Before Amy and I began Kinderchat, we outlined five clear goals. Goal one reads: To facilitate discussions among Educators, Parents, Policy Makers and the Public about Best Practices in Early Childhood Education. I know I speak for Amy when I say how proud we are to have helped facilitate almost three years of dialogue among so many dynamic, professional and talented educators.
I have always subscribed to the belief that form follows function when developing this world of, by and for educators. When we were overflowing with links to incredible Early Childhood Blogs, we made the Kinderchat Early Childhood Blog Directory. It is from this place of timing and authentic need that we spring to action.
So, somehow, somewhere, we are being called to action to begin more authentic and engaged dialogue in the world of Early Childhood Educational Policy. I know, I never thought I'd be saying it either, but here we are. We have decided to undertake this endeavor in stages, the first being an ongoing dialogue led by US teachers Meg Sexton and Heidi Echternacht with comments encouraged by all in the International Kinderchat community.
To help you (and me! watch out! I'm learning!) we have created a Directory of US Early Childhood Organizations. We encourage your comments and participation to help us begin an authentic dialogue in this area. Please let us know if you'd like to contribute to the conversation in a guest post!
@TeacherMeg opens the dialogue here:
Meg’s Perspective (the urban United States Head Start teacher and child development grad student perspective)
When I graduated undergrad with my teaching certificate and big plans of moving to Chicago to teach, I was quite unaware of the policy world. I thought that policy was something that applied strictly to the government world, was dull, and had nothing to directly do with me. As I spent my first two years teaching (and struggling!) in an underserved neighborhood school, I began to think that there was more to the story of teaching than my students and my classroom, but couldn’t piece it together.
I later transitioned into teaching within a community center in a Head Start classroom. This is when policy pushed (shoved!) itself right into my practice. Head Start is a federally funded preschool program directed towards children and families who have the biggest economic need. It’s a 2 1/2 hour program that incorporates meals, parent education and involvement, health services and more into the requirements. This is where it begins to get tricky. Since it is a 1 1/2 hour program and most of the children we serve need full day care, Head Start is very often combined with state and/or private funding within one classroom, not to mention child care licensing standards. All of these various stakeholders who fund the program have different requirements of the teachers and administration in terms of documentation. Also? Not every child in a classroom falls under the same funding source. So I had to know and follow procedures for several different funders and provide documentation (read lots of paperwork) for each one of the stakeholders. That’s policy pushing its way into the classroom. And the thing is this happens not just in the childcare centers and Head Start programs. Policy pushes its way into the public and private schools as well. Policy is what dictates what we must teach, how much we must teach, how much prep time we get and on and on. Because the requirements from funders dictate so much of our day, it is necessary for teachers to understand policy, it has everything to do with us, contrary to what I once believed.
Part of what drives me to try and make sense of policy is that logistical piece of it; if I want the programs I work in to keep getting funding, I had better comply with the paperwork they request. I’ve also recently come to the realization that policy also directly connects to the social justice of early care and education. We need to know where the money is coming from so that we can advocate for our families when budgets are cut and our programs are threatened. As a part of that, we need to make ourselves familiar with the organizations that provide policy guidance and advocacy. Beyond that, we need to forge relationships with these organizations so that we can engage in dialogue with them. These organizations have a lot of influence over how policy is structured and enacted and many of them provide guidance on what is developmentally appropriate practice. It is our responsibility to be aware. We must learn who the major players are behind funding sources. Not only so that we are able to see who is driving education and social service policies, but so that we can dig deeper and look at the different agendas that may be behind the many policy shifts.
I strongly believe that we need to practice being reflective and critical consumers of policy. Whether it be a new program initiative, a curriculum mandate, or a new assessment, we need to look at the issue in a more intimate manner and tease the different strands apart. We also need to be open to the grey area; we need to look at an issue and know that not everything is polarized to either side, but that every issue is extremely complex and multidimensional. It is not comfortable in the grey area, it’s a bit squirmish, but we need to be okay with that. Policy is complex and just like life, there is no black or white-only grey. Worry not! It is within this grey area of discomfort that conversations emerge, and from those conversations ideas, and from those ideas, action.
Meg Sexton comes to us from Chicago and can be found on Twitter @teachermeg and blogs at playfulencounters.blogspot.com. She is a certified PreK-3rd grade teacher with experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. She is currently a graduate student studying child development within the context of both changing the nature of teacher professional development and focusing on the whole development of the child in helping teachers reflect on the choices they make within their classrooms.