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What a week. We recovered from the blizzard, and jumped back in. Report cards came in, and I looked at the list of grades. I think I had what could potentially be described as a Geoffrey Canada moment; I thought to myself, ‘It isn’t enough. How can it be? 3 hours in the afternoon, with just a few adults (however caring and creative and resourceful), in the face of all that schools and parents do not, for whatever reason, provide… How can we help more than a few of these kids? How do we, as busy people, connect with parents who are busy people who barely have time for teachers, who are busy people (whom we should also be connecting with)? How do we close these cracks that these bright faces are already slipping through?’
Now, don’t get me wrong. We do help. We change lives. We provide opportunities that these young people might not otherwise get (like yesterday’s field trip to meet the legends of Negro League Baseball at Chicago Children’s Museum), and we provide stability, high expectations, relationships and resources for families. We’ve helped parents and grandparents find resources to help their children with identified special needs. Tutoring and technology education and art classes and youth councils – I have no doubt in my heart that we impact lives every day. But how long will that impact last? How wide is the ripple?
Serving youth and families is challenging in this way. You do it for years, and because it is relationship-based, the outcomes are more qualitative than quantitative. Which means you never see the full impact of what you work so hard at doing. When you affect someone’s heart or mind, it doesn’t always show on their skin (especially if they are artfully disaffected adolescents).
Anyone who has been to this blog before today knows that Youth Development is a new field for me – I come from the world of Early Childhood. I am challenged by the time that has already passed. I wonder if we can pull them back from the brink so late in the game. But I do not despair, or lose faith. I just really need to name my fears if I’m going to get past them. Then I remind myself:
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Children are enormously resilient and resourceful – even past the ripe old age of 8 years.
We have no choice but to invest in these young people, and the most challenging circumstances often offer the most creative and elegant solutions. I will be an open vessel for these solutions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.
I wonder what people think of this article (HT to @Thanks2Teachers via Twitter for bringing it to my attention). Please share your thoughts:
I have been disappointed with what feels like a pretty conservative approach to education reform. *To clarify, I mean conservative in the ‘slow, cautious, playing-it-safe’ way, not as a ideological label for a group of people (i.e. the political opposite of ‘liberal.’)* Also disappointing: support for early childhood remains insufficient, continuing to follow the ‘table scraps’ model of funding.
I don’t know anything about this author, Diane Ravitch. Her headline is sensational. She’s marketing a book. But she also seems to make some sound points. I wish she had provided some examples of possible solutions among her list of complaints and criticisms. This piques my ongoing issue with educators: a great deal of willingness to discuss problems, but little action toward solving those problems. This is not a personal criticism of Ravitch, and may not be consistent with her record – I will have to do some reading before making that determination. Perhaps there are solutions discussed in her book.
She does note that she is seeking leadership outside of herself – political leadership. If she finds that leadership, I wonder how she would participate. How do any of us engage with leaders who have taken up our cause? How can educators really be the change we want to see in the world?
Here’s a bit of reflection on the Leadership Connections conference. I will share more detailed reflections later, but now that I’m home, it’s my turn to feed and bathe the kids. I can’t wait to tell about some of the amazing people I met (like the D.C. Ladies!), and the great moments of learning and reflection. Until then, I leave you with these thoughts.
What a day! 2 Skill-building sessions, a few minutes with the kids, and a cavalcade of talented, amazing colleagues in early childhood care and education.
I started the day with Lori Jensen’s session: Leaving a Strengths-Based Legacy. This was a coaching skills workshop, where the very energetic Lori Jensen (Ph.D.) described myriad practical ways to learn about making the best use of people’s strengths. She presented this somewhat counterintuitive idea, which turns out to make a lot of sense: Don’t try too much to improve on weaknesses, but rather invest most of your time and energy in improving things that people are already good at. Jensen shared a good-sized bucket of research that supports this notion. We did a few group activities, plenty of reflection on our own experiences, and had a good group discussion.
After lunch, I bought a new book: ‘Don’t Get So Upset!: Help Young Children Manage their Feelings by Understanding Your Own” by Tamar Jacobson, Ph.D. I’m very excited about this (though I really wanted to get Perspectives on Gender in Early Childhood – edited by Jacobson, but it was cost prohibitive, alas) because I read Jacobson’s ‘Confronting Our Discomfort’ during my graduate internship and found it to be so transformative: a great foundational text for someone studying Anti-Bias Education. These days, finding the balance between patience and anger are more challenging than ever before, so I appreciate finding a book that touches on that topic by an author whom I admire. I’ll let you know how the book goes if I ever get a chance to read it. Just kidding – I’ll find time. I will.
Second session: One Size Doesn’t Fit All – The Coach’s Role in Professional Development, by Cate Heroman. Somehow, I did not consciously realize how my conference choices had all coalesced around the theme of ‘coaching.’ The pre-conference seminar and both of today’s workshops were all about coaching, consultation and leadership. In today’s afternoon session, Cate Heroman talked about the kinds of mentors that have the greatest impact on our lives, and the traits that we brainstormed reflected what the opening keynote speaker talked about when he described characteristics of leaders, for example trust. Trust keeps coming up again and again – I guess because these topics have to do with relationship-based support (i.e. coaching and consultation). The opening keynote talked about that, too. Trust and building relationships to move forward. These themes were reflected again later on in the evening during the Fireside Chats.
Heroman ran a fun, focused workshop. The conversation was pretty lively, and she has a spark of fun that lightens the experience. Prior to the session, I took the opportunity to introduce myself as a Twitter friend. It’s a strange, but fun experience meeting people in real life after piecing together online relationships based on brief comments, web links, and tiny photographs.
After the afternoon session, I spent a few rejuvenating minutes with my family. My dear, dear husband came up to pick up milk for our one-year-old, and I was so pleased to see them when I opened my hotel room door! As great as it is to have the Heavenly Bed to myself, I’ve missed them, and have definitely gotten a boost from seeing them, however briefly. Same with the ‘Say goodnight’ calls at bedtime. I thank my husband for his support and participation.
The Champions for Change Dinner with Paula Jorde Bloom and Teri Telan was enjoyable – good food and good conversation. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Maria Gandara of Sunshine Learning Home & Day Care – a tireless local advocate for children and families, and home-based child care providers, especially. She was vocal about desire among home-based providers for the development of a credential that addresses their unique service issues and competencies, which turned out to be a pretty hot topic of conversation. I listened a lot and didn’t talk much (a rarity), and afterward made my way to the fireside chat, which turned out to be a anniversary celebration of McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership (25 years!) as well as a surprise celebration of the career and work of Paula Jorde Bloom.
After a hilarious introduction by Luis Hernandez (McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership Advisory Board member), people took turns describing how their careers had progressed and how they experienced Dr. Bloom’s influence, or been involved with MCECL over the years. What an invaluable set of accounts, not just for the sentimental value, but also for the historical perspective available in the telling of these stories that overlap and intertwine over decades. I was so pleased to be there to hear it. How inspiring! Advisory board members shared their stories, and then everyone in the room had a chance to share their experiences of how Dr. Bloom and the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership had touched their lives, and the lives of people they serve (someone from Singapore got up to tell Dr. Bloom that she has touched many lives in her country as well). This is where that theme of trust and leadership was revisited – a few people related their experiences of Paula’s exceptional leadership, and that it has been characterized by trust, among other things. It must feel very good to have all of the themes of your leadership conference culminate in a discussion about your leadership. What a legacy!
Then there was coffee and cake. A lovely end to a very full day.
I feel as though this experience is coming to a head, but I’m too tired to reflect on it properly. Trust me, though: once it all sinks in, I will break it all down. Until then…
Opening Ceremonies and Keynote
We started off right with a dance party! After the dancing lights formed into a Kool and the Gang conga line around the room, we all settled down and enjoyed our cupcakes (the electric tea lights were brought in atop cupcakes) while the keynote speaker began.
“Good leaders lead with the heart.” This was a recurring theme in the keynote address given by John Graham, a former diplomat and mountaineer turned philanthropist. Graham is the spokesperson for Giraffe Heroes Project, an organization that encourages people to “stick their necks out for the common good.”
We’ve been hearing a lot of giraffe-related metaphors today as a result.
Graham is not of the early childhood field, but appears to understand the qualities that make for good leaders are required for all leaders, whatever or whomever they lead – like ability to use intuition, to build trust, and to have vision. Regarding vision – he is quick to explain that vision is not code for dreams and fantasies, but rather a visualization of real goals and plans. A kind of projection of the future. According to Graham, “A vision is a great North Star – a vision is a great source of guidance… It inspires. It’s glue…” He talks about using vision as a planning tool for groups working together, reminding us to use heart to guide visioning, not just brain and thinking; non-profits often start with goals and objectives, and he urges them to start with vision.
He touched on a lot of values that feel very spiritual to me, and in such an amicable, straightforward kind of way. I appreciate his approach. Even if he’s not familiar with the details of early childhood leadership, he gets leadership. He gets the humanity required to lead and to make meaning, which he boils down to service and making life better. I believe in my heart that leadership is a way to practice serving society and humanity.
Public Policy Forum
We the PPF took the form of a lecture/presentation (during which I tweeted a few salient points), followed by facilitated breakout discussions. The Forum Facilitators:
- Kay Albrecht of Innovations in Early Childhood Education
- Stacie Goffin of Goffin Strategy Group
- Luis Hernandez of Region IV Head Start
- Karen Ponder, an ECE Consultant
- Margie Wallen of the Ounce of Prevention Fund
The Public Policy Forum Keynote speaker was Sharon Lynn Kagan of Teachers College, Columbia University – today’s recipient of the Visionary Award. Her talk was called Advancing ECE2: Early Childhood Education [ece] and its Quest for Equity, Coherence, and Excellence [ECE]. Very clever title. Kagan stridently puts forth a number of ideas about how she thinks early care and education should be moving forward in terms of policy on the national level. During the breakout sessions, we discussed what she referred to as ’8 Bold Steps’ that could be taken. I’ll have to find a link to her website so that people can read about that in detail, as we did not get handouts for that session. One of the 8 Bold Steps was to change how we credential ECE professionals. There is ongoing discussion, debate and some tension about how to appropriately require educators to obtain the proper knowledge base to do their jobs effectively and well. Research tells us that quality of education improves if teachers hold degrees, but Kagan points out that she isn’t convinced that there is a big difference in quality between those who have 2 or 4 year degrees.
Addressing AA vs. BA – Kagan commented that she doesn’t want to excise or price-out diversity among our practitioners. She says we need to develop a system where educators function like nurses and demonstrate skills, irrespective of the degree. They would take a competency-based exam. I think this is a really good idea. It sets a consistent standard for quality service provision, but allows for more variety of educators. Kagan says she also wants a credential that has national recognition and is transferable from state to state.
In a lot of ways, she seems to want the moon. In a lot of ways, I agree with her; It’s about time we started acting like we deserve the moon in early childhood. We’ve gotten way too comfortable with the assumption that we’ll never get what we need, so we often don’t bother to aim high. Kagan is aiming crazy high, but her aims might be crazy like a fox.
This topic got a lot of attention during the break out session that I participated in. I chose the session facilitated by Kay Albrecht, and she had us jump right in and hit the ground running. It was a bit much – lots of people talking about a lot of topics. My favorite moment during the breakout session was when the event photographer chimed in: Apparently, he is a retired high school administrator. He told us that he believes that what ECE professionals do is very important, and the effects of our work could be seen in the children he worked with. Too bad he’s not working anymore – it figures that when I finally hear someone from the high school side of things acknowledge that, they’re retired. I’m glad he spoke up, though.
Anyway, it was a good session, and Kay Albrecht is an excellent facilitator. I will definitely be following up on Lynn Kagan’s work, and I hope that she can get more educators on board with advocacy engagement. That’s my pet soapbox at these ECE events: We’ve got to get involved in advocacy! Let’s be activists! Stop complaining to each other and start demanding change!
Then we had delicious hors d’ourves and very nice jazz music during the networking reception, where I caught up with some old acquaintances and talked more with new friends before retiring to my room for a little time with my family. My amazing husband has done a lot to make it possible for me to attend this conference, and I am very grateful for his sacrifices and accommodations. I’m drinking lots of water!
I’d love to hash it all out even more, but the Westin Hotel Heavenly Bed is calling me. More tomorrow: Skill-Building Clinics, and the Friday Evening Champions for Change Dinner! More to come…
Posted May 12, 2010on:
Today was a great introduction to the world of professional early childhood consultation. I have learned about so many great tools and resources.
My first Leadership Connections session was a pre-conference seminar: Consultation and Change Management, facilitated by Patricia Reinhardt and Anne Mead of Connecticut.
It was enlightening to learn about the structures and real intentionality that have gone into developing standards and practices for early childhood consultation. Anyone who is interested in starting consultation should seek out these resources – there is much more to it than I knew. This is not to say that I thought there was nothing to it, but a lot of professionals have put a lot of thought into really developing organized and ethical practices for consultants in ECE. This is encouraging for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s always great when a group of people care enough about a topic to develop intentionality about the way it is handled.
2. There are guides for practitioners who are interested in pursuing early childhood consultation as a career direction. Guides that are aligned with the NAEYC Code of Ethics.
I think the best thing about the session (besides being well-presented and engaging) is that they offered so many practical tools for consultants, such as a basic guide for assessing the culture of an organization, and the frameworks for understanding system structures and methods for communicating with consultation clients.
This was a good start to what I’m expecting to be a great conference. Stay tuned for more!