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 


  1. Love all of these ideas and thankyou for mentioning my name! , may I share it on my uni course's private FB page?
    Also can you clarify your last 'don't' about not getting booked too far in advance?

    1. Hi Shannon - you're welcome! And thank you for sharing with me in the first place. Please share it - that's why I blog. I'm probably going to rearrange the bits and pieces, I just wanted to get it up sooner rather than later before other projects over took!

      The last "don't" was more of a tongue in cheek joke from another educator ... its in reference to the really great relief staff who do get booked early and snapped up by other centres - I see how it would not make much sense out of context - I'm going to amend the sentence so it comes across as more of a joke!

      - G