A journey towards becoming a
heart-centred teacher and parent:
There are many things that impact on how we guide our children. Our history, family upbringing, community, society, education, and life experiences. These all piece together our stories, shape who we are, what we value most, and create our individual perspectives.
When I first begun training to be an Early Childhood Educator there was a lot of debate surrounding what we refer to ourselves as. Are we teachers, or are we educators?
Neither have ever felt right to me and I’m still not sure if either of these words clearly define our role. In my eyes we’re not teachers and we’re not educators.
Teacher - ‘A person who teaches, imparts information or instructs’.
Educator - ‘A person who provides instruction or education. A skilled or professional teacher’.
Over the years the concept of what we are and what we do has continued to arise. Are we teachers or educators, or are we better described as something else?
When I envision a teacher I don’t imagine an instructor, or a provider of facts and information. I see a guide, a nurturer, an assistant, an observer, a parent, life coach, facilitator, counsellor, mediator and mentor. Maybe we are more like gardeners. We provide the right environment for our little flowers to strengthen their roots, thrive and grow. Or maybe we are magicians. We allow for infinite possibilities, create wondrous opportunities and share in the magical moments of childhood.
Maybe it’s not about finding a word that fits us, but redefining what a teacher/educator is through giving it new meaning. I feel the word teacher encompasses both an educator and a parent. After all parents are the child’s first and most influential teachers.
The understanding that I have come to is that a teacher is someone that ‘holds space’ for children as they direct their own learning and create their own stories. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk alongside them, sharing their journey to an unknown destination and you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. When we hold space for someone we let go of judgement and control, we open our hearts, and offer our unconditional support.
As a teacher it can be a profound realisation, that the most important and beneficial thing we can do for children is not teach, but allow them to navigate their own learning without impacting on the outcome.
“Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.” - Jean Piaget.
Our role then, as teachers, is to assist children in obtaining the skills needed to conduct their own research. To test their own ideas and come to their own conclusions through providing space, time, tools, and materials which are needed to reach their own understandings.
After all, there is no single truth or defined way of doing things. There is no right and wrong. Life is not black and white, it is not even a million shades of grey. It is an array of colours with a rainbow of infinite possibilities.
Back when I was studying I knew in my heart, the sort of teacher I wanted to be, but I had no idea how to get there.
I remember the first time I listened to someone describing the learning approach used within the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. It resonated so deeply, I got chills and knew instantly that that was the direction I was headed, that was who I aspired to be.
The task of the Reggio Emilia inspired adult is to create a learning partnership where the teacher and child journey together. Sparking questions, posing theories and searching for the answers. It is a process, a path of discovery through which the child builds curiosity and learns how to learn. The role of the adult is to be conscious, to observe, and to listen.
As a Reggio Emilia inspired teacher we do not offer answers but instead pose questions and suggest multiple possibilities. We support the development of ideas that transform into projects and investigations and keep the children moving forward through motivation and by channeling their energy and enthusiasm.
“Children are searching for the meaning of life. We believe in their possibilities to grow. That is why we do not hurry to give them the answers. Instead we invite them to think about where the answers might lie. THE CHALLENGE IS TO LISTEN. It is not the answers that are important. It is the process by which you and the child search together.” - Carlina Rinaldi
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Reggio Emilia twice to experience first hand what this inspirational approach to Early Childhood Education is all about and it was all that I had imagined and more. I fell in love with the country, the town, the schools, the people, and their way of life which was all reflected within the infant and toddler centres and preschools themselves. The foundation of this approach lies in its unique ‘Image of the child’ whereby each child is viewed as infinitely capable.
This is very much how I intended to approach parenting as well, with the view of my children as being ‘infinitely capable’. I figured that if we provided a nurturing and respectful home environment our children would naturally thrive in all areas of life.
This is what I thought, but then when my son was born things got off to a rough start. We had issues with feeding and sleeping. Suddenly it didn’t feel so natural, it was hard, being a parent was hard. Everything I knew went straight out the window and replacing it was a lot of well meaning people telling me how things “should” be done.
I was viewed as being too sensitive, too nurturing and too respectful. Listening to my baby and following his cues was suddenly not what I should be doing. I was told I needed to feed him on a 2 hr schedule and that I had to wake him every three hours through the night. I was not allowed to let him sleep on me, or with me. I had to put him to bed on his back, before he was tired and it was considered ok if he cried for a while. During the day I was meant to give him tummy time and prop him up with pillows. If I fed him when he was hungry I was spoiling him, if I picked him up when he cried, I was allowing him to manipulate me and the reason he woke so often through the night was behavioural. Apparently he had got himself into a habit of waking often and I needed to train him to sleep for longer periods of time by not responding to him.
Life got confusing, the loving partnership built on trust and respect which I had envisioned us having was being shattered into a million pieces and everything began rapidly spiralled into chaos. Why was I being told to do things that were in complete opposition to what I had been providing other children with for all these years?
My beautiful baby boy completely lit up my life, but I felt lost in conflict. There was a heavy push and pull between my head and my heart. I felt that I should do one thing but I was being told to do another. There was enormous pressure from multiple professionals telling me what I “should” be doing. Midwives, lactation consultants, doctors, Plunket, nurses and sleep consultants. I had family, friends and even strangers telling me what I “should” be doing. How could my instincts be right when all these people were telling me I was wrong?
I was terrified and quickly sinking into a deep depression. I was doing what I felt was right for us, but while I should have been enjoying being a new parent I felt like I was being judged, and that I should be doing things differently.
As much as I tried to take the advice of others, I couldn’t. So instead I held my baby until he fell asleep and I let him sleep with us. I fed him when he showed me he was hungry no matter how long it had been. I talked to him as though he understood every word I said. I poured my heart into loving him the way that felt right, I let him do everything in his own time and we learned together. I didn’t view him as a baby but a mini ME, and because I knew myself and what I would want and need, I knew him.
But the whole time I felt guilty. I felt like there would be negative consequences later on because I wasn’t heeding the advice of others. I picked up my computer and began to write. Writing has been my go to for as long as I can remember. All the thoughts and emotions that were swimming around inside me came spilling out… and something changed, my perspective shifted.
I transformed myself from the seemingly helpless parent I had become, back into the confident teacher I had always been. I reflected, I researched, I booked second, third and fourth opinions and I made the conscious decision to take back my power and follow my heart.
“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgements of parenting (or teaching) peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” Peter Graf, Free to Learn.
The reason everything got so unbalanced was because there was a battle taking place within myself, over what I thought I should be doing
and what I felt I should be doing. I began to view the feelings and emotions that I experienced as a form of communication. ‘The language of my heart’ and from then on I wasn’t just listening to my intuition I was embracing it without a doubt in my mind.
It turns out my baby boy wasn’t trying to manipulate me (which I knew), he didn’t have behavioural issues, he wasn’t naughty and didn’t need to see a psychologist. He was a highly sensitive we soul with severe tongue tie and lip tie. He had chronic silent reflex and what he needed most was to be listened to, nurtured and loved.
It wasn’t until I began working again and met an amazing team of ladies that I was truly introduced to the RIE philosophy (Resources for Infant Educarers). What a relief that was. I had never experienced a RIE inspired infant room and thinking about the way the teachers were with my son brings a tear to my eye. His primary caregiver could not have been more compassionate or empathetic if she tried. She shared with me, something that no one else had, (apart from family of course) and that was love. She loved my son and the way she looked into his eyes and connected with him was something I thought I could have only hoped for.
The teachers had complete trust in the children and viewed them, not as babies, but as competent human beings, capable of navigating their space, involved in all aspects of the day and able to initiate their own learning.
I observed one day in awe as my 22 month old sat at a little wooden table eating with his friends, and drinking water out of his glass. He saw me watching him and quickly finished his food. Before coming to give me a cuddle he took his plate and glass over to the food trolly, scraped the left over food into a bucket, put his dishes away and grabbed a warm cloth to wipe his own face and hands. He was so proud of the ability he had to do it all himself and he thrived on being able to actively participate in all the experiences that happened throughout the day.
The teachers had this calm aura around them. Everything was slowed down, they spoke softly and were completely present during their interactions. The children had freedom and could move as they pleased without restraint and I could feel that the relationships were based on respectful partnerships.
The picture I’ve painted may seem too good to be true but it wasn’t always calm and peaceful. One day I asked one of teachers how they cope with crying babies and she explained it perfectly. She told me that ‘crying is a babies form of communication and that although it can be hard to listen to, we have to tune in to what they are trying to communicate to us. They are expressing a need or desire and it is up to us, to not only listen, but to truly hear them, acknowledge and respond. For many of us our instant reaction is to try and stop the baby crying through distraction, but it is important for us to allow them to openly express their feelings.’
In that moment I watched as a crying child approached us from outside with her arms out to be held. The teacher got down to her level and gave her a cuddle. She acknowledged what had happened and suggested she blow her nose, signalling to where the tissues were. The child went and pulled her own tissue, blew her own nose, and put the tissue in the bin. The teacher politely asked “can I help you?” and waited for the child, who was too young to speak, to respond by nodding her head.
These teachers were the reassurance I had been needing. I realised that those tugs on my heart were telling me something.
Looking back can be hard when you realise you could have done better but you can't blame yourself for the things you didn't know before you knew them. The most important thing I learned was to be reflective, mindful and above all, heart-centred.
Being heart-centred literally means paying attention and listening to you feelings. It’s the deep, core values and desires we have, that when not aligned with our soul, leave us feeling broken. It is the state of peace that we get when the decisions that we make reflect what we value most, who we are. It is the ability to stop, go inward, and reflect. It is following the whispers of your heart rather than succumbing to the external pressures of others and the uncomfortable situations we find ourselves in.
With so much information out there it can be hard to know if we are making the right decisions for our children? There are expectations put upon us, the fear of judgement from others and pressure from society. The mere thought of having to dig deep and wade through the copious amounts of teaching and parents books has many of us running on auto pilot, doing what ever everyone else is doing.
I have found for myself, that a sure way to shred light on any challenge is to just let go. Let go of what you think you should do, let go of what you are expected to do, let go of what you have always done. Stop thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong and start FEELING.
In every situation you face consider this; is the choice you make or the path you take out of love or based on fear?
Create a space within yourself, tune in, connect with your emotions and listen to the language of your heart. Which ever teaching philosophy you follow, what ever you are inspired by, what ever parenting style you choose, be heart-centred.
“What ever the question, love is the answer” - Wayne W. Dyer