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:  http://www.teachingwithsoul.com/new-teacher-mentoring-project

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