Using Communication Skills to Enact Change

Two communication skills that I consider important when leading policy change are these:

  • Writing skills—the ability to capture someone’s attention through the written word is vitally important when working for change. The written word has the capacity to reach a broad audience and to offer compelling, in-depth information about an issue. Effective writing can bring an issue to life and stir people’s emotions. It can present current research to back up an issue and persuade people to support the cause.
  • Social marketing skills—We live in a media-driven (led) society. The potential of social media reaching a wide audience is huge. Social media can be an exceptional tool for rallying support and getting out information. Social media has the potential to make the average person feel involved. Most people find it simple to complete an online survey or to participate in an online poll on a given topic. Similarly, the average person might find it more convenient to type out a quick “post” to discuss an issue than to take the time and trouble to write a “letter to the editor” of a print newspaper. Social media has the added impact of graphics and video to help present an issue. One wishing to create change could tailor social marketing to include a wide audience in an effort to garner support and create momentum to attract the attention of policy-makers. The ability to communicate through social media is a tremendous asset for one who wishes to create change.

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As I reflect on my own association with these skills, I can see both strengths and opportunities for improvement. A personal strength I can easily identify is my love of writing. I have always enjoyed writing and I find it easy to collect my thoughts and put them on paper—I love the feeling I get when I am writing about something that I feel passionate about. To be truthful, there are times when I don’t even recall writing something—it just appears like magic—from my heart to the page. My kids call it “zoning out”.

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 As comfortable as I am with writing, I am decidedly not so comfortable with social media. I think most of my discomfort comes from inexperience. I am clueless about things like Twitter and MySpace. I have a nodding acquaintance with Facebook, but I confess I find it a little creepy and invasive. I enjoy YouTube, but have no idea how to post something there. I did create my first website which was gratifying and almost empowering. When all is said and done, I know that I need to move with the times and embrace social media as a tool for getting my message out and raising support for my issue. Social marketing skills are vital in this day and age. It’s time for me to move into the 21st century—at least where policy issues are concerned.

 

Social Media’s Influence on Policy Issues

 

The Issue

My policy issue concerns the lack of adequate salary, benefits, and professional recognition for teachers in independent preschool programs. Although there is increasing pressure for preschool teachers to hold college degrees, there is little attention given to the fact that most independent (non-profit, faith-based, and private) programs simply cannot afford to hire and retain highly qualified/degreed teachers. The result of this inequity is high teacher turnover rates and low staff morale leading to instability in the early childhood workforce and possible poor child outcomes—including lack of attachment, lack of resilience, and delays in social/emotional and cognitive development (Commodari, 2013). As I reviewed the various social media venues in this week’s resources (Laureate Education, 2013a), I think these two would communicate my policy issue the best:

  •  A website—I believe that a website would be a remarkably effective way to display my policy issue. It would allow me to write about the issue with references to current research and links to relevant support organizations, for example The Worthy Wage Campaign (Center for the Childcare Workforce, 2015) or the Alliance for Childhood (http://www.alliance for childhood.org). The website could include testimonials from teachers in the field and data to support the policy issue, as well as current related news. I could envision a section of the website devoted to “real” stories—profiles of teachers who are working at poverty-level wages and/or those who found it necessary to leave the field in search of a living wage. A message board could be included where discussions could take place about the issue that (hopefully) would empower people to act. There could even be a PayPal button for contributions to the cause.
  • The second social medium I would choose would be Playback (Laureate Education, 2013a). I was not familiar with this medium before, but I think it would communicate the issue very well through video clips. Clips could include footage of effective teachers in practice and how they create a quality-learning environment for young children. Other potentially valuable clips could focus on interviews with teachers, scholars, and business leaders as they discuss the issue. Worthy Wage rallies could also be shown to rouse people into action.

Who Would Visit?

The potential audience for the website would include early childhood professionals who would be interested in the possibility of a living wage. Families connected to those teachers/programs profiled in the website would have a natural curiosity to see their program on the website. Community activists might be drawn by the worthy cause. Administrators would visit to keep informed of the climate of potential change if the issue provoked people into action. I could even envision political representatives having a look if the activity level began to heat up and was seen as a budding influence to their concerns.

The Playback presentation would appeal to anyone interested in early childhood and/or the issue of quality preschool and a healthy EC workforce. Certainly, families and staff associated with those displayed in the video clips would watch. I also think it would be a good tool for colleges to use in early childhood classes as a revelation to students choosing the EC field.

Benefits and Challenges

Website Benefit: Flexible formatting includes a potential for using text, images, graphs, message board, links to relevant websites, and interactive polls. Visitors to the website could easily become involved.

Website Challenge: The site would need constant monitoring for feedback and updating information. This could be time-consuming. There is also the chance that it would not reach a wide audience unless the campaign became widely known. Apart from those involved, how would people know it was there?

Playback Benefit: Most people enjoy watching videos. It would reach a wider audience than written text. The videos would also present the information in a compelling way—watching an actual preschool teacher in action or watching baccalaureate-degreed teachers describe the bleakness of earning a poverty wage after years of preparing to work in their chosen field would present a persuasive statement for the issue.

Playback Challenge: This medium would require a lot of legwork. Unlike the website which could be maintained from one’s home computer and with resources close to hand, developing and updating a Playback site means having the time and the tools to make compelling videos—presumably traveling to various locations after connecting with people and programs who would be willing to be included in the video clips. After the initial taping, the clips would need editing and posting. Although a useful medium, it would take much time and energy to keep it fresh and stimulating.

References

Alliance for Childhood. (2015, April 1). Retrieved from http://www.allianceforchildhood.org

Center for the Childcare Workforce (2015, April 1). Retrieved from http://www.ccw.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=53

Commodari, E. (2013). Preschool teacher attachment, school readiness, and risk of learning difficulties. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 123-133.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2013a). Maria’s social media adventure [Interactive media]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Course Goals

Stuck in a paradox of knowing, yet ineffectively enacting change, professionals in the early childhood field find themselves patching the holes of an infrastructure that is ready to crumble… (Retrieved from: https://class.waldenu.edu)

These powerful words, taken from the first discussion prompt in module 1, set the tone for what I am sure will be an enlightening semester and one that challenges me to delve into an area of early childhood education that I have not explored before. It is unfamiliar territory and just a little bit scary.

I will confess that my knowledge and experience with early childhood policies and systems is rather limited. As I read the resources in this first module, I felt overwhelmed. I had to read the chapters of the course text more than once, trying to break the information down and relate it to my own work in the field before I could assimilate it. I was looking for something to hold onto that could help me get a footing in this complex terrain.

As I began to contemplate three goals that might assist me in becoming more effective in my professional role, I realized that my own lack of familiarity with policies and systems was probably shared by others who, like me, have focused on work inside the classroom. As a teacher, I have focused my attention on nurturing children and supporting families—with only a passing nod at the policies and systems that rule the field. It also occurred to me that families of young children (who are the true stakeholders here) are, perhaps, similarly unfamiliar with the policies and systems that will surely impact them on the most fundamental level.

With these thoughts in mind, I selected these three goals for myself:

  • To establish a good foundation of knowledge about the history of early childhood systems—how they began and how they evolved. Achieving this goal will help me to build an understanding of EC systems “from the ground up” and relate it to current and future systems
  • To identify and understand the policies and systems in my own state—to discover who is “calling the shots” in my own backyard, how they are influencing the early childhood field, and how their thinking aligns (or not) with other states.  Achieving this goal will allow me to enter into dialogue and to question public policies that impact young children and families
  • To examine early childhood systems and policies with the spotlight on developmentally appropriate practices (and common sense) and to share my findings both within the early childhood field and beyond.  Achieving this goal will help me to advocate for young children and families, shedding light on policies that are developmentally inappropriate and harmful to young children

As I contemplate these goals and this course, I can feel the excitement building. I know this course will be challenging, but it holds the promise of giving me the tools I need to begin to form and articulate my own vision of what early childhood education could be—and that, to me, is thrilling.

 

Final Thoughts

This course has been a stimulating and rich learning experience. As I reflect on the past sixteen weeks, I am amazed at how comprehensive this course has been. We covered a lot of ground.

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The highlight of this course, for me, was the chance to focus on my Course Project in such an in-depth way. The completion of the annotated bibliographies was, in turn, exhausting and exhilarating. I enjoyed the challenge of searching for relevant literature and was thrilled by how each study offered a new perspective on my topic. This was a wholly satisfying experience. I can envision this as being applicable to my work as an early childhood professional in the fact that I believe that we should never stop learning. Knowing how to be a successful consumer of research is an important skill to have.

I will admit to some frustration with the technology required to post my final discussion presentation. It was hard to accept that after all the time and effort I spent on my presentation, I would not be able to present it the way it was intended. I hope to view this as a learning experience—if not a lesson in humility. Throughout my academic career, I have typically found that perseverance will eventually lead to the desired outcome, but not so in this case. It was a humbling experience.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion forum and I found much insight and guidance there—from my classmates as well as from our professor. I looked forward to visiting the board and always came away a little richer for the experience.

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I want to thank all of my classmates and Dr. B. for all you have brought to this remarkable course. For me, it was definitely time well spent and I am grateful to you all.

I wish you a most joyous holiday season and time to reflect, to rest, and to enjoy. I look forward to our next leg of this doctoral journey. Good wishes to all and thank you.

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Julie

 

 

 

 

The Interview Process

When I first began thinking about whom I might ask to participate in an interview with me, I immediately thought of a speech/language pathologist that has been in the field for many years. Her knowledge and experience will be very enlightening to my project challenge of speech/language impairment and social/ emotional development. I also wanted to gain a parent’s perspective, so I chose a young mother I know whose child was diagnosed with apraxia of speech as a young child. The family chose to keep this child in preschool for an extra year, hoping that he would find entry into kindergarten more comfortable as a six-year-old.
Both of these interviews are scheduled to take place next week—unfortunately too late for the deadline for this blog posting. Therefore, I cannot yet describe an idea or experience expressed by the interviewees—although I do anticipate that their insight will be rich and engaging.

My course project progress to date has been steady and enlightening. The annotated bibliography assignments have been, at times, frustrating, and at other times exhilarating. Depending on the focus of the assignment, it was sometimes difficult to find current research that supported that focus. I noticed that there is significant research from years ago, but rather fewer current studies on speech/language impairment and social/emotional development. However, with some persistence and time, I was able to find some very interesting studies. Oftentimes, they led me to more.

One question from which feedback might benefit me is this: As early childhood professionals, how do you support a child with speech/language impairment within the classroom to ensure healthy social/emotional development? This happened recently in my classroom—I witnessed an interaction between two three-year-olds in which one child (with speech impairment) mispronounced the name of another child by changing the “L” at the beginning of his name to a “Y” sound. Very common—“L” is hard sometimes. However, the child whose name began with “L” was visibly upset and kept insisting (with rising volume and frustration) that the first child say his name correctly. The first child kept repeating the name with a “Y” instead of an “L” obviously confused as to why the second child was so upset—he thought he was saying it correctly. I intervened quickly (the second child has difficulty in stressful situations and sometimes lashes out). It was speedily resolved, but it was tricky to find the right words to support each child. I would love feedback on how my colleagues would have responded. Thank you!

My Course Project Challenge

The specifically human capacity for language enables children to provide for auxiliary tools in the solution of difficult tasks, to overcome impulsive action, to plan a solution to a problem prior to its execution, and to master their own behavior. ~ Lev Vygotsky, Mind in Society

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The challenge I have chosen to explore is Children with Varying Abilities, and within that challenge, I will focus specifically on the subtopic of developmental delays and impairments in speech and how they may affect social and emotional development.

I have selected this challenge because it is one I wish to learn more about.  As a teacher, I have worked with children who have difficulty communicating effectively due to delays in speech development. Although these children eventually do seem to “catch up” to their peers, there is often significant setbacks in social interaction and emotional well-being while their language skills are developing.

This course project will examine a possible link between impaired social/emotional development and the acquisition of language skills in early childhood.

Language delays occur in children from every demographic. I am wondering if I will discover any similarities or differences in how language delays are perceived in relation to family structure and/or culture and beliefs?

This should be an interesting project!

 

 

Reflection

It is hard to believe that we have come to the end of our second course leading toward our doctoral degrees.  It has been a long sixteen weeks (amid a very long winter) but those weeks were rich in experience and learning.

One of the most satisfying experiences for me this past semester was the deep involvement in my “Project”.  I chose the topic of resilience for my project and as I uncovered layer after layer of research, I found so much that resonated with me, my own childhood, and my vision for the early childhood field.  My research led me to articles about play and the importance of risk-play and outdoor play–two concepts familiar to me from my own childhood, but sadly lacking in most children’s experience today.  I was inspired by the research and advocacy of the Alliance for Childhood (www.allianceforchildhood.org) and its focus on play, on developmentally appropriate practices, and its unfailing opposition to current education mandates that fail to reflect (or understand) how young children learn.

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Children need to play outdoors and they need challenge and risk in their play.

 

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These images remind me of my own childhood, when we were allowed to create and discover on our own.  In my reading this past semester I often saw the the words: Make children’s play space as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.  That makes perfect sense to me.  We need to allow children to try and fail and try again.  Child-led “risk” play fosters healthy development across all domains including resilience and critical thinking skills that come naturally with freedom in play.

 

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I love this poster and this website.  It is full of wonderful and inspirational information about connecting children to nature.

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One of the most profound things that came from my work this semester was the realization that one person can truly make a difference in a child’s life.  I found many examples of this in my research on resilience.  I have always been a self-proclaimed “champion of childhood” and I feel strongly that children should not be hampered by adult issues.  However, sometimes it is hard to shelter them from images or negative experiences no matter how hard you try. I like this quote from Mr Rogers, whose mother found a way to find the positive among all the negative:

 

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As early childhood professionals, we may have the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life, and we may even be that helper that buffers the harshness of the world.   I hope we all find a way to be “champions of childhood”.  I can think of no better calling.