By Robin Reisdorf, Preschool Mentor Teacher at Kids’ Safari Learning Center
Fourteen years ago I walked into my first preschool classroom. Three year olds surrounded me, asking if baby squirrels have teeth, where butterflies go when it rains, and what the pink dots were on my face. I was sixteen years old; unaware that my after-school job would become my career. Quickly I grew to believe that early childhood education is the most effective way to change the world, and I wanted to be a part of it!
I learned at workshops, conferences, college and through experienced teachers. Slowly I morphed into an experienced teacher. Training new teachers was added to my work responsibilities. While I was told that I was a leader, I didn’t feel like a leader. I became committed to learning how to be an effective leader, which lead me to seek out a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and the Leadership Credential at UW-Milwaukee. One of the first things I learned is that being in a leadership role does not automatically make you a leader. I needed to develop specific skills.
One valuable lesson that resulted in significant professional growth for me related to the theories of emotional intelligence and their practical application. Previously, I considered classroom activities or my classroom environment while remaining personally removed. I have since learned the skill of self-reflection. While becoming increasingly self-aware, I am simultaneously challenged to practice self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Growing my emotional intelligence has increased my ability to manage emotions in a positive way, empathize with others, and defuse conflict.
To conclude the Leadership Credential, all students create final projects that incorporate their learning. Inspired by my struggles to balance mentoring new teachers with my daily teaching responsibilities, I developed a plan for a mentoring and coaching program. My plan creates opportunities for early childhood educators to become reflective practitioners, who develop intentional teaching practices through professional development while maintaining respect for each teacher’s individuality. I believe this will nurture a positive school community, enhance teachers’ confidence and performance, and improve the learning environment.
After receiving my credential, I will continue learning and connecting with other professionals in the field. I am eager to share my final project with my administrators and work toward implementing a mentoring and coaching pilot program at Kids’ Safari Learning Center. We can share our success with other early childhood centers, so that they will also be able to incorporate mentoring and coaching programs to support their staff. I also envision developing a Mentoring and Coaching Credential.
During class, we watched the video “Extraordinary Visions” by Dewitt Jones. He talked about moving from imagination to imagin-action. This credential challenged me to imagine change, be inspired by a vision, and take action. Although my credential is coming to an end, the application of the knowledge and skills is only just beginning. Change must originate from within the early childhood education field, instead of being thrust upon us. As a classroom teacher, I will have an active role promoting positive change within our field.