Relationships at the core of Gwydir Mobile Children's Service
Hear how Gwydir Mobile Children's Service continues to overcome drought, mice plagues, floods and more to create supportive team environments while providing an essential service to their rural community.
12 May 2021
We were out at Mallawa 60kms from Moree. We had not seen the children for a month due to the floods. We opened up the shed and lifted the Christmas tree and the mice jumped off the tree and ran over my arm, over my foot and away.
How did we react? We laughed. After three years of drought and dust storms, a year of COVID, a locust plague, a mouse plague and a serious flood, we know that laughter is our best option.
My name is Wendy Baldwin. I am the teaching Director at the Gwydir Mobile Children’s Service. Travelling over 1500kms per week across Gamileroi country, the Gwydir Mobile uses two vehicles to visit nine venues and serve children isolated by distance, poor roads, dwindling enrolments and lack of services. I can say with pride that I have one of the best teams in the world and I would like to tell you about my team.
Working on a mobile is physically hard. Dust storms, mice plagues, flood-based mosquitoes and hard driving are exhausting. Other mobiles in other areas face snow, traffic, wombats, wild pigs and other challenges. Most of us at some point will carry water. Toilets are always a challenge. Yet most mobiles in NSW keep their core staff for more than ten years. The Gwydir Mobile has 10 staff. We average fifteen years and counting for working with us. I believe there are four reasons we have kept our staff: structure, relationships, personalities and laughter.
In 2001, I read books by Wallabies coach Rod McQueen and Australian Cricket Captain Steve Waugh. Both talked about structuring a team in a particular way. A senior leadership group. A team of senior players and rookies. We have run our team like that from then on.
In our leadership team we have three members. We make the final call on day to day management issues. Our senior players are our long-term staff. They are our strength. Each one of them brings a different perspective. Their life experiences as parents, farmers, contractors and members of the communities in which we operate, feed into the advice and perspectives they give the leadership group.
Our rookies are our new staff. We encourage them to ask why we do things. This allows us to notice entrenched behaviour. Being younger, their experiences and interests connect us with many of the parents. This structure means that everyone gets a say, everyone takes responsibility, and everyone buys in. When we buy in, we stay.
Relationships are at the core of our team. We don’t look at people as educators. We look at them as workmates who educate with us. What this means is that we accept that family comes first. If you need to meet the need of a family member, drive the chaser bin during harvest, or meet a community expectation then we move hell and high water to allow you to meet your obligations. By doing this we remove the pressure, and the person feels valued. More importantly, the act of moving yourself around for your workmate moves the relationship from workmate to friend. Friendships are the glue that allow us to face the tough days together and find solutions to our problems. It is also the reason we stay.
In our team we have task orientated people. We give them the task, the resources and the respect and let them do their thing. This allows them to have autonomy and so they achieve. When you achieve you buy in.
We have stabilisers who want everyone to be happy. These people glue our team together. They know everyone’s birthday and are the first to notice when someone is upset. We respect these people by listening quietly to their opinions, giving them time to process upcoming change and most importantly acknowledging their contribution.
We have people who have a system and they like things done a certain way. We show them respect by following their system.
Last but not least, we have the ideas people. This group can see potential but not their car keys (yes that’s me). When I organise my staff, I am aware of who rubs who the wrong way, so I minimise putting them together for long periods. I work out who balances who and put them together. I never ask a staff member to do something that I won’t or don’t do.
The strongest part of our team is humour. Laughter is a health giving, friendship making and sanity preserving lifelong habit. Laughter is also one of the most powerful weapons we have in times of fear, doubt, grief and hostility. We laugh at ourselves, at each other, at the ridiculous situations we find ourselves in and at our challenges. Laughter creates perspective. Perspective washes away pettiness and resentment and frustration.
Early childhood education is about relationships. Positive, happy, educators, develop positive happy children. It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience and some tough conversations. Mostly it takes respect, perspective and humour. We spend a lot of time at work and the work we do is important. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves as well as the children to make those relationships at work be positive ones.