Employer Newsletter – Summer 2020
A COVID-19 Q&A with Beth Deazeley, Registrar and CEO
The College’s Registrar, Beth Deazeley, shares what she’s hearing from employers and members, what we’re doing to support the profession and where to go for reliable information.
We’ve received a lot of questions about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the early learning and child care sector. To help provide some insight into a constantly changing situation, we went to Beth for answers.
Q: With so much information in the media, many people seem unclear about how child care centres are to re-open. What’s going on?
A: Some locations have been open for some time because they were providers of emergency child care for children of frontline workers. With the recent announcement that licensed child care can begin to re-open in Ontario, the Ministry of Education has released these guidelines. Local municipalities will also be preparing their own. Many emergency centres worked closely with their local public health units, so if you’re unsure of protocols you’re developing, you may also consider checking in with Public Health.
Q: What have you been hearing from child care operators? And how have you responded to these concerns?
A: When the pandemic took hold, we heard a lot of concerns from employers and child care operators about their ability to meet their financial obligations while centres were closed. There were concerns that some might not be able to re-open. We shared those concerns with government and were encouraged when a plan to support the sustainability of licensed childcare was announced.
For operators who continue to be concerned about the sustainability of their business, there are some useful resources from the Early Childhood Community Development Centre. These include webinars, toolkits, safety precautions for child care and links to various financial supports. We’ve added these resources to our COVID-19 webpage for employers, under the ‘Third-party Resources’ heading.
Following the re-opening announcement, we heard many concerns from members and employers regarding the need for appropriate time and support to prepare. The College issued a position statement on Re-Opening Child Care Right and also wrote to the Minister.
As we continue to hear concerns from both employers and members, we’re sharing them with government. Ultimately, we want to do what we can to ensure that children and families in Ontario can rely on the availability of high-quality child care when it’s safe to return to work, and that employers continue to have access to a highly qualified professional workforce.
Q: What have you been hearing about those in emergency child care?
A: Initially, there was a lot of understandable worry around health and safety measures, which we shared with government. But, we also heard some really great stories directly from RECEs who were providing emergency child care about how they rose to this new challenge, the relationships they formed and their increasing comfort levels with the new health and safety protocols in place. While emergency childcare ended on June 26th, the health and safety measures they put in place are similar to those required by the Ministry of Education for the general re-opening of childcare.
Q: There’s a lot of COVID-related information out there. Where do you go for current and reliable information?
A: I depend on government websites for information, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal. I also regularly visit the Ontario Public Health, Health Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s websites. Here are links to help you:
- Ontario government’s news page for the most up to date COVID-19 announcements
- Ontario Public Health’s COVID-19 Public Resources
- Government of Ontario’s dedicated page providing the latest on COVID-19 in the province
- Health Canada’s COVID-19 page, which includes a virtual assistant to help answer your questions
- Ontario Human Rights Commission’s COVID-19 FAQs
There are also some useful resources in Early Childhood Community Development Centre’s latest newsletter, Looking forward: webinars and resources related to reopening businesses.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: I’d like you to know that we’re hearing you. We listen to all the voicemails, we read all the emails and we track social media. Please continue to share your concerns with us. If we can help, we will, and even if we can’t respond directly, we’ll continue sharing your concerns with the Ontario Ministry of Education.
If you have questions or concerns, please reach out by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the horizon: re-opening child care operations
As the re-opening of child care, part of phase two of the Government of Ontario’s plan, becomes the new reality, the College released its Re-opening Child Care Right statement and, in this article, highlights some considerations for employers to help their staff adapt to the new precautions to be taken for safety, health and well-being, based on the experience of RECEs working in emergency childcare.
The pandemic’s impact on practice to date
As a care- and relationship-based profession, building and maintaining caring and responsive relationships with children, families and colleagues is fundamental to an RECE’s practice (Standard I: A). But things have changed in the time of COVID-19.
During this health crisis, everyone is adapting to the new environment. For centres and staff preparing for re-opening, there are valuable learnings from those who have been involved in providing emergency childcare.
“I’ve been re-deployed from my permanent location since it’s located in a school. I normally work directly with the children,” says Rachel Pollard, an RECE working in emergency child care. “However, it’s now my responsibility to screen families and staff members upon entry and to clean and disinfect the centre throughout the day.”
“Take a moment to recognize that each family, as well as you and your colleagues, will be facing a multitude of feelings and realities as a result of this pandemic,” says Melanie Dixon RECE, Director of Professional Practice at the College.
“I’m maintaining my relationships and listening to concerns from colleagues, children and their families and am attempting to answer the questions brought forward, or to redirect them to call Public Health,” says Rachel. “Regional child care centres have also had the opportunity to listen in on town hall teleconferences and public health Q&As.”
Communication and collaboration are critical
Now, more than ever, communication and collaboration efforts are key to creating a safe, healthy and welcoming environment for children and their families. We understand how challenging this may be, as some of you begin to come together for the first time since the provincial closures of licensed child care and schools. As professionals and leaders, RECEs will bring professional knowledge, skills and unique practice experiences to navigate the changing situation.
Where possible, here are a few ways to engage with staff in preparation for re-opening:
- Share knowledge through meetings to reconnect with staff and colleagues. Discuss your fears, anxieties and hopes.
- Maintain open and clear communication with your team(s). Invite them to ask questions if something is unclear, or they’re feeling uncertain.
- Share all relevant information that you can, and be honest about anything of which you may be unsure. We don’t have all of the answers. This is especially true as new information from government and health officials is regularly released.
- Work collaboratively. Encourage staff to share ideas, knowledge, past experiences and skills to help create a safe and inclusive learning environment for children.
Communication with families is also critical during these times. RECEs understand their responsibilities to build and maintain responsive and collaborative relationships with families that are based on mutual trust, openness and respect for confidentiality (Ethic B).
You’re important, too
It’s important for you to take care of yourself, and remind your staff to do the same. Living, let alone navigating work in a pandemic situation can be stressful, so it’s important to pay attention to your mental health. Here are some tips from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
- Set reasonable expectations for yourself, not ones that will lead you to feel defeated. Having reasonable expectations and being kind to yourself and others is vital.
- Remind staff to reach out for support. That support could be a colleague, supervisor, family, friend, neighbour or group like the Mental Health Commission of Canada or their local crisis centre.
- Follow reliable sources when it comes to information about COVID-19. These include government websites (provincial or federal), CDC or WHO.
- Recognize and acknowledge things that are in your control and those that are not.
- Remember that this is temporary and will pass.
“I’m lucky as I have a great support team in my personal and professional life,” says Stacey Charalambous, an RECE and acting supervisor working in an emergency centre. “At home, I rely on my husband, children and extended family. We communicate daily about our days and talk through how we’re feeling. To support my physical health, I get outdoors. The fresh air and change of environment really helps my mood.”
RECEs are working in many new and unpredictable circumstances. Knowing that they are valued reminds them of the important work they’re doing. Their role in the communities they serve is something to be proud of. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Passion for lifelong learning
In our last issue of the employer newsletter, we shared an article on Continuous Professional Learning (CPL) for RECEs and how employers can support their ongoing learning. That article can be found here.
In this issue, we caught up with Tracey Webster, an RECE who’s continuing to work on her learning plan during the pandemic.
Q: What does your practice setting usually look like, and how has it changed since COVID-19 closures?
A: I’m a Professional Learning Consultant with Affiliated Services for Children and Youth (ASCY) in Hamilton. As part of our local quality initiative we provide mentorship and consultation to centers, so three to four mornings every week, I’m out visiting a program. My afternoons are spent back at the office where I focus on the other part of my role which is the planning and delivery of professional learning.
My practice setting is now my dining room table! I’m still reaching out to programs that, while the centres are closed, have staff working. I’ve been providing virtual support to those programs. And I’ve been conducting online learning via Zoom, which is definitely a new practice setting for me.
Q: Can you share one of your current CPL goals?
A: One of my ongoing goals connects to Standard IV: Professionalism and Leadership of the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. It’s part of my practice as well as my own professional values to remain current and be knowledgeable about our guiding documents and responsibilities to the profession. My goal is to help strengthen the understanding of the Code and Standards and engagement in the CPL program.
Q: What learning activities are you doing?
A: I created a Facebook group on CPL as one of my activities. The Facebook group is an online community for members to connect with for support, not just from me, but from others in the group. The members of the Facebook group are there to support each other and are interested in engaging in a professional manner. I’ve received a lot of feedback from group members who really like the fact that it’s a positive environment. While people share their barriers and challenges, there’s no one there sharing negative attitudes about the CPL program.
Q: What resources have you found most helpful?
A: I visit the College website often and use the resources there in my practice supporting educators with professional learning and individual support to engage in the CPL program. I often direct RECEs to read the CPL resources on Reflective Practice and Self-Directed Learning, or I refer them to the #StandardsinPractice series.
I also find the CPL Activities web visual useful when members are completing their professional learning plan component. It broadens our thinking about what constitutes professional learning. It helps members connect activities they may already be doing to their learning plan, such as having professional dialogue at team meetings, following a blog or writing in a reflective journal.
Q: How are you supporting individual RECEs with their CPL?
A: In addition to the support I provide through my role at ASCY and my Facebook group, I have delivered one-on-one support to individual members via Facebook messenger chat, phone or FaceTime. Sometimes it’s just answering a few questions and other times it’s been up to an hour walking through the three components of the portfolio cycle. I try to be mindful of my own time so I’m up front at the beginning of each call with the amount of time I can spend. And, I always invite members to follow up with me again if they have other questions.
I recently invited members of the Facebook group who have been showing leadership and an interest in supporting others to join me for a Zoom chat. I currently don’t have any other moderators in my Facebook group, and these individuals stepped up in an organic way. My hope is that we can share ideas, resources and strategies, and ensure that information provided to the group is reliable and consistent.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: I recognize that many RECEs are juggling multiple priorities during a time that is already so stressful. Don’t let it overwhelm you – take care of yourself and your family. When you’re in a place to pick CPL back up again, you’ll be more prepared to do just that if you make your self-care a priority.
My final message to everyone is to be kind to yourself and others. Really focus on self-care and just do what you can do. If working on your CPL is the farthest thing from your mind, then you know where to find us when you’re ready.
Looking for more information on the CPL program, including information on the option for members to defer their requirement due to COVID-19, resources and Employer FAQs? Check out our website.
The power of virtual connection
In the Fall 2019 issue of the employer newsletter, we covered our latest Practice Note on Using Social Media. In this issue, we’ll share some guidance on staff using technology to support children and families online and empower team connection.
During this global pandemic, many RECEs have faced new challenges in adapting to professional changes. For example, RECEs working in kindergarten learned to navigate the world of online learning. Many RECEs in licensed child care and family support programs found creative ways to develop and maintain relationships with children, families and colleagues using digital media platforms.
RECEs understand that strong, positive relationships are necessary for children’s well-being and learning. Building and maintaining caring and responsive relationships with children, families and colleagues is fundamental to the practice of RECEs (Standard I). But lately, routines have been altered and many are feeling isolated. This is where technology can come into play; explore the use of various platforms to re-connect with staff as centres and schools prepare for re-opening.
Be aware of technology’s pitfalls
Standard V reminds RECEs to maintain professional boundaries with children, families and colleagues when using technology and social media. As professionals, RECEs are expected to ensure that any communications online, whether professional or personal, are consistent with the ethical and professional standards. They should also follow any related workplace policies in place for staff.
“Our practice setting has transitioned into our homes where I maintain my professional role,” Kerissa Brewster, RECE in a kindergarten class, says. “The Ministry of Education has shared tips with educators about privacy for virtual platforms, and we all use our professional email accounts, Google classroom and refrain from using social media platforms on the job, such as Facebook and Instagram.”
Tips to share with staff using technology to connect with colleagues, children and families
- Maintain your professionalism. This includes using a professional tone in all communications.
- Invite staff to ask questions. Discuss your concerns about the use of digital platforms or professional expectations.
- Encourage separate social media accounts for professional and personal use. This will help prevent blurring of professional boundaries when connecting online.
- Remind staff to refrain from sharing personal information online. While it may seem that sharing more personal things is a way to connect with others experiencing similar situations, it’s important to uphold professional standards and obligations.
- Review the College’s Practice Note on Using Social Media. The note highlights the benefits of using social media for professional activities, but primarily provides helpful reminders for its use outside of work.
If you’re encouraging staff to connect using live video platforms, consider sharing the following tips:
- Be aware of surroundings while on live video. RECEs need to carefully consider what their audience is seeing and hearing.
- Be thoughtful, considerate and professional in how you communicate while on live video. While staff may not physically be in the learning environment, they still need to demonstrate professional judgment.
- Whenever possible, create passwords for any online meetings to avoid unwanted ‘visitors.’
- If problems do arise with a live video meeting, such as unwanted visitors or messages, tell staff to shut down the online meeting immediately.
- Maintain equitable practices. If choosing to conduct live videos, encourage staff to have recordings or other options for families who are unable to attend. This supports families with alternative schedules or those without full access to technology.
The College recognizes that using technology as the sole means to engage and connect with staff, children and families is unusual in this hands-on profession. And, despite all of the challenges and learning that may accompany this ‘new’ way of connecting, we also recognize the incredible effort that employers and RECEs are making in order to stay connected.
To learn more about using social media and technology while practising remotely, explore these resources:
- Practice Note on Professional Judgment
- Ontario College of Teachers’ advisory on the use of social media
- Preventing “Zoom-bombing”
Working from afar: how child care leaders keep their teams engaged
To bring you this story, we connected in early June with supervisors from Kapuskasing in the north to Kitchener in the west. Our goal? To talk with two experienced leaders on using the Practice Note on Supervision of Supervisees, even during the pandemic. Ann Parker EPEI, Regional Director of Rayon de Soleil, an early childhood leadership centre of the Aféseo, and Kristine Parsons RECE, College Council member and Director of Operations at Owl Child Care Services share their insights and best practices with you.
Q: Can you describe your usual practice setting?
Ann: I support four supervisors with child care centre operations and programs. We work for Francophone children and families in Hearst, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Moonbeam and Timmins. Guided by my organization’s vision and values, my role as a leader is to develop a culture of innovation with the help of my colleagues.
Kristine: My role is primarily in human resources leadership where I take an employee-oriented approach to a high-performance culture that focuses on recruitment and workforce development. I also provide input and recommendations to our Executive Director on the overall management of Owl’s programs and services.
Q: In what ways has COVID-19 influenced your role, relationships and practice setting?
Ann: I try to keep the mental health impacts of COVID-19 top of mind. I’ve had to put even more emphasis on ensuring that my relationships are caring, responsive and built on trust. We have two centres providing emergency child care. My main focus has been on having frequent, open discussions with staff and providing resources to support the team’s mental health and wellness. Our role as leaders is to look for signs that a colleague may need our support, approach them and let them know that we’re available and can offer resources.
Kristine: Since March 13, we’ve been working in the virtual world as our centres are closed. I’m a collaborator and enjoy the close team relationships, so I’ve had to transition to connecting remotely. While the team knows they can call me as often as they’d like, they seem to prefer messaging through WhatsApp which is also great for group communication. Zoom is reserved for meetings. The benefit of messaging through text or WhatsApp is that I can address something immediately. I also see the Operations team supporting each other in really heartwarming ways: they often send messages of encouragement or memes to each other.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your role as supervisor?
Kristine: Honestly, in the first few days it was just trying to figure out where to start. We had many concerns to address, such as how employees were going to get paid, whether or not we’d connect with families and children during closures, and how long of a closure we should plan for. Another challenge for me is not having all the answers that everyone needed. It’s also been tough finding a balance and not responding to emails at all hours of the day, seven days a week.
Ann: A challenge for me is to ensure that I’m taking time for self-care. It’s critical, especially at this time, so that I’m capable of supporting others through change. Leaders need clear thinking and energy to listen, ask questions and bring staff around to seeing these challenges as opportunities. A general challenge for our profession is a lack of confidence. An important part of my coaching right now is to help staff focus on the positive and acknowledge that they are competent and capable of adapting to the new protocols and rethink practice.
Q: Thinking of the duties listed on page three of the Practice Note on Supervision of Supervisees, can you share how the pandemic has impacted your approach to professional supervision?
Ann: My approach has evolved, especially in my relationships. I’m working on my coaching, which involves active listening. Developing these skills takes a lot of practice, and they are critical due to the raised levels of anxiety and stress now. When a person can see that they have your attention and empathy, you help them feel heard, comforted and reduce stress.
Kristine: I lead from a place of understanding and compassion. Lately, I think I’ve been more empathetic to errors, since we’re in a time of crisis. We had some minor challenges with privacy and emails early on in the virtual process. My approach with these challenges is “let’s talk and strategize,” rather than speaking to the individual and documenting it as a performance concern. Zoom has allowed us to host regular staff meetings for more than 165 employees. Our meeting went incredibly well, and we saw some great participation through the chat box.
Q: Page six of the Practice Note discusses how supervisors can support supervisees. How are you building and maintaining effective relationships with your team right now?
Kristine: I make sure to send a weekly email to the entire organization. It includes new information, tasks or expectations and answers any questions that have been asked within the week. I also include something on the lighter side like a funny photo or a link to some music. In addition to this, I’ve been engaging the Operations Team by sending inspirational emails every Monday morning. The emails include moments of gratitude and inspirational messages. The Operations Team has also been doing their best to keep staff connected and engaged. They’ve structured meetings so that everyone is welcome to contribute to the discussion and decision-making process.
Ann: I continue to plan time to meet with supervisors individually each week. Right now this is being done virtually, but typically, it also includes joining them in program to better understand their realities. I validate them by letting them know what I observed as their successes. I also document my meetings with them, which helps me to reflect on points for follow up and to provide resources. To demonstrate accountability and build trust in my relationships with staff, it’s also important to be open, take risks, model practices and help supervisors become more aware of the impact of their actions.
Q: Can you share an example of how you’ve demonstrated leadership or supported staff leadership?
Ann: Some people may be anxious about the new protocols. Certain health and safety procedures are simply an adaptation of protocols that staff has had to follow in the past. For example, if a child shows one of the symptoms related to COVID-19, there are a series of steps to follow. I have supported staff by reminding them that as a leader of children, families and other staff, they need to remain calm and follow the required steps. When an RECE demonstrates confidence in their behaviours and actions, it will provide others involved with comfort and reassurance.
Kristine: This is a tough one to answer, as I don’t think I’ve changed my leadership style. What I can say is that communication is key. It’s okay to say you don’t know – it’s much better than not responding to questions. You can’t leave those who look to you for leadership out there on their own.
Q: What have you learned to support the safety, health and well-being of your supervisees during COVID-19?
Kristine: In order for educators to support children and families, I need to support them in finding health and wellness of their own. We’ve recently shared information on supporting mental health and well-being with staff, as we recognize it’s hard to be brave if you aren’t feeling secure or supported by your organization. We’re also aware there’s a real fear about returning to work when child care re-opens. Our organization is working on policies and procedures to support educators in feeling safe, secure and able to do their job when they return.
Ann: Along with some staff, I watched a number of webinars and found resources to share with a particular focus on supporting child and adult mental health in a time of crisis. Through reflection and discussions, I became more self-aware and conscious of the impact that adults can have on how children react in a pandemic.
Q: Can you share how you use the College’s resources within your teams?
Ann: Absolutely! In particular, the Code and Standards. We make reference to them in our communities of practice. We also look for linkages with other key documents, such as How Does Learning Happen? I also bring College resources forward when we need to have more challenging conversations about practice with staff.
Kristine: There are many different ways we use them. Practice notes and guides are printed and posted in the centres. Each supervisor has developmental objectives for the year, so with each new resource the College publishes, the supervisor is given the goal of reviewing it with the education team at the centre. During COVID-19, supervisors have sent links to the College’s resources to their teams and follow up by having discussions about these resources in their team meetings. When notices of hearing and discipline decisions are posted, we share them with team members. We discuss them as a team, because it’s a great moment for reflection for everyone.
Q: Final thoughts?
Ann: Remember that your relationships are the first priority. Be optimistic, have a sense of humour and promote harmony. Be present in the moment and in nature.
Kristine: It’s what in your heart that matters. Compassion and understanding go a long way in shaping the educators of the future. Yes, you leave yourself vulnerable at times, but being real with the team lets them know you’re human too. Be mindful when speaking with staff: avoid the use of “my team” or “my educators” – you’re a team, so there is no ownership in that relationship. And finally, we’re all on this journey together. The path we take may differ, but I do my best to stay flexible and give staff the autonomy to do their job as long as I know we both have the same destination.