We matter too!

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If you have been in the ECE sector for quite some time as we have, you may have noticed something. Have you seen it too, the formerly bright eyes of teachers have dimmed a little, more and more are feeling burnt out? Sometimes it seems as if the morale in our sector resembles one big deflating balloon. We come into our work so passionately at the start but become disillusioned and just plain exhausted on the way.

There are certainly obstacles in our path to explain this outcomes. When we believe one thing but regulations, restrictions and those ‘higher up’ make us feel we need to do things differently, it IS hard. The feelings we all experience are understandable, and yet we have to remember what happens next is up to us.

We have a choice - to just go on the downhill slide to disillusion-ville, feeding on the low energy around us, and going with 'good enough’ as our benchmark, or striving for more, not just for the children but for ourselves.

WE deserve more too. It seems that in our dedication to the children we often forget about us, but we matter too. When we realise that teaching is about who we are, then we actually need to be happy in our work - positive, inspired and hopeful. If we also just want to be a contented, peaceful person who is in love with life, we need to be happy in our work. We can put the children as one of the important ‘why’s on our list, but we need a place to put our own name too.

We are 100% accountable for our own attitudes and responses, and yet we can’t deny that we are affected by the energy around us. In order to be thriving as an individual, we need to look at how we are in our collective. In short, how is our team doing? Because low team energy will take the wind right out of our sails. We can be as positive as Pollyanna, but if we are the only one looking on the bright side, even we will go dim. We all need people who uplift us, not just be the one who does all the uplifting.

If we want to gently shake up the sector, we can focus on teacher wellness, and start right within our own teams. Ask yourself, what is your team vibe like? How is the energy that is circulating around? How are you all responding to the people-needs of each other, dropping the false partition of 'teacher selves’ and 'real selves’? And how is all of this impacting on YOU? Do you feel like the people around you are gaining you or draining you?

It is so important to actually examine what sort of ‘unseen environment’ you are immersed in. We feed off the energy of others, and unfortunately low moods, negative mindsets and general disgruntled feelings can be contagious. And it doesn’t seem to matter about numbers. Just one negative person can rock the team boat, making little waves that get bigger and catch others up in them. Luckily we know that positive energy, passion and heart can also be infectious. It may take more work to spread around, but is worth doing to keep your own spirits up and remind others why they got into this role in the first place.

There is a point though where the team energy just may not be right for us. That’s something we need to assess and make a bold judgment on. Nowhere is going to be perfect, even if we set the place up ourselves, but there is a difference between little niggling annoyances, and a downright unhappy work place. We need to have enough great parts to dilute the less favourable things so they don’t really matter. We need to make sure we have things within our control in our setting, and establish our own non-negotiables - the things we need in order to not just be ‘OK’ in our work, but UPLIFTED. Perhaps we need a place that lets us share our family stories, rather than be told to leave it all at the door. Or maybe we need to be able to share our ideas, even the off-beat ones, without being told, “no, we’ve always done it this way”. Perhaps a team that speaks positively about each other is so important that we just can’t face being in one which includes gossip and talking behind others backs.

Whatever we decide are our ‘must haves’ in our team dynamics, we need to be brave enough to stick with it. Talk about it with our team, or look elsewhere if the fit isn’t right. We really can enjoy our work if we are with the right people. There are some absolute gems in our field, and we all sparkle more when we are keeping company with those who ‘get us’, hear us and let us be ourselves.

We want those who let us chase our dreams, not the ones who squash them flat. We want to be around people who let us spread our wings, rather than those who clip them, either intentionally or accidentally with their negative energy.

What do we need to do when we find ourselves with the greats? We need to not take it for granted. Let the people who uplift us know that they make a difference to us. We can do the same for them, and for those around us. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. That is how we are all going to rise up and re-inflate the passion that has been seeping out of the sector.

We perhaps can’t change all the conditions we are working in that challenge us, but we can make our settings kinder for the adults within. We perhaps can’t tackle every obstacle but we can remember that of all the people in our settings who matter, WE ourselves are right up there on the priority list.

If we can make that our intention for 2019, we can be the change-makers our children, our families, our community and we ourselves so desperately need!

NB - To help you create a year full of HEART, our beautiful Reflection Journal is the perfect tool to help your reflection and teaching to truly become a heart task and be a change-maker.

Be a creature of tradition - the known can be magical!

In a society where the ‘novelty bug’ is rife, Christmas offers us a beautiful opportunity to go for tradition instead.  Rather than brand new decorations every year we can have recurring ones that can be looked forward to each year. Seeing these back in the environment reminds everyone what time of year it is, while still being ‘special’ enough to light eyes up year after year.

Let Christmas in! - winding up instead of winding down

The tendency can be that we want to start winding down as year end approaches.  Several things start getting added to the ‘too hard basket’, where at other times of year they would feel manageable.  Our home lives are getting busy heading into the Christmas season and we’d quite like to just cruise through our final month, biding time until we can close the door for the year.  That would be ok if this work we did was about us. Sure we matter too, but we aren’t the focus.

Say YES to the season - put Christmas back on the menu

When you think of Christmas in ECE settings you may be thinking things like the tacky tinsel on mantels and sills, the ‘no-personality crafts’ where every child’s collage is the same, and some half-hearted kiddy songs about Santa.  We’ve probably all seen examples of this. And even though it’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, you can see how these ‘lifeless’ attempts actually take the joy out, for our teachers and our wee people. This is why some settings have left Christmas off their yearly menu, and we can see why if these are the only seasonal dishes they know can be served.

Preparing for Christmas - Will you be my Christmas fairy?

The festive season is exactly that - a season.  It’s a short space of time that comes and goes, built into the rhythm of the year.   For our children it is such a short window of time in their year but one that truly matters to them. They find this season exciting and magical, and it is up to us whether we leave the festivities at the door, claiming we don’t have the time or energy to ‘do Christmas’, or whether we say YES.  

Giving full attention and the act of multi-tasking

Here is an activity for you to do. Either at home or at a staff meeting! Get yourself a pen and paper and a timer/stopwatch. Time yourself or get some one else to time you whilst writing down the following on your piece of paper, from top to bottom, as fast as you can

A1, B2, C3, etc, all the way down to Z26.

The rule is to write each letter with the correlating number next to it, before you go to the next letter.

Pause the teacher - let the child lead

A passionate heart-centred teacher is one you have to search for when you enter a room. They are not a dominant force, and you certainly don’t hear their voices rising about the children’s hum of activity. Imagine if all teachers of young children had this same way about them? Children could grow and learn in a relaxed, peaceful environment that gave them time to think and be.

Embracing change - tools in our team toolkit

We need to find a healthy balance between being a “change junkie” and being set in our ways. Frequent change is unsettling, and change for the sake of it tends to only skim the surface before the next change is made.  This is not what our ECE settings need. The reverse is also not desirable - places that sail along, doing as they’ve always done and not ‘rocking the boat’ with any new thinking. What we really need is hearts and minds willing to embrace change if and where necessary.

A qualification of the heart - what’s in the heart matters more than what’s on paper

The company we keep has a huge impact on our experience and emotional well being.

The people we surround ourselves with can either lift us up with their presence, or bring us down.  We know this and are usually careful about choosing our friends. We look for ‘our kind of people’, build our tribe and enjoy our relationships.

Want to be a role model? - be a real model!

Perhaps the most influential tool we have in our ‘teacher kit’ is our own example.  Our children take far more from how they see us living, than from anything we tell them.  

How we interact, approach tasks, and manage our emotions all provide ‘lessons’ for our children.  They notice these things, whether we wish them or not, and build them into their own default settings.

Let them lead, let us follow - who’s in the driver seat?

Heart centred teaching asks for us to be humble, focus on the child, and leave our adult agenda at the door. It  ask us to stop ‘doing’ and focus on how we are with the children.

Let them lead, let us follow.  Both approaches call on us to really tune in to the children, really making them the teachers and not us.

Remove your adult glasses - ordinary moments can be amazing

Find joy in the ordinary. These wise words bring a sense of peace to us. They reconfirm what we believe and give us the permission to follow our hearts, and offer children what we really feel they need.

Young children need security. They need to trust in their environment. This feeling comes from familiarity and a sense of ‘same old’ so they know what to expect. In this way the daily happenings become the ‘ordinary’, the staples of the programme that the children come to know and anticipate. They feel empowered by knowing, ‘this is what we do here’.

Full attention - recharge without batteries

Simone Weil said that, "attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity". This is such a refreshing view in a society that often sees children’s need for attention as something irritating.

We hear so much about the “attention seeking” child, as if it is a deficit in the child and something to be stopped before it becomes ingrained in the child.

Going the Heart way - THIS is what is important

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.” ― Iain Thomas

Isn’t this absolutely the way with our teaching?

Big little things - the unseen little touches

It really is the small things that make the difference.  Tiny little touches set apart the ho-hum “just fine” ECE settings from the really special heart filled ones.  There may be big differences in size and dollars spent across the sector, but the no price tag items are the things that speak volumes.