Over the many months of the pandemic, our organization found ourselves on what felt like a roller coaster ride of emotions and inspirations. Staying connected to every teammate and colleague virtually was an important first step in continuing and building on our relationships while we were all apart. Professional learning opportunities supported us through the four months that we were away from our programs, the families, the children and each other. My time at home included filling notebooks with reflective quotes and powerful reflective inspirations. So many Compass employees were working together in this way, supporting each other, inspiring each other, leaning on each other and learning together. The miles shrunk away and our trusting relationships grew during this virtual time together.
As we prepared to return to our program, to welcome our children and families back, we were once again reminded that questions drive practice:
- How can we prepare for uncertainty?
- How do we find ways to really listen and encourage teams to ask for what they need?
- How can we hold space for people to share their stories?
- What can we learn from each other through our experiences?
- How can we make agreements about the kind of culture we want to re-imagine?
- How will we continue to keep the threads of inspiration and learning from our time at home, and put those into our daily practice?
- How can we stay in the present and continue to enjoy the feeling of slowing down?
These were important questions for not only our organization, but ones we wanted to explore as a program. In the weeks before we opened, we started to turn inward. As the program’s pedagogical leader, alongside the administrative lead, we worked together to consider the intentional ways we would reconnect with educators, understanding that intentionality is paved by reflection. Our reflections from our experiences helped us to build intentional systems to re-engage. We met with each individual and team virtually. We wanted time for everyone to share what they needed from one another and think together about how each of us is connected and to think together about how interconnected an interdependent we are. We are better together, we need each other and wanted to reflect on how we would use this pause as a way to restart.
Safe Caring Joyful Places
“We recognize that we are all deeply interconnected. We strive to create joyful and safe environments, for children, parents, communities, and ourselves, where we can honour all parts of us: the cognitive, physical, emotional, and spiritual, and where each of us can be authentic.”
As an organization, we hold a strong value for creating “safe, caring joyful places.” This was felt for each of us during our four months at home. As leads in our program, we wanted to create a brave, authentic place for our teams.
As a pedagogical leader, I am often inspired by reflective quotes. Connecting with Cy Wakeman’s words in this moment helped us with our next steps:
“Our circumstances are not the reason we cannot succeed. They are the circumstances in which we must succeed.”
Everyone has unique circumstances and it’s so important that we recognize and hold a place for everyone’s stories. One of the most important steps in our process to return was to create a space for people to have a voice and to be heard. Being able to share our feelings, emotions, anxiety and stories helped us to be ready to welcome children and families back. Casual talking is one thing, but this needed focused time. We needed to create an intentional and thoughtful way to hear everyone’s stories. Our stories are an important part of our identity and an imperative part of how we are in the world and how we build relationships. These ideas come from inspirations from my time in New Zealand and continue to have a strong influence in my life and work as a pedagogical leader.
With our lawn chairs under a shade tree, lots of time and patience, thought provoking questions, and empathetic listening, we prepared ourselves for uncertainty.
We made proclamations and agreements of how we wanted to be together. Many people shared similar threads of learning and ways that they wanted to put theory into practice. We valued the ability to pause and slow down with children to continue the way they were at home and to live in the present, and stop worrying about tomorrow. Many shared their gratitude and unique ways to continue to journal their thoughts and reflections. We wanted to continue being vulnerable, authentic and human, acknowledging and understanding our emotions and giving ourselves permission to feel.
Our stories of humour, grief, gratitude, vulnerability, and worthiness helped us with our next step. How will we hold a place for families and children in this way? We believe in parallel practice so our children and families need to be heard as well. Educators sent videos, personal letters, images and questions home. They created many unique ways to connect with families. Our phone lines were tied up with educators talking to families and the soccer field filled with social distance visits to reconnect and learn about the families’ and children’s stories. The educators listened to parents’ worries and concerns and stories of their family time together over the last four months. These were important steps to a successful reopening. Building relationships went far beyond preparing environments and learning new health and safety policies.
Educators prepared welcoming spaces, following all of the new requirements. They updated documentation in spaces so children could see themselves engaged in play with their favorite invitations. A song introduced to me by one of my mentors, called, “We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place” by Tom Hunter, lingered in my mind while walking through the program on the Friday night before we opened. It filled my heart with pride and joy. I thought to myself, this is what a true sense of belonging feels like. We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place.
The children arrived and all worry and anxiety was gone within a few moments of encountering and engaging with them. The joy and laughter that filled our halls brought us all back together. Together we created a safe and joyful place. The trusting relationships and strong memories of engagement from the children helped them walk right in and not miss a beat. Four months was not a long time for these resilient, brilliant children. When we hold a high image of children they show us each day who they are.
As we move forward from our first month back, we continue to be curious and we continue to have more questions to help us grow our practice.
- How will lower ratios support our observations and curiosity?
- How will we continue the slower pace we have come to see as beneficial for everyone’s mental health?
- What observations and reflections have we gathered on our long walks with children, making connections with the more than human world?
- What does it mean to truly follow the child’s lead?
- How will we live into our values of collaboration and collective intelligence in our cohorts?
How have your stories influenced your experiences moving back into the program? What values do you hold on to? What kind of community do you want to build and what role will you take in it?
Dianne Traynor RECE
Compass ELC Victoria Graduate