Oh! The Places You Can Go..

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Interview Transcript with Emma Boag

Jo: “Thank you Emma for joining me! Emma is the Leader of Pedagogy at Community Kinders Plus in Frankston, and we met many moons ago at Melbourne University where we undertook our Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies. So, thank you Emma for agreeing to join us from beautiful Frankston, sunny Frankston..”

Emma: “That is Frankston in the background…I thought it was an appropriate background to have on today!”

Jo: “Emma, what is your connection to Frankston…did you grow up there?”

Emma: “I did. Unfortunately, I live just out of reach of five kilometres from the beach, so I haven’t been for ages! Actually, just above my head (in the background picture) is my son! I was born in Frankston at Frankston hospital and lived overseas for fifteen years in England. It’s nice to come back – I think I missed the beach the most (during my time away) so I feel I have a little affiliation with Frankston but also with the beach and the (Mornington) Peninsula. “

Jo: “Thankyou Emma, it’s really, really great of you to join us today! I am looking to inspire many and varied teachers including early childhood professionals such as us..”

My reason for reaching out to interview teachers that I know is a form of encouragement.

I would like to start a conversation (or join with others who are on the same path) to talk about the joy of teaching..”

“There’s been a lot, a lot, a lot of pressure and challenge in teaching (as with every industry) but I’d love to try and steer that conversation back to the joy of the career, the vocation we chose for ourselves.. and when I was thinking of the people around me who I am very fortunate to have around me, a beautiful support network, (professionally and personally) you were one of the first people I thought of!”

Emma: “Oh well that’s nice! Hopefully I can be a little bit inspirational!”

Jo: “So, when I’m thinking about teachers (about any teachers) whether its teachers teaching children or other adults,…. Certainly, in this year teaching has become one of those very diverse careers that’s pivoting in all sorts of directions. So, I have a couple of questions for you…so I might hit you with the first one!”

Emma: “Ok!”

Jo: “The first one being is what got you on the path to teaching Emma?”

Emma: “I always wanted to be a teacher…either that or a secretary at a medical centre (laughing). So, I remember as a child I used to play schools all the time.. and have little note cards… I think that’s why I wanted to be a secretary because I liked the idea of writing and taking notes. Then I realised that I also had a bit of a knack, I really liked being around children and children liked being around me… and so I had, there was a bit of a ‘Pied Piper’ with the neighbour’s children. I did lots of babysitting and lots of spending lots of quality time with children, I really enjoyed it and as I grew older I spent more time with children (than others) When we’d go on a holiday I was always surrounded with other people’s children! I don’t mind it..its quite lovely! I think it’s because of the awe and wonder that always surrounds children that often disappears.. and certainly, has disappeared in 2020 with adults. So, l think it’s that genuine connection with children that started me on that career, and I got into Melbourne University and haven’t looked back! What I didn’t realise was the opportunity that doing that degree would afford me and the many varied experiences I have had since then. So, I’m not teaching at the moment, I’m managing teachers, but there’s still plenty of children that I can go and spend time with. Having a teaching degree leads you in so many different places.”

Jo: “Most definitely! So in some ways, you are a teacher of teachers at the moment…”

Emma: “Yeah..and I also did a little bit of a stint at Monash University teaching first year primary and secondary teachers the wonders of oral language and early literacy and it was just the same – 
I was really worried about it.. and it was just the same.. and I also made them sing! (laughing) So that was fun, but I think yeah teaching 4-year olds and 40-year-old is the same! Similar…same same but different! “

Jo: “One of the things I often say is that we are just little children in big bodies – hopefully there is still the same spirit in there of who you were as a child or if not, you’ve got a chance to have the childhood you want!”

Emma: “Playful learning is always good too!”

Jo: ” It really is! Emma, I’m going to change the tone a little bit… In a career and an extensive career that you’ve enjoyed so far, you’ve mentioned that it has brought you many different pathways and sometimes different and unexpected ones,.. what would you say is one of the biggest challenges is that you have overcome throughout your career?”

Emma: “I think that finding a place that I belonged… So finding a tribe of people in which I could teach – you know that saying it takes a village to raise a child…

“I think it takes a village to teach children too and I think that a community of practice, or a community of teachers and educators is always better than being one teacher… So having a team of people inspire and work off is where I teach best. “

“So I have worked in sort of a stand-alone kindergarten where there was just me and one other person and it was okay…but I don’t really think that I thrived until I…I actually taught in a school and that’s where I really found that having that big group of people who were almost like a group of dysfunctional family (laughs) or a family of people who, you know, we really liked each other and had a really great time teaching children…that’s where I really felt like I belonged and then I was a better teacher. I love CKP (Community Kinders Plus) for that reason – we are 20 kindergartens, I think 130 of us, so it’s a big team and we are all working towards the same goal which is to develop children and to help them reach outcomes…”

Jo: “If you don’t mind, if we just go back to the challenge,…part of it ..would I be right in saying that in a small kindergarten it was perhaps the isolation?”

Emma: “I think isolation….and not having people to ask questions of and reflect…..’cos that’s a huge part of what teaching…is having that time to reflect at the end of the day and having… I know that there are some teachers who really love that…just a small group…but that wasn’t for me…I liked to have a lot of people around and a lot of opportunities. That’s where I find I’m challenged and pushed outside of my comfort zone…which I think is good. So I think I would say that the biggest challenge for me was not feeling that I belonged in a smaller, isolated spot..”

Jo: “It’s something that a lot of teachers do experience, but they may not necessarily realise that the isolation is what’s difficult…

“would you agree that sometimes its difficult as teachers that we can forget we are one person and maybe have too high expectations sometimes of ourselves.. plus, you’re not sure who to talk to or there aren’t people to talk to it can be very lonely…?”

Emma: “Yeah, I think so….and I think the other thing that happens is that if you keep doing things the same way you know there’s a bit of a danger in that of everybody falling down bored. You need someone to challenge your thinking sometimes and the more people you’ve got around you to do that – critical friends are great…and I’m thinking about remote and rural teachers – I’m sure it’s about finding ways of doing that and perhaps COVID is doing that – I’m all for finding silver linings in this COVID cloud…we are all isolated at the time – you know we haven’t got a choice about it at this time – so we’ve had to find other ways at this time for connecting and for those people who have always felt isolated hopefully they’ll now find that they’re a bit more connected..”

Jo: “Thank you, that’s really amazing – on that, we’ve talked about some of the challenges you’ve overcome….and you’ve spoken…part of the next question leads into your previous answer – that once you found your tribe a lot of your problems..challenges started to fade or disappear…or look different …when you were a really young teacher…. In some of the harder days…what support do you wish you had?”

Emma: “Uh… a tribe..”

Jo: “Yeah!”

Emma: “Definitely,…yes! And a mentor.. I didn’t in my very first teaching role… and the minute that I did it made a massive difference… finding someone who encouraged…and feedback is a massive thing for teachers.. and we know that for children…it always amazes me that we don’t afford our teachers the same opportunities…so, I didn’t know if I was doing a good job! I had no idea and the poor children were my guinea pigs cos I didn’t know.! I think I did alright – I would have done things differently if I’d had that mentor from the beginning I think…

“I think all new teachers should have a mentor…”

Jo: “How did you find that mentor or mentors?”

Emma: “By….it was with a more experienced teacher who was working at a different kindergarten and then I happened across a kindergarten with more experienced teacher and she became my mentor and I work with her today which is really good..”

Jo: “Oh nice!!”

Emma: “Yeah, yeah we worked together at kinder and she was my mentor and now we work together at CKP so that’s a nice connection..”

Jo: “Yeah! So a little bit about it is wishing in the past, if you knew,.. if you had your time over, or you were sharing with someone else…it’s where you can look for that mentor or maybe try different or forge connections with different people…?”

Emma: “Yeah..and not my peers…a more experienced teacher who had some experience under their belt …who could offer me the support…the encouragement and advice…”

Jo: “That critical friend you mentioned…”

Emma: “Yeah, that comes with experience..”

Jo: “There’s something about that isn’t there….whether it’s the maternal or paternal relationship with an older person who, if you’re lucky enough to find them you’re able to have those hard conversations with them – either if there’s something they need to tell you or something you need to ask them and you’ve got the space to emotionally explore those things that might be harder to hear. Like you said before you would deliberately put a little bit of distance between yourself and a peer because you were trying to grow as a person, sometimes you can’t get that…”

Emma: “They were in the same boat as me,…they didn’t know what they were doing either! (laughing) We were all just giving it a go! Those relationships are different relationships aren’t they..?”

Jo:  “Definitely! And with mentoring it’s not a perfect science is it – I guess it depends on what situation you are in – where you are and what sort of job you are doing…but those mentors can change over time…”

Emma: “I can very clearly see how those mentors have had a massive impact on me, and my career over the time… I’ve also had a couple of coaches who are even more critical…and I don’t mean critical in the negative sense…I mean they really, really push you outside of your comfort zone..”

Jo: “That’s something you explored for personal development?”

Emma: “Uh, no professional development…just professional coaches in a number of different settings – that was also a really useful tool later on in my career..”

Jo: “Wonderful! Just two more questions…we’ll change it up a little bit again and we’ll look at another angle… can you share one of your most memorable teacher related stories?”

Emma: “So, so many of them, but I was thinking there was some certain situations that happen now with teachers who will ring up now and say – ‘you’ll never guess what happened” and I’ll be able to say ‘Well actually that has happened to me too!” I was teaching children who had significant language difficulties and disorders and associated behavioural difficulties…. some had Autism and some had other associated language disorders and behaviours…  We had one little boy who I had taught for three years, and he could only ever use one syllable and he used to swear – a lot! If ever he got cross with people he used to call them a ‘bic’ – but one day he put a ‘describing word’ in front of the word ‘bic’ with 3 syllables – I will leave that to your imagination – that was a celebration that sentence! “

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Jo: “You mentioned at the start (of this interview) that you spent several years in the UK – did you work in the school system there?”

Emma: “Yeah, I did, at a school in East London. I taught in what was called the language division class – I taught 10 children who were aged between 4 and 6 and so worked really closely with a number of specialists and therapists, supporting those children and also managed the early part of that school. Children in the early years start school in the UK when they are 3 and they’re there in that early part of school when they’re four and five..” 

Jo: “You’ve had a significant chapter of your career in the UK did you say it was..”

Emma: “Fifteen years yeah…”

Jo: “How did you find the change back to Australia? Was it an adjustment for you?”

Emma: “Yeah… yes..yes..I think personally it was an adjustment for me … I brought my partner and our 3 year old son (back home) he had been at school..’cos he was 3 and that was a challenge…uh I had missed my family in Australia but then I also missed my UK family…and the teaching and learning and pedagogy is so different..so finding my space here – you know I talked a little bit about finding your tribe ….it took a while to do that….”

Jo: “Yeah..sure.. do you keep in touch with any of your UK friends?…colleagues…fifteen years is a big chunk of your life..”

Emma: “One my mentors messaged me this morning actually… she’s retired and she’s just had her first grand daughter – I’ve got very close relationships with all of them…and they are all….you know COVID is having a different effect on them on different people at different times…so they’re coming in..actually right slap bang in the middle of their second wave…”

Jo: “More challenges….it’s interesting that the potential for teachers to have dialogue across the world – you are one of the people that I am talking to – I am also talking to colleagues I have worked with in Belgium and talking with people in the UK and in the States as well so I look forward to seeing what their experiences are – what’s the same? What’s different? What we can teach each other?..”

Emma: “I tuned into…I’ve never watched so many webinars in all my life as I have in the last couple of months ….there was one I think was the University of Wollongong who were interviewing someone in Canada and then someone I think was in Norway…It was the Norwegian Prime Minister that addressed the children of the nation when all of this started….”

Jo: “I’m pretty sure it was….”

Emma: “It’s fascinating…it’s really interesting to how different societies and communities have approached this…”

Jo: “I certainly feel that when part of my pedagogy is tied into Reggio Emilia and is inspired by you know it, I love thinking about those famous words – Nothing without Joy…whatever joy means to you – and it doesn’t have to be big sweeping gestures does it? Joy in adults who – when you mentioned who we think was the Norwegian Prime Minister – whoever it was who approached those children makes you think what we can learn from each other in terms of how we address our children; how we view our children and how we view our teachers…. I’m glad you mentioned that – it’s worth celebrating that… I might go and do a bit more digging on that…”


Jo: “Emma, I really appreciate your time…. I’ve got one more question for you and all our Joyful Teachers out there! Have you got any advice that you would like to impart ….,maybe on the proviso – thinking about our current situation….many of our teachers are drained…exhausted …like never before….I wonder if you have any great words of wisdom or encouragement to remind them actually of how valuable they are….?”

Emma: “Yeah… you know that feeling when you walk into the classroom and you think the children are here….but I’ve gotta get this assessment done in 3 weeks and I gotta write the Transition Statement and that parent has left a message on the answering machine…I’ve gotta go and visit the school and there’s a hundred things happening….but actually what you need to do is to be mindful and spend time with the children…I mean really, really engaged…and don’t get distracted by all of the other stuff and enjoy it.. because if you do that and are really, truly mindful then you will enjoy it more and you will find that sense of awe and wonder….my other thought is to try and leave your judgment at the door.. and try and put yourself in other people’s shoes…..I really do think that is something that I reflect on all the time and I am still changing my practice based on conversations that I have with parents and children because we never know what is going on in their lives…if we can be kind to ourselves and others that’s probably best kind of advice (I’ve got) Be kind to the children, to the parents and to ourselves..”

Jo: “Do you have anything that you like to do personally for yourself…are you a book worm or binge tv watcher?..”

Emma: “Yes! Do I admit that I am addicted to reality television? In particular the Real Housewives of Sydney. It is because it is so different to my world! I love it I can just sit there and watch it! At least I am not as crazy as they are! The other thing that I do… and this is

the first thing I do when I can…is go and read a story to a child …go and sit on the sofa and snuggle up to them at a kinder and just read. I could sit there all day and read stories…”

Jo: “That captive audience that you get.. the engagement is pretty magnificent isn’t it? Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!”

Emma: “Thank you – I love, I love the premise of what you are doing and finding the joy… there’s so much going on at the moment but I feel like there’s a lot of talk about children being ready for stuff….and perhaps we just need to enjoy the moment…”

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