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Detours: Sensing the changes in context

Sociologist Homans writes that, “What a leader needs to have is not a set of rules but a good method of analyzing the situation in which he must act” (as cited in Goffee and Jones, 2006, p. 85). As an Early Childhood Education Specialist working directly with young humans I am called to observe, understand my changing context every moment of the day and respond. Mastering the nuances of the context is key. So, what does this look like in practice?

Sensing the context means that you need to be aware of yourself and the changes taking place around you. Goffee and Jones (2006) coined the phrase “situation sensing” and discussed the three elements of “situation sensing”. The first element involves observing and interpreting the context. A story involving Max, a young human in my care, comes to mind. It was time to change Max’s diaper. We were walking towards the restroom from the play space to take care of this routine need. When we were close to the restroom we both heard Everly, another young human in my care, crying in another room. Max said, “Caa-ying”. I said, “Yes, she is crying. She is with her mom right now”. He walked over to the blanket and the scarves nearby that we usually offer Everly. He picked it up and carried it over to me. I said, “You want to offer the blanket and scarves to Everly”. I wanted to follow through with the plan I had made with Max to change his diaper. I said, “Everly is being comforted by her mother. You can offer it after we change your diaper “. I told him I was going to place the items on a stool nearby. I held out my hands and waited for him to hand over the items. Max seemed reluctant at first and then placed the items in my hands. I placed the items on the stool nearby and looked in the direction of the restroom. He walked over to the restroom, then paused at the doorway, stretched out both his arms and held the door frame with both his hands. He vocalized and looked up at me. I said, “You do not want to go into the restroom. You want to give the blanket and scarves to Everly first”. At that moment I realized that the context of our initial plan to change his diaper had changed for Max when Everly started to cry. I realized how important it was for him to check on Everly who was crying and give her the items. I momentarily felt disappointed in myself for failing to recognize the change that Everly’s crying had created in Max’s immediate context. I am grateful for his persistence in communicating his desire to implement his plan. I am grateful for these moments that I share with the young humans in my care as these moments develop me as a leader.

The second element of “situation sensing” according to Goffee and Jones (2006) is adapting your behaviors as a leader while being authentic to oneself. Goffee and Jones (2006) write, “They adapt without ever losing their sense of self. They are what we call authentic chameleons. The chameleon adapts dramatically to its environment or context without ever ceasing to be a chameleon." After realizing his desire to implement his plan of taking the items to Everly I looked at him and said, “Yes, let’s go check on Everly and give her these items”. I changed my thinking and enabled him to implement his new plan by reflecting on my own behaviors a few moments ago.

This brings me to the final element of “situation sensing” according to Goffee and Jones (2006) which involves using the change in behavior to transform the context. I was willing to take a detour from our initial plan given the changed context. This transformed the context. According to Berger and Luckmann (1996), leaders work with their followers to construct an alternative reality. A reality in this situation that involved Max taking the items to Everly first.

The good news is that according to Goffee and Jones (2006) “situation sensing” can be taught and learned. Therefore, adults working with young humans can be taught and learn to sense the context.

There is a sense of urgency in helping caregivers of young humans become aware of “situation sensing” (Goffee & Jones, 2006). This is because according to Dr. Bruce Lipton, a developmental biologist, a new baby is downloading everything that is going on around him at four billion bits per second (as cited in Brownlee, 2016, p. 23). Imagine 8 mobile phones downloading high definition (HD) content from their provider at the same time: this is how fast a typically developing young human is processing data at any given second! Young humans are beginning to learn how to sense context from a very early age. The caregivers of young humans need to be prepared to sense the context and take detours throughout their time working with young humans.

Yes, he did walk back to the restroom to get his diaper changed by me without further protest!


Berger, P.L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of

Reality. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Brownlee, P. (2016). Dance with me in the heart: The adult’s guide to

great infant-parent partnerships. Thames, NZ: Good Egg


Goffee, R., & Jones, G. (2006). Why should anyone be led by you?:

What it takes to be an authentic leader. Boston, MA: Harvard

Business School Press.

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