Educators are worthy of care

As a consultant, I am fortunate enough to be invited into the lives of early childhood professionals.
More recently, many individuals seem to be exploring what educator wellbeing means for them both
personally and professionally. The element that comes up most frequently can be found within the investigation of identity nurturing, specifically the concept of self-care.
Self-care is such a large and dynamic bubble, a contextually foundered perspective that can be
manipulated, changed, enhanced or sacrificed. The differences that define what is classified as self-
care changes between person to person, making it all the more difficult to plan for. Yet there is room
to reflect on whether individuals find challenge in practicing self-care because it is a skill. Evolving
around the actual principle of caring for oneself requires individuals to see value in themselves as
influential in the lives of children and families, influential as co-workers critically reflecting on a daily
basis, influential activists in policy and government – influential as professionals in the broader
community.
So, what does it mean to care for this person who chooses to stand as an agent of change in the
quality of educational outcomes for our youngest citizens?

Transferring the image of the child onto oneself

The perspective of the image of the child and how this impacts the way professionals interact, view
and advocate on behalf of children is a perspective that can apply to educators with just as much
significance. When educators view themselves and each other as influential and valuable within
their professional community they are engaging within the image of self in a way that can positively
enhance their overall wellbeing. By analyzing the ‘self’ you open a door into self-reflection that
challenges you to see your own ‘working beyond’ in equal balance to your own ‘working towards’.
However, this does not occur in isolation and through stimulating a climate of reciprocity you
enlighten individuals to own this sense of power. When this journey is owned as a non-negotiable
and considered an ethical standard in future decision-making processes, educators are setting the
benchmarks of a culture that is always moving toward continuous improvement of the early years
learning professional.
The reflections individuals make on the choices enacted everyday encourages the consideration of
different perspectives, a flip on the concept of the glass being half full or empty. By choosing to see
yourself as a person who deserves to be valued in the early learning environment you encourage
yourself to go looking for more, even when you do not think you need it at the time. But more
doesn’t always mean more in quantity, but rather an increase in capacity, an increased capacity to
care for yourself in a variety of ways.
Imagine the power that comes with confidently turning down any extra working commitments. A
sense of self that lays envious in many early years professionals, but when you find this sense of self
you boost your ability to fill yourself up in other areas. When you feel full, you are satisfied, you stop
looking for more out of others and you start leading and modelling best practice in an authentically
natural way. It feels effortless and with this altered sense of perspective, you see beyond where the
fog previously lingered. But how do you get here? That place that tells you that you do not need to
stay in the haze, clouded by exhaustion and poor nutrition choices. How do you find that place that welcomes you in safely and then shows you how to make decisions based on your own lived
experience?

Define your image of a self-caring educator

To build capacity you need to be able to first define what it means to be an educator who
acknowledges and practices self-care. Just as strands are woven into a mat, these foundations
sit at the center of an individual’s identity but are evident in every decision they make. With this
definition you are encouraged to chase the disposition of wellbeing, to notice, recognise and
respond to its presence or absence in your routines, making changes where necessary. These
practices are not unknown to the early years educator because these are the practices that shape
the way they interact and reflect with children.
What comes from an educator reverse engineering these practices and defining this model of ‘self’ is
the actioning and evidence of working theory for others that evolve around children. To witness the
self-caring secure attachment in the early learning environment proactively finding time, space and
energy to consider their own wellbeing, this is the action of ethics within the profession. For families, this is essential to know that their children do not need to be battling against a tired and run down
educator when all they want to do is play. Families come to services with their own preconceived
ideas on what it means to be an advocate for children, sitting comfortably alongside their own image
of the child. So, whilst the prospect of defining what a self-caring educator might look like seems
challenging and may sit on a mountain of discourse, consider what it looks like to families? Consider
what you want it to look like to families?

Setting the tone for families

Within the circle of security program, there is an acknowledgement that secure attachment is not
being this model of perfection all of the time. Rather this is best achieved through experiencing
those times of difficulty and then coming back to redefine past events. What sits at the core of this
relationship-based program is the skill of self-awareness, the ability to not only see what is
happening with a child before them but to also see how the adult has an equal role and influence
within the situation at hand.
Held within the many roles and responsibilities of an early year’s professional is the task of guiding
families as they work to maintain their overall wellbeing as a unit. The National Quality Standard also
acknowledges the important bridge that services play in providing information to families that
support their parenting role. When reflecting on the processes of building collaborative partnerships
between educators and families there lays an opportunity to eliminate the stigma that lays around
the traditional image of the educator. This is where the image of self, the image of the self-caring
educator becomes significant.
Families turn to educators for guidance in a variety of ways, picking up on the most subtle of cues
and interactions within the early learning environment. The empowerment building opportunities
that educators provide families through the modelling and ownership of self-care is significant to
them being able to translate these images of self within the home environment. With evidence-based research demonstrating that mental health issues arise from within the early years,
it has never been so important to ensure that the adults within an early learning environment are
embracing the shift in the image of the educator.

Avoiding the repetition – a pledge for contextualization

The difficulty that comes with unpacking educator wellbeing within the context of self-health is that
many individuals will acknowledge the poor decision-making processes that they make within the
course of their lives. Through the access and availability of the internet, the information provided for
educators to make independent modifications to their routines with consideration to their own
wellbeing is out there being consumed across a variety of media platforms. What doesn’t come
through this content is the need for individualized tailoring and contextual filtering of this
information – making it specific to the range of educators whom come with their own histories,
stories and established knowledge. This forces the question back into the sector, whose role is it to
contextualize this content for educators within early learning services?
Leaders within a service, including educational leaders, have many things they are required to
achieve and represent within their day to day positions. The responsibility to dive into educator
wellbeing and health sits within the grey area of technical practice. The placement of a poster on the
wall in the staffroom meets only a proportion of those educators whose contexts this resonates
with. This example of technical practice is one that many services turn to in an attempt to action the
things they feel are important or are elements they are currently working with. The purity that
comes from the next process could, in fact, be the place where contextualization gets lost.
Who determines when to action conversations about the poster on the wall? When does the
technical practice turn into reflective practice, the place that pushes educators to continue to grow
in knowledge and identity? For those who spend their time in the infants age group, the definition
and understanding of self-care will be considerably different from those who work with preschool
age children. Through the art of reflective practice, the simple notion of inquiring with the educators
in your room may be enough to get the ball rolling within that network of professionals. Asking “Hey,
what do you think that poster in the staffroom has to do with us in the infants age group?” or “How
do you think that the practice of self-care would work for us in our room?” The modelling and
commencement of professional conversations in an informal and relaxed environment – making the change within a culture for good and not for the novelty of assessment and rating or compliance.
Successful leadership and governance in this context are heavily defined by the culture within the
service and the way professional conversations are facilitated. What is important to remember is
that we have information for educators that works to build knowledge on meeting and maintaining
overall wellbeing. Now is the time to make it contextual for your individual teams, for your individual
educators.

 

Sarah is a university trained early childhood educator, who lives in NSW Australia. Sarah is the owner and operator of SREED, an early education consultancy business designed to enhance the access and availability of quality professional development in regional and remote areas. She also works as the educational leader in a long day care service, supporting and mentoring a team of educators to facilitate a curriculum that fosters children’s developing levels of wellbeing and involvement. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys family bike rides and walks with her husband and two girls aged 7 and 2.
Sarah is an advocate for sharing knowledge and understandings with other professionals which is the driving force within her passion for writing.
To catch up with more of Sarah’s work, you can find her here:
www.sreed.net.au and Everything Early Childhood on Facebook.

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone kindergarten. She gained her Bachelor of Education at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked as an educator and manager in home based care, community based and kindergarten services.


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