Q&A with Jen Johnson as told to Eileen Galvin
Jen Johnson is the Director of Willow & Sprout in Saint Anthony Minnesota. Last spring they hosted a Saturday Gathering at their center. During that Gathering, Jen talked about the importance of self-care which resonated with those attending. We followed up with her about the importance of self-care in a teaching practice that requires observation and reflection. We separated the conversation into three posts. This is the first of three.
How do you define self-care for yourself and your teachers?
For me, it is about being mindful and intentional to nurture and love one’s whole self - your mind, your body and your spirit. We, the staff, sit down and create personal goals for each of those areas and it is the same thing that we do with the children. We have leading questions – how do you love yourself? How do you notice yourself – your whole self, your mind, spirit and physical body? And then, how do you nurture yourself? How do you love yourself? We separate those because nurturing can be different than loving. I tried to make it as simple as possible. This could be a new topic for some of us and I didn’t want to make it too complicated.
One of the things I think about is how do you rest? How do you replenish? How do you find those quiet spaces in your day so you can replenish and get a break from daily rhythms?
How do the goals work? Weekly? Yearly?
We have yearly goals and then every month I do a check-in and then if they need something different in between we can talk about it and change it. Up until now the check-ins have been via email because that was what we all wanted. This year we are going to go deeper into the work with a physical check in vs email only. We need to figure out if email needs to be bi-weekly. With email it is easy to let the work go; with a physical check in there is a different level of accountability. It is vulnerable work.
Why is it important for a practice that requires teachers to be present and reflective, to have self-care as a priority?
When I looked at the profession I really saw high turnover. At my first teaching job there was turnover after turnover after turnover. We know from research and best practice that young children need consistency. There are many factors that go into consistency, but one of the things I noticed across the profession was that the teachers are really not looked at as professionals.
They need to be treated with respect as professionals and as a whole person... with hobbies, interests and families outside of work as well.
We have a huge disparity in how the teachers are valued and seen, not only in their organization, but as a culture. We have some work to do, we need to consider all of the parts that create a caring environment in our early childhood communities. It has to be about holistic living. It has to be about connection. It has to be about the four parts - children, environment, parents and teachers. We need to consider all of those entities. Also, in order to be present and reflective you have to be able to do that for yourself. If you don’t take that time, there is often a huge disparity between what you say you want and desire and what you can actually do. I do like the airplane analogy. Put on your oxygen mask first; then you are stable and you can go and nurture others. Then that becomes the ripple effect and they become as regulated as they can be.
In the next blog post, Jen will give examples of strategies for self-care the teaching team at Willow & Sprout sees as essential.