As I sipped my coffee watching the Early Childhood Directors filter into the Sharonville Convention Center this past Friday, I marveled at the commitment of this group of professionals. It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day and they were making the choice to attend 8 hours of training. Yes, there was yummy food inside, and potentially a day where they did not have to solve an emergency at their center, but they still had to say “no” to the beautiful day.
I observed a few seasoned directors confidently move around the room and compared them to the more timid, “newbie” directors. I wondered at what point in their professional career they found this confidence. It caused me to reflect on my tenure as a director and realized that the day I spoke up on behalf of the children in my care, I became more confident in myself as a “leader.”
On that day, I had to convince some well intentioned volunteers that painting the lobby and hallways during arrival time was endangering the children. They laughed and replied something like, “At my house, my grandkids would know not to get in the way of my paint brush. I am sure it will be fine… you worry too much!” I realized that I needed to defend my position on safety, and defend it quickly as a few early arrivals were coming through the doors. I briefly quoted a licensing rule, followed by my passion and concern for the children’s safety. When I added in the possibility of donuts and coffee if they would agree to paint on Saturday, I had struck a deal.
You may read that and think, “That’s not leadership! That’s just following the rules.” At the time, I did not think of myself as a leader, and would’ve agreed with you. The moment I moved the conversation to what was best for children, however, my intention shifted from following the rules to advocating for children. Yes, ADVOCATING! While it might not have been large scale political advocacy as we often think of it, I do believe that by suggesting a different approach to the painters, albeit only in my tiny early childhood program’s society, I was advocating on my children’s behalf. I was not marching on the steps of city hall, nor was I writing a letter to a legislator, but the Core Knowledge and Competencies for Administrators defines advocacy as the action of pleading for or supporting a cause or proposal, and that’s exactly what I was doing.
A key thing happened to me that day… I found my voice! I was able speak out on and plead for what I thought was right for children. I utilized the research that I knew, combined it with my passion about what is right for children and mustered up the confidence to propose it out loud… the first step to becoming an advocate and a leader.
I challenge you to arm yourself with research and combine it with your personal mission about what you believe is right for children. Watch for opportunities to share what you know with others less informed. At a recent Developing Early Childhood Leaders seminar at 4C, Elaine Ward, our senior vice president/COO, encouraged our group to share our expertise with elected officials. They depend on us to inform them about what is happening in the trenches. Although I have never considered myself a political person, I do enjoy sharing what I know about children. This year, I am taking a big step and writing my elected officials regarding early childhood in Ohio. I found their names and contact information in the nonpartisan voting information guide published by the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Perhaps you are not ready for this step, but as you passionately speak to those around you about children, take a moment to consider yourself an early childhood leader and advocate!