Everyone is talking about well-being. It’s a lovely, floaty word that hovers around settings, wafts its way through earnest leadership meetings and flutters its fairy wings on the cheeks of dishevelled childcare workers who are mired knee-deep in sensory play, whilst swimming upstream through the fog of expectations.
What does well-being even mean? Does it come down to mixed metaphors and tick-boxes?
Tchiki Davis, a well-being expert, says, “Well-being is the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and ability to manage stress.” This article is not going to be a deep discourse on well-being. There are plenty of articles one can Google that explain all about well-being. Nope. We are going to get real. Two scenarios are painted below and you will most likely identify with one of them.
Sally - Manager
The alarm wakes Sally up; before she can even focus she picks up her phone to check who is notifying her of their absence today. Either they have tested positive for COVID, or feel it may be COVID and are giving it a few days to make sure or they simply have COVID-itis, a condition whereby the sufferer is simply exhausted by all aspects of the pandemic and feels the need to lie down in a dark room for a day.
Whilst simultaneously cleaning her teeth and making coffee, Sally calls cover practitioners to fill the staffing gap. As usual, only Jenny can come but she has to leave to pick her children up from school at 3:00pm. That’s okay, Sally thinks, through bubbles of Colgate MaxWhite, I can cover lunches during my own lunch hour which will help. She lists today’s tasks in her head:
- Answer backlog of emails - be polite
- Check seventy-five reports - if one more person spells ‘independently’ wrong there will be consequences
- Plan staff meeting
- Have a professional discussion with Helen, who sidles into work late every day, Starbucks coffee cup in hand and fails to read the room – her peers are oozing resentment; they are not happy
- Speak to Ben; explain once more that to make and record an observation, one actually has to observe and not chat to fellow educators about his vaccine theories
- Sit with a teary parent, who is unable to manage little Louis’ behaviour and chat until they feel confident enough to face pick-up time with a smidgen of hope that home life will improve
- Do a walk around, encourage staff, have magical conversations with children while navigating through a very muddy mud kitchen
- Do a gentle hour-long induction for a new apprentice – this is their first job ever and their abject fear is noticeable
And so the day goes on. Sally waves goodbye to staff at the end of the day and retires to her Lazy-Boy to drink a large glass of wine. Oh, if only. Sally rushes home to peel the vegetables for tonight’s meal at the same time as answering her own child’s homework queries, throwing in a load of washing and hearing all about the rough day her partner had working from home with a slow internet speed. If someone were to ask Sally how her well-being was, she’d probably burst into tears.
Emma - Practitioner
Emma has an early start as she has to perform a risk assessment of the premises before others arrive. She skips breakfast and runs for the bus. A new key child arrives for a settle so she plays dinosaurs with Reggie while chatting to his parents. Emma takes a mental note of all their concerns, including Reggie’s distaste for pumpkin and his possible allergy to cheese. Emma clocks the fact that Reggie has ‘a strong will’ and ducks when he throws the wooden bricks in the direction of her head.
Nappy changing is next; she has to change five children within the next ten minutes, an impossible task but she gives it her best shot. She makes the experience a happy one for each child even though her back aches. She ponders on the thought processes of parents who delight in feeding their children beetroot and sweetcorn. The changing room resembles a CSI crime site and she spends a good deal of time cleaning up, ensuring the area is hygienic once more.
Group time next, so Emma assembles her children into a squircle as a circle is simply not sustainable. She combines exciting learning with impressive behaviour management skills. Lunch time follows; she helps children use cutlery safely, looks out for choking hazards and chats about the need for healthy food. She invariably has to pick pasta out of her hair at some point.
During her lunch break, Emma relaxes on the fluffy cushions the setting brought to address staff well-being needs and makes notes for the children’s observation records she has to write next week.
I think the picture is clear. The astonishing thing is that with all that happens during a nursery day, educators pour themselves into the well-being of their children, extend their learning and create a culture of curiosity every single day.
How then, do we start to address staff well-being? Yes, a comfy space for lunches and breaks is lovely; one can cuddle or cry into a soft cushion and feel better. Good coffee and a pack of Hobnobs tend to cheer a tired soul up. Whiteboard affirmations are warming and encouraging.
None of these, however, equip educators and teach them strategies that will consistently improve their well-being. It’s like mopping up the paint spill in the art area that happens every day because the table is unsteady. So, just how do we fix this wobbly table of well-being woe?
Self-coaching principles can help. A technique that works well is the ‘I can’ principle.
Ask yourself, what CAN I do to make a difference today?
Choose three achievable ‘I can’ actions, for example;
- I can take a walk during my break
- I can read a few chapters in my book before I sleep
- I can make a date to catch up with a friend
It’s a start. Knowing that you have accomplished these three things at the end of the day will give you a sense of control and achievement. Cultivate an ‘I can’ attitude. Who knows, you may even have time for breakfast tomorrow.
About the author:
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Pam settled in England in 2002.
As an educator of 40 years’ experience, she has the privilege of teaching children from 2-18 years old. For the past 14 years, she has successfully managed early years settings within Brighton & Hove. Noting and understanding the unmet well-being needs of educators within the context of enormous challenges, she founded her EnRich Coaching for Educators business to offer a solution to the industry.
Her passion is coaching, and training early years educators wherever needed in the world, from The Philippines to Ethiopia.
She is a lover of beauty. Exploring new places thrills her soul, from strolling through quintessential British meadows to walking on the Great Wall of China – she sees splendour and intrigue around every corner.
Although she is not inclined to enormous outbursts of energy, she has nonetheless climbed Mt Snowdon and completed a very challenging hiking marathon on the South Downs. She has also indulged in Mongolian wrestling in Ulan Bator but that is another story entirely! Her memoirs have been published and available on Amazon here.