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?
Picture Credit: