140+: In the Moment


Does Social Media Open Doors or Distract Early Childhood Educators?

I’ve always marveled at early educators’ ability to focus so intently on the children, families, and staff in their programs. To me, it’s a huge blessing. It’s also a curse.  We are so mission-focused that we often don’t have the time or inclination to step back, look at the bigger picture, and decide how our work fits in to the overall scheme of where we’re going. Don’t get me wrong, I know from firsthand experience that operating programs that offer high-quality early learning experiences takes 100% of our energy, focus and passion. By the end of the day, there’s often little energy left over for much else. But, is our laser focus on our programs a help or a hindrance? And, does engagement through social media distract us or help us do more?

Laser Focus: Help or Hindrance?

Think about a laser for a moment: It shines a very intense light on a small area.  Lasers do a great job shining through a swath, but leave other areas untouched. Are we so focused on our missions to make a difference for the children in our care that we fail to make important conceptual, political, and professional connections that can have more impact? I know when I operated programs, I often thought, “leave the political and networking stuff up to other people. I have my hands full, and I am doing important work.”  Once I left the  my programs for other related early education jobs, I saw that I missed incredible  opportunities that would have benefited the children in my program and the direction of the field in general.

Why is it taking so long for us to engage?

Why am I writing about this now? I’m lamenting the void of engagement and sources of timely, relevant information in early care and education. I’m frustrated by how long it is taking for program practitioners to look up from guiding our lasers to see that there is a country and a world in which we operate, and it’s full of opportunities and insight. I’m also surprised to see how slow our community leaders are to add blogs and other social media as strategies to engage their members, supporters, and advocates.

But, I know I am  preaching to the choir. Given that you are reading this post, you probably  read other blogs, and engage on social media sites. YOU are probably NOT one of the hundreds of thousands of early childhood practitioners who are don’t  purposely set aside time to learn more, network, advocate, or exchange ideas related to their work. (And, I ask you, what are you doing to encourage your colleagues to test social media?)

There is a dearth of social media interactivity and engagement in our field. Stop to think about the size of our field. It’s hard for me to fathom (and harder to find the real data) about how many early childhood educators there are in the US. (Statisticians, if you can wrap your head around this one, give me a shout!)  I do know that there are only a handful of  commonly read reliable and credible blogs and journals in our field to serve (conservatively) hundreds of thousands of educators.  And, having been actively searching for early educators on social networking sites and listservs for many years now, I can estimate that less than 1% of us are engaging online. Contrast those (admittedly rough) stats with those related to business, and you can see how technically and engagement-challenged we are as a field.

We need to connect to learn from and partner with others in our field. That is not a new concept. We all connect through community or committee meeting every once in a while. We take a workshop or go to a conference a couple of times a year. We already read Young Children, Child Care Information Exchange, or one of the few journals for early childhood education. Awesome!  Those IRL (techno-speak for “in real life”) experiences and activities are absolutely vital.  Adding social media to those activities widens the circle of influence by allowing you to connect with others exponentially. The folks at CommonCraft illustrate the point so well. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at Social Networking in Plain English. Do you see how using social networking before or after meetings and conferences can extend the benefits well beyond the walls? This is just one example of the power the Internet has to help us influence and educate one another.

So, is social media a distraction for early childhood educators or an accelerant?

I assert that we need more to do more. We need more blogs. We need more interconnectedness.  What do you think? There’s a lively conversation about just this issue going on in the Internet4ECE group on LinkedIn. Of course, you need to be a member of LinkedIn and a member of the group to read it. (Oh, am I secretly trying to illustrate engagement on the Internet? I would never be so sneaky.)

Resources:

I have a nice list of ECE blogs on slide 22 of my presentation from NAEYC’s Professional Development Institute: Supercharge Your ECE Program With Web 2.0. There’s a lot of additional information about social media in our field in that presentation, and you will find other resources on the Social Media for ECE on my website.

I’m dying to convince you. I’m dying for you to convince others, Check out some of my other presentations, resources, and the Social Media in ECE Directory I am compiling*, and share them if you find them helpful. Let me help you convince others that social media is a professional development, advocacy, and outreach accelerant, and an isolation-buster, bar none.

*If you would like to be included in the Social Media for ECE Directory, register! It only takes a couple of minutes!
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A Contradiction in Terms: Why This Child Care Advocate Posts Negative Stories About Child Care

The other day, I posted one of my usual missives about the horrible condition of child care in America on my Facebook page. It was just another day in my life in which I try to get people to wake up and smell the coffee about how far we (advocates, parents, child care providers, policy makers, the media, and everyone else) have to go to improve child care. Soon thereafter, and one of my childhood friends who doesn’t really know what I do for a living responded to the post by saying “It’s terrible! And those parents keep on working and sending their children.” I was horrified and quickly deleted the post.

That post made me wake up and smell the coffee about the implications of the messages I send out! I looked back at my Facebook and Twitter posts, and I realized that I’m not completing the thought! People who don’t know me think I am “anti-child care!” Whhhoooa! I know child care, and when done well, it provides children and parents with many positive outcomes. As a matter of fact, high-quality child care includes developmentally appropriate learning opportunities that make the most of the critical early learning years when brain development is most rapid. As a working mother and a child care professional, I know it is simply a necessary fact of life for most people in our nation. Clearly, I support parents and their need to work.

It’s true that based on the reports produced by  my employer, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, I have come to believe that by and large, child care in America is in a deplorable state due to lack of standards, regulations, oversight, and adequate training. I also know, based on my experience as a parent of a child who has been in child care, as a child care center administrator in a multi-site organization dedicated to high-quality early learning experiences,  and as a curriculum and assessment developer, there are examples of wonderful, well-operated programs throughout the country. Because I do know what high-quality child care looks like from the inside, and as someone with experience at the national level, I am passionate that all children and families have the highest quality care.

Why would someone who works on behalf of child care promote negative stories? It seems counter intuitive that advocates would not want to promote the stories of great examples of child care that works. Here’s why I post about negative stories:

• While there are good examples of family child care and child care programs, they are few and far between. A 2006 study by The National Institute of Child Health and Development rated only 10% of programs throughout the nation as “good.” It’s hard to build interest in change when the results are so small.
• NACCRRA’s studies reveal that parents believe the government is doing its part to protect children in child care, when, in fact, there is an alarming lack of standardization and regulation of child care throughout the country.
• There is a general lack of awareness about child care, and as an advocate and the head of Child Care Aware Parent Network, I need to do my part to raise awareness and educate the public.
• The media, policy-makers, and the general public don’t pay attention to the “feel-good” stories.
• The stories of the tragic results of poor child care provide clear illustrations of what needs to be done to improve quality throughout the nation.

I’ve learned that it is important for me to “complete” the thought when I post, so people who read the posts understand that I am not implying that parents should avoid child care, and most importantly, I do not want to make anyone feel guilty about using it. I also don’t want to perpetuate the chasm that exists between working parents and those who have the luxury of a myriad of choices. As a matter of fact, I am posting in order to encourage people to join me, NACCRRA , and our new Child Care Aware Parent Network to advocate for Federal legislation for better regulation, funding, and oversight of child care through states and the local agencies that are tasked with child care licensing. Learn more about our Policy Agenda , and join us to educate the public and advocate for the world-class child care because 11 million children in child care in America are counting on us.