In this blog post, Educare Learning Network member Drew Giles provides his perspective on how early care and learning administrators can support staff resiliency during rebuilding and recovery.
In spring 2020, Start Early partnered with the Educare Practice Advisory Committee, a broad group of Educare Learning Network members, to share our experiences and join in a conversation that is underway about the future of early childhood systems and supports in the United States. Through the Build It Back Better conversation, several consistent themes appeared, such as concerns about new ways to engage families, the increasing exposure of the digital divide and identifying equitable ways to address this major issue, and the need to prioritize self-care and wellness, not only for children and families, but also staff.
As a Northern California-based school director at Educare California at Silicon Valley, as well as a registered yoga teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to incorporate self-care strategies that support our organization’s climate and culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the lack of funding and positive treatment of early childhood educators, a fact that many of us already knew. While waiting for policymakers to address these issues, one small but impactful thing that I can do for the staff at my school is provide them with opportunities to practice self-care.
On flights, we’ve been trained that in the event of an emergency, be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others. The same is true for us as educators and human beings. We are often asked to do so much with fewer resources and time. In order for us to do this challenging — yet rewarding beyond compare — work, we must prioritize self-care into our program’s culture.
What is self-care, you might ask? According to PsychCentral, “self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.”
In this blog post, I will share five free things that all administrators can do to ensure that we rebuild and recover in resilient ways.
1. Begin meetings with breathing exercises
Whether you’re having an informal check-in with a colleague or a formal meeting with your program’s staff, begin each meeting by bringing attention to your breath. You can do this by coming to a comfortable seat, gently closing your eyes or finding a soft gaze in front of you, and taking three collective breaths as a group. This helps to calm and reset the mind and bring awareness to the present moment.
2. Encourage mindfulness breaks throughout the day
Taking mindfulness breaks throughout the day is a great way to recharge your energy, improve focus and increase concentration. There are several ways to take a mindfulness break, such as meditating in a quiet space, doing a few yoga poses under a tree or taking a mindful walk around your school by consciously focusing on your breath or your senses. What do you hear? What do you smell? What sensations are coming up, and how can you acknowledge those feelings?
3. Create a schoolwide culture of gratitude
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has revealed that gratitude can improve our social, emotional, mental and physical well-being. There are several ways to develop a gratitude routine in your program by building in time at the beginning of each meeting for staff to share gratitude for any other staff member, family or person in our school community. If your organization is new to this practice, be patient and consistent. At first, it may feel uncomfortable for your staff to publicly share gratitude amongst one another, but eventually, it’ll become an important routine that your staff will enjoy! As a school leader, it is incredibly important that we model this practice with our staff. The following quote is my personal mantra for how I live my life, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” by William Arthur Ward.
4. Embed self-care strategies into PD opportunities
We may not know what the professional development (PD) structure will be like when we reopen. Will it be virtual or in small groups? As program leaders, we have the opportunity to create the conditions for our staff to thrive. One of the ways that we can do this is by embedding self-care strategies into PD events. As a former director of professional development for a large urban school district, one of my proudest accomplishments included adding yoga and mindfulness classes for our staff to participate in… for credit! Find out what fills your staff’s “happy” buckets and incorporate those passions into your PD opportunities. Whether it’s working with a master gardener who can show staff how to plant a garden, structuring your PD so that staff can break out in small groups and have walking discussions outside, or inviting a local yoga instructor to facilitate a trauma-informed learning session, there are plenty of ways that you can embed self-care into your PD plan.
5. Practice self-reflection
Self-reflection is a great way to learn more about yourself, process your emotions and grow positively as a human being. At Educare, “reflective practices require conscious time and intentional thinking about school procedures and classroom activities; they ground staff in their work and build competence and confidence by allowing them the opportunity to consider the “how” and “why” of their roles in relation to children, families and co-workers.” Keep a journal and develop a consistent routine to jot down what’s going on in your life and the world around you. This may help you to process and make sense of current events, challenges and opportunities.
Early on in the pandemic, I came across a quote by florist Cecilia Tran that stuck with me, “Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause.” With so many changes and challenges coming at us, now — more than ever — we need to give ourselves permission to slow down as we focus on the basic needs and well-being of our children, families, staff and most importantly…our self.
Build It Back Better is a project of Start Early focused on identifying the critical questions that early childhood systems and services must ask as we rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic. The writings that emerge from the initiative center the experiences and voices of those most directly and disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s impact on early care and learning.
Drew Giles, MA, RYT, is an author, kids yoga teacher and leader in early childhood education. Since June 2018, Mr. Giles has served as Director of Educare Programs at Educare California at Silicon Valley, an innovative early learning school that narrows the opportunity gap for low-income children ages 0-5 and their families and caregivers. Drew has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism.