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Flexing your leadership muscle as a Preschool Teacher

Flexing your leadership muscle as a Preschool Teacher

September 6, 2016 | By Ron Spreeuwenberg
This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #8 "Flexing your leadership muscle as a Preschool Teacher ”.

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 have a conversation with a panel of early childhood educators with experience inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom as community advisors with HiMama. We discussed the importance of taking the initiative to stay involved in early childhood education community and taking ownership of improvements and innovations in your preschool or child care programs. No matter what your role. Steven Bonnay has a bachelor of arts from Brock University as well as an early childhood education diploma from Seneca College where he later worked as a register early childhood educator. Kali Kan has a Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education and teaching from George Brown College where she later worked as a registered early childhood educator. In addition to working as a research intern at the National Association for the education of young children. Katelyn Vickers holds a Bachelor of Arts and early childhood education studies from Ryerson University as was her diploma an early childhood education from George Brown College. She has worked as a registered early childhood educator at a number of child care and other learning programs including the YWCA to learn more about how you can flex your leadership muscle as a preschool teacher or early childhood educator. Stay tuned for this week's episode of the preschool podcast.

Welcome everybody to this week's episode of the preschool podcast. Today we're going to have a first because we're going to have a panel of guests. And it's also our first time doing a guest interview in person and it's also our first time having an interview with people on the HiMama team. So a lot of firsts today. We've got Steven Kali and Katelyn who are all early childhood educators and we're going to learn a little bit more about their experiences in the classroom has really told educators and to start off I'm going to ask you guys why you decided to join. Hi Mama. I was really taught educators whoever wants to take it away. Go for it.

Kali KAN: I’ll start so in school I was exposed to the many issues around surrounding that easy effect there. A big part of it was around modernizing and we needed to acknowledge the fact that there is a gap between theory policies and practices. So I was working at a center that just started using HiMama. And I fell in love and I can see how this tool can really move the sector forward in terms of parent communication and engagement. So we see the families today are so different from families you know even 5, 10 years ago. They want to be more involved and they want detailed information of their child’s day. Not all centers are practicing that and getting on families levels of communication, using HiMama is a way to bridge that communication gap. It was pretty eye opening for me to realize that and I want to be part of this movement and this change that's why I'm here as a Community Adviser and I love sharing my experiences with directors with teachers and also making that change, who are ready to make that change.

i>SPREEUWENBERG: Cool. Thanks Kali. What about you Katelyn.

Katelyn VICKERS: There wasn't much of a connection is what I found is we had these policies and these requirements to communicate a certain way but it wasn't really leading to a true communication. It was communication that stopped once it was written on paper and it wasn't going anywhere and wasn't expanding on anything and leading to real conversations.

SPREEUWENBERG: So it's kind of like communicating and documenting just for the sake of doing it like you had to do it honestly.

VICKERS: That is what I felt very strongly. So I was very passionate about improving and making that a real conversation that happened between this school and the parents.

SPREEUWENBERG: Awesome. And what about you Steve.

Steven BONNAY: Well first time I saw it he was absolutely kind of something that I was kind of dreaming about even two years ago. I had a conversation with some of my colleagues in the childcare center about how fantastic would it be to be able to have some sort of platform where you can input all the necessary information but then also go beyond that and document all the learning in a way that you can in a very easy, practical way, be able to show parents not just from maybe printing it out or showing them on the digital camera that typically use. Hopefully nowadays in most centers, but you know be able to show them there or even send it to them in real time. So that's kind of how I came across it. And I absolutely believe in it. It's a fantastic thing and I believe that this is this is a future that should move towards.

SPREEUWENBERG: Cool. So really trying to get childcare centers moving forward into more innovative tools and technologies in their childcare program.

BONNAY: Absolutely

SPREEUWENBERG: Awesome. And let's now dive into your guy's experiences as early childhood educators in the classroom working with children. And let's start off with what you guys really enjoy most about doing that.

KAN: I love being around the kiddos and I still miss it every single day. Babies can do so many awesome things, and preschoolers just say you know the funniest things, but I miss being a part of that shift. Part of that navigation process it’s really exciting time and it's really exciting for me as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: What's one of the funniest things you guys for a preschooler say?

KAN: This preschooler boy came up to me with rock and was like that is a look it's a breakable rock and it was actually bird poop.

SPREEUWENBERG: I'm sure there's lots of good stories?

KAN: That's my favorite.

SPREEUWENBERG: What about you guys. Katelyn, Steven, what was really the most enjoyable part for you guys and I'm sure the kiddoes was always top of the list.

VICKERS: Definitely my favorite part was really coming down to building the relationships not only with the children but with the families. To be able to walk into a room and have 10 children run to you to give you a hug and say hello is honestly one of the greatest feelings. So building that repertoire with these children and being able to coming back to the families was something that I really loved and I still stay in contact with families I've worked with. Six months ago. Wow. But also being able to really just further their learning and try different things and watch them grow from when they are infants and moving through to preschoolers you're seeing a huge change in huge growth in their life.

BONNAY: So for my part it is more like you know spending time with them in different context. So being inside you have opportunities for them to develop them in a big promotion. I think even now in a lot of it is the outdoors so a lot of that is just going outside and exposing them is very funny that there are certain children that would be all about touching everything and looking at the ants and the insects and everything around them and others were very much hesitant but that eventually change and seeing progress and being able to make a change in their life.

SPREEUWENBERG: So like if one child saw another child picking up bird poo, they might want to too?

BONNAY: If it's a breakable rock, then sure, but if you explain to them!

SPREEUWENBERG: So sounds like a big theme is clearly you know being able to work with the children directly and see the impact of your work and that's really neat I guess because you get to see them grow all over which I can imagine is a phenomenal feeling. But on the flipside what about challenges.

KAN: They say it takes a village to raise a child and they are right. The biggest challenge for me was with developing those relationships and that partnership with families and develop a partnership with educators other educators as well and make sure that you know everyone's on the same page to make sure their success in terms of development and skill so, so much communication is needed but every ECE knows how busy the days can get. And we often overlook those developmental aspects because the days and the transitions and all the things need to get done gets in the way.

SPREEUWENBERG: So if there's not good communication between the educators and the parents about what's happening how does that impact your work?

KAN: The developmental aspect is so important and it requires that communication and without that, you know ECE’s are merely people who take care of their kids. We want to provide experiences that help support them and that requires that partnership with families and with other educators and without that you don’t get successful you create successful experiences for the kids and for every individual.

SPREEUWENBERG: How about you Katelyn?

VICKERS: Well there are the typical challenges that I'm sure many people can relate to in terms of, restrictions and time and just the fact that everyone is balancing a thousand things in just one day. One of my personal challenges is lack of opportunities to be a leader was something that was challenging for me. Not having a team to support that is a going challenge for how everything else plays out through the day in the success of the program and success in children's development. It all comes together there.

SPREEUWENBERG: And why do you think that is what do you think that is? Lots of times there's a lot of opportunity to be a leader or even. Show your leadership potential.

VICKERS: I think maybe not awareness of what opportunities come from that movement would be a big hesitation in the fact that typically we're working with processes that have been standard for the last 20 years. Right. Everyone gets used to their way of doing things and don't know what other opportunities are out there. So that's one big thing that I think would be that challenge in doing that.

SPREEUWENBERG: What about you Steven?

BONNAY: There is that challenge with the whole thing with establishing relationships with parents as well that just to kind of, bridge that connection with the home life and school life. But yeah there is that other aspect where you're creating relationships with other ECEs and with the administrator and also policies in place and all this ties back into you know what the ultimate goal is at the end of the day. And sometimes that gets lost in the mix that you're asking yourself OK why are we here what are we doing. We're doing this for the kids right. So and when we want to extend them you know the only the best that we can do in the best of ourselves is the same way for the parents you know because the whole idea is to be able to support the parents. And sometimes it doesn't come across like that. Sometimes even past personal experiences, some parents have taken you know our support or our attempt to kind of give them hope as a means of like they thought that they're not good parents but it's not about that it's about just trying to support them from the other end.

SPREEUWENBERG: Right. So there's a challenge as was sort of how you communicate information about how their children are developing and growing the center. And so it sounds like there's a kind of a theme here a little bit around. There are certain policies that you have to follow. There is of course a lot of regulatory controls in the child care environment. There's a lot of health and safety procedures that need to be followed and the time it takes to do all of those things and make sure you're following all those processes really makes it a challenge to focus on things that are actually maybe why you're really there in the first place which is helping the children with their learning and development.

What would you guys say to directors, supervisors, administrators of preschool programs and early learning programs about what they might change to allow their early childhood educators to focus more on that big question of why are we really here.

VICKERS: I mean one big thing is just to look for new opportunities to limit the time it takes to do all of those required pieces. It's a lot of paper, it's a lot of repetition. It's a lot of redundancy. Eliminate that and find something that will allow you to cut that process in half and completed that faster.

SPREEUWENBERG: And I think another great opportunity to just to chime in here is to give your early childhood educators the opportunity to show their leadership potential and allow them to lead those kind of projects to say “Hey Katelyn, Kali, or Steven we have this problem is taking us too long to do this documentation can you help do a project to figure out how we can improve or become efficient” What do you guys think, Kali, Steven?

KAN: Yeah, you’re completely right. ECEs also need to advocate for what they need and not to be afraid to push that. And to you know go outside the box and see what is going on outside the center because in the center they may have been going for the same way for 20 years. And don't be afraid to go out and see what sort of tools are needed are out there. And you know directors see what are needed by your staff provide the tools for success and to save time for them to be able to connect with parents. Build those partnerships.

SPREEUWENBERG: Very good point in this. This podcast is meant for leadership and early childhood education. That's another great example of you know if you’re an ECE in the classroom you can also take the opportunity to go to your director and say hey I think there's an opportunity here or hey maybe we should try something a bit differently and to push and challenge directors and administrators to do things differently because really you're the one that's in the classroom and the director may not even know that you're having challenges with certain things if you're not having that conversation with them. That's a very good point too. Does anybody have any other thoughts about that?

BONNAY: Mindset. I'd say that's a big key there. A lot of just changing your mindset. Looking at it as you know how you can all contribute to make a better center a better child. Because at the end of the day they're not always going to stay two years older. You know the children are going to grow up and they're going to be adults and what kinds of things are you instilling in them. And I think a big thing from my personal experience and a lot from the teachings and philosophies that are big now, is that you're modeling what you want to see. So focusing on the positive promoting and celebrating successes. Looking at your challenges as not something that holds you back but how can you build on it, who can come and help you build on that? And that same thing with over all you know even just the outlook of what early childhood was in the past and what it is now. It is moving from something where the family was a single income and now it's a double income. Both parents are now working now. How do you keep them in the loop, how do you kind of make it important for them to still be a part of their child's life.

SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah that's an interesting point. So I think what you're saying is as an early child educator you should be acting in a way that your like a model for the way you'd love to see that children interact with each other and behave. So it's not just teaching and showing it's your own option because that's what young children are going to respond and act in ways similar to the adults around the house. I'm sure.

Now what about other early childhood educators that are in the classroom. What advice would you provide to them based on your experience as an early childhood educator and then maybe also your experiences speaking with many educators and directors in your role as a Community Adviser at HiMama.

VICKERS: I would say one big thing that we will even work with children on is the fact that you're constantly learning. So don't forget that that's your all off to always learn about new opportunities and to try things out. I mean I'm a big advocate for trial and error and a lot of what we do when we're doing science activities or experiments with the children is you're experimenting. So find what fits best for you and don't be afraid to give it a try to find something that will in the end help you and support you and make your life easier and make those connections greater and stronger with everyone else.

SPREEUWENBERG: Very good point. What do others think?

BONNAY: Yeah. Be a leader. This is for other ECEs. Do what you love and love what you do. As far as you think that this is something that you want to you want to do but don't accept the status quo. You know children are the same way. They don't have those boundaries, why are we setting ourselves boundaries. So once again it goes back to that whole thing about modeling and what are you what are you showing as an ECE as a teacher.

SPREEUWENBERG: Totally. Going back to one of the previous points I think that. Interacting with and engaging with other ECE's in whether it's your local community or an online community I think is also helpful to get the creative juices flowing about things you can try. Like you said, what are other leaders in the classroom doing and trying to get those thoughts flowing about how can we improve how can we get passed the status quo. If it's not working for us, and you may not even know what those opportunities are until you see them and how those conversations are. And how do you guys stay up to date with what's happening in the early childhood community. Do you go to certain Web sites or read certain articles?

BONNAY: I stay in touch with my former colleagues and also Facebook is a fantastic tool to get information updates

SPREEUWENBERG: Is there certain groups you’re a part of on Facebook?

BONNAY: York Region Collaborative. So Diane Kashin posts updates and I get that on my Facebook feed and then HiMama of course, so I get that newsletter. And there's another place called Think ed and they are up in Thornhill Richmond Hill and there a group guy they set up the whole kind of a pop up shop and an experimental space to use loose parts. So they once again, these newsletters staying in touch talking to people.

SPREEUWENBERG: Lots of local resources, consultants, professors are in this space. OK. How about you guys, Kali, Katelyn? You guys go to any specific places?

VICKERS: Well just to expand on that, I mean you find what fits best for you and what makes you comfortable if you want to listen to something, listen to a podcast, if you want to read something, read an article or read something that your other coworkers have shared. But it also goes down to reaching out to your local university or college and seeing if you're hosting any workshops as well like going in person it's another great way to continue the conversation and learn from other members and community as well.

KAN: You know just to expand on that a little more social need is a great tool to stay in touch. Twitter Facebook join a groups you're interested in, that fits your philosophies or visions as an early childhood educator and be able to subscribe to those newsletters and those articles you'll get a lot just by reading what gets get sent to your email.

SPREEUWENBERG: What would you say to an early childhood educator who said to you, we’ll all this all sounds great but you know what. We just have these processes in place and we've been doing it for 20 years. I don't think we're ever going to change it. Works just fine. So I don't really see the benefit of getting more involved in the early childhood education community. I'm busy enough as it is in my job to go and read more and do more in my job. What would you say to that?

VICKERS: One word that stood out to me is “It works just fine”. Are you happy with that? Does it excited you, does it bring forward more communications and opportunities? If it works just fine it probably isn't the best thing for you because there's more room to expand on that and try new things and in discovering new opportunities.

SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah that's the first time we've actually heard that word happy. You know are you happy doing what you're what you're doing if you're not then I think you kind of need to take a step back and think about why that is and explore opportunities to figure it out.

BONNAY: It’s taking ownership. That's, I think, what comes to mind to answer your question. If you're putting all these excuses forward you're basically giving everything else around you ownership of these circumstances and you're just a victim. And I don't know as a leader that's understandable.

SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah you can kind of take control of your own destiny. Yeah good point. Cool. Well thanks so much guys. Steven, Kali, Katelyn great. Great having you on the show. And join us next week.

BONNAY: Thank you

VICKERS: Thank you.

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