As part of my professional journey this year, I have undertaken a leadership initiative through ECEBC. My goal is to grow in leadership and mentorship, and to begin the process of becoming an active participant in my community. In undertaking this, my discussions with fellow ECEs and ECE-As, instructors, childcare operators, and others have led to two statements which will be the foundation of my efforts this year:
- There is currently no vibrant, thriving, ‘community of practice’ locally.
- The vitality and joy which should be present in our profession is missing.
These two statements are co-dependent. How can we expect to have joy and vitality and pride in our profession if we have no local connections or community? How do we address burn-out or the staffing shortages we face as a community if we do not seek to build up the professionals who will mentor new graduates? How can we expect new graduates to stay within workforce which does not offer community or support? Why stay?
Revitalizing Community of Practice
In thinking about what it takes to revitalize the northern ECE community I have watched Nate Olsen’s TedX talk about how to engage community. For a presentation of just over 9 minutes, his topic has ‘stuck’ with me.
I have spent hours reflecting on the questions Nate has posed, and the importance of engaging in conversations which go beyond the surface, giving more meaning, more provocation of thought.
Nate Olsen’s 6 questions:
- Describe your perfect day.
- What would you do if you weren’t scared?
- What are you learning, and can you teach it to me?
- What makes you awesome?
- What’s on repeat in your life?
- What can I do to help, and for what are you seeking permission?
It starts with internal change…
Having spent time journalling about the answers to these questions, and then engaged in conversation about them with mentors, colleagues, and friends, I still am searching for my own personal truth for some of these queries. Perhaps because of my culture, or because of my personality, I found two of these questions to be particularly difficult to grapple with. One was, ‘what would I do if I wasn’t scared?’ and the other was ‘for what am I seeking permission?’
These two questions are co-dependent in my own life. One of my largest fears, is to be given the answer ‘no’ when I request something. If I ‘put myself out there’, show vulnerability, give a piece of myself, and seek permission or acceptance… then a possible outcome could be rejection, denial, or being told that I am inadequate. So, as a result, I do not seek permission. I don’t put myself in a position to lay my vulnerabilities open.
If I wasn’t scared, I would seek permission to take risks.
This came with an unsettling realization….
The only person who can grant this permission is me. I have to be willing and forgiving of myself to begin the journey of allowing mistakes, allowing vulnerability, allowing rejection and also the deeper task of allowing acceptance.
‘Allowing acceptance’ is a powerful concept.
(The subject of another post, perhaps…. )
Everyone is unique
Every person I talked to had different areas they found easy to answer or harder to reflect on. However, I found themes which seem to be the undercurrent of consistency within our ECE community:
What makes our ECE community awesome?
An attitude of service and caring was consistent across all demographics. As a rule, we are pretty empathetic and nurturing bunch of individuals. ECEs I spoke with love working with children and families. They stay in the profession because of the connections they make. They love being alongside children as they grow and develop, and being able to bear witness to this journey sustains them as professionals. They see their work as more than a job. It is a choice, a vocation, a calling.
What are you learning?
Each person had a different answer, but the recurring theme which individuals talked on at length was personal growth. ECEs are learning in their practice daily, and often it is the realizations of their own growth which hold the most meaning. One person stated they are learning that they cannot ‘fix’ others, and this is ultimately ok. They spoke about the difference between mentoring and ‘rescuing’. Another stated that ego bruising is necessary and the lesson to take constructive criticism humbly is life long and repeating. Others spoke about the need to take their emotions out of their immediate dealings with tough situations, and to learn to process those emotions in a healthy way.
Can these lessons be taught?
Life ultimately teaches these lessons, and as one person noted, life will keep bringing these situations into our lives until we have learned what we need to learn. Can we personally teach others these lessons? The consensus was that we cannot ‘teach’ such personal truths which are unique to each individual, but we can mentor and support the journey in others.
So, as a result of these conversations, and more conversations I will continue to engage in throughout the coming year, it is evident that a new, thriving, vibrant community of practice is vital for the continued success of ECEs in the north.
Community begins with the individual.
We have begun to take steps to revitalize our community. The local ECEBC branch has become active again, with fresh energy and seasoned support. As some ECEs pointed out in our community, they feel that belonging to ECEBC does not benefit them because they feel the only voices which are heard are those of the professionals further south, where population density ensures a stronger, louder voice. Our answer, as the ECEBC members of the north, is that without a community of practice, we can’t have a voice. We must start somewhere, and becoming invested in changing the status quo begins with asking our community to reflect on Nate’s questions.
What happens next is up to us.