Men in ECE Speak Up: Ugly stereotypes, the importance of male teachers and why we love this field of work
Before I begin, I would like to thank everyone who responded to the survey attached to the last blog on Men in ECE. Without your open and honest responses this second post would not be possible.
Your feedback from the survey has been incredibly helpful to me in formulating this post and has provided Clayton Early Learning with valuable data as we continue to advocate for excellence in the field of early childhood education.
Since my last post, I had been eagerly awaiting the results of the survey in hopes of gaining some new insight and perspectives from other teachers, both male and female, parents and community members. Some of the responses solidified my predictions from the last blog, while others presented a perspective I hadn’t heard before.
We will not necessarily try to debunk or support any specific point of view or stereotype here. My intention now is only to initiate conversations surrounding societal perceptions of men in this field so that we can support professional development and growth for all educators and to celebrate the contribution that men can make as ECE professionals.
Now, I am eager to share some of the responses that I received to the survey questions posed in my first post. For brevity, I have paraphrased the collected responses to provide a general sense of how those surveyed responded to each of the prompts.
Do you feel men in ECE are more sought after by employers?
A slight majority of replies to this questions suggested that yes, men are more sought after by employers to work in this field. However, this question received a variety of perspectives that suggest that employers attempt to remain unbiased in selecting their teaching staff. One respondent stated that the current trend in ECE is to advocate for more men in the field, therefore employers feel more obliged to hire men.
In your opinion, what importance, if any, do men play in the field of ECE?
Predominantly, the responses indicated that gender balance is an important benefit of having men in ECE classrooms. This balance can support positive modeling of communication and collaboration between male and female teachers. Responses also illustrated the benefit of having male role models for both boys and girls and the differences in communication styles, creativity and interaction that men display.
In your opinion, are there currently any stereotypes about men working in ECE?
This question elicited a variety of answers that many of the respondents were quick to include that they did not subscribe to. Some of the responses indicated that society perceives men in ECE as unambitious, that men choose to work in this field because they weren’t adept at working in upper level education classrooms, or that men in this field are choosing an easy job.
The majority of the responses revealed that ECE is still not considered a masculine profession, regardless of the push to employ more men in the field. One person stated that society believes “men should work with older children.” This leads into some of the more harmful stereotypes of male ECE educators. Several of the respondents wrote that society views men in ECE as predators. This stereotype is particularly harmful to the field as it often serves to discourage would-be male candidates from pursuing a career in early education. Conversely, a looming stereotype that male teachers have inappropriate interests in their work can be extremely harmful to the parent-teacher relationship. Knowing that a trusting relationship is critical in partnering with families, this stereotype is one that must be acknowledged and debunked.
It is disappointing, though not necessarily surprising, that the bulk of our responses indicate that those who participated in the survey believe men in ECE are generally viewed with skepticism and suspicion.
While the daily professional work of an educator is challenging in its own right, men in the field of early childhood education face the additional test of overcoming gender stereotypes that may impact their sense of efficacy as a teacher.
Despite the sometimes harsh reality of stereotypes of men in early childhood education, I was inspired to read the responses that men offered regarding their choice of profession. Though this is a small sample of what was received, it speaks volumes to the diversity of men in the field - their approach to teaching, philosophies on education and motivations for working with young children and families. The responses below have been edited for clarity and brevity, but are completely authentic in tone and message.
Why did you choose a career in ECE?
“For the joy of working with young children.”
“I have taught secondary, primary and ECE. It is the most important age for children's learning, and the development of their dispositions. My teaching philosophy and mission is to empower all through education.”
“I wanted a job that would be nurturing in nature and where I could use my talents for communication and working with children.”
“Because I'm good with children and I enjoy their company. Children are very intuitive. I am successful in my work as a teacher because children can sense that they are safe with me and that I genuinely enjoy working with them.”
“To inspire and tap into little minds. I believe children can do far more than the general population believes they can and so I push my students to show the world what they can do.”
“It was exciting to discover that I was good at teaching preschool students. Being confident in my ability at work is a great feeling.”
“I wanted to make an impact on the lives of young children.”
As I wrote in my last blog, male ECE teachers are a diverse group with many reasons for educating, impacting and improving the lives of young children. If you know a male early childhood educator, I encourage you to ask them why they have chosen this field. I guarantee you that their answer will inspire you with a new respect for their work.
We will continue sharing these stories, challenges, barriers and celebrations of men in early childhood education and hope that you will too. This is the first important step in overcoming harmful stereotypes and encouraging gender diversity in the field of ECE.
Loose Parts Basics
Though architect Simon Nicholson developed the “Theory of Loose Parts” over 40 years ago in 1972, the theory and movement has recently gained new momentum as parents and educators return to natural materials and environments to support children’s learning and creativity.
For young children, loose parts are simply materials that can be moved, arranged, manipulated, stacked, carried or combined in multiple ways. Loose parts are the most effective tool for providing open-ended play opportunities where children do not use any specific set of directions or instructions for how to interact with the materials that are available. Explaining the basis of his theory, Nicholson stated, “Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.”
Both synthetic and natural materials can be included in a loose parts collection, though the bulk of what you will typically find in a loose parts center should tend toward natural materials. Here is a list of some ideas for parts to include in an outdoor loose parts learning environment:
Stones and pebbles
Sticks and logs
Twine or rope
Opportunities for Learning and Development
One thing that many commercial toys lack is the opportunity for children to look at the toy as anything but what it’s been molded and marketed as. A battery operated toy microphone, for instance, is difficult to imagine as anything else; especially when the microphone is made of plastic, plays loud sounds and has been so specifically constructed. Loose parts, on the other hand, allow children to look at an object not as what it literally is, but as something that could be nearly anything that the child can imagine.
Open-ended play and loose parts not only encourage creative thinking; but also the development of sensory awareness and the opportunity for children to discover and master their environments. The autonomy that children gain through loose parts construction and exploration will support the child in building mental flexibility and adaptability as the child uses increasingly complex problem solving skills over time.
What’s most remarkable about loose parts play is that it supports learning in every single learning domain; language and literacy, science, math, art, music and physical fitness. An outdoor classroom with loose parts will:
Provide children with exposure to a broader range of vocabulary
provoke the child to construct higher order inquisitions about scientific processes and concepts; like life cycles, weather patterns and nature’s interdependent structure
challenge the child to use new strategies for accomplishing physical and mental tasks independently
Encourage gross motor development through ‘heavy work;’ pushing, pulling, lifting and rolling
Where to Start
Once caregivers and educators have decided to provide loose parts play opportunities, there may be some wonder about how to choose materials and whether the children will even be interested in the ‘new toys’ that have been offered.
Gathering materials must be done thoughtfully to ensure that there are a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and materials available. Quantities of each material should reflect the number of children that will be using the loose parts, and each different category of material should have its own space or storage so that all of the materials are organized, visually appealing and accessible to the children who will use them. A disheveled pile of sticks and rocks is very difficult to imagine as construction material; a basket of stones and crate of sticks, however, are much more likely to be selected by children who want to build a fort.
Outdoor learning specialist and loose parts advocate, Patty Born Selly, encourages parents and teachers to also be patient, and remember that “Chances are, these children have become accustomed to electronic toys or action figures.” If children seem confused about how to use the loose parts that are now being offered, or do not have an automatic attraction to the materials; parents and educators can serve as guides for the child as they become familiar with the new loose parts by using prompting questions (“What does the shape of this rock remind you of?”) or by modeling how to use the loose parts themselves. Once children see how one can build a town or racetrack from sticks and differently sized stones, the students will ask questions and engage because the teacher’s behavior alone is welcoming the children to explore. Soon, the instructor’s town is a distant memory as the children have become confident with their new materials and are now constructing a playground for the ants they’ve found nearby.
Every year, Clayton Early Learning, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, and Children’s Hospital Colorado team up to host Speak Up for Kids, a complimentary event that provides an insider’s perspective of the policy making process including the training and support needed to speak up effectively on the issues that matter most to Colorado kids. Anyone who wants to learn how to be a voice for our state’s children are welcome to attend and this year we had a record breaking attendance of over 200 advocates and coaches!
Want to know what it’s like to participate in this annual event? Let’s hear from our guest blogger and Infant/Toddler Supervisor at Clayton Early Learning in Far North East Denver, Lydia McKinney.
"The first time I had the privilege to participate at Speak Up for Kids was three years ago. I attended the meeting by myself. I didn’t know anybody. Of course, I was aware of who Children’s Hospital and Clayton Early Learning were, and I knew more about Children’s Campaign after I researched them. That first day I went home with a pocket full of knowledge, an experience which opened the door to opportunities, and a goal to keep pursuing where my heart leads.
The following year I was invited to be an advocacy coach on behalf of Clayton Early Learning and this year I was a table captain. An advocacy coach answers all the questions you have about your legislature, walks with you to the Capitol, and guides through the process of it. A table captain initiates a conversation at the table where participants of all field attend. Each time I attended the meeting I meet people, developed relationships, and connect with old friends.
A wide variety of people take time off from their busy work schedule to participate in the training, meet legislators, and reflect on their experience with fellow participants, advocacy coaches, or table captains. It’s a day you meet people you thought would never have time for you because they are doing the important work of making policies. The best part of meeting with policymakers is realizing you are the one they want to meet and listen to. You are the most important advocate for our kids!
Now you may be thinking of yourself as your read this blog, “only people whose job it is can afford to advocate” or “they have lobbyists who advocate for causes”. However, your role as an advocate didn’t start because you attended Speak Up for Kids, the event only re-enforced the need to follow your passion. Let’s say you are a provider with a disabled child who you want to provide with the best care, but practically you cannot because there is no access to a playground that developmentally appropriate. It’s your passion, so pick up your phone and call your city council man/woman, express your worries, ask for referrals, and make your mission public. Advocacy is in all of us, we are all connect to children no matter what kind of jobs we have. Police officers, trash men/women, bus driver, city council women/ and men, the mayor, Senators and Representatives, the Governor – even you!"
Interested in learning more about Speak Up for Kids and other ways you can be an advocate for Colorado’s children? Contact Lauren Heintz, Policy Specialist at Clayton Early Leaning, at 303-393-5623 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out pictures from this year’s event at www.facebook.com/ClaytonEarlyLearning/!
Parents and caregivers sometimes hear the reminder “Don’t forget to take care of yourself;” but wonder how self-care could be a practical part of their busy lifestyles. Further, most natural caregivers are uncomfortable prioritizing themselves because it feels selfish or unproductive. In truth, self-care is an essential skill that will only enhance the caregiver’s ability to effectively support others. Without the ability to nurture one’s self physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually; caregivers are at risk for burnout, fatigue and other barriers that will drastically impact the quality of care that they can provide for others.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is the regular and ongoing way that a person actively participates in enhancing their health and quality of life. At the most basic level, self-care includes responding to your own physical and mental health needs such as illness, injury and chronic pain as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. Caregivers who neglect their personal health are not as physically or emotionally able to effectively meet the needs of others and can risk developing much more serious health issues when personal care is neglected or postponed.
While personal health care is the foundation for an essential self-care routine, there are additional elements of self-care that must not be neglected. Social experiences, spiritual and creative practice, exercise and healthful eating habits are among the self-care basics that are most often overlooked by caregivers who falsely believe that spending time on these types of activities is selfish or indulgent. Instead, spending time with friends, attending church or participating in a book club all provide opportunities to rejuvenate the caregiver’s energy and ability to respond to the needs of others in a positive and intentional way.
Making Time for Self-Care
All kinds of caregivers can struggle with making time for self-care, though parents tend to be among the most resistant to prioritizing self-care; perhaps because their work is a 24 hour-a-day job. Regardless of the schedule, self-care can be integrated in a way that promotes the caregiver’s health and well-being while still meeting the needs of those in their care.
Small Doses Make a Big Difference
The most overwhelming myth that caregivers tell themselves is that they cannot spare any time for self-care. The truth is that every schedule can accommodate time for self-care; even if it’s only 10 minutes to meditate or write in a journal. Whether the time occurs before the caregiver’s day begins or during small blocks of down-time throughout the day; try starting with just 10 or 15 minutes for activities like walking, yoga, breathing exercises or a brief call to a friend. Even in small doses each day, intentional self-care boosts a caregiver’s energy, mood and resilience to challenging situations.
Ask For Help
Another story that caregivers tell themselves is that to ask for help would mean that the caregiver is less competent in their work or is weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective caregivers know that by asking for help, they will have the support they need to overcome challenges and to maintain a positive approach to caregiving. Professional caregivers can ask colleagues for support and relief, even if it’s only a short break to take a walk outside. Personal caregivers and parents should reach out to family members and friends to ask for an hour of babysitting while they practice the activities in their self-care routine. Allowing loved ones to support self-care needs will not only provide the caregiver with personal time, it will also enhance personal relationships and model positive lifestyle habits for others; especially children.
Self-Care is a Smart Investment
When caregivers reach a point of burnout, chronic fatigue or depression, their work is no longer effective and the caregiver will need to invest a significant amount of time in self-care in order to regain the motivation, energy and general well-being that’s been lost. Instead of neglecting one’s self to the point of suffering, caregivers can integrate a regular self-care routine that only costs minutes per day and will enhance their quality of life almost immediately. Remember, self-care is not a single activity that one enjoys over the course of days, weeks or months. Instead, genuine and effective self-care is practiced daily to ensure that caregivers maintain the energy, desire, physical and mental health needed to perform such demanding work. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s the most selfless thing a caregiver can do to ensure the quality care of others.
Tell us your experiences with self-care. Do you have any ideas about easy ways to integrate self-care into caregiver routines? Share with us below!
By Peter Blank
Lorrel Esterbrook, Mentor Coach for Family Engagement at Clayton Early Learning, has years of experience working with various center and family based programs. In addition to overseeing the Play and Learn programs here at Clayton, she has a wealth of knowledge about the HIPPY program (read more about HIPPY here). She recently transformed this wealth of knowledge into a published story book rooted in the HIPPY curriculum, "What I Saw". I asked Lorrel about her experience in family engagement, her wonderful book, and life as a published author. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
PB: What drew you to a career in ECE and specifically home and family based instruction?
LE: While I was in college I started working for a community center in Denver’s Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhoods teaching art classes and job readiness skills to adolescents that were either already gang affiliated or at risk for drugs, violence, and gang affiliation. While doing that work the importance of family engagement became even more apparent to me. I also saw the critical role that programs like Head Start played in fostering parent engagement. Eventually I started working with a Head Start program and then I started working with a school based early childhood and family engagement program. That’s when I was introduced to home visiting. I was fortunate to work with a small but passionate team that was conducting home visits in three different languages to immigrant and refugee families from around the world. The families we served taught me about a wide range of wonderful family and parenting practices. Parents would sometimes ask me for “the right way” to parent their child. That broke my heart because it implied that they were in some way doing something wrong. My goal became honoring their cultural style of parenting while giving them a buffet of options they could try out as they learned the culture of their new home.
PB: When did you first get involved with the HIPPY program?
LE: As happens in our field, the grant for the ECE and parent engagement program I was working with ended. I stumbled upon a position as a HIPPY Coordinator for a county Head Start program. I knew HIPPY by name, but little else. Within a few days of accepting the position I was in Little Rock, Arkansas attending the HIPPY pre-service training for coordinators. By the end of the week I was hooked! HIPPY is rooted in some of my core beliefs. All parents want good things for their children. HIPPY strives to honor the parenting tools that families have already, and introduces them to new strategies to help their child learn and grow.
PB: You were a HIPPY coordinator for ten years and work as a National Trainer for HIPPY USA. How did you become involved with the program as an author?
LE: A few years ago the HIPPY curriculum underwent a major rewrite. That revision was led by a team from Clayton Early Learning including Michelle Mackin-Brown and Jan Hommes. My decision to apply for a position at Clayton was influenced in part by the positive experience I had working with this curriculum development team. Several HIPPY sites were selected to pilot the new curriculum and the site I was working with was one of those. In that capacity I had an opportunity to provide feedback to the curriculum revision team and helped rewrite the coordinators manual for the model. I attended a curriculum meeting at the HIPPY USA 2014 Leadership Conference in Washington DC. During that meeting there was discussion about updating the story books for the curriculum. We were asked for our thoughts on what was needed for a new story and I had a lot to say and a lot of ideas. A few weeks later I got a call from HIPPY USA asking me if I would like to try putting all of my ideas into book form. I was thrilled with the idea and jumped right on the opportunity.
PB: What inspired you to write “What I Saw”?
LE: “What I Saw” is about a kindergartner named Tasha who is nervous about talking in front of the class during show and tell. The teacher Mrs. Hart has asked all of the children to bring pictures of animals they have seen. Mrs. Hart provides encouragement and opportunities for the children to expand their language and learning around animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Mrs. Hart accepts each child where they are at, while giving them opportunities for growth. This leads Tasha to feel more comfortable talking.
I’m a huge animal and nature lover. When I was a kid I loved books about animals. I felt this was an opportunity to introduce some big vocabulary and science to preschool age children. I tried to pick a wide range of animals so that every child reading the book could identify with seeing at least one of those animals. But I also wanted to provide opportunities for children to be introduced to animals they might not have seen. I specifically chose the North American Wood Duck as one of the birds in the story. This type of duck was hugely important to me as a child and was considered endangered during the 1970’s. My family worked with and supported these ducks on our property as part of a species conservation plan. Because of the program my family participated in you can now see North American Wood Ducks living all over the country including Denver’s City Park.
All of the children in “What I Saw” are named and modeled after children in my own family and family friends. The teacher in the story is one of my HIPPY Mentors, Gayle Hart. Illustrator Debbie Clark, did an amazing job of portraying all of the characters. I wanted all of the children in my life to be able to look at the book and see a child that they could identify with on some level. Maybe they identify with a child because of the way they look, or they might identify with a personality trait, or the structure of the family.
PB: Why is it important that children have access to literature like this?
LE: There are three main points that stick out for me: First of all “What I Saw” is designed to prompt parents to talk with their children about the book. To ask children open ended questions. It models questions that parents can ask, it shows possible responses and how parents can build on their child’s response. Secondly it gives children an opportunity to learn some new big vocabulary in a very age appropriate manner. I love hearing children tell their parents “That’s a dog, it’s a mammal because it has fur”. Lastly, but maybe most important, I think it’s important for children to see themselves in the stories they read. As I said before, all of the children and the teacher are modeled on real people, people I love, respect and care about. Some of those individuals had expressed that they didn’t see people like them in children’s stories. I wanted to change that. I wanted those individuals to know how important they are and their unique qualities are to me.
PB: What advice would you give other education professionals who are interested in becoming authors?
LE: Have someone who can give you good honest and constructive feedback. Writing taps into your emotions. I put a lot of heart and soul into this story. Getting constructive criticism could have been a painful experience, but it wasn’t because the person in charge of filtering the feedback back to me took the time to honor and respect my feelings on my work. For every hour you spend writing you will probably spend ten hours thinking, researching, and problem solving. I think that might have been the biggest surprise to me. Children need to hear stories told from many perspectives and many voices. Add your unique voice and perspective to the world of children’s literature. Write about who and what you love.
PB: You are attending the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference next month. What is the focus of this conference? What is your role at this conference?
LE: The conference is held every other year and is an opportunity for HIPPY coordinators and staff to meet, engage in professional development and learn about new developments with the HIPPY model and curriculum. This year there will be a book signing event where some of the HIPPY authors and illustrators will be signing books for the conference participants. I will be co-presenting a workshop called “HIPPY Hacks”. We will be presenting and crowd sourcing ideas on how to save time, money, and sanity while running a HIPPY program.
You can find more information on the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference by following the link.
By Peter Blank
Clayton Early Learning has been working to increase early literacy skills with the help of the innovative Ready to Read (RTR) project since 2012. As the project moves into its fourth year let’s take a closer look at the various levels and true depth and reach of RTR.
Clayton received a grant to implement the Ready to Read project, in collaboration with our partner organization Mile High Montessori Early Learning Centers (MHM), from Mile High United Way. The goal of RTR is to foster early literacy skills through interventions, focusing on oral language and vocabulary, in children birth to three. RTR encompasses two different evaluation studies, one in center based care the other in informal care, in an effort to achieve this goal across various care settings. A variety of tools and unique curricula, including Dialogic Reading and Cradling Literacy, are being used to nurture these literacy skills in participating families and children.
Center Based Study
The RTR center-based evaluation study takes place at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning and four MHM early learning centers across Denver. Within these centers all participating classrooms are trained in and implement Dialogic Reading. According to Shelly Anderson, Project Manager of RTR, Dialogic Reading is an interactive approach to literacy “where the child becomes the storyteller and the adult takes on the role of active listener, following the child’s lead”. By using picture books and letting the child direct the story, it focuses on developing oral language skills as well as a passion for storytelling and books. Dialogic Reading is designed for children birth to five, so even infants and toddlers can begin developing literacy skills at their young age.
In addition to Dialogic Reading, some center-based classrooms are supplemented by the Cradling Literacy curriculum. This additional intervention is an evidence based professional development curriculum for teachers. Developed by Zero to Three, it includes 12 two hour training sessions that cover various topics of literacy development such as the benefits of storytelling and working with families to foster emergent literacy skills.
Play and Learn Study
RTR isn’t just helping children in center-based programs develop early literacy skills. Five Play and Learn groups are also participating in the project. (For more information on Play and Learn, check out this blog.) Parents and caregivers at these Play and Learn sites also receive Dialogic Reading training and work on developing this practice during group sessions and at home. Additionally, some Play and Learn families receive coaching and feedback on their language interactions with children via LENA recording devices. LENA devices are like a pedometer for words, capturing language interactions including child vocalizations, adult word count, conversational terms, and the audio environment like TV and radio. Understanding just how much and what kind of language children hear day to day is integral for emergent literacy and language development.
With a multitude of approaches and evidence based tools, the Ready to Read project has been truly innovative in its approach to early literacy. It will be exciting to continue reviewing the results for the remainder of the project, which ends in the fall of 2017.
For more information on Ready to Read, contact Shelly Anderson at email@example.com
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Sometime during my student teaching experience, I read “Educating Esme” by Esme Raji Codell. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind of guy, but this book really resonated with me as I began my own educational journey. ”Educating Esme” is an elementary school teacher’s diary of her first year leading a classroom; chronicling the ups and downs of her experience with a sincere, humorous and sometimes sentimental delivery. While I’m not technically in my first year of teaching, the end of this school year has reminded me of Esme’s diary and because I truly believe in celebrating my ‘firsts,' I have written this post to share some personal/professional reflection as I celebrate the closing of my first year as a lead preschool teacher.
Considering that I’m 32 years old and have had a degree in ECE for almost 10 years, this ‘year one’ milestone may not seem like much of an accomplishment and you may be wondering what I’ve been doing since graduating college? I would love to tell you that I’d been beachcombing the Mediterranean, but the truth is that I’ve been on a much more domestic journey; I’ve, in fact, been teaching.
In ten years, I have been a teacher of art to urban students. I taught Earth science and ecology to fifth graders at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center, in Yellow Springs, Ohio where my classroom was a 1,000 acre nature preserve. I was a substitute teacher of physical education, general education and art for elementary through secondary school and for students with special needs. I taught foster children in residential care and students who were in ‘alternative’ schools at Community House, in Brattleboro Vermont. These students had previously been expelled from other institutions and had been sent to Community House because they essentially had nowhere else to go. There, my classroom was a 150 year-old Victorian house.
I didn’t really have my own classroom in any of those situations; at least not a classroom in the traditional sense.
I hadn’t planned on teaching in such a variety of experiences. After completing my student teaching in a public kindergarten classroom, I was as poised as the rest of my teaching program’s graduating class to begin my first year of teaching in September of 2006. Though I may have been academically prepared to settle into a classroom and begin plugging away toward retirement, I struggled with self-doubt and insecurity about whether I could actually manage and lead my own classroom. I mean, who am I to build up the minds of a future generation?
Like “Educating Esme,” I kept a student teaching journal that I recently revisited. It was back and forth communication between my advisor and me, but also a pretty reflective manuscript of vulnerability. While I had the usual encouragement and support from friends, family and advisors, I was still lacking the confidence to be a lead teacher. Maybe I felt like I hadn’t earned it yet. Sure, I had acquired a B.A., passed the Praxis II and even had a teaching license, but something was missing; something that can’t be taught.
So instead of leaping before I looked, I began with baby-steps into the teaching field; substitute teaching, tutoring, and Saturday art lessons. Little stuff. Safe stuff.
With each successive work experience, I felt myself gaining skills and began to recognize my own teaching rhythm. This was the post-graduate work that couldn’t be taught by a professor. It was hands-on. It was reflecting in a journal that no-one would read and participating in supervision with the person in the mirror each morning. This was educating me. Last year I began working at Clayton Early Learning at the newly opened Far Northeast campus. It was during that year as an assistant (a familiar role), that I realized that I had everything I needed to be a lead. I could do this. I had the behavior management skills, the curriculum knowledge, and the open-mind for new approaches. I also realized that Clayton would provide professional development and training, and a supportive supervisor to reflect on my practice. Most importantly, through my own trial by fire I had gained the confidence to lead my own classroom.
It’s often assumed that a teacher is the end product of their undergraduate studies and graduate work. Trust that there is a formula that can be administered and acknowledged with course requirements and licensing expectations. I would argue that teaching is a quest of personal growth for the teacher. Without reflection, how does a teacher set personal and professional goals? Without experimentation, how does a teaching learn new approaches? Without self-discipline, how does a teacher become a role-model for others? Before I go all Zen, I’m going to make one request, for all teachers, parents and supervisors: Celebrate the teacher in yourself. Celebrate all you did last year. Celebrate the personal growth in your life and set new goals for next year. Celebrate you as I am celebrating me and my first year as a lead preschool teacher
Last week in Chicago, over 60 early childhood state advocates from 17 states gathered for the 2015 Policy Exchange meeting sponsored by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. This annual meeting brings together state based advocates, national organizations, state government officials, researchers, academics and programmatic leaders to discuss the current early childhood policy challenges and opportunities in their states and learn from one another. Though each state is working in a different context of government, funding, and culture, commonalities can be found across the country in early childhood priority issues.
This year’s conference focused primarily on the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which was passed by Congress in 2014. CCDBG is the main funding source for many states’ child care assistance programs, including Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). In order for states to receive CCDBG funding, their state officials must submit a state plan that outlines how the funds will be used, who will be involved, and how the funded programs will be evaluated. The legislation that Congress passed last year made several changes to the requirements for state plans, including:
- More of a focus on ensuring quality in child care programs and increased funding requirements for quality initiatives
- Easier public access to information about child care, especially on consumer websites
- Increased requirements for the health and safety of child care programs, including disaster preparedness plans
- Increasing access for vulnerable populations to child care, with a particular focus on children with disabilities and homeless children
- More supports for families receiving child care assistance, including a 12 month eligibility re-determination, allowing at least 3 months of assistance during a parent’s job search, and providing graduated phase out assistance to families that have increased their income
Other policy priorities that advocates from across the country discussed at the Policy Exchange included continuity of child care, mental health and social/emotional development, policy innovations in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, funding for early childhood, marketing and communications messaging, and alignment between early childhood and the K-12 system.
The Policy Exchange also gives a chance for states to highlight their successes from the past year. Some of the policy gains for early childhood from across the states included:
- California’s legislature and governor reached a budget agreement that added 7,000 preschool slots and 6,800 child care slots in the state, totaling nearly $400 million in new investments
- Louisiana passed legislation requiring the Department of Education to find funding sources to increase early childhood care and education by $80 million
- The Education Committee in Maine requested the Maine’s Children’s Growth Council, Maine Children’s Alliance, the Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University to gather more detailed information on the social emotional development of children and develop appropriate policy recommendations for the legislature
- Nebraska passed legislation which will allow a family to receive transitional child care assistance if an increase in family income puts them over the limits to receive assistance
- Oklahoma’s legislature passed several bills to promote early learning and literacy for children through 3rd grade
- The Washington Legislature is considering in special session the bipartisan Early Start Act to help parents find care and learning opportunities that are tailored for their children, enhance school readiness, and support providers to provide high-quality care that is culturally and linguistically responsive to the needs of young learners and their families
To find out more about the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the annual Policy Exchange, please visit http://www.theounce.org/involved/events/policy-exchange-meeting.
By Peter Blank
On March 18, Clayton Early Learning co-hosted the 4th annual Speak Up for Kids event at the Denver Art Museum and the State Capitol. Together with the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Children’s Hospital Colorado, Clayton sponsored the event to prepare partners across the state to advocate for children and build confidence in engaging their legislators. With great turnout and active participation, another successful Speak Up for Kids day is in the books!
The focus of the advocacy at Speak Up for Kids day this year was on supporting two generation strategies that promote self-sufficiency and student success. Specifically participants learned about House Bill 1194 and several funding bills for early learning that are currently being considered in the legislature. House Bill 1194 would authorize a $5 million state investment to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to continue an existing program that increases access to long acting reversible contraception as part of the CDPHE’s family planning efforts. This bi-partisan bill provides the opportunity to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion in Colorado, support the health and education of women and children, and reduce reliance on government programs.
The investment bills that were discussed by the advocates and their state legislators focused on access to preschool, full-day kindergarten, and affordable child care which are some of our most cost-effective strategies to supporting children and families. Current legislation that was highlighted included:
- House Bill 1024 which would add 3,000 new slots for part time or full time preschool under the Colorado Preschool Program
- House Bill 1020 which would improve funding for full day kindergarten and help districts expand their kindergarten facilities if needed
- The School Finance Act which could likely include the expansions for the Colorado Preschool Program and Full Day Kindergarten
- The Long Bill, or the legislature’s appropriations bill, which could include line item funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) including an increase to help with the implementation of the CCCAP revisions from last year
The legislation discussed during this year’s event is of great importance for all members of Clayton’s diverse family– from the policy advocates to parents and community members, to teachers and kids. Sena Harjo, a community based Child Family Educator and two year member on the planning committee for Speak Up for Kids believes that the event “… gives parents and families an opportunity to speak up for kids and have their voices heard at the hill.” She also thinks that “…it gives the parents a chance to see how policy trickles down from the capitol to affect their daily lives.” Speak Up for Kids also offered a setting for Buell Early Childhood Leaders alumni and current cohort participants to come together to network, practice their advocacy roles, and even serve as advocacy coaches. There were 17 registered Buell leaders for this year’s event!
Each one of these unique perspectives is not only evidence of the breadth of work at Clayton, but also highlights how many people are positively affected by the continued advocacy demonstrated at this year’s Speak Up for Kids event.
It is important to keep in mind that this advocacy work doesn’t end with the Speak Up for Kids event – there is more work to do! All voices were welcomed at the event and everyone is encouraged to continue advocating for kids.
If you want to get involved and advocate on behalf of children in Colorado you can:
- Call and email your legislators. Reach out and share your thoughts on this year’s legislation. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to reach out and express their opinions with their legislators. Click here to find your legislators’ contact information.
- Testify in a committee hearing. If you have a passion for a particular piece of legislation or issue, you can testify at a committee hearing. To testify you just need to show up at the specific committee hearing for each piece of legislation and sign up. A calendar of the Senate committee hearings can be found here. A calendar of House committee hearings can be found here. More information on testifying at committee hearings can be found here.
- Sign up for KidsFLash! KidsFlash is a weekly e-newsletter from the Colorado Children’s Campaign that offers helpful analysis and discussions on all things kids, including legislation and advocacy. You can sign up for KidsFlash here or by visiting the Colorado Children’s Campaign website.
Contact Lauren Heintz, Policy Specialist at Clayton Early Learning, for more information or assistance on getting involved in the advocacy process. Email: LHeintz@claytonearlylearning.org. Phone: 303-393-5623.
- Legislator contact information: http://openstates.org/co/
- Link to the House calendar: http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2015A/csl.nsf/CalendarsFrameSet?OpenForm&chamber=House
- Link to the Senate calendar: http://www.leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2015a/csl.nsf/CalendarsFrameSet?OpenForm&chamber=Senate
- Link to sign up for Kids Flash: https://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50897/signup_page/kidsflash-sign-up
By Sena Harjo
Food is crucial for development in any age of people. Babies and young children need nutrition in order to assist their bodies in developing the strength, ability and cognitive processing that will carry them into many years of joy and learning. Elementary age children and teens need nutrition to keep their bodies and minds growing, changing and transforming into the amazing adults that will create new beginnings within in our communities and in families of their own. And adults and elders need nutrition in order to maintain healthy lifestyles and to be able to engage and interact in their world to the best of their ability. As important as fresh food and healthy choices are, we at Clayton Early Learning have found that for many of our families, food insecurity is a persistent concern and stress in their everyday lives.
During the 2012-2013 school year, Clayton surveyed parents about whether they were able to afford all of the food they need for their families. Families were asked questions like: How frequently are you anxious about running out of food? How often does the food run out before you have money to purchase more? What we found was that many of our families are facing some very difficult circumstances. 47.1% of our families worry about running out of food regularly and 35.6% of families are regularly facing empty cabinets at mealtimes. For our families this means over a third of our students are going without food at home from day to day.
So what is Clayton Early Learning doing about it?
First of all, Clayton Early Learning is making sure to consistently provide exciting healthy and fresh meals and snacks to the students enrolled in the many different program options that we serve. We also have a nutrition staff to support families who have questions and situations needing dietary supports. We cultivate two on-campus gardens to provide produce used in the kitchen, as learning opportunities’ for the classrooms and in fundraising opportunities’ for the programs. Also, throughout the year we offer Cooking Matters classes, where families can sign up to learn how to prepare healthy meals at home. Clayton’s new initiative, however, connects the learning from the classrooms into a service model, while offering a connection to fresh vegetables and fruits. Clayton will be having their very first Youth Farmer’s Market right on the Clayton campus!
This October 23rd from 2:30pm to 4:30pm the students and families of Clayton Early Learning will be running a fresh produce market where families, staff, and the community will have access to low cost fresh produce. Patrons will be able to purchase a variety of items promoting a yummy, healthy lifestyle. We will be selling carrots, chilies, cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, red potatoes, squash, pears and apples!
We invite you to come and join in the conversation about food resources and healthy options in our community. The staff and families at Clayton Early Learning are invested in creating the best outcomes possible for our children and communities. We look forward to seeing you there!
Youth Farmer’s Market
Time and Location:
Date: October 23, 2013
Time: 2:30pm - 4:30pm
Clayton Early Learning (school parking lot)
3751 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205
Resources: Images courtesy of Sena Harjo.