P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

 

photography of tree
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I wanted to share a description of a program that I am creating this summer. I feel called to begin to host women’s groups that help us reclaim our power. Beginning in August 2019 I will be hosting this as an outdoor women’s group in the Saint Johnsbury, Vermont area. I am also developing this into an online e-course as well!

Workshop Title:  P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationships

Workshop Description: As women it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. During this workshop we will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in our lives need added focus and attention. We will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize that align with our core values. We will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships as a way to build support one another. Throughout the workshop participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to reclaiming their inner power.

If you’d like to join one of my groups or to create your own private group with your friends I will begin scheduling in August 2019! Email April for more details ~~~   aprilzajko@gmail.com 

 

“But what do you do?”

“But what do you do?” ~ when I hear the question I have to quickly decide if I give the full speech, a one minute version of the speech, or just a few words.

Most people within my professional circle know me as a “preschool teacher”. A kind, warm and fuzzy teacher who ties shoes, wipes off messy faces, sings songs and teaches about manners, nature, art, and social-emotional skills. My last eight years in the classroom were spent in preschool, and I came to realize the power and fundamental role that early childhood has on both the academic success in school and lifelong impact for children who have access to high quality early childhood programs.

When I took on a new role of entrepreneur and creating a business as an educational consultant, my friends didn’t quite know how the presumably soft skills of preschool teacher would translate into a business model. Surprisingly, learning how to take care of young children prepared me well for working with a wide range of groups because nearly all people find it refreshing to work with someone who is both kind and a go-getter!

Back to the question…”But what do you do?”

In a few words ~ I am an educational consultant.

One minute speech ~ I am an Early Childhood Educator and I work with schools, child care centers, businesses and organizations to develop programs that support a ‘holistic view of childhood”. With my almost twenty years of working with families and children I know the silos and obstacles that exist within our system and I can help facilitate ways to improve our programs to have a greater impact on children.

And for those who really want to dive into more of the details….I typed up an even longer description!

April Zajko, M.Ed. is the owner of April’s Teaching Tree, an educational consulting business with a mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. April has been leading professional development in education since 2003 and is licensed in Vermont as both as an Early Childhood Educator and Reading Specialist. April has built a solid reputation for providing relevant, engaging, and motivating programs that take theory and put it into actionable steps to improve outcomes for children.  Over the last school year, April has led professional development in Vermont for child care centers, regional Head Start teams, Starting Points networks, and private programs. April has partnered with several nonprofit organizations who are working toward improving educational programs for young children, including the Vermont Community Engagement Lab and the STEM Lab at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Over the last eight years, April has led trainings at the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children fall conference and developed master level trainings in science. Since 2016, April has taught early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont in Saint Johnsbury, and has helped many new professionals get started on their career path in early childhood education.

April is committed to workforce development and knows that as we empower early care providers we strengthen our system and practices of care for ALL families.

April is passionate about advocating for nature-based learning and puts creativity and PLAY at the center of the curriculum.

April believes that ALL children thrive when we design inclusive programs that offer supportive and warm environments that cultivate nurturing  and responsive relationships.

April’s Teaching Tree gives voice to the vision and mission of “growing a holistic view of childhood”. To read my weekly blog post subscribe at http://www.aprilsteachingtree.com

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If your program or organization wants to create custom professional development or partner on projects for the next school year, please email April directly at aprilzajko@gmail.com

If you are an individual and want to sign up for a course of program led by April Zajko, visit this link which will be updated as programs or classes are added ~ https://aprilsteachingtree.com/upcoming-trainings/

If you would like to be part of April’s ongoing women’s leadership group called P.O.W.E.R.~Path of Wellness, Environment, and Relationship ~ send an email to get more information ~ aprilzajko@gmail.com

“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” ~Gandhi

“Ready to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education?”

 

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“Ready to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education?”

Led by April Zajko, M.Ed.

Tuesday, June 11th  5:00-6:00 p.m.

Location: Community College of Vermont in Saint Johnsbury – 3rd floor

Description: Are you getting started in the field of child care and want to learn more? Join us for this one hour interactive conversation about the Vermont Early Childhood Career Ladder. This tool can help  you plan and track your professional growth by organizing coursework, credentials, degrees, and licensure. Learn how each level of the Career Ladder combines education and experience, and how you can continue to grow and learn in this exciting field. Bring your questions and we can help you on your path to a rewarding career! This is open to the public and anyone can attend! FREE! No pre-registration required.

Objective: Participants will learn how to navigate the Vermont Early Childhood Career Ladder.

“Spacecraft Design 101″

“Spacecraft Design 101”

at the Davies Memorial Library in Waterford, Vermont 

July 19, 2019 ~ 9:30 -11:30 a.m.

 

Every young astronaut dreams of designing & creating their own cardboard space travel machine. April Zajko will lead this hand-on workshop where every child will be encourage to let their creativity shine. Afterwards participants will be ready to blast off home with their own rocket or spaceship.

Kindly pre-register by calling the library (802- 748-4609) so we will have enough materials on hand!

Though April has not traveled to space herself, she has inspired children for almost two decades to reach for the stars! As a licensed Early Childhood Educator, she believes that children (of all ages) learn through play and that the universe of knowledge and joy awaits children in the books they read!

 

Educational Journey ~ First Job in Education

 

Sharing our story and our journey of how we got to where we are is a powerful way of connecting to each other. When we look at our resume we know which of the jobs had the greatest impact on the direction of our lives. Often it’s the first jobs that we have that have the greatest impact.

My very first job in education was at Minnick Education Center in Roanoke, Virginia. It was private day school for students who were not meeting with success in traditional public schools. The program that I worked in was alternative high school program with a small group of mostly African American young men who were at risk of dropping out of school or going into juvenile detention centers. The commonality between the group were a diagnosis of Emotionally Disturbed, disruptive behaviors, and extremely low literacy levels. There was no option for these young men to return to their home schools because of their previous behaviors, and therefore there was pressure to make sure they met with success with us so they could either graduate with an alternate diploma or earn their G.E.D.

By far, it was the hardest teaching position that I have had in my career but I was committed to those young men. I was determined for them to meet with success. Each student had a three inch binder that contained “their story” and it was shocking and heartbreaking to read.  How could these young men only read on an early elementary level? How had they fallen through the school system and not have received effective interventions earlier? How had they made it this far despite the obstacles they faced? Could someone have prevented their behaviors from escalating to the point that they were expelled? What could have changed their trajectory so that learning differently didn’t mean failing school? And most importantly, how could we help set them on a path to a vocation that could become independent and productive citizens?

That first year was also my last year in that type of educational setting because it was too overwhelming for me. As a compassionate and empathetic educator the experience of working with a group of teens who were in the midst of trauma was too much for me. I remember telling my principal how I was feeling at mid-year; he nodded, asked me to finish out the year, and said this field has a high turnover rate because most educators want to fix problems that they can’t.

That first teaching position helped me realize that my strengths were in working with younger children. I wanted to be an early childhood teacher that help start children’s trajectory in a different way. I wanted to learn how to teach ALL children to read and to honor that different ways of learning could be supported in a traditional school.

Luckily near the conclusion of that school year, I was accepted into a program with the Western Virginia Public Education Consortium that was offering a ‘career switcher’ Teacher Preparation Program. The Virginia Department of Education recognized that people like me who already had a Bachelor’s degree and a fiery desire to make a difference in children’s lives needed a pathway to teacher licensure. This was a godsend because going back for an education degree was not financially possible for me at the time, and the career switcher program was fully paid for by the Virginia DOE.

For one month in July 2001, I was able to live on campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and take part in an intensive training to become a provisionally licensed elementary teacher. Later that summer I was hired as a first grade teacher in a public school, was assigned a mentor teacher, and received support throughout my first year from the Consortium to ensure that I was able to effectively teach younger children. My first year in public school I began to take graduate level classes in order to become a reading specialist and was determined to ensure that every child I work with finds reading to be a joyful experience. One of my foundational beliefs is that when a child knows how to read an entire universe opens up in front of them, and that there is freedom and knowledge awaiting us all when we read.

I often think back to Minnick and the lessons I learned from that group of young men. I don’t know where life took them, but I carry with me a piece of their story. Each of those young men’s stories are important, and each of the children and adult students that I work with have important stories to share. When we share our stories, whether written or orally, we create connections and foster an environment built on respect.

I know when I look at my resume that the one year at Minnick had the greatest impact on my career. As educators, we have the power to influence the trajectory of our student’s lives when we don’t let any of them slip through the cracks. As early childhood educators, we truly set the foundation and groundwork for the rest of their academic lives so it is both and honor and responsibility that we advocate for what children need.

P.O.W.E.R. ~ Path of Wellness, Empowerment & Relationships

One of the best parts of leading professional development training is the deep conversation and connections that I get to make with other early care providers and educators.

On Monday of this week I led a training called “Leading with Empathy” and we dove deep into topics of emotional vocabulary, fostering inclusion and belonging in our programs, building strong relationships with the families in our programs, defining empathy & considering how to build those skills with children, and developing self care action plans.

This was the first time leading this training, but I knew that this was helping me to synthesize and apply much of the research and work that I have been exploring this year. Helping others to make deeper connections, act with compassion, gain more confidence in their work, and build up our reserves so we can be care givers without depleting ourselves, and to turn our vulnerabilities into strengths.

Whoa…this is important work for all of us no matter our field!

Driving home I was reflecting on the presentation and the conversations. The word “POWER” kept coming to mind, and my wish to be able to pass on confidence and power to all the women that I work with. Many child care providers and moms that I know need a POWER boost, and often I find myself giving PEP talks to other women who feel stripped of their power.

Community of Practice model ~ working together with others in order to improve ourselves and to foster growth within our team or community is the way to change our views. When we connect with a small group of others in this way, all working toward the same goal, we create a synergy! Being part of a community who are all committed to the same goal makes us feel like we belong, and we feel supported to grow and change.

Women’s Gatherings ~ for most of my life I have been part of a small tribe of other women who are working on the same life goals. As a teen being invited into drumming circles, as a young adult leading Wise Women’s retreats, leading yoga classes and adult wellness programs when I ran a Holistic Health Center. Later once I began working in early childhood education, leading parenting groups, play groups, Mommy Coffee Hour, and professional development. All of these tribes and circles have supported me and helped me become who I am.

So developing my own framework for growing into our P.O.W.E.R. is one of the big projects in store for June 2019!

P.O.W.E.R. = Path of Wellness, Environment, & Relationships ~ weaving together much of the research, reading, and inner work that I have been doing in order to offer an in-person women’s coaching group. I am also going to offer it as an online e-course as well so I can send my positive message to a wider audience. Eventually, I will have a framework or blueprint ready to share with other women who want to lead their own groups!

If you would like to be part of my FREE online BETA-test group or live local and want to be part of my summer group, email me at aprilzajko@gmail.com 

 

 

Thank you to the “Starting Points Child Care Network” in Randolph, Vermont for inspiring me this week! I hope you each took away some tools that you will use in your work! Our training this week really me inspired me! I am so eager to dive into developing this larger training program!

With gratitude,

April

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!