Line Alvheim Elmore
My message to colleagues around the world:
Line is not only a pedagogical leader (kindergarten teacher) and special education teacher, she is also a union representative for 67 kindergartens and their pedagogical staff. She tells us how important the cooperation with the union has been during this time and how they have worked tirelessly to get the government and the general public to understand how important it is for the pedagogical staff to remain child-focused and remove non-essential tasks during this period of time.
If you could send one positive message to children and families/caregivers around the globe at these challenging times, what would it be?
Don't worry. We will get through this together, and we will bring a sense of normalcy to the situation. In kindergarten, you will get to play with other children, get a hug when you need one, and most things will be as before. To the parents: We got this!
If you could send one positive message to your colleagues around the globe at these challenging times, what would it be?
We are the voice of the children; we have to be adamant not to compromise on that, no matter what the situation is.
What are you learning during these times as an individual and a professional?
Being a union rep. nationally, my employer has been working closely with me to discuss different dilemmas and solutions. Since I work "on the floor" with all the other workers, I'm living with the consequences of their decisions and can quickly let them know of any unintended side effects or new challenges.
What would you like people to know and understand about your work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It was a totally new situation, and many people began to recognize the importance of kindergarten. Parents and children missed kindergarten. They missed the relationship with the staff, the other children, and all the pedagogical activities we do every day. We talked to them on the phone, sent emails, and had video meetings. Some children missed us so much that they would beg their parents to send us pictures and messages every time they did something or beg them to call us. Many parents asked questions about how to talk to their children about COVID–19 and other challenges they faced during the lockdown period.
The kindergartens were open during the lockdown for children with special needs, children living in volatile homes, and children whose parents held critical jobs like grocery store workers, nurses, and doctors.
When we returned after lockdown, opening on the red level (the strictest level), there was an understanding between authorities, unions, owners, parents, and staff that we needed shorter opening hours. For years, we have been advocating the need for a good ratio of staff to children throughout the day. COVID-19 made that an absolute necessity and underscored the benefit to the children – like we knew it would. Another happy side effect of "all hands on deck" was that non-essential tasks were removed, which gave us even more time with the children. In Norway, most Kindergartens serve 2-3 meals to the children instead of having children bring food from home. During the pandemic, we have really seen how much time preparing and cleaning up after meals takes. So when parents started bringing food, and we shortened the opening hours, everyone was there with the children at the same time instead of being overstretched. That gave us more time for each individual child.
When we reopened, we were clear that we were not compromising on the fact that COVID rules would be followed only to the extent that the child's welfare was not interfered with. We needed to be the constant for children because home wasn't constant anymore; their parents weren't working, or they were working from home. They couldn't go out and play with whomever they wanted. But, kindergarten was the same. So, throughout this whole thing, we were clear that we could not open the kindergartens if we could not be authentic. If a child comes running towards me, I'm going to sit down, I'm going to open my arms, and I'm going to give that child a hug – that child doesn't need me to be different. They need me to be me.
Many children came back from the lockdown very scared because everywhere they went, they had to act differently. We needed that normalcy. We have followed all the protocols, but never to the point where children experienced being with us differently. There is no social distancing in a much-needed hug for young children. I think that's been one of the most important things we've done as a profession - fighting for the children's need for normalcy and physical contact – just being ourselves and saying, "You can't open kindergartens if they can't be what the children need." Our union, Utdanningsforbundet, fought tirelessly for both the children and the workers' needs.
What concerns you the most now, and what concerns you most for the upcoming period?
That we would go back to being open for 10 hours, which means that you're stretching staff while still being expected to keep up with the additional cleaning that we've had during the red level COVID period. I'm afraid that some of the benefits we've seen will be forgotten.