Moral Classroom, Moral Children

The right thing

I’ve had a long journey as an educator.

I am pretty much a Type A personality.  I am a workaholic always striving for perfection.  This has forced me to analyze, what is perfection in a preschool classroom?  I am still figuring this out.

When I was running my center in home by myself, I felt that I came very close.  While you can certainly never control children’s behavior, you can attempt to guide it and limit certain opportunities for discord.  I worked very hard to plan perfect projects, to ensure optimal naptimes, and to help children use their words and interact with each other.  Bullying and fighting were absolutely not allowed.  I had twelve happy students, and they had me.

Then Lillie came back from kindergarten.

Lillie was a student who had been with us for two years prior to moving up to “big kid” school.  She had been in kindergarten for a couple of months and came back to us on a no school day.

There was basic lunch time hub bub, “Ms. Jessica I don’t liiiiike green beans.”  “I want to sit next to Nick because he’s my best friend!”  The sage kindergartner Lillie spoke out above the fray.

“Guys!” She exclaimed. “You don’t even know how lucky you are.  In big kid school the food is YUCKY, and the kids are MEAN, and the teachers aren’t there for you like Ms. Jessica!  They don’t even care if a kid is mean to you!”

Lillie’s statements were pretty generalized, we have good and bad days in any environment.  I did however, have a sad epiphany.  I was preparing them for kindergarten, but was I preparing them for school?  Having everything meeting my perfectly perfect guideline and always swooping in at the sign of a disagreement was doing my students a disservice.  They were jarred (and scarred?) by their transition to elementary school.  Additionally, we prepare parents for school almost as much as we do our students.  By catering to every whim and request of my families, I had robbed them of the opportunity to develop open communication with their child’s teacher.

In the book, Moral Classrooms, Moral Children by Rheta DeVries and Betty Zan, they discuss that the first principle of education should be an atmosphere in which respect for others is continually practiced, both by students and by teachers.  Though a complicated subject, it basically means that we help our students become aware of rules and why we have them, their own emotions and why they react to certain situations in certain ways, that their feelings and emotions are valid and recognized, and that we form a community of caring for students, teachers, and families.

The question is, how can we create an environment that fosters and instills making good moral choices inside and outside of the preschool classroom?

Help your students learn the rules.  Use simple ways to help them understand why we must have rules.  Add a visual rules chart on their eye level, and discuss what they mean.  Refer to them in times of conflict.

Help your students use their words.  Children must have the opportunity to solve conflicts on their own.  A teacher should be available to guide a situation, but not to control it.

Recognize the feelings of your students. I refer to this a lot, because I think it is a deficit in our profession.  Help children formulate language about what they might be feeling, and why they might feel that way.  “I can see that you are upset that Sally won’t play with you in the sandbox.  It’s ok to feel sad or frustrated, but it is not ok to hit.  You can tell Sally you are upset, but she is allowed to decide she doesn’t feel like it right now.”

Show your students, coworkers, and student families that you care about them, are invested in them, and that you respect them.  Good communication is  the biggest key to forming trust, respect, and investment.  Never demean or speak ill against students, coworkers, or student families.  Even if you don’t agree on certain issues, it is important to recognize the feelings of others. Also strive to get to know everyone that you interact with.

Our preschool is no longer perfectly perfect.  There is discord.  There is conflict.  But our students are more prepared for what they will experience in public school.  They have the tools to confidently tell other students “No.”  They can ask for assistance from a teacher when needed.  They are no longer looking at the supreme teacher to handle everything for them, and they have enough positive self image that they believe in themselves and their ability to handle situations that arise.

Two years later I received the picture in this article from a graduating student, Claira.  I am glad that her perception of her preschool experience was that I taught her to do the right thing.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation!  Please share any general feedback, or consider answering the questions below:

  1. How do you help students learn the rules?
  2. How do you show students, coworkers, and student families that you care, are invested, and respect them?


Developing Leaders in Early Childhood Education


Developing leadership in other industries has always been part of best business practice.

The concept of developing leadership in schools is a relatively new idea.  The thought of leadership in child care centers?  Almost nil.

What You Can Do TODAY to Become a More Effective Leader and Inspire Others to Become a Leader


  1. Professional in every area of your life
  2. Approachable and humble
  3. An example to other early childhood educators
  4. Open to the insight of others.  A strong leader will know that they don’t have all the answers


  1. Advocate for early childhood educators in every forum you can
  2. Become informed on the political issues facing early childhood education (there are a lot of items that need to be addressed with the presidential election. What is the true impact of universal preschool and does it work? How would a $15 federal minimum wage effect our rates and our family’s ability to pay for care?)
  3. Participate in professionalism courses and organizations outside of early childhood education
  4. Create a strong team of people around you.  Recognize and utilize other people’s strengths!


  1. Integrity, honesty, and best practices guide every decision
  2. High standards for care and education of students
  3. A strong network of other professionals, both inside and outside of early childhood education
  4. A healthy outlet for balancing the stress of this profession


  1. Those starting out to become leaders
  2. Those who are already leading
  3. Early Childhood Education organizations. Volunteer, become a member or accept a board position
  4. Other organizations in your community. We will never raise awareness or standards if we stay on our “education island”

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation!

In the comment area, please provide insights and opinions!

Additionally, consider sharing your perspective on the following questions:

  1. Share a time when you were inspired by a strong leader (within or outside of the ECE field).  
  2. What do you feel are the most important traits and skills that a leader should possess?


Sit at the Table

sit at the table

In the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, there is a chapter entitled “Sit at the Table.”

During this chapter, Sheryl discusses a meeting she held for the Treasury Secretary of the United States and fifteen executives from across Silicon Valley to discuss the economy.

She noticed during this meeting that four of the female members of the treasury secretary’s team chose to sit on the sidelines of the room, and even after they were introduced and invited to join at the main table, they “demurred” and remained in their seats.  Sheryl realized  visiting with them afterward the internal barrier that these women were facing.  Even though they were top professionals invited to particpate, their own interpretation of themselves and what they had to offer in this forum kept them politely on the sidelines as spectators rather than participants.

I want to look at how this may affect anyone, male or female, seasoned teacher, someone new to the field of early childhood education, really just anyone who may have found themselves not sitting at the table.

I attended the Celebrating Women in Business Luncheon on Friday, May 13th in Spearfish.  Among those in attendance were representatives from John Thune’s office, the governor’s office, Kristi Noem’s office, Black Hills State University professors, the Regional Director of the Small Business Administration Betsy Markey, and approximately three hundred exceptional women in business.

I’ve been working for years on my own personal goals for professionalism, business management, networking, public speaking, and promoting early childhood educators as professionals.  I speak, I teach, I mentor.

After the conference, I was among about twenty people invited to a special round table discussion with Betsy Markey.  I was be-bopping along just fine, and used my standard introduction…

“I’m Jessica Castleberry, I’m the owner of Little Nest Preschool in Rapid City and I am an advocate for the professionalism of early childhood educators on a state and local level.”

I’m doing well and listening to everyone’s opinion on certain topics, and Betsy turns to me and says, “I’m sure staffing is a challenge in your industry.”

And I froze.  And I blacked out.  And I thought, “Oh. My. Gosh. I’m. At. The. Table.” Literally.

My initial issue is, too much to say.

There are many topics I feel passionately about.  For me, it is helpful if I take notes prior to an event where I’m conversing for key phrases I want to touch on.  Otherwise my mouth runs amok, and a question about staffing turns into a state of the early childhood education system address.

Then I move onto how to say it.

I’m  a big joker. When I’m already nervous I have a tendency to go for the laugh rather than make my point.  Kidding around can ease an awkward discussion, however it’s important to stay on track.  Also, I try to practice.  I “case scenario” what people may want to discuss and what my appropriate responses could be.

I did none of these things before this discussion.  I froze, I blacked out, I may have clucked like a chicken for a minute, I don’t really know.  But my former practice saved me a little.  I mustered up some perspective on the issue of local centers constantly opening and closing, due in my opinion partially to lack of good business management training for owners and directors and how this has a terrible effect on students, families, and creating a quality, long term staff.


Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for sitting at the table all comes down to confidence.

Confidence in yourself

It is hard to build up self confidence but this should be a goal for all of us.  It can be easier at first to focus on the importance on conveying your message rather than on what other’s are thinking about you personally.  If you’re still working on having confidence in yourself, have confidence in your message.

Confidence in your experience and knowledge

If your experience is primarily in early childhood education you may not fully realize what you can bring to the table.  Working with young children, their families, and in diverse classrooms gives us an interesting perspective on many issues.  Public school funding, South Dakota ranking number one for two income households, city planning and zoning, raising the federal minimum wage, South Dakota ranking last in percentage of income invested in child care. Any issue you can think of, we can provide an insight not available from those in other industries!

Mayor Dana Boke of Spearfish stated at the beginning of the Celebrating Women in Business luncheon, “Please raise your hand if you know something about something.”

We all know something about something.  Don’t be afraid to “sit at the table” in any forum. Join local child care and early childhood education associations.  Join PTAs and attend a city council meeting.  Be prepared (this will hopefully prevent you from any chicken clucking).  We have to be willing and confident to share our experience, our perspective, and our expertise.

Feel free to leave a comment as discussion is part of the advocacy process, however… 

Remember, this blog content is valuable as a training tool also!  If you have a staff, consider using the blog content as a springboard for discussion at your team meetings, and share your insight with eachother (you don’t have to share it on the blog).  If you are a lone in home provider, utilize these topics as a self study program to help develop your own path to professionalism and advocacy.

For additional information Effective Advocacy Resources on the NAEYC website.  This site includes a wealth of information on topics such as Engaging Elected Officials, Talking Points, and much more.

Exclusive Interview With The Rapid City Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award Winner: Susan Dotson

Join me, Jessica Castleberry as I sit down and visit with Susan Dotson, owner of Dot to Dot Childcare, and recipient of the Rapid City Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award 2016.  Get to know Susan and her story of success as an educator and a business owner.  Listen for inside advice on why you should consider a play based classroom, and Susan’s number one tip for early childhood educators just starting out.

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To tune in now, CLICK HERE!

Want to find out more about Susan, Dot to Dot Childcare, and play based learning?

Visit her facebook page !

In the comment area, please leave feedback!

Do you know any other amazing leaders in the field of early childhood education in South Dakota who need to be interviewed?

Are there pressing early childhood education topics you feel should be covered?

You can post, or email me at 

Examining Explusion in Early Childhood Education


close-up portrait of a very angry screaming boy

Imagine a preschool classroom. Our ideal student is energetic, rambunctious, and curious. It is not the child who never challenges and certainly not the child who never questions.  As early childhood educators, we know that one of the biggest responsibilities we have is to help our young students communicate, explore, and sort the world out.

What happens when a child is struggling?  I don’t mean the occasional temper tantrum or the sad/mad days.

What happens when a child has so much difficulty adjusting to the classroom that they pose a risk of physical and emotional harm to everyone around them?

Imagine an in home family daycare.  In our state, this is one instructor to twelve children.  For one child it is her second day.  It is time for projects and the child screams, “No!” and starts using profanity.  The instructor calmly tells the child it is all right if she doesn’t want to participate, and that it is ok to be upset, but that she must use her inside voice.  The child screams, “I DON’T WANT TO!” swears more, and runs through the house.  She pushes another child. The instructor reaches for the upset child, and puts her in her lap in a hugging position (state approved) to prevent her from hurting herself or others.  The child kicks and screams.  The other children are frightened (and also baffled as to why the other young lady is reacting this way to their beloved teacher).She spits on her teacher. She kicks her in the face.  All the while the instructor tries every tool in her mind to try to help her student.  She tries talking to her, she tries not talking. At this point the teacher has her phone at the ready to call the child’s parents.  She tells her, “I can see that you are upset.  You can make a choice.  You may stop screaming and join us for projects, or you may stop screaming and do a quiet activity at another table, which do you prefer?”  The student screams louder, and kicks the teacher’s phone out of her hand.

Imagine a large downtown center.  A five year old student who has had disciplinary action plans throughout his preschool years screams at his teacher, hits her, and runs away.  He runs out of the classroom, out of the building, and straight into the busy intersection, all in the blink of an eye.

There is a serious problem in our classrooms and it needs to be addressed.

Expulsion is the harshest disciplinary action a school can take against a student. It means the student is no longer allowed to attend the school. A study, conducted by the Yale University Child Study Center, showed the rate is 3.2 times higher than the national expulsion rate (2.1 expulsions per 1,000 enrolled students) for kids in grades K-12.  While the study did not describe the reasons for pre-K expulsions, researchers say they are primarily due to serious behavioral problems.

Nearly seven out of every 1,000 pre-kindergarteners are expelled each year – an estimated 5,117 preschoolers in all.

Expulsion rates are higher for pre-kindergartners than for students in grades K-12 in all but three states: Kentucky,South Carolina and Louisiana.

Four-year-olds are expelled 1.5 times more than 3-year-olds; boys are expelled 4.5 times more than girls; and African-Americans are twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian kids and more than five times as likely than Asian-American kids.

It is clear that expulsion rates in early childhood education settings are disproportionate with the rest of K-12 education.

The question is, how do we fix it?

The government is already working on possible solutions.

A clearly defined expulsion policy

Many of us are aware of the new requirements for the Federal Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. For those who are unfamiliar with this new law, there are a myriad of positive changes in what is required for child care centers in the United States.  This new act gives me plenty of fodder for blog posts!  One of the new requirements is that licensed care facilities have a written plan for how to handle expulsion in their programs.

New federal guidelines are great, but how does that translate for providers?

The South Dakota Department of Social Services division of child care licensing has not yet put out their specific guidelines for our new expulsion policies.  Experts agree that any expulsion policy should be clearly defined.

Criteria to outline are:

Disciplinary policies for the early childhood education setting

Child behaviors that are cause for expulsion (both immediate expulsion and disciplinary action plans to avoid expulsion).  Immediate cause for expulsion might include extreme violence, while disciplinary action might include a severe temper tantrum.

Parent behaviors that are cause for expulsion (both immediate expulsion and disciplinary action plans to avoid expulsion).  Immediate cause for expulsion might include physical abuse of parent to a staff member, while disciplinary action might include late payments.

Written documentation of all events

Written procedure such as, first incident is a call to the parents, second incident is meeting with parents for action plan which may or may not include referral to a behavioral specialist.  If expulsion is the ultimate decision, then the parent will be given ample time to secure other care, unless in an extreme case where a child or parent poses eminent serious harm to themselves or others, or refusal to make payment arrangements.

 Professional help nearby

The study also shows expulsion rates are lowest in pre-K classrooms in public schools and in Head Start programs, and highest in faith-based and other private preschool programs, the researchers note. They attribute the lower rates to the presence of a school psychologist or psychiatrist who can handle serious behavior problems. Expulsions occurred twice as much in classrooms where there was no access to these professionals.

In Rapid City there are several options for behavioral health specialists to observe your classroom and students and offer intervention.  Contact the South Dakota Department of Social Services for a complete list of the help available in your area.

More training for parents and early childhood educators 

There are many classes available online and from local early childhood education facilities that offer behavior management courses.  Some I recommend are Safeguard Classes Online, Early Childhood Connections, Better Kid Care, and Sanford Health.

Consider becoming a member of a local professional child care association, which also offer additional training and conference opportunities, such as the South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children and the Family Child Care Professionals of South Dakota.

In the comment area, please share your feedback!

  1. What are some of the experiences you or others you know have had with early childhood education expulsion?
  2. What are some of the resources you have found helpful in avoiding expulsion?
  3. Please share any other additional insight and opinions on this subject!

For additional food for thought:

Read this article by Walter Gilliam Implementing Policies to Reduce the Likelihood of Preschool Expulsion

View this video by Becky Bailey Are Children Safe in Preschool.