In this week’s Amplify we share a story from Emma Harrison, the Centre Coordinator for Victoria Avenue Children’s Centre in Sydney. She writes about their wellbeing program MIndfully Me, a healthy community initiative devised as part of their QIP, and how it has positively impacted the staff.
Over the past 6 months the team at Victoria Avenue Children’s Centre have been committed to maintaining a mentally healthy community. To reinforce this commitment we have developed the Mindfully Me initiative.
Mindfully Me is a project that is part of our Quality Improvement Plan. It focuses on the health and wellbeing of our children, staff and families. We recognise that early learning services are important places for children to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to cope with common life challenges. The role of our educators and families in developing these skills in children is crucial and thus it is essential that we support the wellbeing of our educators and families.
Statistics on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian educators indicate that over 40% of educators reported feeling excessively stressed in their role. Research has identified that protective factors against stress, burnout and mental health issues include connectedness with children and young people and colleagues, feeling supported by colleagues, and receiving recognition for work (Beyou, 2019).
With this in mind and the need to ensure our educators can effectively and positively influence our children’s learning and development, the Mindfully Me vision was created. We aim to build the knowledge of our staff and families in recognising behaviours that indicate positive mental health as well as those that may indicate a mental health issue.
Firstly, we created our quality improvement goal considering the recent The Australian Early Development Census results and our knowledge of the children, families and staff in our service.
Under Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety we committed to ‘Build a mentally healthy learning community for children, staff and families to flourish in and reach their full potential.’ The Mindfully Me initiative focuses on a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. The focus is on building up our educators. Over the past 6 months we have implemented a range of initiatives (in addition to the ones that already exist) to support educator wellbeing and provide them with the ability to support the wellbeing of children and families.
At the beginning of our monthly staff meetings we dedicate at least 30 minutes to focus on educator wellbeing. Our monthly meetings are after hours between 6-8pm and staff are paid overtime for their attendance.
Some of the wellbeing initiatives have included:
The creation of a wellbeing Calendar
During one of our staff meetings, we created a monthly wellbeing calendar were we collaboratively came up with ways to build our wellbeing each month and support each other with this. Some of the monthly focuses include;
- Sugar Free month
- Charity Fun Run
- Drink 2 litres of water a day
- Daily walk
- Plastic Free July- both on the floor with the children and at home and in the staff room we committed to a plastic free month.
- Lunch Club- during this month each staff member made a healthy dish to share with the team for lunch
- Help out a charity by donating time
Organised wellbeing initiatives at our centre
Initiatives that we have run within the centre have included engaging a physio to answer questions and provide stretching advice to the staff, engaging in a yoga and stretch session and watching inspirational TED Talks about happiness and wellbeing.
Some of our favourite TED talks have included:
Rita Pierson – Every Kid Needs a Champion
Dan Gilbert asks: Why are we happy?
We often organise social events where we can build our relationships with the team. As educators it’s hard to get the chance to really talk to our colleagues and find out how they are going, so these catch up are considered incredibly valuable when it comes to building a happy and connected team.
Some of our social events have included dinner at a local restaurant, laser tag, bowling, trivia and a Christmas dinner.
Staff professional development
Staff have engaged in a range of different professional development courses including;
- Success Without Stress meditation program
- Nutrition, Lifestyle and Exercise
- Be You online modules
- Mental health
- First Aid
- Munch and Move Menu Planning
Each month we take the time to recognise members of the team and thank them for their contribution. We focus on providing specific examples of how that team member has promoted the centre philosophy and values. Each month an early mark is awarded to the person who receives the most recognition.
Some of the other ways our centre and organisation support our educators wellbeing include; flexible rosters and working arrangements, generous maternity leave benefits, fortnightly RDOs, above award wages, health and wellbeing leave, access to free counselling services, sporting teams, discounted gym memberships, and staff surveys.
Staff have commented that the are grateful that their wellbeing is considered and focused on. They feel the TED talks motivate and empower them.
In the recent survey, staff indicated that they ‘feel good knowing that it is ok to prioritise their own health and wellbeing’.
Following the physio session staff are reminding each other about stretching. In the ‘donate time’ month we volunteered as a team on a Saturday at the Exodus Foundation Loaves and Fishes restaurant. The team felt really grateful for the opportunity to help others and appreciate how fortunate they are.
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.