The basic things become more critical when we are facing changes and challenging situations. As part of the TinyApp interview series, we interviewed Marja Kaijala from Sisu Akatemia, who has worked in the world of early childhood education for more than 30 years. Marja currently works as a coach in the early childhood education sector and as a kindergarten owner. In the past, she has worked as a director in a private daycare center. We got to talk specifically about leadership in the field of early childhood education in the midst of change.
New normal and emergency mode. What is important to remember in everyday life in the early childhood education field?
Marja thinks that the most important things are the same things that are always the most important, and the exceptional situation itself does not change this. Marja emphasizes caring for safety, covering both physical and mental care, ie, in practice, how a child is treated at every moment. Marja thinks that maintaining contact is crucial, ie how people stay connected, both among adults and with children. People need to be able to know what is going on. The third particularly important thing Marja points out is that as an educator, it is essential to keep in mind that a child learns all the time. In terms of content, learning may differ from previous plans. Still, the child is currently learning enormously, for example, about how adults behave and how they treat each other in this exceptional situation.
Important things. How should a leader handle this situation?
Marja points out that in the daily life of early childhood education, even without a pandemic, there are sometimes feelings of chaos and changing moments that can bring uncertainty. The crucial question, then, is how to balance the need for change and permanence. Marja emphasizes that it is essential for the leader to try to identify the most critical things, ie, those that at least need to be realized. On the other hand, at the same time, what can be left for the later. These should be clarified first for oneself and then for others.
As another matter, Marja emphasizes the importance of securing the flow of information. It is familiar to a leader that "when knowledge runs out, interpretations begin" and "feeling fills gaps in knowledge." A person needs to know the things that are relevant to the moment so that they have the opportunity to anticipate, react, and act properly.
Marja also considers the supervisor's conscious activity, which is coming to the calming of the situation. Marja encourages that the leader not only reacts to what is happening around him or her, but also takes two steps back if necessary and also focuses on calming people in the middle of an emotional mess.
The three-point list seems good for each of us, regardless of the situation. What can you concretely do for these as a leader or team member?
According to Marja, the leader should use all the existing tools with which he or she can promote, enhance, and improve the flow of information and cooperation. It can mean, among other things, concrete digital tools. Marja also points out that as a leader, it is worth utilizing some "tools of the mind" with which you can develop yourself and which give you the courage to talk about things that require courage, for example.
For the team members, Marja emphasizes the importance of cooperation and quotes Florence Nightingale, who has said: "Our success depends on how successfully we cooperate." The individual, therefore, has a responsibility to understand their contribution to the success of the whole. According to Marja, this applies to the hockey team as well as in the team in a kindergarten environment. The preconditions for good cooperation go back to the already mentioned interaction and the smooth flow of information.
Something to think about for each of us. What three things would you recommend early childhood education leaders invest their time now?
In the first place, Marja raises the issue of securing the flow of information, which has already been discussed. The sharing of the common understanding of what is happening and how to act is critical.
Secondly, Marja emphasizes that it is an essential focus on people - to hear and listen and pay attention to how people talk and what they are talking about. It is important always but especially now in an emergency.
Marja also encourages trust, and she thinks that this can never be overemphasized. Marja encourages to trust in people's ability and willingness to act properly, both during an epidemic and at various stages of normalizing the situation towards the post-corona period.
Trust is needed. Fortunately, we have highly skilled professionals in kindergartens, whose expertise we can now rely on in the midst of change as well as when children return to kindergartens.
Listen to Marja Kaijala's entire interview (in Finnish) here to learn more about change management and reaching intellectual diligence.