Professional Life Lessons for Early Childhood Educators

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. As we age, it is healthy to give advice and to feel that our long careers in the profession of early childhood education has been meaningful. We have both retired from full-time work teaching early childhood education at the same community college. There, the working culture did not always feel open or collaborative. Our advice was not always welcome or heeded. Now we both work as early learning consultants presenting workshops and offering advice whenever asked. Even though we both enjoy watching the sun disappear in the evening sky, our sunset years are busier than ever. And, this is by choice!

We began our careers in early childhood education, not too long after child care had become a formally organized, regulated service connected to diploma and degree programs offered at colleges and universities. We confronted and reframed our image of the college professor as sage on the stage who lectures to students who sit, listen and take notes. We both worked hard to equip our workshop rooms with hands-on materials designed to offer students opportunities to play and learn. Rather than sage on the stage, we were guides on the side. Now from the platform of this blog and the wisdom gained from age, research and experience, we would like to assume the sage position and offer our advice. Collectively our top three pieces of advice begin as follows:

Number One: Never forget the power of playing and learning at all ages. It will keep you feeling young, energized and strengthen your resolve and commitment to the importance of play-based learning for children.

Number Two: Be passionate! We believe in order to thrive as an early learning teacher, you need to be passionate about children’s play and learning. We wonder how it is possible not to be?

Number Three: Rise by lifting others. As pedagogical leaders we see ourselves as mentors and in order to help others develop, we must lift  them up, not bring them down.

Do not underestimate the power of play. In this photo we were facilitating a risky play workshop and offered the participants materials to mess about with and engage in risky play. When we walked through the forest observing and interacting, we came upon this swing, we were compelled to test it out! You can play with materials and mess about, you can also play with ideas while messing about. We are suggesting that you can also play with advice. We are calling on the sages of our profession and asking the question; what advice would they give their younger selves? Play the game!

After some reflection and discussion with Diane, if I could give advice to my younger self, I (Cindy) would say that I needed to know more about the responsibilities that come with working in this profession. I now know that it is an honour to do the work that I do. Something else that I can share would be to slow down and take more time to listen to the perspective of others before charging in and making changes and decisions without collaboration. Looking back now, I wonder how many colleagues perceived me as a bull in a china shop, rushing about with little regard to the value of what was in my midst?

Another piece of advice would be to reframe my image of children and families and my role in regard to this relationship. As a young educator, working as a resource teacher supporting children and families, I remember now thinking that I knew what was best for the child from a holistic and developmental perspective. I had to learn and value that family members are a child’s first and foremost teachers and caregivers, and that they are deserving of genuine respect.

If I could give advice to my younger self, I would simply say, always in kindness and don’t fight every battle. I have been described by others as outspoken. I have lived my professional life, unafraid to speak up when in disagreement. I wasn’t always kind. I was forthright and brash. In retrospect, I fought too many battles, many not even my own. In the fullness of time, some of these issues would have worked themselves out. If they didn’t, my world would have been very different had I approached others with kindness, always with kindness. I do have one last piece of advice to my younger self and to anyone who is reading this post. Challenge yourself to continue to learn professionally outside your comfort zone. Find something you don’t know because there is so much to learn, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I especially look forward to experiencing the conference, Land as Our First Teacher: Establishing and Maintaining Relationship with Cindy and many others. I am now recognizing something I did not realize as a young early childhood educator. I am learning what Indigenous peoples have always known: we learn best in a community of positive relationships connected to our natural environment. We feel very strongly that the experience of this conference is important to all early childhood educators and all children. As an incentive to register, we have received donations of $1,200.00 worth of gift cards from Scholar’s Choice and Louise Kool and Galt. If you register or have registered, you will have a chance to win! We also want to hear from you. What professional advice would you give your younger self? Comment below and your name will be entered to win a copy of the textbook, Outdoor and Nature Play in Early Childhood Education, in which you will find the picture of us playing outside! If you comment and you register for the conference you double your chance of winning the book!! Share your wisdom – give some advice!

15 thoughts on “Professional Life Lessons for Early Childhood Educators

  1. Two things, I love the “raise by lifting others”. In my youth I was very competitive and compound that with a mentor that saw others as enemies, I was not very happy. Now that my goal is to lift others and we all succeeded I am much happier. The second which sort goes with the first is I agree, not every battle needs to be fought. There are of course some principles I stand on and I am happy to discuss them most of the time but I do not need to win, compromise is healthy and a way to grow together. Great article!

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    • I love your advice! I feel like you are in my own head with your thinking! I often reflect on my past 40 years as an ECE and wish I had been less serious and not always in such a hurry to get things done. I’d Ida great job at the time with what I knew then. I have learned to slow down and listen to the wisdom of others, especially the children. Recently I shifted my focus to outdoor education and this intentional reconnection with the natural world has been profound. My attitude and perspective along with my priorities have changed significantly. Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature! I lapproach my teaching, my learning and my relationships with new eyes and ears. I am more gentle. I smile more. I care more deeply. I love my job! “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). My mantra these days.

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  2. In a world of invisibility, I wonder if the “in” held within the larger word of invisibility is about being visible. Be the power to put forward the ideas, concept, philosophical underpinning “in” the moment in order for the learning to be visible. I would tell my younger self that early childhood education is not invisible but has now taken Center stage and how in my urgency to advocate I may not have recognized the power of visibility through my actions and words over time. Early childhood education is visible, dynamic and alive as we visibly advocate for professionals, families and children.

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    • Slow down observe and play too. I’m no longer going to rush around picking up toys. I want to sit on the floor listen and learn what the children are doing. Clean up can come later. There should never be a rush when children are engaged in play.

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  3. I love the “raise by lifting others”. It is very important in life to be open to other cultures and respect their way of doing things. Everyone has a story and life experiences and deserve respect. Also I think if you have opportunities for professional development then continue learning. It is crucial for your growth as an educator. Remember that self-care is important when working with young children. You deserve to also take care of yourself.

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    • Hi Diane and Cindy! You guys are so inspiring ❤ If I could talk to my younger self, I would remind myself to remember who I am truly working for – the children. Too often I was concerned about impressing my employers, colleagues, and the parents, that I was burning myself out. Years later, and after some serious life experiences and reflection, I learned to see things from a new perspective. I have shifted my focus to ensuring I connect with, and make a difference to at least one child every day. If I have done that, then I feel I have done my part. Working this way has made my job more meaningful, fulfilling, and less stressful. It has allowed me to give without overextending. It’s important for us to preserve ourselves by focusing on what really matters.

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      • Thank you for writing this beautiful reminder.
        The most influential piece of advice I would give myself is to BELIEVE! Beleive in myself and my choices in regards to childrens play. Try to avoid others approval and just “play”. Do what makes the environment and situation feel comfort and joy and see through their eyes as to what is right for them.

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  4. The advice I give my younger self, and now teachers on my team, is that these are young, young children. They haven’t been on this Earth long. They are exploring and figuring out so much everyday. I work at lab school at a university and sometimes are conversations about these children are so, so serious and analytical. I think we forget to see the joy of them just being children. Children with real emotions, desires and ample curiosity. I would encourage my younger self to see the joy through their eyes. See the scariness through their eyes Se
    e life through their eyes!

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  5. I would have told my younger self to trust my heart. The heart knows. Trust your heart to grow those relationships that are number one for living and learning. The second thing is to never underestimate the power of words. Your words to the child and the child’s words to you. Always wait long enough to hear another – be it a child or an adult. There is power in words.

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  6. Have been in the field for 45 years and was really scared when all these new requirements came in. When I sat down and really looked at them we( my teaching partner) and I had really been doing most of these for many years. Love reading your blogs!.Not ready to retire. Still have a lot to give these little inquiring minds.

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  7. I am relatively new to the field as a Registered ECE; however, I have been in this profession off and on for over 35 years. What I would tell my younger self is to not give up on my dreams and forge ahead. I always knew that my calling was working with children, but I let those close to me argue that it would never be a career – just a job. Well, I should have listened to my heart all those years ago and pursued my accreditation when I first realized that I loved working with children. Now, I am using all the life skills I have attained from working in other fields to bring my best self to this vocation. My love of nature, my love of learning, my love of sharing, my love of seeing wonder every where I go have all been great resources as I work with children today. My maturity, patience, resilience, stamina, creativity, and business knowledge have helped me as I make this journey. While most of my friends are getting ready to retire, I am just getting started I love reading your blogs, and reference and share them all the time. They are informative without being preachy which I just love. I am so looking forward to joining you in April at the “Land as the First Teacher” Conference; and can’t wait to incorporate this additional and relevant knowledge into my programs.

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  8. Wow Diane – since meeting you at the Calgary summer RI Institute all those years ago, your learning and sharing has inspired me. This blog resonated deeply. I’m going to spend some time reflecting on the content … hmmm, curious as to what will come out of that!

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  9. I’ve been working with children for 37 years in various roles. The advice I’d give my younger self would to not be afraid to take a risk. To not be afraid to think outside the box and to embrace the challenge. I’ve retired but work part time and Im not affraid to try new ideas, ask questions or share my thoughts. With experience and age I find myself with a new found confidence I didn’t always have in the early days. One common thread throughout has been my desire to always learn and seek out knowledge. This has helped me have a better understanding with the children, famililies and colleagues I’ve worked with.

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  10. Pingback: Where Have all the Projects Gone? Musings about Inquiry in Early Childhood Education | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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