The idea of a Culture of Care + Connection is ever evolving, but at the core it’s simple: to care for ourselves and those around us, by connecting with our communities and the natural environment. Verena Gibbs, Educational Consultant and former Principal, and Bridgitte Alomes, CEO and Founder of Natural Pod, will explore how to create space that fosters cultural values and connection to each other.
In this episode Bridgitte and Verena discuss how a Culture of Care + Connection can be embodied both within an educational organization, and in relation to one’s own self care. We suggest watching the full episode, but here is a summary of the key takeaways as shared by Verena.
Things that bring me joy and help me stay grounded:
Being in nature makes something shift in me; there’s a connection to childhood essence. Dancing brings me great joy, and being with family and friends. What helps me stay grounded is focusing on things that I can control – rather than those I can’t. I try to make life simpler. And I focus on who I can connect with in order to feel grounded. When I was a school principal in Haida Gwaii, a decision all the staff made collectively to stay grounded themselves and help the students to feel so during the height of the pandemic: was only concerning ourselves that all the children come to school, and that they felt safe and knew we were so happy they were there. That was all that mattered. We didn’t worry so much about curriculum during that time. That sense of care then shifted to the staff as well, who started checking in with each other more, asking what do you need? How do you feel? We started sharing stories and feeling much more like a large family.
“So keeping things as simple as I can, and connecting to self and others – that’s what helps me stay grounded.” – Verena Gibbs
Creating a deep practice of self care:
Giving feelings space and being authentic about them is self care, while being mindful about reflecting on what you can do about caring for yourself, like taking a walk, or connecting with someone. Also by noticing joy in the moment, even the very small moments, that allow you to connect with your own joy and to make the time to do those things that bring us joy.
“I feel self care starts with ‘making the space to acknowledge our feelings, and I think living more authentically will provide us with our self care in itself.” – Verena Gibbs
I don’t think we do enough modeling of our feelings either. Especially as an educator or a parent it’s important to show it’s ok to not be ok. By making space to allow oneself or the children in your care to be sad without trying to fix it, really helps kids to give language to their feelings.
Creating a Culture of Care + Connection within the school environment:
Something I instigated as principal at my last school in Haida Gwaii was a morning ceremony; we greeted each day in a circle with the whole school – that included everyone, the educators, students, staff and support workers. That time together gave us the opportunity to connect and share, whether it was acknowledging a birthday, saying a thank you, practicing the Haida language, or sometimes the Haida dance.
I remember there was one teacher who started off the year quite cynical about the circle ceremony as she felt it took away from her teaching time, but halfway through the year she acknowledged that she’d shifted and really understood why and how it was so beneficial. She shared, “I see all the kids, I know what’s going on with everyone and it’s a really nice way to start the day”. This was great to hear and know there was a way for the whole school to feel connected through the pandemic time. Even other teachers who were somewhat skeptical at the beginning after a while learnt that there was a place for them as well and began sharing stories or acknowledgements with the school during circle time. The entire circle experience made the school a really nice place to be.
“I wanted to create the circle experience as I knew that time allowed students to be seen and acknowledged, which is a great way to both start the day and create community.” – Verena Gibbs
Building a Culture of Care + Connection within a leadership position:
Being in a leadership position such as a principal, I know through experience that it can’t just be me that builds a Culture of Care + Connection, it has to be a community, so my job is to hold space. I start off simply listening when it comes to someone else’s care and what they may need. I try not to come with a fixed idea; I do a lot of listening and try to support rather than fix.
When it comes to care and connection within the relationship of student and educator, as the principal I encouraged my educators to really dig in to what they themselves enjoy, as that passion then reflects back to the kids. So if an educator wanted to continue a project for a longer time because the students were very engaged I fully supported that – I’m less concerned about the timeline at that point. The result was I might go into one classroom and it’s all high energy, but in another it’s very quiet and focused, or I’d go outside and there’d be a different kind of activity going on. It’s just really great when leaders in the classroom and their students are really engaged together, however that looks.
“My intention for the future is to focus on the opportunities we’re giving students. The world has changed and it is potentially uncertain, so we need to prepare them for their future by providing them with the tools to:
- Have a good sense of who they are
- Be grounded in the world
- Feel and be connected to others
- Navigate challenging times
- Build resilience
That’s the part of the curriculum that I’d love to work on. I really feel it’s necessary to prepare them for their – and our – future.” – Verena Gibbs
About Natural Pod™ LIVE
Natural Pod™ LIVE has been created for, and by, our incredible community of educators, students, architects and anyone with a stake in creating better learning spaces and experiences. It’s an online streaming talk show where we interview education leaders who are sharing their personal stories behind the challenges and opportunities of creating exceptional learning environments. Join us as we explore the new approaches for what’s possible in the future of education with the people who are making it happen. This is your opportunity to learn directly from them about the challenges and successes and how they are approaching this work.
About Verena Gibbs, Principal/Educational Consultant
Verena Gibbs has been working with learners and families for over 20 years. Her passion for education has taken her around the world and includes experience in both independent and public schools in BC. While born and raised on the Lower Mainland, she has lived, worked and played on Haida Gwaii for the past 12 years. Verena is of mixed ancestry including Swiss, Scottish, English, French and Metis, and is currently living in the Comox Valley with her husband Jason, daughters Geneva and Sadie and mother-in-law Diane. Verena believes learning is a deeply personal process that is enriched by being a part of a supportive learning community.
About Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod
Bridgitte Alomes is a thought leader dedicated to better environments for play, learning and collaboration using sustainable furniture. In her work with Natural Pod, she has helped create over 15,000 learning environments throughout the world. She’s engaged over 40,000 educators through her workshops and presentations and has been dedicated to creating play-based pedagogy and sharing the importance of the learning environment design. Bridgitte also serves as President on the board of the Green Schools National Network, creating broad-based initiatives and successful strategies aimed at fostering healthy, sustainable K-12 schools across the United States.