Early childhood education in New Zealand has been in the media a lot this week, first there was the infamous New Zealand Herald opinion piece by Deborah Hill Cone comparing ECE centres to “factory farming children” and then there was the article by National’s ECE spokesperson, Nicola Willis with an opposing view. Then on Thursday there was another article from a mother’s point of view by Cecile Meier, on Stuff, encouraging people to not judge parents for having to work and put their children in “daycare”.
These stories stirred up heated discourse online and in social media forums. As parents, centre owners, leaders and teachers we felt attacked, undervalued, anger, indignation and guilt. We felt that we needed to defend ourselves, our calling, our right to work and in many cases our need to work to provide for our families. We felt that our very motivations to own centres, to be teachers and our judgement about what is right for our children was under attack. This spurred us to go into defensive mode and in defensive mode we start to assign blame.
Who’s right? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame? Who can we attack in response to this? Quite often we attack the only people that we can, other people in our profession, other teachers, other parents, ECE providers.
Why? Because we can. Unfortunately, when we lash out at each other we all suffer as a consequence. This causes many teachers who are already feeling, run down after a long hard winter and feeling the pressures of teacher shortages, regulations and increased documentation pressures to feel even more demotivated and undervalued.
Fault vs Responsiblity
How this has played out in the media got me thinking about an inspirational video that I saw this week by Will Smith (Yes, you heard right – the actor, AKA the Fresh Prince) but he made some really great points about fault vs responsibility. In his video he speaks about how it may not be your fault that something is broken, but it might still be your responsibility to fix it. For instance, it is not our fault that people, like Deborah Hill Cone, has a negative opinion of all Early Childhood Centres, that’s on her, but it is our responsibility as teachers, leaders, team members, and carers to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.
When we focus on whose fault something is, we get stuck in victim mode powerless to change the situation. The power is in taking responsibility for your heart, your life, your happiness. Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt, you are not admitting that you are wrong.
What are we taking responsibility for? We are taking responsibility for ourselves. Worrying about what other people are doing, saying and thinking is a waste of our energy. We have no control over any of those things. The only thing that we can control are what we think, what we say and what we do.
As a Teacher What is Your Responsibility – What can you control?
Firstly, you are responsible for yourself. Your attitude, mindset, emotions, thoughts, heart, life and happiness.
Are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that there are teachers that are loyally “hanging in there” for the children and families, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.
It is your responsibility to fill your own cup of happiness , so that you are capable of serving others – no one else can do this for you.
Have the courage to do things that make you happy, emotions are infectious – be a positive infection!
You are responsible for the lens with which you see others. Are you viewing others with kindness, compassion and empathy? Or are you viewing others through a deficit model? Are you looking to assign fault, blame and guilt? Is your motivator to be right at any cost?
“In our profession people are quick to point out the not quite rights and are slower to come forward with the positives. We can change this within our teams by extending the strengths lens (that we apply to children) to the adults within our setting. Notice and comment on the positives. Pass on any great feedback given to anyone in the team who didn’t hear it first-hand. Let your positivity infect others so that they can do the same.” The Heart School 2018.
It is your responsibility to ask, “who is this for?” to be curious, courageous and a life-long learner. Do you have an open heart and an open mind? Are you a reflective practitioner? Do you question the status quo? Do you inquire into your own pedagogy?
It is your responsibility to be worthy of imitation, to hold the child at the heart of what you do and not to walk past things that don’t feel right. It is our collective responsibility to strive for excellence and to not settle for “good enough”.
It is your responsibility to create a homelike, safe, inclusive, supportive learning environment. A place where children, whanau and fellow teachers feel a sense of belonging and where the aroha and manaakitanga are palpable when you walk into a space.
It is your responsibility to create equitable opportunities for all children to develop across all areas of Te Whariki, and to affirm and value a child’s language and culture.
It is your responsibility to be a playful adult and to have fun!
It is your responsibility to promote the wellbeing of children and to advocate for children – their right for respect as unique human beings, their right to be, their right to play, make choices, to be seen, heard and for us to be an emotional safe haven for them.
It is your responsibility to build a relationship trust with children, to get to know them through careful, reflective observation. To respond to their needs and cues, to be prepared and to respond intentionally to children’s learning. It is your responsibility to build relationships with parents and whanau and to engage them in their child’s learning and respect their aspirations for their child.
It is your responsibility to be emotionally literate human beings, respectful to others, uplifting and supporting others in our community. By doing this we provide the blue print for children as how they are to treat others. When we show respect to others even if they are undeserving, it reflects our character. We earn respect by respecting others.
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers not thunder.” Rumi
As the ECE community it is our responsibility to lobby the minister of education if we feel strongly about certain areas. We are also responsible for working with our colleagues not only in our centres but in those around us to come up with ideas around where to next for ECE in Aotearoa. Together we can make a lot of noise about what quality could look like in the future.
These are the things that you have control over – your practice, your heart, your happiness, your responsibility.
If you are feeling that this a long list of responsibilities…
Take heart, chances are that you are probably already doing many of these things and you just needed a bit of reminding. Like most of us you are probably the most critical of yourself, so remember to treat yourself with a good dose of compassion and kindness.
So instead feeling disheartened by what you read on social media. Next time you want to hang your head and say, I am just one person, what difference can I make? Remember that you can be the change that you wish to be in our profession. You have control over being the best possible version of you and you are enough.
This brings to mind the Martin Luther King Jnr quote,
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”
So as you go into this day or week, take time to celebrate yourself and the amazing job that you are doing and while you are at it tell someone else that they are doing a great job too!
Join me at my upcoming Auckland workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher, click here for more details.