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?



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