Category Archives: Image of the Educator

What does leadership look like?

2 copyWhat does leadership look like?


This is a question that Danielle and I wrestled with along with our cohort in the ECEBC Leadership Initiative in 2009.  We were jolted out of our reluctance to claim the word ‘leader’ by the brilliant Sheila Davidson and Rita Chudnovsky who challenged us to reconsider how leadership looks. They told us we could redefine what a leader is, we could be leaders in the most ECE of ways. We didn’t have to adopt the corporate model of leadership wherein one knew all the answers, commanded all the attention, never showed vulnerability. We could be leaders who made cookies for everyone, sat in circles, made sure everyone felt good. Leaders who communicated effectively, showed empathy, listened, and who articulated our beliefs and values with force and passion.


This past weekend Danielle and I returned to this question at the ECEBC Conference, five years after our leadership experience. We had created a presentation on leadership, discussing the large and small ways we can all make a difference in our field. Before our presentation we connected with colleagues, old friends, students, and instructors from around BC and something beautiful happened….we were told stories. One ECE told us  of challenging a school administrator on the idea of children needing to be  “ready for kindergarten”  arguing that schools should be a welcoming place for all children,  an instructor told of her advocacy to save an early years program in her community, another told us of challenging  the idea of using smart screens in child care settings so ‘children will be able to sit for longer’.  Yet another educator shared how she made signs in her community to tell the world about the value of the work of early childhood educators, and another described how she questioned her colleagues about practice she felt did not reflect the values of the community. Everyone we spoke to seemed to have a tale to tell…..a tale of courage, of initiative, of advocacy, of leadership.


We had come to do a presentation about leadership, to try and inspire others as Sheila and Rita had inspired us. And we were the ones inspired all over again.


I want to congratulate these women, to thank them. I am proud of you, of your work, your commitment, your leadership. Your very ECE leadership.



IMGP2231I’m having a day. One of those days where I just wished I was the kind of person who didn’t cry at the drop of a hat. Where I wished I was one of those people who could keep their emotions in check, who is able to appear to be “professional” at all times. I am not that kind of professional!!! That’s right I am crying and it’s an ugly cry. My mascara is running, my chest hurts and there is nothing pretty about the way I look or feel. I feel raw.

I want to tell you the story of how I got here to this raw place but it’s not my story to tell. Instead I will first repeat what I said on Facebook earlier:

“It is not my job to get children ready for kindergarten. It is my job to honour the person they are right now.”

Secondly I will say thank you to all those who liked our status, commented on it and shared it. You reaffirmed why I am so passionate about early childhood professionals.

Thirdly I will rant.

Can we just get rid of the words Kindergarten Readiness from our vocabulary?! Please! I think we need to stop using these words for a few decades, in fact let’s just plan not to say them for a century. Heck lets just never say school or kindergarten readiness again. ever!

Can we adapt our programs to the children and not expect the children to adapt to our programs! Maybe I am out there but when a child enters our program and it isn’t working for them I look to see what I can change. I am feeling like we are quick to point to the child and say something is wrong with you.

Can we realize that for a short time parents and children are letting us into their lives and that is an honour.  With that realization can we recognize that time should not be squandered on things that aren’t worthy of our time, like kindergarten readiness! Young children are some of the most interesting, creative, risk taking individuals I know. I want to immerse myself in their thinking and research. Someone else  preconceived ideas of what they need to know doesn’t interest me. I want to know what the children want to learn about. What questions do they have? What far flung theory do they want to try out today and how can I help?

Lastly can we all just stop getting children ready for the next phase of their lives and acknowledge the phase they are in now? Who they are right now is immensely interesting and deserving of our time.

Sidenote: Years ago at my first Leadership Institute session Rita Chudnovsky  posed the question “Why can’t we be leaders who cry?” I obviously took those word to heart.


Here’s what I heard in a toddler centre today:   silence.

IMG_3384 copy The clay was set out with branches on low tables with canvas drop cloths creating a pathway around it. The children came in slowly, taking in the new materials, the setting. The educators sat at the edges of the space and said……nothing.

 As the children began to explore the clay, poking fingers in, scraping chunks off, the educators did the same, exploring in their own ways. A girl brought an educator a chunk of clay and said ‘bowl’, and the educator responded quietly, ‘bowl’? and fashioned a bowl from the chunk. Another girl stuck a blob of clay onto the end of a branch, and an educator did as well. They spoke to one another softly, discussing how to make the clay stay, trying different shapes. In another corner a boy and an educator share a camera, looking through the lens at hands, feet, the room, the ceiling.

 We all sat in the space for an hour and a half, talking quietly, rolling balls of clay, laughing at the songs and movements that emerged. It was…peaceful.

The soft voices, the small conversations opened up larger spaces to hear, to listen to the sound of the giggles, the sound of feet on canvas, of the slapping hands on clay. The children, the clay and the branches became more visible when adult voices became less visible.

By talking less the adults could focus on the materials, the movement of the clay, the way children picked it up, manipulated it, moulded it, walked with it. We didn’t need to ask open ended questions, we observed and listened and we learned what children were doing. We didn’t need to ask how the clay felt, what it smelled like, what is that you have made?…by  being attentive we observed all of that.

Lots of conversations occurred, songs were sung, jokes were made, ideas were shared…..softy.

I am left reflecting on my voice, what I say, how I say it, how loudly I say it, and most of all, do I need to say it. I suspect most of what I say…..really doesn’t need said.

Of Paint Blobs and Professional Learning

paint blobA child tugs at the teacher’s sleeve, “I dropped a jar of paint on the carpet. By accident”.

We look over, and yes, there is a very large, very pink splattered blob of paint on the carpet under the easel. It is a carpet meant to absorb paint, but still, this is a really large blob. Sigh.

It had been one of those days, days we are all very familiar with. All the puzzle pieces seem to have disappeared, a child is inconsolable, sobbing  because her shirt is wet. A parent is unhappy, wondering why the children just play all day, shouldn’t they be learning something? Another parent has stayed to help, but all he does is hover and follow children around admonishing them to be careful. We want to shout “They ARE being careful! No one is getting hurt! But we can’t shout at parents. The paperwork is piled up and we can’t really remember if we saw Horatio’s birth certificate, and we are fearful of what the custodian will say when she sees the glitter that is delicately covering every visible surface.


Days like this can make us weary. So weary. An educator I work with had a day like this, a day that ended with a blob of pink paint on the carpet. She decided to photograph the blob, hoping to see it differently, to transform the blob into something better, more interesting, more beautiful.

After taking a few shots of the blob, she looked up thoughtfully. “You know what makes days like this ok? Having the opportunity to talk and think deeply about children.”

That is exactly what she and I had been doing all morning. In moments  between the crying child and the hovering parent we had observed a toddler investigating this place, walking around the room picking up items and dropping them on the floor. We observed how intentional he was, how carefully he chose the items, how he attentively he watched and listened as each item hit the floor. We discussed how he might be theorizing about  sound, about weight, or how he might be connecting with this place, this room through investigating the materials within it.

We observed a girl as she sat with a pen and paper drawing intersecting lines, creating complex shapes. The drawing was detailed and precise. This girl had started the year unhappily, striking out at other children, encountering conflict wherever she went. But now a couple of months into the year she was focussed, calm, intent on her own projects. Had the materials and environment here invited this calm? What had caused this shift? How could we find out more about her drawings, what she was thinking?

These conversations extended throughout the morning session, sometimes a shared look toward a child, sometimes a few minutes spent discussing as we washed dishes. And at the end of the session we could delve more deeply into our shared thinking as we tidied the room.

This is what our practice is about. Thinking, listening, researching and collaborating with others to make meaning.  Professional learning is often thought of as something we do outside the walls of our centres. But conversations like these are professional learning. Carlina Rinaldi asks:

So what then is professional development? It is simply learning: our job is to learn why we are teachers.  It means keeping our distance from an overriding sense of balance, from that which has already been decided or is considered to be certain. It means staying close to the interweaving of objects and thoughts, of doing and selecting, theory and practice, emotions and knowledge.  

As my colleague looked at the paint blob, she said “You know, it is rather beautiful, the bubbles, the texture the shape.” The day and the blob had transformed into something better, something endlessly interesting.






Can We Talk?

“Our current educational systems ‘seem stuck in a time warp….displaying an unwillingness or inability to engage with either new thinking or the state we are in–and worse, the state we are heading towards”

Peter Moss,  Michael Fielding

figure 2 copy

In her post A Tale of Two Wardrobes Danielle generated great dialogue by linking wardrobe choice and professionalism in the field of ECE. Lots of discussion ensued, people with strong opinions voiced their ideas and were countered by people with equally strong dissenting opinions. There was a lively debate that resulted in no clear answer but got us all thinking.

 This is exactly what we need more of in our field. We need more lively debate, and it needs to go beyond what we wear to work. We need to be discussing big ideas, and big questions about the field of early childhood care and education. We need to debate questions like: What are the values we hold about children and families? What is our idea of learning? What is the meaning of school? What education is for?  Who is responsible for education? Whose voices are heard and whose voices are silenced?

 In a society where test results and predefined outcomes dominate our educational systems, early childhood care settings often become sites for preparation for school readiness. Our role is often reduced to providing programming that will allow children to ‘practice’ for school.

 So rather than educational spaces being sites for adults and children to  explore new thinking and investigate new ideas together, educational spaces become standardized. Instead of being places where independent thinking and experimentation are valued, we have places with preplanned curriculum.

We need to debate and challenge and be challenged.

 We need to talk about this.