Know Thyself~ Take a Seat at the Table

“Know Thyself” was the theme of a two day training that I attended last week as part of a larger six month “Early Childhood Leadership Institute” with the Snelling Center for Government. I arrived already knowing quite a bit about myself and completely open to learning more. Though I have been working in the field of education for almost two decades, I know that being a lifelong learner is how I will continue to grow and develop into a confident leader in my field.

On a personal level, I know that much of who I am today is from difficult lessons learned in my childhood, and wanting to protect children from adverse childhood experiences is why I entered the field of education.

An important part of knowing myself is owning that I often feel like I don’t belong. I often feel like I can easily fit in, am often asked to participate, but still lack that deeper sense of belonging. It’s a feeling that I have had for as long as I can remember, and is one of the reasons that I really value community building and friendship skills in my own classrooms.

During one of the break-out sessions at the training last week I shared this confession:

“I look like all the other white women and even live in a quiet little New England neighborhood. I mostly dress in cardigans and love ‘old lady’ floral dresses. For the most part, I can easily blend in and be a chameleon in most social situations, but often I feel like this ‘seat at the table’ should be given to someone else. The opportunity to stay in quaint inns and resorts has only been available to me because I sign up to be part of statewide child care trainings. I feel twinges of guilt when servers bring the crystal pitcher to fill my glass, because I feel trained to be the server and not guest at the table.”

Post confession, the two women I was talking to both nodded their head in agreement. I felt some relief knowing that I was not alone in my feeling like someone else should be sitting at the table.

I am more comfortable being outdoors or at a campfire. Drinking out of a metal cup suits me more than a crystal goblet…but there is where the professional ‘stretch’ lies. Getting outside of the comfort zone and into the stretch zone.

Quite honestly, it feels foreign to be the care receiver instead of the care giver. As early childhood educators, we serve others and anticipate their needs. We are delighted at others growth and we happily eat the bread crumbs left after cutting our kids sandwiches into cute shapes. It’s not that we are servants or serfs because we knowingly went to college to do this work. Despite the lower pay and the longer hours, we felt called to be in this field of working with the youngest children. We understand child development and know that toilet training is as important as any other skill or ability that children will acquire. We show up and do the important work because we know that we are building the foundation….but when co-workers or administrators treat us as servants or serfs then bristly conversations occur.

As early childhood educators we have taken on some difficult roles and some that we weren’t quite prepared for:

Difficult phone calls to report concerns to the Child Development Division leave me breathless and shaken. When I began teaching we didn’t have the role of mandated reporter, yet that is part of the job now. Of course we want to ensure the safety of the children, but it’s overwhelming when we see the affects on children from families that are living with adversity.

When I reflect on the honor of holding a mother’s hand as she navigates the system to get her children’s needs met, it is with a responsibility to use my voice to show how the silos are broken to those in charge.

Weathering the storms at school with children with explosive behaviors helped me to realize the deep impact to children when their families are battling addiction or other adversities. Behavior is communication and that we need to help understand what the child is telling us, which is hard to do when we don’t feel like there is a system of support for either the child or staff member.

Though I have read hundreds of books and have tried to synthesize theory to practice, it was not until I was in the classroom and in the thick of it that I realized the enormity of the role that we have assigned to early childhood educators.

At this point in my career, I realize that it takes courage for me to step outside of my comfort zone and push for the changes that I see need to be made in order for children in our community to flourish. I realize that I do have a strong voice for children with years of experience in both public and private programs. Despite my hesitancy and reluctance to become an advocate for children, I can no longer to turn a blind eye to systems, policies, or people that are failing our children.

So I will continue on working to know myself, and more importantly, I will keep showing up and keep having heartfelt conversations. I know the strength of celebrating our differences, being respectful, and kind is the way that we create the classrooms and neighborhoods that we want to live in. Yet, there is an urgency in our work to advocate for what we know our children need.

I acknowledge that this seat at the table is meant for me. And good news, there is space for you too! Pass the chocolate…we’ve got some hard work to do!

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