Early education leaders and Directors faced a myriad of changes and challenges during the first peak of the pandemic in 2020. With a new resurgence causing lockdowns and uncertainty in greater Sydney and other locations across Australia, stress levels are again rising for many in our sector.
Finding support from others in a similar situation is a great way to minimise the impact that these challenging circumstances can have on our emotional and physical wellbeing.
CELA member Lauren Maguire, Director of Wallum Community Preschool and Family Centre in NSW, tells us how her local Directors’ Network has helped her to work through the changes and pressures she’s experienced throughout the pandemic, and shares some strategies that others may find helpful.
By Lauren Maguire
The Tweed Heads Shire Directors’ Network originally formed a few years ago as an informal way to discuss current sector issues and changes, to share ideas and information, and to generally support one another. The network brings together Directors and leaders from over fifteen early childhood services in the local area.
Our group recognises the value that Directors can provide in supporting one another, given their wealth of knowledge, experience, and emotional intelligence, particularly in times of stress.
The wonderful ideas we have shared and how our network has come together during a time of significant stress throughout the pandemic may be beneficial for others in Directing and leadership positions.
Connecting for emotional support and collegiality
When the pandemic struck, bringing with it significant disruptions to practices, connections and teaching delivery, the members of our network turned to one another for support. At that time, we were officially meeting on a monthly basis, on top of regular email communications. While guidance and advice were offered a-plenty from NSW Health and the Department of Education, the underlying tone in our network email thread was a need to connect for emotional support and collegiality.
During one of our monthly meetings, I noticed that many of the Directors were struggling with the emotional toll of the overwhelming pressure to stay up to date with restrictions and changes. Many Directors felt the impact of putting the wellbeing of themselves and their families behind the needs of managing their services. I suggested we should meet more regularly to provide additional well-being and emotional support.
During these well-being focused meetings, Paula LaBelle from The Family Centre and Rosalie Valance from Communities For Children helped to facilitate a debrief and discussion on Directors’ well-being and self-care. The purpose of the meeting was to share the ways we cope both professionally and personally during times of crisis or intensity, and the strategies we could use to maintain our mental health and well-being.
The feedback we received from the group around the idea of dedicating a meeting time to Directors’ emotional wellbeing was incredibly positive. We all felt more supported and that a great weight had been lifted.
Summary of helpful strategies
Some of the strategies we implemented, which other leaders may find helpful included:
- Increasing the frequency of our meetings
- Increased email correspondence between members with a focus on questions, strategies and discussions around self-care
- Individual and collective leadership supervision and consultation with psychologist Jack O’Leary
- Mental Health First Aid training for Directors, with Jack O’Leary
- Encouraging and providing mental health support and training for Educators within our service
Could a local support network be just what you need to make it through the pandemic?
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, COVID and the associated effects it has on our sector have not disappeared, nor have the pressures and stressful situations that innately arise with a leadership role. Establishing a network of supportive and like-minded professionals around you can have significant benefits.
Strengthening leaders is strengthening preschools, which is ultimately in the best interest of children, families, educators, communities, and the entire Early Childhood Education sector.
As a group we acknowledged that directing can be at times feel isolating. However, through this network we are able to share thoughts and ideas to support one another. This not only builds the capacity of Directors and leaders, but importantly invests in the long-term success of those in the role.
I strongly encourage others to reach out and connect with their own local Directors to form a supportive and insightful network.
CELA would like to thank Lauren Maguire, Teacher, Director, and Nominated Supervisor of Wallum Community Preschool & Family Centre, for taking the time to share this article with us.
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Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.