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.