Tag Archives: professional development

Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

Professional Development

The 2016 Manitoba Child Care conference was held May 26th – 28th and as usual I attended all three days.  Three full days of workshops always leaves me with information overload so I give myself a little break before I go review my notes to remind myself of all the points I found noteworthy.   This year’s theme was ‘Be Inspired, Be Incredible’ and the workshops I attended were truly inspiring especially Teacher Tom!

I’ve attended various workshops and conferences annually throughout my childcare career.  I’ve written about some of them here, here, here and here.  Occasionally I have met ECE’s who appear to be there against their will – completely apathetic and unwilling to participate.  It always makes me wonder why they chose childcare as a career if they have no desire to learn – how can they expect to inspire the children they care for?

I can’t imagine not being interested in expanding your interests – to have no curiosity – to be stagnant.  I’ve attended some workshops that turned out to be much different than I had anticipated/hoped yet I have still found at least some tidbit of useful information.  If it turns out that the workshop presenter and I have completely different views/goals I would still consider it a learning opportunity – even if it is only to reinforce my own beliefs.

I am disappointed that there are rarely more than a few family childcare providers in attendance at conferences.  I’ve heard the excuses ‘It is too expensive’ (It’s a write-off), ‘I can’t afford to close for two days’ (Attend an evening or Saturday workshop),  ‘There is nothing that interests me’ (really?!?!), ‘I already know all that stuff’ (so go lead a workshop – be the expert of your group – mentor others!),’I don’t know anyone else who is going’ (Great! Make some new friends).  In fact, I think that last one is really important – possibly the most important reason you should be going. Family childcare providers work in isolation and it is really easy to get stuck in an old, outdated routine and never grow.

Certainly we can develop wonderful relationships with the families we have enrolled but that can’t provide the type of benefit we get from interacting with peers. Besides – we get food at conferences – food we don’t need to cook ourselves!  I love food that someone else cooks – except fishy things, I don’t like seafood.  One of the reasons I joined a gym is so I never have to turn down food when someone offers it to me.  Ooops, sorry, I got a little off topic for a moment…

The Province of Manitoba Best Practices Licensing Manual for Family and Group Childcare Homes recommends:

16-06-PD01

 

Networking with colleagues is extremely important whether through conferences, committees, courses or some other type of training.  Although useful at times I don’t think looking for new ideas on Pinterest or interacting with peers on social media sites counts as professional development. Personally I believe professional development should be a regulation, a requirement for licensing not just a best practice.

So, here are a few points from my notes from this year’s MCCA conference;

  • Attitude matters, 100 positive people + 1 negative person = 101 negative people.
  • Quality is only as strong as your most marginal performer.
  • Cooperation is hardwired, competition is taught.
  • Formal instruction prepares people to work in factories.
  • Education is not the filling of an empty vessel – it is the ignition of the flame.
  • If it is not interesting to you it is not interesting to them either.
  • Play is what children do when adults stop telling them what they should do.
  • Young children are the most creative problem solvers in the world.
  • The role of the teacher is to prepare the environment for the children to play.

To be honest most of these points are not new knowledge for me but the conversations I was involved in surrounding these points were extremely enlightening and that is why I go to conferences. Counting down the days until my next conference – The Manitoba Nature Summit is just three months away – so excited!

The Presentation

The request came via email ‘Would you be willing to do a workshop on indirect guidance and behaviour management – talk about yourself, your experiences, and your behaviour management policies – particularly all of the indirect guidance to avoid conflicts before they happen?’

I was intrigued – this was quite different than speaking to the ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ classes or groups that want to know more about nature based education. I was honoured – you see, this request came from an ECE who had been to my home for her final practicum. She had found her time here so interesting that she wanted me to talk to her coworkers. Wow.

I said yes.

Over the next few weeks I began trying to put together a slideshow presentation about my behavior management policies. I also began to have some doubts. I was comfortable talking about family childcare to students who were just beginning their careers. I could talk to anyone who wanted to know more about indoor and outdoor play spaces, gardening with children, outdoor play. I could easily show pictures and tell stories about these things because I love these things.

I don’t love behaviour management. Dealing with conflict is the most stressful part of my job – I would do anything to avoid it. What could I tell a group of staff members from a large childcare facility about behavior management? I have absolutely no experience working in centre based childcare.

I started making PowerPoint slides of all the various sections of my written behaviour management policies.  I read them over and panicked a little – my written policies are generic and boring.  A two hour presentation based on these would be impossible.

I realized that during in the 40 hours that the practicum student was here we had never reviewed my written policies.  Everything she knew and loved about what I did came from her observations, comments, questions, and the stories I told her about different responses in a similar situations with other groups of children.

I made more PowerPoint slides.  Slides about temperament. Slides about environments.  Slides about looking for the cause of misbehaviour.  I included photos because I’m a visual person and I can’t explain things without using pictures.  I had a list of stories that corresponded to each slide – I love stories.

By the time presentation day arrived I was feeling much more confident – at least until I discovered that they had been unable to secure the A/V equipment that I had requested.   Without pictures I anticipated having a lot of difficulty explaining things.  I persevered.  I still had stories.

I encouraged the audience to interrupt me if they had questions or comments.  My pictures keep me focused – I arrange them so I can use them to create transitions and connections between topics.  Without pictures there is no telling where I may ramble off to.  At least with questions I’d be able to attempt to focus on their interests – an emergent presentation. 🙂

I talked for the full two hours.  I told some of my favorite stories like the wet sock story.  I missed important points that were on slides and would have connected the stories to behaviour management.  I answered questions about pets, raising stick bugs, and getting fresh local produce through CSA shares – all farther off topic than I would ever wander on my own.

To the few somewhat irritated looking audience members I’d like to say I wasn’t suggesting you should start a fight club.  For the children involved in that story it would have been impossible for me to ban fight club entirely – allowing fight club within acceptable boundaries was behaviour management.

I was pleased that some of the questions/comments showed that they understood at least some of what I was saying even though they couldn’t see the pictures that I could see.  As I prepared for this presentation I had briefly considered rewriting my behaviour management policies.  Instead, I decided that the written policies are fine the way they are – generic and a little vague.

It doesn’t help to make more rules when there is an issue – more rules just create more problems.  You can’t respond the same way when the clumsy child knocks over the shelf as you do when the angry child does it.  You can’t write a policy that says when this happens we will do this – period.

You need to look at the bigger picture.  You need to understand why the behaviour is occurring on that particular day, with that particular child, in that particular situation – and you need to respond appropriately.  That is why behaviour management isn’t about discipline or punishment or correction.

Behaviour management isn’t about responding to misbehaviour.  It is getting to know the individual children, understanding development, anticipating conflicts, adapting the environment, and meeting needs in order to prevent major issues.

No, I didn’t explain my behaviour management policies in a two hour workshop.  I didn’t tell anyone what they should do with their children in their environment.  I just told stories about some of the children I have met, some of the issues I have encountered, some of the things I have tried, and some of the results that occurred.

Every day is different.  New problems, new personalities, new interactions, new behaviours, new responses but no new rules.

 

Public Speaking

As a child I was always very quiet – often my family’s acquaintances questioned if I was able to speak.  Even as a teen I was generally silent when in a group setting.  After having children, becoming a member of community organizations, and opening my childcare home there were often situations where I needed to speak in group settings.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to speak to students in various classes and members of special interest groups.  Usually the topic is ‘Family Childcare’ or ‘Children & Nature’.  These events bring a mix of emotions – excitement & hesitation, enthusiasm & anxiety.

Several years ago I took a public speaking course.  During the class the instructor would, without warning, call one of us to the front of the class and give us a scenario like ‘You are a recovering drug addict speaking to city officials about the need for an inner-city treatment facility.’ There was no prep time, no notes, and usually no knowledge of the subject.

It was a terrifying.  Half the people in the class dropped out.

Each week there were also assignments such as ‘using props’, ‘adding humour’, or ‘a news report’. Everyone had the week to prepare and then to do a five minute presentation the following week.  We then received immediate feedback from the instructor and other students about our performance.

The feedback was invaluable.  No matter how difficult the week’s topic was we were able to leave the class without questioning our performance.  For me that meant no sleepless nights wondering if they understood what I was trying to say.  No anxiety over my perceived ‘mistakes’.  Instead, I clung to the positive remarks like ‘We can really feel your passion for what you do’.  Even the ‘things to work on’ were helpful instead of depressing.

Since taking that class I have learned what helps and what hinders my ability to speak out in group settings.  I won’t say I am confident in front of a group but I definitely have some tools that make these situations a little easier.

This post is already getting too long so I will continue it in a second post.  In my next post I will write about my most recent experience with public speaking.

 

MCCA Conference 2014

So, I’m finally getting around to writing about my experience at MCCA’s conference – only a few weeks after the event.

There were some fabulous speakers – my favourite was Jeff A. Johnson.  So inspiring.

I also took several hands-on workshops.  One on woodworking activities;

Conf14-01

Conf14-02

 

Conf14-03

And one on creating water walls;

Conf14-04

Conf14-05

I’m planning to add a woodworking centre and water wall to our outdoor space this summer.

Then I also spent a day learning to play the ukulele – loved it!  Robin & Toni Christie from New Zealand kept us busy – no time for pictures.  I suppose I could have included a picture of my bright yellow ukulele but I haven’t taken one yet – maybe later.   🙂

I’m looking forward to even more hands-on learning – outdoors with local presenters – at the upcoming Nature Summit in September.

Never stop playing and learning.

Making Meetings Fun

Many people don’t enjoy attending meetings – especially those of us who enjoy spending our time outdoors in nature.  So, to encourage attendance at the Manitoba Nature Summit AGM we held the meeting at Camp Manitou and included some all important outdoor time!

Driving up the road to the camp we were greeted by this sight;

DSC01352b

After a brief ‘formal’ sesson indoors we gathered in the parking lot to prepare for our winter evening hike;

DSC01354b

Heading out;

DSC01355

Finding tracks that show we were not the first ones there;

DSC01356

And a not so pleasant sight;

DSC01357

We ended the evening at the campfire with bannock and hot chocolate.

DSC01359

Perfect AGM 🙂

Nature Summit 2012

This past weekend I attended the 2nd Manitoba Nature Summit.  I worked with an amazing committee to organize this event.  The first nature summit was held in 2010 and I wrote about it here.

The 2012 Summit was bigger and better than the first.  I already miss the Nature Summit experience and I can’t wait to get started on planning for 2014.  I can not relay the experience through a simple blog post but I will share a a few pictures with you.

There were some exciting workshops – and they were not held in a hotel conference room;

We had time to partake in a variety of activities like archery;

mountain biking and hiking etc;

We were introduced to ‘fox walking’;

and practiced it ourselves walking barefoot through the field and forest;

We ate wonderful food from Diversity Catering – this was just a snack;

Evenings were spent going on night hikes or singing and telling stories around the campfire;

The early morning sun promised another day of fabulous weather;

Saturday began with an inspiring keynote address from Severn Suzuki who told us about how her early experiences in nature led her to address the 1992 UN Earth Summit.  We connected with her through a video conference in order to reduce our impact on the earth;

The Nature Summit ended with an emotional closing ceremony;

An experience that cannot be put into words.

Nature Summit 2014 seems so far away but I know it will be worth the wait….