When fishermen cannot go to sea, they mend their nets: planning for productive workplace closures

by Karen Hope

March 19, 2020

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

As the world finds itself in the most extraordinary of circumstances, preparing to ‘power down’ and self-isolate in an attempt to slow down the rates of COVID-19 infection, many in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector are fearful of what the coming weeks and months may bring, both for themselves as professionals, and for the children in their care.

 

While for some in the community, the requirement to work at home may not be difficult to achieve, for many workers in a number of sectors and industries, being at home will mean no work and perhaps feelings of isolation, confusion and disengagement. 

 

For those working in the early learning sector, working from home simply isn’t possible. ECEC is a profession which requires educators, carers and leaders to be physically present. In the event of a workplace closure, many educators would find themselves wondering how to remain engaged and connected with the sector. 


Sadly, for the casual workforce, a closure would mean a loss of income which may be difficult to recover from. This can be an unsettling and confusing time for not only for staff, but also for children and for families. While this is a time of fear and uncertainty, it may also be a time when educators can use isolation and a step back from the traditional functions of their roles to regroup, and emerge as stronger professionals. 

 

The ECEC sector has a workforce that often places the welfare and needs of others above their own, so it is not unusual that for many, the first thoughts are with children and their families. That said, the analogy of “fitting your own mask first” is not just relevant for flight attendants. In order to give to others, we must have emotional and physical energy ourselves. 

 

Thinking of “fitting our own masks first”, and using a strengths based perspective, a proverb comes to mind – ‘when fishermen cannot go to sea, they mend their nets’. 

 

In its simplest terms, the proverb reminds us that there will be times in our lives where we may not be able to do things we have always done, in the way we have always done them. That doesn’t, however, mean that we should simply sit around, feeling sad, or being idle. 

 

The idea of ‘mending the net’ means using those downtimes to reinvigorate the “tools of the trade”. For those who work in ECEC, mending the net might mean meeting needs for physical, social and emotional wellness. It might mean learning more, learning deeply, or learning differently. 

 

Listed below are some ideas, but by no means an exhaustive list, of how an enforced time away from work may be professionally valuable.

 

  • Take care of yourself. Now might be the perfect time to pay attention to you. There are not many professions in which quality relationships and interactions are a daily key performance indicator, but in ECEC that is very much the case. 

 

Sometimes,in the face of the ever-competing demands and responsibilities that are associated with the care and education of young children, we do not pay due diligence to our own wellbeing. Consider using these 8 ways to take care of yourself as a reminder and guide of how to self nurture during an absence from work.

 

  • Learn something new. This does not have to be related to children or early learning. I have often thought that boring people make boring early childhood teachers so prepare to come back to work with a new interest or skill that invigorates you and get your synapses fired up. Enthusiasm and passion are contagious so spread some of that around.

 

  • Lean into a book, some readings, a podcast or documentary. Is there a theorist that you have been wanting to learn more about beyond a superficial level? Is there a book that you know will influence your practice, but you have not had time to really read it and then reflect on its applications to your space? If you’re looking for something more visual, streaming service Netflix is currently showing an amazing documentary; BABIES  which is sure to inspire.

 

  • It has often been said that “Time is not the enemy of practice. Practice is”. Given that documentation in early learning environments -the who, what , when – continues to remain such a  focus, consider using this time to really examine what you do and how you do it. Is there a better way? What documentation practices might you leave behind? Time for a pedagogical re-boot perhaps?

 

  • Consider how you might involve children and families into this space. While you may be physically disconnected, there are ways of bringing the community together. In the city of Reggio Emilia, they have a yearly event called Reggionarra where the whole community comes together to tell each other stories. They hold an event – The Night of Stories, where the township comes together to share favourite books. 

 

Consider using apps such as Zoom or Skype to facilitate a digital community so that families can call in and listen to you read a bedtime story to children or provide some other opportunity for interaction. Technology can be your friend here, and while there may be some issues of access or equity for some families, chances are there might be other solutions such as letter writing or digital discussion boards. The applications of this idea are really only limited by your imagination.

 

This is a time in history that is unusual for sure, but let’s make sure that when we ‘power back up’, we have made not just the best of the situation, but the most of the situation.

 

We look to Italy for pedagogical inspiration often, marveling at the opportunities for children arising from the Reggio Emilia ways of working. Many have been inspired by the sense of community that persists, even as people are isolated from one another. 

 

Perhaps the times we are living through can also be inspired by pedagogical leader Carla Rinaldi, who reminds us that “The competent and creative child exists if there is a competent and creative adult” – this time away may present an opportunity for educators and ECEC professionals to demonstrate just how competent and creative they are. 

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