Passing the Torch: Early Ed… Then What? Why and How We Should Be Ready for Our Children. Speaking up for Children, Families and Educators

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Come as you are”, said he. “But I love you, so I will not let you stay there. I will move you, and it will hurt, but I promise I won’t leave you.” –sum.c

Recently, we attended a conference, “It Takes A City” in DC and I reflected on my experiences and how I felt immediately. While sitting at a table of educators, with widely different views and experiences in education and hearing from a high school teacher, first grade teacher, education specialist and an assistant…When asked what I do, I responded I work in an Early Learning Program in DC. I heard from most of them at the table “They are just so cute but I don’t know how you do it.” Pause. Sigh. I took a deep breath. I realized I was sitting at this table for a reason.

There is a disconnect between early childhood education and the K-12 world. As I listened to their set of experiences, I realized we are so connected so why is there a disconnect? A high school teacher lamented how 23 out of 26 of her students have IEPS mainly for ADHD. 23 out of 26. My eyes widened. My chest hurt. These numbers bothered me and I could tell it bothered her too. I talked more about how early education focuses on the whole child. After my talk about developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), meeting children where they are and helping when needed, utilizing the curriculum but being flexible and following the lead of the child…the teachers said how thankful they are when children come from a high quality program and previous classes that supported them. They said our work shows. We make a difference!

I thought we don’t do this kind of work for a thank you. Our work should not stop there. Children come to a classroom with a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and ways of being. They come as they are and it is our job to help move them. Families, get to know your child’s teacher. Write a letter explaining who your child is and how he or she best learns. Paint the picture of your child in a positive and realistic light. Show and share who your child is in order to create a mutual understanding and best possible support. What is your child’s hopes and dreams? After all, you know your child the best. This way teachers can meet him where he is developmentally. Collaborate. Families are a child’s first and most important teacher. The mentality of readiness…of children being ready needs to change. Testing? This is not the only way. This idea of readiness and testing causes anxiety for the child, family, teachers and administration. We need to think like this: educators and schools should be ready for children. We hope that after children leave our world of early education that our work continues not only through our children and families but from their new teachers. We pass on the torch. As an early childhood educator, we hope that children will be challenged, asked how they feel, asked open-ended questions, met where they are. Most of all, we hope they are cared for, supported, inspired and understood.

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Often we hear how children are misunderstood. This is not working well. Emerson stated, “To be misunderstood is to be great.” When misunderstandings happen we should seek to understand. We have the power to change this way of thinking. We can totally relate to children: at some point grown-ups were in fact children. Do you remember standards? Do you remember the one-dimensional testing? Do you remember the cookie cutter art? Do you remember being quiet during lunch? Do you remember not playing? What do you remember? What made you proud, confident, loved, inspired? What caused an a-ha kind of moment for you? What challenged and hurt that helped you grow not caused anxiety?

The reality is that too many children are labeled. We are talking about high quality and equity in education but how is this fair? Diagnosis: ADHD Answer: Medication. Diagnosis: Disruptive, hurtful and troubled. Answer: removed. Isolating and shaming children to “remove the problem” so we can continue teaching? We are educating children who will one day be grown ups. They are not grown ups yet so we shouldn’t treat them like grown ups but who they are: children.

Although we realize children are uniquely and amazingly different, have a plethora of experiences, personalities and skills coupled by our understanding of current research, DAP and being culturally responsive; there are still educators and leaders who settle on the maturationist point of view of children…knowing what we know we cannot sit passively and think a child will mature and grow based on a life cycle. This is where we work to help children build and learn. This is when we mold them.

If we know there is a five year range in children’s literacy in an average kindergarten classroom then there is not only one way to teach a subject such as reading. There also should not be a standard that all children must be at. Standards and goals are necessary but let’s use them to challenge each child in different ways by meeting him or her on his own unique level of understanding. Only then can we help a child grow, actively learn, and move forward in his development.

Children are not meant to be test takers but movers and shakers of this world. If we are to adequately challenge and promote 21st century skills, we must stick to our gut instincts as educators, families and leaders and do what is right and developmentally appropriate for children. Testing should not be the only method or option in seeing where children are. There are tons of other ways as well.

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Every child may not be good at test taking just as every child who scores high does not mean he knows or understands the subject he was taught. Learning is a lifelong activity, a hobby for some of us. It keeps us going, allows us to stay sharp and relevant. We want our children to love learning, right? We want them to try harder each time, to think that there is no limit for growth. There is no job that is impossible to get. With education, comes great opportunities. From meeting friends who continue as colleagues and or partners to high paying jobs or satisfying careers. Most important of all, we want them to be successful in every which way. How is this possible if we do not speak up for them, if we do not stand up for their needs and rights?

For each one of us there is at least one thing to do. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, administrators, doctors, policy makers… The list is long and there is always at least one thing for each one of these individuals to do to advocate for children. There is always a step each one of us can take when we see injustice, misuderstanding, maltreatment, unfairness… It is everyone’s job to protect the youngest citizens of this world. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect their interest and to pave the road to success. We reap what we sow and what we want to sow is the best seed that will grow and take his place in life. One day, they will continue the cycle and when that day comes they will be confident, happy, productive, thoughful, succesful, innovative, problem solvers and leaders… Be their voice, now.

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Leading from Within: From the Classroom to Leadership

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” –Dr. Robert Anthony

Once a preschool teacher, I recently began my work as an assistant director.

Based on what I have experienced and researched so far I learned that it’s best to have one foot in and one foot out of the classroom. It’s like taking a pulse of the place and people as a collective. Just like with students it’s checking in and meeting them where they are, learning from them and working together. As I reflect on what will soon be almost a complete year as a school leader, I pause and take a deep breath. Two words: growing pains.  It takes a lot of hard work, working smart, collaboration and most of all courage to lead.

In my heart I always wanted to be an educator. Given the privilege to serve others is what is in my being…it is in my genetic make up, my DNA, my blood. It’s in my soul. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable no matter where I end up or what I do in life.

I have a vision. I still consider myself an educator and learner first and foremost. With this in mind, I enjoy keeping a pulse of our program. I look forward to saying hi and good-bye to everyone each and everyday. I look forward to seeing how others are truly doing and how they are feeling. Think: Mr. Rogers.

I believe every single person in this world deserves high quality and equity in education no matter where they are or where they’re from. I live to push everyone to realize and grow into his or her fullest potential.

There are 3 major takeaways and reminders since stepping and growing into this role:

  1. Being in Classrooms

Educators should never forget what its like to be a child/student. I take this perspective as I think about myself…I promise never to forget what its like to be a teacher. It’s similar to when I think and reflect on my experiences growing up…I never want to forget where I came from. My experiences made me the person I am today.   I work to spend time in classrooms not eyeing every little thing. I see the little things but I focus in on those little moments. The good things, the kinds of things that remind me why we are here in the first place to care, guide and challenge our children. In return to be challenged and learn from each other, families and children.

  1. Understanding, Empowering and Empathizing with Others

Taking time to understand other’s points of view. Perception is reality. Taking time to truly understand where others are coming from is important to me. It’s like two people looking and gazing at a work of art but feeling and seeing something completely different. I work and take the time to listen in order to understand why they are seeing it the way they are.

  1. Connecting, Building and Maintaining Relationships

I saved the best for last. When eating something delicious I like to save and savor the last “best” bite for last. Relationships are at the heart of our existence and being. No one wants to listen, be with or work with a person who does not genuinely care about them. Working to know everyone on a personal level is vital. I think about it like this: great teachers get to know their students and families. Knowing your people is important. Asking them how they are doing, creating outings and go to them. Work should not feel like work. You should want to be there.

Looking at leadership from several perspectives, I share some of the interesting experiences with Jill. I have taught 4th to 12th grade prior to taking my seat at the administration desk. I strongly believe that once you are an educator, you are an educator for life. A leader in a general sense must LEAD. To lead, one must possess the ability to listen and collaborate. As a leader in the field of education, you must possess other special skills such as high emotional intelligence and understanding the people you work with. I say “work with” because a good leader leads by taking part in the team.

On a daily basis, I am a very busy person. However, I enjoy taking the time to talk with my teachers, greeting children and families, squeezing in a little time to sit on the floor and play with children. This is not my main role of course but the classroom is where the action is. I remember my days being in the classroom and asking, “Who came up with this policy or regulation? Have they thought about this or that? This is unrealistic.” It seemed more “drop down” policy or rule rather than “well thought and realistic”. I have been in the trenches of teaching. I have faced many challenges and learned how to over come them and how to figure out a way to reach the goal. I am a firm believer that people like us make the best leaders. Why? Because we have been there and we have not forgotten what it was like. And we know and realize how it is now.

A leader approaches situations collectively and with a solution finder attitude. No matter what sector you work in, there are always going to be challenges, hardships, problems and negativity. A true leader gathers the team around, brainstorms together, takes everyone’s ideas and feedback into consideration and moves forward. There may be times when failure is inevitable. A leader knows what to take away from it as a learning lesson and shares it with the team trying to figure out how to avoid falling into the same situation again.

I enjoy empowering the people I work with. The stronger they get, the stronger I become. It is a cycle and a positive one. We grow together. I find coaching the most effective and enjoyable way to raise the bar for everyone. Seeing someone achieve makes me happy and gives me the biggest satisfaction. Just because I am no longer in the classroom does not mean I cannot influence what happens in the classroom. Better yet, now I can do it for more than one classroom at a time. I can establish a culture of doers, go-getters, problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators.

The most effective leaders are effective because they respect the mission, vision and the employees of their organization. They set the tone, establish a shared goal and produce a plan involving everyone. They are the role models. They get up regardless of how many times they fall. They are persistent, strong and have confidence not only in themselves but also in their teams. True leaders are inspirers and cultivators.  True leaders have courage.

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