Finding the balance between high expectations and teacher well-being: Advice for Leaders 

17th June 2022

Written by Barbara Watson (PhD)

The last couple of years have been rough in ECE land

Rough for children and their families, rough for teachers and rough for leaders who have had to negotiate the uncharted waters of leading teams in Covid- affected times. Never have we faced such uncertainty and risk in our day-to-day work as teachers. In my capacity as a mentor and coach for leaders of ECE services around the country, I am hearing one consistent message – how do we juggle the need and desire to provide a high-quality service with meeting the needs of our stressed and overwhelmed teachers? There are, unfortunately, no silver bullets for this dilemma. However, my intention in this blog is to provide some hope and direction for leaders so that they can better discern the wood from the trees and find a clear path forward.

My first tip is to prioritise your own physical and emotional well-being

You can’t support others effectively if you are not well yourself. Are you making time for walking, running, dancing, yoga, swimming or whatever type of moving your body you enjoy doing? If you have your own young children then join them in a game of basketball, football or whatever and have the bonus of exercising and having quality family time all at once. Take time to do what fills your emotional cup – quiet time alone, socializing with friends, treating yourself to some flowers or a massage. If you keep giving from your cup without replenishing it, it will eventually be empty. It is much better to fill your own cup to overflowing and then give to others from your saucer.

Realise that leading an ECE service is never-ending

There is ALWAYS more you could do so be sure to put boundaries and limits on the time and energy you invest. Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for.
Secondly, share the load and gather a support network around you. Being the leader of your service can sometimes be lonely so seek out people who can provide a listening ear, wise counsel, or a sounding board. This support network may also be from ECE land but not necessarily so. Often those who can relate to the world of early childhood but who don’t work in it can provide valuable insights and an outsider’s perspective.

Remember that you are just one member of the team. You don’t have to do it all, know it all, or take care of it all. Your team is probably only too happy to help where they can – so let them. Things might not get done exactly the way that you would do them, but at least they will be done. Sharing the load with others is an opportunity for them to learn and grow. Think of delegation as a type of professional development.

Put your main effort into steering a steady direction for your team.

Make sure they have a strong sense of purpose and a clear understanding of the positive changes you are seeking to make as a centre. I know it is tricky to maintain a sense of predictability in such uncertain times, but clear communication goes a long way to assure people – even if that communication is simply to let your team know that things are up in the air right now and you will update them as soon as you can.

Keep the documentation burden to a minimum.

By going back to the licensing criteria to ascertain minimum expectations. We often put unrealistic expectations on ourselves and our teams in terms of documenting internal evaluations, professional growth cycles, assessment, and planning. Know what is required for compliance and cut back on anything else as far as is needed to keep things manageable. Spending quality time with children supporting their learning is much more important than writing about doing so.

Having a learning story per child per month may have worked when you had full staffing but in these times of teacher shortage and
overwhelm it is likely no longer sustainable. Focus on the documentation required for compliance and that which improves things
for children.

My comments may very well promote a sense of fear and trepidation“What will ERO say?”

If you are compliant with licensing criteria and you are seeking to improved practice and learner outcomes, albeit slowly and incrementally, there is no cause for concern. Any improvement is improvement.

Finally, be prepared to articulate the rationale for the actions you take (or don’t). Sometimes “In the interests of taking care of teacher wellbeing, this is all we can manage right now” is completely justifiable. This is one of those times.

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