Fostering belonging in educator teams – advice from a team leader
A sense of belonging is the foundation for children’s wellbeing and learning, something which is affirmed in the Early Years Learning Framework – you can’t ‘be’ if you don’t belong, and it’s challenging to ‘become’ and reach your full potential if you don’t feel a true sense of belonging to the places you live, work and play in.
We know that belonging is important for children, but it’s equally important for those who educate and care for them. Knowing that up to 180 educators leave the education and care workforce each week, Community Child Care Association team leader, Renee Wright, prepared the following reflection designed to support belonging in education and care teams.
Practices to foster educators’ belonging
Research shows that workplace belonging leads to a 56 per cent increase in job performance, a 50 per cent reduction in turnover risk and a 75 per cent decrease in employee sick days.
Helping people to feel a sense of belonging and connection makes sense from a compassionate perspective, but it also has real economic implications for businesses of all kinds – including early childhood education and care (ECEC).
It seems obvious, but the small things count! Make the effort to always say hello and connect with your colleagues. This is a basic courtesy and an enabler of teamwork and wellbeing.
Departures count too! If it’s been a tough day, acknowledge this and thank your team anyway. ‘Wow, today was a challenge. Tomorrow will be better – it takes time for children to settle. Thanks for all your hard work.’
Make your workspaces welcoming
Is there a suitable space for all educators to store their personal belongings? Pay attention to lunch and planning rooms too. A comfortable table and chairs, a vase with some flowers or a painting or two don’t have to be expensive and will really brighten up the space. Your local op shop or Kmart have got you covered!
Build a strong workplace community
In our enthusiasm for pursuing community connections, we can forget about our most important community – our team who is caring for and supporting children and families.
How are you holding this space? What does community look like in the context of your rooms and the wider service?
Discuss in groups what you can stop, start and continue doing to support your community of educators.
Lead by example
Strong leadership equals strong teams. How can your service foster this intentionally throughout the year? A few simple examples:
o Organise shared lunches or group dinners once a term. If your budget doesn’t stretch or there is low engagement due to family commitments, at the very least, make sure you provide snacks and refreshments for every staff meeting.
o Explore community volunteering projects, hands-on resource making workshops or even a lunchtime walking group to foster wellbeing and teamwork.
How do you communicate appreciation to your educators? How might you consider celebrating the successes of individuals and groups during staff meetings, formal celebrations such as end-of-year celebrations, or established morning teas?
Help your team learn and grow with specific, immediate feedback. Instead of saying ‘You’re doing a great job’, try ‘I really think you have a superpower around making new educators feel welcome’ or ‘Something I really appreciate about you is the wonderful way you engage with the children in the outdoor space.’
Acknowledge and encourage your team by having ‘successes’, ‘good news stories’ or ‘shout outs’ as a standing agenda item at meetings.
Set a benchmark for belonging
Lead by example and ensure your philosophy reflects your vision. Adapt your policies to help guide practice, and revisit these guiding documents with groups and individuals to ensure they’re embedded.
Be prepared to call out undesirable behaviour – for example, an educator excluding another colleague by not acknowledging them at arrival.
Remember, true leadership is a picture, not just words. If you’re not leading by example, you’re not leading!
The above adaptation has been drawn with permission from Renee’s piece in the Victorian Inclusion Agency publication Embrace. To access the winter issue of embrace, and read the original, please see here.