Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Art of Being a Relief Educator

So casual work? Relief work? Subbing? Temping? Whatever it’s called ... It’s an art form.

I did a shout out on a few networking groups and asked what advice there was for people who work as relief educators or what they appreciate from a relief educator ... Here were their answers (plus a few of my own offerings!) ... They are in no particular order ...

  • Remember as many names as you can. One strategy was to try and link the names of the children to people you already know or to ask the older children to quiz you on their names – this makes a fun game out of it. And we all know that children love games!
  • Use your initiative throughout the day. It’s the little things that add up and count in the long run.  Examples of this could be:
  • Be available to work! If you’re not able to work for a while, or if you’re on a holiday, or doing a block of relief work somewhere else, please communicate this to who you work for.
  • Arrive on time if you were booked in advance.
  • Plan your trip online, double check your GPS!
  • If you were booked at the last minute, when you arrive, be calm! Don’t be in a frazzle because you’re late. You were expected to be late as you were booked at the last minute. It’s ok! Relax! Start your day off cool, calm, and collected.
  • Answer the phone ... and say yes as often as you can
  • Be approachable to everyone: children, educators, parents.
  • Greet people – say hello and smile and introduce yourself when you can. “Hello, my name is Holly and I’m an educator working with the children today.”
  • A name badge would be a nice touch – I’m shocking at remembering names. I try by my brain doesn’t work with me on this!
  • Speak to the staff and ask for guidance. Respect the permanent staff’s expertise in the routines, the service and the children. Qualifications do not an expert make ;) .
  • Work closely with the educators in the room and centre to try and support them in maintaining a flow for the routine.
  • Be aware of the service’s philosophy. You don’t need to know it back to front, but have a general idea of who they are and what they are about.
  • Ask about any children with dietary issues or allergy issues – where is the documentation kept so that you can access it if you are concerned a child is unwell.
  • Wipe noses, and do it with the utmost respect – How would you feel if some random stranger came up behind you from nowhere and wiped your nose? Seriously think about it ... Creepy much?  I suggest you also ask the child before you do: “Would you like me to help you wipe your nose?” (I used to be a random creepy from behind nose wiper! I own it! I’ve moved on!)
  • Sweep the floor – is it messy? Grab a broom and a dustpan and tidy that mess up.
  • Wipe tables down after they’ve been used – is their caked on glue? A smear of weetbix from breakfast? Wipe it up! Even if the mess isn’t from you, it shows that you care and you’re making an effort.
  • Don’t spend all your time cleaning! I know I just suggested you show initiative and clean – but if you’re spending your whole time face down sweeping around the sandpit then you’re not engaging with children which should be the priority.
  • Engaging with children is the biggest and the bestest part of ‘supervision’.
  • Be a team player ... work as part of the team, look listen learn and take on responsibility.
  • Be open and willing to learn ... the services’ way may not be your way, but you’re there to support them as they enact their philosophy and practice. You are a support person ... do what you can. Even when you don’t agree.
  • Be committed to the children and their well-being.
  • Role model sun protection – wear a suitable sun protective hat – with a wide brim and sunscreen if you’re able to.
  • Read professional journals and quality early childhood blogs.
  • Engage in ongoing learning and professional development! Keep current and expand your knowledge and understanding and where possible network with others to consolidate this critical learning and thinking. 

  • Have a bag of your own resources:
  • Children’s story books that you are familiar with,
  • A bag or box of novelty items that you can use to capture the children’s interest and engage with them. Shannon suggested Goldilocks & the Three Bears using real figures which she says works a treat! Simple but effective.
  • A bag of magic play-dough (check for wheat allergies first!)
  • CDs or an device with music and portable speakers
  • Puppets and songs,
  • a pencil case with textas, pencils, scissors, and glue sticks,
  • finger paints and cotton buds (Sarah recommends a Faber Castell set that she swears by) and you throw the cotton buds away when you’re done.
  • Unusual and beautiful art supplies – washi tape and collage materials
  • Spare gloves – you’d be surprised and you don’t want to be caught out at an “interesting” service without some spares.
  • Your own tea, coffee and sugar in something such as a nude foods container as well as a coffee or travel mug (because let’s face it, sometimes their mugs are filthy!)

  • Perform a first day induction – buddy the relief educator with someone who can support them or give them guidance.
  • Help the educators feel welcome! Smile and let them know if they need anything they can ask you or someone else. There’s nothing more daunting than being in a space where you don’t know anyway, and no one makes eye contact with your!
  • Offer a locker or a safe space to keep their belongings.
  • Give respectful direction, make eye contact, use pleases and thank yous and give a variety of responsibilities ... As opposed to just “go supervise outside”.

  • Stand around and chat to adults all day.
  • Play music loudly! I find it overwhelms my brain having a colleague playing their own music all day long and quite loudly because they don’t like “the quiet” ... I’m a fan of settled play noise ... I also don’t mind music, but not all the time and not to make adults happy either! Be very careful if you play contemporary popular music as it can have totally inappropriate content for young ears. You’re asking for consequences for that one – parent complaints, staff complaints etc.
  • Sit or stand staring off into space with your arms crossed.
  • Sit or stand staring off into space with your hands in your pocket.
  • Wait to be asked to do things ... show initiative! If you’re not sure, then just ask.
  • Don’t be so good at what you do, that you get booked up too far in advance by other centres ;)

Thank you to Lana, Trisha, Michelle, Lyn, Jo, Debra, Sarah, Shannon, Kim, Julie, Stella, Chantel, Alexandra, and Sandi  for responding to my shout out, and to the other’s who requested anonymity who provided me with private messages. 

©Teacher’s Ink. 2015 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wwah for Whale

* DISCLAIMER -  I'm anti adult-craft ... It is so ingrained in my philosophy. It's how I teach, how I work. I use open ended materials and quality resources and I just let the children go ... I throw them ideas here and there - but for the most part, I set up art*full provocations and I let them create. Please do not feel the need to try and convince me that adult directed craft is a valuable approach to teaching children. You're entitled to your opinion, as am I. Here's mine: 

I was doing relief teaching at an old-school pre-school the other day and I really did not feel connected with that space. Like not one bit. It was ok to look at. And it was ok to spend some time ... but as the day progressed and I watched the children being “guided” to do their craft work for the day I started to feel a bit icky. It was all adult-directed. There was a sample of what the craft should look like. The painting experience was packed away. Children’s painting's were whisked away. Children painting whatever they wanted was seen as a pointless activity. The craft was seen to be where the real learning occurred. The staff were pressured by the manager of the service to ensure that each child did their craft for the day, morning and afternoon.

Their portfolios were full of them. All the same. A is for apple. B is for ball. C is for cat. All the same. Every craft element in those books were cut by adults. All the children had to do was stick them down in the same way the adult did in the sample. They were all the same. I did not see the child in their portfolios. I could not read their personalities, interests, likes and dislikes, their challenges and their strengths and achievements. I could not see them. All I could see was “Wwah is for Whale”.

I was placed in charge of the craft for the afternoon session. I hated it. It rubbed me the wrong way. I was upset by this for days. I’m still upset. I saw a little boy who was not ‘craft-inclined’ made to sit and produce a product. I saw another boy look at me apprehensively asking me what he should do ...

I was a brat and I told him he could do whatever he wanted...

I am sure I rocked the boat and upset the apple cart both at the same time.

He was so apprehensive ... He didn’t want to not follow the status quo of the service ... He didn’t want to get it wrong. Which makes you wonder ... When I’m not there – what happens? What happens when you don’t create the required craft item using the adult sample as the guide? What happens if you say no? What happens if for the little life of you, you can’t understand what is expected? Does the adult then do it for you? What’s the point of that? Do you get ‘spoken to’ in front of your peers at the table? What happens then? How are you made to feel?

The pre-planned adult structured craft really got to me. It was all the same. Cookie-cutter. In my own eyes pointless. Products which are results driven, given to parents to suggest that this is the learning the children are doing ... It’s learning because we put a letter of the alphabet on it!

This service is teaching children that their own work – their own paintings aren’t good enough. That they’re not able to learn themselves through a play-based curriculum. That they cannot resource themselves with their own ideas with open ended materials. That they aren’t good enough as people...

I feel for those little souls.

I hated it.

I really, really really REALLY hated it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being: a Teacher

So I have returned to teaching and I’m doing short term contracts. I made this choice for myself because I really didn’t know what steps to take next. In fact there are many reasons why I made this choice:

  1. I’ll get paid, ya know? There are bills and adult responsibilities that have to be taken care of and an income helps in this regard.
  2. I can take some time off as I need without having to ask for approval. I can get things in my life sorted – whether that be project or house work or garden. I will have more time.
  3. I get some variety in my life.
  4. There is limited responsibility. I am still responsible and professional. But at the end of the day, I walk away. I am not required to do rosters or work an 11 hour day to cover staff who are sick because there are no available relief staff and none of my team are able to, or will work a longer shift.
  5. I get to be. The Being part of Belonging, Being and Becoming. I get to experience that too. I am there for the children. I am not feeling the same pressures I once felt as a teacher or director or teaching director.
  6. I can experiment with documenting children’s learning - with my writing style, what I choose to include or leave out and all that jazz.
  7. I can really focus on myself – my professional self. Who I am. Who I am for the children. Who I am for the team. I get to observe myself and how children respond to me. I’m finding it quite interesting.
  8. I can bide my time ... work and figure out who I want to be when I grow up. Because, at the end of the day, I have no idea what direction I want to travel in.
  9. I don’t have to get sucked into centre/service/organizational politics. I go to work. I do my job. I do the best job I can. I go home. Tada!
  10. I will have plenty to reflect upon ... which means I can write about it ... which means I can do my Teacher’s Ink. work as well as a few of my other of my other projects!
  11. I will be able to practice what my brain now knows after the last two years of mentoring and thinking ... Which can only be a good thing.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2015 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear Team ...

Dear Team,

First, I should tell you where I’m coming from. I think about the children. I’m not always right, and I’m not always equally fair to absolutely everyone, but the first and foremost thought running through my mind is the children, both collectively and as a cluster of individuals.

I want the children to have the best experience they can in the space I am in - with the other individuals they are with, both adult and child. Now, I don’t mean I want them to be happy all the time. That’s not a realistic possibility, but I want them to be safe, valued and heard. I want them to feel connected to the learning community as well as the world as a whole. I want them to be on a journey of discovering who they are as an individual in this life.

One of the aspects of my role is to give directions and guidance in regards to interacting and supervising, setting up of learning spaces, routine tasks, as well as workplace health and safety.  I don’t give directions because I enjoy doing it. I do it because I need to.  I am trying to manage and lead a service community which is made up of children and their families, our local community, educators and the many other individuals who step inside our door. It’s not easy. I need your understanding and your assistance.

I want the children to be safe, well and engaged – getting the most out of the moments they are in. This means we have to create dynamic learning environments that will encourage children to play and learn. We should engage with the children with respect and not take overpower them. We need to move around and spread ourselves across the space and the children. Parking ourselves at the art table because we like crafting ourselves isn't what we are here for. We need to 'work the party' and be accessible to all, not just the few.

I want the educators to be safe. I don’t want you to injure yourself or your colleagues. I don’t want to see you stressed and miserable. I want you to enjoy the great many hours you are spending at work. I want to mentor you and support you as evolving and growing professionals. You’re not here to babysit or be babysat yourself. I want you to be the best educators you can possibly be. This is something we can work on together, but only if you will let me.

I’m not the perfect leader, but I can promise you I am trying my best. My best will fluctuate from one moment to another, one day to another. That doesn’t mean I’m inconsistent, it means I’m human, like you. It also means that I am growing. I too evolve as a professional and learn new things each and every day.

You and I are legally responsible for the children in our care. That means, each and every thing you do, don’t do, say or don’t say has consequences. Now these consequences might be minor, a scratch on a knee because you didn't speak to your colleagues about leaving the room for a moment, but they might also be major and result in a trip to the hospital with a fracture. We hold the children’s lives in our hands. We are answerable to the child – both the child as they are now and also as they will be as an adult.  This is why records are kept until children are 25 years old. 

We answer to the child’s parents and families. We answer to our managers at every level. We are also answerable to the licensing and regulatory bodies as well as the law. Please do not take this responsibility lightly, I don’t.

Please work with me. Together we could achieve so very much, but it is something we need to do together, as a team. I cannot do this alone. 

Kind Regards,

Your Leader