Nollau To You Experience Energizes Park’s Edge Preschool’s Staff
The UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) staff team recently facilitated a two-part Nollau To You leadership training seminar for the teachers and administrators at UCC-related Park’s Edge Preschool in Hales Corners, Wis. The two half-day workshops, held April 23 and Nov. 5, took place via Zoom, with the November workshop building on the experiences from the one in April. Together, the two sessions were poignant, fun-filled, and fulfilling for both participants and presenters.
Ellen Kvalheim, Park Edge’s director, said she brought Nollau To You to the school because, as a 2013 graduate of CHHSM’s Nollau Leadership Institute, she realized “the valuable opportunity offered through Nollau.” After sending Curriculum Coordinator Janele Baldwin to the Nollau Institute in 2019, Kvalheim realized that Park’s Edge could not afford to send all of its staff to the Institute in a timely fashion. The Nollau To You seminars were the perfect answer.
“What I especially value in Nollau is sharing some of the history of Nollau and the connection between the UCC and our program and mission,” Kvalheim said. “This validates staff as leaders in the important role of serving God by caring for others.”
The April session included an introduction to CHHSM’s mission, vision and values, as well as discussions about one’s purpose and vocation. It included exercises to help participants center in on their own faith journeys and how that applies to their chosen vocation of serving leadership in the classroom.
In November, the day included presentations on faith-based leadership theories, building resilience in one’s work and life, and an introduction to embodying leadership and listening to one’s body. The November session opened and closed with rituals geared to helping participants relax and reflect on the people in their lives.
“The sessions benefited the staff by providing them a moment to know they are not alone, they have the tools to make a difference in their personal lives and classrooms,” said Baldwin. “It truly was a benefit to focus on our mind, body, and souls for an afternoon.”
Both the April and November sessions included several activities to flesh out the material offered in the presentations, including coloring mandalas; movement and breathing, and other centering relaxation techniques; and exercises geared to helping participants explore who they are, both as servant leaders and in their personal lives. The sessions also provided the opportunity for participants to identify their personal and professional support systems.
“The breakout sessions touched many of the staff spiritually, as well as in acknowledging the important role they play in families’ lives,” said Kvalheim.
Baldwin said she was surprised by how much the sessions calmed and recentered her. “It meant a lot to me that I was able to find so many moments throughout the presentation that provided real leadership qualities and ways to respect others and myself more,” she said.
For the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development, the Park’s Edge sessions were unique. “The spiritual depth of this group moved me,” Berry said. “The connections to their faith and how they were part of something larger than themselves was so present in how they engaged with the material. It was such a gift to share that sacred space with them as they shared about their own spiritual lives and working in a faith-based organization.”
The final session concluded with each participant choosing the gift of a wrapped stone. Each stone had one word written on it for the receiver to contemplate, such as relax, strength, believe, blessed, and more. After the event, the staff created a bulletin board with photos that included the stones’ words to reflect their Nollau to You experience.
“The gift of the stones was spirit-filled and, ironically, each one matched up to the staff member that chose the wrapped stone at random,” said Kvalheim.
Following the second session, Park’s Edge staff offered feedback on the ideas they will implement in their classrooms and what they found most helpful. Many of the teachers found the activities on de-stressing and finding calm were the most helpful, while others found the exploration of their personal networks and support systems to provide vital tools for themselves in moving forward.
Teacher Alayna said she would teach “techniques that will calm the classroom and myself while working.” Another, Terri, agreed, saying she would introduce “more calming movement and exercises in the classroom.” Gina said she wanted to think of “more ideas to teach [students] to treat others as they want to be treated.”
“I found the most helpful was comparing servant leaders vs. other leaders,” said teacher Julie. “Such an amazing training — would love to experience it again.” Cody found “taking time to do things intentionally” to be most helpful. Alayna enjoyed “learning more about leadership in teaching and understanding it better.”
“It was great to see the way the teachers responded to the sessions. Caregivers need care, too, especially in light of all the challenges that Covid-19 has presented,” said the Rev. George Graham, vice president of CHHSM. “I am glad that the CHHSM team was able to provide sessions that allowed the Park’s Edge staff to take a step back and receive some nurture and encouragement.”
The opportunity to learn about CHHSM and Nollau’s history was important to the teachers in their connection to Park’s Edge Preschool’s mission in serving families and the community, said Kvalheim. “They have the privilege to be in a church setting administering God’s tender loving care to the children and able to express and practice faith customs at work through prayer, Bible stories, and song.”
“I would consider doing Nollau To You again with the Park’s Edge staff in the future,” Kvalheim added. “The benefit is immeasurable in relation to staff connecting mission to ministry as it relates to them individually and as a group serving children and families.”
Nollau To You was designed as a way for CHHSM members and other UCC partners to learn about serving leadership in a way that is geared toward their organization, said Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM.
“We offer these sessions to all of our members as a tailor-made opportunity to address their staff’s or board’s needs,” Readinger said, with a curriculum designed just for them.”
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