It’s Lonely At the Top: Making the Move from Teacher to Program Administrator

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“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

You’re sitting at your desk on a Friday afternoon. A group of women passes by in the hallway— women you’re friendly with, women you joke around with, women who confide in you. You hear them talking about plans for meeting up for dinner tonight. “Dinner?” you think, questioningly. “I didn’t know they were meeting for dinner. Why didn’t they invite me?” And then you remember— “Oh yeah, I’m the director now. I’m The Boss.

Many of us who hold positions of leadership in early childhood dug our way through the trenches to get there. We may have started out as floaters, or assistant teachers, worked our way to becoming leads, and then made the leap to administration. Often, these steps may happen within the same program, putting us in the position of leading those who were our peers just a moment ago.

It is human nature to want to feel accepted. Especially by those who we work closely with, respect and admire. When you become a classroom teacher in an early childhood setting, the nature of your position and the environment in which you work can often lead teachers to become fast friends. When there is more than one teacher working in the same classroom, this bond can be especially deep. As the only two adults in the room, you support each other. You listen to each other vent. Together, you make your classroom run like a well-oiled machine—her strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.

Then, suddenly, with your promotion to administrator, this changes. You’re working in “the office” now. You have a whole new set of responsibilities, a completely new role…and all of your staff is watching to see if you’re going to sink or swim. This can be a lonely, isolating experience for many of us.

What do we do? How do we transition into our new role successfully, while supporting, and maintaining relationships with, the teachers in our program? Here are some tips for making the move from classroom to office as painless as possible:

  • Be proud of your new role, but not boastful. You made it to the top – yay, yippee, good for you! But don’t forget that everyone else is still doing the same job they did yesterday.
  • Expect social roles to change. Expect it. No really, EXPECT IT. You are now the superior, responsible for evaluating, hiring and firing the very same people whom you had coffee with last week.
  • Seek out others who are in a situation similar to yours. If you’re lucky enough to have other administrators at your program or organization, get to know them. If you’re the only one in charge, Look for professional development offerings geared toward administrators (Check out 4C’s opportunities in Southwest Ohio, the Miami Valley, and Kentucky) to help you be successful in your new role. It helps to meet others you can talk to who have walked a mile in your shoes or are experiencing the same things.
  • Observe other early childhood leaders—take note of their various leadership styles. Visit other quality early childhood programs in your area and observe a day in the life of the administrator. This serves two purposes—it gives you a glimpse into what your new position may consist of from day to day, and it allows you to learn about leading and motivating staff in a positive way.
  • Get input from your staff when possible. When people feel like they matter in an organization—like their voice, their opinion, is important and valued – they are much more likely to be a “team player” and make positive contributions to their work environment.

When you enter into a leadership role, remember that day in and day out, you will be setting the example your staff will follow. People will look to you for guidance, even when you may not be quite sure which way to steer them. It is up to you to lead your program with confidence, positivity and a genuine passion for providing all children the quality early childhood experiences they deserve.

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies and the Role of the Caregiver

social-emotional-caregiver-roleThe school year has begun! As you prepare to teach your preschoolers this year, remember that your interactions and environment play an incredible role in children’s social- emotional well being. The social-emotional domain is foundational to all learning. Providing an experience for the children in which they feel safe and supported will give them the confidence they need to succeed. It is important to always be attentive to the child’s needs. Showing a child that you are there for them will build the trust that is needed for them to seek guidance. Keep in mind that each child will need unique interventions and support to help them develop their skills. Children flourish in environments that provide consistency. Focus on creating routines that involve meaningful activities, especially in times of transition. These can include things like games or songs to minimize problems when waiting in line. One of the most important goals as caregivers is to promote a love of learning to our children. If you follow a child’s lead, allow them to initiate activities, and remain flexible around their needs, you will create an environment in which they feel respected. This is key to motivating the desire to learn. Positive relationships with peers and adults—parents and teachers included—are critical to the development of social emotional skills in children.

Characteristics of adults who promote positive relationships.

  • Offer lessons that engages the children and relates to their lives and culture
  • Provide consistent guidance, clarity of rules
  • Model appropriate social skills
  • Provide a nurturing environment, acknowledge emotions, provide comfort and support
  • Demonstrate empathy through questions such as, “Why do you think she is upset?”
  • Promote children’s confidence by engaging them in problem solving
  • Model positive language
  • Engage with parents in a relationship to support children emotionally
  • Support autonomy and leadership, allow choice and follow children’s lead

As a teacher, you have the chance to play a vital role in the lives of preschoolers at such a critical period of social-emotional growth. Make sure you create a space where children feel valued, safe and cared about. Children’s emotional health is closely tied to the characteristics of the environment in which they are surrounded. As you plan, make sure to intentionally promote a positive place to learn. Children who develop positive relationships with their teachers or caregivers are more positive about learning, more confident and more successful in their learning environment. As you start your new school year, remember to lay the foundation children need to succeed! A smile, pat on the back and encouraging word may seem small, but will go a long way. As they say, people may not remember exactly what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Children are no exception.

Math in the Early Years: Preschool

preschool-mathThere is a lot of pressure on young children these days to become expert mathematicians at an early age. Typically, I’ve found that when a child feels this pressure it creates stress. When a child feels stressed they shut down and disengage. If educators can intentionally incorporate math concepts through everyday activities, the stress on children is eliminated.

Math in early childhood education has many stages that come together to create its foundation. It’s a process for children. Once they develop one math concept, they are ready to build upon it or move along to the next level of this process. In my previous math blog we highlighted math concepts and everyday activities that were taking place in our infant and toddler classrooms. As we build upon that infant and toddler math foundation, let’s focus on the everyday activities that occur in preschool classrooms. Remember, when we think outside the math center box, we realize math concepts can be intertwined throughout every classroom area/activity, during daily routines, and even transitions. All it takes is a little intentional teaching and teacher-child engagement.

Let’s think about a few math staples that can be introduced and strengthened during this process of development. First, we need to recognize there is a difference between counting and quantifying. This is how I think of it: counting is verbalizing the number words, which is a big part of the process, but quantifying is the end product, when the child determines how many are actually in the set.

Rote counting—children verbally putting the number words in order (usually memorized, not necessarily quantifying objects).

  • Rote counting activities outside the math area are usually originated from the intentional teacher: “I wonder how long it takes us to walk down the hall. Help me count.” or “I wonder what’s the highest number you (we) can count to?”
  • Cooking activities or turn-taking structures. Allowing each child to stir during the cooking activity for 10 seconds.

One-to-one correspondence/principle—a child matches one object to each object in a set (i.e., ice cube tray and pom-pom activity) or the child matches one number word to one object (i.e., touching each dot on the die as they say the number word).

  • Everyday activities such as allowing children to help count chairs at the snack table, crackers as you pass them out, or heads as you transition outside will strengthen this skill.
  • When I was in the classroom, I always found that young children were more successful grasping one-to-one correspondence/principle when counting large objects or utilizing gross motor motions.

Cardinally—the stage when a child realizes the last number counted represents the total amount in the set.

  • Once you begin observing children quantifying, asking questions such as: “How many spaces are left?”, or “How many did you count?” will promote and support the cardinally stage.
  • Graphing activities are a great way to incorporate many mathematical milestones. While working with graphs children are quantifying and incorporating math vocabulary words such as “more,” “less,” and “least.”

Patterning— the ability to create or continue a repeated format or design.

  • A few everyday patterning activities would be clapping out patterns, building with Legos, and at times seating arrangements for lunch or group time (i.e., patterning children themselves by clothes or shoes).

Making math part of children’s everyday life is a great way to support their development. What other ways can you incorporate math concepts into your daily schedule?

Planning Individually

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Often times when I talk about planning for children, eyes widen at the thought of planning for each child in the classroom. There are many benefits when every child is considered in what goes on an activity plan. Children’s needs are met and they receive the quality care and education that they deserve. Below are some questions and thoughts around why planning individually is necessary and important for all age groups.

Why is planning for individual children important?

Every child is unique. This uniqueness should not be forgotten about or suppressed because group care is a reality and necessity for families. Although it may feel overwhelming at first, it is doable to plan for individual children within a larger group. Children benefit from individual planning when all aspects of development are considered. When you value a child’s uniqueness and learn about their strengths, these strengths can be used as tools to support other areas of learning and development.

What is considered when planning for individual children?

First and foremost, you need to understand child development when considering how to plan for all children in your care. This will help you plan for appropriate expectations and guidance no matter what age group. Children develop and learn in a certain sequence and there is a set of milestones to help assess if children are on the right track. Each child develops at their own rate and providing an enriching and open-ended environment can help children to achieve those milestones. In order to truly grasp “Approaches Towards Learning,” caregivers and teachers need to understand that their own agenda may not be the most appropriate for children. To truly support children’s learning and understanding of their world is to offer choices and freedom to play at their own risk.

How can you create a plan?

Routines and experiences can be individually planned for each child in your classroom and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Planning for routines means we consider how children may need support during events that happen consistently throughout each day, such as diapering/toileting, mealtimes, drop-off and pick-up.

Consider a newborn infant that is beginning group care at 6 weeks of age. They have already developed preferences. Their experiences and interactions with other people are their family. The family can give information about how much an infant is eating, how often, how they like to be held or not held. Gathering this information is all a part of planning for the individual child.

Experiences and activities can also be used to plan individually. A specific activity can be available to the whole group while intentionally giving a child that may need extra practice with a certain skill. Integrating learning concepts into a child’s favorite learning center, such as providing pretend cookies and a cookie sheet with a grid taped to it can be a way to introduce math concepts in the dramatic play area. Open-ended activities can offer many ways for children to use materials how they choose to and can offer insight on how to plan for each child

Although planning individually can seem daunting at first, there are several ways to simplify the process. Find time to observe children in the environment, watch and listen to what children have to say. Ask them what they want to learn about. Remember to consider every child in your care!

Respecting Family Culture Is Respecting the Child

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Early childhood educators must balance the culture of each child’s family, the classroom, the program and even the curriculum!

The word culture can mean different things to different people depending on the circumstances of its context and even setting. So what exactly is culture? When I think about culture the word values immediately pops into my head. If you read the Merriam-Webster definition of culture, it’s a pretty complex subject. In the field of early childhood education, we have many cultures to uphold and honor intertwined in our classrooms. We not only balance the culture of the family, but that of the classroom, the program, community, and even the curriculum—that’s a lot to balance! So what happens when conflicts occur between the family culture and the culture of your classroom?

When conflicts occur between the cultures, emotions typically are running at high speed with all parties involved. Not only do families hold their cultural beliefs very close to their hearts, but the majority of professionals in this field do as well, which can make it difficult to negotiate and problem solve. I think it’s important for us as educators to remember that not everything in early childhood education is black and white; there is a lot of GRAY area, especially when it comes to balancing cultures.

I feel that best practice points to individualizing as we navigate through the gray area. Individualizing for children is a huge part of our job; it’s how we help children become successful in many areas, from reaching those developmental milestones to writing or recognizing their name in print. In order to honor an individual child’s family culture, we must first try to understand the importance of the cultural discrepancy. Greenman and Stonehouse, co-authors of Primetimes encourage:

“Caregivers always need to remember that often there is a cultural logic to parental beliefs and practices. This logic may be based on cultural practices perceived as just as right as our own closely held truths. Because this is so, we have a responsibility to listen and respect, to adapt practices when possible, and to articulate clearly the logic of programs practices when adaptation is impossible.”

One way educators can do this is by being reflective and asking themselves or even the families, “Why?” One way to achieve understanding and to maintain positive relationships with families is for educators to demonstrate the ability to host respectful conversations around the topic. Hosting these types of conversations with an open mind will allow educators to use the families as a resource and can even strengthen relationships as you bridge the gap between home and school. It may also help educators detect what the family’s true needs are. Understanding the “why” factor is an important piece for educators during the problem solving and individualizing process.

As educators begin identifying what is causing the conflict between cultures, they will also discover what barriers exist. Once you isolate what the need is, you can pinpoint where the conflict between cultures occurs; then you can begin to strategize possible solutions for adaptation and individualization. Try asking yourself, “Why not?” Does it go against program policy, is it a licensing violation, or does it create management issues? Next ask yourself, is there room for ANY adaptation? Am I being flexible, and I am I viewing this with an open mind?

Chances are the topic in question is already something that the child has been exposed to; it’s familiar to them. Best practice in ECE would encourage the implementation of scaffolding techniques and adaptations for the child and family when appropriate and possible. When brainstorming solutions with families, it’s important for educators to respectfully articulate the “why” factor on your end too. Ideally, this will help guide you through compromise, foster the relationship, and allow you to begin advocating for what is best practice in early childhood education, while at the same time trying to honor the family culture. After all, respecting the family culture is respecting the child.

Why You Should Invest in Your Development

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Investing in professional development translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday!

It’s important that early childhood professionals have the tools they need to run high quality programs that engage children and families. It’s important to seek opportunities to sharpen your skills, master new concepts and implement new strategies into your program.

Just as doctors continue their education to stay abreast of new advances in medicine, you must stay up-to-date on the advances in education and child development. Education is an investment of time and money that translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday. Advanced education might come in the form of a one-day workshop, a community meeting, or an all day event. Whether you are a teacher, program administrator, or family child care provider, you are an advocate for children and families. To be the best advocate you must stay educated and then share your discoveries and knowledge with those you work with.

Conferences are a wonderful way to bring fresh energy and inspiration back to the surface. Early childhood program administrators with training in leadership are known to succeed in attracting and retaining highly qualified professionals. All early care and education professionals who attend these conferences are able to bring fresh ideas and motivation to the program to enhance the culture.

4C for Children’s Miami Valley Early Childhood and Leadership Conference will be held on Friday September 23, 2016 at Sinclair’s Pointz Center.  After hearing from keynote speaker Erin Ramsey, there will be knowledgeable professionals offering eleven breakout sessions to keep attendees informed of the latest research, stay abreast of best practice and offer information regarding new concepts. One of the breakout sessions that will be offered is titled “Assemble an Environment to Maximize Your Space” presented by Jenni Jacobs of the University of Cincinnati.  What a valuable topic for so many educators who need help taking a small space and turning it into the most conducive learning environment. Expertise in this area is useful for professionals both new and old. This is just one of the many sessions that will be sure to promote higher professional standards that will strengthen early childhood. Learn more about this exciting upcoming opportunity!

Making Sense of a Violent World

Welcome to our new Growing Children blogger, 4C Professional Development Specialist Merideth Burton. Below is her first post.

“We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

“We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

People enter the field of early childhood for different reasons. Some of us are here because we had wonderful experiences as young children. We had inspiring, caring teachers that we remember fondly, and we want to pass those same experiences on to the next generation. Some of us are here because we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to be when we grew up. We may have tried other professions, but through different paths we ended up working in an early education setting – and we discovered we loved it. Some of us are here because our early years weren’t ideal at all, and we wanted to break that cycle by giving something back, by doing whatever we could to be a positive influence in the lives of young children.

Regardless of the reasons we are drawn to this field, we all have one thing in common—we see the bigger picture. We see a world often full of violence and unrest, and we understand the influence we can have on our youngest citizens. We know that we can “be the change we want to see in the world” by contributing positively to the growth and development of young children. We realize the future lies in their hands, and it’s our very important job to give them the tools they need to shape it for the better.

We do everything in our power to create a stable, positive environment for the children in our care so they can feel respected, safe and loved when they enter our classrooms. But, the reality is, we don’t have complete control. The negativity that exists in the world creeps in through television, through social media, through the experiences and the environments that the children in our care are exposed to once they walk out our doors.

How do we combat this? How do we help children process what they see and hear when they’re out in the world that may be unsettling or frightening to them? Though their exposure to these things is sometimes beyond our control, here are some ways we can help them deal with what they are seeing, hearing and most importantly, feeling:

  • Limit exposure to media outlets where children may come into contact with violent or disturbing images/sounds such as newscasts, social media postings, violent TV shows or movies.
  • Be mindful of what you say when little ears are around. Try to avoid discussing these events with other adults, or having telephone conversations, within earshot of young children.
  • If children want to express what they see/hear/feel, let them. However they feel the need to do this, as long as they are not hurting others, is okay. They may want to talk, or be silent. They may cry, they may scream. If they’re feeling big emotions, they need an outlet for them in a place where they can feel safe.
  • Help children find the words to name and express their feelings. Use “feeling” words like “sad,” “mad,” “scared,” “nervous” or “frustrated” in your discussions. Let children know that it’s okay for them to feel that way.
  • Listen to what children say, without judgment, and respond with words they can understand. Answer their questions, but avoid going into too much detail that can create anxiety.
  • Provide them with creative outlets such as drawing, painting, and dancing. If a child wants to share what they create with you, give them your undivided attention and ask open-ended questions: “Tell me about your drawing.” “What’s happening in your painting?”
  • Share your observations about the child’s feelings/actions with his/her family. You can collaborate on what the best course of action may be for supporting the child through processing their emotions.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was cleaning up from morning snack with my classroom of toddlers, getting ready to go outside to the playground at our school in downtown Washington, D.C. The events that occurred that day, and the behaviors and emotions of the children in my class that appeared in the following weeks and months, are things I will never forget. I witnessed children as young as 18 months become more anxious and fearful at morning drop off. I observed children using toy airplanes to crash into block towers. I heard children talk to each other about the “fire on the buildings.” Even as I was dealing with my own emotions surrounding 9/11, I knew it was my responsibility to continue to provide the nurturing, consistent classroom environment they had come to know. We played together, we talked together, sometimes we even cried together. We got through it together.