This last year has been particularly significant for me because I transitioned from working in a local authority to becoming freelance. One of the best decisions I have ever made. The change, however, was so much harder than I envisioned because despite having some incredibly difficult times within my previous job, I worked with a number of colleagues that helped me to thrive.
They helped me to thrive because they wanted to see the best in me. They knew that cultivating the best version of someone had the greatest impact on children. They did not do this by shaming, berating or name-calling me, or by looking down up on me when I made mistakes, of which there were many…Nor did they coddle me or avoid uncomfortable conversations. They called-me out when they needed to because they wanted to see me grow. I had one colleague who quite literally questioned every pedagogical thought I had, not because she was being difficult but because she wanted to stretch my thinking, and for me to view my pedagogy from different angles. The debates we had were challenging, infuriating, empowering and expanding. And throughout it all, I felt safe.
Since going freelance, I haven’t felt all that safe. In fact, I have been the most muted version of myself. But recently I went to a conference and one of the speakers announced, “we have to bring the elephants into the room” and she referred to the issues of superiority in the early years and she asked one of the most pertinent questions of all “are you good enough for the children you care for?”. How we behave towards each other as adults is a very telling insight into the answer of this question.
I was somewhat naïve to the superiority issues when I entered the wider early years sector. I kind of expected passionate debate, people speaking up for children and vast differences of pedagogical opinion. I didn’t envisage that I would be catapulted back to the school playground. When two consultants turned their backs on me because I didn’t look “consultant enough” for the early years elite, I was really knocked sideways, not least because I looked up to them. Aren’t we working towards the same thing? (we were at the same event…so yes). Whether on social media or in person, as a sector we should be forming a community not a divide.
I can’t really get my head around superiority in the early years but it is complex and not so often addressed. I can’t even pretend to have the skills or bravery to address the broader issue but I am going to focus on one element as it is something that has directly impacted on my well-being…
My biggest worry is how social media is used to call out “poor practice”. It is an uncomfortable form of superiority. And sadly, something I have stupidly done myself. A few weeks ago I posted a tweet about something I had overheard. Granted the practice was worrying but my twitter went OFF! When I post “good practice” I barely receive any engagement. Anyway, I quickly realised I had made a fatal error. People were appalled by this practice and there were calls to action to remove this person from the early years immediately. I felt wracked with guilt. I had done the one thing I had vowed not to do, and that is to shame or belittle someone into changing their practice. I left the tweet up as a reminder to never be so careless again. Because behind that practice is a person, someone who more than likely was doing their best. And I realised that if we removed every educator who had “bad” practice, we would have no one left. I see things that make my eyeballs stand on stilts at times but I have to believe that the person is doing what is currently their best. I have to be prepared to work with not against them.
Practice is not absolute and we aren’t all good or all bad. We are works in progress. I am in no way saying we should avoid discussions about poor practice but I think there is a way to do this in an empowering way. Building people up rather than knocking them down. Social media has sadly enabled this fast-reaction shaming culture without people first considering the context, intent or broader picture. People also seem oblivious to the fact that we don’t have as much relational capital online and so how we convey messages can be very damaging.
Sometimes I see social media threads and I wonder how people must feel when they see blanket and harmful statements about their “poor practice”. I recently saw a whole twitter thread about how appalling it is so call children ‘kids’ or ‘little people’, and it is hard at those times not to panic if you know you do something that is being called out – But before we criticise, how about thinking about the situation? If someone has formed a secure and responsive attachment with a child and provides meaningful learning experiences for them but refers to children as “kids”, well I am going to choose my battles on that one to be honest. While I did understand the underlying concern in the thread about the significance of our language, the delivery seemed harsh and uninviting.
I often share anecdotes of poor practice but what I have started to weave into that narrative is possible reasons why this poor practice may have emerged and additional anecdotes of how people’s practice can evolve. I usually do this by being transparent about my own poor practice. Thirteen years in and I am not ashamed to say I made some missteps but I was and still am “good enough”. And so many of our educators are good enough. So, can we please stop using social media to make them feel bad about it?
Why is this even important? An educators well-being and self-esteem is a critical ingredient for children’s well-being and self-esteem. If an educator is constantly made to feel as though their practice is “poor”, they are always playing catch-up. Social media is such a powerful tool for progression, for example, the twitter chats (#EYMatters #EYShare) and the supportive hashtags (#EYLibrary, #openuptheplay #sharethelove #eywellbeing). It is quite literally one of the best forms of "continuous" in continuous professional development. But I cannot count the number of times I have heard an educator say 'I won't go on twitter for work, it is ruthless'.