Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment in Your Child Care Center

In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we chat with Chelsea Robberson, Early Childhood Educator and Founder of Lealyn Growth about creating a psychologically safe environment at your center for children. As well, Chelsea dives into how to create a mission statement for your center that best suits your community and its needs.

Chelsea’s Top Tips for Fostering an Authentic Mission

Get Clear About Your Mission. Consider your clients and their needs. Do their children fit into the traditional child care model? What do you need to modify at your center to best suit their needs?

Consider the Practices You’re Putting in Place. Once you’ve set a clear mission, determine what specific practices you’re doing in your center that are centered and aligned with your mission.

Work in a Round Team. Traditionally there is a hierarchy in workplaces and child care centers. Chelsea recommends working in a “round team”. This means putting the child and their family at the center and the employees, educators, directors etc. would work around that family rather than a top-down approach alongside your mission. This means there is much more opportunity to work collaboratively for each individual.

Decide How You’re Going to Serve Your Community. Once you determine your mission and how you’re going to collaborate with your employees and children, map out exactly what this will look like day-to-day. Determine all of the classroom logistics, on-boarding, training, hiring, professional development, etc to ensure that everything you do aligns with your mission.

Even the administrative peices can be held up to that filter and if it’s not moving you towards that mission then really consider if this is providing value in the way that you’re looking to provide value.

Chelsea Robberson, The Preschool Podcast

Resources Provided by Chelsea

Chelsea suggests tuning in to her favorite podcast, Overthrowing Education that dives into different alternative models of education and the challenges with traditional educational and child care settings.

She also recommends the book The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D that discusses different types of learners and learning styles and how educators can adapt their teaching practices to support different learning styles and needs.

Another favorite book of Chelsea’s is What if Everybody Understood Childhood Development by Rae Pica about understanding what’s missing from our approach to schooling and understanding the connection between how children develop and how they learn.

Get in Touch with Chelsea

Looking to connect with Chelsea and find out more about her services? Check out her website, podcast or, connect with her on Instagram

Episode 265 Transcripts:

Chelsea ROBBERSON:

Whatever the mission is that you’re looking for, however that looks like specifically for your children and families working in that type of collaborative model. I’ve seen it do amazing things for schools that were having a really hard time repairing a culture that could have been broken.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Chelsea, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

ROBBERSON:

Hey, thanks for having me!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have on the Preschool Podcast today Chelsea Robberson. She’s an early-childhood educator and consultant and founder of Lealyn Growth. Welcome to the Preschool Podcast, Chelsea. As we do always, let’s start off learning a little bit about you and your background.

ROBBERSON:

Okay, sounds good. I am an early educator. That’s my favorite world to hang out in, all things preschool. It was about 2006 when I started and have done all kinds of different roles inside of schools, from teaching to directing. And then with the shift of COVID [19], the school that I was directing shut down permanently. And I made the transition into consulting. And now I get to hang out with other people who work in early education in schools and businesses. So, I really am enjoying kind of getting to hang out outside the school walls for once in a while.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and do you ever miss being in the classroom?

ROBBERSON:

I do, I do. I loved being in the classroom and just kind of the joy that comes from being directly with the little learners and all the things that come with that. But I am learning to appreciate getting to work with the adults who work with the learners. And I still get to do some trainings and that type of stuff. So, I still feel like I get to be close. But it is different and I do sometimes find myself missing that hands-on experience, I guess.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, yeah. Cool. And so who do you normally work with through your consulting work and through Lealyn Growth?

ROBBERSON:

It’s a wide span. I’ve worked with private schools that do K-12. I’ve worked with early-education centers [both] private and public, charter schools, those types of things. And a lot of strategy and development training and leadership development team training, those types of things.

And then recently, I’ve also started working with individuals on coaching and development towards their goals kind of thing, mostly people who are in the education space. So yeah, it’s really a wide range of people. And since everybody’s so used to hanging out on Zoom [online video conferencing] calls, now I get to work with people internationally, which has been really exciting.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool, very cool. And if you think about since you started doing this, what are some of the learnings that you’ve had, having this different perspective versus, being in the classroom as an early-childhood educator?

ROBBERSON:

Yeah, as I’ve transitioned through these roles and then to where I am now, to me it feels like being really, really zoomed in on my camera when I was in the classroom. And then the different roles that I’ve taken have kind of progressively zoomed me out to where now I am, as a consultant, working with schools and people and educators all over the country and the world now, I get to kind of see a really, really zoomed out picture of early-education people who are within it.

So, that’s kind of been my experience. Like, I was really zoomed in with this as well, is that I was teaching year after year, little by little, I was zoomed out further and further. And I really enjoyed getting to see such a big picture of early education and the people who are having conversations around it and the direction that we’re kind of taking it as we continue to think about what we want to look like in the future. I don’t know, it’s been a pretty cool thing to get to see.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And what are some of the things you’re seeing in that zoomed out picture that you may not have had sight into before when you were a little bit more zoomed in?

ROBBERSON:

Yeah. Well, I think a lot of times we get really attached to our specific curriculum or our specific pedagogy or our specific whatever. And we think that it’s this really unique thing. And sometimes it is. But more or less, we all have very similar tendencies and goals. And we’re all teaching the same children who have the same urges for play and creativity and curiosity and experience.

So, we all are a lot more similar in our practices and what drives us to those than I think we initially thought, especially for me in a classroom, in a small classroom, in a small school where I started, to what I’m doing now. We all have a lot more similarities than I think we thought we did, or I thought we did.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, cool. And when you work with childcare and educational programs, how do you kind of balance the focus on why early-childhood educators are ultimately there, which is the education and the learning and development, with the operational and administrative management side of a childcare program? And those two things I think might go hand-in-hand, but it would be interesting to hear from you sort of how you manage that with folks that you work with.

ROBBERSON:

Yeah, I actually love that conversation and it’s a big part of what I do. And it’s essentially finding out what our central mission is, what it looks like to be in alignment with our mission and a foundation that we’ve set and then assessing whether or not our daily actions align with that mission.

So, the way that we can work through that, when I have conversations with people that I work with, is really clarifying that mission, the drivers for that, and being able to clearly articulate yourself and then to others. And then taking your daily actions and holding them up, reflecting upon them and holding them up through that filter of your mission.

And so if your mission, for example, would be to engage young learners in curious experiences or experiences that stem curiosity, then you can hold everything kind of up to that filter. Even the administrative pieces can be held up to that filter. And if it’s not moving you towards that mission, then really looking at it and saying, “Is this something that provides value in the way that we are looking to provide value? Or is it something that we don’t need necessarily to focus on or need anymore?”

And that can be a very interesting conversation because it causes you to pull up into light things that maybe you just do because you’ve always done it, instead of really digging into, “Why do we do that? Is this valuable to us moving forward, based on what our mission is?”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it certainly makes a lot of sense to kind of think about everything you’re doing through the lens of, “What is your ultimate mission and goals?” And I think where a lot of folks struggle with this, though, is the practical, pragmatic side. So, I don’t think anyone would argue that that makes a lot of sense. But what are your tips or recommendations around making sure you actually can continue to do that and not just get caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind, which we’re all dealing with?

ROBBERSON:

Yes. And step one, like I had, which kind of fit into the other answer, was being very clear about what your mission is and what that really means. And so when I was at a previous school or when I worked with another campus, their mission was to serve differentiated learners. So, learners that fit more into – or may not have fit as well into – a traditional childcare model and needed a bit of a different learning environment.

So, this was the purpose of that school. And for example, one thing that they found themselves doing was bringing in students or marketing to students who were not necessarily learning different, who would do well in their environment or would not thrive in their environment. So, they were kind of going for, “We can make this work,” instead of, “This is our ideal,” and found themselves drifting away from their initial mission, which was very tangible. They were looking for learning-different students.

And so it was scary for them to drop and say, “We’re not marketing to these people. We really are looking for these,” because it theoretically could close their number of people that could come into their campus and they could serve. But when they really focused on that one piece, they grew because they were working within their mission. You could see that passion kind of coming.

And so I don’t know, that’s kind of a picture of an example of the tangible piece of who you’re marketing to and who you’re bringing into your company or into your school and how that can align with your mission or not, even in the operations piece.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, cool. Yeah, I think it’s easy to sort of discount the impact that the more soft qualitative things like culture and that passion when people are aligned in that way can really have. So, that certainly makes a lot of sense.

In terms of your work to date and missions that some programs have had that you’ve worked with, do any come to mind that you thought they were a great mission or they did a really great job at keeping everybody aligned? Any more examples that might provide inspiration to our listeners?

ROBBERSON:

Well, I think a mission statement is so unique and specific to a school, and the simpler the better. But it’s more the practice that allows you, like you were saying, what practice are you putting in place to kind of continually build that culture, that psychological safety, that trauma-informed environment where everybody can come in and feel safe and passionate and be moving together in one speed and to one common goal?

And one thing that I’ve seen work really well, even in situations where it has been very challenging previously, is to work in, instead of a hierarchy where the director or whoever sits at the top and everybody kind of falls beneath them and decisions are made top down, the very simple structure or something that I always suggest trying out with your team is working with a round team where the student and the family are in the center and then all of your team members kind of rally around then.

So, you’re working in a circular fashion instead of a hierarchical fashion with your mission. Whatever that specifically looks like, it’s around the students and families, being central to everybody’s work. And you’re working more collaboratively rather than from the top down.

And at a very high level, that is what I’ve seen in the past. A great setup for whatever the mission is that you’re looking for, however that looks like specifically for your children and families. Working in that type of collaborative model, I’ve seen it do amazing things for schools that were having a really hard time repairing a culture that could have been broken.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it certainly makes sense because I think every childcare program, their north star mission ultimately or their goal is to improve developmental outcomes and learning for children. So, to put them at the center certainly makes a lot of sense. And that’s also, I think, why early-childhood educators do what they do, because they’re passionate about that. So, yeah, makes a lot of sense to do that.

And then I guess on the flip side what are the some of the challenges that you’ve seen in some of the programs that you’ve worked with that might be sort of like more common challenges? And thoughts around those?

ROBBERSON:

A lot of times we’re very aligned with why we’re here. We know we’re here to serve the learners, like we’ve previously said. But where people often run into challenges is how we’re going to serve them and what that really looks like in practice, in the classroom, in how you’re talking with them and how you’re engaging what you’re doing and those types of things.

And that can really become a challenge because then it often can be… I’ve work in centers where it was, “My way is better than your way.” And this is between two teachers or two directors or a director is working with a teacher. And it just becomes kind of what I call the “ego of an educator”. It gets in the way of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it because you’re so focused on, “It has to look like this.”

And one thing that I’ve work with schools to do in the past is, instead of being so focused on what it has to feel like or what it has to look like is, rather coming at them with a co-constructive approach and saying, “We’re going to partner not only with each other, but then with the learner and kind of follow them and where they’re going.”

Because then more often you’re likely to be able to drop off [the idea of], “Well, it has to look like this. They have to use the color blue.” And instead you’re going to be a learner and say, “What color would you like to use here?”

And it’s a simple mindset shift, in theory, from focusing on what you want it to look like and why your way is better into, “How can I best serve the learner in this environment? How can I co-construct or build this alongside them?” And that simple kind of mindset shift allows for what I’ve seen, these really cool places that we end up building as a team. We’re more focused outwardly instead of on our own expectations.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s surprising sometimes how much changing your perspective and really forcing yourself to have a different point of view in terms of collaborating with someone can really open your eyes, I guess, when you really put your mind to it, yeah.

And what about on the educational side? So, what are some of the themes that you’re seeing? What are some of the great practices that you’re seeing in some programs when it comes to the early-childhood education component of the programing?

ROBBERSON:

So, one thing that I seen… I have always been a big advocate of what it looks like – and when I directed as well, and in my current role – of saying, “How are you creating a psychologically safe practice for your partners, as well as your staff and your family, your entire early community? How are you creating a trauma-informed space?” Those types of conversations.

And prior to the pandemic, this could have been a much more challenging conversation. And it honestly was because people were just saying, their responses were, “Oh, we have a psychologically safe practice,” or, “Oh, we don’t really have students that have experienced trauma.” And there’s a whole theory around what trauma is and is not.

But I think at this point we can all collectively agree in some way that we’ve all, over the past year-and-a-half, experienced some sort of quote-unquote trauma or big impact to our life that’s caused us to have to process things differently and maybe have some struggles as a result or things that we would have to overcome.

And so I think that is a kind of, I guess if you want to call it, trend that I’m seeing, that I’m excited to get to be a part of, is more schools inviting people like myself – coaches, consultants, trainers – to come in and do several things like that, like work with their team to create a psychologically safe environment for their staff; or to train their staff on what it looks like to create a trauma-informed space for their learners.

Or really just recognizing the value of these, like we had talked about, kind of softer skills, if you will, and knowing that they can create a foundation for the rest of these operational strategies to go really well is to focus first on that foundation, the safety of belonging. And I really enjoy seeing that, kind of the uptick of that, even if it’s a result of something that none of us want to do again. But just opening that conversation has been a cool thing to see picking up speed in education.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, I find even just opening up that transparent conversation where people can speak their mind in a safe environment goes a really long way.

ROBBERSON:

For sure, yeah.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Alright, changing gears a little bit: We’re wanting our audience to continue their own professional development and learning. Any books or podcasts or websites or anything that you have been fond of recently, in terms of early-childhood education that you would like to share with our listeners or recommend to them?

ROBBERSON:

Yeah, so there’s a great podcast called the Always Growing Education that I really love. They kind of talk about alternative models to education through childhood, some of the theories around it, some of our practices. And that’s a great podcast.

Also there’s two books that I always recommend, they’re my very favorite for opening up some of these conversations. And that’s The Whole-Brain Child [12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind] by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. That’s a great book to talk about holistic learners and how we can teach them in that way.

And then my other favorite one is by Rae Pica, and it’s called, What If Everybody Understood Child Development? [Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives] And I think that’s a great one, as well. And they’re pretty simple reads but they are just really impactful, as far as kind of reflecting on our practices and deciding what’s best for us to support our learners.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, awesome. Thanks for sharing those. And if our listeners want to get in touch with you or learn more about your work, where can they go to get more information?

ROBBERSON:

Yeah, on my website, www.LealynGrowth.com, you can find me there. But my favorite places to hang out are LinkedIn and Instagram and those types of things. So, you’ll find me a lot there. And I have a podcast, as well, that you can find. It’s called What Could Go Wrong. And we talk about education growth mindset. But yeah, that’s kind of where I hang out. I love to connect with people in education.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh, nice, Education Growth Mindset Podcast sounds great, as well. Good for you for starting that. And thanks for sharing some of those resources, which sound awesome, as well. Chelsea, some great information here for our listeners. Thank you so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!

ROBBERSON:

It was awesome!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

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