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Taking action to mobilize change for early childhood educators

Taking action to mobilize change for early childhood educators

November 1, 2016 | By Ron Spreeuwenberg

This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #16 "Taking action to mobilize change for early childhood educators”.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.

In this week’s episode we discuss how early childhood educators must take an active role in turning theory to action on positive change for the profession. We speak with Chanequa Cameron, a Master’s degree student at Ryerson University in Ontario and an active Member of the Board of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario, about the stakeholders that must work together in order to close the widening early childhood professionalization gap where expectations of early childhood educators are increasing while wages and working conditions are stagnant.

To learn more about how you can take a more active role as a leader and spokesperson for educators in your community or even at the state or provincial level, stay tuned for this week's episode of the preschool podcast.

Chanequa, Welcome to the preschool podcast is so great to have you as a guest. Just to start out I'd love to learn about how you got passionate about early childhood education and how you started down this road fall.

Chanequa CAMERON: Thank you Ron and thank you for having me. And I also would like to say happy child care worker an early childhood educator Appreciation Day to the workforce today. And so I think the most pivotal moment for me was when I was about to complete my Bachelor of child development at Seneca a college around 2012.

And I had a mentor Dr. Dian Kashin, who was a professor at the time and she really encouraged me to reach out to the sector and to a large group of people who were doing advocacy to you know really create change in the sector and speak to the needs that ECEs are being faced with this. That means that I'm talking about you know poor wages and an absence of benefits for a large portion of the workforce.

SPREEUWENBERG: Once you had spoken to Diane about these issues what did that prompt you to do from that point?

CAMERON: Well I knew that there were associations and that there were active federations that were you know had been working endlessly and time to for especially specifically the association of early childhood educators of Ontario who had been working for over 65 years advocating for the need of early childhood educators and child care workers. And so I was aware but I didn't know how to connect as a new practitioner and as someone who had less experience. And so Dianne was pivotal because she did teach me and my diploma but I did not know in between that time frame so in about a three year time frame it was very hard to navigate as a new practitioner and finding out how could I be more active and more proactive. And so Diane encouraged me to be involved with our professional association. And so I reached out and then on my first step was becoming a board member of the association.

SPREEUWENBERG: Got it. From what you've observed in your work with Diane Kashan as a mentor. Do you feel like there's a lot of mentorship happening in early childhood education. Did you see other colleagues who had mentors. Because I actually don't hear that too often. I have to say.

CAMERON: I think that it depends because you really have to make a connection. The connection has to be there. And I really respect that Diane. I respected the things that she shared with us and in class. She was very real very honest and she shared with us our reality that you know if you are planning to be dedicated to the sector and to be a professional in the sector you need to know about what's going on. That's part of a professional obligation to be aware to be aware of policy. And so I took that as an additional duty on myself not only to learn what was happening in the classroom and the course content but also do my research what's happening with policy what's happening in government what are people stakeholder saying and how is this shaping the workforce. What will it look like when I enter it, what’s it going to be like. And so I face that reality and it was wonderful for Diane to kind of say to me you know you have opportunities to also work towards change for ECEs.

SPREEUWENBERG: Cool. And so how have you taken some of what Diane Kashin has taught you about having an impact and applied it in some of the work you've done since then?

CAMERON: Well I say most recently in my research and so towards the ending of my diploma and when I was finishing my diploma in early childhood I had to register and become a registered member of the College of ECEs. And so that was something new something new that was happening in Canada and new to the province. And so in my research that I completed and my master's that I recently that Ryerson this fall. I looked at the College of ECEss and I did a course analysis on a sample of their communication. So I really wanted to look at what are they saying to ECEss and how are they constructing a particular professional identity and way of being.

SPREEUWENBERG: And so what did your research find. What were they saying.

CAMERON: Overall, from my research, mind you I had a short time frame, I worked on this research through from the spring until towards the ending of the summer. And so what I found were five key messages. And so I highlight a couple of them and they were all positive. And so the college is saying that ECEs, and these messages were reoccurring, I'm just been highlight where I'm going messages. I think that's important to state. So I looked at their fair practice report I looked at a sample of their annual reports and professional communication which included practice, matters, article, as well as conversations with ECEs in a professional manner.

And so one key message is that ECEs are accountable for their actions. And so this is not something that specific to ECEs as a profession this is something that we would see a lot of other regulatory bodies such as for medical professionals saying the same thing and that ECEs should engage in professional learning and that we are diverse people we're diverse culture diverse in language and so all of these things are being positive messages. But what I didn't see and what I'm hoping to look at now more recently in the research that I'm going to be approaching my new program is what is identity of these ECEs that they're saying are accountable to these things and who are they highlighting as these amazing ECEs.

SPREEUWENBERG: And what do you mean by identity?

CAMERON: I mean professional identity professional image. So there's a particular image I think that the College is very purposeful and who they highlight and in what they choose to highlight.

And so and when I say what I mean the content that they choose to highlight. So if there's a particular thing happening in the sector and that might be highlighted in a professional communication. So when changes happen in the sector such as ECEs now being mandated to engage in professional learning. You'll see in their communications they'll have a lot of information about why ECEs should engage in professional learning and why they require to do so. So I didn't mean these things were being negative, or positive. But when I say in identity and image I want to know I want to look more deeply and probably had a larger sample of communication and I want to pretty much probably do a content analysis and look at who was this person that they're projecting is this ideal ECE.

SPREEUWENBERG: Interesting. And do you have any theories on your side about you know what you hope they would project or is or are you really just taking an objective view to say this is what they are currently projecting?

CAMERON: At this plan going to take an objective view. But what I can say is that actually a lot of a lot more advocacy happening for the male presence or professionals who do identify as male and who are in the sector. And so I would say probably this happened because there's been less focus on the voice of male ECEs in this sector. And I do think there's a lot of value in having their voice available and that therefore they're being highly advocated for and contributing member of all of these stakeholder groups that are happening. So most of the time you'll see that it's predominantly female. And so that's probably why there's more advocacy around the male voice being included because I haven't been included much.

SPREEUWENBERG: It's kind of an interesting point because in a lot of other industries or sectors it's the opposite right. They are traditionally have been male dominated. And so we're looking to have more diversity in terms of having more females participating in management and executive roles and companies. But for ECEs it's kind of the opposite. And at the end of the day my view is that diversity is always going to be beneficial. And so you are planning to pursue that further research.

CAMERON: I am planning to pursue that research further. And so currently I am in the stages of doing a literature review and to look at what are people saying about you know how regulatory bodies construct their professional communications. So how do they market them and what decision making goes into putting together these documents.

SPREEUWENBERG: Awesome. And as part of your role on the board of directors at AECEO in Ontario How do you see organizations like the AECEO playing a role in early childhood education. Where do they stand and what value do they to the sector?

CAMERON: - I would say that the AECEO adds huge value to the sector because we're the only professional regulatory body for ECEs working in Ontario. And so that's not unique across provinces or other territories, there are other provinces and territories that are working to advocate for early childhood workers and child care workers across Canada. But what I think is crucial in Ontario is that we have advocacy on both sides. And so what you're seeing is more transparency so have a regulatory body that essentially speaks to the needs of the public and stand up for the rights of children and protects the rights of children.

And then we have the AECEO which speaks to the professional needs of the workforce which are child care workers and ECEs. The AECEO has recently updated its mission and purpose and the mission is to build and support a strong collective voice for early child educators so that we can participate and improve the positive change that benefits ECEs. And so this part of the change includes you know having fair wages decent work comprehensive work strategy and access to benefits not just for a small few but for the majority and all of the sector.

SPREEUWENBERG: Got it. And you said on the other side there's a body that's representing the needs of the public and the children and just for our audience who would not be.

CAMERON: And that is the College of ECEs it is sometimes called the CECEs.

SPREEUWENBERG: Got it. Relative to your understanding of other jurisdictions like which you say that Ontario is relatively progressive with the regulatory bodies.

CAMERON: No I would say that we're highly progressive considering that there are maybe three repertory bodies in the world. So this is very unique to have a profession that is regulated in this way.

SPREEUWENBERG: OK. Interesting. OK. Now you are also passionate about advocacy yourself. And one of the things that you're passionate about related to the mission of AECEO is raising the professional profile of early childhood educators.

Can you tell us a little bit more about why you're passionate about that and why you think that's important.

CAMERON: I think that the professional profile of ECEs is important because it allows us to have trust about the community and the public to trust who we are who we say we are. So as ECEs are regulated, we are mandated to be trained or mandated to engage in ongoing learning. And so having a strong professional identity in the community with the people that we work with, with the families that we work with, means that we feel value.

In a way, we get value from you know the pay but I think on a greater level on a bigger level a lot of people will get into the work and the care work because the contribution that it gives to their life is so monumental, so rewarding.

SPREEUWENBERG: And what role do you think ECEs themselves play in raising the professional profile of early childhood educators.

CAMERON: I think we play a huge role in all decisions that we make. And in a sense we kind of don't turn off, when out in our own lives we're still professionally accountable so we're held to a certain degree when we're not working. You know where are accountable to be a representative of the profession at all times. So I would say that we do this and we demonstrate this in all of our actions by you know reaching out and collaborating with our colleagues by spending time with our colleagues outside of work. And I would say a lot of my peers and I we spend much of our time talking about work when we're outside of work because we enjoy it so much. And so there are so many things that ECEs are doing on a daily basis, working with each other collaborating with other professionals. That continues to raise the professional profile.

But I would like to see more trust within and more people recognize the value and the worth of us. And I think that more education needs to be done about the actual training that you go through because it's very very rigorous and it covers a wide range of topics. And of course that's specific to the institution. But ECEs are well-equipped to meet the needs of children and I wish people knew more about the details of that totally.

SPREEUWENBERG: Now let's say an organization like AECEO that represents early childhood educators do they provide educators with any of these actionable things that they can go out and do to raise the profile of early childhood educators?

CAMERON: They do. So I would direct people who may not be asking anyone with information or who are looking to reach out to the AECEO or gain more information about what exactly we do as an association to go to that website which is www.AECEO.ca http://www.aeceo.ca/ and so there are many things that you can do to be active and involved. And so number one as a student we have a student portal and the student portal has tons of links to resources and students can engage together and from different institutions using the portal.

Also from the main page we have links that directs you towards membership. So the best way to be active is to be a member of course but we also have resources that are accessible if you're not a member when you do go on the website. One key thing is that we consistently have different campaigns. And so the most recent campaign that we have is the fair wages campaign and so that is connected to the recent report that the AECEO released this month and the report is entitled I'm More Than Just an ECE, Decent Work from the Perspective of the Ontario Early Childhood Workforce. And so that was a collaboration between the AECEO, the Ontario Coalition for better child care and the Atkinson Center which is at the University of Toronto. And so together these three associations collaborated to create 8 community immobilization forms which took place across the province and within these forms the AECEO gathered tons of feedback along with coalition representatives that went.

And I think I want to highlight something from the report because it's so pivotal and I think it speaks to why I became an advocate and why I wanted to you know be a champion for my peers and be that voice that sometimes is shy and early childhood educated workforce and bears the brunt of so many challenges. And so in the report I'm going to highlight it very quickly it says participants supported inconsistent working conditions across the sector with many educators and staff reporting that basic human necessities are regularly unmet. For example participants noted that washroom breaks are sometimes impossible for staff because of racial requirements.

Furthermore paid lunch breaks and dedicated staff rooms were reported to be inconsistent across settings and breaks often missed or used as planning time. And so this is something that I face this is something that many ECEs face across Ontario on a regular basis. And what this demonstrates and highlights is that you know we're amazing professionals who are trained very well but we're dealing with some very unfair working conditions that need to be addressed. And I would say immediately.

SPREEUWENBERG: So this all makes complete sense to me what AECEO is doing. And the point of this report. How do you think or hope that this report will result in actionable change?

CAMERON: Well what we've gathered the feedback as a professional association we've gathered a feedback right from the key players and those are the main principal stakeholders and those are the people working what some people would call the front line, daily, registered early childhood educators. So we gather the feedback and this has been going on for years. We have a regulatory body that says there's over 50,000 people registered now who are professionals they're accountable we can vouch for them and we can say they're trained and that they're well equipped to work with vulnerable children every day.

And we need to move beyond words to action. And so what the AECEO is continuing to do along with other associations like the Canadian childcare Federation the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care they're all calling on the government and being a very loud and vocal predominant voice and saying and speaking to the needs of parents families and children and the workforce.

SPREEUWENBERG: So you really want to get this report in front of those people in the government that can implement the change is fair to say?

CAMERON: That's right. Yeah.

SPREEUWENBERG: OK. Got it. Got it. And you think that this report in particular will be quite impactful because the content in the report comes directly from people quote unquote on the front lines through this community mobilization form that people have completed.

CAMERON: And it is also important to state that this is very timely this report part of the executive summary because it speaks to the government's recent division. So the Ontario government's promise of having a hundred thousand new childcare spaces in Ontario is an amazing commitment. But you know from the position of the workforce there's an estimated about 20,000 thousand early childhood educators that are going to need to be working in the shelter spaces. And so what we're saying is we know that this is going to increase the amount of jobs that are available to the workforce and that's amazing to have more opportunities. However we need to address why we have high staff turnover in a sector and that's mainly because of low pay.

SPREEUWENBERG: So low pay is something that has coming up a lot here including it directly in the mission of AECEO that's obviously a key part of increasing the profile of early educators and recognising the complexity of their work. First of all why do you think the wages are lower than what is in my mind as well they should be. And second to that have you seen any progress there, or do you foresee either being positive change in that respect going forward?

CAMERON: Okay so that's kind of a three part question and I’ll address why. I think that might speak to the historical timeline of our profession. And so we didn't always start out as a recognized profession that was regulated. And so starting out on that journey we had to get to a certain place where we could call ourselves a profession before we could offer professional wages. And I think that the AECEO was a key stakeholder. And you know the voicing that that concern that hey we need to be recognized first , when we’re recognize first then we'll be able to demand for what we're truly worthy of. As far as the current status, I would say that there has always been a partial portion of the sector that had allow for higher salary and higher and higher our hourly wages. And but that hasn't been open to a majority. It's always been a smaller portion of the sector and so more recently that would be to ECEs for being able to work in public schools full day kindergarten and so they have access to a far better salary.

But if you look at the needs of someone who might be working on a supply basis for example that salary is not really an adequate salary to support you know a healthy lifestyle. And so what we're looking for is more stability in the positions that are also available. And the first changes I would like to see more comprehensive plan being produced. And so I know that many stakeholders have always discussed having you know a wage scale for Ontario that going to highlight you know where should we start at. And so within the executive summary that I also just referred to a lot of ECEs. And so this is a snapshot of a sample of ECEs and their position is that we should generally be around the $20 an hour range. We're going by now an hourly range.

And so I think that there needs to be more feedback on what a decent wage actually means for the profession and what you know access to benefit me because of too many far too many people in the profession who are working right now and before an optical position for example and they may or may not have access to benefit they may or may not have been making enough money to be contributing to their pension. And so you know on the larger scale we also need to be thinking about the profession and the care that these professional workers 30 years from now 20 years from now.

SPREEUWENBERG: And so it sounds like what you're saying is that there is also a need to have more detailed documentation on what fair wages means and what is adequate benefits with a lot more detail about what that is and how we can actually implement the change to get there.

CAMERON: That's right. And a key example would be taken from other professions such as the teaching profession where there's much more job security much more strength in there and their numbers and their representation from both their professional side as well as their regulatory side.

SPREEUWENBERG: Interesting. One of the things that I also just wanted to touch on quickly was something you mentioned earlier which is that ECEs oftentimes don't feel like they have a strong voice or don't project that strong voice. What would you see to your colleagues out there to help them get the confidence to go out and say hey you know we deserve fair wages and we are a profession with a high aptitude in what we do. We're knowledgeable we're educated and we should be recognized for that.

CAMERON: - I think a lot of time people respect people we have a lot of academic jargon who can quote stats and who you know a lot of facts and can say this is the reality because I can prove it. And what research says but I learned something very monumental from a dear colleague of mine. Her name is Emily Wright. And I also recently met someone who shared their story for me who demonstrated the power of narratives and sharing your own story. And so what I would say to my colleagues into the workforce across the provinces there is power in your story and sometimes you don't need to include research and data to articulate you know what the reality is. Sometimes you just need to go with what the truth is and use your own meaning making your own experience and share that because there's so much power in it.

And recently I was moved by a story and you know the story the context and the story was related to food for play and whether or not it is an appropriate thing to do. And the ECE that share her story started off her story by stating you know her experience and an experience of a child she knew who ate food in the garbage and had to navigate from the garbage. And so I think as easily as we shouldn't be shy to share our reality to share the fact that we are dedicated to his profession but sometimes we can't afford to put our children in this profession. That was the reality that I faced. And I think that there's power in sharing your own realities and we should all start with that. And if we can start with that we can move forward together.


CAMERON: In some way it may occur naturally but it often needs extra help. The second thing is that the child's sense of abandonment if they were using let's say the child was two and they came to Canada and they were using and they were singing and they were laughing and their association with grandparents and their home language or whatever. They come to the new country and not only do they have to go through the weather changes and the loss of toys and loss of people but now they have to go through a loss of language. So their ability to make their needs known, if before they could say you know mom it's not fair, or whatever, or I’m hungry or something. They are now at a point where they're having to regress in English because they have to they will go backwards like a toddler and go to get what they need. Because they don't know how to express it in English.

SPREEUWENBERG: That's a really great message. Thanks for sharing the idea of the power behind real stories is definitely real. So that's great advice.

Just wrapping things up. You mentioned the Web site of AECEO. We are pretty passionate about also making sure that knowledge is available to early child educators out there. Do you have any other suggestions about places where people can go to get information about what's happening in early childhood education?

CAMERON: Absolutely. So on the AECEO website, first of all there are links to numerous other websites organizations and Federation. You might also want to highlight the Ontario Coalition for better child care which is that www.childcareontario.org, the College of ECE , will also have numerous other links and so I think from the professional side it's important for ECEs to commit to navigating their Web site. And I if I kind of advocate for that because I spent countless hours looking through their content well throughout the night of the summer and so I was encouraged by my colleagues and my peers to navigate their Web site. Look at you know what are they really saying and what connections and what resources are available on their website.

SPREEUWENBERG: OK. Awesome. And what's exciting you most about what's happening in early taught in education are you know the passion that I see.

CAMERON: - I feel like the passion is mounting among the sector and I and I feel and I don't mean individual passion I mean with the climate within and so on this was probably sparked more recently at a conference that we had a few years ago in Winnipeg, that was the childcare 2020 conference where people across Canada are mobilized on a national conference. And so it was very unique. We had many many stakeholders who you know drove the message home. We need change. And so I felt I felt so powerful coming away from that and I felt like it was a refueling process. And so every so often there is conferences and things that take place I would encourage a lot of people to reach out and go. There's tons of things that you can access for free through Eventbrite for example and it really refueled me. And you know the more we get together we re-fuel each other and then we can work proactively work for change because we're not going back to our life and forgetting about our reality. It becomes a collective reality.

SPREEUWENBERG: And I think you need that refueling every now and again. Sometimes you can get stuck in you know the day to day and you forget that there's this whole community of early childhood educators that are going through you know the same challenges as you are and sort of come together as a whole to have those conversations I think is super powerful.

Chanequa, you speak very passionately and very wisely about early childhood education in Canada. It was really great speaking with you. I think you are a great example of leadership in early childhood education that the sector can really benefit from. So thank you so much for coming on the show today.

CAMERON: Thank you very much Ron. Thanks for having me.

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