"We need sustenance for the journey, for it is difficult and often lonely - a paradox because in teaching one is always with others"
Stefania Giamminuti, spoken at Reggio Emilia Conference, 2017
These words have echoed in my thinking since attending the Reggio Emilia Conference in Sydney in July 2017. Partly because this has been my own experience but also I thought this was a powerful statement of truth for many Australian early childhood professionals.
Does this resonate with you?
Have you ever sat in a planning room and worked amongst other educators but not actually WITH them? Why is this I often wonder? We know intellectually one of our greatest resources are the ECE colleagues who we work alongside everyday in our very own classroom, in our early childhood services and across our ECE communities. Yet we 'the system we work within' continue to create a context where isolation is the norm. What this tells me is how we choose to organise, use and prioritise our time has significant implications for our team's sense of belonging or alternatively their isolation and loneliness.
Sustained reflective dialogue is a concept within our Australian National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework. This concept holds a critical piece of the puzzle in delivering a quality educational program. It is an important indicator in reducing isolation and loneliness of our educators.
First we must stop and pause and ask ourselves do we: See it. Hear it. Feel it. Then we can ask how can I go about changing it?
Many of the systems that support the functions and operations of an early childhood service can be traditional and fixed in nature, for example the monthly staff meeting as the primary point for regular team contact. Limited opportunities to engage reflectively can occur during the monthly meeting, with the exception of an agenda offering a 20 minute time slot to 'reflect'. Whilst well intentioned this type of approach can lead quickly to tokenism and a technical process, for example answer these 5 reflective questions. This defeats the whole intention of sustained reflective dialogue. It must be centred on the local context, at that time and in that place.
It is imperative we start to think differently in order to safe guard our teaching teams from the loneliness they can often experience in their demanding roles as educators. We must rethink and reframe the possibilities of bringing our teaching teams together to harness the potential that is at our front door.
Robertson (2016) highlights how educational institutions tend to work in relative isolation from one another. She also uses the term loneliness to explain the lack of collegial interactions and shared experience missing in the education sector.
If our common goal is to "ensure all children have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves and for the nation" (EYLF, p5) is this not best done together?
We must turn the chairs around as such, finding ways to regularly engage reflectively and collaboratively with and within our teaching teams. Optimising the educational program and also enhancing the thinking and learning capacity of our teaching teams is a win:win scenario.
All that being said here are my 6 tips to safe guard against professional loneliness:
Rethink the use of time to enhance pedagogical practice - get outside the norm
Mentoring and coaching frameworks should be engaged to draw on the diversity within teams, recognising the expertise is at your front door
Reflective practice is a workplace culture, rather than left for when you have a minute
Collaboration in small groups and at regular intervals is offered
Network outside your own early childhood service. This might mean starting a group in your ECE community for a specific purpose
Read widely to enhance your thinking, challenge your ways of working and theorise new possibilities.
Let's remember individuals transform groups through their collective efforts and commitment to a meaningful purpose. Groups empower individuals; individuals empower groups. It is a reciprocal process known as COMMUNITY (Norris et al. 2002, 9).
Illustrations by: Dina Theodoropoulos