“Teachers Are Always Like That.”

This past week I was lucky enough to accompany my ten year old daughter Claire on a field trip to our waste management plant in Rapid City.

exploding can

We were having a picnic at a park and I was visiting with her and her group of friends.

Claire had decided upon an experimental drink for the day, a carbonated water beverage without any kind of sweetener. She had brought a packet of Splenda to try to doctor it at lunchtime.  I was visiting with the group of giggling girls, my daughter added her Splenda, and “KABOOM!” Her drink exploded in epic proportion, the likes of a science experiment.

We were outside, and so no one’s lunch was ruined and no one was even sticky.  This is when it occurred to me that her thirteen year old brother who was at school, had packed the same thing.

“Oh no!” I said to Claire. “What about your brother?!  I hope they don’t think he did it on purpose and he doesn’t get in trouble.”

One of Claire’s friends looked at me and said, “Teachers are always like that.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I have frequently heard teachers using language that demeans, embarrasses, and takes away the human rights of their students.  There can be a lot of barking and bossing them.  This is something that applies to new and experienced teachers.  New teachers do it because they are desperate to control, and experienced teachers do it because “they’ve heard it all before.”

The best thing we can do as educators is investigate.  Jumping to conclusions about a situation can be very detrimental. “Sally took my block away!” a student says. I have overhead teachers say, “but she always causes trouble, I just know she did it.”  If this was the one time the student didn’t, then you are reinforcing that it doesn’t matter if we make the right choice, the world will punish us anyway.

Acknowledge your student’s feelings. It only takes a second.  If a child is hungry or tired or sad, it takes a moment to get down on their level and comfort them with one or two sentences. “I can see that you’re frustrated that we have to go inside.  I wish we could stay out and play too.  Once we do projects and eat lunch, we will come back out.  Will you sing with me about it? Do projects, eat lunch, come back outside!” Different strategies work with different students, but oftentimes all a child is seeking is acknowledgment that their feelings are valid.

Help students label what they are experiencing, but do not tell them how they feel.  There is s difference between saying, “I can see that you’re feeling uncomfortable,” or “It seems like you are feeling sad.” than “You can’t be cold it’s hot in here.” or “You’re not sad, you’re just feeling tired.”  You are not inside of that child’s body, and you do not know exactly what they are feeling.  This is where the investigation comes in to play again.  If it was warm in the room and the child feels cold, maybe they are coming down with something.  Maybe they are like me and their body temperature fluctuates (I learned long ago to dress in layers).

At the YFS Kids Fair in Rapid City this past weekend, our preschool painted approximately 300 little faces.  Many children would approach cautiously.  The moment we said, “Hi, I’m a teacher at a preschool.” the tension would ease out of their bodies, they would smile, and become happily talkative.  The words “I’m a teacher.” instantly imbued us with their trust.  Teachers wield more power with children then we can ever understand, and it is so important that we use it responsibly.

Checking in with my thirteen year old at the end of the day, he traded his drink at lunchtime.  The drink did explode all over the young lady he traded with, but thankfully no one was injured or got in trouble from the teachers.  I do think however, it’s going to  take him giving her a few non-exploding drinks to build up their trust again.

In the comment area please share your feedback!  

Do you remember a time when a teacher made an incorrect assumption about you? How did that make you feel as a child/teen/college student?

What is your experience with being an empathetic, investigative teacher or parent? What are your strategies that might help others?


The Pink Elephant in the Room

Plasticine elephant

I spent years learning the skills of being a great educator.  How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Farber is a valuable resource for empathizing with children to help them communicate, as a teacher and a parent (it helps for communicating with adults too!). Additionally, I have had years of teaching experience, great mentorship along the way, and excellent courses both in and out of our state that helped me as a young teacher to learn about childhood development, curriculum planning, dealing with difficult behaviors, recognizing childhood illnesses, signs of abuse and neglect, among many other pertinent subjects.

When it comes to professional development specific to the field of early childhood education, there seems to be a gap.  There is very little being offered.

To make up for the deficit, I have attended many professionalism courses and watched countless hours of TED Talks, Marie Forleo, and Leading Edge Coaching to help bolster my skills as a professional.  I have attended professionalism conferences, joined professionalism organizations, and taken many courses offered by local business coaching companies.

And I am always the pink elephant in the room.

In sixteen years, I have only come across another director for a child care center ONCE.  (You know who you are because you read this blog.) And, this was only just in 2015!

I am the pink elephant for a few reasons.

  1. Many of the “professional” women in the room are trying to disassociate with traditional women’s roles (such as caregiver).  Many are baffled as to why there is a “babysitter” in the room.  I am frequently asked, “It must be hard for you to be at a conference, who’s with the little ones?”  I generally reply, “I have two site managers and five additional capable instructors,  it’s safe to assume they are with the little ones.”
  2. Child care directors and owners don’t view themselves as professionals!  We have to start viewing ourselves as legitimate business owners and managers.  We have the same concerns of taxes, insurance, the IRS, and the department of labor like everyone else (in addition to the department of social services and the department of public safety).  Our business is the business of providing quality care and education for our youngest community members, and running that business professionally is the only way to ensure its quality and sustainability.
  3. We face a guilt factor.  For some strange reason, just as a mom can face judgment from the community if she chooses to work and not stay at home with her children, I have found center directors/owners can face judgment for being in public during school hours.  We wouldn’t think it was strange for a principal to attend a conference or a citywide meeting, and it shouldn’t be a stigma for the owner/director of a child care center, especially with a competent and capable staff at the helm!

I am happy to say that I see this trend changing.  At the most recent SDECE Conference in Aberdeen, Rhonda Swanson, Gigi Schweikert, SDSU, Susan Ratkovsky, and myself, all covered pertinent topics on leadership and teamwork in the field of Early Childhood Education.  The problem here is that attendance for this conference overall was not what it should be.  There was hardly anyone from west river South Dakota even in attendance (it was a long and lonely highway coming back).  Over the past couple of years I have noticed a trend in attendance for this conference being mostly staff of Headstart and the school districts.  Where are the owners?  Where are the directors of child care centers?  Where are the family day and group family providers?

One of the trainings that I have participated in along the way was the Women In Leadership Series in 2015.  I had a woman approach me during this series and she made a statement to me that went something like this:

“I am so glad you’re here.  We had a child care center that we just loved, but it seemed like it was so disorganized.  They had issue after issue and it just didn’t seem like they understood how to run a business.  They were wonderful with our children but they ended up having to close.  I think it’s great that you take your professionalism so seriously and that you’re here.”

This story is too common.  Centers open and close and create great disarray for the care and education of their students.  We have to weigh equally our knowledge of childhood development and appropriate practice and our knowledge of staff management and business ethics.  I think Rhonda Swanson phrased it best in her class description:

“Being decisive, goal-driven, and able to problem-solve challenges are skills that are just as necessary in our field as being nurturing, supportive, and sensitive to other’s needs.  These differing abilities aren’t mutually exclusive; we can each use all of them!”

Please share your thoughts in the comment area!  It was UNBELIEVABLE this past week how many people told me they are reading the blog.  I look forward to hearing opinions and comments!

Whether you are an early childhood educator, an owner, or a director, what are some of the things you do or wish you did to build your professionalism?

If you are a community member, have you found centers that demonstrate professionalism?  Have you had experience with a center that struggled?


Is it “Just a Job?”

I was visiting with a friend recently about adjusting our meeting format at preschool to draw out everyone into the conversation, instead of having management (me) talking “at” everyone the entire time.

My well-meaning friend replied, “You worry about all of this too much.  It’s just a job for them.”

Better Job, Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Copy Room Over The Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Better Job, Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Copy Room Over The Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

This led me to question whether or not this friend had been listening to a word out of my mouth for the past five years or so.  I wonder this from a very loving and openly communicative place.

I think that the idea of someone employed in early childhood education as having “just a job” is a terrifying concept.  I picture a dirty facility, unskilled and uncaring workers, massive turnover, and disorganization of planned activities.  A puppy mill, child care style.

Any time we seek employment, we select an environment to spend approximately 2080 hours in each year.  Regardless of where we are working, on average we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than with our families.

For owners/directors/managers We have several steps we can take to ensure our centers are not filled with people looking for a job.  I don’t mean everyone there has to be invested in the thirty year employment plan (let’s face it, that’s rarely the case anymore).  Many people will apply with the misconception that they are applying for a “job.”

  1. Amp up your interview process.                                                                                        Trending in business right now is cultivating purposeful employees.  One simple way to do this is adding questions to your interviews such as, “What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?” and “When was the last time you were so caught up in an activity you lost track of time?”  This can give valuable insight into whether an individual is driven by purpose or benefits.
  2. Don’t have your staff check their talents, abilities, and intelligence at the door.     If you ignore the resources your staff brings to the table you are missing the chance to make your program even better.
  3. Set up a system to connect one-on-one with everyone at least once a week                 This system will give you great insight into how everyone is functioning as a team.  You will be able to address little issues before they become big ones.
  4. Listen more than you talk (this is a problem for me, see above)                                         Even if you are an in-home family day care you need the perspective of your registered helper.  Listening openly will help staff feel supported. If they come to you with a question, many times just voicing it aloud will enable them to produce their own solution without you “telling” them what to do.  This empowers them as a valuable member of the team.
  5. Help develop and mentor staff to enable them to accomplish THEIR goals                   Staff will always have work specific goals.  It is a good idea to discuss what their other professional goals are, and to help them develop the skills to meet those as well.  If they feel their manager is invested in them, they will be more invested in their manager.

For staff members Maybe you are a seasoned professional dedicated to early childhood education as your career.  Perhaps you are a college student working in early childhood education to get your feet wet as you pursue an elementary education degree.  There are “just a job” barriers that you can break down too.

  1. Seasoned professionals, avoid being a know it all.                                                            You can have such an impact on someone new to the field to guide them toward or away from being an early childhood educator.  A lot of people start out wanting to be a nurse and hate it once they do it.  The same is true for teachers.  Don’t be the reason someone with potential decided to quit.
  2. Elementary education degree students, don’t be condescending.                              You have shown a dedication to education through time and money to pursue a degree.  If you are working in an early childhood education center, remember that there may be people there who have been teaching for twenty plus years. Time and time again I have heard university students start a sentence, “When I become a real teacher…” This statement is erroneous, because even if you are an assistant, a floater, or an aid, your students are under the impression that you are a “real teacher.”
  3.  Temporary, seasonal, teenage workers, and substitutes be professional and invested.  Many people take on support positions, temporary positions, etc in child care simply because they like kids.  Even if working with children isn’t your ultimate career goal it is important to arrive with dedication each day.  You can be professional by dressing the part, monitoring your speech, and receiving more training in interacting with students.  You can remain invested by getting to know your coworkers, giving ideas and feedback on the classroom, and sharing your goals for the future.

For community members I encourage you to examine how you feel about early childhood education.  Are there ways you can support the positive advocacy, or are there constructive ways you can bring out the shortcomings to help foster change?

  1. For those with a negative feeling about early childhood education, look for evidence that does not support your bias.                                                                                   I have always been one to look at all sides before making a decision.  If you have had horrible experiences, look for evidence to support the opposite.  How can you be an advocate for positivity?  If the negative aspects are overwhelming, take action to bring the issues to light and encourage productive change.
  2. For those with great experiences with early childhood education, shout it from the rooftops!                                                                                                                                      Studies have shown that humans are more apt to focus on the negative then on the positive.  If we have a bad experience we are generally very vocal, whereas if we have a great one we tend to keep it to ourselves.  If you have had a great experience, tell friends, coworkers, and post it online!  (This would be a great place, I’d love to hear about wonderful things going on!)

Aforementioned friend told me that she recently applied for a position with a mid-sized small business (non child care) in our area (approximately 50 employees). She said that they prefaced their interview with, “…all of that stuff you’re always talking about, staff meetings, one-on-ones, open communication, managers being invested in staff and staff being invested in the company.  I just wanted to apply for a job in the kitchen, apparently this is a “thing” now.”

Yes, it is a “thing”now, and one which needs to extend into the world of early childhood education.

Please share your thoughts in the comment area! 

What are your thoughts on early childhood education being “just a job?”

Have you ever been employed anywhere that you felt you were supposed to “check your brain at the door?”

Additional ideas, thoughts, and conversation are always welcome!


The Money Making Preschool 

A number of years ago I was visiting with my friend Alice about my plans to open a preschool.

“My husband and I looked in to that. You will never make any money.” She replied.
This was coming from someone who I knew to be a good source for whether or not something was a financially sound choice. Nice jobs, nice cars, nice house. Lots of travelling, etc.
I was taken aback because it never occurred to me that “making money” was supposed to be the end result. I wanted to work with children. I wanted to feel fulfilled every day. I wanted to run a quality program my way. Enough money to get by would be my only goal.
Fast forward ten years or so, and I realize Alice was right. But so was I.
It is interesting the misconception that revolves around running a child care center. I politely listen as plumbers, electricians, tech guys, strangers at the grocery store, doctors, and lawyers bemoan the cost of childcare. “I paid for childcare for five years! Ridiculous!” or “Well, you must be rolling in dough with what child care costs these days.” I sometimes feel their misconception that I “roll in dough” is reflected in their invoices for me. Some sort of “rolling in dough” fee that they hide in the subtotal area.
It has been an interesting challenge to visit with the community about the cost of child care. Whether a child care center is for-profit or non-profit, our employees need benefits and a livable wage. The overhead is tremendous for wear and tear on equipment (there is quite a lot), insurance, equipment inspection fees, ongoing staff training, and daily expenses of food and learning materials. We face the same financial challenges of other businesses, mortgage, payroll, and taxes.
Our income is capped. Unlike other traditional businesses, the government dictates how many clients we are allowed to have. This is done for good reason to prevent overcrowding of centers, but something not taken in to consideration by a typical business owner.
We often hear of the woes of financing in the public school district. This is another comparison that widens the gap between what is expected for public school and what is expected for early childhood educators. It is assumed that the public schools cannot afford new equipment or teacher raises. It is assumed that the private child care center should be able to afford these items with ease, or that our center teachers are of such low quality and education that it shouldn’t matter.
I do wish to acknowledge that there are major differences between East River and West River. For comparison let’s look at Sioux Falls. Monthly tuition for a certain level of center averages 30% more per student then a comparable center in Rapid City. This is in the same state, with the same tax rates, the same minimum wage, and for the most part similar insurance. A huge gap exists (does Sioux Falls have more appreciation for their early childhood education?).
I am not trying to deny that the cost of quality child care is high and that assistance programs to help struggling families are flawed. But I do know that for-profit centers struggle as much as non-profit. It has been my experience that a large portion of our state population focuses more on the “cost” of child care and not on it’s “value.”
In the comment area, please share your feedback!
Do you personally feel the cost of child care in South Dakota is proportionate or disproportionate? Additionally, does it make a difference which side of the river you’re on?
What have been your experiences in this area? What comments have been made to you, and how have you responded?