Advocacy through Honesty
I can still pull the image up in my mind; the feeling I had when the doors opened to families for the first time. It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I was so excited to partner with families, create a culture for teachers that afforded them new opportunities and supported them in different ways than the traditional hierarchical systems that can occur within our field. As exciting as it was, when I went home each night, the weight of my responsibilities at work, of putting everything my husband and I owned on the line, was terrifying.
To entrust a child to the care of another individual, is one of the greatest privileges and demonstrations of trust I feel a parent can demonstrate. It is not one which I take lightly. It is a great responsibility and the emotions I feel because of that trust are also great.
I believe fully in transparency; that if we all were just a bit more honest with ourselves and with those around us, if we were all just a little bit more open about the support we need, or the challenges we face, we would all be better for it.
Our society places a great deal of emphasis on “having it all”; but “having it all” comes at a great cost… and that cost is ourselves. The truth is that we simply cannot “have it all”, because regardless of the advances in technology there is one thing that simply will never change. And that thing is time. There are only so many hours in a day, days in a year, and years in a lifetime. And yet the policies and regulations surrounding the field of early childhood require us to “have it all” and “ do it all”.
While on vacation earlier this year, I was struggling with trying to figure out how I could manage “it all” only to come across a book entitled “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less” by Tiffany Dufu. It was an eye-opening book that was perfectly timed as I had just finished “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. So, when I returned from vacation I vowed to work smarter not harder. I met with Jen, discussed how she could help me drop some things, and how I would use that time to advocate for change. Because as much as I want to drop the ball, the system that surrounds child care simply does not allow for it. You either juggle all of the balls or you drop all of them. The system is set up as an all or nothing; the system is designed to set people up to fail.
Somewhat of a perfect storm is happening as we speak. For the first time in over 10 years, the Office of the Legislative Auditor is auditing Early Childhood Programs across the state. At the same time, a House Subcommittee on Child Care and Access and Affordability has been convened; and it is all occurring when Minnesota is in a state of crisis regarding child care. Meanwhile, Here We Grow is in the midst of completing a building project, fraught with its own delays due to holdups at the state level for inspections, and licensing regulations that are quite honestly, crippling. All of which is holding up the timeline for our infant renovations which cannot begin until we transition into the new building. We are also in the midst of completing outdoor play updates and are now in the process of renewing our Parent Aware Rating which expires this year and for which no extension requests exist. This is the perfect storm.
I would love to drop the ball and let one of these areas go, but I cannot. If I continue to spend time focusing on putting out fires and push aside the opportunities to advocate for change, the fires will continue to start and to be honest, those of us in the field can only throw water for so long. This is how burnout occurs.
Imagine for a moment, taking an administrative role in a company. You walk in on your first day and are shown your office. Those who hired you close the door and walk away. You look through your office window and see all of your employees. One of them walks in and asks you when you would like timesheets for payroll. You ask the employee to bring them to the Billing Department and they give you a confused look and say “you are the billing department”. Another employee walks in and asks to speak with you regarding a personnel issue. You ask the employee to visit the HR Department. They give you a confused look and say “you are the HR department”. And so the pattern continues with other areas such as training, required paperwork, nutrition, and so on, until your desk is covered with papers and requests. You search online to better understand the system, but there is no map that details how the departments work together, or which paperwork belongs where. You search for training, but none exists. Would you stay?
We would love to spend more time with children and less time on paperwork. We would love to provide a Band-Aid for a child without filling out a form, or help a child calm down by going on a walk outside of the classroom with them without filling out a log or implementing a behavior modification plan. We would love to trust that a child knows when they need a break. We would love to trust more, but the system demonstrates that legislators and program supervisors feel that we cannot be trusted; that a safety net of paperwork will somehow prove that we can be trusted when the papers are complete regardless of our actions and that it will somehow prove that we cannot be trusted when the papers are incomplete regardless of our actions.
By now some of you may be thinking “Geez Beth, this is all kind of negative, you must be a pretty pessimistic person. It can’t be all bad.”
Well of course it isn’t all bad, or I wouldn’t be here. I love partnering with families, serving as a mentor to teachers, and creating an environment will children can grow to their full potential. I love nature and gardening and spending time outdoors.
But my time is tied up and so is the time of others in the field. We have been overrun with paperwork, policies and procedures. The truth is, we have to stop being afraid to say “This is wrong and we need to fix it”. In a society that places emphasis on perfection and “having it all”, child care providers are struggling to keep up with regulations, parents are struggling to afford quality care, and teachers are struggling to remain in jobs with low wages, high expectations, and no benefits. This is the reality and we need to face it. We need to advocate for change.
I have a list by my bed. A list on the door to the garage. A list on my desk. I have a list in my mind. And while I can have the best intentions, there are simply some things out of my control. There are things on the list that will move to next week’s list and I have to be okay with that. I can only hope that others understand and can be okay with that too.
Perhaps you’re wondering what you can do? You can ask to speak with local government officials, with your local politicians or even write to the state. But there is something you can do that hits even closer to home. Something you have the opportunity to do on a daily basis.
You can encourage us.
You hold the power to inspire us.
To give us grace when we’re having a challenging day.
To continue to build trust as we walk on this journey together.
Here We Grow is a community that is blessed with families and teachers who believe that children are capable of doing amazing things, even at young ages; who believe that families are the foundation of a quality early learning environment. Our community as a whole, is filled with many early learning environments.
No matter which early learning environment you belong to, we need your support. We all have the power to make change, for Here We Grow Together.