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It’s Tough Out There, So Let’s Lead by Being Kind

“Being kind costs nothing”. So says June O’Sullivan, CEO of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)

There is no doubt that the Early Years sector is experiencing a very difficult and anxious time — especially faced with the heightened daily risk of testing positive for COVID-19.

As Early Years teachers and practitioners, we are currently living the big political debates about the challenges of balancing the health with the wealth of the nation every time we step inside a nursery.

We have received positive support, from parents and colleagues and from far and wide, in our quest for Government Ministers to agree to offer asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in each nursery setting, as is the case with schools, colleges, maintained nursery schools and primary schools with attached Early Years settings. We also want to vaccinate ALL nursery and Early Years colleagues as part of the Government’s 13.2 million strong ‘priority’ list.

However, despite this wide spread support for our cause, I’ve been astonished at the lack of leadership and empathy from our Minister of State for Children and Families who, in my opinion, has failed us not only on the testing front but on so many levels.

Perhaps Ms Ford is working tirelessly behind the scenes but, in my book, strong leadership is about being brave, telling the story of what is happening and sometimes saying the unsayable. It’s about putting the needs of the group ahead of personal needs.

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In my recent book, The A-Z of Early Years, two of the chapters focus on Kindness and Leadership. Right now, these are things that we all need a good dose of.

It’s no secret; being kind is good for your health. It can make us feel happier, improve our mood, and lower our blood pressure. Being kind comes with a serotonin kick, and neuroscientists can see how the warm glow which comes from doing something rewarding activates the striatum part of the brain. Better still is that seeing someone else smiling or being kind automatically activates the same areas of our own brain, as if we experienced the emotion for ourselves. It really is a case of smile and the world smiles with you!

NOW is the time to think about how we as Early Years leaders and colleagues lead and embed a culture of kindness through a meaningful and clearly articulated wellbeing approach. At the heart of staff wellbeing is a sense of professional integrity and trust – feeling good about doing a good job. It’s about having a meaningful purpose which everyone who works with small children certainly has.

At LEYF, we have linked our wellbeing to three of the seven strands of our pedagogy. These include:

· Leading for Excellence

· Harmonious Relationships

· Safe, Fit and Healthy

Every employer has a duty of care towards their staff and every employee has a duty of care towards the organisation. This is the basis of our wellbeing relationship with each other. We believe that this is embedded by a culture of openness and, by being a learning organisation, we ensure there are clear organisational structures and easily accessible (fair) policies and procedures in place.

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A learning organisation pays attention to what staff tell them both informally for example through conversations and comments, stories, complaints, worries, and photos but also through more formal methods including surveys, staff council, induction feedback, career pulse reports, exit interviews and formal scheduled organisational meetings. This is essential if we are to embed a wellbeing approach that places staff at the centre of what we do.

To support staff wellbeingwe need to lead with kindness, empathy and fairness in order for our teams to be productive and recognised as well as individual staff to feel safe in the arms of the organisation. Wellbeing is linked to a sense of purpose for a job done well. Therefore, how we care for each other and communicate is central to building trust and loyalty. Staff thrive in a positive environment — one which is caring and responsive and helps people to feel valued and respected.

A range of training, learning and development opportunities, from formal qualifications to managing stress, yoga classes and nutrition, and from cooking workshops to participation in Random Acts of Kindness Day, are central to helping staff build positive wellbeing and confidence, especially when it is underpinned by a culture of coaching.

On a practical level, we invest in an Employer Assistance Programme for staff with a dedicated 24-hour telephone helpline service to provide independent advice on a broad range of issues, from relationship difficulties to money worries.

Our job as an employer is to remember that wellness is the complete integration of body, mind and spirit. The realisation that everything we do, think and feel affects our state of wellbeing. It’s therefore worth remembering that because most people bring their whole selves to work and our wellbeing approach needs to reflect that.

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June’s Wellbeing Tips

· Stop, Think and Breathe.

· Laugh out loud at something funny from the week. Humour is essential for life!

· Be kind, it’s contagious.

· Get a good night’s sleep, it is a powerful healer.

· Consider taking Vitamin D.

· Go for a walk.

· Turn off the computer and the phone and give yourself a break.

· Reward yourself. You have the best job in the world and those children love you!


This guest editorial represents the views of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of That Nursery Life.