Friday, December 27, 2013

Reflective Supervision

December was a great month for me as I am thisclose to meeting my goal of meeting with each staff member for true reflective supervision.  I know there's one I won't get to as she is on a much-deserved vacation, but other than that, there's just one more appointment for me to keep and I will head into 2014 with my head held high.  I think the best part of my job is reflective supervision because it allows me to get to know the teachers and staff in a more intimate way and allows them to share their triumphs and frustrations in a safe place.  I'm learning how to guide these conversations and thanks to one of my teachers at Erikson have really learned some great key phrases...

Tell me more about that...
I'm wondering how that happened...
Is there any truth at all to what that person said?
Help me understand...

I am hopeful that I can maintain my stride in 2014 and continue this great new habit.  I've scheduled all of the January appointments for Mondays so there will be no interruptions, no last-minute runs to Admin for meetings.  Just me and my homies at the center.

I like to think of this as my New Years resolution (if I believed in such things).  What are you striving for in the new year?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Leadership Community

I am participating in a Leadership Learning Community as facilitated by the Ounce of Prevention & Chicago Public Schools' Prevention Initiative program.  This is one of 6 learning communities being facilitated this year and I am excited about this opportunity.  For me, this is a safe place to share ideas, worries, achievements, etc.  Today was our first meeting and we spoke about the goals of the community and set ground rules before creating a list of topics we might like to discuss.

The question posed today was how we came to understand & value quality....

I have had an interesting journey to get to where I stand & to become who I am, writing this post to share with you.  

A friend of mine recently asked, "How did you know what to do when you got this job."  Honestly?  I didn't. But I did know what I didn't like in a supervisor when I was a teacher.  So I did the opposite of that.  Much of my work has been based on this type of reflection.  Of course, some of what I do I have learned from mentors in the field.  I am so thankful that I made the leap to Chicago as it dramatically changed my philosophy of education -- in a 180 motion.

I am so excited to see what this group will bring to each other; I think it's a great opportunity to step outside of our centers and share hardships, problems, and also our triumphs in a reflective & supportive environment.  I'm pumped.

I needed this kind of boost :)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't you shrug your should--- okay, yes, shrug your shoulders.

For a split second this morning, I was upset with a teacher.  And then just as quickly as I had gotten upset, I was so over-the-moon pleased with that very same teacher for the very same reason I had originally been upset!  Our DCFS licensing representative came this morning for our annual review.  I went into the classroom just to let the teachers know that she was here and would likely be coming into the classrooms to see them and this teacher just stared at me and shrugged.  I don't know what I was expecting, but realistically, her response is exactly what I want.

Who cares?

It doesn't matter who walks into our center, we are providing the highest-quality care possible.  We don't put on a show to please a visitor.  We do our best for the children and their families. This is so important to me as a director, I cannot express it enough.  If we're only putting on a good show for visitors, we aren't making the children our priority.

I love my team.

Monday, September 9, 2013

When company comes to visit

"This year they're real big on family engagement."  
"Just show 'em what they want to see."
"Where is all the money going that the centers get?"

It's alarming to me that this is the culture of early childhood education.  Giving them what they want, putting on a show, doing the dance for the moment.  But what do you do when there's no one around?  Isn't that what matters?  Who cares if you can put on a good show because there's a visitor.  I want to know that there's quality programming being offered after the lights go down and "they" leave the site.  Our center is preparing for a federal review with Head Start this year and not only am I not nervous, I'm prepared.  We run our program according to the (many) Head Start regulations and I don't care who walks into the center, we operate the same way. My teachers know that no matter who walks into that infant room, they need to wash their hands and put on the booties.  Regardless of their pay grade or status.  I've heard my infant teachers ask visitors (including the Program Director and myself) to follow this procedure without missing a beat.  And to me, that's a sign of a high quality program.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A hoarding culture

There's a weird phenomenon that occurs in the field of education; I've seen it in almost every level and in different regions.  Ya'll are some serious scavenging pack rats.  I mean that lovingly, as I too was once a pack rat.  I've learned that not every toilet paper tube needs to be saved and that I can get new crayons, they don't need to be stored up high, out of reach, so as not to be "used."

I am currently in the process of converting a toddler/two classroom into a preschool classroom and have pretty much finished.  There are still some items like manipulatives and puzzles that need to be put into storage so they can be rotated during the program year for new and exciting opportunities.  They are sitting on the tables in the classroom and I plan to store them next week.  A teacher just approached me and asked, "What you gonna do with those puzzles and books that came out of our room?"  She mentioned she's been taking things from the classroom to use.  I'm all for sharing.  Sharing is caring, right?  But when it means that this classroom is being stripped of materials, I'm a little... upset.  Classrooms need to have a certain number of each material to maintain licensing standards.  Sharing typically means asking the other person (in this case, the director -- me) while scavenging means you're swoopin' in and taking materials that are not developmentally appropriate for your children while no one is looking.

Funds are tight.  We will never have Smartboards in our classrooms or be paid millions.  But I promise there will always be new crayons, paper, and markers available -- stop hoarding them.

Sometimes when I watch that show, Hoarders, I think of teachers.  I wonder if there are classrooms that need to go through such a process.  I mean, I hope there are no dead cats or tens years worth of newspapers in your classroom, but something tells me there are probably materials in your room I would find you hovered over while chanting, "My precious."  Am I wrong?

Didn't think so.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Motivational Monday: JOY

I have had this mantra "Nothing without joy" for a few years now after having been inspired by a dialogue with Amelia Gambetti and Lela Gandini.  I now apply this to my personal life as well as my professional life and always *try* to find the silver-lining in every difficult situation.  I find that when I choose joy, life is so much happier :)

We don't know what we don't know...

Working with adult learners is a difficult task.  Us adult folk think we know everything.  I mean, I woke up this morning and made it through an entire day independently.  I'm doing well.  The learning within the context of our day seems minute.  It's not "scary" or "overwhelming" and tends to be task-based within the structure of our normal activities.  It's really not scary when you realize you don't know something -- to the Google machine!

Our most vulnerable moments as adult learners tend to be when we realize we don't know what we don't know!  

Let that marinate.

Sometimes, we need an outside catalyst to come along and shake our foundations with a question that truly makes us aware of our knowledge.  The joy I find within this type of interaction just cannot be described.

You learn something new every day, right?

Knowing this about myself has (I think) made me a better leader within our center.  I meet regularly with all of my team and we have scheduled time for reflection.  What's going well?  What isn't?  What do you have questions about?  What surprised you this month?  What would you have done differently?  The conversations that come from these meetings have shifted from task-based and very business-like conversation to more of a "how does that make you feel" vibe.  It's a safe place to talk about the demands of the positions my many different team members hold.  Our jobs are tough and it helps to have someone to bounce things off of without fear of criticism or punishment (I'm pretty confident that's why I blog).

I had a reflection meeting with a teacher yesterday who served as a teacher aide for a very long time (think almost as long as I've been alive) and was recently promoted to assistant teacher.  She also (!!!) just won a scholarship to pursue her associate's degree (I'm like a proud momma over here).  One of my big goals for my team is that we continue to learn and grow.  It's all I ask; how they learn and grow is up to them, but we cannot simply be stagnant.  She is now in a position to mentor and support the new teacher aide who was hired.  We spoke of her progress and areas to really help this new teacher develop and I provoked this conversation with "Well, she doesn't know what she doesn't know quite yet.  What have you noticed she might need support with?"  Our conversation was so rich and productive!!!  We spoke of ways to provoke this new teacher (to nudge if you will) and help her take ownership of her role within the classroom.  I think we're a pretty unique center in the way we operate within teaching teams.  There tends to be a lack of title association with the division of labor, but more of a sense of "we're in this together."  I've seen teachers really work together to capitalize on strengths and develop the areas that may need development.

Did you have a moment of awareness today in which you realized you didn't know you didn't know something?  Wasn't it exhilarating?

Have I ever told you how much I love my job?  Conversations like this are the reason why!


Friday, June 28, 2013

Motivation from Within

Keep focused...
Too often I feel like my teachers give me the stink eye when I walk into the classroom.  Not because they don't want me in there but more so because they don't know why I'm in there.  What did they do wrong?  I remember this feeling as a teacher.  I knew that when my boss walked into the classroom, I was in trouble.  I carry that with me and work to make myself an everyday presence in the classrooms.  I don't want anything to change just because I'm there.  I want the authentic experience not only so I can identify & correct any issues with standards, but also because I want to catch them doing things well.

Every month, I work to catch our teachers doing things well.  We had a similar system when I was in middle school and our teachers would find us doing things well and our names would go into a raffle and there was a winner at the assembly.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

It's the little things that need the most love & support, in my opinion.  It can be things like remembering to enter attendance by the end of the day, thinking of an amazing rainy day activity, staying late to help a coworker, using great language with children, etc.  I like to catch everyone at least once a month.  Traditionally, I had been using a raffle for semi-fabulous prizes like gift cards to motivate.  I've found that as I've tapered that off (I was using my own limited funds for that project), behaviors still exceed my expectations at times!  I think the reason for this is the motivation has become more intrinsic.  They aren't doing it for me.  They are doing it because it makes them feel good.  So I'm moving towards sending weekly emails to the team highlighting their good work.  I want the team to support each other & I want them to know that their good work isn't going unnoticed.  

Do you think it will be a powerful tool?  Do you think I should still be offering gift cards?  I'm thinking about doing quarterly raffles... thoughts?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Observation Phenomenon

One of my least favorite phenomenon occurs while I'm observing in a classroom.  Suddenly, the tone of the teachers changes.  There are activities on the table more frequently.  Children are engaged in play.  Why is it suddenly so calm compared to the chaos I've heard earlier this week?

Because I'm there.

And maybe, they have to fake it until they make it.  Would that be a terrible thing?  If we know that practice makes better (we're never going to be perfect, there is simply no such thing), isn't it a great thing if teachers have repeated opportunities to practice what they know is right?  Even if it seems to be just to please me?  Will they eventually learn these behaviors as part of their normal teaching tool kit?

Because I'm there.

As a director, it's my job to be there.  To be present not only within the center, but within their classrooms and within the moments I share with the children and teachers.  It's my responsibility to make sure the teachers are using developmentally appropriate approaches with our children and if that means they're faking it until they make it, so be it.  Eventually, the readings I share, the comments the Education Coordinator and I make, and the reinforcement they receive will encourage teachers to make the change in their practice.

Example:  We have one classroom that has been struggling to engage children in meaningful activities during self-selected exploration time (choice time) and I wasn't seeing much in the way of small group experiences either.  After several conversations and articles (with reflection) and observations by both the Education Coordinator and myself, we noticed something.  When the Education Coordinator walked into the classroom, it was quiet.  Children were working.  When the Education Coordinator asked the Lead Teacher why she thought that might be, the teacher immediately noted that children had learning opportunities set out for them that morning and the children were excited to use the materials.

And that folks, is what we like to call an "Ah-ha!" moment.  A light bulb above the head, if you will.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Head Start Parents Grown Up

Our Head Start Manager recently asked me to check in with my staff to identify those who are former Head Start parents and of my 8 teachers, 7 of them are former Head Start parents.  That last teacher?  Just had her first child and I am interested to see if she enrolls her child within an Early Head Start.  What does this mean to me as a director of a Head Start program?

It means that these strong women were once parents entrusting a program like ours to care for and educate their children.  It gives me a new appreciation for the population we serve and for the population of my staff.

I love this kind of moment.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Building a Lending Library

I am currently in the process of building a Lending Library with high-quality children's books for our infant toddler center and the families who share their children with us.  I'm in the market for Spanish board books and wordless books.  English books seem to be in abundance which, while awesome, doesn't do much for our families who speak a language other than English.  Think I can find board books in Portuguese?  I'm going to try!

It's a pretty solid start!

Do you have a  Lending Library or any ideas on how to beef ours up?  I'd love some creative suggestions!


The context of language

If a child has always been told to "pee pee toilet," or "flush the potty," their reaction to you saying, "Flush the commode"  is probably not going to be what you'd like it to be.

As someone who works in a child care center thriving with diversity, I am paying very close attention to language and the context in which it is used with small children.  While children absolutely come to "learn," they also come to use with prior knowledge and experiences they are trying to make sense of within the context of school.  Things that 'work' at home or are cute at home are not tolerated at school.

Case in point, the adorable child with ample (and oh so squeezeable) cheeks who has had her cheeks pinched her entire life by family members cannot come to school and squeeze the cheeks of her peers.  They simply won't allow it, even though she may be doing this to show affection and love much like her family members do.  It's kind of a tough thing to learn, that what's okay at home doesn't fly at school.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The verdict from licensing

I got to work Friday and was super anxious about getting a response from our licensing rep, knowing that she holds the power and if she didn't support my quest, it was pretty much time to come up with a solid Plan B.  I am the proud owner of a new purple bruise on my knee as I stood up entirely too quickly and bashed my knee into my desk in a rush to share the good news with my Birth to Three Education Coordinator.  It hurt like hell but was quickly forgotten in the heat of the moment.

Our rep shared her concerns and a forewarning that's not what she would do but that I am allowed to group the children 6 weeks through 2 years however I'd like.  And if I take that route, I need to include a detailed plan and can only have 1:4 teacher:child ratio.  Sometimes, I think people forget that Early Head Start already requires those ratios and my Birth to Three classrooms are capped at an enrollment of 8 already. I'm golden!

I just have to find the right way to share my vision with our Executive Director, Program Director, and the Board of Directors.  I hope that they can see the benefits of the vision and get past any obstacles, as they will only be obstacles for a short period of time while the benefits will last well into the future.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Embracing continuity of care

Maybe the title of this one should be "Embracing continuity of care and getting others on board too."  Because I love it.  I want more of it.  I just need to convince the 'powers that be' that this is a no-brainer decision and we should move forward with my plan.  I've been practicing my case for mixed-age groupings and feel I've spoken with enough colleagues to now be more articulate in the positive outcomes as well as highlighting the challenges and presenting possible solutions.  I'm ready!  Bring it!

  • More family-focused
    • Mixed-age groupings would better allow us to support the child in the context of his/her family. When children gather within social experiences, they are not segregated by age and forbidden to socialize with other age groups.  It is our responsibility to prepare children and help build a strong social-emotional foundation in partnership with the family.
    • Parents and teachers would have up to three years to build a reciprocal relationship before transitioning to our preschool program; the Birth to Three staff would still be nearby and the relationship could continue into the preschool years.
  • Better assessment data
    • I didn't even think of this at first, but think about how much more valid the assessment data would be for the children who stay with one consistent and reliable assessor for the first three years.  The teacher would have years of prior knowledge to refer to when assessing children's progress.
    • Parents and teachers would have a stronger relationship and when completing the Ages and Stages Questionnaires together, they would be better equipped to respond to the questions and reflect on the child's growth over time.  This safe relationship would also allow an easier referral process if there were concerns about the child's development.  
  • Better for the children
    • We would essentially be minimizing transitions to the bare minimum.  Children could be in the same room until age 3 and then transition to preschool.  As they prepare for kindergarten, they transition into their new school and we celebrate.  Awesome, right?
      • The alternative to this would be to have one infant (6 weeks to 15 months) and one toddler/two (15 months to three years) classroom as well as our preschool room.  This would mean a possible 4 transitions (into the center, into the toddler room, into the preschool, and into kindergarten).  Less is more when it comes to transitions for tiny humans.
        • If we use this scenario, I could loop the teachers with the children so they at least have a familiar face. The only concern with that is turnover.  We have had pretty low turnover at this location (KNOCK ON WOOD) but if the teacher leaves, I'm sending children into a new room with a new teacher and no familiar teacher to support the transition.  I know there are ways to make it work if it's the only option, but right now, it's not the most attractive possibility.
  • Better for our staff
    • Teachers get very attached to the children they work with and this would afford them three years with their babies before they transition to the preschool classroom.  I suspect I would see a boost in morale as those relationships with children are often the highlight of teachers' days at the center.  This could further work to reduce teacher turnover as they wouldn't  have to learn a whole new group of children but rather could watch their relationships blossom.
      • Typically, when I ask teachers about the best part of their job, they say something along the lines of "When the babies get excited to see me come into the classroom."
Honestly, when we look at all of the amazing benefits, the challenges seem more manageable but also totally worth it!  Professional development for our teachers?  Of course!  Pile it on!  We want to make sure our teams are ready, knowledgeable, and excited about working with children for the first three years.  Seems like a pretty smart investment.

Now let's see what our friend at licensing says... I'm hoping for good news.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A dance with licensing

The center I work with is licensed by DCFS and we meet and exceed the regulations.  I have a phenomenal relationship with our licensing representative who I work with very closely when brainstorming changes.  That being said, today I sent an email that may or may not have stressed that relationship.

The more time I spend in this field, the more I recognize the presence of those who quote standards and regulations that are within their comfort zones, not necessarily what's considered best practice or developmentally appropriate.  Some things still make people uncomfortable.  As an advocate for tiny humans and their families, I'm an avid reader and researcher.  I've invested many hours reading materials about attachment and primary care-giving   I strongly believe in mixed-age groupings where the teachers have the professional development and knowledge to support children over the span of their first three years of life.

I have three classrooms in my very small, close-knit center and I'd really like to change our program model from only birth to three to include a preschool classroom.  Ideally, our two remaining birth to three classrooms would be birth to three.  I want children to come into the center and stay with their primary caregivers until they transition to preschool and stay with that preschool group until transitioning to kindergarten.  Dreamy, right?  So glad we agree.

I had a conversation with my licensing representative and she shared that I cannot mix infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds in the same classroom because it's not safe.  "Just think about how big some of your two-year-olds are and then imagine them with infants."  I did.  I pictured it.  And it made perfect sense to me that they be together.  Families do not consist of children all the same age, unless you've been blessed with multiples.  We don't keep children from younger siblings or cousins.  Granted, teachers will require a bit more support with helping children to respect those younger children and planning for such a vast age grouping can be tricky.  But that's why we have an Infant Toddler Specialist.

Imagine my surprise while reading the standards for child care (dude, I read everything) and finding the following:

"Children may be combined in any of the following ways:
                    1)      infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds may be combined; and/or
                    2)      Two-year-old children through five-year-old children may be mixed in any combination; and/or
                    3)      Four-year-old through six-year-old children may be mixed; and/or
                    4)      Children of all ages may be mixed during the first hour and last hour of programs that operate
                           10 or more hours per day.” 

I'm not one to fight with those who have the power to shut down my program so I sent a sweet-as-pie email asking for more clarification about this section of the standards and whether this meant that I could indeed group them together as I had hoped.  Response is pending.

So I suppose the main point of my presentation here is that if it's permissible by the standards, I'm doing it.  I'm moving forward and blazing some kind of trail because it's what's best for our children.  I want to eliminate transition as much as possible and create a solid foundation for our children and families.  Sure, it means I'll be spending copious amounts of time offering professional development and technical assistance to teachers, but THAT'S MY JOB anyway.

C'est la vie!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Grow Your Own Staff!

I ask a lot of my team.  I have high standards and expect people to rise to meet them.  It's a blessing and a curse.  We work hard and I love to let them play hard too.  We deserve that.  I want teachers who love to play.  If they can't play, they can't facilitate play experiences for our kids.

Vacation requests are taken quite seriously.  We have a fabulous system that I created last year when I took over the center and basically, vacation is first-come, first-serve and only 2 people can be out at once.  This helps to ensure we can stay happy while our colleagues are enjoying their much deserved R&R.  Sanity is important in this field so I'm not really looking to decrease the existing levels.

I'm down a teacher right now because one of our young ladies had her first baby (awww) and after 12 weeks together, she decided she just wasn't able to return to us.  This vacancy has caused me many long days and even longer nights at home getting my actual work done.  When I spoke of this issue at our recent meeting of directors, one director suggested that I ask teachers to have mercy on me and reschedule their vacation.  Sounds easy enough but vacations are few and far between for us and I know that many of my teachers have BIG plans for their time off; some are leaving town and others are spending time with children.  Another suggestion was to "hurry up and hire someone."

I refuse.

I will not hire another person just for a quick fix.  We need someone who will stick with us and be a great fit for our little family.  It's worth taking the time to find that great fit than to go through the interviewing, hiring, and orientations on repeat.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  It's worth taking my time and taking one for the team in the meantime.  I will cover to ensure my staff gets the rest they need to be their very best for their children.

I'm very much interested in growing my own staff.  To me, that means promoting from within whenever possible and bringing in new staff into assistant teacher roles where they will have some time in a sheltered place to learn the unspoken culture of our agency and site and all of the requirements that will be asked of them as lead teacher candidates.  It's a lot of pressure to come into an agency, especially agencies with multiple funders, and learn the ropes while learning the children and getting comfortable.

I'm so pleased that I was able to promote one of my teacher aides this afternoon to her next challenge with more responsibility and more reflection!  She's been at the agency for quite some time so this was a long time coming but I've had a pretty clear vision of how she would grow and change and take on these new challenges and she has met every expectation and often times exceeded them.  I love to check in with her and put my finger on the pulse of where she's going and how I can help her get there.  She's almost done with her associates degree and I have big plans for her future; she just doesn't know it yet.  But I love that today while we were chatting about her promotion, I asked if she could believe it was happening and her response was "I believe everything you tell me I can do -- you've been right every time."

I love being right.  ;)

But I also love that I can be the support, the scaffold, to encourage others to continue their journey in the early childhood field.

Sometimes, we all need somebody to lean on!  Ya singing?  You should be!  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Invest in your staff

The only thing worse than training staff and having them leave is not training and having them stay.
-Henry Ford

Oh my goodness, how true is this quote?!  I always open the Exchange Everyday emails in the morning to find a nugget of inspiration and today was no exception.  There it was, staring back at me, the truth of why I do what I do!  I love children, don't get me wrong, but I think my true passion is working with other teachers to help them see themselves as teachers rather than glorified babysitters.  

No one pours themselves into schooling to obtain a degree in early childhood to be called a babysitter.  How demeaning!  No one would ever think to undermine the qualifications or credibility of a doctor or lawyer, so why do they do it with teachers?!  

Many of our funding agencies require us to send teachers to x-number of professional development workshops during the program year to meet the requirements.  I like to call these little chunks "drive-by-trainings."  These are the stupid make & take workshops where there is no real application or synthesis of information; you show up, you make something that's developmentally inappropriate and you go back to your program.  Maybe you got a handout.  It's probably in your car, under the seat, or wadded up in the door.  The likelihood of you saving that handout are slim (to none) and if you do, it's in a folder... somewhere.   Have you looked at in since the workshop?  Do I even need to ask this question?

I value professional development for what it's meant to be.  Development.  I want teachers to go to workshops and come back feeling empowered and excited.  I see this occasionally, but I truly believe it only happens when teachers are responsible for their own development, meaning they reflect on what they're doing in the classroom and what they'd like to strengthen.  Together, we identify workshops and conferences that might support the goal and then -- this is the kicker -- they go.

Yesterday, I did some reflecting (!!) on reflective supervision and what that should look like and one of the roadblocks that gets some of us directors is coverage.  "Well, I don't have coverage, so you can't go to that workshop you were supposed to attend."  This. Kills. Me.  I work really hard to plan ahead and block off those times so that this professional development time is protected and actually occurs.  We've been fortunate this year (knock on wood) and we've found some great workshops and we're trying a new system.

When you return from your professional development, you share.  Mind-blowing, I know.  But when teachers are asked to share what they've learned at the workshops, I can see the light bulbs above their heads turn on. This is a step that we're continuing to develop but so far, it's been fun!  After all, the best way to learn something is to teach it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Reflective Supervision Buzz

It's kind of a buzz-buzz word right now, the latest and greatest -- reflective supervision.  All the cool sites are doing it.  Funders are starting to require it in some programs.  But are we really doing it?

What is reflective supervision and what does it mean to implement it correctly?
Can anyone do it?  Does it take a certain skill set?

And if people are requiring it, why aren't they providing more training and support on the topic?

 I had the great privilege of working within the Student Mentor Teacher Fellowship with a dear colleague and one of the most important aspects of this program was that someone was responsible for mentoring the mentor.  How novel!  Why are we so quick to assign this very important responsibility of reflective supervision only to turn around and walk away?  This is important work!  We need to support the mentor who is supporting the teacher who then in turn supports our children.

I suspect it boils down to us not thinking about what's best for children -- sad but true.

We've got a million reasons for not giving teachers the reflective supervision they so desperately need:

"I have a meeting."
"So-and-so was on vacation."
"Things are just so crazy around here."

Sound familiar?

Yeah, we've all said them.  I know I'm guilty at times.

What's more is that reflective supervision cannot happen without a trusting and secure relationship between the mentor and the teacher.  What teacher wants to sit down and discuss weaknesses with someone who doesn't care or expects perfection or genuinely seems disinterested?!  No one, that's who.  It becomes a facade.  It's fake.  We go through motions because it's what funding agencies want...

I'm thankful that I've seen the light and refuse to be that director.  I am busy.  But so are the teachers.  We make time for each other to sit together and talk.  About everything, even non-school things.  We're building a relationship so that when we talk about those areas to develop, it's not so awkward or difficult.  Much like we encourage strong relationships with families, we need strong relationships with teachers.

So what is reflective supervision?  To us, it's a protected time to talk about learning and teaching in the context of the center and the individual and to reflect on where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.  It's more about the relationship than the content for some of our teachers.  They're all at different stages and some are more ready/open for reflective supervision than others.

I've never had training on the topic and have done a lot of research on it in my own search for understanding.  I would love to see more of our funding agencies step up and share not only the requirement, but to also highlight the importance and process as well.  It just grinds my gears to hear people say they're using reflective supervision when anyone can clearly see they're just supervising.

If we want to grow our own, we better start watering these seeds.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Vacat--- Staycation!

I am really fortunate, the agency I work for allows me to take up to 21 days of PTO (Paid Time Off) each fiscal year.  That's a lot of days when you allow your brain to translate from calendar weeks to work weeks -- that's 4 glorious weeks of time away; although sometimes it's for less than fun reasons, like a migraine or the flu.  Either way, that time is accruing each pay period.

Let's get to the gritty of it, shall we?  Phone call from accounting is telling me I have 200 hours to use by June 30.  This, my friends, is 25 days.  Which would be fine if I weren't "one of those people" who tends to live at my site.  I'm beyond uncomfortable leaving my site for 25 days.  That's an entire month and super unrealistic.  But no one said you had to take it all at once, right?  Normally, you'd be correct.  But I sure did get that suggestion.  Followed by, take the time and go to Puerto Rico or something.  Go somewhere fun.  This from accounting.  Who deposits my checks each pay period.  Do you know something I don't?  Because I'm surely not makin' it far with that check.

I can't wait for my well-deserved two weeks of dreading coming back to work.

I blocked off several "mini vacation" periods on the calendar and while it is challenging to prepare the site and the staff for them, I'm certain that they can handle the actuality of the situation.  I don't doubt them for a moment.  It's the prep work that pushes me slowly into maddness.  For example, I had to go to the grocery store and purchase 3 weeks of baby food and formula for the infant room because I'm the only one who does that task (since it almost always involves using my own funds & waiting for reimbursement).  To do that, I had to put together the infant menus first and so on and so forth.  I got it all done.

It's done.  I am for the most part, ready to peace right on out of that building for the next 2 weeks. I have to check in on one of those days to meet with a coworker and facilitate an amazing staff meeting -- OMG.  This staff meeting is going to be amazeballs.  We're going to view a video I got from Reggio Emilia, Italy that focuses on the infant-toddler centers and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED.  So much to plan though to make sure it goes smoothly... but I'll have all of this time at home to get it done!  (See, always working!)

I think we all know that there's no real way to turn off that portion of your brain unless you really are fortunate enough to escape to a locale with a beach, blue water, and umbrella drinks.  I intend to leave that portion of my brain on and to start cooking the things that have been marinating in my brain for the past year that I've been in the position of Site Director and prepare myself to really be the agent of change. And I'll be working on my NAEYC Program Portfolios because if I don't, they will haunt me in my sleep.

Sorry your post-vacation workload has completely negated all the benefits of your vacation

Just another day in the life of an exhausted Site Director!  I just know that when we finally achieve the honor of accreditation at our site, it will be my 3rd accomplished site (100% baby!) and my 1st infant-toddler accreditation.  Maybe I should be a NAEYC consultant and help other programs accomplish this honor as well.  HEY!  There's an idea!

Let's put that in the tank for marination!

Get ready to hear lots more from me as I begin my 2 weeks stay-cation here in blustery Chicago effective 5pm tonight!!


Monday, February 18, 2013

Motivational Monday: Organization

I pride myself on being semi-well-organized.  I love to file things and because of my background in Head Start, I am a binder fiend.

I started my position as Site Director in May and have been moving non-stop ever since.  And I mean that.  There hasn't been a dull moment or a "Hey, what do I do next?!" moment or even hesitation... we just keep moving right along!  My office has become a bit of a dumping ground.  When partial orders arrive, I stash the first part in my office so I can deliver the entire order to the staff and better track what I've given them.  Our RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) books arrived for the month, I stashed the box in my office to get it out of the way and as a reminder that I need to plan a semi-fabulous literacy activity for our families this month.  Things have quickly accumulated and I have been too busy to notice care do something organize.

Today I spent most of my day in the classrooms.  This isn't unusual but since we're currently mid home visit season, I'm needed more than usual.  Perhaps it was the time away from the office that pushed me.  Or the spring-like weather.  Or filling in my March calendar.  Who cares?!

I organized.

If loving organization is wrong, I don't want to be right.

I finally started to do the things I meant to do in May when I took this position.  I reorganized the file cabinet to make it fit my filing system.  I went through the piles (and I mean piles) of paperwork on my desk and found things I had been meaning to follow up on (AND DID!!!) and everything quickly found a home.  Somewhere to belong.

Ladies & gentlemen, I found my desk today.

I cleared that baby off and man, it looks good!

Today was a great reminder that we need to take some time to make our lives feel more organized. The world of early childhood is unpredictable and ever-changing.  But having a system that keeps you sane?  Priceless.  So I spent about an hour of my own time, past when I wanted to leave -- okay, I really wanted to leave at about noon but no one would hear of such a thing -- and let myself clean up.

The best part?  I think tomorrow when I arrive, I'll be inspired to keep going!  And maybe even tackle the "stuff to get done" list that I refined this evening!


No, I don't have time to organize that closet. I'm too busy pinning organization ideas on Pinterest.
Ugh!  I always find the BEST ideas online and never take the time to follow through!
Now's the time to start!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I've been giving a lot of thought to the idea of "settling" in relationships...

Never wait around for anyone, never. (never,settle,for,less,than,you,deserve,love,relationship,quotes)
We tend to think of settling as a romantic thought... but why settle for less than our children deserve?
Find your voice.

So last night, I posted on my Facebook page:  What if we stop settling for "good enough?" To me, that's simply not enough. Strive to be the best, be the change, be the difference.

Today I'm reminded of the Sugarland song with lyrics:

I ain't settling for just getting by
I've had enough so so for the rest of my life
Tired of shooting too low, so raise the bar high
Just enough ain't enough this time
I ain't settling for anything less than everything

I've been thinking about my relationship within the context of my early childhood center and the community that grows around me.  We serve a variety of income-levels at our site and I'm (surprisingly) a very passionate person about the quality of the services we provide.  
I don't think it's acceptable to offer a sub-par service to a family simply because they make less money.  Every family has a story and every child is an individual who deserves the best start in education possible.  No two stories are alike.

By no means am I a perfect director.  I know there are things I need to continue to develop to be the best support system I can be to my team.  I also recognize that there are some areas in which I am strong and can help others.  I am offended when others don't want what's best for our young children.  These children are the future (did you start singing that song? I did) and we are responsible for ensuring they are the kind of adults who can lead and help others.  They are a part of our community!

I have high standards and most times, people can reach or exceed them.  I refuse to lower my standards for child care because others have lost their light.  I can help you fan your fire or you can step out of the field.  The early childhood field needs more people with energy and excitement for this group -- not those who have been beaten down and dejected by the system.

I strive to be the best.  I don't always hit the mark, but I know my families and staff appreciate the changes being made around them to improve the quality of our program.  Some may say I'm too passionate.  

I simply have a fire that's been fanned over the years.  
Children are my passion and I strive to ensure they are well prepared for the world they are a part of.

I have chosen to find my voice and use it to support the lives of young children and their families.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ripple Effect | ECE Students

Today we welcomed an early childhood teacher into the center to complete an observation for her coursework.  As I escorted her to the classroom, I couldn't help but feel we were creating a ripple.  Her course required an observation of an infant being fed by a primary caregiver.  First I was excited just to hear her use the phrase primary caregiver because so often it's not common practice.  Then I realized how excited I was to bring new blood into the center!  I started thinking about the ripple effect we stand to create within this building, within Chicago, and within early childhood education itself.  Welcoming early childhood students, possibly inspiring them to focus on Birth to Three programming... maybe, just maybe, one day hiring them within our own team... changing the culture of early childhood.  All in a day's work.

Being the catalyst for change is such an amazing experience opportunity. 

The other day, I posted on a former coworker's Facebook page, wishing her a happy day at work and response was so sweet -- "Miss Danielle, sound like you are doing great! I often think of you back in the days at Waterloo! My, how far you have gone! Mom must be proud!"

Goodness.  I was touched to hear someone thinks I'm doing great.  Some days, I'm not so sure.  I was also immediately back in my very first classroom in Waterloo, thinking about how much I didn't know.  I had no clue what I was doing... but I sure thought I did.  How much I didn't know I didn't know!  I thought of those little faces I was responsible for teaching and how much my pedagogy has changed since 2007.  My image of the child is dramatically different.  Oh how I wish I could go back and see those children and hug them tightly (both in apology and gratitude).

When I think back to my student teaching experiences, I am so thankful.  I learned so much and although I didn't pursue a career in elementary education, I still remember how much I loved reflecting with the teachers at that little school in Lancaster, WI.  Seriously, best.  Team.  Ever.

Now I am in a place to welcome students into my center and it is an exciting thought!  I've come full-circle.  I am welcoming potential teachers and am responsible for their impression of early childhood  this is the time when they will get their feet wet and figure out if this is the field for them.  And if they really enjoy their time here at our center, maybe they will come back as teacher candidates when they graduate!  By opening the center to observations and student teaching  I am asking the teachers to be role models.  And I'm sorry, there's really nothing better than knowing you're doing such a great job that people are coming to watch.  Holla!  It's important to me that we inspire the next generation of teachers through a warm, supportive field experience.


I won't sugar coat this environment though; Birth to Three takes a special breed of teachers.  One of our infant teachers got peed on the other day.  We routinely go home covered in questionable fluids. We have numerous conversations about poop. We listen to crying as a form of communication.  It's not something just anyone can do.  But if people can identify their niche early, it will help guide their coursework and career path.  Our team is downright amazing and I'm always looking for equally amazing people to join our team.

At the end of the day, who doesn't like to talk about poop?!


Monday, February 4, 2013

A lunch break?

That's crazy talk!

We carefully plan our schedule for each day to make sure that teachers have time for lunch breaks.  We do full hour lunches so teachers can use that time to get things done that they might not otherwise be able to, given their work and school schedules.  This means that someone needs to join the classroom to allow that fabulous teacher to step out.

On the perfect day, it's another teacher from a neighboring classroom.  Every other day, it's me or one of our  other team members.  Lunch times are sacred as well they should be; they are a chance to refresh and cleanse before returning to the classroom.  Anyone who has a child, knows a child, read a book about a child, has seen a child in public, or is a human being can tell you that children under the age of three are hard work.  They require lots of love and attention and the crying?  Yeesh.  These teachers have earned their time away!

Here's my point of breaking:

12:00 Teacher is scheduled to start break
12:01 If that person hasn't stepped in yet, the classroom teacher calls the front desk asking "When am I going to get my break?!"


I totally understand your right and desire to step out.  I do.  There's no part of me that wants you in the classroom for 9 hours straight -- that's just crazy-making.  But there are 9 teachers in this building and everyone has to break around the same time and meanwhile, we're trying to get things done at the front office to ensure we stay in business.  That paycheck you like so much (well, not so much, we all know you're underpaid and deserve WAY more)?  Is a result of what we're doing that makes us 2 minutes late getting to your door.  But don't worry, we're coming.

I think it's easy to get wrapped up in one side of the story.  No one comes to make sure I take my break.  No one makes sure that I'm eating lunch at a human-like time (because lunch at 4pm is technically dinner).  Take a deep breath, my fine teaching friends, and remember, we're all human and we're all in this together.

Give me the benefit of at least 5 minutes.  Then you can call.

Motivational Monday {Believe}

Don't sell yourself short; when we stop believing that we can accomplish something, we fail.  Always remember -- baby steps (no matter how small) count!

LauraJul / Inspiration today. Jump in (inspiration)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Respect {A partnership}

I've heard a few teachers say "The children just don't respect me."  They shrug their shoulders and reply that the call on colleagues to do the redirecting because "the children just don't listen."

I'm going to have to stop you right there, my fine teaching friends, and ask you this ...

Do you respect the children?

Children are people.  They have feelings, worries, excitements, etc. that we need to be receptive to and help them understand the world around them and how they fit into it.  The classroom is theirs.  Not yours.  It's a mutual space where children are meant to explore the world and figure out who they are and how they belong in their community.  Your approach to teaching can dramatically change the climate of that community.  We set the tone, we help to create the culture within the community.

I'm ranting today because I discovered a classroom covered in crayon marks.  I watched a teacher change a child's diaper while the child held on to a baby doll and a black crayon and proceeded to scribble all over that baby doll's feet while the teacher asked (and I kid you not), "What color crayon do you have?"

I'm all about a teachable moment.  Wrong moment.  Wrong topic.  Rather than quizzing this child on the color of the crayon she's using to deface the property of the classroom, why not try something more along the lines of "Do we use crayons on toys?  Crayons are for paper!  Let's finish changing this diaper and find you some paper!"

What color do you have?
"Black.  I drew on this doll's feet with black Ms Teacher.  And you let me!"

 I don't care what color crayon you're using to destroy a toy.  I care that you learn how to treat our classroom and the materials within it.  I want you to be successful.

As adults, we don't assume people are going to respect us.  We earn trust, we earn respect.  Why would children respect or trust you when you are not setting limits? And when something does happen, you have to call someone else to help the child?  "I'm going to tell your Dad when he picks you up that you were not listening."  Really?  By the time that child's father walks in the door, you'll be so tired from chasing children that you won't remember to tell him anything and better yet, two minutes after the incident, the child has already forgotten -- but surely remembers that you couldn't handle it.  Those moments simply undermine your authority  (role? I hate the word authority as it is often misconstrued) as a teacher.

As educators, we need to know and be secure in our roles as teachers.  We need to be able to redirect or help children when they are not making the "right choices."  Had the teacher asked "Do we write on on our babies?" I imagine there would have been a different end result.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Keeping Momentum

Let me tell you-- it is not easy in a system where burnout and turnover are high to keep your motivations high and/or focused.  It sometimes seems as though the squeaky wheel will get the oil and the rest, who are kind of getting by independently, will just kind of be left in limbo.

Those of you who know me know that I love a challenge.  I also need to be busy.  Like crazy busy.  It forces time management while pushing negative stagnant thoughts & attitudes right out of my brain.  For example, I planned our wedding while working full time and going to grad school.  And loved it.  Sure, it was kind of a haze at times, but that's because I procrastinated like crazy when it came to deadlines.  I work well under pressure.

Did you just hear the opening beats to Under Pressure?  If we were together, I'd sing it to you.

My point, though very much buried under that rant, is that sometimes I just need someone to recharge my batteries and remind me why I do the work I do!  Most times, I can be that person.  I can usually see that I'm sliding and I have a few quick fixes:

1. Get into the classroom.  When I spend time with the children at our site, my batteries are quickly charged and my fire is fanned.  I usually leave the classrooms feeling inspired and ready to take on the afternoon.  Those tiny humans are the reason I have a job & they deserve the best educare experience possible.  (Isn't that a great word!? I'm smitten.)

2. Find a colleague -- coworker or not.  I have a few people whom I can share my lack of motivation with and others will just see it as I'm lazy or not doing my job.  While those are perfectly acceptable conclusions, they're just that.  I am so thankful for my network of support.  Coffee dates have honestly kept me from quitting and working at a coffee shop on numerous occasions.

I am incredibly fortunate to supervise a small site. I offer 24 Early Head Start slots for children birth to three. I have a great teaching staff who (for the most part) get the children they serve; they understand why their work is important and they strive to be the best.

Child care is a rough business to be in, much less to manage.  No one goes into this career with visions of money or glory; I think, for the most part, people do it to be the change they wish to see.  And if they're doing it for reasons like money, they really need to move along because those are the people who are causing the burnout.

I pour myself into my work; I spent most of my waking hours thinking about work either consciously or subconsciously.  My kids, families, and teachers are always on my mind and I refuse to give them anything less than I would expect from a director.  I wont ask them to do things I wouldn't do myself.  Giving so much of myself occasionally leads to exhaustion and I step back and recharge.

And then I move forward.  No matter what.
(Baby steps count)


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Slip Slowly?

Why slip slowly into madness when you can simply jump in head first?!

Things can be crazy; both in a good, productive way and in a not-so-great-feeling way.  We have bursts in time when things seem to be convoluted and nonsensical.  We kind of stop what we're doing, look around and (usually in an exaggerated tone) let out a great big "Seriously?!"


This is happening.

What are you going to do about it?

Are you going to do something about it or are you planning on waiting for someone else to solve the problem?  Have you given a voice to the problem?  Or are you letting it interrupt your good work?

We work hard to provide the best experience possible to our children & their families so I try to give a voice to the issue, address it head on and then solve it.

The saying going around our workplace now is that we have a "quality train" and "either you're on it with us or you can get off at the next stop."

I want to continue to do amazing work and that means I hold people to that same standard -- for them.  Start where you are and get better, do more, love more, be the best you can possibly be.  If you aren't willing to learn and grow, I don't really trust you to help our children learn & grow.  Be fabulous and resist the negativity that others try to bring into your life -- professionally & personally.  Haters gonna hate! ;)

seriously?  i am in love with

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Directors Need Lunch Too

Read:  Why an open door policy routinely kicks me in the butt.

I'm a chatty person; I love to hear about what's going on in the lives of the children, families, and teachers who pass through this building daily.  I ask questions and check in to see how everyone is doing, how that family vacation went, etc. When parents want to talk, I say things like, "I'm here all day, come stop in" and write in the newsletters (both parent and staff) that I'm available to chat.  I like to think that our entire site has a very open-door policy.  Parents and family members are routinely invited into the classrooms to participate in the communities their children are a part of... it's awesome.  I love when a mom or dad lingers in the morning and reads a story to the children.  What an amazing display of home & school connections!

Alas, my struggle is something different... whenever I stop moving long enough to eat, that's the exact moment when staff trickles into the office to ask a litany of questions -- great questions, I might add.  We're a burgeoning community of questioners and reflective thinkers.  I thought the solution to this might be to close my door for a quick moment while I inhale my food.  But it just never fails, someone will knock and I just can't help myself... I always answer.

Does that make me unprofessional?  To be mid-Ramen slurp when a teacher comes to chat about the NAEYC classroom portfolio?  It's nap time!  The teachers are capitalizing on this work time and can I really ignore these questions?  I worked so hard to get them to feel comfortable asking questions -- and to use rest time appropriately....

True, I could leave the site at this point, but I really don't want to be eating off-site daily ($$) and that would take me away from the team that has such wonderful questions.  I can't realistically eat lunch at 10 every day or at 3pm (which I have been known to do and then it's parents knockin' on the door, catching me mid-Ramen slurp)... what suggestions do you have?  How can I balance the needs of my teacher people & my stomachs demand to be fed?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Sum

My natural instinct is to try to segregate and compartmentalize all the different parts of who I am professionally   I try to figure out where all of those parts belong and yet how they're related and what the heck I'm supposed to do with all of these pieces of myself.

Fun fact:  I am the sum of my parts.

I am an advocate for play.
I am an early childhood warrior.
I am a director of an early childhood center.
I enjoy making fun things for the classrooms.
I am passionate about equal high-quality care & education for all children.
I love silly memes that I find online.

All of those pieces make me who I am as a professional and I have got to stop trying to separate them.  I find myself wanting to keep my professional side separate from my passionate side and now as I'm writing this, reflecting on what that means, I am forced to realize that perhaps my passionate & professional sides need to have a "Come to Jesus" talk.  Why can't we all just get along?  There's a way to share my professional (career) reflections right along with my side projects.

So here it is.  The new ECE Acts of Love approach.  You're gettin' it all.  Pictures of projects at work and side projects and rants, raves, reviews, blah blah blah.

Happy New Year, indeed.

I found my shrink to be  condescending and way too expensive so I decided to blog instead.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It's a simple, quick, and honest question that I ask everyone.  Repeatedly.

I ask people during the interview process.
I ask staff during professional development.
I ask co-workers, particularly on a day when I feel like they need a boost.
I ask myself almost daily.
I ask my husband frequently.

It's an important question that we sometimes forget to ask ourselves.  When you were little, people probably asked your cute little 8-year-old self what you wanted to be when you grew up.  In my case, I always said teacher.  Then second grade teacher.  And when I got my first teaching job as a preschool teacher, I said preschool teacher.  Then quickly realized that I wanted something different.  I wanted to make a bigger ripple in the education pool, if you will.  I let myself dream of being an Education Coordinator and when I saw the need for stronger leadership, allowed myself to dream of being a Site Director.  Let's be honest, no kindergartner is ever going to say "When I grow up, I want to be a Site Director of an infant-toddler center."  Well, maybe, if their parent is in a similar position.  But unlikely.

Dreams change.  Goals change.  The field changes.  We change.  

We have to keep reassessing our goals and passion.  The more time I spend working with infants, toddlers, and twos as well as the adults in their lives (parents and teachers alike), the more passion I feel about ensuring that this age group has a strong foundation of support.  I also want to make an impact in the area of teacher preparation.  What I learned in college, though helpful, wasn't really enough to prepare me for the real world of early childhood education.  What I really needed was a course in Head Start, which someday I would LOVE to teach.  I'll tell you what's up.  Anyone who wants to hire me to teach about Head Start, seriously, give me a call.  I will make myself available.

When you set a goal for yourself, be realistic.  Break that big goal of being a lead teacher into smaller steps.  You have a CDA in preschool -- fabulous.  Now what?  Let's work on that associates degree in preschool so you can be in the preschool classroom as an assistant teacher, learning the ropes and systems within that culture.  After a while, maybe you pursue your bachelors degree and perhaps (!!!) a teaching license so that you can be the lead teacher.  Goals take planning and patience.  Don't forget the patience.  Insert "Rome wasn't built in a day" line here.  And be open.  It's possible that along your path to pursuing that bachelors or even your associates, you will change your mind.  Maybe you will have an epiphany and decide that infants are your life's passion and you want to focus on that grouping.  Go for it.

Setting goals will keep you moving and learning.  It's when we stop learning that mold starts to gather and we get stale and bored within our settings.  I truly believe that this is the root of teacher burnout.  Keep going!  Maybe you will be the kindergarten teacher who teaches for 40 years -- but maybe your goal will change.  Maybe you'll have side goals that support your role as a teacher.

Keep moving forward --- no matter what.

Stay thirsty my friends.
Get it?  Hahaha, clever, right?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Top 20 Supplies for Art Exploration

  1. Crayons
  2. Charcoal 
  3. Oil pastels
  4. Watercolors
  5. Playdough
  6. Clay
  7. Wire
  8. Paper Mache
  9. Construction paper
  10. Scissors
  11. Pipe cleaners
  12. Acrylic paint
  13. Sharpies
  14. Transparencies
  15. Light projector
  16. Fabrics
  17. Glue
  18. Markers
  19. Paint chips (samples)
  20. Ribbon

Routines for Children Ages 0-100

I depend on a smooth morning routine to make the rest of the day manageable.  This means waking up on time (possibly before my alarm), having time to plan an outfit (let's face it, I'm no fashionista), time for coffee, and a cushion of travel time so that I arrive to the center refreshed and excited.

Find me on a morning when I forgot to set the coffee maker the night before...
I'll be locked in my office sulking.

Find me on a morning when my alarm didn't go off because I set it for PM instead of AM...
I'll be locked in my office with wet hair & probably a scowl, particularly if it's winter or if I have a meeting that day.

Thankfully, I'm an adult.  I am responsible for my own destiny with regards to morning routines and can take steps to ensure I transition well in the morning.  I make coffee the night before, immediately after walking in the door.  I practically triple-check the coffee maker to ensure I've done this correctly.  I may have an issue with caffeine. 

Children do not have this same luxury.  Children are subject to the routines (or lack thereof) adults provide.  When children can predict the happenings of their day, they are better equipped to handle the day.  It's important that children be in school every day.  Two things there, yes, I call it school because all though we are providing child care, we're also teaching -- and yes, I know that sometimes parents have the urge to keep their children home because they have a day off or they want to spend time with their children.  That's cool.  All I ask is that parents give their child some semblance of a normal day.  Come to school in the morning, maybe stay for lunch, possibly for rest time, and then go about your adventures.

This is particularly true in the first months after a transition.  We're working to ensure that children trust the routines of their day.  If parents keep children home every other day, it creates an uneasy vibe.  Children didn't expect to come to school and as a result, drop off time sucked for the parents, teachers, and especially for the child.  We strive for consistency.  We're also working to support attachments within our center.  When children know what to expect, they are more confident and better able to focus on learning new things as they feel safe and secure in their environment and schedule.  This is true for all ages, up to and including adults.

That being said, let me give a quick word about when routines must be broken or changed.  Listen, we're busy people and things happen and somethings, we have to take the bus instead of drive or we have to shower at night instead of the morning.  The best way to prepare young children (and yourselves) for this type of situation is to talk about it.  Acknowledge that it's difficult and something unusual or new.  Let children know what's coming next, especially if it's something out of the norm.

Please respect the routines of children ... and recognize the routines that you depend on as adults and how you feel when someone or something goofs up your daily routines.  Does your day seem to take a turn?  Do you feel stressed?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The early childhood field is one that can quickly chew you up and spit you out if you aren't on your game.  Turnover rates and the rate at which teachers leave the field of education all together are incredibly high.  We need to better nurture our teams to ensure they have the skills as well as the mindset to not only survive, but also to thrive.  It is not enough to simply pass the days in survival mode, hoping for days with low attendance.  That is not the culture I wish to cultivate and I believe our children deserve a high quality experience in their first three years.   We're laying an important foundation and I work to ensure my team realizes how important their work is in the lives of children and their families.

Education is not the be all, end all.  I think it's important.  You do need to know the foundations, the theories, the story of early childhood education.  You also need to be able to put that knowledge into practice.  If you have a masters degree and no hands-on experience  I'm wary.  People who spend a lot of time collecting degrees without the actual classroom experience can sometimes have an idealized vision of what the classroom "should be."  And when the classroom doesn't measure up to those expectations, that group tends to point to the children as the problem, particularly in programs serving children from low-income homes.  Conversely, it's not enough to only have been in the classroom.  While you may have spent the past 30 years doing what you do, you haven't learned anything new.  Things change and I need teachers with a spirit for learning and a desire to be aware of the trends in early childhood and be able to respond to them thoughtfully.

The title of this post is mentoring; when that word gets thrown around, I tend to think of the first year teacher, fresh out of college, paired with someone who knows the ropes and can be a kind of guide for the newbie.  Why?  Why do we only offer this type of support to new people?

I recently (today!) paired two teachers together to better support Teacher A.  Teacher A is someone who has been in the field of early childhood longer than I've been alive, though she has recently entered into the world of toddler/twos and seems a little uncomfortable with the age group and their milestones.  Teacher B has been working with twos for a few years and her classroom smoothly transitions between activities and the teaching taking place in that classroom seems to be at a higher level.  I've asked Teacher A to spend the day in the classroom with Teacher B to observe and be an active participant in the day.  I quickly realized that just being there wasn't going to be enough.  I then asked Teacher A and Teacher B to meet during rest time to address questions and reflections that Teacher A might have after the first half of the day.  Again, realizing how well I know my teachers, I put together a brief form with some questions to facilitate reflection.

What stood out to you as you spent time in the classroom? 
What surprised you about how this classroom operates?
What questions do you have about the classroom and its routines/systems? 

I'm eager to see how this partnership grows in the days, weeks, and months to come; when I peeked in to share the form with Teacher A, her first words to me were "Thank you so much Danielle, I'm already learning a lot."  Truth:  it could be lip service.  But maybe when I meet with her and ask her to share her reflections, I'll get a better idea of what she's learned and how I can better support her.  I fully intend to foster this mentorship (is that a word?) as long as possible.  It's kind of a pilot project for me so I'll be learning as I go as well.  There's no doubt that this will impact me as a director and I'm excited to see how it impacts Teacher A as a toddler/two teacher as well.

Does your program have a mentoring system?  If so, how long does it last?  Do people find it helpful?  What would you change about it?
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