Summing up a professional life #contributiontoecec

Catharine Hydon speaks to Jean Eden who is retiring after 44 years in the early childhood sector.

A chance conversation got me thinking.

How does an early childhood professional sum up their career as they prepare to step into retirement?

How does the legacy of decades of hard work and dedication to the wellbeing of children, families and educators get recorded and shared with those who step up to fill their place?

In quiet, ordinary, and unassuming ways is how.

Early childhood leaders are being farewelled every week by the very educators they cherished, encouraged and worked so hard to inspired and develop. They might celebrate with a string of joyous gatherings filled with heart felt speeches, a bunch of flowers and a lot of yummy food. They probably pause for a moment to consider their impact but for the most part they are studiously making sure the files are sorted, the succession plans are in place and the keys are in the right hands before they close the door on years of service to early childhood education.

Jean Eden is one of these early childhood professionals. April 2021 sees her say goodbye to a profession that has shaped her life for 44 years.

In addition to attending the numerous celebrations at Each Child Community Child and Family Centre, in Ringwood in Melbourne Eastern Suburbs, where she has been the director for five years, I asked Jean if she might participate in a new retirement ritual.  The summing up of a professional life where the individual in question gets the floor–if just for a moment–to share with us, their colleagues, a few well-practiced insights, ideas, or a challenge or two for a future they will now observe from the sidelines.

I’m not sure what we will call this new ritual and I’m open to ideas! But for now, I’m using the hashtag #contributiontoecec and hoping that others in the profession, alongside the local team and service, use it to publicly thank a colleague for their work and contribution to the work of early childhood education and care. So here goes… thanks Jean for blazing a new trail!

Jean Eden started working in early childhood education 44 years ago when she was just 16 years old, I went straight from nursery nursing training in England (the equivalent of Australia’s mothercraft course) to do a bit of nanny work’, and she has never looked back.

Jean distinctly remembers a moment in high school when she declared her plans to work in early childhood education, a foolhardy career teacher remarked that she was so much better than that’. Years later Jean recalls with a wry smile, she had the great pleasure of returning to that teacher and telling him that she had become qualified and had made the best choice.

Migrating to Australia in 1984, Jean started working in local government and community-based services as the room leader until Doreen Seal, Jean’s manager at the time, encouraged or maybe even nudged her to apply for a leading role.

You need someone to help you step up sometimes and now I have been coordinating early childhood education and care services since 1990—that’s 31 years…’

As part of our new ritual, I asked our retiring colleague to share some insights, including inspiration, advice, challenges faced and reminders, with their colleagues.

Over to you Jean…

  1. Treat people with respect: Build a strong relationship with your team, with children, with families. I try to get to know people—I know children’s siblings; I know what’s going on with staff’s families; I learn people’s personalities and character traits–it pays off when things are hard and the work is challenging. Be friendly and empathetic but be careful about friendships and being seen to have favourites. 
  2. Live by the Regulation and the Frameworks: they should always underpin your decisions. It takes away the emotion and the personal opinions and gives you the authority to back up your decision. Policies can be your friend–if you can bring everything back to a policy it gives you confidence and people know where they stand. 
  3. Involve everyone and cultivate participation: It’s about ownership and contributions. Treat everyone as part of the team and support them to feel like they are part of the decision-making. Make sure your team has a voice and that they feel empowered to act if they feel something is not right.  I am a big believer in accountability, but you can’t be accountable if you don’t feel you are being heard and that you belong.  
  4. Learn from your mistakes, own them, and move forward: When leaders own up to their mistakes and try and fix the problem, they help their teams do the same thing. It’s sometimes hard but you learn through experience and maturity.
  5. Keep up to date: with current trends and research. Leaders should look after their own learning as well as the teams and make sure they are also learning what the team is learning. 

‘If you don’t do that you can’t expect the educators to—you support them to further their own learning.’ 

And Jean, what about leading in early childhood?

Well, I have always felt like a leader, but I needed that shove from others to step up.  I recognise that not everyone wants to lead but when you do step up you can have more of an impact about how things are run and what’s best for children and their families.’

For Jean leading in this sector has come with surprises and challenges.  Leading a team through a major site re-development was hard work but rewarding but it still grates that educators are not seen (and paid) as professionals. ‘…it annoys me—that we have not got the professional recognition that we deserve…I hope that we get recognised as professionals with a fair wage for an awesome job’.

When I pressed Jean for her advice about how we can take care of ourselves… she laughs wisely and suggests ‘it’s hard when you are in a position like this to actually leave on time’… But seriously, she urges us to prioritise and stick to it, speak up and advocate for ourselves as well as others, take our lunch breaks and get out from in front of that screen.

Ultimately, as she prepares for a new and exciting life in retirement, Jean wants her contribution to be remembered as about ‘helping people and making a positive impact on children lives’.

I think I have made a difference


Note from Early Childhood Australia: In light of this heartfelt idea ECA has created a Facebook group called ‘Contribution to ECEC’. We encourage all educators to join and invite your friends and colleagues, no matter where you are in your career, as this community will have the advice to carry you through your career from those educators who are leaving the sector. This also gives the early childhood professionals leaving the sector a place to stay connected, share stories, experiences and advice they have gained from their career in early education. Click here to join the Facebook group. We look forward to seeing what is shared.

Catharine Hydon

Catharine Hydon is the Director and Principal Consultant at Hydon Consulting. Over the last 10 years Catharine worked with a range of organisations and governments to understand and articulate quality and inspire change. With a Masters in early childhood education, Catharine has extensive experience in the early childhood sector beginning as a teacher in a kindergarten program in the northern suburbs of Melbourne to lead roles in a range of services and projects.  Catharine draws on her experience and ongoing practice research to consider how theory connects and informs practice.  Specialising in early childhood practice and pedagogy, quality improvement, policy and governance, the delivery of integrated services to engage vulnerable children and their families.  Catharine’s involvement in the early childhood sector is an important part of her commitment to the outcomes for children.  She is a long-time member of Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and has just concluded her role as the Co-chair of the Reconciliation Advisory Group and is a regular contributor in ECA publications. Catharine has been a member of the ECA Code of Ethics working group for the last two reviews and is a co-author on the recently published Ethics in Action Implementation guide. Catharine is a dynamic speaker and collaborative facilitator and is skilled at engaging professionals in reflective dialogue and creative conversations.   

2 thoughts on “Summing up a professional life #contributiontoecec”

    Kate Wood says:

    What a fabulous idea to provide a platform where, upon retirement, experienced leaders can share the wisdom accumulated over a long, often challenging but very rewarding career. Congratulations and thank you Jean.

    Shannon Chlystun says:

    This is a fantastic article and congratulations Jean on a massive career changing children’s lives, literally.
    I am ‘celebrating’ 25 years in the sector this year, and yet my career will not really be celebrated as I have only been with my employer for a short time….but I feel like I’ve contributed a lot. I got my Bachelor of Teaching almost 4 years ago but finished my Cert 3 (equiv). then Diploma in 1997, straight after coming out of school.
    It’s a long hard slog, worth it but lots of challenges along the way.
    Thanks for this article, it was great to read and I loved Jean’s advice at the end.

    My contribution is: The children I once looked after years ago, many are now part of the adult community. The may serve me at the supermarket, govern policies or be my Doctor. You just never now where your influence is going to end up coming back around.

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