Talk Less, Smile More….Civil Discourse

 

This summer my daughter was asked to memorize a song from the musical Hamilton as part of an audition for camp. We downloaded the sound track and she proceeded to memorize the music from the entire first act. As I proceeded to listened to her sing it over and over, there was one line that stuck out to me, “talk less, smile more”. Honestly, when you listen to the song, the intended meaning of the completed line is a bit different then what I want to write about here… but those four words got me thinking.

Why did this phrase get me thinking? Because so often when we are having conversations with other people we are so focused on what we are saying, our perspective, and what our response is going to be, we never really listen for understanding. And if we are not listening for understanding, we are not truly communicating. True communication is about more than speaking, it is about talking less, listening more, and is accentuated by our body language.

Recently I spent some time with a person who loves to play the “devils advocate” and often challenges what other people are saying. Sometimes this is a great way to get a thoughtful conversation going, but in this circumstance it doesn’t, because the person is always preparing their next response and not listening to what other people are saying. She is more in her head with her thoughts, rather then listening and fully engaging in the conversation. Conversations with this person usually dead-end and leave the other participants frustrated.

According to yourdictionary.com and Wikipedia “civil (courteous) discourse (conversation) is engagement in discourse intended to enhance understanding”. There is nothing I like better then civil discourse, the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who hopefully has a different understanding or perspective then I have. It gives me a chance to consider and test my stance, and if I am lucky… it allows me to add something to my knowledge base… but it only works if my participation in the conversation includes listening for understanding. When someone else is speaking, I can not be half listening and half considering my rebuttal. I must be fully engaging in what the other person is saying. And then when I don’t understand the other person’s perspective or the information being presented, it is my job as a communicator to pause and to reciprocate with questions to dig deeper and gain understanding. Even if in the end we agree to disagree, my goal is to walk away from the conversation having a deeper awareness of the other participant’s perspective.

Another important aspect of civil discourse is maintaining a level of respect for the other communicator… even if your perspectives are at odds with one another.  How we listen, the tone of our voice, and the words we choose to respond with are important aspects to maintaining respect, but just as important is how we respond with our bodies. Are we leaning in, smiling, showing interest by looking at the speaker or are we crossing our arms, rolling our eyes (something my family has told me I do on occasion) and looking away? Are we telling the other communicator we are open to understanding their perspective or are we closed off and unwilling to really participate in civil discourse?

We are living in a time of divisiveness. More and more often friends, neighbors and family members are finding themselves at odds with each other over their perspectives of how the world should work and rather than participating in civil discourse we shut each other out. It can be a real downer. However, on a recent Sunday evening (September 24, 2017), shortly after I had started to write this blog post, my family was watching 60 Minutes. One of the segments called Divided was a conversation facilitated by none other then Oprah Winfrey, the newly hired 60 Minutes part time commentator. The conversation examined the polarization of the United States and included 14 panelists from the state of Michigan with widely varying perspectives. I can not say there was much shift in perspectives, but it was an example of civil discourse on national television and I loved it.

Engaging in civil discourse, by respectfully listening for understanding and responding with openness is not always easy. It takes awareness and discipline. It is something that requires ongoing practice over a lifetime. But I truly believe if each of us talks less and smiles more while participating in civil discourse, great things can happen.

 

 

 

 

Growing Minds Together

 

GrowthvFixedimage

To my amazement, this week marks the end of my daughter’s tenure as a 4th grader. It has been a fantastic year and I have witnessed so much growth in her cognitive ability and confidence. It is such a joy to see that with the support of her family and teachers along with hard work and determination she is developing into a remarkable young woman.

Rewind 9 months to the beginning of the 4th grade school year, like so many other families across the country, we were invited to come to our daughter’s classroom to meet her teachers and hear about the academic year ahead. During the evening’s presentation the teachers shared their vision and commitment to creating a culture of growth mindset in the classroom based on the Carol Dweck’s research and book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. They wanted to create an environment where the students believed they could grow their brains or develop their intelligence by embracing the challenge, putting forth effort, seeking input from others, and trying new strategies. Furthermore they wanted to help the students realize mistakes are part of learning. They wanted the children to recognize when they were challenged by new concepts they can grow their understanding by asking for feedback and looking at different strategies (Dweck, 2015).

That evening at the end of the presentation as a way to model a growth mindset for our children, each family member was asked by the teachers to write on an index card one skill or practice in our lives we would like to develop further, something that could be developed through effort, new strategies, and skill building.   I immediately wrote down public speaking.  It is not that I am a bad public speaker, but it is a skill I use often, I feel challenged by at times, and I want to improve.  What intrigued me about focusing on public speaking from a growth mindset was the possibility of becoming better through intentionality.   Not just hoping I would become better with practice, but by being genuinely open to learning.

Over the course of the school year I have had quite a few opportunities to engage in public speaking through my leadership development and facilitation work, which has allowed me to work on my practice. What was particularly helpful is that in several instances I used the same outline and content more than once.  This provided me with opportunities to make adjustments based on feedback from others and personal observation, but only when I moved away from wallowing in my personally perceived shortcomings and embraced the feedback as a way to get better.

Last weekend I attended the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. During the Institute I had another opportunity to speak in front of a group and facilitate a panel discussion.   Most of my life I have leaned toward a fixed mindset, often being my own worst critic and in the habit of identifying my incompetence rather then looking for opportunities for growth, even when the feedback has been very positive. Saturday, following the panel discussion, I began to fall into this learned trap once again, but I stopped myself and I began to tease apart the opportunities for growth instead. Specifically, I took some time to identify how I felt physically and mentally when things were going well compared to when I was feeling challenged. Stopping to refocus allowed me to be curious and eager to learn from this experience.   What was most amazing to me was over the course of the rest of the Institute, in more then one session, I was open and able to hear presenters discuss ideas and strategies that I plan to use to continue to grow my confidence and ability to speak in public.

Now I am back home and as with most transitions in my life I am feeling a bit sad about the end of 4th grade because I so appreciate the teachers and what the experience has given to my daughter and quite frankly me too.  At the same time I am more excited to watch and experience the next stages and steps of the journey knowing each of us will continue to grow because we know we can.

References

Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset.’. Education Week, Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

Celebrating the Bridge Between Home and School

 

building-bridges-aspire-siraj-gregory-penn

On Friday, May 6, 2016 as I prepared to close my computer and meet my daughter at the bus, I sent an email to her teachers, recognizing the tremendous work they do to facilitate her learning.   I did not just randomly send the email, I wrote it because Friday May 6, 2016 was the conclusion of this year’s National Teacher Appreciation week and I wanted to make sure these two amazing teachers headed into their weekend knowing how much our family appreciated what they do everyday.

Two days later on May 8, 2016, families all over the United States, including mine, celebrated Mother’s Day, which according to Wikipedia is a “modern celebration honoring one’s own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society”.  In June there will be a similar celebration honoring Fathers and in September another celebration honoring Grandparents.

Each of these celebrations separately recognizes the role and influence of an important adult in the life of a child. They honor and celebrate the individual contributions of adults in the home and at school, the environments known to be the most influential in a child’s life. Supportive adult-child relationships in both these settings deserve celebration as they can set a course for the future success of a child.   However, research tells us that the potential for success is elevated when the celebrated adults at home and in school build relationships that bridge the two environments. Relationships between home and school have been “linked to greater academic motivation, grade promotion, and socio-emotional skills across all young children, including those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds” (Halgunseth, Peterson, Stark, & Moodie, 2009).

Families and teachers each hold unique knowledge about a child. They each hold pieces of information and perspective that contribute to the “whole child”. They have insight into a child’s strengths and challenges based on observation in their unique environment. They hold unique hopes and dreams for a child based on various influences and experiences including family culture and school curriculum. Respectful relationships and 2-way communication between the important adults in the home and at school allow for sharing of the unique knowledge each holds. It creates a place to identify and discuss similar as well as opposing ideas, to build shared understanding, and to set common goals that everyone can support.

Building strong trusting relationships between home and school is not easy. It takes commitment, time, and dedication. As a place to start, schools needs to create a culture that is welcoming and respectful, where each family is seen and treated as a partner and ally in a child’s learning process.   Teachers need to work together with families to identify paths of clear 2-way communication that best fits their distinctive relationship. And strategies need to be developed so consistent opportunities for families and teachers to share information, perspectives and decision-making are regularly available.

To me it seems more than serendipitous that a week of teacher appreciation is directly followed by a celebration of Mothers (or any important adult in our homes).   It seems that someone (perhaps a Hallmark executive) in their infinite wisdom recognized the shared responsibility these adults have for the future success of our children. I know from now on I will consider this week of celebration a symbol of what is possible when the important adults at home and at school build a bridge to support and elevate the potential of the children they love and teach…. How about you?

Resources

Halgunseth, L., Peterson, A., Stark, D., & Moodie, S. (2009). Family engagement,

diverse families, and early childhood education programs: An integrated review of the literature. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/research/FamEngage.pdf

 

Change in Three Equal Parts

Successful change can be seen as an equation of three parts. It takes intellect, behavior, and emotion, not necessarily in that order, but always the sum of the three in equal parts.  The equation begins when one part leads the way. For instance when a person falls in love, emotions charge out as the leader often over riding the other pieces. It is when clear thinking and behavior catch–up a person is able to participate in the new relationship in a way that is sustainable and successful. Consider another example, the ability to successfully change a personal habit like smoking. A person may want to quit because they possess information about the benefits of not smoking, but it is when the information is coupled with motivation and a plan for a new behavior that eventually permits successful sustainable change to occur.

The same is true in the places and systems where we work and volunteer. Data and information (intellect) can lead a process of change, but without a clear and adaptable plan on how to get there (behavior) and a let’s give it a try attitude of the people involved (emotion) then success will be difficult.

How many of us have been given a top down instruction to change the way we are doing something because the data says it will be more productive, but have not been given a plan or the resources to do it? Or on the other hand we have been given instructions to do something in a new way without the data to support why? In both of these situations people react with emotional negativity loaded with the fear, frustration, and mistrust that notoriously stifle successful change.

When systems change is approached from an understanding of the three parts equation, then it stands a much better chance of being successful and sustainable.   When information is available and a clear plan is developed then emotional resistance comes around much easier. When information and positive attitudes come together then a plan or new process can be developed.

Life is a series of ongoing personal and professional changes. The next time you are faced with change rather then dragging your feet and trying to stop it, use the three parts equation of intellect, behavior, and emotion. Be curious and gather information for understanding, develop an adaptive behavior plan, and face forward with openness and positivity. Remember it does not matter which piece leads the way, but to be sustainable the other two must follow.

 

Mas Conoceimiento – Menos Discriminacion

 

The cornerstone of our experience, based on practice, theory, and research, is the image of the child as rich, strong, and powerful.  The emphasis is placed on seeing the children as unique subjects with rights rather than simply needs.  They have potential, plasticity, the desire to grow, curiosity, the ability to be amazed, and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate.  

                                                                                                                                              ~ Carlina Rinaldi

More Knowledge – Less Discrimination

luz groupo

Last month, I had the honor of spending 7 days in Honduras as a service team member at Montana de Luz (http://www.montanadeluz.org), a non-profit organization that provides a loving home, education, and a hopeful future, for children with HIV/AIDS. The priority of Montana de Luz (MdL) is to help the children who reside there heal, thrive, and grow. The staff functions as a family, providing loving relationships and opportunities for each child to develop to their full potential.

In Honduras, as well as many other countries around the world, HIV/AIDS has a terrible stigma and those who are inflicted with the infection are often marginalized due to lack of knowledge and misunderstanding.   As a way to defend themselves against this stigma, the teenage children residing at MdL have created a group known as Luz: Para Las Personas Con HIV who have designed an interactive presentation on the Myths and Truths of HIV/AIDS. As part of our MdL service team experience, we had the opportunity to attend the presentation that included PowerPoint slides, a pre and post quiz, humor, and detailed facts, completely presented by the children. For me it was one of the highlights of the week. I was amazed how poised the children were as they shared insightful information in a way that was on par with any of the professional presenters I have experienced in my life. I saw beyond each of the children’s strength and potential to become contributing citizen of Honduras, I witnessed their abilities as current and future leaders of Honduras.

Although one of the uses of the presentation is to educate service teams while on the grounds of MdL, its greater purpose is its use beyond the gates, in churches, schools and community centers, to dispel assumptions, educate with facts, and advocate for all people who are infected with HIV/AIDS.  Each time these children who are 13-17 years old, leave the safety of their home to take their presentation to others, they exhibit their ability to face forward and to be strong leaders. They exhibit bravery, facing their own fears, as they head out into a society who stigmatizes them. They exhibit their readiness to take risks as they face audiences who have assumptions about who and what they are. And they exhibit confidence as they work together to share the facts of HIV/AIDS and advocate for their rights and the rights others.

The following YouTube clip has been created by MdL and the Luz group. It shares a small portion of the information in the hour-long live presentation and stars many of wonderful children who call Montana de Luz their home.  I hope you find it as inspiring and hopeful as I do.

 

Early Childhood Care and Eduction: A Field of Leaders

The following is an article that I wrote and was published last fall  in the California AEYC journal Connections. 

A Field of Leaders

When we think of a leader, most of us think of the President, the Quarterback of our favorite NFL team, the CEO of a major company. But when you look closely at the definition of a leader – a person who directs or guides others, you see that any person who works in the field of early childhood care and education (ECCE) is in fact a leader because they guide children everyday. It does not matter if you are a lead teacher, a home care provider, a classroom assistant or the staff person preparing the meals, the work you do with children is leadership and as a field we need to begin to recognize and take the role seriously. Further, ECCE must go beyond simply being a field of leaders to becoming a field of effective leaders so our status can be advanced in the public eye. Here are some steps to get us started.

Effective leaders are intentional in what they do. In ECCE this means you are intentional in the work you do for and on behalf of children and families.   You establish routines based on current research and best practice so the children you serve can develop to their full potential. You recognize how your work is supporting the individual development of each child in your care and how it will affect their future. You maintain a high level of professionalism at all times.

Effective leaders share what they know. In ECCE this means not just being effective with the children, but communicating with others about what you do. You talk with families each day about your approach and their child’s progress so you can work together to support their child’s development. You collaborate with ECCE colleagues to support each person’s professional growth. You showcase the field of ECCE in your community to advance public awareness. You share your expertise with your elected officials so they support policies and practices that positively affect young children and families.

Effective leaders take risks. In ECCE this means you get out of your comfort zone and take a step forward to becoming a more effective leader. Although you are scared, you commit to taking a class or entering a certification program to increase your professional knowledge.   Although you are shy, you commit to talking to each child’s family everyday.   Although you are busy, you invite colleagues to meet regularly to network and share ideas. Although it means more work, you contact a local business and ask them if they would host a Week of the Young Child exhibit. Although you have never done it before, you send your congressperson an email asking them to support a piece of important legislation.

As a field of leaders, the ECCE workforce must be intentional in our commitment to advancing our field, taking one small risk at a time until we have the status we deserve, wages that are worthy and all children and families have access to affordable, high quality, early childhood programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experiencing and Reflecting on Leadership Abilities

In March of this year, I wrote a blog post titled The 4 Characteristics of a Leader http://www.ecconsultingwy.com/?p=43 . In the post I identified and described four important leadership abilities I hold close, based on my professional experience and research. They are the ability to build positive relationships, the ability to develop and communicate a vision, the ability to be collaborative, and the ability to be adaptable. Recently, while I participated in a grass roots volunteer effort at my daughter’s school, I had the opportunity to personally feel how a participant’s experience is affected by the abilities and effectiveness of the leaders.

Wanting to contribute to and support the PTO of my daughter’s school, I answered an email call for volunteer help for the “43rd annual Halloween Carnival, the largest fundraiser of the year”. Although I never received a follow-up email or any details, I arrived on the indicated day ready to give 3 hours to the effort. As I entered, I observed the PTO leadership focused and hard at work. Recognizing there were not many other volunteers present, I quickly asked what tasks they had for me to do. Surprisingly, the leadership group was not able to immediately come up with a definitive answer. Luckily I had been a volunteer during the previous year’s event, so I was able to find myself a job and got going.

Shortly after I got started, the mother of a kindergartener arrived to help. We were acquainted because her child had been in my preschool class. As we talked, I could tell she was excited to be participating in the effort on behalf of her son and I recognized her potential to become a long term committed PTO volunteer and as an emerging leader. While we were talking she expressed uncertainty as to what she should be doing. She had also asked for an assignment from the PTO leadership and had not been given anything specific to do. I helped her find a job and on we went, a bit confused, but doing what we could. As I continued to set up and later during the event, I could not help but reflect on this situation and recognize that several of the key components of effect leadership were missing.

With respect, I want point out the PTO leadership was working tirelessly to make the annual Halloween Carnival a success. They were dedicated to getting the job done no matter what it took on their part. Even as they were focused on this year’s carnival, they were working on a project to make next year’s setup more streamline. THEY HAD A VISION… The problem was they were not prepared to communicate their vision and delegate responsibility so others could successfully contribute. In the end they did most of the work themselves while the rest of us walked away feeling confused, underutilized, and a bit disrespected. The long-term effect of this type of leadership is a burned out, resentful leadership group and volunteers who are not compelled to come back.

Whether in the workplace or in a volunteer position, people show up, physically and mentally, because they want to contribute to something in a meaningful way. An effective leader respects this desire to contribute and reciprocates with a plan. To do this well, the leader takes the time to build relationships and get to know those with whom they will be working, enabling them to utilize the energy and talents of their team members in the best possible way. In turn, everyone responds by working hard and feeling good about their contribution. The long-term effect of this type of leadership is all participants, including the leaders leave the experience feeling energized and open to next steps and new possibilities.

In the book Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence the authors explain when leaders share their vision to “help people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but also why, it maximizes buy-in for the organizations overall long term goals” (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002).   Based on my recent PTO experience I have pinpointed a few simple steps that any organization can take to help move them toward maximum buy-in from their team.   Leaders must start by recognizing a participant’s willingness to contribute by responding to messages and being prepared when they arrive to participate. Leaders must continue by sharing their overall vision along with a collective list of tasks and responsibilities, asking participants to provide input on how they feel their strengths can be utilized. This sharing of information transforms the leaders vision into a collective vision with each participant understanding how and why they can be involved in a meaningful way.  Finally, each task should have a clear goal with a beginning and an end so everyone can feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as they contribute to reaching the collective vision.

When leaders take the time to use their ability to connect and build relationships with their team members, their ability to develop and communicate their vision, and their ability to work collectively and collaboratively, everyone feels valued, creating a foundation for continued and expanded involvement.

 

Resources

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the

power of emotional intelligence. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School

Press.

Tidbits of Wisdom

We do not progress from error to truth, but from truth to truth.   Thus we must see that none can be blamed for what they are doing, because they are, at this time, doing the best they can. We learn only from experience.

Swami Vivekananda

During my nearly 30-year career, I have been fortunate to have had wonderful mentors who supported and challenged me as I developed as a leader.   Often when reflecting on how I approached a situation, I recognize a tidbit of wisdom shared by one of these mentors that contributed to my ability to maneuver through the situation successfully.

Recently I found myself thinking about one mentor, my former supervisor from St. John’s Medical Center, Sandy Cameron. She was a member of the human resources department and acted as a liaison between the employees of the medical center and the administration. Sandy had a beautiful way of handling difficult situations with respect and fairness. She always focused on what was not working in the process rather then the individuals involved. She had high expectations of professional conduct and if an individual was open to coaching she believed everyone could be successful.

The following are three tidbits of wisdom Sandy shared with me that I hold close and would like to share here. They were presented to me in the context of the workplace, but I have used them in all aspects of my life, especially the first one.

Assume positive intent

 “Assuming positive intent in the workplace means consciously choosing to assume that our co-workers are operating to the best of their ability, and are acting with the best interest of the company and their colleagues in mind (http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2011/05/03/the-rewards-of-assuming-positive-intent/#sthash.IVHZh3Ex.dpuf).

In my experience both in the workplace and beyond, when it really comes down to it, most of the time individuals are not consciously making decisions using a hidden agenda to sabotage an individual, a project or an organization. More often they simply have a misunderstanding or different interpretation of what they should be doing or they may not have the skills and abilities to do what they have been asked.   Another possibility is they may see another, sometimes better, way to get to the same outcome. By assuming positive intent in any of these situations, we open ourselves up to be respectful as we ask for clarification and work together to reach common ground.   In the end, when we assume positive intent we are able to focus on the process and positive outcomes without negativity or disrespect.

Your human resources are your most important resources treat them with respect.

 A good leader understands an organization is made up of people and for an organization “to grow and adapt, the leadership must recognize the value and contribution of people” (http://www.derekstockley.com.au/newsletters-05/018-human-capital.html). While an organization’s bottom-line, efficiency, goals and outcomes are important, they can only be met when leaders create an environment that reflects respect, reciprocation and responsiveness to the people. To do this, leaders must be courteous in even the most difficult situations, maintain open lines of two-way communication, and provide the training, resources and support necessary for individuals to get their job done effectively. In an environment where the people are respected and supported they have the confidence and desire to respect and support the organization right back.

 Don’t make it personal.

An organization’s people bring with them a variety of personalities, life experiences, and perspectives. A good leader has the ability to build respectful relationships valuing the individual, while also being able to communicate clear expectations. In some cases the expectations will be the policies and performance standards of a business, in others it might be the amount of time and attention someone can give to a volunteer committee or even a book group. In any case, creating a respectful environment focused on agreed upon expectations removes much of the opportunity for individuals to make things personal.   In other words it is not about who the person is, but rather their ability to meet the established expectations.  And if an individual is challenged to meet expectations it creates an opportunity for shared goal setting and supported growth allowing them to develop through experience.

 

 

The Rocking Chair: A Leadership Reboot

Last week, I summited the 13,770 foot Grand Teton. I had attempted the climb over 12 years ago, but was turned back because of weather. The climb remained a personal goal of mine over the years. Thanks to a push from my cousin, Kate Carlin Giller last February, we decided we were going to attempt the “Grand” together at the end of the 2015 summer. I once again set my focus on the goal of reaching the top of the “Grand” and this time I successfully met the physical and mental challenges it took to complete the climb.

The morning following my 14-hour climb, descent and celebration dinner, I pulled myself out of bed because my friend Luis Hernandez, an early childhood specialist from the Western Kentucky University, was facilitating at the Children’s Learning Center staff retreat and I did not want to miss him. I was delighted I did because we had a fantastic morning focused on early childhood leadership… my favorite topic.

When I returned home that afternoon, I began to feel the “blues” caused by the emotional letdown from my huge accomplishment the day before. I had spent so much time preparing for my climb. I had set my vision more then 12 years prior, taken steps to reach the summit, both literally and figuratively, and now the accomplishment was behind me. I had been leaning into the process for a long time and now there was nothing to push against.

A couple of days later, when my body felt good enough to take a walk again, I began to reflect on my feelings of letdown and my thoughts brought me back to Luis, leadership, and a book he co-authored with Holly Elissa Bruno, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, and Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan called Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders, specifically the chapter titled The Great Impostor: Unmasking the Burden of Self-Doubt in Our Professional Lives. It occurred to me during my emotional letdown I had begun to question my accomplishment… had I really been good enough or was it a fluke? Did I have it in me to gear up to take such a risk and meet similar challenges again? And more importantly, do I need to set a new vision and start working on it immediately?

Last winter I attended a dinner where we had an intentional conversation about the idea of leaning in, a concept made popular by Sheryl Sandberg in her book of the same name. As part of our discussion some of us decided it is physically and mentally impossible to lean in all the time. Life is more like a rocking chair, you lean in rocking forward with persistence and determination for periods of time and at others you rock back and reboot.

As I detailed in my March 17, 2015 Blog post, 4 Characteristics of a Leader, I believe great leaders must have the ability to set and lean into a vision. Based on my successful Grand Teton climb and later reflection, I also know that if you are lucky enough to reach your vision, or even a significant milestone along the way, it is time to rock back, reflect, and breath. Give yourself a chance to celebrate who you are, why you made it, and remind yourself what is important to you. It can be a time to live and work focused on daily goals and challenges rather then long term visions. By taking time to rock back you give yourself the ability to reflect on your past accomplishments while creating fresh dreams and ideas, before you know it a new vision will spring forth to inspire you to lean in again.

Grand Summit

Colby the Exum climbing guide, Kate and Betsy (Me) on the Grand Teton Summit

Bruno, H. E., Gonzalez-Mena, J. Hernandez, L. A., & Sullivan, D. R. (2013). Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead (First edition.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

 

Steps to Finding the Right Early Childhood Program

Finding the right early childhood program for young children is one of the most important and stressful decisions families face. Looking for a quality early childhood program while recognizing the reality of a family budget can be a balancing act. Research shows young children develop to their full potential when they have positive experiences in safe environments supported by adults they trust both in and out of their homes. These markers of quality exist in many early childhood programs, but the programs can be expensive, often costing more then a year at a state university. By going into the search process prepared with questions and knowing what to look for, families can find a great early childhood program that meets everyone’s needs.

It is important to begin to search for an early childhood program well before it is needed, especially for infants, as many of the best options will have waiting lists. As a first step, families must consider what type of child care environment would best fit their needs, a nanny, a family child care home or an early childhood center. Each option has benefits and challenges that should be taken into consideration. The next step is to identify providers and programs to be interviewed and visited. A list of licensed family child care homes and early childhood centers can be obtained by contacting the local childcare resource and referral agency for the area which can be identified using the ChildCare Aware website http://www.childcareaware.org/parents-and-guardians/resources . Finally, schedule visits to each program to observe and interview the director or owner. This visit can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour, but it is important it is long enough to ask the right questions and get a feel for the environment.

To help families with this process, the following is a list of recommended questions that go beyond hours of operation and cost to help with the decision making process. They can be adjusted to use in nanny candidate interviews.

1 – Is the program licensed or accredited? If not why and how are you regulated?

When family child care homes and early childhood centers hold a current State Child Care License they have met basic health and safety standards including, background checks, health and fire inspections, current CPR and First-aide certification, basic ongoing professional development, and annual monitoring by local government agencies. There are also required teacher to child ratios and regulations such as supervision of children by sight and sound at all times including while they sleep.

Typically nannies are not licensed or regulated so it is up to the individual family to require basic health and safety qualifications such as background checks and CPR.

2 – How long has the program been in operation and do they have a policy manual for you to review?

Strong candidates have been in business for a while and have solid, up-to-date credentials, clear rules and regulations, and firm policies on operating hours, pickup and drop-off times, safety, hygiene, nutrition, naptime practices, toileting and when children are too sick to attend. References should be available upon request.

3 – What type of credentials does the staff have?

All staff including directors and owners should have had a thorough background check. All staff working directly with children should be educated in an area specific to early childhood development and education and hold a minimum of a CDA. They should have current CPR and First-aide at all times and be expected to participate in ongoing professional development. Staff should be able to talk about the activities they prepare and do with the children and how these activities support positive development.

4 – What methods does this program use to guide children’s positive behavior?

Strong candidates should have clear behavior management policies and procedures that are not punitive, but are respectful, focusing on positive behavior and encouraging children to learn how to express themselves appropriately.

5 – How big are your group sizes?

Strong candidates should maintain small group sizes. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends child care center’s have one caregiver for every three to four babies, and no more than eight babies in a group; one caregiver for every four to six children between the ages of 2 and 3; and a staff-to-child ratio of 1:8 to 1:10 for 4- and 5-year-olds.

6 – How will my child spend her day?

Strong candidates have a set routine with a well-thought-out daily schedule including a variety of activities. The topics and equipment should rotate regularly so children have a chance to learn new skills and don’t get bored. There should be regular outdoor times for fresh air and large movements. Television and other forms of screen time should play little or no part in the day’s routine.

7 – How do you engage with families?

Strong candidates encourage visits from families, maintaining regular two-way communication in many forms (phone calls, newsletters, conferences, daily check-ins), and understand the importance of working as a team to support a child’s positive development. You should always feel welcome and respected.

As important as the answers to these questions are, the feel of the program when touring and observing is just as important. Do the children and staff seem happy and engaged? Are the babies being held? Are the adults talking with the children? Is the equipment clean and well maintained? Are the bathrooms and sleeping areas pleasant? Does it feel safe?
Keeping in mind a child care provider will never do everything exactly as the family does it at home and it is always hard dropping off on the first day, it is imperative to pay attention to intuition. Families should only choose a child care program in which they feel at ease knowing their child will be in that setting without them. When families take the time to do a thorough investigation ahead of time and pay attention throughout their relationship with the program, their child should be off to a great start.