And How are the Children..?

ACEI 2009! Day Two…

Posted on: March 19, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 8:45am

8:29 am

Today, I’d like to get into some association business – like a couple of ACEI committee meetings, to get a better sense of how they function as an organization. The conference content has been great so far, but now I want to see some of the action behind that action.

I was considering signing up for a Twitter account, but I wonder if that’d be overkill. Besides which, I don’t have any kind of mobile text device, which seems to really be the main point of Twitter. If you know better, I’m happy to hear people’s opinions on the matter.

In addition to conferencing, I’ve been catching up on some reading, alternating between Neal Stephenson’s ‘Zodiac’ (an environmental justice action thriller), and the ‘Good to Great and the Social Sectors’ monograph by Jim Collins. Collins is giving me a lot to think about in terms of what are the issues and principles that differentiate for-profit businesses from non-profits.

This is of interest to me because pretty much any work I’ll ever do will be in the social sector, and business thinking is a challenge for me. I can do it, and pretty well if I focus, but I gotta admit, it’s not where I live, so to speak. I’m trying to learn to get there more easily, even if I don’t live there.

I appreciate what Collins has to say about non-profits adopting a business mentality – that it’s not necessarily helpful or appropriate. He says that discipline is the key to success, not business-mindedness, and we make a mistake when we equate business with discipline. This rings true to me. I’ve only worked in non-profits in my adult life, and I’ve seen a lot of leaders who were well-prepared to *do* the work of their hearts, but less well-prepared to manage the resources that afforded that work.

Anyway – I’m getting out of here – my session starts in 15 minutes. Thanks for tuning in – more to come!

– Atena

11:27 am

On break now – I was going to attend some other kinds of sessions, but I think I’ll stick with the Early Childhood Committee-sponsored ones for a bit. They’re going all day. I do want to check out some other association stuff, though – I’ll have to see how I can pull it all together… I also need to get some lunch soon.

I enjoyed these sessions (there were 4 in a row), but I had to voice my concerns about the intense focus on quality of early childhood settings, with little focus on accessibility. This is one part of the Action for Children vision that I am intensely dedicated to – Quality, Accessibility and Affordability (which I think of as an aspect of accessibility, really).

High-quality care and education for some kids isn’t good enough. We already have that – that is the status quo. And it’s not really doing much for us as a nation besides widening the gap between haves and have-nots, which negatively impacts our productivity as well as our social relations.

Also, there’s always a bit of talk about how parents don’t appreciate this, that or the other, which I also had to speak to. I brought up how, while there can be a lot that parents don’t know about early childhood care and education, there is also the fact that accessibility has to be a priority for a number of very real reasons. Quality doesn’t help them if they can’t get to it or pay for it.

We can’t expect all parents to spontaneously discover everything we know and hold dear as practitioners. I get really annoyed at the “Tch, tch, tch!” tone I hear many educators take on when they talk about “The Parents,” as if all parents are being willfully uncooperative, or are totally ignorant and need compulsory re-education. So I dropped a Mento in that coke bottle, so to speak (this is an experimental metaphor). Well, it wasn’t that dramatic, but it did change the tone of the discussion.

I haven’t even tried to get lunch yet – I’m going to go do that now. More to come – have a great afternoon!

– Atena

3:46 pm

Alas – no policy as of yet. Not that there couldn’t have been, but it didn’t really come up. Which is too bad.

Here’s where I get annoyed with early childhood practitioners: I’m tired of groups of educators who sit around and talk to each other about: A) How we know what’s up, and boo-hoo – nobody appreciates our great store of knowledge.
B) How amazing it is that the Powers That Be haven’t taken the time to stop and listen to us and make their decisions based on what we know. C) How parents should really get on board with us regarding what’s best for their children and stop making so many poor choices.

Grr! Argh!

Could we have some more discussion about how context influences decision making? Could we talk about ways that we can help parents become more informed that ISN’T condescending and paternalistic? Could we please switch things around so that activism and advocacy are our first impulses, and preaching to the choir is the thing we do if we get around to it?


I’m disappointed because I thought we’d talk more about HOW to address issues of limited quality and access more this afternoon. The first session after lunch was about what quality looks like and why it’s important. That’s great, but the examples were all military, and their funding and organizational structures are not the same as the greater majority of communities who need early care and education.

The next one was a lady who seemed to have a lot of good ideas – her premise was that we have to be very careful about how we address quality, and not do it at the expense of children and families. Unfortunately, she was halfway through her talk before I figured out where she was going with it – if you’re not a good public speaker, use notes. I can forgive a lackluster presentation if I know what the heck you’re talking about. And no, a Power Point presentation will not save you.

The last one was dealing with Diversity Issues in Early Childhood – which was great, but it took her a long time to stop reading from that paper and just tell us what she knew. In the meantime, she lost about half the room (though there was other stuff going on in the conference – I had intended to leave, but what she discussed was interesting). By the time she got to the really good stuff, she’d run out of time – she was a slow speaker, and sounded a lot like a southern preacher. I enjoyed it once I caught onto her pace.

I know that my next thing will be about policy – it’s a committee meeting. The committee chair wants to start drafting a white paper to present to the federal gov’t. She’s clearly not offended by my loudmouth tendencies, because she’s insisting that I return, and has “already put my name down.”

So I’ll just make a day of the Early Childhood Committee (though I was interested in the concurrently-running Program Development committee meeting, too). It’s been interesting, and I do like a chance to be a voice of dissent. Gentle dissent, but dissent nonetheless. People get too comfy without any pushback.

So that’s enough for now. I have 30 minutes – I’m going to try to relax. Let’s see if I can do it…

(PS – I found a reasonably priced restaurant in the ridiculous Mag Mile area. It’s called Grillers, at Pearson and Rush – it’s where the Loyola students go for diner food. Not bad!)

– Atena

6:29 pm

That’s what I’m talking about! Advocacy!

I just rocked the Early Childhood Committee Meeting, and I don’t mind saying so. Maybe it was the Jamba Juice protein smoothie. Or maybe I just rock.

Seriously, though – the chair started a discussion about working as a committee to write a position paper, and we were talking about what to focus on. There was a lot of people talking about what they were personally interested in – issues like quality infant/toddler care, better teacher prep accountability, lower adult-child ratios in classrooms, etc. But it all came down to: not enough resources or support.

So (and I hope our Public Policy department at Action for Children will appreciate this) I jumped in and said “These are all *advocacy* issues. We have a lot of these things and Illinois, and the only reason we do is because of advocacy. If any of your issues are going to get addressed, there needs to be advocacy around them!” And then I talked about Illinois’ Preschool for All program, the Early Childhood Block Grant, Quality Counts and the Illinois Gateways Scholarships. And they were stunned.

“Who do you work for?” “How are you doing those things?” My answer: At Illinois Action for Children, we do a lot of well-organized advocacy, and we have good leaders. And we connect with others to promote a strong advocacy network that includes parents, providers and other professionals.

Our agency executives would be pleased to know that I also touted our ‘3-legged stool’ approach to early childhood earlier in the day, explaining the importance of Quality AND Access AND Affordability.

All of you who work in early care and education in Illinois – count your blessings. It’s not perfect here, but when I describe the system supports we have to folks from some other states, people’s mouths literally fall open.

I handed out a number of business cards – mostly ’cause people are interested in my company and our web address is on my cards. There’s another meeting tomorrow morning that I’ve been invited to come to – now that I’ve made so much noise, I probably should go. And I am enjoying the nodding and leaning-in.

Getting in on a position paper would be a great long-term project – I hope I can do it! I told myself yesterday that in one year’s time I want to be preparing to present at a national conference. I just have to figure out what I can most credibly present on, and who would be interested. But publication is something else I should be seriously considering, and along with that, dare I say it (deep breath…) research.

I’m not quite in a position to do a research study, but I might be able to analyze and interpret existing research, or organize some sort of meta-analysis. I’ll think about that…

But it was a good end to the conference day. I’m thinking I’d like to join the Association and make more national connections. I’d really like to help more people see what is possible programmatically, and with their educational programs, when the state supports appropriate early care and education. We’ve still got a long way to go, but Illinois has done a lot of great stuff. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

More to come! Thanks for reading!

– Atena


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