Digging Deep and holding on by Zoe Breen

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Digging Deep and holding on by Zoe Breen

For those of you who have been in the world of ‘educare’ for a long time you may be concerned about the direction of travel education is taking, you may be feeling overwhelmed or for those of you new to this ever changing world, this is for you!

I have worked within the ‘educare’ sector for over thirty years, with a wide range of roles form nanny to nursery manager, Reception Teacher, EY Improvement Advisor, Temporary Assistant Head Teacher and Children’s Centre Lead teacher. I have an NNEB, HND, BA(hons) in Early Childhood Studies, PGCE with EY specialism and EYPS specializing in 0-3. I have been an EYFSP and ECERS moderator and support settings using Bristol Standards. My MA is currently on hold while I kick the trespasser cancer from my body and deal with health issues!  I suppose this is why I’m reflecting in the moment, because life matters and getting it right crucial.

This is a reflection on the thoughts whirling around my head, usually at 3.00am and yes this is my first attempt at writing for a long time! Reflections on what you may well ask, well the impact of the Covid pandemic, the pending changes to the EYFS and overall direction of educational policy, all with a sprinkle of my own personal dilemmas are the root cause of my early morning wake ups.

I have so much respect for all those folks working their socks off and doing their best to keep upbeat and maintain a level of stability for their teams, their children and their families. There is an emerging niggle weaving its way to the forefront of our minds. This niggle is about finding that balance, the right kind of approach that enables children to flourish, parents to feel safe and for leaders to steer their teams through the quagmire of information currently surrounded them, whilst having a healthy work life balance.

I have listened to podcasts, webinars, accessed online CPD and connected with a range of like-minded folks on social media during my time recovering and then working from home. Listening to comments and questions raised has been what has fueled me to speak out and reflect on what is happening right now for our children. If we truly understand and respect the starting point of each unique child, then we will see the bigger holistic picture of what is needed. Changes in EY training over the years has led to an unleveled playing field, I’m not devaluing any specific courses just reflecting a shift in focus.  Less emphasis on child development and a downward pressure from educational policy to work in a way that places value on content and measurable outcomes, in my opinion, could be leading to the erosion of deep rooted early childhood principles. Funny really as this was the title of my dissertation twenty years ago, so it feels like we have gone full circle…not always in the best way for our youngest citizens!  It takes a great deal of understanding and confidence to challenge a system we either no longer trust and respect, or where we constantly find ourselves justifying our pedagogical practice. I have empathy for all who have only recently begun a journey within the EY world, so may not yet have found their voice to cheerfully challenge top down perspectives.

During a recent Safeguarding update session and at the halfway point of my diploma in trauma informed practice, I had a lightbulb moment. It got me thinking what if we could monopolies on the increased emphasis the statutory Safeguarding (Sept 2020) update has offered us when we consider new initiatives? Is this the time to take the opportunity to dig deep, respond with passion and boldness, so that we look beyond the behaviour, however big, bad and ugly it may be and we put the mental health needs of our whole community first!

The word trauma often builds quite a dramatic picture in our mind but it can also be the little things that impact on our ability to rationalize and make sense of our worlds. Crumbs being told part of your body is trying to destroy itself and that this is an incurable condition, certainly put things into perspective for me! Anyway I digress but my point being when we are feeling this tension we rely on our reptile brain, fight or flight situation, drawing on adrenaline is good for short bursts. However, if we remain in this chemical state we often become reactive not responsive, which for most of us over the last few months is not surprising. I listen and read comments from folks who are clearly fighting to keep hold of the ingredients needed to ensure the child is at the centre of all decisions they are having to make. On top of the current day to day stress many folks will also be needing to consider how to interpret and respond to the new 2021 EYFS frameworks and guidance.

So can we reflect on the way we create policies that support our values and principles, for instance instead of trying to manage behaviour, have a policy that manages relationships? Do we make this visible within our practice by demonstrating how looking beyond a child, a parent or staff member’s behaviour and digging to find out the root cause of any issues that could affect their mental health, their well-being and their ability to take on new experiences? Do we truly work with our teams and our parents to understand how much playful joy and secure attachments really do matter? Most of all have we got capacity to reflect on this regularly with our teams and update policies as our professional development and reflections on practice evolve?

Whilst supporting staff from across all sectors, via ZOOM cluster meetings I have introduced this strategy to help managers and school leaders reflect on their day. Each person has the opportunity is they choose to share what they would…BIN (metaphorically) – what they don’t need to deal with right now, BREW – further develop somethings that needs more attention, BOTTLE – celebrate the good moments even if they feel small and finally to be KIND – each day do something just for you to enjoy and acknowledge.

Now this is by no means an academic piece of writing or is it rocket science, since Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs, Adverse Childhood Experiences, the impact of the natural world on our well-being and a secure understanding of child development, have all influenced our views for years. But I do suggest taking a moment and using the emphasis of mental health as perhaps a starting point to justify why holding on and standing up for every child’s right to learn through play, to have emotionally available adults who care for them and their family and have supporting adults who enable children to have a love for joyful learning is paramount, now more than ever. Take time to reflect on your community’s needs, reach out to the EY community for support through these challenging times and cement a balanced, informed and principled approach by digging deep and holding on…it’s going to be a bumpy ride but you’ve got this!

Good luck, dig deep, look beyond and ignite the passion!


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