Sally talks Self-Leadership with Emma Barrie

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Emma Barrie
Early Childhood Edcuation Center Director

Emma believes that the first 5-7 years of a young child’s life is a crucial part of their personal growth and development, on a wholistic scale. Their early years education coupled with care should be the foundation that sets them up for life.

Showering young children with healthy love and affection helps them; feel safe, secure, and supported in both their learning and home environments. Empowering their unique personality to shine brightly, and to help them feel confident in their learning journey.

(ECEC) Early Childhood Education & Care encompasses learning through play. Allowing children to explore through a variety of natural elements and materials. All the while offering them opportunities to; explore, discover, investigate, research and problem solve both individually and as a team. They learn how to acquire these vital life skills through positive role modelling and inclusive communication with their Educators.

The children then in turn learn how to build rapport and show respect amongst their peers. They discover the art of listening and feel confident in sharing their own ideas and emotions; without judgement or the fear of failing. There’s no such thing as failing, she likes to see it through a different lense, FAIL-ing meaning `First Attempt in Learning’.

Being an Early Childhood Educator means Emma is gifted with the love of teaching. She has compassion in abundance and allows her own inner child to come alive and have fun with the children. Young children make friends simply through the love they have for one another. They learn to share and take turns, become cooperative in a team settings. As the children grow older and develop their skills they begin to understand the importance of accountability for their actions, and self-regulate their emotions more frequently.

An educator’s role is to provide the children with a safe and loving environment where they want to learn. In collaboration with families, together with strong values and beliefs (cultural or not) children learn to absorb and adapt to life around them.

Her role as a Leader and Mentor, is to ensure that her team of educators are confident in their job descriptions and can provide these young children with every learning opportunity to maximise their full potential whilst in our duty of care. These children are our future, so the investment in their early education is well worth it. Emma takes this opportunity seriously and feels fortunate to have done her part in helping shape the next generation of young adults.

#leadership #courage #confidence #influence #selfleadership #earlychildhoodeducationandcare #ecec #earlychildhoodeducation #educationalleadership #futureleaders #australia

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Interview Transcript

– Hi, Sally Foley-Lewis here with another video episode of Spark Self-Leadership and I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Emma Barrie, who is a director of an early childhood education centre and welcome to Spark, Emma.

– Hi, Sally. Thank you for having me on board, looking forward to it.

– Absolutely tickled pink to have a go under the bonnet and exploration of self-leadership from your perspective and particularly in the early childhood education sector.

– Yep, cool. So, what sparks my leadership? I have been in the early years learning sector for the last 15 years now, I started off as a casual in a community based service, I was there for a good eight years, up until I had my first child, throughout that time, I worked in many different jobs throughout. So, I started casually, worked into a team assistant, then team leader and so forth, and I moved into a management position and then I went on maternity leave, and I guess in that time I grew and developed in myself learning different skills, knowledge, made friends with different people from different cultural backgrounds, and it just, it gave me a lot of insight as to how others think and what they see, and what they can bring to the table. So, in that I am also the eldest of five children, I’ve always had a, what am I trying to say? Like that leadership role of responsibility for my family and my siblings. So, I guess that was, I felt I had that responsibility to teach them, help them learn and engage in different aspects of life, and you know, really help them empower to who they can really be, like as a person, really value their skills and knowledge, and you know, give them that push and that drive. Coming back from maternity leave, you know the whole motherhood journey itself is very challenging, it has it’s moments, but it’s also very empowering and loving, and nurturing and that’s what I wanted to bring to the table as well for others around me. So, from there I then jumped back into a senior management role and I became a senior director, that was a service which catered for about 60 children at the time, and it had a lot of again, different culturally diverse educators working with me and that was working for a private company. So, I went from something that was completely community sector, you know fundraising, all about putting back in for the children to a private sector which was all about sort of making money and those sorts of things.

– Interesting, it’d be an interesting.

– It was very interesting, yeah.

– Comparison.

– So, from there I then moved, yeah to another service closer to home, so I’m now working in a 78 place service, so a little bit more, so I was looking for that next step of you know, I achieved occupancy levels, built those relationships and that rapport with the children and stuff, and the families. Yeah and I wanted that bit more of a drive, so I moved across to a bigger service and this one was a new centre, about one year old and it had a lot of challenges which is what I was looking for, to push myself in my own career goals that I had set. So, I started at this centre and it was about 40% inoccupancy, we’re now sitting at just under 100%, so about 96% occupancy, in that time I’ve seen a lot of educators come through the system, however, I’ve tried my best to empower them, inspire them to you know, really be who they can be, the best version of themselves. So, you know, to tap into their personal skillsets to clearly communicate with one another, you know really use each other and to really push those educational and care programmes for the children, and to really create that warm and welcoming environment for them to learn in that they can really call a place, a home, a place from home if that makes sense. So, that’s what my leadership is.

– Yeah, that sounds lovely, yeah.

– Yeah, so I’ve been there just over three years now and in that time, you know we’ve really worked hard on building that community rapport, and you know I personally for me, leadership is making sure that you are well over the team, you know what’s expected of you, you know what your job role is, you’re there to assist others, you’re there to listen to them, you’re there to, you know help them with their dilemmas, you know empowering them to seek new and inspirational ideas to network with others, and you know obviously to understand what the earliest framework is all about and what the sector’s all about basically. So, you know, we’re educating and caring for people’s, you know most prized possessions, their children, and without them we wouldn’t have jobs.

– Absolutely.

– Yeah, so that’s what leadership is to me. So, and it’s just you know helping change that future expectations of you know, you can do this, you’ve got this, like you can’t, you can’t hold yourself back, you really need to push yourself forward and you know engage in all those, what’s the word I’m trying to say, daily challenges that you face, so to speak, so yeah.

– So, lean into them and have a go and embrace it.

– Yeah, and there’s no such thing as failure, I personally don’t believe in failure, I look at it as your first attempt in learning, so that’s how I see fails.

– I like that, yeah. First attempt in learning, nice.

– Yep, is what I tell my team I’m like, “You’re not failing, it’s your first attempt in learning.” If you don’t get it the first time, you just keep, keep trying until you get it.

– And take the learning from that, I think that’s the one thing, we can sit there and lick our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves, or we could just get through that bit, little bit quicker, I mean some people need to feel the pain a bit, but take the learning, what is the learning and how do I make that the most?

– Frequently reflect on what you got from it and how you can make it better the next time around, so yeah, definitely.

– Definitely. So, taking that into another step then, looking at your own leadership and looking at who you are and how you show up in the world, how would you define self-leadership?

– Hmm, that’s a good question. So, self-leadership for me would be, continuing to grow as a person, to really tap into your own skillsets, your own beliefs, your own values and how you can make, or how you can create change in the world moving forward. So, for me, I wanna leave a legacy behind that, “Hey, I had a really good manager, you know she helped me through X, Y and Z.” Whereas I don’t wanna be known as that, “Ugh, I had that manager and she was terrible, do you remember those times?” Like, I don’t want that. I really want to empower the new educators coming through the system, ensure that they know what’s expected of them and that you know, early childhood for me, it’s not a baby sitting role, as unfortunately many people still think of us. You know, we’re actually educating and caring for young children and you know, the first five to seven years of life are the most important time for children to understand, learn, develop, grow memories, all that sort of stuff, you know to set them up for their future when they once hit school, because that’s all about you know resilience and self confidence, and you know being able to retain that information and learn as they, as they grow and develop into young adults. So, yeah.

– Yeah, definitely. And I think you’re right about that legacy piece, we hear it quite often that people don’t leave organisations, they leave bad bosses, and so it’s about how do we, you know how do we lead a team and that starts with how do we lead ourselves? So, I love it, and I love that you’ve got a legacy and you’re so clear about what you want that to be.

– Yeah, thanks. It’s taken a while to get there, but I’m there.

– Yeah, well you know it’s a work in progress isn’t it? And that’s our life and that’s our leadership journey I think too. So, I wanna look at things like, or I’ll get your perspective on, from a leader we often have to have confidence and influence, and courage at times, you know? So, what’s the impact of self-leadership on elements of, or components like courage, confidence and influence, where do you see the impact of, of self-leadership there?

– From my point of view personally, confidence, self-confidence for me was always an issue as a child, I grew into my confidence and being able to voice how I felt at the time, or what I was feeling, or standing up for what was right, even if I had to stand alone. So, I guess for me, self-leadership, I’ve done like coaching courses, I’ve done a lot of research personally, attended a lot of training sessions to have that knowledge and understanding that I can therefore go back and share with my team, I don’t feel it’s always about having the right answers or if one of my staff come to me and go, “Hey Em, I’m really struggling with this, what do you think?” If I don’t know the answer, I will be upfront and honest with them and say, “You know what? I actually don’t know but I will come back to you.” And I think that’s important, is the follow up as well to go, “Hey, remember how you asked me that question, I’ve actually got the answer to it now.” So, I think for me self-leadership is you know, believing in yourself and really having that, “I can do this, I do have this.” And you know, ensuring that your own health and wellbeing is you know, at your most forefront as well. If you don’t look after yourself as a leader, you can’t look after your team, like it sort of falls apart, so that was for me, I definitely learnt that last year working throughout COVID in Victoria lockdown sessions. So, that was definitely hard, trying to balance that work life, you know, situation, challenges but yeah, it’s all about yeah, maintaining your confidence to go, “You know what? Why am I doing this every day?” And you know, reflecting back going, “This is why, this is what I love, this is what I love doing, this is what I wanna create, this is what I want to leave behind for my children as well.” And not only my own children, but the future of all the other families around me. So, our future generation, if we don’t ensure that, and instil that in them now from an early age, I won’t lie, I’m a bit scared of where our future’s going to go.

– Well, look I don’t have children but you’re looking after my future decision makers, so and I know you’re doing a good job. So, what I’m hearing, what I’m hearing is that your legacy and being connected into your why, is what then drives you to have the confidence and the courage to do what you do, and maybe make some courageous decisions and maybe step in and be as influential as you possibly can as the leader in that centre. Does that link make sense, am I getting that right?

– Yep, that’s exactly right and it’s actually very similar to our programming styles as well, so you know obviously, observing what’s going on around you, taking an interest, planning and then actually implementing it as well. So, yeah very similar concept.

– Yeah, we’re on the same page.

– And fools seldom differ, isn’t that how that goes? Yeah, I love it. Look, and you spoke about COVID before, I mean how did you, how did you maintain your own, you know the fire in your belly and how did you reignite your spark after COVID hit, and what got you through?

– COVID in Victoria was, I think we ended up with like three really long lockdowns and it wasn’t easy, our premier was making changes and decisions you know, snapping fingers and it was quite challenging at times, I had a lot of, not orate parents, but like very upset parents who obviously were struggling with their own mental health at the time because you know, they’re used to being at work, their children attending care, their whole world was basically you know, turned upside down. So, as an essential worker during that time, it was quite difficult because we didn’t know where we were standing at one point, like are we going to shut down? Are we going to open? You know, who can we let in? Who can’t we let in? Like those sorts of things, so there was constant questions thrown at me all the time from my team, from families, the wider community. And I think during that time, I really just had to take a moment and step back, and just breath and then just go, “You know what? I’ve got this and I’m in this position for a reason you know, I am capable, I know what’s expected of me, I’ve got a supporting upper management system as well that I can touch base with if I was unsure.” And I guess, during that time I would come home and I would just look at my family and go, “You know what? This is why I’m doing it, you know my two kids, my husband, my two fur babies, this is why, this is why I’m doing it.” So, as tough as it was balancing homeschooling and working, you know, having a good community support network around me as well with extended family and friends, was honestly probably what got me through, so my team were great, they were very understanding, thankfully we didn’t have to let anyone go, we just dropped shifts back I think that they could see the amount of pressure that was happening around us as well and my team thankfully, if I didn’t have the crew that I had at that time, I probably would’ve fallen into a hole but because they were so great and they were just, “You know what, Em? I live at home with my parents, I’ll cut my hours back because, X,Y and Z have a mortgage and they need the money most.” So, like they were very understanding in that sort of sense and I think between them and my family, that’s what pushed me through. I also did a couple of personal coaching sessions and just yeah some online training, reading, you know exercise at home, those sorts of things for my own mental health just to all balance it out and that’s honestly what got me through, working through COVID last year. So, yeah.

– Yeah, fantastic. And that sounds like you’ve got an underlying level of discipline to make sure that you did that, because you know people were relying on you even though people were giving you permission to stand them down or just put them on a bit of hold with their days or hours. I can sense in you that there was you know, I’ve got a lot of courage, I’ve got a lot on my shoulders here.

– Yeah, it wasn’t an easy task, it was probably, in all the years I’ve worked in early childhood and socially directing as well, it was probably my toughest year by far. Something I never wanna ever live through again, but I definitely got through it and you know, at the end of the year when we were allowed to celebrate, I went out and spoiled my team as well, yeah and my family, like we went away for a couple of days and we just celebrated us and our achievements that we had done that year. So, celebrated homeschooling, my daughter you know celebrated the fact that she got through her kinder year with a strawberry milkshake and you know the girls went out for a, sorry I should say the girls and guy, went out and had a couple of drinks at our Christmas party and just celebrated what a tough year it was but, between all of our strengths and our knowledge, and our skillsets, we were able just to pull it off. And then we actually came out of COVID, yeah about 90% full and like our community spirit as well at our centre was just fantastic.

– Do you think that, that’s actually made you as the team stronger?

– Yes, definitely.

– Not that you wanna wish COVID just for the sake of improving a team, but sometimes it’s the adversity of something that you all get through, does make you stronger and yeah well that’s good that it has made you stronger. So, what would be a lesson around, you know your own leadership of yourself or your own leadership that you can take away from that experience?

– I guess for me, I really had to set personal boundaries in my self-leaderships, so before that I was a bit of a, “Yes, I can do this, yes I can do this, yes I could do this.” And I was just taking on way too much than I could cope with mentally at the time. So, I guess taking a lesson out from that, yeah with definitely setting personal boundaries and work boundaries, setting clear expectations for everybody and you know, empowering others that you know, you can do this, you’ve got this, you know, we can do this together, like building on that community spirit was yeah definitely what I took away from last year, so yeah.

– Yeah, great lessons, boundaries especially and expectations, I love that. Thank you. So, looking at your team now, how do you help them to fire up their own self-leadership?

– Yep, so when they come to me with questions before I was one to, I’m a very caring and helpful person, so I wanna help the world all at once. However, I have now taken from that last year in, you know, kind of throwing the question back at them and going, “Well, what do you think we could do about it? How do you think we could better that?” Without me giving them the answer, so that gives them that like, that critical reflection of going, “Oh, well I don’t know like,” and then I’ll go, “Well, how about you take five minutes, go and think about it, come back to me.” And they actually have been going, “Hey, we’ve actually noticed, this is happening out in the yard and we’ve come up with this solution between the team to fix it, or you know to engage this in the programmes, what do you think?” So, it’s getting them to change their own personal mindset and to, rather than think all the negative and focus on the negative of what’s happening is to actually focus on the positive of what we’ve got and how we can actually move forwards. So, just from that you know, I constantly encourage them to seek professional development training as well, you know I’ve got a, from our last team meeting we’ve put up a board now of topics that if they don’t wanna necessarily voice it out loud, if that’s not who they are, but they still wanna discuss it, we’ve got a white board in our staff room that they can throw questions up and everyone can answer and give them ideas to really pull together to make more of a collaborative approach and just getting them to really respect each other as well which is you know, I’ve said to them, and everywhere I’ve worked I’m like, “You don’t have to like everyone you’re working with, but you do need to be respectful.” And just really getting them to pull in and hone in on each others skillsets and cultural differences and what they can bring to the table basically. So, yeah.

– Yeah, I love that. And I totally agree with you, that as much as we would like, please love me everyone, that’s just not realistic, no it’s not realistic but I get it you know, we do have to respect the person and the fact that they’re there to perform a role and if we get in the way of that, then we’re actually getting in the way of the children and that’s who you’re there to serve. I totally relate to that, and I love that whiteboard idea around encouraging that kind of like collaborative thinking and idea generation and solution finding, so I think that’s brilliant, yeah. Thank you. So, before we wrap up, we’re just about at time, I just wanna ask you one, one last question, you know what’s the one thing you wish you knew about self-leadership before you stepped into your first leadership role?

– That’s a good question. I guess from an early age, you know, knowing that it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers but to be encouraged to always try your best you know really like just saying, “It’s okay, no matter what you do, you just always try your best, you’ve got this.” You know, kids can be cruel, especially in school, you know that whole bullying thing and as a child, I unfortunately, I fell into that category and I think that’s partly what’s helped me be the person I am today as well, to really just step up and go, “You know what? No, it’s not okay and I have got this and I am confident.” And really you know empower that from a young age, for that mental and health wellbeing of ones self as well. So, I guess for leadership in others I always want them to try their best, that’s all it is, and you know just to build on their own self-confidence really. So, and the rest just comes, like if you want to try and you taking and have that positive atmosphere around you all the time, then it just follows you, good things follow you no matter what. So, yeah just to always try your best and yeah that’s all you really can do.

– Nice, I love that. Yeah and I’m sorry that you had a bullying experience.

– Aw, no that’s okay, that’s all right.

– I kinda wanna say, I don’t want this to sound flippant at all.

– Yeah.

– It seems like, by the way you were saying it, you use that not great experience to actually benefit you and so not that I’d ever wish that again, I’m not wishing a bad thing on you or like not wishing COVID back on us, but you’ve been smart enough to not waste that experience.

– Correct, yep. Use those opportunities, yeah to really, and I think that’s what I’ve done is really taken those really challenging moments and gone, “You know what? No, I don’t want this.” And that’s what’s been my drive to really push forward and create that change for the future. So, yeah.

– Yeah, thank you. Wise words. Thank you so much. Do you have any last words before we close out?

– No, just thank you so much for having me on board and yeah I look forward to reading the book in all the video sessions.

– Thank you, thanks Emma and that’s been another episode of the Spark video series. Thank you very much for watching. Keep your eye out, there will be more videos to come. I’m Sally Foley-Lewis and bye for now.