Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category
The rainbow wheel of doom was circling at a slow speed on my computer screen. As I waited for an automated report to assemble itself into the format I had requested, I felt increasingly irritated:
“Why is this taking so long? This computer is so slow!”
And even after the rainbow wheel disappeared:
“How come this report doesn’t provide all the data I need in one place?!?”
Then, I glanced at the message on my new coffee mug:
“Breathe in. Breath Out.”
With a deep exhalation, I tried to remember when I was first introduced to the magic of the data report I was now so impatiently awaiting. I recalled my amazement that in an instant, I was provided with a long list of up-to-date facts about individual applicants that I could filter and sort in endless ways. I had been delighted that I had easy and timely access to thousands of records, and that I could display an overview of our application process with a few quick strokes of the keyboard. Breathtaking, impressive, and so efficient!
As I glanced again at my coffee mug, I reflected on the contrast between that initial sense of astonishment and my current sense of annoyance and frustration. I considered how remarkable it truly is that so many dimensions of empirical knowledge about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni can be entered in and drawn out from a single location in cyberspace. How had I lost that sense of appreciation? When did I stop marveling at the wonder of technological efficiency and start grumbling about how slow and inadequate these tools are in living up to my need for data?
I suppose the answer lies in our collective expectations about technological tools. Given the astounding advancements in computing capabilities that most of us in higher education administration have experienced over the past few decades, we assume that our computers will continue to gain speed and capacity as we create the need for ever-more elaborate data presentations. We expect quick and reliable answers to endless questions posed by those from inside as well as outside the College. And I think we have grown to rely on these tools as extensions of ourselves, of our own capabilities: any struggles with technology may be perceived as a weakness in administrative abilities.
In a final exhalation, I reminded myself that administrators only one generation before me had managed to oversee admissions processes and track student enrollment without the aid of any computers. Indeed, that is undoubtedly still the case in many places in the world. I chuckled as a memorable image from a recent trip to India came to mind.
While taking an unofficial walking tour of the University of Rajasthan, our guide, Acharya, led us through a central administrative building. In office after office, we saw enormous stacks of paper. There were stacks on shelves and stacks on desks; there were stacks inside cabinets; there were whole rooms that appeared to be devoted to storing stacks of paper. As a fairly recent college graduate, Acharya explained that if he requested his records, a clerk would have to manually search through stacks of papers like these. It might take months to get a single copy of a required document. His explanation revealed no sense of frustration or outrage, just calm acceptance.
So I put a copy of that photograph on my desk, next to my coffee mug. When the rainbow wheel next appears on my computer screen, I intend to recalibrate my response. I will imagine that someone is moving from one office to another, combing through innumerable stacks of paper, and assembling an astonishing array of data for my use. I will remember that others perform similar tasks with much less powerful tools. I will be grateful for the remarkable technology that allows me to complete complex tasks on a daily basis.
And I will graciously accept the gift of a multicolored reminder to simply breathe while I wait.
Six years ago I found myself packing one bag and moving from North Carolina to California to experience the life of the west. I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina. As I began to search for careers, I quickly realized that I needed more experience and education to pursue my passion of working with children, aged birth-3 years, and their families. I had always had an interest for the developing brain and its fascinating ability to rewire itself based on environmental input. In my undergraduate studies, I had had the opportunity to intern in a hospital with a developmental specialist in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,(NICU), follow-up clinic, helping the specialist conduct developmental assessments on premature infants post-NICU through age 3. I knew then, the hospital population, particularly the premature population, was my passion.
After years of searching and narrowing my focus of study for graduate school, I came into contact with Dr. Kathleen Vandenberg, the west coast Master Trainer of the NIDCAP (Neonatal Individualized Developmental Care Assessment Program http://www.nidcap.org/). During a 2-hour conversation with her, a light bulb went off and I knew I had tapped into something that would change the course of my life. I once again packed my bags, moved to San Francisco, and began a Master’s program in Early Childhood Special Education at Mills, while simultaneously interning at UCSF Medical Center with Dr. Vandenberg . However, in between my 1st year of grad school and 2nd, the 14 year old west coast NIDCAP program was cut due to lack of funding. But luckily, another door opened up for me, allowing me to intern at Oakland Children’s hospital with a NIDCAP trainer as well. There, I learned developmental interventions along with infant massage techniques to help foster a better developmental outcome for these fragile infants despite the unnatural environmental surroundings of a NICU.
Although my journey began with a narrow focus for the premature population, Mills’ graduate program quickly expanded my knowledge immensely, and gave me opportunities to work with all types of children and families including both those with special needs and those with typically developing children. Mills taught me to look at the child as a whole and meet the family where they are emotionally. Professionally, I am now seeing how the information I attained at Mills through the Children’s School, lectures, and field experiences have prepared me, and my classmates, to be leaders in our field. We learned to manage almost any situation, and to know quickly how to respond sensitively to the family’s needs in that moment. Mills taught us to see the big picture, the whole child, and how every factor –financial burdens, parental stress, behavior concerns, speech delays– of that child’s life is important to consider when working with the family. Mills taught us to see the whole picture and how to support the whole family through the journey.
I have learned more than I could have ever anticipated from this graduate program. The rich amount of hands-on, reflective practice that Mills provided is something that you cannot get anywhere else. I don’t think students realize the richness of the program until they begin their career. You may feel engulfed with so much work that you don’t realize the implication of that 25th reflection paper until you step into the work force. Then you realize that reflection of practice is the gateway to confidence and leadership in any profession.
Currently, I am a Developmental Specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in Oceanside, CA. I provide developmental assessments for children from birth to age 5. I also provide one-on-one consults with parents and children, providing educational play opportunities and information on how to stimulate language/development at home. I teach infant massage classes to families at the hospital and to mothers attending a substance abuse recovery center that are being reunited with their infants. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local Early Childhood Mental Health Conference in San Diego, CA about the “Fussy Baby,” where I presented NIDCAP’s philosophies on helping the infant self-regulate. In addition, I am currently mentoring undergraduate interns. Following your passion pays off in the end. I credit Mills for where I am today, and will forever be thankful for all the experiences it gave me. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth every lost hour of sleep.
I came to the San Francisco Bay Area to further my education and discovered my passion for working with children and families. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a BA in Child and Adolescent Development, I worked as a full-time Infant/Toddler teacher. I enjoyed my work but wanted to pursue something more and find another way to serve the families in my community. Through volunteering at UCSF’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, I discovered a field called Child Life. The child life philosophy emphasizes play as an integral aspect of decreasing the stress that comes with hospitalization. Child Life was perfect for me because of my degree in Early Childhood Education and interest in science and medicine. Studying Child life and Early Childhood Special Education at Mills College has been a rewarding experience for me. This past summer I was fortunate to intern in the child life program at Kaiser Permanente Oakland. This internship was intense, but an important part of my journey to become a child life specialist. I was constantly reminded me of why I love the child life philosophy.
During my last summer as a graduate student I balanced being a live-in-nanny while interning full time at Kaiser Oakland. On a daily basis I met children and teenagers who were admitted for anything from swallowing a foreign object to scheduled chemotherapy. I ended most of my days by picking up from school two of the children I cared for. I then took them home and sometimes cooking dinner for the family. Many times I told myself that balancing a lot is great practice for the real world. Though stressful, it felt good being busy and always on the move. That being said, throughout my internship I often strangely felt that I was not doing enough. I had many moments when I felt joy in knowing that I had made a child laugh or smile or was able to give them something that would at least briefly take their mind off of their pain or illness. However I also had moments when I did not want to be that other person that a child felt that they had to interact with while dealing with the trauma and stress of hospitalization.
All this time caring for others often caused me to lose track of caring for myself. I balanced the stress by marathon training and distance running with friends as a way to do something completely selfish yet physically and mentally beneficial. In order to keep running as a way to decrease my stress, I had to balance my time being active while still having time to read and write reflective journals for my internship. This was difficult. These journals allowed me to write down my thoughts, address biases I did not know I had, while absorbing and questioning the new knowledge I was gaining. Reflecting on paper and reflecting while running really caused me to face the choices I was making in life and reflect if I wanted to follow the path I was on. The reflection could be scary because I questioned my worth and wondered if I was making a difference in my community. I also questioned if the time I was putting in was making me selfish –I took out more money to pay for my education while my parents struggled financially. Of course, my parents are my #1 fans and completely support my academic pursuits, but as I struggled to provide for myself, I hated not being able to give them financial support. They are the reason I am here and the reason for the path I chose.
One day I hope to be in a position that would allow me to practice the child life profession in Africa. My roots are in Africa, as are many of my family members. With the high childhood mortality rates in parts of Africa, I see child life as a great profession needed. I know I still have a long way to go but I feel that having a goal or multiple goals are worth the time and energy. Just like marathon training, you get out what you put in.
Zubin is a student in Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools. For two different classes, Zubin was required to select a student (ELD student preferred, but not required) from the classroom where he student-teaches. Zubin wrote the piece below in response to case studies he did in those classes. He chose the topic because he had not seen anyone mention anything on it and wanted others to be aware of the differences between the terms.
Some definitions (from www.pps.k12.or.us/files/curriculum/ESL_Terminology.doc):
ELL/ EL- English Language Learners/ English Learners
ELD- English Language Development is a system of instruction focused on teaching ELLs to use English proficiently to communicate for various purposes in four language domains – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. ELD is also a class period that all students placed in the ESL Program are assigned. It has its own curriculum and state standards.
ELP- English Language Proficiency are levels of English language learners’ fluency based on their stage of language acquisition and characterized by specific student language behaviors in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The levels are determined by State ELPA Test. Level 1 is Beginner. Level 2 is Early-Intermediate. Level 3 is Intermediate. Level 4 is Early- Advanced. Level 5 is Advanced.
ELPA- English Language Proficiency Assessment is the annual state exam for assessing English learners’ growth in English proficiency
ESL- English as a Second Language
To many people, the phrases “ESL”, “EL”, “ELL”, and “ELD” are the same thing. However, to me, they are different. I am an ESL student, and “ESL” is the only one among the four definitions listed above that I’d love to be identified as. Being an ESL student implies that I can speak another language and may have language barrier. On the other hand, being an EL, ELL, or ELD basically means one has language barrier.
For my case studies on language, I found two students whose home languages are not English. However, they both refused to participate. I felt that they both were anxious about English being their second language. One student even lied. He told me that he was born in Berkeley, and he only speaks English at home. I mentioned this to my roommate, who is also an ESL student, and he said that when he was in school, he didn’t want people know that he was in the ELD program because he was worried people would look down on him. When I asked him if he wanted to be identified as an ESL student, he said that would be better for him because he would have the privilege of speaking two languages.
I understand that some other people don’t want to be identified with any of the four terms above. However, we, as educators, should affirm students’ identities and encourage them be proud.
One day while I was talking to my case study student, she reminded me that teachers often tell ELD students to write the definitions in their native languages. I followed this method myself when I was in school and wrote the Chinese translation of the words I didn’t know. I used to read each article at least three times. The first time reading the article, I basically just looked for the words I didn’t understand and wrote down the definition. The second time reading the article, I just tried to make sense of the article. If I found any definition didn’t make sense, I would go back to the dictionary and find an alternative. The third time reading the article, I was trying to understand it. My reading speed was slow. I spent much more time than other students to understand an article. After doing this for a year, I got tired of it and found that it wasn’t very helpful. English is such a complicated language because so many words have more than one meaning. Also, if a word is used in different context, the definition may be different. I then stopped writing the definition for every word that I didn’t know. Instead, I just tried to figure out the meaning through the context. If I still really had no idea what a word meant, then I look it up in the dictionary and choose the one that makes the most sense.
To many ESL students, especially in high school level, math and science are their favorite subjects. Maybe favorite is not very accurate, and I should use easier-to-catch-up-to instead. We come in with some understanding of those subjects. All we need is just to translate them into English and make sense of them.
Math class was very important to me in high school. I built my confidence in speaking and working with native speakers. Even though I didn’t understand much of the language, I did understand the examples or content. When I got home, I just focused on the vocabulary. Eventually, I was able to understand most of the things talked about in class. This approach may be limited to only a small number of individuals, but this definitely works in some cases including my own. I believe that vocabulary instruction is essential to effective math and science instruction. It not only includes teaching math or science specific terms such as “mean” or “percent,” but also includes understanding the difference between the mathematical or scientific definition of a word and other definitions of that word.
How ELL students feel about themselves is directly affected by the education policies put in place for English Language Learners. Education policy makers set strict English language standards and push for ESL students to acquire English language proficiency at a rapid pace. This urgent focus on language acquisition creates anxiety for ELL/ESL students. Are there any influences we, as educators, bring to ELLs? If teachers are not sensitive to or responsive toward ELLs’ cultural identities, ELL students can be pushed further toward the fringes of the classroom until they ultimately withdraw from the learning process. If teachers focus so much energy on mainstreaming ESL students, they will place little or no value on students’ ability to speak two languages. Acknowledging and affirming all students’ cultural identities in the classroom strengthens individuals’ sense of value, and their academic performance in the long run. Teachers who understand and support the cultural norms of diverse learners help create a nurturing environment for those students, and can then encourage those students to feel more comfortable in taking the risks that can lead to so much learning and development. By incorporating the wealth of students’ cultural backgrounds into the curriculum educators can advance the learning of all students, meeting the policy makers’ goals and fulfilling our obligations to all of our students. The question, then remains: how do we build a curriculum that integrates multicultural backgrounds on an ongoing basis, and not just as a one-time multicultural event or activity?
I arrived home one day after class in 2009 and sat in front of my computer to begin my schoolwork as I had done for months on end. In fact, being in the Education Leadership doctoral program at Mills, that was all I did for months—no, I take that back—years!! Like all the other days before this one, I first opened my email longingly, yet not expectantly, to see if there were any messages from anyone anymore. (The first thing I learned in my doctoral program was that I no longer had any more friends outside of school who emailed me—in fact I didn’t really have a life outside of school.) Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. That was my interaction with most of the email that I got those days. And that was my interaction with the email that I received from Teachers College Press. Open-peruse-delete.
What a joke. Yeah right—like Teachers College Press wants me to submit a manuscript. I knew better. I had just presented a workshop on resilience (the subject of my dissertation) at the ASCD annual conference and was so certain that what I received in my email was just a form letter sent to all presenters to see if they wanted to submit a proposal for a manuscript that would possibly be published by Teachers College Press. This is of course what all publishers do after a big conference—right? They mine the total landscape and send queries to all presenters in hopes that a good proposal may present itself. I was not going to get sucked in and spend my time responding. Besides, it also crossed my mind that someone might have even been playing a really bad joke on me—a joke that I was not going to fall for. Yeah right—send the student who is up to her eyeballs in writing a dissertation a query to see if she would be interested in writing a book. That email was now history and I never mentioned it to anyone. I just took care of it by bringing one little finger to one little key. Delete.
Fast forward two months…
Like all the other days before, I got done with school, sat in front of my computer and opened my email before knowing that I was in for a long night working on some chapter of my dissertation. Geesh…not another form email from Teachers College Press. There must have been another conference somewhere and they are mining the crowd—or once again, someone was playing a bad joke on me. Oh well, just open it, read it, and then delete it—I knew the drill. So I opened it, read it, and—oh my God!—went into convulsions! This isn’t verbatim, but the email started something like this:
Dear Dr. Truebridge,
I contacted you earlier to inquire whether you would be interested in submitting a book proposal to Teachers College Press. I understand your work focuses on resilience and we are interested in publishing a book on this subject. I never heard back from you so I am inquiring once again.
…and it was signed by the Executive Acquisitions Editor of Teachers College Press.
Yes, I was now in convulsions that lasted all night into the next day. You can ask Diane Ketelle and she will verify that I am telling you the truth, for I was hyperventilating the next day as I ran hysterically into her office. “Oh my God! Oh my God! I received this email—the first one I deleted—this email—this email—oh my God—it is from Teachers College Press—actually it is the second email I received from them—did I mention I deleted the first one?! Oh my God! Oh my God, and look…the salutation on the email says ‘Dr. Truebridge!’ He thinks I have my doctorate and I am still in the process of getting it—oh my God—how do I respond???”
Now I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this was not the first time I had run into Diane’s office in a manic hysterical state. Diane was often the one who, when she was not challenging me as a doctoral student, was able to smile her smile, hold my hand, and help me through some tough times. This time was no different. On this day, she held my hand, calmed my nerves, and helped me craft my response to the email that I received from Teachers College Press. That was in 2009. That was also the year when I signed my contract with Teachers College Press. I graduated the doctoral program in 2010. My book, published by Teachers College Press, Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School, will be out in December 2013. Needless to say, looking back to 2009—finishing a dissertation and beginning a book at the same time—was quite a humbling spin on the “doctoral dance floor.”
*Just a little side note…it has been three years since I have graduated the doctoral program, and I still am getting used to being called “Dr. Truebridge.” However, I am no longer thrown into convulsions and hysterics when I receive an email that begins with that salutation. Oh…and one more thing: I am a lot more careful these day about what emails I delete. That’s no joke.
For information about the book: http://store.tcpress.com/0807754838.shtml
Find it on Facebook: (Please visit and “like”):https://www.facebook.com/pages/Resilience-Begins-with-Beliefs-by-Sara-Truebridge/669217006423284?ref=stream
Being the “new kid on the block” can often feel overwhelming, stressful, and sometimes just plain scary. However, on my first day of work in the School of Education at Mills College, I felt peaceful, relaxed, and very happy to be here. The faculty, students, and staff all bring something unique to this place. They are inspired, passionate, dedicated, kind and helpful people. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work here with them all.
The Mills College campus is beautiful with lush, green grass, white buildings with red tile roofs, and towering oak and eucalyptus trees. It is a paradise to behold. This beauty radiates a peacefulness which is not found on larger campuses or universities. This peace fosters creativity and innovation as well as a genuine thirst for knowledge. As I look out from my open office window on a warm, sunny afternoon, I can hear children playing outside. Every day I say to myself, “I work in an amazing place.”
Of all the jobs that I have held throughout my career in early childhood education and administration, very few have been so positive and so enjoyable as working at the School of Education. Everyone here at Mills listens to each other, respects each other, and works together in an uncommon way that moves this school forward with a shared goal to make it even better, stronger, and “ahead of the curve.”
For people who have been at Mills for some time, it might be hard to see or remember how special this place is. For me, having just arrived, I am reminded daily of something I tell myself often: “Try not to take things for granted in your life, look at what you have with fresh eyes and be grateful for it.”
I wrote a post for this blog back in February, when I was planning to open a new school in Freedom, Maine. Shortly after writing the post, I held some informational sessions at local public libraries in the area. I wanted to see how many families might be interested in this type of school. It’s really outside of the box: three days a week, half of every school day spent outside, a truly multi-age setting of 5-10 year-colds all together, two full-time teachers, preparing and eating meals together made from local, organic foods… I just didn’t know if there would be enough interest to make a go of it.
At the first information session, one person showed up.
Three came to the second, and three came to the third. I paused to reconsider the idea. I thought deeply, talked to all my people, and decided in the end to go ahead with it. Even if I could get ten children, I figured, at least I would have a wonderful school environment for my own two daughters, and I would be able to provide what I feel is the best that education has to offer to another eight local children.
Well, The Mill School opened its doors on September 10th, fully enrolled with twenty local children, ages five to ten, and another eighteen on the waiting list. As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in exactly this kind of school. And so far, things are going as smoothly as can be expected at a brand new school. My colleague and I have changed the daily schedule about five times already. But the children are relaxed and happy, the parents are so supportive, and we have time to really get to know the children, as people, and as learners. Our first place-based curricular unit has begun, our food is delicious, and we are spending a lot of time outside, building strong bodies and connecting to the natural environment. The children are learning the daily routines. It feels to me as if this outside-of-the-box school is blossoming. As one student said to me yesterday, “It’s so weird. At my old school, the teacher was the enemy. But here, you’re just not. You two, like, seem to really care about us.” I smiled, and she paused before she added, “And the food here is so good too!”
I am always interested in hearing about other schools where things are being done differently; please let me know if you have a story to share. You can contact me, and learn more about The Mill School, at www.themillschool.org
How often have you heard someone deplore Twitter as the downfall of writing? It happened to me –again—just the other day, when a former teacher carefully explained that because of Twitter, no one stays on topic in a sustained way. I feel that this is a lot to put on Twitter. People used to blame Sesame Street for shortening children’s attention spans by creating too short intervals of drama. Maybe we move, think, and write more quickly now than we used to, but I’m not sure that Twitter and Sesame Street are wholly to blame. For example, there was a time in the olden days when we wrote in short little bursts, a time that was also known for elegant formal writing. How different, I wonder, is Twitter from a telegram?
Consider this example, from the 1960s:
MISS MARGARET BHAL= POCAHONTAS ARK=
CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE VERY PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT
IN WINNING THE SOUTHWESTERN PIANO AUDITION=
WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER GOVERNOR=
If you remove the address and signature, it’s tweetable. As is this gem:
May 5th 1945
International Moscow via Mackay Radio
To: Mr Joseph Bard
We congratulate you with setting up the banner of victory upon Berlin by the Red Army = Signed Family Phillip Berdichevsky
The first telegram, of congratulations, and the second one, reflecting world events, could easily be on Twitter today, though we would write them a little differently. (If you are interested in recasting your tweets as telegrams, here are best practices.) Both forms limit how you construct your message. One big big difference between them is that telegrams were for special occasions, whereas Twitter is an every day if not every hour sort of thing. Another difference is that a telegram goes to one person, who then has to spread the news. When you tweet, you share your thoughts or news with everyone you know.
Some people don’t like that because it seems self-promoting and -aggrandizing. But social media can be about more than the individual –the way the School of Education’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog are. You send us your individual news, accomplishments, or thoughts; we combine them with other people’s news and what we get is a picture of who we are as a community. Scroll through our feeds or check them regularly, and you will begin to see what values we hold and represent, and what goals we treasure.
I love this for two reasons. First, it puts concrete examples to fairly abstract concepts. I frequently stand on a soapbox in SOE meetings and declare that it’s fine to say that we are all about Leadership, Equity, and Collaboration, but the power of the words comes when we show how we practice these values. How do we see and define leadership? How do we collaborate and embody equity? Just as any musical group has its own sound, so we have a distinct take on these qualities. And we can share our interpretation not just by describing it, but showing it in action. Social media is the mirror that reflects that action.
I also love social media because it makes another hub of community for our school. One hub is, of course, the classroom, where you meet and learn with your colleagues. Another hub is the wide world, where you may work with other alums. But social media is broader. It is a place where current or prospective students can learn what our graduates do with their degrees. It is a place where graduates can see what their professors are working on now. It is a place where we can share a video our organization made or news of an upcoming event. From social media, we get a wonderful sense of the variety and depth of our work, both here at Mills, and in the world.
Twitter hasn’t kept me from being able to write, for example, a 700 word blog. Twitter has made it much easier for me to tap into the community I work with. It is a real and compelling reflection of who we are, and why we are unique.
In my last blog, I introduced the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. Now I want to take you inside one of these meetings…
Each time we gather, a presenter courageously opens up his or her professional practice for public discussion sharing a current dilemma she/he is facing in the workplace. We use the Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review (DR) of a Professional Dilemma of Practice, a structured inquiry protocol. The DR process uses thick description of “the particular”—e.g., individuals, relationships, communities, and contexts—as methods for strengthening equity (El Haj, 2003; Himley & Carini, 2000), a stark contrast with approaches that minimize human variation through top-down universalist interventions (Himley, 2000).
The DR process models how leadership can be strengthened through collaborative inquiry as new layers of understanding emerge when groups engage in sustained conversation around a shared topic. Early childhood professionals are able to put the world “out of play” for a moment with time to pause, reflect, reframe and return to their professional world to “act in it in wiser ways” (Himley, 2000, p. 200).
The dilemmas we have explored to date are wide-ranging. Two examples of guiding questions include:
- As a program manager at a family engagement non-profit agency, how can I leverage my position as a trainer/consultant to support the schools, teachers, and families I am working with to strengthen family engagement within the program?
- As a special education preK teacher in an urban school district, how do I remain true to my teaching practices when given inconsistent resources and support?
To provide a window into the types of discourse that emerge, I share brief moments of Natalia’s dilemma [2nd question above] about working in a public preK special education class in a low income urban school district. She explained the daily challenges presented by a lack of resources:
“For example, I don’t have a telephone in my room and I’m way across the field from everyone else and yet I have a child with a seizure disorder and so I have my cell phone with me in case I need to call 911. I’m supposed to have an aide but she went on break one day and never came back. I park in a parking lot that is gated and I need to leave at 3:30pm every day for safety reasons, which leaves me with no time to prep for my teaching. I’m all alone for most of the day as some days the transitions are so hard for the children to get to the playground that we don’t even leave the classroom. The bathrooms in my classroom are filthy, the window is broken and there are very few toys or materials for the children. The physical environment is INCREDIBLY challenging to navigate for children with developmental challenges. I was trained to see quality environments as the right of every child. It has been very hard to have that here.”
Natalia’s colleagues asked 30 minutes of clarifying questions to help everyone understand the dilemma in more depth inspiring her to reflect on her relationships, her purposes, and goals for teaching, and the agency she had to influence positive change. For example:
- How much freedom do you have to create your own curriculum?
- Could you be written up for licensing violations?
- What have been your successes? What are you proud of?
- How did you make the decision to teach at this school?
Next, the group offered Natalia 22 recommendations. She listened but was asked not to respond. This helps the presenter learn to quiet her/his habit of ‘reacting’ to feedback. It also recognizes that the recommendations could be helpful for other participants as the dilemmas are acting as collective texts that everyone can use for strengthening practice. A more experienced colleague working in the same district encouraged Nalalia to go over the IEP rights every time she met with families and encourage them to contact the district office. Others reminded her that relationships, not things, are at the heart of teachers’ work. She was also encouraged to be strategic with her ‘asks,’ to decide on two she really wanted, allowing her under-resourced district a way to meet her needs.
Natalia’s colleagues encouraged her to reframe the situation and see herself as the primary resource for her students, to focus her energy on building strategic relationships with others in her district and to focus on the successes and changes she could make. Natalia reported having new ways of considering and responding to her dilemma and a renewed sense of what she called “unity and support” to inspire her. Other participants reported that the process helped them to learn to listen to others, to value collegial relationships, and to understand the courage that leadership required.
Three years ago, I found myself completing a grant report where I became intrigued with one of the questions I was required to answer: “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?” After thinking for quite some time, I realized that I was unable to answer the question. As I drove home that night, I sat with the tension of the empty answer box on the report, and my knowledge of the importance of providing alumni with sustained opportunities to continue the learning and intellectual growth they started in graduate school.
After thoughtful conversations with Dean Kathy Schultz and with my colleagues, I collaborated with Professor Linda Kroll and Mills alumna Jennifer Kagiwada to launch the “Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project.” Now in its third year, we invite alumni four times each year to the Mills campus to enjoy the opportunity to engage in deep and engaged conversations about the rich and complex work of early childhood professionals over a pizza dinner. At each meeting, a presenter courageously opens up her/his professional practice by sharing a dilemma she/he currently confronts in the workplace.
The professionals who participate in the Inquiry meetings represent a very diverse group: family child care providers; infant/toddler/preschool, elementary, and special education teachers; preschool directors and site supervisors; family engagement coordinators; resource and referral specialists; subsidy administrators; philanthropists; experts in policy and advocacy; early interventionists; college instructors and researchers. Some have been in the field for decades, while others graduated from Mills only last year. Each inquiry varies according to the participants in attendance, the dilemma explored, and even the environment where it takes place. Yet common across all of the inquiries is the collaborative production of complexities that participants (especially the presenter) had not previously understood.
We have been very inspired by the rich conversations and the strengthened relationships that resulted from the first three years of the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. This past year, we decided to expand the Inquiry Events to include community partners beyond Mills ECE graduates. We are interested in sharing this model of inquiry with our valued colleagues in the larger field. We also had the wonderful opportunity of having one of our meetings filmed by West Ed for the California Department of Education. They plan to create a 5-7 minute video segment of the meeting included on a DVD linking the new California Early Childhood Educator Competencies (http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/ececomps.asp) with contextualized examples of how the competencies can look when authentically embedded in professional practice. The Mills Inquiry Event will exemplify how leadership can be developed in the early childhood field and linked to the leadership competencies used for professional development for teachers and administrators across the state. We were honored to be part of this important project.
Thinking back to that grant report three years ago, I can now reflect on what a tremendous gift it has been to work with such an engaging and thoughtful group of professional colleagues to collaborate on the development of this professional learning community. “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?”