Episode 166 – Early education has been getting more public attention as parents become more informed about the importance of quality early education for their children’s development. In this episode, we chat with Laura Fallsgraff, Co-Producer and Campaign Director of No Small Matter, about the impact of their documentary about the urgency and possibility of making quality early education a reality. She shares tips on how local advocates for child care can use the resource and involving communities in the conversation.
States where other kind of progressive policies have been difficult to push ahead have really stood up and stood behind early [childhood] education. And I think that the more we’re doing the better for children in this very moment in time, the better off our society is going to be.
Laura, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you so much for having me on!
We are delighted today to have on the show Laura Fallsgraff. She is the co-producer and campaign director for the film No Small Matter. And in fact we had some of the other folks involved in the production of this video last year on the Preschool Podcast. And so we’re excited to learn more from Laura about how it’s developed over the last year or so as the campaign director. And so as a starting point, Laura, maybe we can revisit for those listeners who perhaps didn’t hear our original podcast about No Small Matter just what the film is all about and why it was created.
Yeah, so, the film came together as a co-production between two documentary production companies in Chicago who had done kind of some marketing videos for big early [childhood] education foundations and nonprofits like the Ounce of Prevention Fund and had really gotten interested in the issue as a result. And the directors of the film each independently went to the same foundation to say, “Hey, what do you think about creating a feature film about early learning? Because we think that that could have a huge impact. The story hasn’t really been told at the national level and in a big, energizing kind of way.”
And the fact that the funder was, like, “Well, you guys should talk to each other and make the film together.” And so we did. And that started I think back in 2014. And the film really covers a whole host of issues affecting children and families and teachers working with children [from ages] zero to five, from children’s health and toxic stress, the new ways that we understand how children brains develop including the firing of neurons and being able to actually see inside of children’s brains – we get to actually look at an MEG [magnetoencephalography] machine in the film – to issues like the opportunity gap and children’s poverty and the impact that that can have on children’s learning long term.
So, the film is really meant to galvanize audiences around early learning writ large and to raise awareness amongst the American public about how this is a really critical issue that we need to address as a society.
And so obviously this is something that you’re passionate about, since you got involved in the project. But also I understand [that] it also personally resonated with you even more while making the film because you became a parent yourself. Tell us a little bit about how that affected you personally with the creation and distribution of this film.
Yes, that’s right. I, frankly, coming into the project hadn’t spent a lot of time with little kids. I didn’t babysit much as a kid. And so this was all very new to me. And I learned a ton during the research phase of the film, which was meant to both inform the storytelling – figuring out what kind of characters should we reach out to, what kinds of experts should we reach out to for interviews to make the case for early learning – as well as on the impact campaign side, where I’m focused, figuring out what partner organizations can help us connect with audiences who need to see the film.
And so, yeah, I was really starting from zero and really I couldn’t be more invested in early education, professionally. And when I actually had my first child in 2018 I think that just having a baseline understanding of, “What does it mean to be an accredited program,” as I was going out and looking for preschools and childcare providers for her. Things like just better understanding what “serve and return” looks like.
Even with an infant I was thinking about, “How can I talk to her? How can I listen to her?” Stuff that I think unless you’re going out looking for it a lot of parents don’t have the chance to learn before they’re kind of thrown into the deep time with their first kid. So working on the phone was a huge personal and professional experience for me for sure.
Cool. And can anybody just go online and access the film? Or how does that work?
Where we’re at now is, the film had its kind of pre-premier in June of 2018. I was on maternity leave at the time. We screened at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAECY – I’m sure some of your listeners are familiar – at their professional learning institute. And it was private; it was really just meant to get a little buzz going around the film.
And the response was incredible. We received tons of inquiries from people about how they could screen the film and it was just off to the races. We also received requests from folks during the 2018 election cycle in the fall wanting to use the film for advocacy around Election Day.
And so we said, “The film is done. We haven’t formally premiered yet but we want to make it available for folks.” So we’ve been doing community screenings around the country. We’ve screened for at least 550 different communities – I want to say it’s probably a lot more than that, even since we last did our count in July – and it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
And folks can go to our website – www.NoSmallMatter.com – to learn more about how you can host your own community screening. But it’s not yet available on a streaming video on demand, that kind of like digital viewing experience. We just had our formal premiere this summer. So we’re starting to show in theaters and we’ll expect a broadcast of the film in 2020 as well.
Cool. And if you’re in Toronto, [Ontario] Canada is there any way you could also request a community screening? Or is this only in the US?
Yeah, absolutely! I know we have screened in Canada before. And I know we have inquiries from a couple of different provinces up there. So please visit our website and we’d be happy to set you up to bring the film to your neighborhood.
All right, cool. That was a selfish request so you might see another. So, tell us about these screening. So, who’s requesting these screenings? And why do people want to watch this film?
So, we’ve received requests from a pretty wide variety of organizations, foundations [and] providers. We have national partnerships with a number of big organizations including NAECY, Child Care Aware, Zero to Three – these are all U.S.-based folks. But we also partner with Save the Children, which operates internationally; the United Way Worldwide. So those folks have all also pushed the film out to their affiliates, which we’re ever grateful for.
And the business community as well has been really interested in engaging in this issue. So, we’ve also screen with Chambers of Commerce all over the United States. And for the most part folks who want to utilize the film are really interested in generating momentum or a sense of urgency around early learning, right? They want their communities, their policymakers, their employers to see that parents are really struggling to balance the requirements of work and their pay and paying for childcare.
And they also want to raise awareness about the plight of early educators and the fact that this amazing cohort of people is so vastly underpaid, at least in the U.S. – I’m not sure how it compares in Canada for you guys. So, really, awareness-raising has been the kind of number one thing folks want to do. And we’ve seen really great results with that.
We screened in New Mexico for the lieutenant governor and lawmakers in Santa Fe. And New Mexico passed historic legislation on early education in 2019. We’re really excited about that. Same goes in Alabama – we screened for Alabama’s Education Committee in their state legislature. Again, they passed a historic package of funding for early education and that state.
And in our home state of Illinois we premiered the film in June and our governor came out and made remarks introducing the film, saying early education is his number one priority going into our next session in Springfield. And our mayor in Chicago declared our premiere date “No Small Matter Day” in the city and reaffirmed her commitment to universal pre-[kindergarten].
So, that’s just a few examples of kind of policy change that we’ve been able to push forward with this awareness raising campaign. And as our impact campaign director it’s just been incredible to see so much movement before we’ve even kind of formally put the film out into the wider world.
Wow, those are amazing results! I had no idea that this film had so much impact. I was excited about it when I talked to folks about it but that’s phenomenal. And congratulations, by the way, that is so cool! And why do you think it has had such an impact, in your view?
I think we’ve taken a unique approach to utilizing this resource in the film. We have been screening the feature length film, which is 75 minutes. But we have also chopped it down into shorter versions that are a little bit easier to weave in to an event that’s shorter like an hour-long lunch or something like that.
We’ve also made scenes from the film available that focus on specific topics. So, for instance, some of our partners who have screened in state legislatures, they’ve just brought a clip that is 10-to-15 minutes that really personalizes this issue for lawmakers. It shows them the faces of families and teachers that are really struggling and then provides ample time to talk about, like, “What can we do next?”
And we encourage all of our partners to make that specific to their contacts. We’re not calling on universal childcare in America, although that would be great. We understand that local advocates have been doing this for years and they know what their states and cities need. And they are welcome to take these videos or the feature film and use them to help push forward whatever their priorities are, whether it’s teacher pay, getting more providers to sign up for a quality rating system, raising awareness amongst parents about whatever programs are being worked on in that state. We want local advocates to feel like this is a tool, not, “We’re coming in with a prescription for how we’re going to fix early learning and care.” I think that’s been part of the success.
Very cool. And how can our listeners get involved? So, this sounds like an amazing film. It’s had already such an impact. What can I do to help get the word out about it? And maybe I want to watch it myself, what do I do?
So, there’s a couple of things I think any person… one of the film’s directors, Greg Jacobs, likes to say that the film is for any of us, whether you have a child, whether you know a child or you’ve been a child – which, presumably, all your listeners have been – we want everyone to have kind of a point of entry. And everyone has an experience with early learning and care.
So, on the “Take Action” section of our website we encourage people to share their stories and that can be with a tweet or a Facebook post or on Instagram, wherever you interact with your friends and colleagues online. Just insert yourself into the conversation about this because the more that our leaders see that people are clamoring for this to be solved the more they’re going to pay attention.
We encourage people to tag the film, which is @NoSmallMatter on Twitter. When you, do talk about your experience as a parent or a teacher or your memories of preschool back in the day. And I think that’s really important. Otherwise you can tell your story arc.
Considering writing an op ed. to your local paper. Maybe there is something important happening in your community around early learning and care that needs to be highlighted. And an op ed. is a great way to both talk about why that’s important to you but also to your community and raise awareness about any issues that are moving as far as policy.
And again, we encourage people to host a screening and utilize the film in whatever events or trainings or any kind of get-togethers that you are planning to bring your community together around this issue. And just going back to the fact that we have chalked the film up, all of those versions – the clips, the 45-minute version, the 75-minute version – if you reach out to us we can make any of them available to you. And we’ll share those links with you to preview as well.
Wonderful. Laura, being involved in this project for a number of years, what is your biggest learning or takeaway from this?
Wow, that’s a heavy question. I think that my biggest takeaway is that progress is complicated and every step in the right direction is a step worth taking. So, we’ve seen really interesting progress in states where there’s a lot of other political issues that have been controversial and difficult – I’m thinking of [how] Alabama has one, right? And yet states where other kind of progressive policies have been difficult to push ahead have really stood up and stood behind early education. And I think that the more we’re doing better for children in this very moment in time, the better off our society is going to be.
So, I think patience and understanding that that progress is complicated has been a really important learning curve for me. In addition, the need to think about early learning is not just something that’s happening in a center or in a classroom is also something that I think, as filmmakers, we’ve really tried to emphasize in the way we told the story of early education.
The fact that wherever there’s a loving caregiver is a place that a child is learning is something that I think is really important for people to remember. We’re not necessarily advocating for universal pre-K or all children going and sitting in a classroom. We’re advocating for any child having the opportunities that they need to properly learn and grow. So, that’s also been something interesting to try to better understand as we’ve put the film together.
Very cool. Laura, you rock. Thank you for devoting so much of your time towards getting the word out about how important early-childhood education is with this film No Small Matter. Again, a reminder to our listeners, the website is www.NoSmallMatter.com. You can go to the “Take Action” section of the website. This sounds like a must-watch video if you are at all involved in early-childhood education. And, per Laura’s point, that’s not just happening in the classroom. So, if you’re listening to this podcast you are the person, amongst everybody else, who should definitely watch this video. Thank you so much, Laura, and thanks for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today.
Yeah, thank you for having me!