‘You have to look after yourself’: ECEC educators and resilience

Wellbeing and resilience are hot topics for young children and early learning. New research turns the lens on early childhood educators and their settings. A workshop at ECA’s 2018 National Conference will present findings on the implications of this research for educator resilience and team practices. In the meantime academic and researcher, MADELEINE  DOBSON, provides a few insights including how work-based relationships are critical to self-care.

The resilience of educators in early childhood education and care (ECEC) merits careful consideration. Early childhood educators engage in significant and influential work with children, families and communities, where focus is placed on positive, respectful and reciprocal relationships. Work of this nature requires resilience. Resilience refers to our capacity to survive and thrive by drawing on resources within ourselves and our environment, and has major implications for wellbeing (Resilience Research Centre, 2014) and professional longevity (Royer & Moreau, 2016). In recent years, ECEC settings have been subject to significant changes to policy, curriculum and pedagogy (Hall-Kenyon, Bullough, MacKay & Marshall, 2014; Kilgallon, Maloney & Lock, 2008), and concerns abound regarding the capacity for educators to cope. This includes educators in school settings (Le Cornu, 2009; Richardson, Watt & Devos, 2013) and early learning centres (Rentzou, 2015; Royer & Moreau, 2016).

A group of us have recently conducted research focused on the perspectives and experiences of early learning centre educators through an ecological lens (Beltman, Dobson, Mansfield & Jay, under review). We wanted to learn about their work in terms of what they find challenging and where they source support at the macro, micro and personal levels. Fourteen leaders and educators engaged in interviews and reflected on the nature of their work, from broad system-level requirements to day-to-day realities. Through these interviews and the subsequent analysis, we were able to identify a number of key challenges and resources.

One key finding is that working conditions are seen as the ‘main challenge’; for example, one educator shared, ‘Every day is more and more complex because of what we’re being asked to do in so many different ways’. A second key finding is that relationships are a critical influence—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Clashes between staff were a hindrance, while supportive personal relationships were a stronghold. A third key finding is that having a passion for working with children is a major support—one educator shared, ‘The thing that keeps me going is knowing that I’m providing for these children’. Finally, self-care was also seen as crucial: ‘You have to look after yourself. Make sure that you look after yourself physically and mentally. Make sure you take breaks. Otherwise you don’t have the strength to be resilient’.

Resilience deserves to be prioritised at every level of ECEC. For example, early learning centres can support their educators by building safe and positive working environments where leaders are supportive and staff relationships are collaborative and collegial. Educators could benefit from awareness around the necessity and availability of potential coping strategies. One example of a current, evidence-informed resource is Building Resilience in Teacher Education (BRiTE: www.brite.edu.au/). This is a freely available, online professional learning program that supports educators in identifying skills and strategies to build and sustain resilience. Designed initially for pre-service teachers (Mansfield, Beltman, Broadley & Weatherby-Fell, 2016), it is applicable to educators in multiple settings. By prioritising resilience, we can build and sustain strong and positive ECEC contexts where educators can not only survive, but also thrive.

Dr. Madeleine Dobson for this blog drew on research (co-authored by Associate Professors Susan Beltman, Caroline Mansfield and Jenny Jay) to be presented at the 2018 ECA National Conference in Sydney 19-22 September. To learn more about the conference program click here. Be among the 2,000 early childhood professionals, international keynotes and local experts at the conference learning about every aspect of early childhood education and care. Click here to book now.

Dr. Madeleine Dobson is a Lecturer and incoming Course Coordinator of Early Childhood Education in Curtin University’s School of Education. Her research interests include social justice, children’s rights, and resilience and wellbeing within educational communities. Her current projects focus on educator resilience and the image of the child as represented in social media contexts.


Beltman, S., Dobson, M., Mansfield, C. F., & Jay, J. (under review). ‘The thing that keeps me going’: Educator resilience in early learning settings.

Hall-Kenyon, K., Bullough, R., MacKay, K., & Marshall, E. (2014). Preschool teacher well-being: A review of the literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42, 153–162. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10643-013-0595-4

Kilgallon, P., Maloney, C., & Lock, G. (2008). Early childhood teachers’ sustainment in the classroom. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 33(2), 41–54. http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2008v33n2.3

Le Cornu, R. (2009). Building resilience in pre-service teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5), 717–723. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.11.016

Mansfield, C. F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T., & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidenced informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 77–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2015.11.016

Rentzou, K. (2015). Prevalence of burnout syndrome of Greek child care workers and kindergarten teachers. Education, 43(3), 249–262. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2013.804853

Resilience Research Centre. (2014). What is resilience? Retrieved from http://resilienceresearch.org/.

Richardson, P. W., Watt, H. M. G., & Devos, C. (2013). Types of professional and emotional coping among beginning teachers. Advances in Research on Teaching, 18, 229–253. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/S1479-3687(2013)0000018016

Royer, N., & Moreau, C. (2016). A survey of Canadian early childhood educators’ psychological wellbeing at work. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44, 135–146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10643-015-0696-3

Madeleine Dobson

Dr. Madeleine Dobson is a Lecturer and Course Coordinator of Early Childhood Education School of Education at Curtin University. Her research interests include media, digital technologies, social justice, children’s rights, and resilience and wellbeing within educational contexts. You can follow Madeleine on Instagram and Twitter: @drm_mrd. You can also find out more about her work at: www.madeleinedobson.com.

2 thoughts on “‘You have to look after yourself’: ECEC educators and resilience”

    Kathryn Wallis says:

    Thank-you for your article Madeleine. Professional resilience and educator wellbeing are such important issues in the sector, yet so under-researched and understood. Encouraging people to think about the connection between educator wellbeing and children’s wellbeing will hopefully encourage practices which will result in happier educators, happier children and higher quality services.

    Caroline Cohrssen says:

    Thank you for this interesting, evidence- based article, Madeleine. An important reminder that support for educator resilience needs to be purposeful and authentic. Looking forward to learning more next week in Sydney.

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