“Hinengaro: The female who is known and also hidden - the mind.” - Dr Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere.
There is a theory that the poor treatment of women by society correlates with the instability of the society to which they belong. Security for women leads to stability for society. There's another theory which states that the way humans have treated Papatūānuku, our Earth Mother, reflects the way that wāhine have been treated. Wāhine make up the majority of those who work in care-based roles, with the wellbeing of tamariki being inextricably tied to the wellbeing of the significant wāhine in their lives. So what do we do to ensure the wellbeing of our kaiako wāhine? At TLC there is an innate understanding of the interconnectedness of the people who make up the TLC whānau. The vision and approach of ‘educaring’ applies not only to the children, but also to the teaching staff who are employed to implement it.
In order to provide optimal care and education for tamariki we need to consider our own holistic wellbeing. Becoming well versed in the educaring approach at TLC forced me (in the most positive way) to become more self-aware. “What we teach is ourselves” was the concept that made an immediate and jarring impression on me. It taunted me as I tried to go about my daily business. I visualised the tamariki in my care as mini-me toddlers, shuffling about the Kākano room with poor posture and grimacing, rosacea-tinged faces. It turned out that role-modelling would entail a lot more than working on my posture, and that a bit more introspection would be required. Earlier in my career I believed that the best teaching I would do would involve choosing resources, setting up activities, singing songs, and teaching numbers, colours and letters. What I didn’t quite grasp was the impression I would leave from all the moments in-between and all the unspoken moments - that by just being I was influencing. The act of caring, my facial expressions, reactions and responses, the way I moved and the tone of my voice; these moments and aspects were where meaningful teaching occurred.
"Our words matter far less to our children than what we actually think and feel. Our children are the most sensitive, receptive and perceptive audience we will ever encounter, and for them, our feelings and attitudes are transparent and contagious.” Janet Lansbury
Initially, a teacher learning the educaring approach at TLC is not necessarily taught anything in the traditional sense. This is in keeping with the approach itself, as Magda Gerber tells us that self-learned lessons stick with us the longest.
“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.” Magda Gerber.
When I first started working at TLC, I wondered why I wasn’t being told explicitly what I needed to do. Apparently my authentic self was the best starting point, but what if, despite already a decade of working in early childhood education, that ‘authentic self’ was someone so subconsciously afraid of doing anything wrong that they needed to be shown what to do; stuck in a perpetual state of ‘fake it til you make it’?
“When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover, manifest, and inspire the best in themselves and in others.” - Magda Gerber (sub in the word ‘teachers’ for the word ‘children’ and you’ll get my gist.)
New to feeding an infant in my lap RIE style, I was told in a gentle, matter of fact way that I looked uncomfortable. Was I? As it turned out, I was. I wasn’t attuned to myself in the slightest. And it is important that we tune into to our thoughts and feelings because of the young bodies and minds of our tamariki who involuntarily receive our subliminal messages – our discomfort becomes the infants discomfort. Although looking inwards can be challenging and even devastating, because some of us have brains wired to feel wrong for our ‘negative’ emotions, or for our instinctual responses and urges, it can also be rewarding.
Just as we do for tamariki, teachers are entrusted with experiencing and making sense of happenings in their own unique way. Strengths are highlighted; strategies and techniques for developing ‘deficits’ are role-modelled. Challenging thoughts and emotions aren’t suppressed, but acknowledged and worked through. Just as we don’t always tell children how to do things but simply do things ourselves and trust that they will notice, teachers are trusted to notice, respond and find their own way. This process allows us to role-model self-respect, resilience, and rangatiratanga - dispositions that will serve our tamariki in their learning experiences throughout life.
In the course of my exposure to the educaring approach, my attention was drawn to my own physical, mental and emotional comfort and discomfort in the most subtle ways. As my mentors and colleagues got to know me, they learned when to step in to support me and when to step away and “hand the competency back over to me,” as Elena often says. That small, seemingly insignificant moment of considering my own wellbeing when seated in an armchair assisting an infant with their kai triggered a journey of self-discovery, culminating in a recent liberating and validating diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Empowered, valued and self-aware, I had been afforded a sense of security and belonging, not only within my place of employ, but as a human in the world. The educarer had become the educaree – or maybe the other way around. As I’ve learned, the educaring model resists describing learning in absolute terms – it’s a complex, interwoven structure that stretches on perpetually, for as long as we continue to respect and place trust in each other and ourselves.
“Having respect for the world is when you allow people to be what they are.” Magda Gerber.
Gemma is an educator at The Learning Centre (TLC) in Ponsonby, Auckland. She completed RIE® Foundations™ in 2020 with Polly Elam, Elena Marouchos and Ania Wojcikowski.