Supporting early childhood professionals worldwide in
their efforts to craft thriving environments for children and adults.
By Margie CarterGo to page: 1 2 3 4 5
This summer while flying home from the annual national Worthy Wage retreat, my colleague Deb Curtis and I found ourselves filled with excited discussion. In contrast to most conferences we have attended these past years, this gathering felt extraordinary. In no session, large or small, did we see anyone yawning, thumbing through the program, or cutting out to shop or nap. People were thoroughly animated and actively engaged with each other throughout each day and evening, visibly reluctant to have the time come to an end. They were continually dialoging, humming, and inventing next steps to take the ideas and inspiration into action back home. Rarely have we seen folks leave a conference with that kind of focused energy.
Our early childhood and after- school profession now has any number of conferences throughout the year. This indicates how we've come of age and are taking our professional development seriously. Putting on a conference requires enormous energy and organizational resources. Across the country I've found conference planners to be consistently remarkable - hard working and skilled at handling an amazing array of logistical details, keeping a sense of humor and good nature while trying to respond to the wide-ranging interests and needs of participants. What I find disappointing at so many conferences is not a shortcoming or fault on the planners' part but rather conditions that plague the child care field as a whole. Our efforts and goals are confined by the status quo; there is a tendency to jump on the nearest bandwagon; our constant struggle for positive public recognition leaves us reluctant to acknowledge our internal shortcomings; overall, our experience with thinking outside the box is very limited.
These national Worthy Wage retreats I've been attending are planned from a very different premise. Though they know everyone is stretched and no immediate solutions are in sight, the planners openly recognize the severity of the child care staffing crisis and our tenuous ability to provide the quality we publicly promise. Participants come eager for a gathering which doesn't try to conduct business as usual but acknowledges the state of emergency we are approaching in our profession. I heard many say things like: "I foolishly thought someone out there was going to solve this staffing problem." "After all these years of raising the issue, things have only gotten worse." "If I really want to stay in this profession, I'm going to have to find a solution to this wage issue."
Those who came were primarily teachers, directors, and family providers, with a handful of college instructors, R&R staff, and other ECE advocates. They were deeply concerned about children and their families, and intently focused on the link between quality care and their own working conditions and compensation.
At the first of these national Worthy Wage retreats, almost all attending were European American and were not primarily teachers, directors, or direct providers. This year, over a third of the group was African American, with Asian and Latin Americans in attendance as well. I mention these details because they signal something significantly different and positive fora professional development gathering. I call this retreat "professional development" because everyone in attendance evaluated it as enormously useful, energizing, and contributing to their understanding of what it takes to provide high quality child care.
Participants said their vision and leadership skills were expanded, and their commitment to our profession deepened. I rarely hear such comments in early childhood settings or feel this kind of energy among teachers and providers. Though this was very small for a national gathering (60-some people), I began to see what Margaret Mead had in mind when saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
There was no doubt that those attending were fierce in their desire to stay working with children. There were wonderful stories of ordinary moments with children and special triumphs in changing behaviors, and partnerships forged with parents. They talked of wanting to get better and better in their teaching, and many identified collaboration and conflict negotiation as learning goals for their work with families and teammates. Doesn't every director dream of having a staff like this? Beyond all the public lip service to "children as our future," these teachers were tying their boats to this future, seeking a lifeline to keep them from sinking.
Rather than continually burning out, what would it take for all of our providers and teachers to get on fire about their work like this? How did this energy and determination get sparked? What was the out-of-the-box thinking of this professional gathering that we need to replicate in our programs, organizations, and conferences around the country?
Gathering All the Voices
It felt remarkable to all of us to
have teachers and providers in the majority at this gathering and to have them setting the tone. Everyone felt further stimulated by the cultural diversity that was present. These factors in and of themselves indicated something new was underway, a sense of possibility was present. A structure and process was put in place by the planners, but the agenda called for shared leadership and collective development. It was not a superficial "let's feel good" gathering but rather a "let's roll up our sleeves and see what we can create together" work session. How does this translate to other early childhood settings?
Whether in a center, professional meeting, or conference, we have to be continually alert to who's missing at the table, who's setting the agenda, and, beyond the slogans, who's benefiting from how we are conducting business. It's hard to face the ways in which our profession has perpetuated the patterns of welcoming and making some visible while alienating or overlooking
others; hard to see how we have limited the notion of professional development; difficult to face the way we create organizations which don't significantly represent teacher concerns or on-the-floor work issues; easy to overlook our tendency to patronize, marginalize, or convey a sense of inadequacy to those who don't match a certain level of education or fluency in our professional discourse.
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