27th October 2021 All Posts Early Years Foundation Stage

The EYFS of wellbeing

Following on from our first round-up blog covering a specialist talk from the 2021 Childcare & Education Expo, here’s our next instalment that delves into how managers and practitioners can impact meaningful change throughout their settings.

Discussing the topic of ‘Transitioning into Triumph – the EYFS of Wellbeing for Practitioners’, here’s what Kim Esnard, director of The Early Years Collective, had to say during her talk at the Coventry event…

Starting points

Beginning with how the early years sector model has typically consisted of Ofsted-Child-Practitioner, Kim challenged the audience to reverse that thought process and instead view it as Practitioner-Child-Ofsted because, ultimately, staff are a setting’s greatest asset.

Following 18 months like no other, Kim underlined the three stages managers and practitioners have likely experienced throughout the pandemic. Firstly, they would’ve felt ‘in combat’ or gone through PCSD (Post-COVID Stress Disorder). Then, it was a case of taking a moment to stop and identify the support they needed to handle the trauma. That has then led to the recovery phase and asking the question, ‘what’s the working environment like for the practitioner?’

Kim expressed how employees have spent this time looking to their managers for direction and understanding, and how their setting is making meaningful changes to progress beyond the global crisis.

Develop your own practice, skills, knowledge and be courageous

Moving onto the recently introduced EYFS reforms, Kim explained how these were vital for practitioners because previously they’d been made to feel scared of offering a suggestion that was outside of the framework. Now she implores: “Run. Go. Develop your own practice, your skills, your knowledge. Be daring and courageous.” Why, if settings encourage little ones to evolve their critical thinking, shouldn’t managers be able to do the same thing? 

When it comes to thinking about the vision for the future, it’s important not to relive or dwell on the trauma of the past 18 months. What they can take from this unsettling experience is that they’re more informed when dealing with a crisis and therefore should be better equipped to recognise when colleagues require additional support.

The health profile of settings

Making the workplace feel safe, happy, motivational and a space where every voice matters is of paramount importance – perhaps now more than ever.

When staff are inspired, they’re more likely to engage and that’s when Kim urged us all to consider our ‘professional roadmaps’ so that development opportunities were in place to pave the way for growth. It’s vital that everyone feels like there is something to strive for.

Therefore, when thinking back to the EYFS reforms, Kim asked how practitioners could apply the seven areas of learning to themselves. She challenged the audience to replace the word ‘wellbeing’ with ‘care’ in this instance and subsequently answer the question, ‘do I care about supporting a staff member who is going through a tough time to be their best?’

From making health a priority to ensuring there is open and honest dialogue, and a safe space for colleagues to speak about how they’re feeling, these are all integral ways to further impact positive change.

Improving outcomes for practitioners

Knowledge and ideas sharing are also pivotal when ensuring managers and practitioners can truly have their voice heard. Industry collaboration and having an ambitious vision for the future can both be brought to life by leaders in the workforce.

On this point, Kim recommended that practitioners own their individual journey and access the wealth of quality training to develop skills, empower their future, and reconnect with some of their earlier childcare dreams they had when they first started out.

Behaviour and attitude

Whatever life throws at anyone, having strategies in place to handle challenges and move forward is a critical part of managing wellbeing, Kim believes. It’s better to be intrinsically motivated than pulled along she said, and making sure that career goals aren’t a pipedream and there are noticeable steps in place can make a difference for everyone – from children and their families to colleagues and individual progression.

COVID halted growth ambitions for many settings as managers and practitioners were forced to put these on hold and respond effectively to the crisis. However, now is the time to relive those passions and rediscover why early years educators love their jobs!

Leadership and management

Kim later tasked the room to think about their setting’s vision and encouraged leaders to celebrate it. But that doesn’t mean going 100mph or simply having core values printed in brochures and live on websites. Instead, it’s about empowering their teams and being present and engaging with children and parents. 

For many managers, they may have felt that the pandemic has set these back, however, it’s never been a better time to re-engage the vision or create a new vision and encourage the team to embrace it.

Characteristics of Effective Wellbeing

Kim recommended that wellbeing should be part of development goals for practitioners and encouraged them to open up further discussion and understanding with their teams to define exactly what the topic means to them. Making small, positive steps like these can make a huge impact on self-care, she added.

So, what are the ‘Characteristics of Effective Wellbeing’? Kim summed it up brilliantly during the Expo and we wanted to share them. Here’s her rundown…

Maintain a strong voice regarding the importance of wellbeing

This means more than holding a ‘welfare week’ or thinking it’s a one-off subject to focus on every now and then. Instead, managers should rethink and reflect. For example, is there a practice that the team could benefit from? If so, speak up and take action. Glamourising burnout will do the sector no favours – especially when it comes to retaining and attracting top talent, Kim added.

Demonstrate a shared and consistent definition of what is meant by wellbeing

It’s different across the board, so define what it means on a setting-by-setting basis. Is it about staff doing something they love? How is wellbeing implemented day-to-day? Answering these questions can help to better understand where the team’s focus should be.

Provide quality and positive interactions throughout the day

When everyone starts the day with a ‘full bucket’, how many people have taken out of it during the working day? And how many buckets has the manager filled with positive interactions? 

Getting into the habit of ‘bucket filling’ ensures problems are addressed effectively and recognises when good work has been done. This type of engagement goes a long way towards creating a happier, healthier environment.

Evaluate the effectiveness and engagement of programmes being rolled out

It’s no good having wellbeing weeks if there are underlying issues that aren’t being handled well. Initiatives need to be built on an authentic foundation that’s transparent and connected to what’s important to that particular setting.

Offering staff incentives

Having the opportunity to advance and grow is imperative so it’s important that managers work with practitioners to define what they want to achieve both individually and as a collective.

Additionally, when it comes to offering benefits for career growth and wellbeing, these should inspire rather than be something lacking in substance.

And finally, self-evaluation shouldn’t be scary

When practitioners can identify ‘hurdles to wholeness’, it makes for a better all-round experience. Being emotionally available for the children and families they work with requires bigger, fuller buckets because it takes a lot. So it’s worth taking time to analyse what settings are doing well, and what they can stop and start doing to ensure they offer a whole pool of wellness. 

We hope you’ve felt inspired and motivated by these takeaways as much as we were at the Expo! Stay tuned for the next instalment – keep checking back on our blog…

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Marketing Lead at Connect Childcare