process all the information that you are bombarded with daily. For example, if you buy a yellow car you might start seeing more yellow cars. Your brain starts filtering for the thing that you are putting your attention to.

Choose Gratitude

It may seem counter initiative to tell you to choose to be grateful, I know that many of you are going through genuine hardship. However, if we really think about it there is always someone worse off than us – a reason to be thankful.

The act of noticing and focusing on all the good things that you already have instead of what you don’t can help you to experience more joy. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improves their health, helps them to deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Studies have shown that gratitude can also improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Some research has shown that expressing gratitude over a sustained period of time can even change our brain structure.

Berkeley’s Great Good Science Center cites recent research showing how feeling grateful enhances functioning in regions of the brain governing social bonds, and our ability to read others. Moreover, even though we think of gratitude as an emotional state, it also enhances cognitive functioning and decision-making. In one study, writing gratitude letters produced measurable brain changes that lasted months after the intervention. This research confirms Barbara Fredrickson’s assertion that gratitude has a “broadening” effect on how we think, and at how we look at the world. It allows us to “discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting.” When we are grateful, we are more inclined to seek support from others, to reframe challenging situations through a positive lens, and to engage in creative problem-solving.

Naz Beheshti

How does being grateful help our work team culture?

When someone is nice for us, and we return the favour, that is what we would naturally expect. However, when people who are the recipients of acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, make a point of feeling grateful, they are also more likely to help a third party. Research into kindness has shown that the giver, the receiver and any witnesses to a kind act all will experience positive benefits to their wellbeing.

Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. As he points out, feeling grateful is a two-step process. First, we recognize the presence of something positive in our lives. Second, we acknowledge it comes from an external source, often another person. Gratitude involves a humble recognition that we are interdependent, that we need one another.

Gratitude can become a kind of “social glue” connecting not just individuals, but our centre communities.  One study found that when teammates actively practised gratitude towards each other they experienced a greater feeling of connectedness, belonging and better job satisfaction.

When we are trapped in a cycle of fear and worry we tend to think more inwardly and act selfishly. When we shift our mindset to being grateful it helps us to think outside of ourselves and it makes us a calmer, nicer and kinder person to be around. This is really powerful when we are trying to shape a culture that promotes the wellbeing and belonging of teachers, children and their families. Or when we are trying to help our people to get through tough times.

Putting this into practice

The great thing about gratitude is that it is free, it can be done anywhere and any place.

At home:

  • You can start by simply noticing the good things that already in your life or by creating a daily practice of writing these down.
  • You could have dinner time conversations with your children about the good things (even though they might be small) that happened today. Even though these are challenging times, I am sure that there are still many things in your life to be thankful for. Or you could use 3 Good Things For Children to create a family gratitude ritual.
  • Let your gratitude inspire you to a kinder, more tolerant and empathetic human being. Think of others, generously assume that other people are doing the best that they can, donate to your local food bank, check in on your elderly neighbours.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

At work:

  • Start noticing the good qualities of others or the kind things that the people around you do and make a habit to point these out to them regularly throughout the day.
  • Create a space in your staff room where people can leave each other “warm-fuzzy” notes of gratitude
  • Print of a bunch of gratitude cards (available in the freebies section of my website) and give these to your teachers and remind them to give these out freely to each other throughout the day.
  • Talk to the children in your centre about the good things that they have experienced in the day.
  • Start a gratitude practice with 3 Good Things for Teams.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services, 3 Good Things For Teams

Final Thoughts

Being grateful won’t solve all the problems make Covid 19 go away. However, it will help us all to focus on what we can do as opposed to what we can’t control. It will help us to experience more joy, less stress, build resilience and help us to emotionally healthy which is often the biggest struggle when times are tough. What is going to really matter after all of this has passed is how we treated each other.

You can’t calm the storm…so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.

Buddha

Kia kaha Aotearoa

Arohanui,

Tanya

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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!

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