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Staff well-being by Stacy Mann

April 25, 2022
8 minute read

I can't even pretend that it's not been rough, so I ‘m not even going to try. Can we still blame the pandemic? I’m not quite sure – but I know that so many of us are still so fatigued, anxious, and feeling the effects of the past two years. Brighter days are coming. Its nearly summer, the children will start transitioning into school soon or moving up into the older rooms withing our settings. But what does it mean for us, the leaders, and our practitioners? The ones who keep the setting ticking over day after day. What will our next unexpected transition be? Our Lovely Stacy Mann speaks to us about Staff Well-Being 

As a sector, I would say we pride ourselves on supporting children through transitions-they have so many! We have established innovative ideas to support the children in all of these huge changes in their lives, but what about the adults?  The staff, the parents, and the wider professionals that we so actively work alongside?  I have spoken to many different people over the course of the pandemic and the one thing that has stood out, is that we have all experienced the whole time in our own unique way.  Therefore a ‘plan’ has to be flexible and have a golden thread of empathy running through it.  We have always been a sector that has promoted equality diversity and inclusion but, I believe that we are going to need to tune in even more; to our children, to our parents and carers, to each other and to ourselves.   

I thought about this and wondered how many emotions have been experienced during these tricky times (even in one day).  I reached out to a group of 20 adults (headteachers, mums, dads, carers, early years practitioners to name a few), there were over 25 emotions ranging from panic, anxiety and terror to joy, gratitude, and content.   

Ask and Listen as a team   

As a staff team discuss the emotions that have been experienced over the last few years, not just regarding the pandemic, but all of the changes that have come alongside it and how these have manifested. You may be surprised to find that some people have had lovely experiences and their return to work may be difficult.  Others may have had a traumatic existence over the past weeks and be eager to break away from their new routine.  Whatever this is, by asking and discussing with no judgement, we automatically begin to tune in and we give that person value, knowing their feelings are listened to.  There are multiple ways you can do this: Messages in a group, face to face meeting, board with post its etc.   

Review and Change 

Your setting and your team are unique.  The plans that you have agreed will need to be reviewed and honestly evaluated, taking into consideration the views from the service users too (remember they will also need support).  Make changes if you need to and listen to each other, everyone needs to feel safe and secure, because we need to make the children feel that way too. 

Protector of Calm 

At Relax Kids, we have adopted the role of being a ‘protector of calm’.  When Marneta Viegas (founder of relax kids) announced this to us, I thought it was such a lovely idea, but I did not feel I was up to the job.  Why?  Because I did not feel calm myself, I had not at this point explored my own feelings or even made space for them.  It is so important when you are an adult in a child’s life to take care of yourself, you cannot pour from an empty cup as they say.  The children need us to be their safe place.  So, to discover my calm, I had to do some work on myself before I could then support everyone else.   

Well-Being ideas 

We are co-regulators to the children that we work with and it is important as co-regulator to know how to self-regulate.  Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours, and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning, and maintaining wellbeing.  We are so busy so much of the time in Early Years, it is so fast paced, that we need a moment in time to support this.  I like to call these Magical Mindful Moments.  Here are 5 that you can do anywhere: 

  1. Take your shoes off (if possible), stand with feet hip width apart.  Imagine that your feet are grounded into the floor.  Take a deep breath in through your nose for 2, hold for 4 and breathe out through your mouth slowly and steadily for 8. 
  1. Wherever you are, splay your fingers so that there is space between each one in front of you, using the index finger on your other hand, draw around each finger.  Up a finger (breathe in), down a finger (breathe out) and briefly hold at the top of each finger and finally your thumb. 
  1. Using hand sanitizer or hand cream, massage the centre of your palm, increasing the pressure and maybe even closing your eyes for a few seconds.  This will calm your whole system, repeat on each finger and thumb. 
  1. Stand legs wide and arms wide, so that your whole body is in a star shape, relax your shoulders and radiate your heart space to the sky (the children like to do this too), stretch and release.  You can even repeat to yourself, ‘I am ok’, ‘I am calm’, ‘I am relaxed’. 
  1. Remind yourself of 3 things that you are grateful for, in terms of your role.  Write them down, say them out loud or whisper to yourself. 

Preparing for your day 

‘Emotional labour is defined as the amount of effort that is involved in the work that requires an emotional state in another person’ (Campbell-Barr and Leeson, 2016, p74)).  This quote reminds me that we have a purpose, we are the light in a lot of families lives and our expertise are something to be proud of.  Trust your expertise and ensure that you draw upon those now more than ever before.  The confidence that will radiate from you when you believe in yourself, is outstanding.  Preparing for your day in the setting may require you to create a bubble of protection, this is something that I do before I start teaching, to ensure that I do not internalise all of the stress that may be before me.   

Take a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath in through your nose and all the way out through your mouth.  Relax your shoulders.  Imagine that you are building a bubble of protection around your body, all the way around you from your feet, all the way up and over your head.  Repeat to yourself; I let go of what is not serving me,  I am positive, I trust myself, I am amazing, I am relaxed and calm.  When you leave the setting, do the same and imagine that that bubble is popping taking with it the stress of the day. 

During the day 

Take your breaks!  They make look a little different to usual, but ask yourself what your break is for?  It is to recharge, relax and replenish, so that you are the best that you can be when returning to the children.  Where possible, go for a walk and get some fresh air.  Sit quietly and avoid too much social media and endless scrolling.  Take some time for you.  As a team keep the staff room tidy and beautiful, to relax in.   

With Love from Lorna  

There is a free calm pack on the Relax Kids website to download and the resources can be used with both children and staff. 

The word Team has never meant more, we are in this together and by asking each other how you are, congratulating each other for efforts and being a listening ear, we will all feel valued.  This inevitably cascades down to the children and their calm, is our responsibility too. 

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