In conversation with Kate Moxley: all about educator wellbeing

We recently met up with Kate Moxley in Solihull, in the West Midlands, to talk about educator wellbeing for Early Years Wellbeing Week 2023, running from Monday 9 – Sunday 15 October, in line with World Mental Health Day, on Tuesday 10 October.

Siren Films are proud to sponsor Early Years Wellbeing Week. Having worked with the sector for over 30 years we know the importance of making wellbeing a priority for all.

We have collaborated with Kate and Tapestry to curate a special collection of bite size films to honour Early Years Wellbeing Week 2023 with the theme of Mental Health Literacy.

With so many of us experiencing difficult and stressful times, it is essential to be talking and learning about the skills needed to protect our mental health and look after the wellbeing of our staff and the people around us.

Watch Kate’s interview and find out how developing an effective and supportive community can help protect us in everyday life to both prevent health issues from developing and worsening, protect educator health, and learn how to deal healthily with the pressures of the role and promote wellbeing.

What is early years wellbeing week and how did it start?

So knowing that working in early years is a stressful and demanding job role, what are we doing differently or what are we doing to raise awareness of educator mental health and wellbeing? And Ofsted, when they introduced the education inspection framework back in 2019, for the first time, started to talk about educator wellbeing. And in the leadership and management section, they talked about wellbeing issues and the role and the duty that leaders, managers, owners, had to support staff wellbeing and address wellbeing issues.

And what we saw happen was people try to tick wellbeing off. So, you know, we talked about it in the staff meeting, and I’ve made a basket and I’ve put some sanitary towels in and I’ve put some chocolate in and I’ve told my staff to go home and have a hot bath and here’s face mask. And they’re lovely. Don’t get me wrong. No one wants to say no to chocolate cake and face masks. And, you know, sanitary towels are always helpful, especially when it’s a female dominated workforce. However, wellbeing is is not something to pick up and put down or tick off, and it can’t just be completed, like children’s wellbeing. It’s an investment. There’s a strategy. There’s care and thought and consideration that goes into it.

And I was seeing so many people talking about wellbeing in, again, a negative way. And many people saying they feel like they do enough already for their staff and they’re being kind of held over a barrel, that staff are perhaps ungrateful for the things that they do. And it was trying to raise awareness of what wellbeing really means and try to protect and promote our wellbeing and try to prevent mental health issues from developing or worsening.

At the time, six years ago, I reached out to Sonya Mainstone Cotton, who’s a nurture practitioner author of, I don’t how many different books now, but I remember discovering her book, it was the only other book I had ever read on staff wellbeing. And that came out, I think it was 2018, and I asked her if she wanted to do something with me. And we just tried to share information posts, put anything out there to try to just encourage a conversation and to get people to engage in an awareness week.

And so it just has kind of grown over the last six years. You know there are criticisms for one-off days, awareness days and weeks, but when there isn’t an investment always in wellbeing, and when we’re seeing so many educators leaving the sector: lowest number of child minders ever, we’re starting to see actually less people wanting to join the profession, issues with retention and recruitment, worries around ratios, all of these different things, then actually, what are we doing to encourage people to join our sector?

And when they have joined our sector, what are we doing to encourage them to stay? The role, the work is dominated by women. And that’s not to say that men don’t work in early years because they do. Our understanding of gender identity is shifting and changing. So of course there are a range of different identities that make up our wonderful workforce, but it is trying to celebrate and honour and model and have respect for wellbeing so that we are taking care of each other within the workplace and actually as a sector dominated by women.

If we are also taking the mental and emotional load at home, which many of us are as caregivers, how are we protecting ourselves so that we can do this job for the long term? Because often what we see is by the time many of us become mothers or we get to a certain age, our knees are gone, our backs are gone. We are burnt out and exhausted. And during Covid we saw many educators either being furloughed or being made redundant, and they’ve got jobs in supermarkets and places that actually paid more money for less responsibility. And people, like lots of different professions, started to think, what am I doing evaluating life and work-life balance.

So we want to increase mental health literacy, raise awareness through early years wellbeing week. So people are able to have conversations but also challenge ableism and challenge this myth that you can’t work with children if you have a disability or a physical or a mental health condition and support equitable opportunity and recruitment when it comes to understanding identity around different health considerations. but also challenge ableism and challenge this myth that you can’t work with children if you have a disability or a physical or a mental health condition and support equitable opportunity and recruitment when it comes to understanding, again, identity around different health considerations. So loads of different avenues to it.

And it’s taken on a life of its own really, which is really wonderful to see.

Kate has worked in the sector for over 25 years and whilst working as an early years manager experienced and suffered from mental health issues, due to being vulnerable to stress and burnout and was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder (OCD), eventually leaving the role to focus on her health and to work with educators as a consultant, trainer and Mental Health First Aid England Instructor Member, through her Wellness For All Training Company.

Kate is the author of the best-selling book, A Guide to Mental Health for Early Years Educators, published with Routledge Education, Little Minds Matter.