Why Mentoring Matters

Why Mentoring Matters

We all probably have a story of a person who we might call a mentor. That is, a person who took the time to give helpful advice, served as the role model of the teacher we aspired to be, or encouraged us through a tough time until we came out stronger and more knowledgeable in the end. This is professional development with ‘staying power.’

Peggy Haack

“Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.” -Peggy Haack, WECA Outreach Coordinator, and mentor.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in creating more formalized mentoring relationships.  The key word here is “relationships.” The real learning happens when there is a trusting relationship between a learning teacher and a mentor.  Programs experience success and at the same time discover a new pathway of leadership for teachers when they match those willing to serve as mentors to those who are less experienced or skillful.  Other programs choose to work with mentors from outside of their programs.  For both models, an investment of time is required to build a relationship between a learning teacher and a skilled mentor.

I believe that there are three powerful parallels between our work with children and the success of mentoring as a way to grow teacher competence.

First is the concept of relationships. We know this to be the key to unlocking curiosity and an eagerness to learn in children.  It’s the same for adults.  If we trust that someone really cares about who we are, what we think and how we learn, then we aim to please!

Second is the concept of developmentally appropriate practice.  We know from our work with children that if we take the time to figure out just where the child is on the learning curve, we can craft a plan suited to him or her.  We figure out the next step and build upon small successes so the challenges don’t seem overwhelming. Mentoring embodies this “one-to-one” approach.

The third parallel is the concept of reflective practice.  Our work with children teaches us to question why and to seek answers. For example, “Why is this transition so difficult for the children and how can I change it?”  When it comes to professional development, often the learning teacher knows what she wants to change in her practice, but doesn’t know how or maybe even why.  Having a mentor to help sort through the questions and attune to the teacher’s goals may be exactly what it takes.  For the person who is also engaged in formal education, mentoring can be the bridge between taking what one learns in a classroom and through textbooks and actually putting that learning into practice – a process that requires a great deal of reflection.

Mentoring is about supporting teachers as learners through their everyday practice. Mentoring can intentionally implemented as part of a professional development plan.  Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

ffyf top priority graphic

For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. ““For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters’ top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education,” says Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. In the poll, 89% of voters agree that we need to ensure more children don’t miss out on early learning and socialization experiences during the first five years of life when the brain develops more dramatically. 63% strongly agree on this point.


ffyf invest now graphic

What does this mean for Wisconsin?
For WECA – a statewide organization focused on the child care workforce and programs that raise childcare quality – the findings inspire us to keep moving forward. In myriad ways WECA calls for greater investment in quality early care. Our outreach, education and advocacy on this issue is multi-faceted. In 2015 WECA published Starting Early, Starting Now, a research report that outlines potential ways forward in funding a child care delivery system in Wisconsin that is accessible and affordable to all families. Our interactive “Jack’s story” shows the return on investment Wisconsin taxpayers will see when young children get quality early care right from the start. And as the source detail notes – the financial projections are conservative. Throughout the year WECA staff meet with Wisconsin legislators and serve as policy advisors on key state and national committees focused on young children and the early childhood workforce that is so central to the outcomes we seek. WECA works with community partners and recently, sponsored a viewing and discussion of the Raising of America documentary that is traveling throughout the U.S.

As we move closer to the general election cycle we’ll be increasing our outreach and education on behalf of early childhood education investments in Wisconsin.

Your support is needed – as an advocate in our Forward for Kids initiative – and as a donor.  Contributions enable WECA to strengthen its statewide advocacy work that unites families, policymakers, child care providers and others in building a high quality and affordable system of early care and education for all children.

Everyday Leadership

WECA is Wisconsin’s largest association of childcare providers. In a recent member newsletter, Executive Director Ruth Schmidt shared her reflections on leadership.  To honor the everyday leadership Wisconsin childcare providers exemplify each day, we share Ruth’s valued thoughts.

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

My father, Stephen, was an everyday leader.  He passed away three years ago.  I knew him as a dad, a loving husband to my mother, and a college professor.  And for me, that was more than enough.  He loved me and my siblings like a river that had overrun its banks, a mountain whose peak was always in the clouds going on forever.  He challenged me to be strong enough to know that trust and vulnerability are the truest windows through which to view the goodness of my fellow human beings.  He expected me to follow my passions because that is the sort of life we are called to give to this world.

Over 700 people came to the visitation after Dad died.  I knew he was loved and respected but until that evening in September 2012 I had no idea the impact of his life.  People who he taught in the 1950s as 1st graders came to speak of the lasting imprint he made in their lives, of how his influence shaped who they became.  People who sang in the church choir he directed in the 1960s came to speak of the ongoing joy of music he left in their lives.  Students who studied under him and were advised by him at one of the three colleges he taught at over four decades came and spoke of the better people they had become as a result of being challenged by him to be their best, to always consider the “other,” to question the accepted and live with integrity.  Professors came and spoke of his relentless dedication to his field of study, but more importantly, to the art of teaching.  There were mentions of his prolific writing that offered new insights, of his lecturing and public speaking that left you sure he was addressing just you in a room full of people, of the lifelong relationships he fostered and nurtured through letters, and phone calls and emails.  People came from across the country to pay their final respects because they recognized that their lives were better from having known him.

An everyday leader.  A teacher.  A call to live fully, live passionately.  A demand to question, to consider the “other,” to be open to what is new and hold in reverence much of what is old.  An everyday leader.  A teacher.

I have watched what you do.  I have seen you with children; each child sure you are there for her alone.   I have heard you sing your songs, and move your feet and clap your hands understanding why your voice and your movements and patterns are shaping the next generation. I have seen you make remarkable toys for your classrooms out of items many would have thrown away.  I have looked at you deep in concentration gleaning everything you can from a conference workshop and challenging each other to learn more, create more, teach more, play more, and give more.   I have listened to directors share the struggle you face supporting your staff, meeting your payroll, buying your program’s food and materials, filling out your forms, writing your handbooks, filing your taxes and so much more with few resources.  I have listened to teachers tell of working two jobs because you don’t earn enough in the field of child care but don’t want to leave.  I have listened to family child care providers who have taken out second mortgages in order to keep your program running.  I used to ask myself, “why?”  I don’t anymore.  You are everyday leaders, in the most exceptional ways.  You lead from your hands to your hearts. You lead in a quest for constant improvement.  You lead by modeling, reading, rocking, holding and guiding.

From my father and each of you I have learned lessons to help me become a better leader in the work I do at WECA.  Never have I been more aware of the fact that leadership is a lifelong quest than when I reflect on what I have learned in my 13 years at WECA.  And never have I been more certain of the fact that we lead best when we honor the leaders around us.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the tips of my fingers, for your beautiful everyday leadership.

Return on Investment- Wisconsin-style

Return on Investment- Wisconsin-style

Many studies connect high-quality child care to positive impacts for children as they get older.  And many studies by economists, such as Dr. James Heckman, attach real dollars to the savings that are obtained. Articles, blog postings and opinion pieces appear on this topic with high frequency. The message that it makes good economic sense to invest in early childhood education has hit the mainstream, which is a good thing.

WECA wanted to tell the return on investment story that is unique to Wisconsin.  With funding from the Alliance for Early Success, WECA worked with the Committee for Economic Development to do just that.

Follow the story of Jack – a child who has access to 5-star child care in Wisconsin. See the benefits that accrue, and the dollars saved when certain things don’t happen (being held back a grade in school, being placed in special education, dropping out of high school, being incarcerated, relying on public assistance). See the economic impact when other things do happen (high school and college graduation).  The benefits and numbers grow exponentially as the scenarios expand to show the financial impact on Wisconsin if all our low-income children attended 5-star childcare programs.

WECA looks forward to sharing this powerful new advocacy tool and we ask you to share it widely and often. It’s yet another way to work together to create new practices and policies that enable all children to start off strong.

Learning to be a Leader: Reflections from a Preschool Teacher

Learning to be a Leader: Reflections from a Preschool Teacher

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!

Robin Reisdorf

“Change must originate from within the early childhood education field, instead of being thrust upon us.” -Robin Reisdorf

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.

Grants support improvements in credit transfer between 2-and 4-year colleges

Grants support improvements in credit transfer between 2-and 4-year colleges

Across Wisconsin, projects are underway that will streamline how early childhood education credits transfer between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities. The transfer agreements – also known as “articulation” agreements will be strengthened between the schools in the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and private colleges and universities.

Image: John Walker via Flicker.com Early childhood education students will complete courses more easily, bringing new skills to Wisconsin’s youngest children

Image: John Walker via Flicker.com
Early childhood education students will complete courses more easily, bringing new skills to Wisconsin’s youngest children

“The more we work together to solve problems, the faster they will get solved and the better the outcomes.  Articulation is a means to get the conversation going,” says Eloise Anderson, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. The Department is the primary funder of the grants.

Other fiscal partners include the University of Wisconsin’s Waisman Center, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  In total, 10 projects were granted funding to resolve key barriers to credit transfer.

In a collaboration between Lakeland College and MATC-Milwaukee for example, the number of credits that transfer to Lakeland will be maximized and graduate interns at Lakeland will work directly with MATC transfer students to help them prepare for teacher certification exams that include Praxis I, Praxis II and Foundations of Reading.

“It’s exciting to see the collaboration between staff at the 2-year and 4-year schools and the new solutions that are emerging, “says Autumn Gehri, Director of Wisconsin’s T.E.A.C.H. program. “Moreover, each project will incorporate strategies that can be replicated elsewhere in the state,” she adds.

“Ongoing education is essential for the child care workforce to meet the needs of young children at a time when their brain development is at its most critical and fragile stage,” says Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association.  “The projects bring diverse educational institutions together to lower the barriers for students pursuing early childhood courses and degrees,” she says.

For over a decade, the T.E.A.C.H. program has supported the child care workforce and raised teaching quality through subsidizing the costs of tuition, books and time away from work for child care providers who want to improve their skills through college coursework, credentials and degrees. For more information see www.wisconsinearlychildhood.org/programs/teach/

Worthy Work? What is the premium for educational attainment in the early childhood field?

A new National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine publication suggests that it’s time for practices and policies regarding the early care and education of young children to catch up with the science of early brain development.  The Academy’s call is urgent and the publication seeks to transform the workforce. It includes a recommendation that all lead teachers working with children from birth through age eight have a Bachelor’s degree.  (Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8:  A Unifying Foundation)

If you’re thinking that would be quite a stretch, you’re right… but perhaps not by as much as you think.  According to a 2013 brief entitled “Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education,” more than half (53%) of child care center classroom teachers and caregivers had some level of college experience, with one-quarter (26%) having a four-year degree, a significant increase over the previous survey (2009-2010). I make less than...

The problem.  There is a major disconnect between educational attainment and compensation of the early childhood education workforce.  Unlike most professions, how much one earns in the early childhood field depends very little on one’s education.  Instead, variations in earnings depend on the age of the children and the auspice under which one works: the older the child, the more you make; and if you’re part of the public education system you make more than in Head Start, where you make more than in a child care center. It is an irrational wage structure that leaves many dedicated professionals and millions of children short-changed.

The original National Child Care Staffing Study (1989) was the first to document the link between education of caregivers and quality of care.  This study also found that wages were a key predictor of quality because low wages fueled high turnover. Yet current public policy aimed at improving quality still fails to link advances in education with improved compensation for the early childhood workforce.

Despite an explosion of knowledge about the importance of the early years, the average wage of a childcare center-based teacher ($10.60 per hour nationally), is less than those who care for our animals or as noted by Wisconsin childcare teacher, Andrea Tallacksen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, less than those handling our bags at the airport – a job with no educational requirements!  (According to Delta Airlines, baggage handlers earn on average $13/hour.  Payscale.com reports the average pay of baggage handlers at $12.08/hour).

What now? Transforming this workforce begins by re-opening the conversation of compensation parity with educators of older children, revisiting public policies that fiscally undervalue the work of early childhood education, and recruiting new partners in the struggle for economic justice.