That’s the opening sentence of the dynamic, new book, “The New Early Childhood Professional: A Step-by-Step Guide for Overcoming Goliath.” It’s a sweeping look at how early educators can manage both roiling change and entrenched problems and become the leaders that children — and the country — need them to be.
The book’s authors are Valora Washginton, the chief executive officer of the Council for Professional Recognition and the founder of the CAYL Institute (Community Advocates for Young Learners); Brenda Gadson, the owner of BMG Consulting, and Kathryn L. Amel, CAYL’s associate manager for programs and operations. The book was co-published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Press and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Now is the time for early educators to lead, according to Jacqueline Jones, president and CEO of The Foundation for Child Development, who wrote in a NIEER blog post, “The hard work of defining the profession requires leadership that can promote a united coalition of the major early care and education professional and membership organizations. How this work happens may be as important as the product of the effort. This is not a task for local, state, or federal government.”
Unfortunately, early educators who are trying to make positive changes face considerable indifference and opposition.
Among the obstacles to change, “The New Early Childhood Professional” explains, are “wavering courage, gigantic challenges, and uncertain responses when we feel intimidated, neglected, or isolated. But we know these behemoths, these Goliaths can be overcome.”
Early educators can use “the tools of change — acquired wisdom and knowledge, habits of mind that focus on constructive challenge, and alliances that build us spiritually and professionally, individually and collectively.”
The book’s approach draws on the experience of hundreds of participants who enrolled in training programs run by the CAYL Institute, which equips “leaders in early care and education to be architects of change for all children.”
“We have a different level of responsibility now, because we know more than we do,” Valora Washington said in a recent interview. Early education and care’s research and insights are running ahead of its policies and practices — and that’s a gap that early educators can close.
Becoming an “Architect of Change”
Taking action is essential, the book says, and it pays to have a plan.
The book lays out a framework for becoming an architect of change that builds on four A’s:
• Analyze: Think and Reflect
• Advance: Plan and Prepare
• Act: Be Brave and Bold
• Accelerate: Believe and Achieve
Over the years, Washington has seen people get stuck on the first A, analysis. It takes time, she says, for smart people to agree on what the problem is. In addition, people are fixated on what they don’t want, rather than on what they do want. So the goal is to develop a more affirming view of challenges and to decide what to do.
In order to advance – the second A — it’s crucial to ask: What do I already know about this problem, and what do I need to know? Closing this knowledge gap is essential to making progress.
To act, the third A, people have to devise a solution that’s “timely, relevant, and immediately actionable.” For example, ending poverty isn’t immediately actionable, but signing more people up for food stamps is.
And to accelerate, the fourth A:
• focus on what you want
• gather your allies: “people grow in community,” Washington notes, explaining that the book promotes a model of shared leadership, and
• get the word out
“Just as the story of David and Goliath is part of our shared mythology and heritage,” the book says, “our stories as early educators must be recorded for future generations.”
Five Smooth Stones
When he faced Goliath, David had five smooth stones, the book explains. “The many stones represent the fact that we must be prepared for whatever faces us: Many ideas, strategies, and people are necessary to achieve important goals. If one doesn’t work, we do not give up; we have additional ideas in our bag.”
The book offers its own stones in the form of “resources and tools to use when taking each step to more forward personally and professionally. We suggest that you keep these five smooth stones in your rough cloth bag as you face your own Goliaths.”
Among the stones are instincts and values as well as doubt, “not knowing is always the very first step on the way to knowing;” working with organizations that support families; and consulting with others.
These four, A strategies have helped win a number of victories. Washington points to how the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children, a Boston-area nonprofit that’s focused on state and local policy change, took on the problem of “discontinuous child care.” This occurs when families lose their child care vouchers because of changes in their circumstances. Families can reapply for vouchers, but the child’s experience is disrupted. So Bessie Tartt, in collaboration with others, successfully convinced Massachusetts policymakers to grant one-year vouchers that help boost stability in early education and care settings.
“We’re trying to empower people in this profession for the sake of the children and to professionalize this work,” Washington said. She adds, People can’t say: “I’m just a teacher,” or “I’m just a preschool teacher.”
Before he took on Goliath, David had a vision of success, the book says. It’s the same kind of vision the field of early education and care should have as it fells giant problems to promote children’s success.