And How are the Children..?

Archive for the ‘ECE’ Category

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.

Don't Get So Upset - T. Jacobson

Don't Get So Upset - T. Jacobson

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.

Enjoyed meeting Twitterfriend Cate Heroman IRL!

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.

Luis Hernandez facilitates.

Luis Hernandez

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.

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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.

Let it shine at Leadership Connections 2010!

“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…

Because I am essentially a big nerd, I envisioned that the 57th Street Bookstore would be teeming with early childhood enthusiasts.  I feared that if my friend and I arrived any later than 5:30 pm, we would have to squeeze through a standing-room-only crowd to get a decent vantage of the visiting author, and that I’d have to wait forever to get a book signed, if there were even any copies of the book left.  I am pleased to say that while the event was well-attended, my anxiety was unwarranted.  And it was a lovely time listening to Vivian Gussin Paley talk about children, stories and relationships.

While there was no throng of early childhood practitioners, I set out to buy my books before the talk, so I could have them signed afterward without too much waiting (besides being rather averse to waiting in lines myself, I was accompanied by my 11 month old son, who might not tolerate waiting after an hour-long lecture/reading).  As I approached the book table, Ms. Paley walked into the room with her husband.  Yay!  Almost immediately she engages me, the conversation starting with Duncan (my son), and moving on to the topic of the early childhood job market and what’s going on with the Illinois state budget.  I mention how she was the honored guest at my masters degree commencement, trying my best not to sound like a groupie.  She has that kind of unabashed openness that puts you at ease, and makes you feel like you are talking with someone you already know.  I see my friend Rachael arrive, and I excuse myself go to purchase my copies of ‘The Boy on the Beach,’ and ‘You Can’t Say You Can’t Play,’ before the talk begins.

What strikes me most about listening to Paley describe what she sees and learns from observing children’s play, is that she is able to articulate the value of play in a way that relays the essential humanity of it.  I attended a luncheon presentation once, sponsored by the Alliance for Childhood, where the speaker was a woman who teaches children to play for a living.  She expressed her frustration at the limited understanding people generally have for the importance of play; how play skills are taken for granted and her work is often gently dismissed with “Well isn’t that nice?” when she thinks of herself as advocating for a human rights issue.  Vivian Paley gets it, and she explains it rather elegantly.  During her talk, she discussed how children, in play, offer and accept roles from each other, building relationships through the mutual acceptance of each other’s stories.  Talking about loneliness, or “the dark spot of children going to school,” Paley explains how “one piece of dialog makes a friend out of a stranger.”  What great, simple tools for educators to use!  So much of intentional instruction and guidance of children is just this: knowing how to sculpt education and growth out of what already occurs.  She encourages us to make way for conversations that will happen among children, and to see why those conversations- facilitated in imaginative play- are essential to children building relationships, and building community among each other.  Another favorite quote along those lines: “With play, a young child figures out a way to be necessary to the group.”

Of course, the kind of play that Paley is talking about takes a lot of time and space created by adults.  The rich soil of great play is being eroded by time constraints, testing expectations and didactic instruction, and we talked about that.  Paley presented us with the metaphor of “Play is a Play,” and stated that we are cutting that performance somewhere between Acts II and III.  She challenges us to consider what happens in classrooms where play is cut off before Act III emerges, before the story the children are weaving reaches its logical or necessary conclusions.  What is lost when we cut these stories short?

When she opened the floor for questions, a person brought up digital media and how it creates disconnection, encourages short attention span, etc.  Naturally we talked about how preparing for assessments dominates a lot of classroom time.  I have to admit a mild lack of patience for these parts of Q&A sessions, because there is a tendency among educators to begin a lot of hand-wringing and wondering aloud why no one listens to us.  A lot of time can be spent complaining about ways that our collective store of knowledge is ignored.  I don’t mean to say that venting frustrations is a waste of time, but doing it while Vivian Gussin Paley is sitting there, willing to answer questions, would be a wasted opportunity.  My solution to this problem is to circumvent with a well-placed question about action and advocacy.  My question:  As the nation moves in the direction of more assessment-for-accountability and the conversation about common educational standards changes the perception of early childhood on the national stage, have you participated in any initiatives or activities to address prioritizing play in terms of policy and advocacy?  Her answer: Engage parents in advocacy. She said the adult who is most easily reached regarding this topic is the parent, and that parents groups are the best groups to speak to in order to effect some change.  Then, bringing it back to the educators she said, “Teachers can make more use of their parent groups than they have.”  There’s a gentle challenge there, I think.  There is often tension in the relationship between teacher and parent (reasonably so), and too often, even when good relationships exist between parents and educators, there can still be a pernicious Us v. Them mindset that prevents us from fully harnessing the power we could wield if we not only worked together, but advocated for each other (for example, how many parents have out there in Illinois have considered calling your legislator and speaking up to save teachers’ jobs?  How many teachers have contacted their state representative to support house bill 174 -or any legislation- on behalf of families?).

My friend Rachael, a teacher of at-risk pre-k and kindergarten asked a follow-up question asking what advice she had to give to teachers who are trying to preserve play in their classrooms when many are moving towards having common schedules for each grade level yet still want to advocate for play? and Paley responded “It can be done with more… like-minded help,” encouraging Rachael to make more use of a community effort within her school, and find creative solutions to getting enough bodies in the classroom to support such an effort, like using older students to record story dictations.  I appreciate Paley’s suggestions to create more of a community effort within classrooms, however, I think sometimes teachers should be encouraged to advocate outside of the world of the classroom, which can be very insular and isolating. Play is unappreciated in institutions beyond individual schools or school districts, and we have to contend with more than principals and superintendents.  Legislators, and others who influence policy can always stand to hear input from constituents who are educators.  Some teachers may have to step outside of their comfort zones to affect change on a community-wide level.

I look forward to reading Paley’s latest work, and benefiting from her insights.  Her voice is an important one among advocates for play.  I’m glad I got a second chance to hear her speak, and thank her for her words and wisdom.

I am very pleased and so excited to announce that I will be attending Leadership Connections 2010!

As I described in my initial post on this topic, I decided to set some professional development goals to guide my focus during this time while I am between jobs. So I set out to obtain sponsorship to attend the McCormick Tribune Center for Early Childhood Leadership’s Leadership Connections conference. Starting about a month ago, I wrote letters to my local legislators, made announcements at my church, and wrote about it on this blog; I offered to exchange services, and generally worked hard to make the case for supporting the professional development of an ambitious (albeit unemployed) early childhood professional through private donations. And it worked!

My first donation was a $5 bill from an elder lady at church – a good reminder that sometimes we must start small, and any support and good will is worthy of gratitude.

As the days went on, I would receive a little money here, a rejection there. I got a personal call from my Congresswoman’s office, explaining that while they could not offer a donation, they appreciated what I was doing. That was my nicest rejection.

Then, just a few days before the conference registration rate was to increase, I redoubled my efforts, since I didn’t yet have enough to cover the cost of registration, and was nowhere near being able to take an additional seminar, or stay at the hotel. And it worked! With just enough time to mail a check, I was able to pull together a little over the registration amount from generous private donors. Then, something unexpected happened…

I got a scholarship!

It seemed like a long shot when I applied. Not because I’m not a worthy candidate, but because I don’t really fit the description of the scholarship candidate as described on the McCormick Tribune Center for Early Childhood Leadership  webpage. I figured I must have been disqualified when the end of March approached and I had not received any response to my application. Then, on March 30, I was informed that I would be receiving a scholarship to cover the cost of the conference registration!

So now, I am able to attend the conference and an additional seminar and a leadership networking dinner (those cost extra). And very significantly, I will be able to stay at the hotel. This is particularly significant, because besides being a nice hotel, it solves the problem of my husband having to drive me from Chicago to Wheeling, IL every morning, since I still do not have a driver’s license (I’ve never had one – a long story for another day).

So, as you can imagine, today I am truly, truly grateful, and humbled by the extent of people’s generosity. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of those who have supported my efforts! I will certainly be blogging the conference, so stay tuned for Leadership Connections coverage right here. More conference updates to come!

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