The principle of "Offering Early Childhood Educators similar experiences to those we hope/expect they will offer young children" was offered to me at a Leadership Institute almost 2 years ago.
It noodled around in my brain for about a year as I contemplated what it might mean, what it might practically look like and if it was something I felt my organisation was ready for.
At the same time I was intrigued by the notion of "Communities of Practice" which is a concept gaining momentum in many sectors and fields......bringing a diverse group of people together to work on a common topic or area of interest.....building both "community" and "practice".
The first thing I had to do was secure time. My Board of Directors readily agreed to two annual Pro D closures and all but a couple of parents were easily convinced that this investment of time and training in the people taking care of their children was imminently worthwhile.
So my thinking planning began.
Goal 1 - Give Educators stretching, nourishing, filling experiences.
We ask children to stretch themselves almost everyday, to try new things, be brave, find courage, notice things, be curious, think deeply, work with others, negotiate, laugh, rest........ I wanted Educators to have at least one of those experiences themselves so their connection with both themselves and the children would be deeper.
I offered rock climbing, bike riding, yoga, art, crafts, nature walks alone or in a group, a photo walk and a pile of magazines and some cozy blankets for those who needed that.
I was so delighted to see the Educators take up these offerings in exactly the way I had hoped. 11 signed up to rock climb. Some were truly afraid. Some were not young. 4 signed up to ride bikes and the squeals for the first 200 m signaled a new or rediscovered skill and delight. Some set out (in pouring rain) to walk or take a photo walk with me, others stayed at the beautiful UBC Boat House on the Fraser River and drew pictures. A large group did yoga later in the morning, including me!
One at least took great delight at looking over during the yoga class and seeing "the boss" lying on the floor along with everyone trying not to look like a demented pretzel!
And so the morning ended.
We moved venue and on to a nourishing lunch.
I felt very deeply that a catered lunch was the wrong way to go..... honestly who can stare down one more wrap or piece of pizza? So I decided to make soup. Lots of warm nourishing soup and bread, that I served and that we all ate together. I was immensely gratified that that gesture was not lost on most staff, that they saw the soup as an act of love and service.
Goal 2. Build community and advance practice.
We moved into an afternoon in 5 groups each focused on an area of Early Childhood Practice. Groups made up from across the organisation (people who work in different buildings spread across the City and very seldom interact with one another). Each group was offered time to get to know one another and then to look through a range of provided research materials on their topic in order for the group to decide on a research question they could dig into over the next 3 months and then present to their colleagues in the Fall with a goal of advancing or illuminating our practice in that area.
Each group took its own path......evolved more quickly or slowly, got bogged down or inspired, side tracked or focused...... it was fascinating to watch as I moved through the groups offering assistance and a listening ear or word of encouragement.
At the end of the day 5 exciting projects are underway, staff are connected to one another and to their work as never before (in 13 years of trying!), the sense of community and team work, even "family" were echoed over and over as folks reflected on the day. Some came with many concerns and misgivings but almost every one left invigorated, inspired and motivated to do their work in more exciting and connected ways.
It was a career mountaintop experience for me......my heart swelled as every person spoke out what thing they were leaving behind that will not help them on their onward journey and what one thing they were taking away from the day.
We are a changed organisation. We are strong and united and we are ever more deeply committed and equipped to live into our vision of "Changing the World by Honouring Childhood".
I couldn't have done it without my work team of Senior staff especially Jennifer and my home team of family and friends, Yogi Janice Triffon. To Ann Pelo and Anne Marie Coughlin who gifted the Principle to me in London Ontario.
Deep gratitude to them all.