Educators for Social and Racial Justice: Creating classrooms where all children thrive

Kinder lernen lesen mit Erzieherinby Nar Doumbya, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

In early education, it is widely accepted that children learn in the context of a healthy responsive relationship with their caregivers. Rightfully so, those of us who’ve been in early education classrooms can attest to the importance of relationship in learning and psycho-social development during and beyond the early years.

Yet, relationships do not always come naturally, especially when we serve children and families whose racial, cultural or linguistic backgrounds differ from our own. When it comes to engaging in racial and social justice discussions and learning, early educators often agree that it can be challenging even when we have seemingly good relationships with children and their families. Besides the many feelings (e.g., guilt, fear, shame, among others) these topics invoke, I often hear educators say that they do not know where or when to start, what’s developmentally appropriate or individually responsive. This despite decades of research that shows the importance of talking to children about race and identity.1 Our collective confusion and reticence show just how difficult this task can be. Nevertheless, it is something we can learn.

What is Deep Culture?
As a former childcare teacher and administrator, I believe my success with engaging children and families stemmed from the genuinely respectful and responsive relationships I strived to develop. To me, relationships are catalysts for families to more easily let us into their deep culture. That is to say, who they are beyond race. Deep culture relationships take us beyond the more superficial moments of intake, drop-off, pick-up and ritual events such as the annual family night. Through authentic connections, we come to understand families’ goals for their children, their hopes and dreams, their strengths and challenges. In so doing, we expand and enrich our understanding of the children in our care.

Standards exist – but we’re called to go further
In Wisconsin, licensing standards, the quality rating and improvement system, and Head Start performance standards all uphold the crucial role cultural identity and relationship play in learning and development. Consequently, educators routinely receive training in cultural awareness, curiosity, or competence, culturally-responsive child guidance, and parent engagement. Often, such training focuses on culture more superficially by emphasizing externally visible aspects such as attire, artifacts, or holiday customs.

We seldom delve into issues of equity and social justice because we may rightfully feel that we don’t yet have the competence or resources to address them. While there may be social and racial justice policies and procedures in place at the system and center levels, teachers are daily confronted with opportunities for ensuring that every child is provided with an environment that mirrors how much they are valued in the classroom community. An environment that conveys the message “I see you and value what you bring to our classroom community.”

Take time and practice – with support – at the WECA Conference
Developing and strengthening the ability to have conversations about race and social identities and becoming an equitable educator takes time and practice. That’s why we are calling all educators who embrace social and racial justice work to attend this year’s WECA Conference.

Our social and racial justice track will offer space for critical self-reflection, support you in promoting equitable learning environment, and provide you with the tact and know-how to engage in social action

You won’t want to miss Prof. Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Janean-Dilworth-Bart

Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., University of Wisconsin-Madison

She will challenge us to reflect on our own identities and personal experiences with school and our childhood communities and how that influences our roles in relationship with children and families today. We will examine the impact of class, race, and culture on building authentic relationships and how we apply these concepts to support and care for all children and families. Her session will challenge our assumptions, engage us in important conversations, and provide us with tools and resources to better understand our roles in shaping the future of children in the context of the world today.

While at the conference plan to visit our interactive display designed for gathering ideas, and incorporating the concepts of diversity, culture, and peace into your program. Come expand your knowledge, connect with other professionals, and leave with a renewed passion to provide an equitable learning environment all children!

Reference
1. Winkler, E. N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: How young children learn race (Vol. 3). Pace.

A New Approach to the Rural Child Care Crisis

A New Approach to the Rural Child Care Crisis

by Michele Engh, Chair, Kickapoo Collaboration, and Director of Faith Formation, Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church

kaboompics_Child reading a bookWisconsin’s working families are in trouble, because Wisconsin’s child care industry is in trouble.  When parents can’t find or can’t afford child care, that’s a problem for them and their employers.  When we reformed welfare in the 1990’s, child care was recognized as an essential work support and crucial to economic development.  Economists have been clamoring ever since for a greater public investment in early education.  More recently they’ve been joined by neuroscientists who look beyond today’s workforce needs to the children themselves who will be tomorrow’s workforce.  Public policy has a lot of catching up to do; what we generally hear is some variation on “there’s just no money to fix the problem.”  This then has become the narrative we’ve adopted:  Resources are scarce, so just make do.

But here’s what “making do” looks like:  child care providers, especially those with the required qualifications, are leaving their jobs to work at local convenience stores where the pay is better; child care programs are closing, sometimes one room at a time, despite the need for more child care slots; quality of care is sacrificed because family providers are choosing to be unregulated in order to retain their clientele who can’t afford to have the cost of regulations moved into their pocketbooks;  communities who want to retain their young families and offer family-supporting jobs are losing the fight; and those within the child care field are sparring over meager resources rather than coalescing around a coherent political strategy.  This problem is universal, but is most evident today in our rural and small town communities, some of whom are experiencing what’s being called a “child care desert” – no available child care because no back-up plan exists when a local child care programs closes and the nearest alternative is many miles away.

Startup Stock PhotosBut at least one local community is working hard to create a new narrative.  Rather than accepting the story of scarcity, they are looking to the abundance of local talent and expertise, unwavering community pride, and generosity of citizens.  Meet the Kickapoo Collaboration Core Team.  Initiated in February 2014 as a grassroots community partnership, the team began meeting under the umbrella of Wisconsin Partners, a group of statewide associations. Wisconsin Partners believes in breaking down silos by building relationships among citizens to pave the way to work collaboratively on areas of shared concern.  Here’s the good news. Because of its impact on workforce and economic development, child care in the Kickapoo Valley is a shared concern among area schools, churches, local government, non-profit and business leaders alike.

The Kickapoo Valley encompasses communities as large as 4000 and as small as 400.  Yet interests as diverse as those of large employers like Organic Valley and Vernon Memorial Hospital join with those of a local cheese shop retailer, banker, auto shop owner, school teachers, and ministers.  They sit at the same table strategizing on how to best address their community’s need for quality child care.   The strategies they are discussing—like providing incentives for providers to become regulated, developing shared services among child care programs, leveraging community connections and resources, purchasing of child care slots for employees, and more – may not totally solve the problem, but they go a long way towards ensuring safe and healthy environments for the children, more productive employees, and community stability and wellness.

We will still need broader public investment, but perhaps this approach is what creates the political will to get there.  If more communities around Wisconsin embraced this collaborative approach, we would change the narrative about scarcity to a new one that highlights the abundance of creativity to make change happen that benefits us all.

Jane Miller-Cleworth: A Vibrant Life with Children

Jane Miller-Cleworth: A Vibrant Life with Children

JaneMillerCAfter a long and enjoyable 32 years with WECA, Jane Miller-Cleworth will be retiring in September at the bright age of 88.

“I have had the privilege of knowing Jane for the past 15 years,” said Ruth Schmidt, WECA Executive Director.  “Jane has always brought the best balance of consummate professional, committed colleague and absolutely lovely person to her work .  WECA greatly appreciates Jane’s years of service to family child care providers and the children they serve.  We extend our heartfelt thanks to Jane and wish her all the best in retirement.”

Jane’s child care story began in 1973, when she and her partner Betty Cleworth saw the need for a preschool in their home town of Wisconsin Rapids. Jane attended child care classes at Mid-State Technical College and opened a childcare program in their church basement. “The center was mostly a nursery school with extended hours for childcare.” Jane explained.  It was licensed for 25 years and was moved into a home when the church rectory had to be torn down.  That group center, named B & J Learning Center, operated for more than 12 years. They sold their group center in 1991, and it still operates today-serving more than 150 children.

In addition to her group center, she and Betty started the Wood County Child Care Council, a support group for child care workers that is still operating today.

In 1987, Jane started her work at WECA. When asked why she decided to work for WECA, her answer was simple. “As far as I was concerned WECA was it!” she shared.  “I was already in Child Care but in a different capacity.  I enjoy working with people, and I felt my experiences could help others.” As a Food Program area coordinator, Jane served many Wisconsin counties, including Adams, Waushara, Portage and Wood. Her work helped hundreds of family child care providers maintain a healthy and nutritional meal program for kids in their care.

What makes Jane’s history amazing is she accomplished all of this even though at one point she was a single mother of nine children, six of them boys! Now, her children have spread their wings far and wide!  “Three settled in Wisconsin and one in Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, and Minnesota respectively, with one as far away as Saipan,” she shared.  “They work in healthcare, fitness, architecture, engineering, construction, teaching and state government.”

We will greatly miss Jane as she embarks on her new adventures in retirement. “I’m not sure what exactly I plan to do but it definitely will involve volunteer work,” she said. Something tells us she has plenty of places to visit as well.

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

by Carla-Littel-Hildebrand, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

Have you tried to explain to others outside the early education field what it means to “teach” infants and toddlers? As a fellow teacher, I know we fight against the “babysitter” label and claims that we are not really teaching.

iStock_000019609330XLargeBut the research and our own experiences tell us differently. Teachers of infants and toddlers develop responsive care routines, build a trusting relationship with the child and family, design safe, engaging environments, and create developmentally appropriate experiences that expand learning. Young children require these experiences for healthy brain development.

“The vulnerable baby is dependent on relationships with adults for physical survival, emotional security, a safe base for learning, help with self-regulation, modeling and mentoring social behavior, and information and exchanges about the workings of the world and rules for living.”1

It is truly an awesome, and fast-moving responsibility. Have you ever taken a long weekend or vacation and upon your return, the children in your care have made significant advances in one or more developmental domains? As an Early Head Start Teacher, this is one of my fondest memories. The child that didn’t walk is now trying a few steps.  Another can roll over and yet another child is beginning to use the “baby signs” you have been diligently modeling.

As a reflective caregiver, you observe these milestones and assess the needed environmental changes, create opportunities to scaffold on new learning, and assess the social emotional needs of the children as they embark on skill acquisition.

“If caregivers are mindful of how a child’s whole experience-particularly the emotional tenor-influences the developing brain – they can provide caring relationships that help the child feel secure and open to an engaging world of exploration and learning throughout the early years.”

Teaching infants and toddlers requires a flexibility that is unique, with caregiving taking on the nature of a “dance” – with the teacher encouraging each infant to try out more complex steps so as to master new compositions, beats, and tempos.3

Training with an Infant /Toddler focus

It can be difficult to find training that specifically addresses the needs and concerns of Infant Toddler Teachers. Not at the WECA Conference! WECA has heard your voice and is offering a range of workshops November 10-11, 2017 at Chula Vista.

Pam Bennett and Cheryl Heiman will start us off with an inspirational Early Ed Talk followed by an innovative workshop, “Bebe Café.” We’ll come together for a facilitated conversation, sharing our wisdom, expertise, challenges, concerns, and passions in a collective learning experience.  Don’t miss out on this exceptional opportunity to learn with colleagues and dive deeper into the issues that are most relevant to you as an early childhood teacher.

To find out more and to register go to: http://wisconsinearlychildhood.org/conference/

Citations:
  1. Lally, J., & Mangione, P. (2017, May). Caring Relationships, The Heart of Early Brain Development. NAYEC, 17-23.
  2. Raikes, H. H., & Pope Edwards, C. (2009). Extending the Dance in Infant & Toddler Caregiving. Bear, DE: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
  3. Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (C. Copple, Ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Additional Infant and Toddler Resources:

Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE?   			Our Response to a Controversial Question

Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE? Our Response to a Controversial Question

Author: Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator


WECA is dedicated to enhancing the educational qualifications of our workforce and improving wages and working conditions in our field.  For decades, the dominant thinking has been that as we raise the level of professionalism (i.e. the skill and knowledge base of the workforce), better wages would follow.  As dictated by new research, the job of early care and education has become more complex and the demand for education more insistent.  We have watched educational levels improve, while there has been only incremental change in compensation. Rather than thinking one can solve the other, we need to consider the two as distinct problems that need to be addressed simultaneously.  Today is the time to once again wrestle with this dilemma.  -Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator

Women graduating from college

In 2015 the Institute of Medicine (IOM)1 and National Research Council (NRC), based on the science of early brain development, recommended that all lead educators working with children from birth through age eight have at minimum a bachelor’s degree with specialized early childhood knowledge and competencies.  Just two years later, New America, an organization “committed to renewing American politics, prosperity and purpose in the Digital Age,” in a report entitled Rethinking Credential Requirements in Early Education, suggests that bachelor’s degrees are in fact not the way to go.

Two opposing views coming from two very different perspectives – neuroscience vs. the current labor market.  What is one to think?  From our reading of these reports, it may depend on whose lens you look through.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a child – the way early childhood educators are prone to do – it is obvious that what is happening in these early years is so important that young children deserve nothing less than our best.  A highly skilled professional with a well-rounded education – like that required of all other educators – is fundamental.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a family struggling to pay for high quality child care, we can only see a failing free market system in which the true cost of child care cannot reasonably be assumed by the purchaser.  Until high quality child care is recognized as the public good that  it is, families will seek low-cost alternatives and low wages will continue to subsidize whatever program they are offered.  This is a difficult environment in which to promote higher education.

If we look at this problem through the lens of professionals who are operating programs, we are confronted with the immediacy of the problem.  A growing teacher shortage is the result of demanding more of teaching staff than they have the skills to give, or investing in the high cost of educating their staff and then not being able to provide the financial incentives that encourages them to stay.

students

In our view there has to be some both/and thinking around this dilemma.  We must continue to support a bachelor’s degree pathway in early education because highly qualified teachers are more likely to provide high quality programs for young children.  A bachelor’s degree does more than focus on specific skills needed in the classroom; it creates a learner who is engaged with the world, ready to bring her curiosity and love of learning to the children.  We must also be open to innovative approaches that support on-the-job skill building, because today’s children can’t wait until we land on a solution, and programs need retention strategies right now to continue operating.

The New America report makes some important points, particularly in regards to the difficulties of building public support for early education in our current climate.  The distinctions they point to between public education and early childhood as it relates to collective power to negotiate better working conditions also resonates with us. However, the author does not seem to fully grasp the fundamental differences in the way young children versus older children learn.  These differences impact K-12 teachers’ perceptions of our work and transitions from early care to elementary education.

WECA’s vision is that all children through age eight are engaged in play-based learning, geared to their developmental needs and supported by strong relationships with teachers who reflect the diversity of the children in their care.  In our vision, there are multiple educational pathways for early childhood teachers to take, each of which could lead to a Bachelor’s degree or beyond if one chooses.  It is our mission to address the barriers they may face along their path.

Currently WECA operates a T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Program.  Over nearly 20 years of operation, we have learned that many scholarship recipients are inspired to pursue education even after achieving their original goals.  Many earning a Bachelor’s degrees did not start with that goal in mind.  Imagine the loss if we had taken that option away and had not encouraged them to reach their full potential.  Some of the barriers to education that the Apprenticeship Program described in the New America report – paid release time, personal supports/mentoring, and incremental wage hikes, for example – are also addressed by the scholarship program.  And just as there is an economic burden that T.E.A.C.H. shares with students and their sponsoring child care programs, the Apprenticeship Program carries the same or similar burdens.  Supporting mentors and engaging teachers in a reflective process are critical aspects of any learning opportunity and they do not come without a cost to programs, as the reader may have been led to believe.

T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® WISCONSIN points proudly to our successes in improving wages, reducing turnover, providing educational opportunities to typically under-represented groups, influencing colleges to be more responsive to our non-traditional workforce, and celebrating the graduation of individuals with both Associate and Bachelor’s degrees.  Of course, there is more work that we must do.  What we must not do is accept that today’s story cannot change and that resources don’t exist to ameliorate the problem.  We believe that there is not so much a scarcity of resources as a scarcity of political will to write a new story for young children, their families, and the early childhood educators who care for them.

Footnotes

1. IOM is now referred to as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

By Jeanne Labana, WECA Training Coordinator and Master Trainer

IMG_1716Gina Flynn’s classroom at St Robert’s school is alive with activity!   Groups of children have gathered plastic eggs, play dough, measuring tools and Unifix cubes.  One group is rolling the eggs, discussing the way they roll with respect to their shape.  Another group is creating patterns and counting.   Yet another group is stacking the eggs, trying to get height, unsuccessfully. The stacking group spies the play dough and tape and think they might be good binding agents.  They find they need too much play dough to stack very high.  Switching to tape is more difficult and needs more hands but the eggs are now higher. Soon the other groups have also started stacking, formulating plans for how to structure the stack for the best results.  Amid the thoughtful sharing of ideas, attempts and giggles the groups begin to compare the height and width of their projects with the measuring tools.  Meaningful learning is happening, thanks to STEAM.

The STEAM approach captures a child’s natural curiosity and fosters higher-level thinking through planning, reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, theorizing, etc. For young children this is a vital stage of development.  Research reveals that young children learn most successfully when they are the center of a learning experience that includes physical, linguistic, social-emotional, and knowledge-rich components. When children are active creators of their learning with adults as their guides or facilitators they become excited and engaged.

In teaching, Gina Flynn prioritizes STEAM. In the egg project alone, children are developing skills with counting, adding, subtracting, 3-D design, and physical manipulation of materials. They are also growing their capacities to problem-solve, imagine, listen, work together with others, and persist when faced with difficulty. They are growing their social-emotional skills.

This year, WECA’s Annual Conference features a learning track on STEAM. Save Friday, November 10 and Saturday November 11 – when Gina Flynn and other experts will be sharing theory and practice on STEAM. There will be hands-on examples of activities for you to use – whether you teach infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or kindergartners.   Come!  Let’s learn together! See you at the conference!

WECA Staff Spotlight: Alice Gomez-Palacio

WECA Staff Spotlight: Alice Gomez-Palacio

Alice Gomez-Palacio, has been working as a WECA Food Program Area Coordinator for almost 15 years.  Alice brings a unique commitment to supporting family child care providers. Apart from her weekly job responsibilities, Alice goes that extra mile to personally meet with Spanish-speaking providers to train them on the Food Program’s online claiming system.

Alice

Alice Gomez-Palacio (L) teaching the Food Program’s online claiming system.

“I felt there was a need for the one-on-one training,” Alice says. “I am a visual learner, and noticed that some providers were embarrassed to ask for help. The majority of the providers I serve are Hispanic, and due to the language barrier, there is a need for visual assistance for the on-line program,” she adds

We applaud Alice for her solid work and dedication to the providers she serves. She eliminates the fear providers feel about learning new technology. “Providers have told me that they’re scared to go on-line because they will make mistakes,” Alice shared. “But as soon as they have done the training, they are amazed how simple it was. They tell me ‘Gosh Alice, I should have done this a long time ago!’”

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Learn more about CACFP.Net and WECA’s Food Program

Alice also provides continuous assistance whenever needed. “I assure them that I will be there to assist them with any questions. Providers are pleased when they know they are saving money by claiming online,” she adds.

All of us at the Food Program are pleased to have Alice leading the way to excellent service.