August 28, 2015

Steven Hicks serves as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education. Mr. Hicks first began in the Department as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, having taught preschool through third grade in Los Angeles, California. He has helped shape the Department’s birth to third grade early learning agenda and works on two high-profile programs: Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge and Preschool Development Grants. Named a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year and member of the USA Today All-USA Teacher Team, he also served as an on-line early childhood mentor and a contributing writer for early childhood curricula. As Los Angeles Region Preschool Coordinator for the California Reading and Literacy Project, he trained teacher leaders and early childhood educators for three years on effective literacy practices. He also founded the early learning center at his charter school. Mr. Hicks holds a Master of Arts degree in Early Childhood and Primary School Education and is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in Early Childhood.

PreschoolToday recently received this Tweet, “I really appreciate the efforts being made to change the face of #ECE. Please let us teachers know what we can do to help!” My first reaction, as an early education teacher of 20 years, was to be annoyed that teachers have to ask what they can do. Then I realized that this highlights the extent to which we have shut down teacher voices, especially those in early childhood education. In many schools and community-based settings, early childhood education teachers are not seen as adding value in advancing the current state of education, much less as being capable leaders. And that opinion is not only coming from administrators or colleagues, it’s also coming from the teachers themselves.

Somewhere along the way, early childhood education has been relegated by some to just a few notches above babysitting. I remember in my kindergarten classroom, the superintendent of a very large school district quipped as he walked through my classroom and saw children building structures at the block center, creating patterns with manipulatives, or exploring at the computers, “Oh this must be daycare.” Many on the outside don’t know the value of what we do, nor do they attempt to find out. If we are in an elementary school, we are often relegated down the hall, away from the ‘real’ teachers who teach the things that seem to matter, the things that are tested. And so, since what we do is not always respected on the same level as our colleagues, neither is our opinion.

Steven Hicks teacherAccording to a recent poll, only one-third of teachers feel that their voices are heard in their district, 5 percent in their state, and just 2 percent at the national level. This is for all teachers. You can imagine how much lower the stats would be if we just looked at early childhood teachers. Failure to leverage the voices and expertise of early childhood teachers in schools and community-based settings has deep implications for students, programs, and policies, as well as our profession.

Fortunately, the “face of #ECE is changing,” as the Tweeter reminds us in 140 characters or less. In fact, I’m thrilled to know that early childhood teachers, who have long been perceived as reluctant to embrace technology, are Tweeting. And they’re doing more than that. They’re blogging, Facebooking, Pinning, Instagramming, subscribing to list servs (like this one), and joining webinars and on-line communities using their smartphones, tablets, laptops and now watches! Hopefully, some of this time we spend on our devices is building our professional knowledge and providing ways in which we can find our voice to be not only great teachers, but also great leaders.

“What can we do to help?” Everything. What you do in your classroom is the most important thing you can be doing to ensure the success of our young children and the future economic prosperity of our nation. You are helping to build minds! But sorry, that’s just not enough. Each of us also should be a leader in our schools, communities, and professional organizations, a responsibility all early childhood teachers should embrace. We are the experts on early learning and development. We are the individuals who have the training and the experience to fully understand what children and families need, what is helpful, and what is not.

Education is always evolving with fads and flavors of the month to solve the never-ending challenge of closing the achievement gaps. But real progress happens when teacher leaders strive for changes in the culture of education and in the policies that affect our students. Teachers can find ways to lead at the local, state, and national levels. Often, change will occur because the astute teacher recognizes a void, something that must be done to move us further towards our goals of equitable educational opportunity.

At the local level, this can mean creating better systems for children as they transition from early childhood programs to elementary schools; serving as a mentor for new or experienced teachers; or advocating for better policies to address and reduce bullying, suspensions, or chronic absenteeism at the school or center. There are school board meetings, neighborhood associations, advocacy and union organizations, and advisory committees that would benefit immensely from the input of early childhood teacher leaders.

At the state level, decisions are being made that affect all children and families, from adopting curricula and assessments to establishing learning standards and workforce competencies. Right now, in some states, decisions are being made about mandating kindergarten, expanding early education funding, and setting standards for quality in programs. We should have an opinion on these issues and shouldn’t miss opportunities to insert ourselves into how these policies and issues are shaped.

At the national level, early childhood teachers can influence laws and policies that affect the entire country. Currently, Congress is negotiating the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, our nation’s education law and last reauthorized 14 years ago as No Child Left Behind. Other laws Congress takes up every few years for reauthorization are the Head Start Act, CCDBG and IDEA. When our representatives return after Labor Day, they’ll also be deciding on the new budget, which is due by September 30th each year. The laws and budgets affect our children’s futures, and teachers have multiple opportunities to make their voices heard.

An exciting opportunity early childhood teacher leaders have right now is through Teach to Lead, a joint effort of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the U.S. Department of Education, to improve student success by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership while teachers are in the classroom. Teach to Lead gives teachers a way to share their ideas for improving education in their community, state, or nation and to learn from their peers. Whether teachers are facilitating a professional learning community at their school or center; influencing changes in their state’s licensing requirements; or making comments on policies in the Federal Register, their voices can be a catalyst for systemic and sustained change. What can you do to help? #Lots. The important thing is to do something!

Building Leadership in the Community

August 19, 2015

By Maxine M. Maloney, MPA, Program Manager, Arlington County Department of Human Services, Virginia, Child and Family Services. Since 2013, Maxine has been the Program Manager for Child Care Services; where she is responsible for Child Care Licensing and Project Family. Maxine has over 20 years of experience in early care and education from teaching, program management, and training, systems building, and administering federal programs. Maxine is very passionate about building systems fortified by comprehensive policies, grounded by research and best practices, to ensure all children have quality early learning experiences. She is especially passionate about enhancing and empowering the early learning workforce.

Legendary businessman, Jack Welch of General Electric pushed GE to new heights through his idea of a “boundary-less organization.” This means that everyone is free to brainstorm and think of ideas–instead of waiting for someone “higher up” in the bureaucracy to think of them first. He wanted his team turned loose, and he promised to listen to ideas from anyone in the company. And he did. Everyone from the lowest line workers to senior managers got his attention–if they had something to say or a new idea that might make the company better. It wasn’t just talk, and it didn’t take his team long to figure that out.

Welch stayed true to his passions and what he knew was right. As a result, GE became an incredibly successful company under his management. His team was always willing to follow his lead, because the people within it knew that he always kept his word. (Leading by Example by James Manktelow).

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

Similarly to Welch, I discovered one of the most important pillars of a competent leader is a healthy respect for others. Early childhood is a dynamic profession steeped with doses of conflicts and misunderstanding. Typically we focus on integrity, communication, attitude, confidence, and commitment, but to address these dynamic issues and elicit progress you have to genuinely respect yourself first, then others. Once you have this you can move mountains.

Yes, I have moved a mountain or two but never as successfully as in my journey with a divergent group of 148 family child care providers who had had negative experiences and were not open to a new leader. I had been hired as the new program manager for a system that had been disbanded the previous year. Until my arrival there was no direct communication with the Family Child Care community. Due to budget constraints DHS cut the child care office. Not only was I new to the position; so was the entire child care licensing staff. Our Child Care licensing system was plagued with mistrust and inconsistency. We were, additionally, challenged by a community with multiple languages, cultures, and mores, as well as a varied understanding of early childhood. This required thoughtful and intentional strategies to build capacity, commitment, and most importantly a community. We built this by spending time with each Family Child Care professional learning about their background, families, experiences, and goals, along with an analysis of trends, data, and being open to each critic and idea shared.

In order to encourage compliance with our child care regulations we spent hours unpacking agency and community “myths,” best practices, and research in child development, as well as brainstorming what quality is, from both an agency and practitioner perspective. Many leaders would consider this time-consuming and an impediment. I discovered this was worthwhile, as I not only learned about each provider, but I also learned more about myself and expanded my knowledge. In the end I witnessed monumental changes in quality, in programming, and in confidence in our agency.

We witnessed the beginnings of a strong community of shared resources and common goals. Delivering a series of workshops based on the current child care regulations, a 4-week Quality Environment in Family Child Care Cohort (we are now on our fifth one since they are so popular), and workshops based on child development, lesson planning, and business development, we went from 5 to 10 participants to as many as 55 providers in a session.

In time, we were able to build a community of trust and understanding; the most important outcome was our Family Child Care Symposium on May 9, 2015, where 108 out of 148 Family Child Care providers participated in a day of training and professional development. We now have an Arlington County Family Child Care Network and every provider has attended the training and professional development opportunities offered. We built a website to provide information and support as well as partnered with the Child Care Education Institute to provide on-line learning.

Family Child Care providers have work groups who discuss policies and legislation, providers have launched their own network for networking and sharing resources, and born out of this group is a new cadre of family child care trainers.

In Arlington Family Child Care we have built a community of respect, understanding, and shared commitment to professionalism and children. The commitment began with the personal, then was transmitted through the agency, which then transferred to the Family Child Care Providers. As Elle Fitzgerald so eloquently put it: “ Don’t give up on trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I do not think you can go wrong”

It’s Time to Make ECE’s Promise a Reality

August 12, 2015

By Stacie Goffin, Ed.D. 

Stacie Goffin is Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, which is dedicated to building early childhood education’s ability to provide effective programs and services for young children through leadership, capacity, and systems development. Stacie is also the author of several seminal publications, including the recently released Professionalizing Early Childhood Education as a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era

In his May 29, 2014 NIEER blog, Jim Squires asked, “Is early education and care a profession or not?” The answer to his straightforward question, he concluded, was “no.” Because of the nature of ECE’s work, few would question that ECE ought to be profession. Yet as John Goodlad reminded us, “A vocation (occupation) is not a profession just because those in it choose to call it one. It must be recognized as such.”

We use the terms “profession” and “professional” very loosely. People often are deemed professional, for example, when they perform their work at a high level or when they shift from amateur to paid status. Sometimes we mistakenly presume the presence of a degree confers professional status.

Small group learningProfessions differ from other occupations or jobs. Their unique occupational structure is designed to ensure practitioners are uniformly prepared and competent, regardless of funding stream, program sponsorship, or, in our instance, the children and families being served. To qualify as a recognized profession, ECE will have to include the attributes that define professions–criteria such as a prescribed scope of work as a field of practice and formal preparation as a prerequisite to being licensed to practice. To be accepted as a profession, therefore, ECE will need to move beyond its fragmented way of life and restructure as a cohesive, interlocking system of preparation, practice, and accountability bound together by a unifying purpose.

Fulfilling this aspiration will require system leaders who catalyze collective leadership. It also will require ECE to move beyond ad hoc and voluntary efforts to repair or incrementally improve what isn’t working. Instead, we will need to step forward to reform and re-form ECE as a field of practice. Doing so will help ensure each and every child regularly interacts with well-prepared teachers who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to accomplish the results each of us wants for children’s learning and development.

Even though the desired state has been articulated, ECE’s configuration as a profession is as yet unknown, as are the full complement of steps for getting there. Because of the adaptive work involved and professions’ systemic nature, the work ahead, by definition, will be dynamic and emergent. This means it’s not possible to devise an all-inclusive action blueprint in advance of engaging in the work. Nor is it likely a viable approach will emerge in response to someone driving a predetermined change agenda.

There is a starting place, though, and I’d suggest it’s conversations with intent, conversations that engage us in the kind of personal and collective reflections that invite thinking together about how to create an alternative future for ECE as a field of practice. While eyes may roll at the thought of still more “talking” about ECE and next steps, conversations with intent, when skillfully and purposefully executed, offer the means for getting to sustained and transformative action.

Conversations with intent and the steps that follow must

  • attend to multiple perspectives and interpretations of the field’s present status, both within and across sectors and stakeholders,
  • face difficult truths about current realities, acknowledging, for example, that some of our interventions aren’t working or the extent to which ECE is becoming bureaucratized.
  • revisit individual and collective thinking that we or our sectors defend as sacrosanct
  • foster generative conversations that spawn new possibilities,
  • rearrange ECE’s sub-systems into a coherent whole, and
  • persevere to bring a co-imagined future to fruition.

Moving forward will require courage and imagination, but if we so choose, our aspirations for widespread public recognition of our contributions to children’s learning and development can be achieved. Tackling the deep structural issues that undergird ECE’s fragmented practice–for example, the field’s uneven expectations for teachers and their preparation–will necessarily involve frustration and conflict. Yet once united around a vision for ECE’s future, the shared image of what we’re creating will focus, channel, and energize our efforts. By assuming responsibility for our field’s competence, individually and collectively, we will fulfill ECE’s promise to children and their families.

As I’ve argued, professionalizing ECE requires defining, unifying, and taking responsibility for our profession–which Jacqueline Jones similarly underscored in her post last week that reviewed the Institute of Medicine’s report on the ECE workforce. With the increasing attention being placed on ECE, though, the stakes are mounting. Ultimately, we must move forward together to fulfill ECE’s promise because it is a matter of our integrity as a field of practice.

This post was updated with author edits August 14, 2015.

Unifying, Defining, and Owning the Profession

August 6, 2015

By Jacqueline Jones, PhD, President/CEO, The Foundation for Child Development

The past 10 years have seen unprecedented federal, state and local attention to the education and healthy development of young children. Government resources have been targeted to support such efforts as home visiting programs, high-quality preschool, research on the effectiveness of early learning and development programs, and teacher professional development. Yet there remains wide variability in the funding levels for these programs, the program components, and the competencies required of the early care and education professionals who are charged with program implementation.

In April of 2015 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. This consensus study outlines the current science of child development, proposes a set of competencies for lead teachers who work with children across the age range of birth to 8 years, and provides a set of recommendations for achieving a unified workforce. I served as a member of the committee that drafted the report. The IOM report provides the field of early care and education with the scientific foundation to support a demand for rigorous teacher preparation, ongoing professional learning, and reasonable compensation for professionals in early learning and development programs.

This is a watershed moment because, at present, the requirements for lead teachers in early learning and development settings vary widely from state to state (and program-to-program within states), ranging from a high school diploma to a BA with a specified certification. At the heart of this variability is the fact that there is no nationally agreed upon set of competencies that define what early care and education professionals should know and be able to do. But who should make this determination? What body should define the professional field? This moment requires a level of cooperation and informed leadership that has not been the norm in early care and education. The fight for resources to improve the quality of and access to effective programs has resulted in a somewhat fractious community that is often divided by elements such as setting, age ranges, and domain of learning and development. The hard work of defining the profession requires leadership that can promote a united coalition of the major early care and education professional and membership organizations. How this work happens may be as important as the product of the effort. This is not a task for local, state, or federal government. It is not a time to look to Washington or to state and local government to create the vision and take the leadership to define the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that early care and education professionals should possess. Rather, this is a unique moment when the field has the opportunity to make a significant leap forward by using the IOM report’s synthesis of the current science and the proposed recommendations to finally define itself, demand appropriate compensation, and outline the critical elements for professional monitoring and accountability systems. If the profession will not own these elements, each reigning political perspective will continue to frame its own notions of early care and education–rather than having the science of child development serve as the consistent core of the field and as its unifying factor.

Local, state, and federal policy makers still have an important role. Government support will be needed to increase funding for implementing high-quality programs, support research, and facilitate greater coordination across its own programs. However, this work should be guided by professional standards that are developed and agreed upon by the field of early care and education. Unifying, defining, and owning the field of early care and education will not be an easy task. The need for real leadership has never been greater, but that leadership must come from within.

On leadership and listening

August 4, 2015
Author Susan R. Andersen is an early childhood advisor, formally with the Iowa Department of Education. She has served on the Board of Directors of NAEYC, NAECS-SDE, Council for Professional Recognition and as a National Head Start Fellow. She has taught students in Head Start, Kindergarten and the early primary grades, college students and supervised student teachers in a variety of early childhood settings. She has worked with a number of states and CCSSO  as a consultant  for early childhood projects and is the co-author of ‘Reconnecting the World’s Children to Nature’. Most of the time, she would rather be in her kayak.

Carl R. Rogers wrote that we are all ‘becoming human’. Every day and every experience influences our growth toward ‘becoming a person’ and finding our sense of self. This also reflects the conscience of our profession: to ensure that every child has the most supportive environment in which to ‘become’ a loving, informed, healthy and decent human being.

It is noteworthy that we are so malleable for so long in our lives. Even at birth; there are few pieces of the human body that are fully formed. The exceptions, as Ernest Boyer often reminded his audiences, are the three small bones of the inner ear (stirrup, anvil and hammer). These are, in fact, the only bones that are fully formed at birth. For most of us, we could listen, hear and respond to the sound of our parent’s voices before we were born.

These two remarkable people, among many, continue to influence my thinking about professional responsibility. Carl Rogers’ reminder is that we should be continually growing, in every possible way because life is an ever-changing process. And Ernest Boyer suggests that we should always be listening. For me, these two life skills are interconnected.

To increase test scores or to be world class in math and science without empowering students or affirming the dignity of human life is to lose the essence of what we and education are presumably all about.

    –Ernest Boyer

Leaders never stop learning. In fact, leadership is often a continuum of questions. Finding answers and expanding your own understanding requires intentionality. Failure to expand your awareness only limits possibilities and partnerships. This means learning from everyone who chooses to talk to you. Each person brings a personal point of reference and it may not be in your own field of view, but you can listen to how things seem to others, the emotions that they hold, and then take time to reflect on what you have heard. You never know when a previous listening experience will surface as a piece of a solution to a current challenge. Listening to understand leads to learning.

Leaders with purpose constantly listen and learn. They listen to children, parents, teachers, those who challenge and those who encourage. Hopefully, they listen with their own ear of experience, but they also pause to listen to the unfamiliar. This requires listening with full awareness, respect, curiosity, and listening to understand the concerns behind the concerns. Inevitably, it means that you hear a constant noise of both positive and negative material. Sometimes the speed of information sharing is overwhelming and loud, and the skill of listening may soon be lost to the inhumanity of the Internet. The speed of the return comment often seems more important than really hearing the intent of the original message. Taking time to reflect and balance what you hear with your professional expertise will help you to make positive, intentional choices.

Our children are in motion. We happily note their changes and herald them as growth. In ourselves we seem less willing to notice, but we too are in motion, evolving and changing through our lives

                                           —Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way

Listening to colleagues you respect is invaluable. They have navigated some of the same wide range of conundrums. Their work experiences can help you see options and opportunities. Remaining open to listening, asking, and sharing of yourself contributes to becoming better able to navigate challenging situations and making difficult decisions.

Listening can lead to partnerships, collaborations, negotiations and long term meaningful work. If you choose this path, you must hear fully your responsibilities and remain engaged throughout the entire project. If you have the good fortune to work with colleagues who are solid in intent and practice, thank them. Be glad to have such good fortune in your professional career and take the time to acknowledge this valuable, serendipitous part of your growth.

Eleanor Roosevelt often found herself facing very difficult decisions. She studied the meanings of her experiences and learned from them. She considered the ability to be constantly learning was one of her strongest assets. So, when she knew that there was not one single answer to a dilemma, she decided to follow her heart. “Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

If your progress leads you to a place that no longer allows you to be true to your core sense of purpose with integrity, honesty, and veracity it is time for a change. If you have challenged yourself and found no way to resolution through an ethical or authentic compromise, acknowledge your learning; be grateful for your opportunity of experience and find the next place in which you can learn and continue to grow. Listen to yourself.

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