Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Why is training not always the best – or even sufficient – way to prepare people for the hard and important work of educating children? Executive Director Judy Jablon describes how Leading for Children helps communities develop new ways to create learning experiences wherever children are.
Chris Riback: Judy, welcome to the studio.
Judy Jablon: Thank you, Chris.
Chris Riback: So could we go right into the controversial stuff.
Judy Jablon: Why not?
Chris Riback: Why not? Why is training not always, or not necessarily, the best way, or the sufficient way to prepare people for the hard and important work of educating children?
Judy Jablon: Equity has been a challenge in early learning from the get go. It’s the challenge that we’ve all been trying to tackle.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Judy Jablon: You know the issues around wages. You know the issues around staff retention. What training does is it immediately sets the situation up where some people are in the know and some people are not. Someone’s the keeper of the right idea, and someone isn’t. And therefore-
Chris Riback: In the club, not in the club?
Judy Jablon: In the club, not in the club. And think about the power dynamics there. What we are trying to do in our work is shape a professional learning model that draws from some of the business sector’s greatest strengths around facilitation, around elevating the wisdom of the group and really creating an inquiry based setting where one person learns from another. And we are seeing, in early results, that as people feel this sense of shared power, they build more trust and the result is that there’s greater buy-in, more motivation, a sense of I can do this, I have a purpose. Most of us have at least 18 years of experience in education, where we experienced a didactic approach.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Judy Jablon: So now we’re asking the people in the lives of children up to five, that period of incredible brain development, we’re asking them to provide experiences for children that many of them haven’t even had themselves. And then the way we’re delivering the methodology is by standing and delivering Power Point presentations. A tenet of our organization is, how we show up with our participants has to in every way model best practices for children.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Judy Jablon: Whether it’s in how we build relationships and form trust with our partners, whether it’s the physical and emotional climate that we create in the learning space and the nature of the learning experiences, they have to be quintessentially mirroring the practices that we’re asking people to do with children. What our participants say is that thy feel almost like they laugh and they say, “So wait a second, we just learned how to shape a learning experience by doing one.” To me that’s a win-win.
Chris Riback: So tell me, how does your program work and who do you engage with? You engage at the state level, local, with the organizations? How does it work? Who do you engage with?
Judy Jablon: With Leading for Children’s approach, we basically enter a community that invites us. And we work either at a state agency level or if it’s a more local level, it’s a large agency that has many programs as part of it. And like Early Learning Nation, we’re building communities. We’re bringing together everybody in the young child’s ecosystem, the van driver, the parent, the cook, the teacher, the director, the coach.
Chris Riback: They’re all part of it.
Judy Jablon: They’re all part of our learning network. And what’s amazing is right from the get go, people say, “I’ve never been in the same room with these people.” And so, this sense of collective endeavor, of shared purpose, we’re breaking down the silos that have yielded competition across roles and really forging partnerships.
Chris Riback: You’re working with communities across the country.
Judy Jablon: We are.
Chris Riback: And I assume that those programs then get evaluated. How do they evaluations look? What do they look like?
Judy Jablon: Well, we’re a new organization. We’re just finishing our third year. Our early impact studies are sort of mind-blowing.
Chris Riback: Wow.
Judy Jablon: Mind-blowing. People are talking about a sense of agency they’ve never had. People are talking about the why of their work with incredible coherence. I’m making this decision for children because it will help them learn. To me, that’s the greatest impact we can have. Program climate is improving because as the adult/adult relationships get stronger, the tenor, the tone in the building is nicer, friendlier and children’s challenging behavior go down. So we’re really cultivating the social emotional skills of the adults. We’re also cultivating them as leaders and their sense of purpose is coming through in our early evaluation material. It’s quite exciting.
Chris Riback: I would like to close by asking you about leadership and you have several frameworks. One of them is the “five commitments of optimistic leadership.” I love that “optimistic leadership.”
Judy Jablon: Thank you.
Chris Riback: Run through the five commitments if you would like – you don’t have to. But overall, what is that concept? What does it mean to be committed to optimistic leadership?
Judy Jablon: Well I think, in my work, one of the things that I know I didn’t learn about in graduate school and in 35 years or more of practice, the word commitment is actually not a conversation. It’s not part of the early learning sector. And yet, all the research on leadership is about being committed and staying committed and in getting others to be committed. So the notion of commitment, to me, feels different from habits. It’s something that we actively do every day and the concept of optimistic leadership is future thinking. It’s not Pollyanna. It’s not positive. It’s really saying if we hang in here, there’s a future for these children that’s unbelievable. Why do I believe that every adult who touches the lives of children birth to five needs to be a leader?
Chris Riback: Yes.
Judy Jablon: Because I believe that the future depends on people feeling a sense of their own agency, their own capacity, to make good decisions and leaders make good decisions.
Chris Riback: And talk about modeling, your point earlier. I would only assume that if that is something that the educators are modeling for the children, that translates. I really hear you talking about the how. How one acts, how one engages, can have as much if not more difference than what one knows or what one does. Is that-
Judy Jablon: At our first convening, toward the end, in Mississippi, one of the participants raised her hand and she said, “In this field, I think we’ve always talked about the what and how, but we haven’t talked about the why.” So we got into a whole discussion and we’ve been really talking a lot about why. But then, in the second convening with the same group of people, they said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you show up,” and your why drives how you show up.
Chris Riback: There’s a lot there. Judy, thank you. Thank you for coming by the studio.
Judy Jablon: My pleasure.
Chris Riback: Congratulations on what you’re doing and great luck with it.