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

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

Date/Time: Saturday, November 2nd

Location: Johnson, Vermont

To register, contact: Suzanne Lague – stlague@comcast.net

“A candle loses none of it’s light by lighting another.” ~Rumi 

Workshop Description: As child care providers it is easy to feel like we are giving away our power and begin to feel burned out. We will will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. We will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in their life they need to add 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 session participants will hear inspiring stories of growth and transformation that others have found on their own path back to reclaiming their inner power.


Learning Objectives:

Participants will practice recognizing and addressing issues related to vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

Participants will explore the eight domains of wellness and determine which areas in their life they need to add focus and attention as a powerful way to develop meaning self-care routines.

Participants will discuss ways to improve the environments that we live, work, and socialize to align with our core values. Journal prompts and guidance on how to begin a Reflective Practice will help providers become intentional in how they create safe, nurturing learning and work environments.

Participants will brainstorm how to develop nurturing and supportive relationships with other child care providers as a powerful way to find support in the field with their professional support team.


Bio for Presenter:

April Zajko, M.Ed. began her career as a massage therapist and yoga instructor. While earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, April began to lead women’s retreats and stress management seminars at a holistic health center in Delaware. Once April earned her Master’s Degree in Education, she began to weave her holistic minded approach into her work with young children and with her adult learners. Currently, April teaches early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont and leads professional development for child care providers around the state of Vermont. April graduated from the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification program at the Sivanada Yoga Center in Val Morin, Quebec in 1996 and earned a second 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification from the Heart Space Yoga Studio in St. Johnsbury in March 2019. April is also an October 2019 graduate of the Snelling Center for Government’s Early Childhood Leadership Institute. April embraces the value reclaiming our personal power, both as we advocate on behalf of children while simultaneously learning how to take good care of ourselves. Through self-care and professional support teams our joy and longevity in the field of Early Childhood Education will be persevered.


Leading with Empathy

“Leading with Empathy” is a new two hour training that April’s Teaching Tree is excited to offer. Dates are still being confirmed for Fall 2019, but it will be offered on Oct. 24th, 2019 as part of the VtAEYC Fall Conference.  See the full conference brochure here – http://vaeyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/FINAL-VAEYC-ONLINE-BROCHURE-1.pdf

This training is for you if you’ve been asking yourself these questions:

“How do can I find the courage to stand up for what I believe? Can a teacher also be a leader? How can I be both caring and an effective leader? How can I lead with compassion and kindness without burning out?”

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. ” ~Oprah Winfrey 


Course description:

Growing into leadership roles requires us to go outside of our comfort zones, and to examine both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Learn how to use active listening, observation, and empathetic response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children, families, and coworkers.

Leading with empathy helps us to explore the concepts of courage, compassion, and connection as we explore how to create the most supportive learning environment for all children.

Participants will looks at specific ways to create an environment that is built on trust, inclusion, and conveys a sense of belonging to all.

Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

Participants will create a “Self Care Action Plan” as a way to prioritize self-care since
leaders must learn how to care for themselves so theycan effectively lead their teams.

Learning Objectives:

1) Participants will learn about Active Listening & Observation & Empathetic Response as a way to understand and build trusting relationships with both children and families.

2) Participants will explore ways to share resources with their teams on how to teach emotional vocabulary, self-regulation, and techniques to model social and emotional skills for their staff and families.

3) Participants will create a Self Care Action Plan as a way to prevent overwhelm and burn out.

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


photography of tree
Photo by gypsyugal on Pexels.com


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 


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,


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!

Unplugged Play

You might ask if we REALLY need a book to remind us how to play?

Sadly, I think that the answer is YES! We need print resources to remind parents, grandparents, and community members the importance of unplugged play.

My top pick is this encyclopedia of a book…”Unplugged Play” by Bobbi Conner

“Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure fun.” is a book that every home, child care center, or after school program should own. This book spans the ages of 12 months to 10 years, and the sections are broken up into toddler, preschool, and grade school which helps both new parents and providers in figuring out age appropriate games and activities.This easy to read book lays out hundreds and hundreds of ideas to help inspire PLAY with imagination, creativity, movement, and the best medicine of all, belly laughs.

“Unplugged Play” is essentially like an encyclopedia of information for families and care providers that will last for years! The books suggestions on how to stock the toy cupboard can help at families decided on what types of toys and materials to invest in for their child! 

Let’s put PLAY back into the driver’s seat of our children’s lives. Instead of buying them a new digital device, educational app, or some other toy with bells and whistles….consider giving children the best gift…unplugged PLAY!


Additional books for inspiring traditional play:

99 1/2 Creepy Crawly Jokes, Riddles, and Nonsense by Holly Kowitt

Anna Banana 101 Jump Rope Rhymes – Joanna Cole

Book of Cards for Kids by Gail MacColl

Crazy Eights and Other Card Games – Joanna Cole & Stephanie Calmenson

Eentsy, Weentsy Spider: Fingerplays and Action Rhymes – Joanna Cole & Stephanie Calmenson

Fun on the Run: Travel Games and Songs – Joanna Cole & Stephanie Calmenson

Hand Clap! “Miss Mary Mack” and 42 Other Hand-Clapping Games for Kids by Sara Bernstein

Let’s Play: Traditional Games of Childhood by Dusan Petricic & Camilla Gryski

Marc Brown’s Favorite Hand Rhymes

Pat-A-Cake and Other Play Rhymes – Joanna Cole & Stephanie Calmenson

Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Other Party Games – Joanna Cole & Stephanie Calmenson

String Games by Richard Darsie

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun. by Bobbi Conner


Presentation Tips 101

Whether you present to 10, 100, or 1000 people want to hear your message. #getupandsayit

One of the professional skills that I am working to develop is my confidence, poise, and pacing when I do public speaking. Public speaking is a hurdle that I have been able to jump and I talk more about it in this post, Confidence Boosting Tips.

Whether you present to 10, 100, or 1000…people want to hear your message. So… #getupandsayit

Professionally, I mostly present to small groups of early childhood educators. Often they already know each other and some of the most compassionate people around. However, there was that one time that my state organization (VtAEYC) booked 92 attendees in my workshop instead of the 25 I had listed as my maximum.

In this post, I would like to share “Presentation Tips from my Community College Students”

Here is a condensed list of tips that my Curriculum Development students wrote in their post presentation reflections. I asked them to write a Pep Talk for themselves for the next time they have to present. Their ideas were so good I had to share them with you!

  • Repeat a simple phrase in your mind, some suggestions include: “You got this girl.” “The only failure is if you don’t try!” “It’s only 10 minutes out of your life.” “Breathe. Smile. Speak from your heart.”
  • Breathe – if you don’t breathe you will die. Breathe, slowly, deeply. Exhale when you need to pause.
  • Practice in front of mirror or someone kind before doing your presentation in class
  • Dress for success, but don’t wear anything itchy. Wear your favorite outfit, and smile. Red is a bold color to go with my bold message.
  • Never let them see you sweat, so wear something that feels cool. Turtle necks and sweaters are out.
  • Drink water, being hydrated makes you feel better.
  • Power poses – stand tall, shoulders back, move around so you don’t look stiff
  • Look at the audience and be confident. Eye contact is hard for me so I look toward the audience just focus on their hairline.
  • Note cards help me stay on track, but I need to make sure I don’t stare at them.
  • Fumble on words, have a few little mess ups, but just keep on going.
  • No one is expected to be perfect, and when we own our flaws we find our strength #flawesome
  • We’re all human and everyone will experience “first times” throughout life.
  • Before hand do something that helps you relax – stop by to visit a friend for a few minutes, sit and enjoy a quiet moment, drink a coffee and calm my thoughts, take a nature walk, read a funny story.
  • Give yourself credit for the work you put into your research and preparation
  • Smile and just do it.
  • Pack a special treat: “As soon as I am done I can eat that chocolate in my bag!”
  • Life will present itself with many challenges, but when you have message you want others to hear…Get Up and Say It! (And we will be right over here cheering you on!)


#flawesome  #getupandsayit