Guest Blogger: Emma Tempest – The Play Coach

Emma is an early childhood education consultant, speaker and teacher coach specializing in the power of play and managing your teacher stressed mind.

You can find out more about her on her website Yes to Play.

This particular post in my Play-Life Balance series is mainly aimed at educators, however the same theory applies to everyone – the more you stop to think about why you do the things you do, the more likely you are to not only become more confident and calm in your decision making, but you are able to manage your thinking patterns which control your feelings. Your feelings cause you to take action, so if you want to change your outcomes you need to control your thoughts by becoming more intentional and using reflection tools to help manage your mind.

I recently did some training around how play is an amazing vehicle to really tune in to children’s thoughts and feelings, and how we as the adults have to stop and truly listen to what is being said. When we take the time to reflect not only on what children say and do, but how it makes us feel, it can lead to a whole new world of thoughts, ideas and emotions. As the adult learners were discussing times in their day they could switch off from the never-ending to-do lists and carve out dedicated time to listen and observe children, one participant was discussing how she had been decorating her classroom door for Thanksgiving and said something along the lines of, “decorated my classroom door for Thanksgiving, I have put photos of the children’s heads onto cute little turkeys that I downloaded from Pinterest. It’s so cute!” Note that the bold is my emphasis, not hers.

DISCLAIMER: I am not bashing anyone who wants to decorate their classroom doors, however I am also not going to send you over to Pinterest to find ideas for classroom door decorations. If you are feeling uncomfortable about where this post might go, this is exactly my point about why teacher reflection is so vital. This post will not say “It is wrong to decorate your classroom door” and it will also not say “There is nothing wrong with decorating your classroom door”. What it will say, if you are willing to continue reading, is that you need to understand the meaning behind what you are doing and why (classroom door decorating or otherwise). Ready? Deep breath. OK, let’s continue…

Now don’t get me wrong, I love an esthetically pleasing classroom environment as much as the next person – but only when it has been carefully and intentionally planned out based on the needs of the current children in the room and rooted in child development theory. Yes, of course we can do things just for fun – but not at the expense of time, money, resources or stress. For me, the worrying thing about the ‘look what I did in my classroom’ trend (whether it be decorations, a worksheet someone wants to share or some other adult-led activity) is the teachers who look at it and think that they aren’t doing enough, aren’t doing ‘it’ right or are somehow saving hours and hours by downloading a pre-made plan from the internet that doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of how children learn, grow and develop appropriately… So many educators are struggling with thoughts of comparison, of being a wonderfully perfect teacher, of always wanting to be seen to be doing the best they can. But as Dr Brené Brown beautifully puts it, “Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.” I could quote Brené Brown all day! Her work is simply amazing.

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. – Dr Brené Brown

The time spent downloading, laminating, cutting out, photocopying, making pre-cut shapes, painting perfect handprints, and setting up adult-led product based activities could be spent much more effectively learning about each child’s interests, capabilities, what makes them tick, what they had for breakfast that day (if they even had any…) or researching how to help them with a behaviour you are finding challenging to deal with. If you are in a situation where you have time to do both – great! Wonderful! But if you catch yourself in moments of doubt, stress or complaining about something or other then choose your time wisely. Reading about the latest brain research, behaviour management techniques that work for the children in your classroom right now in front of you, practicing your communication skills to improve your family involvement…these are the things that will make a DAILY and LONG LASTING impact on children (and your professional development) more than some turkeys on a door #justsayin😉

In order to do this, we have to let go of our teacher ego (which can be hard if you don’t even know you have one!) and be prepared for the unknown. Be prepared to switch to another subject in the blink of an eye when it suddenly starts raining and the children spot a muddy puddle forming. Be prepared to welcome the child that arrives late instead of demanding to know where they’ve been and why they didn’t make it to school on time (oh and don’t forget to shame the parents too!) [read: sarcasm] Be prepared to sing, dance and embrace children with warm hugs, genuine smile and sometimes even shed a tear yourself (children are really wonderful when you are feeling down, if you just let them know rather than trying to always hide your feelings outside of the classroom door). Be prepared to not know the answers, choose to not just look it up on the internet, and sit in the uncomfortable place of not being some sort of all-knowing Jedi master. Do you see a pattern here? Be prepared.

A shining new era is tiptoeing nearer
And where do we feature?
Just listen to teacher.

– this is terrible advice from Scar; we need to listen to the children (even when they are acting like hyenas!)

When teachers believe in themselves and their abilities, are given opportunities to observe each other and reflect on their practice (as a staff team as well as individually) they are more likely to develop collective teacher efficacy. You can think positively all you want but you cannot get better at something unless you do the work. This is where self-efficacy can be elevated from one individual to a team. It is one of the most powerful transformations I see in my own work as a coach – aiding teachers to go from doubt to self-belief, to owning their accomplishments and seeing their hard work come through the trials and tribulations. The signs of success show up in the children and families they work with, but for me the moments that truly shine are the transformative practices that the teachers themselves see when they take time to reflect and be willing to always learn and be curious. This usually has a knock-on effect in their personal lives also – they are less stressed, less burned out, often enjoy going to work at a higher rate and they use the skills learned with their family and close friends.

The hardest thing about reflection is being vulnerable – opening yourself up to what can feel like criticism, judgement and even guilt can be scary (and we all know our worst critic is ourselves! 🙄) This is where I come in. As a coach, I offer a range of trainings and coaching sessions that are tailored to your wants and needs. Pedagogy is a journey, wherever you are is exactly where you are meant to be. Nothing has gone wrong. You are capable of amazing things, sometimes you just need someone else to help guide you to your next step along the way.

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