2020 was a year that took everyone by surprise. It was a year of challenges, hardships and growth in unexpected ways. We are so proud of how our educators, families and children handled the unexpected changes 2020 dealt us. A lot of the challenges from 2020 have followed us into 2021. However, we are better prepared to handle those both as a company and as a community.
2020 reinforced the importance of having documented policies, procedures and protocols and referring to them at all times. Strong, clear, well-informed structures enabled us to steer through misinformation and uncertainty. This helped us reach an agreed interpretation of the varying messages from government, media, social media, and personal viewpoints.
Uncertainty exposed gaps in practice and enabled us to focus on our taken-for-granted systems, putting our Management to the test. Communication channels had to be maintained. The structures of routines, agreements, and plans and a shared language helped us maintain ‘The SOEL Way’.
Our SOEL Way Programme depends on hearing the voices of the children. In a time of uncertainty, we had to hear beyond our concerns. We had to look beyond our desire to shelter the children from the challenges of life. It wasn’t easy!
As a sector, we were undervalued. Schools closed and we did not. Cleaning was paramount. Caring was the order of each day.
As an advocate for the education of this age group, we sought to lead the way.
“I also think that during COVID we saw a really great sense of community start to be built throughout the whole centre. I know DaVinci, Michelangelo and all the Kindy rooms collaborated a lot more during that time. It’s really nice to see that those friendships are still happening.”– Ali, Studio Co-Ordinator at West Leederville SOEL
Our partnership with families became a necessity – organisationally as well as personally. We introduced SOEL@Home to offer care for children in the family home. Educators and children attending our services created ways to communicate with those at home.
They “spoke” through signage at the centre’s front, emails, Zoom, postcards and letters. Educators shared centre experiences through Story Park that families could do with their children at home.
They created home-based activities using available and straightforward resources that families could easily do. Furthermore, families responded, lifting our sense of community as they supported educators and other families.
“We’ve gone to the cafe down the road, which was a place that we stopped at pretty often. We gave them our drawings during the COVID time, we drew pictures just to send them some love and happiness.”– Vani, Teacher in the Kanimbla Room at Subiaco SOEL
Resilience of the children and educators
The children were so resilient! They adapted to being dropped off at the door, joining children in another room, changes in mealtime and sleeping routines. They adjusted to having different educators and seeing other children.
The children were also unable to visit their friends in Aged Care facilities and the local community. Consequently, they needed to build new relationships while maintaining existing friendships.
The children wanted to know more about the Coronavirus and to understand what it was and what was happening. Educators responded by answering questions and looking at ways to keep ourselves healthy. Part of this was through Soap for Mother’s Day and handwashing posters that they could share at home.
Additionally, telling stories about the virus and reflections on how Mother Nature was healing because of the quiet. These were some of the conversations and investigations in which the children and educators engaged.
“Suddenly it felt like all around the world was quiet nature was alive. That in itself provided inspiration for the children to listen to the sounds intensely of the birds chirping in the background… and just really connecting with nature using their senses.”– Priya, Lead Educator in the Wolgol Room at North Perth SOEL
Educators supported one another. They created groups on social media to provide information and keep communication flowing. Some educators had to leave, and they were missed. However, by keeping in touch with them, they could be easily welcomed back.
Educators were working for three days allowing time to refresh. Mental wellbeing, which was a SOEL priority for 2020, become a stronger focus for all of us.
SOEL’s investment in a Pedagogy and Training Team helped Managers maintain an educational lens. They provided a stable perspective and continuity of practice within and across the centres. Also, they supported educators as they learned to be ‘agile’ despite their desires for security and surety.
Now that we are in 2021 and revisiting many of these same issues, we are ‘looking back to look forward’. We know we did more than survive 2020. We learned, as educators, new ways of helping ‘children break new ground’.