'Responding well together' In Focus webinar, presented by Emma Woods, Janet Williams-Smith and Jessica Lee on 8 November 2022.
Hello everyone, and welcome to our In Focus Be You Webinar: Responding well together.
Hello I'm Emma Woods, an Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Be You Consultant, located in Perth. My career has been in the education and care sector, engaging in many varying roles. In this role, I have the privilege to regularly engage with early learning professionals to support the exploration, implementation, and revision of mental health and wellbeing planning. I'm quite excited for today's discussion with our panel. Just before we get started, I'd like to invite you to stay online after the Webinar to join our conversation about ‘Responding well together’. As we ease into our Acknowledgment of Country, I'd like, to let you know who we are first, especially if this is you first Be You In Focus Webinar. So some background information about Be You.
Be You is a national initiative led by Beyond Blue in partnership with Early Childhood Australia and headspace, funded by the Australian Government. Be You aims to transform Australia's approach to supporting children and young people's mental health in early learning services and schools. The vision of Be You is that every learning community is positive, inclusive, and resilient. A place where every child, young person, educator, and family can achieve their best possible mental health.
I think part of the Be You community means your early learning service, school or school age care service has access to a Be You Consultant to assist you in how you engage with Be You, including your planning and actions. If your school or service is not already registered and participating with Be You, welcome! It’s great that you have joined us today. There will be some information in the chat about how to register with Be You.
So moving to our Acknowledgment of Country for today. We gather today online from many different lands that are a part of this very special place, to continue our learning journey together. I'd like to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and to reach out to any that are present here today as the first peoples of this nation. I pay respect to elders, past, present, and becoming, and acknowledge their spiritual connection to Country. I'm currently meeting from Whadjuk Noongar Booja, which is a part of the southwest region of Perth. However, I have ancestral connection to the Wiradjuri nation in western New South Wales. I extend my respect and acknowledgement to these lands and the lands we are all meeting from today. Reconciliation is a time for embarking on a learning journey personally, professionally, as organisations, and nationally.
I would like to note the vision of the Council of Australia, of, I'm sorry, the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation, which is to have a united Australia, which represents this land, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all.
I'd also like to just leave a bit of space and time for reflection today in regards to recent community outcry. This is occurring in light of another community tragedy. I share my respect and commend the strength the national community has been presenting in the last few days, weeks.
I recently was privileged to be invited to an intimate Welcome to Country, where Uncle shared about points of view, learning and teaching. Uncle expressed through story and sharing the need to focus on learning, not just for the head, so our brain and our hearts, but for the heart and soul. Our heart and soul inform decisions and actions we may take. Learning to listen to these and grow them is entwined within Aboriginal culture.
Today we come together with our panellists to share story, learn, and hopefully connect with our heart and soul. To respond to and overcome the many challenges we have been faced with in the last few years and daily.
Now, throughout today's webinar, I invite you to consider how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives can inform how you respond to challenges and issues. And I can already see in the chat that many of you are acknowledging the land that you're from, so please do take the time to do that in whatever way suits you.
So the next part that we're going to just have a quick discussion about is we're all here today to consider, learn, and reflect on early childhood, mental health and wellbeing. We'll be hearing from our panel and talking about, responding to many challenges in everyday roles, and looking at strategies to support our mental health and wellbeing. A sense of safety can support everyone's mental health, so it's important that in this space you feel safe, you share only what you're comfortable sharing in our polls and in the chat, and that we all maintain confidentiality with anything you add to the chat or hear from others.
Now the helplines will also be posted throughout this webinar, so please access them if you need them. Sometimes unexpected feelings or thoughts can emerge which can be challenging. Just to be aware that if this is the case for you, have a plan about seeking support, if you need to. Something you might like to consider, and to take a moment to think about, is your own wellbeing strategy, and what you might put in place for later today. For myself, it will be taking my dog for a walk in the nearby bushland, where I’ll connect to the sounds, sights, and smells of the bush, which is currently in transition season. So a lot of flowers and bees and things around, so I’ll go and enjoy that. So please remember to take care of yourself as we share stories today.
So on the next slide we have some technical information for you to help support you to have the best experience here today. So on screen are the steps for selecting a speaker view, as we recommend that this will provide a better experience for you. Now, if you do have issues visit the Zoom help centre if you need to, or to the chat as well.
You can ask questions via the chat box, which is the Q and A, and share comments via the chat. We hope to respond with as many of your queries as possible during today's session. We also invite you to participate in polls we’ll be launching throughout the session. Participating in these is very easy, so the poll will appear up on your screen as if it's magic, and then you'll be able to click on your preferred answer, and don't forget to click submit. So with this magic happening, we have to acknowledge the team in the background, which is Steph, Nathan, Dino, and Maria. And we also have chat moderators Kyle and Blaire with us today.
Any links to resources or references that we use in the content will be posted in the chat for you to copy if you wish. These will also be available in a downloadable handout that will be posted in the chat. There will also be some reflective questions in this handout that you might like to consider within your own learning community. Perhaps with your team. These will also be available post-webinar, with the recording. Now, attendees will receive an automated email approximately two days after the webinar, containing a link for instant access to the recording, along with the certificate of attendance and a link to complete a survey. Non-attendees will receive an email also sent in the coming days, containing a link to the recording of the webinar as well.
Now, on November 29, a Be You Spotlight will directly relate to this webinar, and registration is only made available to those here today. So you are our VIPs for this session. The Spotlight will continue the conversation from today, exploring how you and your team can reflect and plan practical strategies to respond to challenges that occur every day in your work roles. The link to register for the Spotlight is in the chat. So register now if you feel interested.
We're also keen to hear your feedback. Keep an eye out in your inbox and check your junk folder for an email from ACER with a link to a Be You user survey. The survey closes this Thursday, so just keep your eyes on that piece of work as well. The information is being posted in the chat for you too.
So now let's have a chat about what we're here today to talk about. So in today's webinar, our panel and myself will explore why it is important to have a responsive learning environment, how to create a responsive learning environment, and what works. Is it reflection, planning processes, policies? And then we'll also have how our panellists, in their varying roles, respond to everyday challenges or situations when they notice something with a child, family, or colleague.
So to be able to jump into our discussion our panellists will begin to pop up onto the screen. Welcome to you all, and thank you for being here. As that's happening, I'm just going to help set the scene for us. So as we get started, I’d like to acknowledge that you're all coming to this space today where you may have experienced or are supporting colleagues who have experienced a heightened set of stresses.
The high emotional nature of this profession, coupled with increased stress, contributes to burnout being felt by many. This is to be expected for many educators right now, especially after being faced with the multidimensional challenges that the last few years have brought. This increases the need to respond to everyday challenging situations, which is putting educators under even more stress.
How can you respond to these and maintain positive mental health? What does our panel do? How do they create and maintain a responsive environment? We'll hear about their plans, actions, and processes to be solution focused, to support their own mental health and that of their learning community in the reality of situations that educators are facing regularly.
Welcome to Jessica and Janet, who have popped up onto the screen, as I mentioned before. Thank you for being with us today. I'd like to invite each of you to share a brief description about your role. So, Jessica, would you like to go first?
Hi, everyone I'm Jessica, I work in an early learning centre down here in Victoria, and I've been fortunate enough to work here for sixteen years.
Within my career, I've done room leading I’m currently the wellbeing officer, I support with IT, and I am currently doing a graduate diploma to extend my learning and continue my career.
Thanks, Jessica. I'm sure there are many in the audience out there who are wearing as many hats that you've just mentioned across their service. Thank you for being with us today. So our audience also may notice a slight change in our panel today. We have the wonderful Janet with us, who is stepping in for Madonna who couldn't be here. So, Janet, could you share a brief description of your role?
I can Emma, thank you very much. And I am stepping in for one of our inclusion support professionals up here in the Northern Territory. So, I just want you to know that she would have been awesome. But unfortunately she's been unwell this week. So thank you. My name is Janet Williams-Smith. I'm the National Inclusion and Early Intervention General Manager for ECA, Early Childhood Australia, and I’m based up here in Darwin, in the Northern Territory. I spend quite a lot of my time in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, and I manage two inclusion support programs. One's the NDIS for the central region of Darwin, and a territory-wide inclusion support program to look at including children who are experiencing vulnerabilities or difficulties in accessing services across the territory. And my work history has been in early childhood, social work, child protection, nursing, and now early childhood education for the last, probably twelve years. It's lovely to be here, thanks for asking me to join Emma.
Well, thank you for joining, and it's such an important voice that I’m so excited to hear, as a part of this discussion today. I'd also like to note that we have another change, and that's our third panellist, Kristy, who's unfortunately unable to make today's discussion due to unforeseen circumstances.
So before we ask our panel about responsive environments, we're going to have a poll of the audience. So the poll will hopefully come up onto your screen. This poll is asking, “How do you describe a learning environment that is responsive?”
So there's a whole list there, and Janet, I'm going to ask you if you'd like to share with us while the audience is participating in that poll. If you’d like to share what yours might be, that you might, but I think I might have an inkling of one that you might put on there. Do you want to have a chat about this question?
Sure I think It's quite a broad question for me, Emma, because I think the environments that I work in are predominantly populated by staff, so I don't work in early childhood settings directly. However, I do spend a lot of time in early childhood settings with our inclusion support professionals and our NDIS specialists, so I do see environments. Sometimes I walk into an environment, so I can just tell by the sounds and the noises that are going on that you can just tell whether there's participation and engagement. And sometimes it's about the fact that I can't hear any adults talking. I can just hear children, and that really makes me feel like the children are really in the space. When the conversations are curious and reflective, not directive and instructive, you know, when I hear educators attending to children.
And that's quite difficult to do sometimes. But I see some lovely examples of educators talking to children, just commentating next to them about what they're doing, like attending. I can see that you're really enjoying playing with this, and I can see that you've been sharing beautifully with. So just a commentary. I think that's very responsive, because it indicates to children that you're watching them, you're listening to them, and you’re understanding what they're doing, and you're telling them what they're doing. It's responsive, but it's language rich, and I think that's really important too.
And so, if I were to put that into our poll here, where we've got all of these lists of things I could hear in your example. I could hear yep, well ,we need to be inclusive to do that don’t we? Supportive you used that with the, in how you said that the educators are sharing language. Caring as well, and being respectful, letting them have that voice. So I’m really seeing that, all of the above, possibly. But let's have a look at the results now, which as suspected we had eighty-nine percent selecting all of the above. If you chose one of those other ones, that's fine, because sometimes we are focused on one particular thing, in a sense, and we need to, you know. So it might be that you're focusing on inclusion at the moment. It doesn't mean that you're not caring or respectful or having a secure or safe place. So if you chose one of those other ones that is perfectly fine as well, thank you so much for participating
So now we're going to head into our discussion, and I’m going to ask Jessica the first question, which is how do you, as an educator, create a responsive learning environment? And if you can, provide us with some examples.
Well within our environment, obviously, I'm in an early learning centre, so the way we create a responsive environment is a lot of what Janet just mentioned, and what everyone's indicated in the poll. All of the above is really critical for us to create that responsive environment ‘cause if you don't have all those things in place, it makes it hard to have that responsive environment with the children, and then filter that through to the families, the community, and the educators as well. So all of it sort of links in, so that listening, being respectful, the support, it all sort of intertwines. When you sort of, even if you break it down, it all intertwines to one another to create that responsive environment. If you're missing one of those, it makes it harder to be able to give that to the children like Janet was saying. It's a lot about the children doing what they want to do, and us supporting them being responsive to their needs, being responsive to their interests, where they're at with their learning to be able to continue building on that for them. Communication with their families as well to support them with anything that they might be struggling with, or they might have some concerns. So yeah, it just all very much links to one another, and it all comes down to helping us be more responsive to the environment that we have. And they're learning within that environment.
Yeah, absolutely. And so have you got some examples, Jessica, of how your team helps to foster that? How do you get your educators to put that list of things high on their priorities? How do you foster that space?
Well, we have a very embedded culture where I work. Everybody works as a team within not just our own teams, but the whole, within the whole centre. Management is very supportive, too, we all know that we can seek support and help from them. We have a lot of bilingual staff, which is a huge benefit, because we're able to utilize them when we have children or family members who, English is their second language, or even sometimes they don't even speak English. So being able to have that as a supportive resource, to be responsive to the families and to children is a huge benefit because that helps them with the caring and all that sort of communication. And again back to responsiveness. If you can’t understand a child, and they're trying to communicate with you, you can't respond. So being able to have that as a supportive resource is absolutely fantastic.
And just utilising some of the passions and the talents of our staff as well to bring that into the children's learning helps with their responsiveness, because then sometimes you find they might be doing something at home with their family. Like they might have a garden at home that they do with the grandparents or mum and dad, and then we do gardening here, so it sort of links in and helps them feel more at ease and helps them, be more responsive to when we're trying to help them learn and grow as well.
What I’m hearing is that you’re creating that safe and belonging environment
Yeah a safe, holistic, belonging environment that is very much linked with the children's home life, what they get here within our service, and also with the community as well.
Yeah. Janet, I’m eager to bring you into this conversation, especially after Jessica’s examples, with the bilingual and the diversity in the group. Would you like to share?
Sure. Jessica, I think the things that you're saying really do resonate, and I think they're lovely things to hear about, and they're very important kind of principles, I think of responsiveness and inclusion. Focusing on one of the things that you talked about Jessica, that is around bringing things in from children's lives that are relevant to the world that they're living in. I think the lived experiences of children and educators and families and community need to be reflected in the program and the environment that the children are coming into. We know that lots of little children spend lots of time in those environments, and it's a very intimate thing looking after other people's children, especially when they're very small.
Because there's an awful lot of things that you need to know to attend to them. I think if you walk into an environment that looks like the people that live in it, then you're really going a long way to having a reflective and responsive environment. And I think that when people are able to bring themselves into that space, be the people that work there, so educators coming to work every day, a responsive environment for them as a person coming into a situation where they work every day, they need to feel like they can bring their whole self to work, all their best ideas, and that the environment that they're in, see something about them in it. So they're not only participating in it, they're contributing. And I don't know about you, but It's a really nice feeling to go to work and know that when you go to work, part of you is already there. And it's the same for children when they come into an early learning and care environment, it's really important for them to go, “This is my place. I belong here. Because I’m all over the place. There's my artwork, there's my stuff, there's my people, and it's reflective of the world that I’m in.”
So I think that's really important and healthy. Not just for children and families, but for the staff team. And I think sometimes there's often a dominant discourse. Someone's got the best ideas, and they always get the programming up. Or someone has a really good idea or someone else doesn't share theirs. I think a really responsive environment, if you want it to be responsive to children, you need to look at how staff attend to each other, and that's about including everybody's good ideas, because what we want in staff teams for children is absolute diversity, and that starts with recognising people and recognising what they bring to the environment. That is partly like you and partly it's not like you. Because that recognition of the difference is really responsive and inclusive. So just building on some of those things that you've been talking about Jessica.
I think it's important to attend to those things with your team and your peers. Not just the children and families. That's certainly my experience working in an office full of people that I manage.
Thanks, Janet. Thank you so much. The next question, which actually, I think most of most of it has just come out from what you explained. The next question is, why is this important? Like we're talking about this is what we can do to have a responsive learning environment. Why, that's important. And, Janet, I definitely was hearing a lot of why that was important in what you just spoke, but Jessica, I’ll give you the opportunity to let me know why it's important as well
I completely agree with everything Janet just said. It definitely hits the nail on the head. Delving into it a little bit deeper from my work perspective would be very much everything's filtered down through everyone. So that everyone's expectations are the same. Everybody knows what's expected of them. If anybody is struggling like I know Janet just mentioned.
Some people might not want to express their idea because they don't think it’s good enough. As where we've got a very embedded system, and being very supportive of each other, that “come with everything”. Like It's not room leaders, management, and educators, we're all educators. We're all working towards the programming and being as responsive as possible to the children. And it's a team environment, it's not me being a room leader, so I’m the be-all and end-all, it’s a holistic approach. So everyone can bring, like Janet said, whatever about them, because then it doesn't just become an environment just for the children, as Janet mentioned, it becomes a part of you too. You know, when you come in there, there's parts of you there that you contribute to the program. You’ll have photos of the educators around as well, It's not just the children. The educators, they're doing stuff with the children in photos and present as well. So it does become an overall effect of the environment. So it's not just the kids, it the educators as well, which is important to have that continuity and all those links and that for the kids as well.
Yeah, and I know that, because this is moving into the next part, which is, how do you maintain these kind of environments? And that's what you're talking about. You've got that everyone is equal in a way when they're bringing ideas, and when we're planning together.
And so have you got some, I know that previously, when we had discussions before today, you shared with how your team connected together, and they also know where to go if something's happening, if there's a challenge. And you’ve spoken about your leader before as well. Would you like to share a little bit about that?
Yeah absolutely! Like I said, we all very much work with each other. Different rooms, we have our teams in our rooms, but everyone sort of comes together. My employer and the Director of the Centre, she has a very open-door policy. So if anybody is having any issues or concerns, or need support, whether it be personal, whether it be a team’s maybe struggling with some child's behaviour or something that's happening with a child.
We all sometimes stop and go “okay, I don't know really what to do anymore, what other strategies can I think of?” We know that we can go to other people within the centre. We know we can go to management and sit down and have an open discussion about “okay, what are we going to do for this? What else can we sort of do?” And we do a lot of that sort of stuff within our staff meetings as well. So we have a look at different situations, might be QIP (Quality Improvement Program), wellbeing, all of that. So we have a very open communication, which is great because we all have different levels of experiences. We all come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences, and we're able to consolidate that to work through any different, I guess you’d say issues that might occur, that we want to work through for the best interest of staff or children.
Yeah thanks Jessica. I’m going to come to you Janet, because I’m hearing, when Jessica was talking about those different levels and how they come together, it’s made me think about a part of your management strategy, your practice which I've heard about before. Would you like to share about how you maintain these kind of responsive learning environments?
Yeah, it's a really interesting conversation, and we've got to this part. I think that we need to foster a culture, a working culture of diversity, and we need to foster a culture of inquiry. One of the ways of doing that is to try and encourage people to think about themselves as, we're in a learning hub, we’re all learners. If we really want to foster a diverse workforce and a diverse participation of children in our early childhood education and care services, we have to accept the we're not all the same, and we have to accept that we’re not all going to have the same views, and we don't all think the same things, and do the same things, and raising children is a very particular thing. It's a very personal thing, having people raise our children, because they're raised in families and communities that might be nothing like our own experiences of being raised or raising our own children. And we have to be really mindful and careful about how we participate in that journey with people, and one of the ways that we need to do that is to check in with ourselves regularly as a team, and make sure that we all understand what our contributions are and where we're coming from.
I believe if you have an overarching philosophical alignment in the work that you do, you can have the most difficult conversations, because you're all agreed on one thing, which is where you're going, and what you're all there for. How people do their work and how they get there might be quite different. And I really enjoy those contradictory conversations about people thinking one thing, other people thinking another thing, or sometimes coming across a very challenging situation when you're working with a child or a family, or a whole community, where you’re personally and professionally not compromised, but challenged. What you need is a team of people that can help you, think about that, and talk to you, talk it through, and have difficult conversations.
Difficult conversations are part of life, and I think that a responsive environment for children and families starts with a really inclusive and responsive environment for staff as a team and also service providers. In the work that we do in inclusion across the Territory, our conversations regularly escalate to strategic conversations around, so how are service providers supporting staff to do this really important work when it is actually very challenging? So I think those things are important.
And just a quick reflection on why it's important. I think the reason it's important that we provide really responsive and inclusive environments for children and families, there's two reasons for me. One is early childhood is a transformational time. It's when children are growing their brains, and they're forming their neural pathways, and it's transformational. What happens to children early in life, we all know, has a massive implication on their later life outcomes, but also their current contentment.
The other thing and the other reason that I think is important is that we need to provide access for children who might need more than other children. So some children need more than others. That's just the way it is. And if we can provide environments that are responsive and inclusive, we're much more likely to get those children that need more than other children coming in. If we're not responsive and inclusive, the first thing that happens is the children that need to be there the most don't come because it's too hard. And those are very important reasons why, just clicking back to that question.
Thank you for doing that Janet and I just want to marry those to what you spoke about culture and team. And then you just spoke about the children. You brought it back together that we need to be fostering for difference and diversity. Also it's so important that we have that, but then we also need to foster it and make sure that we're providing those. Because even if a child needs these different requirements to engage in learning, or whatever it might be, to engage in the environment, they still going to need difference when they're older, and when they're adults.
That's right. The other thing that we sometimes choose not to think about is that diversity brings contradictions because we're not all the same. And one of the things that we need to do is make sure that we recognize parts of people that aren't like us, and we listen to those. Just because they're not like us doesn't mean they're not right, it means that they're different. And if we actually want to live in the world, we talk about diversity and inclusion regularly in the early childhood sector as we do in schools, education, and health.
But if we really want to walk the walk, we really have to understand that diversity will bring differences of opinion and different ideas and views. And what we need to do is cherish the process of people being able to share those. We don't necessarily have to agree with them, but we need to make sure that children have a right to have a voice about what happens to them. We've had a whole Webinar on that. The voice of the child.
In the recording on the Be You website, it is recorded on there.
And being responsive is actually hearing that voice and listening to children and families. Sometimes children and families will tell us things that are very difficult to hear, or very difficult for us to manage.
And so I think we need to be in a team. We need that team to be really pucker and really able to listen to each other and support each other. So that culture fostering a cultural and philosophical alignment I believe is really helpful. And using the documents that we have. The code of ethics is a really helpful document. We've got an enterprise agreement at Early Childhood Australia. It really helps me talk to the people that we employ about their working conditions, and how important they are, and the support that we've got in place to make sure that we help them. My job as a general manager is to help everybody to make their job as easy as possible, to do their best work. My job is to make their job as easy as possible. That's really what we need to be doing.
Now, Jan, I just want to pull out some really key practices. I suppose, that you've spoken about there. So you've spoken about a vision, having a vision or a philosophy. If some of our audience are thinking "How do I do this? What do I do?" That's a really great step. Coming together and having a vision, or agreeing on your philosophy. When we do get to those challenging times where there might be conversations or things that are happening, we come back to that, and go "hold on, what are we here for?" I did hear that right at the beginning, you spoke about that Janet, and I think that's a really great practice.
I loved how you spoke about, it's a culture of inquiry. I'm going to try and say this beautifully as you did, inquiry. Okay, and same as how you just said there about your role that you want to hear how your team, what they need to be able to do their job rather than you coming and saying do this, do that. It's tell me what you need. How can I help support you to do your job? So thank you. And Jessica I noted a little while ago you're unmuted, so I know you're itching to get into the conversation, so go ahead.
I actually just wanted to, as Janet was speaking, it just brought a couple of examples to me just in how that could be done. Like, from the aspect with children, I know I mentioned bilingual staff and children before, so obviously we've had children that, I don't speak mandarin, for example, and we do have quite a few children that speak mandarin, and sometimes they'll come up to you, and they're telling you something. Can you like, I know your telling - but I don’t know.
So then, having the opportunity to be able to call another staff member who can be like “oh, they're telling you that they really like the car, they want you to come and play with them”, I mean inclusiveness right there. Because then I’m able to be responsive to the child, even though I don't fully understand what they're saying, because I've got that sort of that tool within the service. We've had a lot of children within our service, we currently do have some children that have additional needs. that are on the NDIS and things like that. And I just wanted to reiterate that what Janet said, being, having that inclusiveness does draw people to the service, knowing that there is that acceptance in that. And I know we've spoken before about, I guess you kind of say that the innocent view of children, they don't see the difference, they just see a friend. They just see another child or another educator. They don't see any of those things that I guess we get conditioned to as we grow up within society. And I think back, as Janet was saying it's a good thing to go back to that and look at it through the lens of a child, who doesn't see the kid in a wheelchair. They don't see the wheelchair. They just see that they move around a different way, and that's fine.
I just wanted to point out that I think that that is also very important, to maybe sometimes take ourselves back to thinking through the view of a child with those things like inclusion and diversity and things like that because they don't, they see things a lot clearer, and I guess a lot more pure than maybe we do, as adults sometimes, just because of society and things like that.
Yeah, thanks, Jessica. Thanks for pulling that out as well. I'm going to, just a note to the audience, so we've been talking about how do we create that? What is the responsive learning environment? How do we create it? Why is that important? Now we're going to shift gears a little bit. We're going to start thinking about specific challenging situations. So we know that all educators encounter challenging situations in their everyday role. So let's see from the audience again around this. So another poll magically coming up on your screen. Thank you team for that.
So what do you do when you encounter a challenging situation in your role? So consider the role that you're in, and there's a list here. Now, this is multiple choice. I think that you're able to pick as many as you like, but give it a go. But if you're if something's there and you want to share another answer to that question, please head to the chat. We do have our chat moderators there who are looking forward to engaging with you. But, Jessica, I’m going to pull you in for this one while our audience is replying. So what do you do when you encounter a challenging situation in your role? Considering some of the responses here, what are you leaning towards?
It can depend. I’ve had challenging situations over my career, I've had challenging situations with children and families, and I've had challenging situations potentially with staff and different situations. Obviously with the child situation, if there was something that was of a concern or something we had been noticing, I’d be referring to and going to the people that I work directly with and also work directly with that child, because we all have different perspectives, we all say things differently. Again, if there's different languages there, other staff might be hearing stuff that I don't hear, for example, especially if it's in another language that they do speak.
So getting, I guess, a whole picture of what's actually going on through observation and all those sort of things. And then just seeing how that goes for a little bit. And then depending on the circumstances of what the situation is, either bringing it to the parents' attention, or bringing it to management's attention depending on what it is. Because obviously there are some things that happen out there that you need to go to management before you mentioned, maybe to the families. But just getting a really good clear insight as much as possible to what's actually going on before deciding on the strategies and the things to do next.
With staffing sometimes, obviously being the wellbeing support person and having been here so long and worked with quite a few of the people that I do, you do get to know the people that you work with, and know when they’re maybe a bit off. So sometimes it can be as simple as, in a quiet moment when it's maybe just you and them, asking if they're okay, or if there's anything that they need. And if it's anything that I guess maybe a bit more than just having a bit of a chat or anything, we're asking them did you want to go speak to the director about it? Because obviously you're struggling a bit with whatever this is, so that they feel supported in that, too. And also a lot of the time, I find with staff if it's colleagues and it's something that you need to address, it's very much in the way that you say something. That there's a big difference between “you need to make sure you don't do that” as to “okay, so in future I just wanted to let you know this is how we do this here”.
So they're very two different approaches, and I think that's really important to remember when engaging with anyone, that it can sometimes be in the delivery. Even with the kids like going “stop, don't do that” is a lot more harsh than going “Okay. We need to remember, if we throw a stone or something it might hit someone and hurt them”. So it can be a bit in the delivery, and how you choose to deliver, it to address it, and there's some ways that it, obviously it comes off as a bit nicer when you’re a little bit more gentler. So I guess, being mindful of that too to help in those difficult situations, because then people tend to be more open and willing to engage in a conversation and develop strategies and go to further places with that with you.
Yeah, I'm loving that language you’re bringing in. It's that language of learning, isn’t it rather than that language of blah, blah, blah. Let’s learn.
What can we do? Yeah, what can we do from here? How can we improve? What could we do next time? And it again comes down to strategies and other ways of doing it, and other people's perspectives as well, so they might have a you know, a different way of doing it. It might be better than what I think it is.
Alright! The results. Let's have a look at the results. Thank you so much for that just now, and I also just wanted to note, thank you so much for noticing that we have different responses compared to what situation it is. So I think, so definitely that's what's coming through in our polls is we've got people picking all over our selection, because it really will depend on how your, what particular challenging situation you might be thinking of at the moment when you were answering that poll. But many of you might have clicked all of them, because you know all of them might be needed during a situation. It just depends on what it is. So thank you for talking us through that Jess, with some great examples as well.
So I just want to make a note to you from this this poll. There's one there that says about following service policies and procedure. So I just wanted to say, let's consider when challenges arise. If we have a support plan that is entwined within those policies and procedures. This sets the response up for success. So here's some points you might like to include within these policies or procedures.
So the first one is a great one to have, is having name and contact numbers of emergency response teams. You would have seen when I had a safety check-in with you all before, our Be You mental health numbers and support poster. It's a great resource. You might like to include in a part of your policy there. Another one is the guiding language, so what you were talking about Jessica, language we use. Having some guiding language around that, and some definitions as well to determine the level of response that might be needed when a challenge comes is also important to have within your policies, or any practices. Having awareness of different time periods, so considering the response you need immediately, the response that you might need in the short term, and if we need long term responses as well. Also thinking about how to allocate particular tasks that might come up from a challenging situation, and having that written down as some steps, or some advice on how you might like to do that.
And when I mentioned, also this is a space to remember to collaborate with your team. We've been talking about how we come together and collaborate. And when I mentioned team, if there is a challenging situation that occurs, it doesn't mean everybody needs to know about it, but at least one person. Because this does help to alleviate and minimise the potential of vicarious trauma and burnout as well.
So the last dot point that I want to add to that, if you're thinking about your policies and your procedures. How do I do this? How do I get it into there? That's some things that I've added. I just listed some things you could add down. And also to outline that the need and time for space for educators to connect and debrief is also really important.
So we’re going to move into our next question now. So far, we've had a conversation about how, in different roles you can establish and maintain a responsive learning environment, and we have also made some strong comments around why these environments are important.
Now, I ask both of you, and Janet I'm going to head to you first, to share some strategies and stories of how you respond to a challenge or a situation. You might put one in your mind, and consider how you do that. And we'd also like you to reflect a little bit on this question around inclusion, and your inclusion professionals possibly as well.
Facing challenging situations and dealing with things in everyday life, when you're working with human beings things come into your life every day that are challenging, because we're all very different. I think that it falls into three key areas. So there’s, for me, when I think about managing challenges there's the structures that are in place to help you do that. So the policies and procedures, there’s all the structures there, so I can use those. Then there's the systems in place, which is how those structures are implemented. So we've got all of our policies and procedures, all of us working in different organizations. We have different policies and procedures, and we also have different ways of implementing that. So those are the systems that are in place. We might have a human resource information system. We might have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), All these different things, EAP. And then there's the processes. Which is how do we actually do it?
So there's the structures, the systems, and the processes. How do we deal with things that might come up every day that we need help with. I always think from my perspective as a general manager, it's always really important to keep going back to the common purpose when we're faced with a challenge, we have to remember that we're all here for the same reason.
So we're all here to provide really responsive, inclusive, high quality early education and care for children. We all want children, all children to be thriving and learning. Let's hold that in mind while we're about to have this conversation because we are actually all on the same page.
So I think that can be really helpful to de-escalate and help just, you know, calm things down. For everybody to know that we're all here for the same reason.
I always think it's really helpful to unpack the challenge, you know. Really unpack it. So what's provoked? Let's be curious. Let's be really curious about what's happened here. Asking some really open-ended questions about, so let's look at what happened, and how that made you feel, and I wonder, so some really interesting and important curiosity. And help people make some decisions to move the situation on. I think it's really important to help people make some decisions. One of the things that I think is very important in that space, as a manager, is for people to fully appreciate and understand their delegations.
What is it that you're responsible and accountable for? And what is it that I’m responsible and accountable for? And how can I help you? It's really important for people to understand that there are boundaries that they function within that can be very helpful for them. So I think those things are really important, and I think all of those things apply when we're working with children and families.
One of the things I was thinking about when you were talking a minute ago, Jessica, about building a team, cohesive team environment and how you provide responsive environments. One of the things I saw, just my example of practice example, I saw a piece of work being done in the service a few years ago. And the service, one of the philosophical principles of the service was that it was welcoming. That was a very important foundational principle that this service is welcome to you. And so I walked into this environment, and I actually did feel very welcome because somebody greeted me. Somebody remembered I was coming. They remembered my name and all this.
But what one of the things I asked them all is, what does welcome look like in practice. The principle and philosophy of welcome is really easy to put down on a philosophy, but what does it look like in practice. And one of the things that I saw happening when I was there was one of the teachers was at the door greeting the children, and one of the children that came into the service was obviously a child that was the child that needed more than most other children to get to participate. He was really quiet, you know, tricky. And his mum came in with him, and she was really angry with him because he’d had a very difficult morning, and she was frustrated. She was very cross with him and the educator, she knelt down to the child, and she said to him “I've been waiting for you to come”, she looked at her watch, and she said “I’m so glad you're here” and that just completely diluted mum’s anger with him. This little boy felt completely welcomed and utterly wanted, and the teacher did nothing but just say I've been waiting for you to come and looked to her watch saying I’m so glad you’re here. And that was a really practical example of a very welcoming environment that can de-escalate some things.
Obviously, there's a conversation that needs to be had with mum in that situation, and it's quite a challenging situation to see a mum yelling and screaming at a child at the door, and it's something we don't want to pass up, but it's also something we don't quite know what to do about. And sometimes I think, in those situations attending to the child first can really de-escalate situations and then go to mum “it sounds like you've had a really tricky morning”. That's all. Nothing to do with him, It just sounds like you've had a really tricky morning, which is an observation and an affirmation and a validation. I can see you've had a really tricky morning. That's it. So again we're there to be welcoming, we’re there to include and be responsive. I think that sometimes we've got some really good skills that we don't always bring to the fore, because we're not quite sure whether we're going to be doing the right thing. That's why delegations are important. That's why, understanding accountability is important.
Yeah, thank you so much, Janet, and that example, fantastic! And I’m sure there's many of that audience sitting here going. Oh yes. And some of you might be going look, we do that all the time, and we just never really put all those links together you just did Janet. And that's something else when we were at the beginning of our discussion came to my mind. I'm sitting here thinking about the audience and going, you're probably sitting there “yeah, we do that. Yeah, we do that.” But do you think about those practices you're doing and put them with the mental health lens and go this is actually, we're creating mentally healthy generations by doing this. Okay, yes, we might need to do it to tick this box and to do this, but it’s realising that you are creating that mentally healthy generation by doing those things. So thank you so much for stepping that through Janet. And some of those, having open ended questions, having boundaries, being aware of boundaries, and your accountability is so important. Especially when we’re faced with these types of situations or challenging situations. And I love the term of coercive team environments as well, and I’m going to pull Jessica in now for this question. So, Jessica, would you like to share with us some strategies and stories of how you respond to challenging situations?
Yeah, sure. I just want to mention that I feel like the word that Janet use like de-escalation, is a really key thing for this, both with children and staff and families. Because obviously if a situation arises, I'm going to say with colleagues to start with, you don't want it to get any more heightened. If something's happened and somebody's, they might have done something incorrect, or they might be having a bad day, you don't want to make things more challenging. So de-escalating, definitely, I agree is the first thing to sort of bring it down and go. Okay, let's just take a moment. Sometimes, you know, go away for a day, come back the next day and address it, if it's something that needs, if it needs to be addressed. But sometimes just taking that moment like Janet said de-escalating, just go. Okay, I’m just going to let it go for now, have a think about it, have a reflect, and then come back later, even if it's the next day, can be a much better way than dealing with it in the moment when things happen.
And same thing with children, too. Sometimes they just need a moment to get whatever's going on in their head out, and if they're upset and crying, or having a bit of a moment or a tantrum, sometimes it's, there's no point in trying to get in there and talk to them, but letting them know that you're there when they're ready, I feel is really important and really key. Cause they know that, okay, I know you're upset, when you're ready, or when you've finished, I'm right here. And that could be, they might just be sitting on the floor or sitting on a chair, and you're just across the table building or doing something with other kids around. And I feel that's really important because again, you're showing that you're respecting their sense of agency because they're like, my emotions are just too big at the moment, and I can't because of this situation, but you're also letting them know that you're still there.
And I think that also links into the other educators as well. Like, we all have bad days, we all have off moments and things that go on, and sometimes you can't help but affect your work. But knowing that people are there, and I guess recognising then going “okay, well, what can I do for you?” and listening, I think listening is a really key thing as well, provides that support in both situations to be able to support whoever it is. And sometimes again, family, like Janet said. Sometimes parents do come, and they’re just, the morning’s just been a bit of a fight the whole way to get there, for whatever reason. And just recognising that, and doing whatever you can, even just like that simple wording that you mentioned Janet, to just, and then the kid’s just like, okay.
And sometimes within our service we do sort of go another step, and we might just give the parents a call in that in that sort of similar situation that Janet mentioned. Once the child's a bit more themselves, and they’re settled, we might give them a call, we might send them a photo, just so parents are reassured that they're okay. Especially if it's something that's not normal for that child, and it's sort of out of characteristics. And we do find that that obviously helps again, de-escalate the situation, because then parents have gone to work feeling like, oh my gosh, I've left my kid there screaming, they're not having a good morning, it was so hard. And a lot of parents are really appreciative of that. Again, a lot of staff are really appreciative of people being like, look, are you actually okay? Because I notice that you know you were struggling a bit with this, is there anything I can do for you? So all those sort of strategies are sort of key ones that we have, and that I go to weekly, daily.
Thanks so much, Jessica. So I just want to also note we have the Stop, Reflect, Act framework as a part of Be You. And when we do, we are faced with those challenging situations to be aware of this. Through those examples that you've both shared, this is putting those languages into it, I suppose. That performance, or, what did you call it again Janet? It was a system, a system or a structure. No, no, no, purpose. So when you’re actually doing it, everybody, that's what I’m talking about. Janet was going to unmute and tell me, that's okay. So it's Stop, Reflect, Act. So stop before reacting to a situation, so pause and listen. Have a look, observe. Then reflect, and take, and think about the situation, and how you can move forward. Taking time for that. Then also acting. After consultation possibly, with colleagues if it's a larger situation, and stopping and reflecting and then acting and thinking about how you're going to react to that.
I think one of the things that's really helpful when, we're all working in close proximity with each other, and often in early childhood settings for many hours. And I think it's really important to be explicit. Not hope that everybody gets it.
One of the things that I think can really help team environments to deal with challenges and actually encourage contradictions and challenges is to lay it out. Really, clearly. This is how we work. This is the contributions, and these are the processes and the systems and the structures that are in place that will keep you safe, and it will hopefully provide an environment for rich discussion and diverse discussion. There's a beautiful theory called the Chat Period. It's Cultural and Historical Activity theory, and it talks exactly about this.
What's the object. What's the purpose? So the purpose is that we're welcoming, that's the object. How do we do that? What we have available to us to do that is all the tools? What are the welcoming tools that we need? What are the rules around that? Do we all fully appreciate what the rules are in the service, so that we all know? And what's the division of labour? Do we know who's responsible for doing what? And if we can all be really explicit on those things, we can have some of the most really, really diverse discussions. Because we can draw on our tools, we can draw on our rules because everybody knows what they are, and we can draw on the divisions of labour. Who does what. Who talks to parents. Who greets families? Who’s in charge of rostering. Who does what here. So that we can be really clear about delegations, And then we can have a really safe environment to be responsive and not feel that we can't speak our minds or have a diverse view or a different idea about something.
I think that's really important to lay those foundations. And be explicit, “this isn't going to work”. I always say to people, I’m a terrible guesser. So if you don't tell me, I will not notice that things aren’t okay. You need to tell me and be explicit if you need something, so I can help you with that. Don't be shy about being explicit I think that's very important.
Yeah. Well, thank you. And thank you so much. I'm hoping the audience have picked up all of these beautiful, I like to call them bits of gold, nuggets of gold out from our conversation. So we are wrapping up our webinar for now. So thank you so much for participating today. You are invited to stay online after the Webinar to join our conversation about responding well together. This is an opportunity for you to make comments, exchange ideas, and ask questions.
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Responding well together
Responding well together (PDF, 289 KB) includes in practice questions and links to additional information, resources and references.
Last updated: February, 2023