Transforming the Early Childhood Education Workforce

May 24, 2016

The 2015 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s (IOM & NRC) Transforming the Workforce report highlights the state’s role in creating a pathway for early care and education (ECE) teachers to acquire education and professional development to meet the demands of their important role. Research shows that ECE teachers’ skills and competencies are predictive of child outcomes, and that education with specialization in early childhood development is correlated with positive child outcomes. The IOM & NRC recommend that policymakers craft a coherent blueprint for improving ECE teachers’ education and wages, thereby improving ECE quality.

Northeastern Children's Center-79State policy makers are considering choices in light of their important role in designing and implementing policies that can address the recommendation articulated by the IOM & NRC. Yet, questions exist about what options are available, including what approaches states are currently employing and what the research has found about the efficacy of different policy options.

To address this need, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently released a report that reviews published research on ECE teachers’ education and credentials, on the current status of ECE wages, recruitment and retention challenges, and on promising practices. It summarizes trends in state requirements regarding bachelor-degreed ECE teachers and specialized certification, licensure, or endorsements of ECE teachers and concludes with eight recommendations for state ECE policymakers.

  1. Create a coherent set of policies and actions designed to ensure a stable and educated ECE workforce rather than viewing policy options as trade-offs. State policymakers should carefully consider the ramifications of viewing policies in isolation rather than through a coherent policy lens. A policy that focuses simply on increasing the number of degreed teachers that does not take into account the pertinence and quality of the higher education coursework, the compensation of teachers, and the overall quality and conditions within the ECE setting, could lead to public dollars supporting coursework that does not lead to a more knowledgeable, competent and skilled ECE workforce.
  2. Take into account the existing levels of education of early childhood educators working with children of different ages and in different settings. Policies requiring ECE teachers to increase their education should take into account the current status of education across settings, set realistic goals, and fund coursework and supports at an appropriate level.
  3. Ensure funding is available for both coursework and adequate compensation. States should explore all possible funding streams to finance coursework (and background work to create articulation agreements and courses that meet ECE teachers’ needs), as well as compensation for ECE teachers who have upgraded their qualifications.
  4. Craft state policy that enables and supports cost sharing among ECE funding streams and at the same time supports full enrollment. Only a few states are currently supporting shared services agreements, partnership among providers, cost sharing, or other strategies to maximize funding at the provider level. These are important actions to maximize funding at the provider-level. Yet, in isolation, such actions will not provide the funding that is needed to retain an educated ECE workforce and therefore this step should be taken in conjunction with the other recommendations.
  5. Take steps to secure sustainable public funding for ECE teachers. Interviews with national experts and state stakeholders, as well as reviews of existing research, reveal that the state funding formula can be a stable funding source. Some recommended that legislation supporting the use of school funding formula dollars for ECE include language that requires all existing funding sources—including child care subsidies, Head Start funding, and local tax dollars—be used first and ECE dollars be used to augment quality and teacher wages.
  6. Review existing legislation, regulations, administrative rules, and policies to guide the development of new policies. By reviewing promising practices from states that have achieved the goal of increasing the education levels of ECE teachers and retaining educated ECE teachers, state policymakers can learn from one another.
  7. Support greater collaboration among institutions of higher education to make a coherent pathway toward a bachelor’s degree easier for ECE teachers. To ensure that coursework is accessible to existing ECE teachers, it is important that higher education institutions develop articulation agreements and consider developing stackable certificates. State stakeholders who have developed the agreements and certificates report that these efforts pay off when it comes to increasing access to bachelor’s level coursework for ECE teachers.
  8. Consider the overall quality and improved conditions that can attract ECE teachers. To retain educated ECE teachers, it is important that the overall quality of ECE is high, and policymakers should consider regulations regarding ratios, group sizes, and overall working conditions as well as ECE licensing.

Strategies and promising policies adopted by ECE and K–12 policymakers alike point to possible solutions to enhance the recruitment and retention of educated and credentialed ECE teachers. The recently released CEELO report summarizes key strategies employed by selected states and provides policymakers with research links to guide their decision-making process.
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–Diane Schilder, Senior Research Scientist, EDC


How much can high-quality Universal Pre-K reduce achievement gaps?

March 31, 2016

In a report published by the Center for American Progress, NIEER researchers find that providing high-quality prekindergarten to all children nationally would dramatically reduce inequality in academic preparedness at kindergarten entry. Here we provide highlights from that report.

Many ethnic/racial minority children and children from low-income families enter kindergarten without all the skills they need to succeed in school. Compared to their white and higher-income peers, these children begin kindergarten months behind in reading (its precursors) and math. (See Figure 1.) The larger problem is that these measures of children’s academic abilities at kindergarten entry are strong predictors of later school success—these “achievement” gaps begin early and are only modestly closed after kindergarten entry. They remain large as children progress through school, and are difficult to close.

AchievementGaps-figures-1(1)

Early childhood education (ECE) programs show promise in reducing achievement gaps, particularly at kindergarten entry. Research suggests that attending high-quality ECE can enhance children’s development, reduce achievement gaps, and have longer-term benefits for children’s development. This research includes meta-analyses of ECE programs; evaluations of landmark ECE programs including the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers; and evaluations of larger scale publicly funded programs including Head Start (a federal program for at-risk children) and universally available preschool programs in Boston, New Jersey’s Abbott school districts, and Oklahoma.

Despite the known benefits of high-quality ECE, access to such programs remains remarkably low and highly unequal. Although rates of preschool attendance have increased in the last several decades, access varies widely by children’s backgrounds, with African American, Hispanic, and low-income children having lower rates of attendance. We estimated that rates of enrollment in high-quality ECE ranged from under 15 percent of black children to almost 30 percent of non-low-income children. (See Figure 2). And, importantly, the quality of the vast majority of ECE programs is low, particularly for low-income children and children of color. Yet research suggests that high-quality ECE produces the largest positive effects on children’s development. Further benefits may result when children have access to high quality ECE for a full-day, five days per week. Yet access to full-day, high-quality ECE is even more limited.

AchievementGaps-figures-2

Despite a general consensus that high-quality ECE can improve children’s learning and reduce kindergarten entry gaps, policy makers and researchers have disagreed about the relative advantages and disadvantages of targeted and universal ECE programs. On one hand, a means-tested targeted program would (in theory) benefit only those children who are at-risk to begin kindergarten without the necessary school readiness skills, thereby narrowing the gap. On the other hand, a universal program would benefit all children and would improve the school readiness of all children, without actually narrowing the gap. However, there is evidence that universal programs do not affect all children similarly, but have larger effects on ethnic/racial minority children and children from low-income families, compared to white and more affluent children. Therefore, a universal program that increased enrollment of children from low-income and ethnic/racial minority families could have powerful effects in reducing the kindergarten entry achievement gaps.

As we describe below, we simulated the effects of nationally scaled universal publicly funded high-quality prekindergarten (UPK) on math and reading achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. Our results suggest that the achievement gaps could be reduced between 27% and 106%, or between 3 and 12 months of learning. We found that a high-quality UPK program could completely close the Black-White and Hispanic-White kindergarten entry gaps in reading. Other gaps prove to be more difficult to close completely. The Black-White gap in math could be reduced by 45% and the Hispanic-White gap in math by 78%. The income-related achievement gaps may be the most challenging to erase. Our results suggest that a high-quality UPK program could reduce the income-related achievement gap in reading by 41% and math by 27%. (See Figure 3.)

AchievementGaps-figures-3(f)

In order to estimate the extent to which high-quality UPK could reduce achievement gaps at kindergarten entry if every child attended a high quality program we used multiple sources of data. (See the CAP report for more information on our methods.) For measures of the impact we relied on the results from evaluations of Oklahoma’s Four-Year-Old Program in Tulsa and Boston Public Schools’ Public Prekindergarten Programs. We used the results of these two evaluations in our simulation for several reasons.

  • Both programs are considered high quality and universal.
  • The evaluations used rigorous methods.
  • Impacts were estimated for subgroups by income and ethnicity.
  • They span broad differences in populations and contexts across the country.

In conclusion, although challenging, implementing a high-quality UPK program has the potential to substantially reduce racial/ethnic and income based achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. A national policy to provide high-quality UPK could dramatically reduce ethnic/racial disparities in academic readiness at kindergarten entry. These gaps might even become negligible in both reading and math. Reductions in the gaps between children in low-income families and their more economically advantaged peers would be somewhat smaller but still meaningful. In implementing a national UPK program, it will be important to ensure that all children have access to truly high quality programs.

–Allison Friedman-Krauss, NIEER Assistant Research Professor


Universal Pre-K: What does it mean and who provides it?

January 6, 2016

Inquiring minds often want to know which states offer “universal pre-K.” As states vary in what they define as universal pre-K (UPK) and in how far they have progressed toward fully implementing a universal program as intended, the answer is somewhat complicated.

Preschool classroomRegarding definition, the term UPK can mean simply that the sole eligibility criterion is age, in contrast to “targeted” programs in which eligibility is limited by child or family characteristics, most commonly income. This need not mean that the program is available to all applicants, as there may be caps on spending or enrollment that limit the number of children who can be served. The other common definition–and what universal means in most other developed countries–is that every child can (and very nearly all do) enroll, just as children in the US do in first grade.

A further complication is that when states launch UPK, they often cannot simply enroll all children who might want to attend immediately. It takes some time to create capacity, and states vary in how quickly they increase enrollment. Perhaps more importantly, states that express the intent to enroll all children all too often lose the political will to do so before they reach that goal, and fail to increase funding to keep enrollment expanding until it serves all who wish to enroll. An added wrinkle is that states often provide funding that incentivizes school districts to offer UPK (directly or through private providers), but they do not require school districts to do so (though districts must accept all who wish to enroll if they do offer UPK). In such a situation, not every location in the state may make pre-K available.

State examples help clarify the variations in definition and intent to implement. At present, only in Vermont; Washington, DC; and Florida can pre-K be considered fully universal, in the sense that every child can enroll and virtually all do, though in Florida, Head Start offers such a superior service that many families choose that over the state’s pre-K program. Oklahoma offers UPK in all but a few districts. West Virginia has been in the process of expansion, but may have reached ‘universal’ in 2015. Enrollment in these states varies from 99 percent, to as low as 70 percent in West Virginia which is still expanding (Barnett, Carolan, Squires, Clarke Brown, & Horowitz, 2015).

Five states–Georgia, Illinois (Preschool for All), Iowa, New York, and Wisconsin have policies that they and others call UPK for 4-year-olds, but which fall short of allowing all children to be served. Wisconsin is the only state with a specific constitutional provision for 4K, and will fund school districts to serve all children but does not require all districts to participate. Although the policy is quite similar to that in Oklahoma, fewer districts participate and enrollment remains considerably lower at 66 percent. In Georgia, enrollment is limited by the amount of funding available year to year, and enrollment has plateaued at about 60 percent. Iowa similarly serves about 60 percent at age 4, but it is less clear why it does not continue to expand. In New York, limited funding restricted enrollment and continues to do so, though New York City’s push to enroll all children led to implementing long-delayed increases in state funding to allow for expansion. Enrollment in New York is expected to reach 50% percent in 2015. Illinois is the most egregious example of the gap between intent or ambition and implementation. Designed to serve all 3- and 4-year-olds, the program has never enrolled even a third of age-eligible children. Illinois prioritizes low-income families for services, and currently serves just 27 percent at age four and 19 percent at age three (Barnett et al., 2014)

Finally, two states have unique policies that could be considered UPK of a sort. In California, Transitional K (TK) serves children who turn five between September 2 and December 2 of the school year. As these children then attend kindergarten the following year, TK is effectively pre-K. TK is available to all children who meet the age cutoff. In New Jersey, a state Supreme Court order mandated universal pre-K in 31 high poverty districts serving about one-quarter of the state’s children. Within these districts the only eligibility criteria are residency and age–enrollment varies by district but ranges from 80 percent to 100 percent.

Considerations regarding access, enrollment, and quality

When evaluating policies, it is also important to understand that UPK programs vary in quality as well as actual enrollment. Schedules, standards, funding, and teaching practices vary widely across the “universal” programs described above. Some require as little as 10 hours per week. Others offer a full school day with before- and after-school care, potentially reaching 10 hours per day. Some leave virtually all policy choices and guidance up to the local school district or program. Florida requires little more than a high school diploma of teachers in school-year programs. Others, like New Jersey, set high standards that every classroom must meet, and provide extensive support and guidance. State funding ranges from $2,200 per child to $15,000 per child. Observations of teaching practices in statewide evaluations indicate that some programs are overwhelming good to excellent, while others are mostly poor to mediocre. States differ in their choices regarding how much to invest in quality versus quantity, though it is clear that there need not be a trade-off if states can muster sufficient political will (Minervino, 2014). Indeed, some have argued that programs that do not reach most of the population may have difficulty obtaining support for adequate quality (Barnett, 2011).

–Steve Barnett and Rebecca Gomez, NIEER

 Barnett, W. S. (2011). Four reasons the United States should offer every child a preschool education.  In E. Zigler, W. Gilliam, & W. S. Barnett (Eds.), The pre-k debates: Current controversies and issues (pp. 34-39). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.


Lessons learned from Vanderbilt’s study of Tennessee Pre-K

October 2, 2015

Newly released findings from Vanderbilt’s rigorous study of Tennessee’s state-funded pre-K program are a needed tonic for overly optimistic views. No study stands alone, but in the context of the larger literature the Tennessee study is a clear warning against complacency, wishful thinking, and easy promises. Much hard work is required if high quality preschool programs are to be the norm rather than the exception, and substantive long-term gains will not be produced if programs are not overwhelmingly good to excellent. However, the Vanderbilt study also leaves researchers with a number of puzzles and a similar warning that researchers must not become complacent and have some hard work ahead.

Let’s review the study’s findings regarding child outcomes. Moderate advantages in literacy and math achievement were found for the pre-K group at the end of the pre-K year and on teacher ratings of behavior at the beginning of kindergarten. However, by the end of kindergarten these were no longer evident and on one measure the no-pre-K group had already surpassed those who had attended pre-K. The pre-K children were less likely to have been retained in kindergarten (4% v. 6%) but were much more likely to receive special education services in kindergarten than the no-pre-K group (12% v. 6%). The pre-K group’s advantage in grade repetition did not continue, but it did continue to have a higher rate of special education services (14% v. 9%) in first grade.

By the end of second grade, the no-pre-K group was significantly ahead of the pre-K group in literacy and math achievement. The most recent report shows essentially the same results, though fewer are statistically significant. Teacher ratings of behavior essentially show no differences between groups in grades 2 and 3. Oddly, special education is not even mentioned in the third grade report. This is puzzling since prior reports emphasized that it would be important to determine whether the higher rate of special education services for the pre-K group persisted. It is also odd that no results are reported for grade retention.

If we are to really understand the Tennessee results, we need to know more than simply what the outcomes were. We need information on the quality of the pre-K program, subsequent educational experiences, and the study itself. It has been widely noted that Tennessee’s program met 9 of 10 benchmarks for quality standards in our annual State of Preschool report, but this should not be taken as evidence that Tennessee had a high quality program. Anyone who has read the State of Preschool knows better. It (p.10) specifies that the benchmarks “are not, in themselves, guarantees of quality. Arguably some of them are quite low (e.g., hours of professional development), even though many states do not meet them. Moreover, they are primarily indicators of the resources available to programs, not whether these resources are used well. In addition to high standards, effective pre-K programs require adequate funding and the continuous improvement of strong practices.

The State of Preschool reported that Tennessee’s state funding was nearly $2300 per child short of the per child amount needed to implement the benchmarks. More importantly, the Vanderbilt researchers found that only 15% of the classrooms rated good or better on the ECERS-R. They also found that only 9% of time was spent in small groups; the vast majority was spent in transitions, meals, and whole group. This contrasts sharply with the high quality and focus on intentional teaching in small groups and one-on-one for programs found to have long-term gains (Camilli et al and Barnett 2011). The Tennessee program was evaluated just after a major expansion, and it is possible that quality was lowered as a result.

Less seems to be known about subsequent educational experiences. Tennessee is among the lowest ranking states for K-12 expenditures (cite Quality Counts), which is suggestive but far from definitive regarding experiences in K-3. We can speculate that kindergarten and first grade catch up those who don’t go to pre-K, perhaps at the expense of those who did, and to fail to build on early advantages. However, these are hypotheses that need rigorous investigation. Vanderbilt did find that the pre-K group was more likely to receive special education. Perhaps this lowered expectations for achievement and the level of the instruction for enough of the pre-K group to tilt results in favor of the no-pre-K group. Such an iatrogenic effect of pre-K would be unprecedented, but it is not impossible. There are, however, other potential explanations.

Much has been made of this study being a randomized trial, but that point is not as important as might be thought. One reason is that across the whole literature, randomized trials do not yield findings that are particularly different from strong quasi-experimental studies. The Head Start National Impact Study and rigorous evaluations of Head Start nationally using ECLS-K yield nearly identical estimates of impacts in the first years of school. Another reason is that the new Vanderbilt study has more in common with rigorous quasi-experimental studies than “gold standard” randomized trials. Two waves were randomly assigned. In the first wave, just 46% of families assigned to pre-K and 32% assigned to the control group agreed to be in the study. In the second wave, the researchers were able to increase these figures to 74% and 68%, respectively. These low rates of participation that differ between pre-K and no-pre-K groups raise the same selection bias threat faced by quasi-experimental studies. And, uncorrected selection bias is the simplest explanation for both the higher special education rate for the pre-K group and the very small later achievement advantage of the no-pre-K group. I don’t think the bias could be nearly strong enough to have overturned large persistent gains for the pre-K group.

Even a “perfect” randomized trial has weaknesses. Compensatory rivalry has long been recognized as a threat to the validity of randomized trials. In Tennessee one group got pre-K; the other sought it but was refused. It appears that some went away angry. Families who agreed to stay in the study could have worked very hard to help their children catch up and eventually surpass their peers who had the advantage of pre-K. Alternatively, families who received the advantage of pre-K could have relaxed their efforts to support their children’s learning. Similar behavior has been suggested by other studies, including a preschool randomized trial I conducted years ago for children with language delays. Such behaviors also could occur even without a randomized trial, but it seems less likely.

Randomized trials of individual children also create artificial situations for subsequent schooling. If only some eligible children receive the program, do kindergarten teachers spend more time to help those who did not attend catch and “neglect” those who had preschool? Would kindergarten teachers change their practices to build on pre-K if the vast majority of their children had attended pre-K and not just some; perhaps they would only change with support and professional development?

Clearly, the Vanderbilt study has given the early childhood field much to think about. I am reminded of Don Campbell’s admonition not to evaluate a program until it is proud. However, programs may also be in the habit of becoming proud a bit too easily. We have a great deal of hard work in front of us to produce more programs that might be expected to produce long-term results and are therefore worth evaluating. Researchers also would do well to design studies that would illuminate the features of subsequent education that best build upon gains from preschool.

What we should not do is despair of progress. The media tend to focus on just the latest study, especially if it seems to give bad news. They present a distorted view of the world. Early childhood has a large evidence base that is on balance more positive than negative. There is a consensus that programs can be effective and that high quality is a key to success. Research does help us move forward. Head Start responded to the National Impact study with reforms that produced major improvements. Some states and cities have developed even stronger programs. Tennessee can learn much from those that could turn its program around. If it integrates change with evaluation in a continuous improvement system, Tennessee’s program could in turn become a model for others over the next 5 to 10 years.

–Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


Buried treasure: Discovering gold in the NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook

September 9, 2015

Similar to birds migrating north every year, a wealth of information on early education flies annually into the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), as specialists from state education agencies provide data for the Annual State of Preschool Yearbook.

Entering its 13th year, the Yearbook reports valuable information on access to, quality of, and resources for state pre-K programs, allowing administrators and policymakers to keep pace with current developments and trends over time. The Yearbook has served as a useful, perhaps indispensable, resource as state-supported pre-K has expanded over the decade, rightfully cited as the “go to” resource on state policies and practices. Still, a wealth of information within the Yearbook remains untapped.

While the Yearbook may not rival To Kill a Mockingbird for popularity or reading enjoyment, anyone who has taken time to explore the annual report understands the abundance of practical information contained within its pages. From the Executive Summary highlighting major developments and trends, to individual state profiles with rankings, readers soon realize that the Yearbook, now published online, has “everything you wanted to know about pre-K but didn’t know to ask.”

The most informative section of the Yearbook is, perhaps, the most underutilized. Appendix A contains more than 60 pages of topical state information organized for at-a-glance review and comparison, supplemented by 27 pages of detailed state program notes, a veritable goldmine. For example, have you ever wondered:

  • How many English language learners are enrolled in state-funded pre-K? (Only 19 of 53 programs in 40 states and DC are able to provide an accurate count)
  • How many children are served in programs operating under the auspices of public schools versus private organizations?

 

Enrollment By Auspice (1)

  • Which states require pre-K programs to operate a full school day throughout the school year? (15 states and DC)?
  • What criteria do states use to determine eligibility, other than income?
  • Is a sliding fee scale based on income permitted? (13 states have some provision)
  • Which state programs require lead teachers to have a BA with specialization?

 

Minimum Lead Teacher Degree Requirement

  • Can faith-based programs receive funding for state pre-K? (17 programs directly, 35 programs indirectly; however, they may stipulate that religious content is not permitted)

 

Faith-Based Funding Eligibility (1)

  • What instruments do states use to monitor program quality?
  • Which states mandate an evaluation of the pre-K program? (21 of 40 states; some states operating multiple programs do not require evaluations for all programs)

States Requiring Formal Program EvaluationThese are but a few examples of data readily available to those wanting to explore policies and practices related to pre-K. While not every question imaginable can be answered using the Yearbook, it remains the best single compendium resource available with the click of a mouse. All you need to do is dig a little to satisfy your pre-K curiosity and discover gold.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Research Fellow

 

 


Back to School: Who is caring for your young children?

September 2, 2015

Valora Washington is the founder and president of the CAYL Institute in Boston (cayl.org), and CEO of the CDA Council for Professional Recognition. She’s the author of hundreds of articles and several books about early education, including a new one: The New Early Childhood Professional.

It’s back to school time! Those words usually invoke thoughts of children who attend kindergarten through 12th grade—but it also applies to many of the 11 million children enrolled in child care or preschool every day.

As families drop off their children for these important early learning experiences, many are unaware that only about 30 percent of children nationwide are enrolled in a high quality program. Well qualified staff is at the top of the list of the specific research-based factors that ensure safe, nurturing, and stimulating environments for young children.

Still, too many people think that working with young children is a job that almost anyone can do. Teaching numbers and letters, or reading storybooks—what could be easier than that?

BLP0022407The truth is that the adults who provide the care and education for young children bear a great responsibility for their health, growth, development, and learning. This is an important, complex, and dynamic job that requires specialized knowledge and skill to be effective. Decades of research have demonstrated the critical importance of the early years on later success in school and life.

Frequently lacking the formality of school systems and policies, programs caring for young children in the United States typically are part of a fragmented hodgepodge of services and expectations. During the important ages when children would benefit most from consistency and stability, too many children experience a discontinuous patchwork of programs and settings (such as family child care homes, centers, preschools, and elementary schools). And, despite the passion or dedication of the people who educate and care for young children, these staff collectively lack the cohesion, shared standards, competencies, or resources required to be the proficient workforce that our children need and deserve. Sub-par early learning experiences are one of many reasons why as many as 40 percent of children start school with a “readiness gap.”

While some would agree that esteem for teachers at all levels is declining, lack of respect for the early educator is particularly striking. Furthermore, the relationship between an early educator’s compensation and educational attainment is weak. While other levels of education have more extensive public financing, families pay, on average, 60 percent of the cost of child care. This is a big bite out of the family budget– about 8 percent on average and up to 40 percent of the budget for low-income families.

Given the high cost, many families who leave their precious children in child care or preschool are completely unaware that the compensation of early educators is one of the lowest in our nation. Because there has been little compensation progress over the past 25 years, many early educators live with economic insecurity and concern over having money for food, transportation, health care, and housing. Do most families know that child care workers earn little more than $10 per hour? That preschool teachers earn about $15 an hour? And do families know that, generally speaking, for programs not affiliated with public schools, there are no formal workforce standards such as appropriate planning time, and dependable schedule, and increased compensation based on education and training?

As we all prepare for the fall ritual of back to school, we call for greater public understanding of the value of early education and the vital role of the people who do that work. Our children’s success is definitely tied to the qualifications, compensation, and working conditions of the early educator.

There are multiple paths forward, but regardless of the path, increased public support and respect for the early educator is essential. The field needs defined and universal practice standards and a focus on competencies, like those identified in the Child Development Associate credential. Early educators ourselves must exercise a stronger voice in speaking on behalf of this profession and the children we serve, using strategies such as those we suggest in my new book, The New Early Childhood Professional (with Brenda Gadson and Kathryn Amel).

It’s back to school–for all children including infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. What do you know about the hands and minds that are caring for your young children?


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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