Sunday, January 24, 2016

We Teach Relationships, Through Relationships

I actually wrote this piece last year in October. There was actually a great deal of reflecting upon  relationships. In fact I could add to it almost every day!

I am using it now following on from my piece about Belonging. I think they do fit and flow together a fair bit.


I've been pondering relationships with children. Its actually something that I have been thinking about since the start of last year and moments have come up since then that really highlight the importance of relationships. Without relationships we cannot be educators. Children need to trust you – trust you to care for them – trust you to have their best interests at heart – trust you to tell them and teach them the truth.

Relationships are central to our work as educators. Our relationships with the children, their families, our peer colleagues, and yes our managers. These relationships have the power to help us soar, or sink; work in harmony or misery.

I was sitting in my office reading a Teacher Tom article which touched on relationships. One of my Korean contingent came to little school. She arrived with her father who called out 'good morning' and I called out a 'good morning' back. Miss Y came running around the hallway to smile, say good morning in English and then greet me in Korean with a bow. An-Ya-Ah-Sey-Yo I said back as she threw herself into me for a morning hug. I am not their 'teacher' … I am the manager of a service with limited time with these children, yet my interactions have nurtured these relationships.

How we engage with children is CRITICAL. It does not matter the time, the quality of those interactions is what matters. Teacher Tom, in "Icelandic Fairies" was yet another reminder of this – he connected with children in brief moments without a shared language and he was overwhelmed with emotions.

I've always had fabulous relationships with children. I'm not bragging. I just have. I was the teacher who would walk into the room and have a cluster of my students come running to greet me each morning I was on a late shift. I didn't encourage it or foster it – it just was what it was. It was not some ego boost. I wasnt grooming teacher worshiping students. We genuinely enjoyed one another's company. Now this isn't to say that there were not children who I found challenging to connect with. There were children who I really struggled with, and those were the relationships I had to work to nurture. And sometimes I think we never got there, that child and I.

I've been working at my current service as a non-teaching director for about 6 months. I walk in and out of the rooms. I spend some time in the garden. I'm not consistently working with children. I have noticed something critical. A single interaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant to me – a passer-through – was significant to a child.

That is our power to nurture or to do harm.

I spent more time in the preschool side of our service – purely because the 2IC is the lead teacher in that space. She was central to supporting me in learning the bureaucratic nuances to this organization. My first interaction with a toddler in our nursery was a passing through moment: I noticed someone wearing one sock. Which led to a conversation about socks – I decided to take my shoes off and show them that I was wearing odd socks: one spots and one stripes. That moment – an unplanned sharing – led to this child saying my name, looking for me when he arrived at little school, saying goodbye to me when he left. Simply showing the children my quirky sock choices led to a connection and a relationship.

Reflecting further back, at the start of the year I was running a vacation care program. We were sitting at the kinetic sand table and a younger boy who was new to vacation care and transitioning from preschool to kindergarten, started to flick the sand. I asked him to stop because he was possibly going to flick sand into someone's eyes which would really hurt them. He stopped and all was good in the world of the kinetic sand table. A young friend, about 11 years old, sitting next to me said “You're really nice.” … I wasn't expecting to hear a random statement like that so I asked him why. He said I just was and because I didn't yell at that boy. I didn't yell at the children. He went on to say that if someone had done 'the wrong thing' then all the children would be gathered on the stage where they would be reprimanded as a collective. I was really nice because I let him charge his gameboy where the other 'teacher' wouldn't – she'd only let her son charge his and not the other children.

This hit me. It hit me hard. I'm still thinking about it ten months later.

I was greatly saddened to hear that this was this child's experience of vacation care. I was saddened by a great many things that he had divulged to me about how other children had bullied him and pushed him against walls and held him by his neck – threatening him. How nothing was done about it. How he didn't feel safe. This explained why he spent time at my side from day one, why he checked the children's sign in and out, why he'd watch the door nervously when children and families would arrive. I thought it was simply because he recognized me for the awesome teacher and fabulous human being that I am. It was because he was living in silent fear.

I saw the fear in his eyes when 'that kid' turned up. That kid was about a year older than he but taller and much older in terms of physical development. This kid was mean. He was manipulative. He would watch and strike strategically. It's not often that I don't like young people. This individual was not being a nice person. Look, I still treated him like I did all the others, but I watched him. I watched him watch me. Thankfully he only attended two days.

{Fast forward to three months to this moment where I am editing this article for my blog and I want to add a moment which includes Miss E. She's just turned two and she's pint sized. She has always been a reserved and quite little soul. I'd love to tell you about the little moments I've shared with Miss E at the end of the day when I step onto the floor for 30-60 minutes - where I might share 10-20 minutes with her in family grouping. But I won't. They are brief. And they are mostly about her accompanying me to do the final day lock up ... We would walk through the centre with my colleague, and we would check the rooms and make sure no one was left behind in the other rooms. This was not our every day thing, it was just our sometimes thing when my shift aligned with a late collection of her. 

The other day when I was in the nursery room speaking to the two leaders about their spaces and their plans for 2016, Miss E approached me. I looked down and asked her if she'd like a cuddle, her arms were raised which I read as a yes. I picked her up and balanced her on my hip while I continued to discuss the piece of paper in my hand with my team. I'd placed my glasses upon my head, and she grabbed my face in both of her hands and held her nose to mine and squeezed my face. She then put her check to mine and then squeezed again. Then she put her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug. Then she looked at my face again. I died. I just died. I just ended up giving her the biggest squeeze back and a big kiss on the cheek. I had no idea. I just didn't. I'm important to her. I need to make sure that I do not let her down. I need to make sure I don't let any of them down. What a seriously big freaking responsibility we have! Seriously. Now, back to the original piece I wrote ... }

Anyway. The significant point I am trying to make here is that the children watch you and learn from you. I'm not referring to the role modeling you do when try to demonstrate those typical academic things that many educators seem to focus upon … I'm referring to deeper things. The touchy feely, the emotional and feeling things.

We teach children. We teach them what we think of them. How we value them as people. How we think they should be treated. We teach them how to accept treatment by others – peers and adults alike. We teach them 'their' worth through our eyes. We teach them what we think of them by how we engage with their peers – do we place more value upon one child over another?

One single moment, seemingly unimportant in our adult eyes, can carry so much weight for a child.

Remember that.

We teach relationships, through relationships.

We form relationships through actions and words.

Make every action, every moment priceless.

© Teacher's Ink. 2015

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Belonging Doesnt Grow on Trees

I was thinking while avoiding the pile of washing (waiting patiently to be folded and put away) behind me on the spare bed: What would be the best topic to write about in 2016? I thought with the start of a new year, belonging was the most logical choice for me.


 For many people, big and small, 2016 will be filled with new beginnings...
  • Perhaps as a child starting their first day ever in a setting?
  • Perhaps a child starting at a new service, because they needed to leave their old one? A mix of familiarity and starting all over again.
  • Perhaps as a fresh bright-eyed graduate starting a new role?  
  • A student commencing studies?
  • Starting a new position at a new service – or even an old one?
  •  Volunteering or perhaps being on placement?
  • Beginning a leadership role? Team leader? Director/Manager? Educational Leader?

I am sure many of us are feeling quite lost. I know I did. In fact, although I’ve been at my current service for 9 months, I still don’t feel a sense of belonging. We all want to feel that we belong, and that brings us to this question:

How do we facilitate a sense of Belonging? For Children? For Colleagues? For Ourselves?

I don’t have all the answers. I’m just nutting out and putting down my thoughts on this thing that is often presented in the shape of a tree: A Belonging Tree.

A belonging tree isn’t going to do it. [I’d love to know who started this belonging tree thing] Putting a child’s name on a birthday chart so high up they can’t even see it isn’t going to facilitate a sense of belonging.  It especially won’t facilitate belonging if they can’t read or recognise their name or are so young their eyes cannot focus at that distance.  Family photos on a wall? Nope. Names on lockers, names on hats, children’s photos on walls etc – they don’t create belonging. They are merely a collection of strategies that together plus something else MAY help to foster a feeling a belonging. These strategies are not guarantees.  You cannot implement them and then walk away and say that your efforts at ‘belonging’ are done. Tick those boxes. No. Just no. It just doesn’t work that way.

I believe the most important thing we can do to facilitate belonging is through relationships. It is so critical that we respectfully connect with people as people:
  •        educator to child
  •         educator to parent
  •         educator to family
  •          educator to educator
  •          educator to leaders
  •          leader to educator

How did you feel?
  • How did you feel when there wasn’t a space for you to put your belongings?  Either as a child, a student, relief educator or employee?
  • When you weren’t greeted when you arrived?
  • When your name wasn’t spoken?
  • When your name was pronounced incorrectly, repeatedly?
  • When your name was overlooked on a list?
  • When your name was spelled incorrectly on your paintings, repeatedly?
  • When conversations around you didn’t include you?
  • When conversations in the staffroom excluded you and included topics you could never participate in?
  • When your position title: “floater” implies you don’t have any belonging to a space – you merely waft in and out with no connection?
  • When people had their backs to you?
  • When they didn’t bother to greet you and say good morning/afternoon/evening/night?
  • When an educator you were working with in a team calls up the staff person you were covering and tells them how much they miss them and can’t wait for them to return so things can get back to normal?
  • When colleagues don’t greet you much less even acknowledge that you are in the room?
  • When colleagues discuss their plans for spending time together but exclude other educators in the room?
  • When you see an educator giving consistent special attention to one particular child and not to you?
  • When you were crying because you felt so alone, and someone said “Stop crying, you’re fine.”
  • When you didn’t speak the language that everyone else was speaking?
  • When you were down low, and everyone towered over you?
  • When someone refused to give you a hug because someone else said “Put her down, or she’ll expect you to hold her all the time. She has to learn.”?  
  • When you’re frustrated and want to do something so badly and someone laughs at you and says “Oh he’s such a little girl!”
  • When you’re a girl and you hear someone use your gender as an insult?

I could really go on ... But you get the gist.

I feel horrible even writing those ... but the sad truth is they are all real. They exist. They existed in my past, I’ve experienced or witnessed them or colleagues have shared these stories with me. These moments may exist in someone else’s present and sadly they may exist for someone else in the near future.

Would you feel you a sense of belonging in those spaces?

Probably not. You might one moment, but not the next. 

So what do we do? How could we foster a feeling of belonging?
  • Smile reassuringly. Be genuine – not artificial.
  • Be welcoming. Greet people, big and small and say “Hello. Good morning.”
  • Make eye contact – see them. Let them know that you see them! They exist!  If they don’t want to make or maintain eye-contact don’t force them! That’s creepy. Don’t be creepy.
  • Speak their name. Make every effort to pronounce their name correctly. Ask their parents – write it down phonetically. Fo-Net-I-Call-Ee.  Learn it. It’s ok to make mistakes. Just don’t make mistakes for a year. Or change their name to suit you. That too is not cool.
  • Re-assure and acknowledge feelings: “I know that you are upset; I can see that you are feeling sad/scared/angry/happy/joyful.”
  • Be present and connect. “I am here to be with you. You are not alone.”

I think we give Belonging lip service. I think it’s something that is taken for granted. I think it’s a piece of plywood we have had  laser cut in the shape of a tree and tacked on a wall or written on a notice board. I think we just gloss over it because it’s compulsory. It's something we "have" to do in order to pass Assessment & Rating.

I challenge you - in 2016 to really think about your education spaces. Do you feel a sense of belonging? If yes, how and why? What contributes to those feelings? How could you embrace others in your space to support their sense of belonging? It doesn’t have to be ‘new’ colleagues, it could certainly be established team members. If you don’t feel a sense of belonging, how could you support yourself to feel a sense of belonging to your space? What changes would you need to make to manifest this for yourself? Would you need to speak up and voice your feelings or would modelling be enough? 

How does all this translate and have impact upon the children in our care? 

How important is Belonging to you, really, and what are YOU going to do?

Please put the trees down ... 

And no, don't pick up the bloody rainbow ...

Belonging is more than a tree ... 

It is more than a tokenistic display ... 

Belonging is a feeling. 

© Teacher's Ink. 2016

Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016

I don’t like talking about resolutions as we fallible humans struggle to keep them. So instead of making resolutions or making lists – I made a wishing web of possibilities for my 2016. One of these was to write. I have missed professional writing. For a while it didn’t feel safe ... I was working in a role I loved, but one that required me to be careful – professional and disconnected. Then, I left that role and then commenced a temporary phase of casual teaching. I then ended up taking on a new role as a director. It was a whirlwind of change and a big learning curve. I probably could have written about it, but I wasn’t feeling it. So in 2016 I bring my blog back to life.  I will do what I miss. I will use the EYLF and the NQS as inspiration as well a great many other sources: Facebook and social media, the media, my life, my friends and their stories, the groups I administrate or participate in ... Everything will be presented professionally and de-personalised. I will gather inspiration and I will reflect and write. 

Cheers to 2016. 

© Teacher's Ink. 2016