Embracing the Power of Controlling the Controllable in Early Childhood Education

mindset philosophy values

4 minute read time


Something has been in the air lately and has come up in many of the conversations I’ve been having with educators in various settings - the art of "controlling the controllable."

As educators navigating the complex landscape of supporting child development, working with children’s behaviour, developing two-way relationships with families and working within the expectations of the settings that we’re employed in, it's easy to feel like the struggle is all too real.

I get it. I really do. I've been in the thick of it. The struggle is real. The struggle of working in an environment where the values on the wall seem to be playing hide-and-seek with the practices on the ground. The disappointment of having to follow behaviour programs that go against every fibre of your being that supposedly sprinkle magic dust on tricky behaviours when, in reality, just leave everyone feeling like rubbish. The pressures of policy and curriculum documents that we’re mandated to work by that leave us feeling constantly overwhelmed and like we’re somehow failing the children in our care.

But what if I told you there's a way to turn down the volume on that frustration? It's not a magic fix - let's face it, we know those don't exist. Instead, it's about embracing a mindset that allows you to stay true to your values while navigating the challenges thrown your way.

Controlling the Controllable: A Blueprint for Empowerment

If you're unfamiliar with the term, "controlling the controllable" is about gracefully accepting the things outside of our control and focusing on what we can influence. Let's break it down.

What We Can't Control

The things we can't control are the things imposed ON us by the powers that be (when I say this, I mean leaders within our settings – directors, management, principals, deputy principals – as well as those higher up in government settings). With these elements, we’re mandated (read: obliged) to follow them. There’s rarely a chance for negotiation – we do as we’re told, even if it is begrudgingly.

  1. Behaviour Programs or Policies: Often, we find ourselves bound by behaviour programs or policies that don’t necessarily align with our educational beliefs or values. In my personal circumstances, it was me being expected to utilise a class behaviour chart, sending children to buddy classes on their tough days and managing behaviour through the use of token systems. For some of the educators I’m currently mentoring, it’s using school-wide behaviour management programs based on punitive measures, schools relying heavily on bookwork for the youngest classes and stepping away from integrating play into the early years. It's super frustrating, especially when we know better, but accepting this lack of control can be a truly empowering first step.
  2. Other People's Behaviour and Opinions: This. One. Is. Tough. Try as we might, we simply can't control how others behave or perceive us, whether it's children, colleagues, or leadership. Not everyone will see us in the light we see ourselves and, although this can be hard to take, trust me - it's a them thing, not a you thing. 

What We Can Control

The things we can control are those in OUR power - the elements that are innate and unmovable by others. I like to think of these as my guiding star - a compass for how I am in my role and with the children in my care. 

  1. Our Own Behaviour: Start with ourselves. How we respond to challenges, setbacks, and successes sets the tone for the entire environment. This also encompasses looking within to our own emotional competence as well as how we decide to show up for the children in our class each day. 
  2. Relationships with Children: Build genuine, positive connections with the children in our care (hello, relational safety). We may need to do things we don't want to, but this does not have to change how we are with children. 
  3. Perception and Celebration of Children: See, value, listen to, and celebrate each child as an individual. Recognise their uniqueness and strengths and find ways of sharing this with the group. 
  4. Special Rituals: Creating rituals that are unique to our group of children, fostering a sense of belonging and inclusivity. If the idea of rituals is new to you, you can learn more in this short podcast with Toni Christi. 
  5. Alignment with Values: Integrate our values into our daily practices. Be intentional about the atmosphere we cultivate within our classrooms, and we can start by becoming really clear on the values we want to instil in our practice (see a post I've written about this here). 
  6. Classroom Culture and Vibe: Our attitude and actions contribute to the overall culture of the classroom. We have the power to turn our space into one that heroes and brings to life respect, compassion, togetherness, belonging and inclusivity. 
  7. Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries for how we expect to be treated by others, including colleagues and leaders. This can be hard and, by all means, it doesn't mean we need to have confrontational conversations. It does, however, mean that we may need to be a little more assertive if people start talking to us (or even about us, as I've experienced) like rubbish. 
  8. Finding Marigold Teachers: Surround ourselves with supportive colleagues who uplift and inspire you. These are our Marigold Teachers. If this is an unfamiliar term for you, check out a post I've written about Marigold Teachers here or read the Cult of Pedagogy blog post that I refer to in my post here

Shifting our focus to the controllable empowers us to weave a magical narrative that transcends the chaos of behaviour charts and institutional constraints. Every smile, every genuine connection, and every time we uphold our values - it all counts.

While it's crucial to acknowledge the constraints we work under, it's equally important not to let them define our narrative entirely. Yes, behaviour programs and policies may be beyond our control, but the impact we have on the children in our care is profound and very much within our grasp. By prioritising what we can control, we become architects of an environment where genuine connections and positive experiences flourish.

We can be change makers in this space. 

Danica x

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