By Sandra Heidemann, M.S., Beth Menninga, M.A.Ed., and Claire Chang, M.A., coauthors of Intentional Teaching in Early Childhood
Ana had had a very long day. She sat down to write notes on a child’s behaviors that had troubled her. But she felt so tired that she just sat there. The day started wrong: Her car wouldn’t start. She had to get a ride to work. Then she had a full class all day. Two of her children were absent, so the director asked her to take two children from the other preschool classroom. She couldn’t go outside because it was too cold, and it felt like the children were “climbing the walls.” It left her feeling like she would like to climb the walls too. As she thought about her day, she almost felt like quitting. Then Tesha, the teacher from the classroom next door, popped her head in and thanked Ana for taking two extra children for the day. She shared that her assistant teacher had gone home sick and, with a sub in her room, it had made the day go more smoothly to have two less children in the room. After Tesha left, Ana realized some of the weight of her day had lifted just by talking with her colleague.
On days like this, discouragement can take over and leave you feeling alone and hopeless that anything can change. How do you keep centered, focused, and ready to be with children? How do you find the support you need to keep going?
Part of what keeps you going are what we call circles of support. Even though you may feel all alone after a difficult day, you have people and organizations around you to help you cope with your stress and give you opportunities to grow and develop your professional skills. These circles of support surround you even though you may not always feel them supporting you.
Reflect on the following questions as we discuss several circles of support:
- Which circles of support do I value and use the most?
- Are there circles of support I would like to strengthen?
- Are there circles of support I would like to add?
Coach or Mentor
You may have a coach available who can observe you and give feedback on a regular basis. Or you may have worked with another teacher or mentor who modeled successful strategies with traumatized children. You may have had a coach for a specific learning area such as literacy or math. These professional supports become a part of how you approach your work. You may not see them every day, but they are part of how you approach every child.
We’ve already discussed valuing that teacher or mentor who modeled strategies to deal with difficult situations in the classroom. But you can also learn from your peers. They might help you find cheap art supplies, develop a new trick to get children’s attention at group, and design a new dramatic play theme. You might vent to each other about your frustrations in a safe space. They might not have an answer to your questions, but they can provide the empathy and common experience that helps you tackle the hard issues once again. You and your colleagues can form a community of practice that offers a place to reflect on the issues you face.
Your supervisor can provide more than rules and regulations. Good supervisors can offer suggestions on how to deal with difficult situations involving parents and children. They can let you know you are doing a good job when you have a particularly bad day, and they can offer time off when you need it. They can provide time for sharing and problem-solving at staff meetings. Building trust with your supervisor will provide ongoing support, especially when things are difficult.
Organizations support you by offering a salary, benefits, time off, and family leave if necessary. It is important not to minimize this vital support. When these supports are sufficient, you will worry less about yourself and your family and have more energy for teaching. Organizations also provide important ways for you to grow and learn, such as training, time to reflect with other teachers, and break times to rest and renew.
The families of young children are often very supportive of the work you are doing. They see you as an extension of their family, as someone who cares about and cares for their beloved child. You may hear complaints from parents and focus on the negative content. Try to look past parents’ complaints and see how much they care for their children and how they want the best for them. Focus on how parents express their appreciation of you. Notice how they ask you questions about their children, confident that you will help them.
Personal Circles of Support
Ask yourself about your personal circle of support, your own family and friends. How do they support you in your work? When you need to talk, who do you talk to? Who do you trust to both support and challenge you? Whether you have a large family or one friend, this circle of support sustains you. You can discharge or vent your emotions and come back to work with renewed energy and vision.
There is another way you build your own emotional reservoir. Think about the community you create in your own classroom. Reflect on what gives you joy about your work every day. Is it that child who finally participates in playtime successfully? Is it planning a lesson or study that the children love? Is it something funny that a child does or says? Remembering these moments can help you keep in touch with why you began your journey as a teacher.
As Ana thought about her day, she considered her circles of support and how she could expand them. She decided to talk to her colleague in the next room about the child who wasn’t talking much and ask the director for some suggestions for large-motor activities indoors. She also remembered a special moment from her day. She had just read the book Calm-Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick, and afterward her whole group practiced breathing together. And that had given her joy.
Sandra Heidemann, M.S., is a decades-long veteran of early childhood education with an emphasis on special needs. A past board president of the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC), Sandra has published in Young Children and Exchange magazines and is the coauthor of Play: The Pathway from Theory to Practice, published by Redleaf Press. She lives in Minnesota.
Beth Menninga, M.A.Ed., has over three decades of experience in early childhood education, including teaching in preschool classrooms and coordinating professional development initiatives on infant/toddler caregiving, early literacy, and early math. Beth has also coauthored articles for Young Children and Exchange magazines. She is currently project coordinator at the Center for Early Education and Development at the University of Minnesota.
Claire Chang, M.A., is senior program officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota Foundation and is a former West Ed instructor. She has served on the governing board and accreditation council of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and currently serves on the board of directors of MnAEYC and Hope Community Services. Claire lives in Minnesota.
Sandra, Beth, and Claire are coauthors of Intentional Teaching in Early Childhood: Ignite Your Passion for Learning and Improve Outcomes for Young Children.
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