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.


7 thoughts on “Sit at the Table

  1. Jessica,
    Thanks for sharing this nugget! As I work with individuals and companies the importance of confidence is always an issue. Caring and preparing yourself in business is what counts. I love how image can help with confidence . It’s an inside out process. Thank you for bring this to our awareness. When you know what you know you can make a difference!


    • Kathy thank you so much for posting on this topic! You are such a dynamic speaker and educator on the topic of image and how we are perceived by others. Confidence is an inside out process and you offer resources to help others work on both inner and outer confidence!


  2. As I think to myself – ‘how have I advocated for early childhood education’ – I realize I may think I am advocating more then I truly am, and if I am, am I truly getting my point across effectively?
    I have shared in many passionate conversations with individuals and the importance of the learning and brain development that happens in the first 5 years of life, how the educators in the early childhood field have one of the most mentally and physically challenging jobs but get generally get paid less then a McDonald’s employee and how an early childhood educator can change and navigate the academic and empathetic path of a young child.

    With these conversations I realize that I have not done my due diligence in truly advocating for the women and men, children, and the families in this field. I would like to see public policy changed, improved, or implemented so many of these concerns and short comings can be changed for the better and overall improve the quality and professionalism in our field. Where does one start in this venture? Is it simply asking more questions? Stating facts surrounding the issues at hand? Writing letters to politicians? Or putting pen to paper and researching for ways to get these changes made? Because if I am not willing to put the work forward who is? When will this change take place if the first step is not taken?

    I love and appreciate your passion for early childhood… I am willing to step into the unknown… and I would love some company! 🙂


    • Kayla- thank you so much for bringing your expertise to this topic! I thought I was doing pretty well with advocacy until I backed up and looked at myself from the outside. While most people in my circles were aware of what I was doing, I started to realize that I was talking to the same audience month after month.
      The biggest step for me was looking at how I might be able to connect others in early childhood education, because we are all having the same conversations, but if we don’t work together, then change will never happen. Change happens on every level, and whether it is a conversation with an early childhood educator just starting out, or addressing our state representatives, the more seeds we can plant the better.
      It is important that leaders like you in the field of early childhood education mobilize others in the field to educate each other as to why this is important, and devote time to advocating to politicians, both city, regional, and state leaders as to why we are behind other states and how we can change it.
      The only way this can happen is if we work together. According to the May 2015 Market Rate Report for South Dakota, there are an estimated 34,431 children in regulated child care in our state. This includes 1,194 different in-home, center based, group family, and out of school time programs. What kind of change could we see if even half of those in charge of those facilities were dedicated to improvement of our field?
      You are a strong leader and mentor in our state. I look forward to continued collaboration with you and hearing your perspective on effective change! We need your voice!


  3. I feel that in the past year there has been larger steps taken in letting people see that early childhood education is a profession and that the Educators are professional than in the last 20 years. Thank you both Jessica and Kayla.
    I know the more early childhood educators go to leadership course and conferences the more they will feel like they are professionals. Going to networking opportunities and being seen as equals will also help. We are not only leaders for young adults entering the field of early childhood education, we are the leaders for the future in all fields.


    • Laura- Thank you for your response! You are someone with a tremendous amount of experience in this field and you will make a difference for elevating our profession by your commitment to high standards of professionalism. I appreciate your point that we are not only leaders for young adults in our field, but that we are leaders for the future in all fields. What a great way to phrase it!


  4. Pingback: Happy New Year! | Early education plantation

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