Opening Doors

Last weekend I spent time with some close friends who I met at a former workplace where I first became a Director 20 years ago. Spending time with them brought back some wonderful memories and prompted me to reflect on my experiences and learnings from the last 25 years working in the early childhood sector.

One of these friends (I will call her Alice to protect her privacy) was a previous Director of the service where I first worked as Director. She was a wonderful support and had a wealth of experience that I was fortunate to learn from. Spending time with Alice last weekend reminded me of an experience at a service 20 years ago which taught me a lot about what is needed in teams for them to work collaboratively.

Alice worked at the service part time. She has a vibrant personality and upon arrival there was a positive energy that she would bring with her each day. Each morning Alice would greet everyone as she walked through the service. Checking in with everyone and greeting them and sharing her positive energy.

Alice’s daily morning ritual included a visit to the kitchen to say hello to Lyn who worked as Cook for the service. Alice would spend time with Lyn to check in to say hello and to make her morning coffee whilst catching up with Lyn about the morning (as Lyn helped to open the service each day.)

A short while after starting at that service with Alice, there was an interaction between Alice and Lyn which I still remember to this day. What might be viewed as minor, it demonstrated to me that to build positive relationships, there needs to be open communication. This supports the building of trust and to what I now understand to be ‘psychological safety’ in the workplace.

As mentioned, this interaction occurred a couple of months after I started at the service. It was during Alice’s morning ritual of greeting each team member, she had made her way to the kitchen to say hello to Lyn. I observed the entire interaction from outside my office where I was sitting with a small group of children in construction corner, the kitchen was open plan and so I saw the event unfold.

After having a short chat and leaving the kitchen one morning, Alice walked away and towards the room next door. The chat seemed to be no different to any other morning chat. It was positive and lively. Alice closed the kitchen door and locked this to prevent children accessing the kitchen and walked towards the room next door.

Lyn began to shake her head and frowned slightly, I watched from a distance. Alice looked like she had forgotten something and went back towards the kitchen. She saw Lyn shaking her head and frowning and asked ‘What’s wrong Lyn? Are you ok?’

Lyn paused, looked at Alice took a deep breath and responded exasperatingly, ‘ Every morning when you visit me Alice, you open all the cupboard doors and leave them open. Each time after you leave I need to close them all, otherwise I walk into them and there’s not much space in the kitchen!’

Alice looked shocked, she responded,’ I had no idea. Do I really do that each time I’m in the kitchen? Lyn nodded her head.

Alice asked for clarification,’ Do I do this every morning?’

Lyn confirmed that she did. Alice was very apologetic, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Then questioned Lyn ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier?’

Lyn seemed slightly embarrassed, quietly saying, ‘It’s ok Alice, I like you coming in.‘ To which Alice responded, ‘But it’s not ok and I had no idea that I did that.’

Alice apologised and admitted, she was not aware that as well as greeting everyone each day, her morning ritual included opening the cupboards every day in the kitchen, which impacted on Lyn’s experience in the kitchen.

From that day, Alice remembered to close the cupboards in the kitchen and Lyn and Alice remained on positive terms for the remainder of their time working together. There may have been other challenges that arose, but these were talked through and resolved.

I heard Alice share this story to many other people she worked with, using this experience as an example of how we often don’t always realise our own behaviours and their impact. Also highlighting the importance of speaking up in a workplace to support a positive team culture.

I learnt a lot from watching Alice’s interactions with the team and the positive relationships she had with each team member. To this day it has supported my understanding of the importance of building positive relationships in a workplace to support positive outcomes for educators, families and the children. Relationships are built over time through regular opportunities for connection and the building of trust.

If “location, location, location” describes what is most important in real estate, then the mantra “relationships, relationships, relationships” can be applied to early childhood classrooms. Relationships are key to early learning. Kate Reed, 2014.

Positive relationships between team members in early childhood supports quality outcomes for children and families. At present, I am currently exploring the importance of Psychological safety for early childhood settings. I was introduced to the term Psychological safety through Amy Edmondson’s Ted Talk ” ‘Building a psychologically safe workplace.’ Amy describes psychological safety in a workplace being demonstrated when individuals having the courage to have a voice and speak up with concerns or questions and to admit to mistakes. It is not always easy and takes time, requiring the formation of trusting relationships amongst team members.

I look forward to sharing my wonderings and reflections on this in future blog posts.

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