- Describe how effective coaching can promote positive interactions and pride in staff members’ professional identities.
- Discuss ways your interactions with families can influence the sense of self and identity.
- Identify signs of stress in yourself and others and use techniques to reduce stress.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” - Wendy Mass
Everyone feels stress from time to time, and this stress can prevent them from doing their best work. As a training and curriculum specialist, you can help staff members do their best everyday. You can help them learn the skills and strategies they need to support the learning of children and youth, and you can also help them learn to respond to stress in a healthy manner. Imagine staff members come to you showing signs of doubt, stress, and concerns like the following:
How do these comments make you feel? What impressions do they give you of the speaker? How would you respond if one of these individuals were your good friend? Have you ever felt like any of these individuals? What did you need to help you feel better?
How you respond to statements like these can make a big difference in the professional lives of your colleagues. In fact, 9 out of 10 people say they are more productive when they're around positive people, according to Tom Rath and Donald Clifton (2005). Staff members at your program need to feel heard, supported, and trusted. They need to feel acknowledged for the important work they do every day. You can be one of the people who makes these feelings a reality. It is not always easy, though, to support others in this way. You might experience some difficult feelings yourself; you may feel overwhelmed, doubt your abilities, or feel helpless at times. These feelings are natural, and these feelings can help you relate to staff members and families. This lesson will help you think about ways experiences promote positive relationships and help each individual child, staff member, and family member take pride in his or her identity. This lesson will focus on three key experiences: supporting staff members through coaching, supporting families through family-centered practices, and supporting yourself by managing stress.
Supporting Staff Members through Effective Coaching
Healthy, nurturing relationships are just as important for adults as they are for children. Through coaching, you have an opportunity to build professional relationships with staff members. In the context of those relationships, staff members reflect on their work, challenge themselves, grapple with new ideas, and express their beliefs. It is a supportive process that facilitates high-quality care for children in your programs. In the words of Emily Fenichel (1992), you can build a "relationship for learning."
In many ways, you can think of your work as modeling for staff members. As a training and curriculum specialist, you want staff members to be emotionally supportive of children and families. You want them to reflect on their practice and continually improve., You have a chance to model this process. You emotionally support staff members as they reflect on their practice. Effective coaching is very similar to a management approach known as reflective supervision (Cox, Harrison, and Neilson-Gatti (2011), which is characterized by:
- Noticing and labeling a staff members' feelings about an event or situation
- Acknowledging professional competence
- Staying rooted in the experiences of children or youth
- Providing a structure for reflection within and between sessions
While training and curriculum specialists are not "supervisors", in many ways you supervise staff members' professional learning and the experiences they design for children, youth, and families. The Family Connections Project at Boston Children's Hospital identified eight steps to help leaders build a supportive relationship within reflective supervision, and many of the principles apply to the work you do to support staff members' learning and professional growth. The following list is adapted from the 2008 short paper, "Supportive Supervision: Promoting staff and family growth through positive relationships":
- Establish a regular and protected time for coaching meetings with staff members. Set appointments and keep them. Make sure staff members know your time with them is valued and important.
- Share the power. Work together to decide how trainings and coaching meetings will be structured, what goals are set, how progress is monitored, etc.
- Accentuate the positive. Make sure staff members know you appreciate the work they do-and that they are good at it. Encourage staff members and spend time really noticing what is going well in your programs.
- Try to listen without judging. Notice staff members' emotions as they talk to you, but do not assign your own values to how they are feeling. Do not get angry if they are unhappy about something at work. Just listen.
- Model healthy ways to manage conflict. Give yourself the space and time to talk about problems. Work together to solve them efficiently.
- Make time for reflection inside and outside of coaching. Think about how your conversations with staff members went. Practice how you might say something differently if it came up again.
- Remember that you are not alone. You have many resources at your fingertips: family advocacy programs, mental health services, etc. Help staff find the resources they need.
- Establish healthy boundaries. Take care of yourself. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so.
Embracing Staff Members’ Multiple Social Identities
The staff members you coach all have a complex sense of self and multiple social identities. While you may primarily view direct care staff as “an infant and toddler caregiver,” or a “school-age provider,” each staff member is much more than their program role. It is important to remember that staff members may more strongly identify with other parts of their identities. For example, you may coach staff members who have other jobs, are parents, or are passionate about specific interests and hobbies.
As you build relationships with the direct care staff you coach, encourage them to embrace their other social identities, in addition to that of a child care staff member. This helps them strengthen their own sense of self, and may help them see that the children they care for also have multiple social identities. Caregivers, teachers, and providers all influence how children see themselves, and it’s important for these role models, in a positive and encouraging way, to help children understand that they too have many traits and interests. Children and adults whose multiple social identities are acknowledged may be more flexible when thinking about others’ identities and may develop better problem-solving skills. Flexible thinking can help them come up with more and creative solutions to everyday problems.
Supporting Families through Family-Centered Practice
Families are critical partners in your programs. You have a commitment to respect families and to help each family feel proud of their identities and culture. Recall these family-centered practices that were introduced in the Families course:
Family-Centered Practice - Family-centered practice is a set of beliefs and actions that influence how we engage families.
Families are the most important decision-makers in a child's life.
Families are unique and their differences enrich our programs.
Families are resilient.
Families are central to development and learning.
Families are our partners.
These practices help families feel respected and valued. They also help families gain confidence and a sense of their role in your program.
Families everywhere go through times in their lives when they need help accessing information to help them navigate their circumstances. And you may be just the person they come to for help. A family member may have a question or concern, and you may be asked to provide information, suggestions, or recommendations about a variety of topics, such as child development, challenging behavior, literacy, in- and out-of-school activities, community connections, health-care providers, and so forth. Sometimes you will have answers and sometimes you will have to look for answers. Above all, if a family member shares a need or concern with you, respect his or her privacy.
Supporting Yourself by Reducing Stress: Taking Care of Yourself while Taking Care of Others
To help others do their best work, you must be at your best, as well. Your attitude can help you make changes in your life and your program (Johnson, 2007). Consider Johnson’s six suggestions:
- Positive outlook: Thinking positively about situations and people can help you bring about beneficial outcomes. Your personal outlook on life plays a critical role in your level of self-care.
- Self-awareness: Knowing who you are includes being aware of your feelings, your breath, your emotions, your thoughts, and your relationships. Start by taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Examine your life, past and present. Notice how far you’ve come and the skills you possess that got you to this point.
- Healthy selfishness: It’s important to recognize your own needs as valid and do what is necessary to meet them.
- Relinquish control: Allowing yourself to relax and see things as gray instead of black and white can allow you to see more options and opportunities in life.
- Playful attitude: Changing your mindset requires playfulness, curiosity, and excitement. Try exploring life through the eyes of a child and see how differently things seem.
- Thoughtful choices: As life gets busy, slow down and make sure you are making thoughtful choices. Reconcile with yourself that you may never master a task perfectly and sometimes it is going to have to be good enough.
Many of us are accustomed to saying “yes” to everything that is asked of us for fear of appearing weak or uncooperative. Learning how to say “no” is a good skill to cultivate, and it shows you know your limits and are able to prioritize your needs, which will make you a better trainer or coach. Check out the Apply section for tips on saying “No.”
It is also important that you learn to let go of stress. Here are a few tips:
- Consider keeping a journal. It can be therapeutic to write the day’s events and your perspectives on paper. You might also consider keeping a gratitude journal to help you be mindful about the positive aspects of your life.
- Make connections. Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances. Go out for lunch or a cup of coffee with a friend. Speak to the person in front of you in line at the grocery store. These small moments can help you feel connected and supported.
- Even a little regular exercise can help you feel better, sleep better, and cope better with life’s daily stressors. Healthful eating can make a difference, too.
- Remember to breathe. As we get stressed out, we tend to breathe shallower. By taking a moment to take a few deep breaths, we are not only taking time for ourselves, but helping to lower our stress levels.
As you develop your skill at reducing your own stress, you should also observe the children and staff in your program for signs of stress. The first steps in responding to stress are to recognize when there is a problem and to help access resources.
Look for these signs of stress in adults:
When you see signs of stress in yourself or others, take action. You will find “stress busting” resources in the Apply section.
Let’s revisit the individuals we met at the beginning of the lesson. The four individuals were dealing with negative thoughts about their work. Watch the video that follows to see how a training and curriculum specialist might help a staff member work through these feelings.
Finally, end this course by learning how others manage their stress and engage in self-care.
It can be helpful for you to reflect on your own sense of self and how you relate to others. Complete the Task and Relationship Questionnaire to begin thinking about how much you emphasize tasks and relationships. Discuss the results with a colleague or mentor. Write about your strengths and areas for growth related to relationships and task management.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by work and life. One of the easiest stress busters is learning the simple word, “No.” It’s not always easy! But saying “No” is an important part of setting boundaries and preserving time for the people and events that fulfill you. You likely get requests on a regular basis: volunteer at your child’s school, coach a team, make and donate a craft, attend a meeting, cook for the potluck. The first step is to decide whether the request is something you want to do. If it is not something you want to do, decide whether you can say “No.” If you need help finding the words, use The Power of "No" guide and try a few of the ideas.
Cox, M., Harrison, M., & Neilsen-Gatti, S. (2011). Foundations for Understanding a Widely Used Practice: Elements that define reflective supervision. Presented at 2011 League of States Retreat. Accessible from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ceed/projects/reflectivesupervision/default.html
Gaither, S.E., Fan, S.P., Kinzler, K.D. (2019). Thinking about multiple identities boosts children’s flexible thinking. Developmental Science. doi: 10.1111/desc.12871
Gaither, S.E., Remedios, J.D., Sanchex, D.T., & Sommers, S.R. (2015). Thinking outside the box: Multiple identity mind-sets affect creative problem solving. Social, Psychological and Personality Science, 6(5), 596-603.
Johnson, J. (2007). Finding Your Smile Again: A child care professional's guide to reducing stress and avoiding burnout. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Johnson, J. (2010). Keeping Your Smile: Caring for children with joy, love, and intention. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Northhouse, P. G. (2009). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rath, T., & Clifton, D. (2007). How Full is Your Bucket? Positive strategies for work and life (educator’s edition). Washington, D.C.: Gallup Press.
University of Minnesota Center for Early Education and Development (n.d.). Reflective Supervision. Retrieved from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ceed/projects/reflectivesupervision/default.html .
Watts, C. L., Ayoub, C. C., Avery, M. W., Beardslee, W. R., & Knowlton-Young, K. (2008). Supportive Supervision: Promoting staff and family growth through positive relationships. Boston Children’s Hospital.
Wightman, B., Weigand, B., Whitaker, K., Traylor, D., Yeider, S. Hyden, V. (2007) Reflective Practice and Supervision in Child Abuse Prevention. Zero to Three, 28(2), 29-33.
Zero to Three. (2013). Three Building Blocks of Reflective Supervision. Excerpted from Parlakian, R. (2001). Look, Listen, and Learn: Reflective supervision and relationship-based work. Washington, D.C: Zero to Three. Retrieved from http://www.zerotothree.org/about-us/areas-of-expertise/reflective-practice-program-development/three-building-blocks-of-reflective-supervision.html.