I just saw myself through the eyes of an educator and it wasn’t good. - Musical Sprouts

I realized that I am one of those mothers that barrages through the childcare door in a whirl of impatience (probably late) with my child clinging to my leg. I’m the one that interrupts an educator reading a story or calming a crying child and expects them to tend to mine instead because in that moment I can’t see or hear any children outside of my own. I was flying solo on a plane last week next to somebody’s crying toddler and all I could hear was the whirr of the engine and the blissful cavernous sound of 2 hours to myself.

So this is a big fat sorry to all the educators in my life – I will pull my socks up.

How did I come to this revelation?

Yesterday I was a fly on the wall in a workshop with a group of early childhood educators, led by psychodramatist Sharni Page and speech pathologist Bridget Knol. As part of the Empathy Project funded by VicHealth, the Musical Sprouts girls are researching social emotional skills in little people, and how to help them navigate that wild world of emotions. 

To be able to understand the challenges educators face every day with our children, and to see how full their hearts are with good intention, wisdom and expertise was very reassuring and humbling.

But let’s be honest, the workshop wasn’t all roses. 

Psychodrama requires us to play. To ‘acknowledge, accept and let go of your critical self’ and access the creativity that adulthood has shoved in an internal cupboard somewhere to allow us to deal with the immediacy of work, life and children.

No one sits passively in a psychodrama workshop – we are up on our feet addressing our challenges, roleplaying others, working as a group to find an outcome that could be just around the corner or another two hours of work away.

So what happened? 

To begin with, everyone was asked to use the kindergarten toys around them to create a representation of what makes a good relationship – in any form eg. between educator and child, parent-educator-child or between each other. Then people shared the ideas behind their creations. 

There was a general theme of connectedness, the importance of working alongside each other and the children as opposed to a hierarchical approach.

(left) This creation represented the challenges of balancing work life with outside pressures like family and finance. 
(right) This creation was about the many complexities involved in building and maintaining relationships. “It can be messy and layered, but an equitable foundation can hold that complexity”
And this green creation formed the foundation of the workshop theme which was about finding ‘calm amongst chaos’, putting external pressures to one side and working with the children from a place of compassion and lightness, because in that state the best teaching and learning can occur.

And so we went on a journey to explore how we could reach that place of calm, where to put our external pressures, how to fit within the boundaries that are in place to protect us legally, how to appease parental demands, how to acknowledge and respect diversity without letting it become an elephant in the room, and how to connect with each other so we feel supported through it all.

The courage required to address these issues is big. The obvious discomfort of some participants was also big. It’s frightening to stand up in front of your colleagues and talk about how you feel. But as the educators expressed in the debrief afterwards, they ask children to do this every day so it was a good reminder of how scary that can be. 

I was behind the camera most of the time so I had the privilege of observing from a distance. Whilst the initial discomfort was real, the shift in the dynamic of the room from beginning to end was palpable. 

The session was about allowing space for the educators to think about their practice within the context of their lives, and how they manage themselves so they can bring their best game to the children.

So with the big hairy themes unpacked and listed on the butchers paper, Bridget Knol talked to us about practical strategies that may help with day-to-day educating.  She referenced Dr Stuart Shankar and his belief that no teaching or learning can occur from a place of stress, and in order to help the child, we as educators and parents need to understand how to self-regulate our own emotions. Because children learn from adults right? Scary. I don’t feel like an adult. I definitely feel 40, but an adult? Bwahaha!

I’m sure everyone took away something different from yesterday. Some people felt reassured that the juggling act is a shared struggle. Some people felt proud that they’d pushed themselves to think and act in a new way. Some people felt excited to try out new techniques in the classroom. And probably everyone was looking forward to a good cup of tea (whether they got one when they arrived home is a whole other thing).

I left with a deeper respect for the people that take my child into their arms, fill their brains with new ideas and ways to cope, give them comfort when they need it and know when to leave them alone. The skill of an educator’s job is in finding that connection – with the child, their parent and the other educators. Because when we feel connected, we feel capable.

So tomorrow when I drop Peggy at childcare, I’m going to wait quietly until an educator is free, then I’m going to hand her over and say a massive thank you. And good luck!

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