Transformative Learning (Environments)

A Reflection on my Graduate Practicum with the Region of Waterloo

(Quality Initiatives and Early Years Engage)

This past year I have been fortunate enough to be a teaching assistant (TA) for some of the early learning courses I took in my undergraduate degree. This has provided me with an opportunity to revisit many of the topics I learned previously, and engage with them on a deeper level. Simultaneously, I have been mentored by knowledgable and wise educators, as was highlighted in my graduate practicum with the Region of Waterloo. During this placement I was tasked with learning about and summarizing information regarding measuring quality in diverse early learning programs, and considering how to support programs in meeting their goals to elevate quality. This opportunity not only led me to acknowledge the many competing priorities that early learning staff face, but to reflect upon how learning happens for adults and how change occurs in workplace culture.

This learning was not just a typical kind of maturation or response to exposure; rather, I believe it was some intentional growth after being challenged and engaging deeply with my work. Below I outline and synthesize some things I have learned and experienced within this practicum happening in tandem with my learning as a TA. I also consider what might be necessary to evoke change, learning, growth and transformation in other educators.

Quality learning environments: what is quality, how can it be measured in various settings, and how can it improve?

This is an inherently complex and contextual question, and reflecting on this has often led me in circles rather than to an answer. The longer I ponder these questions, the less clear I become on how to define, capture, and enhance quality. Something I keep coming back to, though, is that quality is not static. While outside funding providers may want statistics or quantitative evidence that quality is improving, I have realized that measuring quality is not as objective as it appears. It depends on the relationships that exist, the training of the staff, and the support staff receives for trying new things. Many systemic factors influence quality and yet we expect staff to work with the resources and within the parameters they have to still provide quality care. From this perspective, the “standard” for quality moves in response to what occurs in settings, and I do not yet know how to articulate that in a consistent way in order to measure it. This responsiveness implies that to be a quality learning environment means that it improves. It means that adults are supported to engage in data collection (observation and assessment) of things like their program plans and pedagogical documentation, their responses to the children, the opportunities available to children, and the circumstances of the families and communities that are served by the program. Data collection and review should prompt the adults and staff to then reflect upon what is going well and what can improve. This data can be shown and shared so that many stakeholders can have their perspectives considered (i.e., going public with these ideas in order to get additional feedback and perspectives). Like pedagogical documentation, this data can prompt a conversation to spark further curiousity, not certainty. Therefore, with everyone’s perspectives considered, next steps and scaffolded goals can be created to address the curiosities or improve areas of need. Without consulting parents, educators, supervisors, parent boards, and administrative staff, there is no guarantee that all stakeholders have the capacity to reach the goals, that everyone can be committed to the goals, and that the goals can/will be shared appropriately.

But this process should be more than consultation, I have realized. To truly foster a democratic culture that is open to supporting development, learning, and growth, this needs to be a community conversation. This kind of community conversation is not just a one-time “check-in” between a supervisor and an educator, but rather, an on-going dialogue where each individual feels connected to, inspired by, and committed to the process. How do we foster this kind of thing in early learning when pay isn’t great, educators are exhausted, and under the current circumstances of the additional complexities of operating during a pandemic? I have some thoughts from my observations in practicum.

Creating Cultures for Change.

Similarly to how it is difficult to give feedback to families unless we have strong relationships with them, it is difficult to give our colleagues feedback unless we have relationships with one another. Workplace culture must support staff wellbeing (as I am learning about in my thesis). In order to create spaces where adults feel safe to come forward with their concerns, and where leaders are in a position to hear these concerns, hold space to grapple with these concerns, and make offerings to resolve these concerns collaboratively, these spaces must be an extension of supportive relationships that already exist between staff. (The high turn over of staff in early learning programs does not just influence staff-child-family relationships, but affects staff-staff relationships, workplace culture, and larger visions for programs.)

Without fostering supportive spaces and relationships, how can we expect educators and supervisors to share their honest opinions? Goal-setting is a messy and non-linear process, and it creates a disequilibrium between what is currently happening and what will occur in the future (Ministry of Education, 2014a; Robinson et al., 2009). Admitting that change needs to occur is often uncomfortable and therefore requires that staff feel empowered to be brave. This bravery can be supported by a move from fostering safe spaces to fostering brave spaces (Pelo & Carter, 2018, p. 86; Arao & Celemens, 2013), and this disequilibrium, Carter articulates, is a space to linger in, and even set up camp (Pelo & Carter, 2018, p. 220). This brave, discontented space, when used for goal setting, can be motivating and lead groups to create higher expectations and improve their performance (Ministry of Education, 2014a).

Transformative Learning (for children and adults).

Lingering in generative space (Pelo & Carter, 2018) is, arguably, where learning happens for adults and children. As I implied above, being able to linger in generative space has some prerequisites in terms of relationships and support for one another. We know that learning happens when the foundations of well-being, expression, engagement and belonging are upheld (Ministry of Education, 2014b). Through attending the Block meetings with the Region, I have realized that facilitating generative space and the lingering within it, can happen in a few ways, and it is not so different from fostering nurturing learning environments with young children (as mentioned by Pelo and Carter (2018)).

  • For example, explicitly celebrating success, authenticity and growth can create a sense of community and connection, even in a brief meeting. This means taking time to reflect the good things you’re hearing in your encounters with staff and children even if it is slightly off-topic.
  • Fostering a culture of inquiry can be achieved by promoting the sharing of ideas, questions and resources by everyone, not just those in hierarchical positions. Like supporting children in their inquiry by offering meaningful questions and materials, staff can be supported with similar offerings (e.g., “I wonder what would happen if…” questions). Engaging with educators as you’d hope they engage with children not only provides role modelling for the educators, but promotes their unique journeys (Pelo & Carter, 2018).
  • Similarly, administrative or pedagogical leaders can be co-learners by standing side-by-side and walking with educators and supervisors on their individual and collective learning journeys (Pelo & Carter, 2018). This involves meeting each person or program where they are, currently, and scaffolding support in a meaningful way. Inherently, this requires collaboration, compromise, and a willingness to listen to one another in a “meeting of the minds” (Pelo & Carter, 2018).
  • Relationship building operates on unique time, and sometimes prioritizing the relationships above other goals is necessary to achieve long-term change. Fostering trust and confidence is likely the foundation (of brave spaces) that is required prior to expecting people to be comfortable being authentic and honest with their needs and desires for change. It is also likely required to journey to the roots/sources of problems to then resolve them.

In summary, I have realized that these are all skills and considerations I would like to continue to foster for myself to support both children and my fellow educators on paths that not only lead to learning, but transformation.

So far, I have resisted in discussing transformative learning, I am hoping that I am leading you to a place of pondering what it might mean. What does it mean to be transformed? When have you felt yourself pass through a threshold into a new way of understanding or integrating knowledge? As identified by Mezirow, transformative learning occurs through problem solving and communication, and is a process whereby individuals or groups move through a state of disequilibrium and critical self reflection, engage in goal-setting that identifies resources required to meet the goals, and into a willingness and bravery to try out the new roles/strategies/tools (Western Governors University, 2020). Next, I explore how I might use this knowledge in three specific ways after my experience with observing transformation and being transformed by my practicum.

The role of community.

Despite being a fairly independent, reflective, student/employee, I had a huge light-bulb moment when I realized that I am so limited by my own mind when I don’t “go public” with my ideas in a community space. For most of my life, I have been a reflective observer, an introvert, a highly sensitive person who has required space and time to decompress in private. But there came a point in time where I realized I need more information than what my own mind and readings can provide me. Learning happens in relationships; I need to actively experiment with my ideas in the moment and get feedback on them. Similarly, I love to support others in their idea-grappling as well. It has only been through my experience of supportive relationships that I have learned what it feels like to be respectfully challenged in my thinking, in a way that upholds my agency, integrity, and curiousity. Framed differently, having experience being supported as a capable, competent, and curious learner on my own journey is what has allowed me to become a brave student/employee who will bring forward concerns and ideas.

Prior to being able to offer support to other adults, I needed to feel supported in my own journey, and I needed to feel a sense of trust, respect, and familiarity in this process. I have realized that a benefit of entering into relationship with others is that I can grapple with ideas in a way that disrupts my own dominant ideas, can prompt a state of disorientation, and can begin or resolve my search for alternative ideas or perspectives prior to feeling confident in trying out my next steps to address the ideas I had.

The role of resources.

Additionally, despite feeling like I am a competent researcher/ knowledge-seeker, there is something absolutely magical about being given learning materials/quotations/alternative perspectives in-the-moment in response to what I am grappling with. It is not just the freedom of choice and my autonomy that bolstered my learning and transformation, but it was the deep listening of my mentors who then responded with a resource for me to explore. This is similar to the feedback supervisors had after the Block 2 meetings with QI: that having the PRC provide resources in the moment was useful and meaningful. There is nothing quite like the feeling that you are heard and that your peers are brainstorming solutions with you.

Therefore, I aim to be a responsive peer armed with useful or meaningful resources. This means I pay attention to my own learning journey and to questions, “aha” moments, and cognitive knots that I have – and what readings, conversations, or webinars moved me from a place of discontent into a new understanding. Clearly, encounters with materials, whether I unearth them on my own or am given them by a trusted peer, are a powerful source of learning that sparks and extends inquiry into resolution.

The role of reflective practice.

A final way I have noticed transformation during practicum has been through my commitment to and engagement with using reflective practice as a means to grow. For me, reflective practice includes moving through a critical reflection cycle (Gibbs’, Brookefield’s, Schön’s; or some combination of these) to describe my observations, to articulate and evaluate my reactions/behaviour/ideas, to actively visit perspective(s) where I am wrong, and then to explicitly consider what I will do differently with this newfound knowledge and insight. In this way, I continue to revisit my epistemological orientations and to refine my axiological and pedagogical commitments. My teaching philosophy statement is in a state of flux; and yet, I do not aim to be extractive in my moves towards self-improvement. I consider knowledge as something we enter into relationship with (Wilson & Hughes, 2019), and something that I sometimes need to respect as a whole (i.e., not to always just extract the most useful pieces). Therefore, I have realized that documenting my reflections, keeping track of those resources and community conversations that have pushed me in my own journey, and going public with my new insights keeps me accountable to the knowledge sources I am learning from. What I mean by this is that I do not want to become a resource; rather, I want to continue to be a responsive human. I want to pass on whole resources for others to consult as they need, not to gate-keep access to these sources, take credit for them, or misrepresent the use of sacred teachings.

A Transformative Learning Environment.

My encounters with knowledge is something that feels intimate to me, and by challenging that very notion it has sparked a learning journey beyond any that I could have predicted a few years ago. In 2018 I re-entered undergraduate education with modest hopes of upgrading marks, with the clear intention of becoming a RECE as a “stepping stone” for my career, and with a fierce vision to capitalize upon the experiences. By happenstance, this meant that I deeply engaged in the learning process which forever changed what I consider to be the purpose of education and care. I hold educators to a high standard because I believe in their vast potential, and I believe that there is nothing wasted in terms of developing pedagogical practices.

I believe transformative learning environments foster community, offer resources at varying levels of engagement, and nurtures self-reflection. It does not impose any particular worldview or approach, but supports each learner in developing their own. The environment should have natural learning consequences built in: dead-ends, responsive curriculum, and further questions to consider. It should support the creation of a brave space through its avenues of participation, active learning, private reflection, and responsiveness to inquiry. These spaces are built collaboratively with the instructors and learners, and they reflect all the things I have mentioned in this post so far. As I move forward in my identity as a RECE and as a hopeful future educator, I have intentionally decided to include “fostering transformative learning environments” in my teaching philosophies for working with young children, undergraduate students, and in-service educators.

In the preface of From Teaching to Thinking Ann Pelo writes about the feedback people gave her about getting graduate level training and working as an early childhood educator, which suggest that further education is wasted if one is working with young children. This section (along with the explanation of some of the history of Reggio Emilia and the connections to the first chapter, The Heart of Education) has moved me to tears both times I’ve read it. “What reality does this weave”? Ann asks. What a contradiction to not value the education of educators. What a contradiction to undermine their professional development. When I first read these pages a year ago for my Pedagogical Leadership practicum at the CCLC, I was in a different place: not yet a RECE, not yet enrolled in a Masters program, not yet convinced I belonged in early learning. Yet after lingering in the questions I had about early learning I realized that those were the questions that most excite and motivate me. I wandered and wondered my way back to reading these same pages in response to my own reflections and as next-steps for myself in this practicum. I revisited these ideas, by going deeper and with a new lens as a researcher, on my own accord upon craving further questions to my questions – and ended up going so deep that I planted roots. To be able to spiralize my own learning is not a skill I would ever would have thought I could come out of my ECE training with. What a privilege to have enough authors names, books, webinars, blog posts, and articles to last me the next several years to think through. Little did I realize a few years ago that I would feel at home in early learning because of the disequilibrium and disorientation I was supported in grappling with. I lingered so long that I set up camp and stayed, without it being my intention, which, in many ways, is the essence of what it feels like to be transformed by problems, discussion, experience, environment, and community.

References

Ministry of Education (2014a). Exploring five core leadership capacities. Setting goals: The power of purpose. IdeasIntoAction. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/IdeasIntoActionBulletin4.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education (2014b). How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/howlearninghappens.pdf

Pelo, A., & Carter, M. (2018). From teaching to thinking: A pedagogy for reimagining our work. Exchange Press.

Western Govern’s University (July 17, 2020). What is the transformative learning theory?https://www.wgu.edu/blog/what-transformative-learning-theory2007.html#close

Wilson, S., & Hughes, M. (2019). Why research is reconciliation. In Wilson, S., Breen, A. V., & DuPré, L. (Eds.), Research and reconciliation: Unsettling ways of knowing through Indigenous relationships (pp.6 – 19). Canadian Scholars.

ECE Career Choice Discussions During the Holidays

‪As friends and family gatherings begin this season, I inevitably embrace questions about my career. I have been fortunate to have received superior training regarding entering the ECEC field, and I anticipated some skepticism about my ECE training and desire to pursue graduate school. Completing a second undergrad degree while meeting the requirements to get my ECE designation, with the intention of going to grad school next fall seems strange to people. ‬”But the pay isn’t that good, is it?” “Have you thought about going to teacher’s college instead?” “But you wouldn’t want to work as an ECE once you have your masters, would you?” “So what kind of a job could you do?” Fortunately, I know of a few people who took this route and am comfortable answering these kinds of questions. After responding several times, I figured I could put together a whole paragraph(s) of my answers that should cover all the typical skepticism that arises:

I do not believe there is such thing as an over-qualified educator. I’m today’s world, educators do more than just “teach” and ECEs do far more than provide supervision while parents work. Working with young children has been a passion of mine for over 10 years, and I am so delighted and privileged to be able to complete the courses required to register with the college of ECEs. Seeing children reach their early life milestones brings me so much joy, and building intimate relationships with many families is one of the most wonderful aspects of my career. I fall more in love with the early learning field as time goes on – particularly because there are incredible movements happening in this sector. Further, I absolutely and fundamentally advocate for emergent curriculum: it is the way I naturally tend to engage with children, attempt to extend learning, build opportunities, and deepen relationships. It fosters the foundation for life-long learning, and it is inherently inclusive. I am very hesitant about teaching school-aged children in the school system due to the set curriculum, and that has been my main reason for committing to completing the ECE requirements prior to graduating, and staying for the summer semester after my cohort leaves. Returning to do a second undergrad degree was a challenging, intentional, and deeply reflective process. Part of this process has been my gravitation towards research, and finding ways to participate in projects and labs in a variety of capacities. I was lucky to find a professor who had both an available project and the willingness to take me on as an undergraduate thesis student, and mentor me through executing some of my own research. And I realized that along with working with young children, research is my other passion. I want to do more of it. And in true emergent/inquiry-based learning fashion, I shall follow that interest until it is exhausted.

As someone who will begin her masters at 29 with limited work experience and a winding path of career interests, it has been challenging to not feel self-conscious about my choices. I want to be able to both practice as an educator and engage in rigorous research regarding human development. It is a shame that ECEs aren’t fairly compensated for the work that they do, but avoiding the field and squandering my passion due to poor pay won’t evoke appropriate change. I am hoping to build a career that involves both my skills as an educator and graduate-level training. I already have training in basic counselling skills, advocacy for the professionalization of the field, social policies, observation and assessment, and understanding ethical and professional issues within the helping professions. Regarding what kind of job I will have: the thing about completing graduate education is that you become educated and trained on a topic that has emerging employment opportunities, depending on the evolution of the field. Some jobs I might be a candidate for include: pedagogical leadership, case worker, policy-related work, knowledge translation, education administration, and program evaluation. The one stable thing I have moving forward is my training as an ECE and it’s inherent continuing professional development opportunities, and that will always open up job opportunities for me. Our world lacks educators who remain in the field for a long time and who complete higher-level education, but I will be one of them.

It is evident to me that ECEs are not publicly viewed with the same respect as teachers – and rightly so. I have long-thought that teachers and early childhood educators deserved the same respect. But I have realized that they do not. The amount of time I spend in washrooms helping children learn self-help skills deserves different recognition than what teachers who spend equal time on their math lessons for the week deserve. The amount of time I spend problem-solving tuen-taking and fostering social skills for children who have emergent communication skills deserves different recognition than teachers spending equal amounts of time on reading skills each week. The amount of time I spend observing the children in my care, document their thinking, planning based on these observations, and sharing this cycle with families daily deserves different recognition than what teachers receive for their planning time each week. I finally realize that the fight isn’t for equality with teachers – early education is its own field for a reason. Teachers deserve all the respect they receive and more. And they are fighting for some of that right now in Ontario. This fight allowed me to realize that some of their stable recognition and ability to fight is due to unions. ECEs have little protection due to un-unionized employment in a patch-work system of childcare in Canada. And yet it is this same system that was able to evolve and update effectively to implement emergent curriculum, Ontario’s guiding pedagogical documents, and the world-wide movements toward more outdoor play. I am a proud educator (in training) who is willing to constantly update my skills and learning in-line with future field updates, and I am proud to be an ally to teachers at this time. We have so much growth still, and so much to offer the fields of education, social services, and business.

Moving forward I plan to find a concise way to share these thoughts when they come up during small talk. I value every opportunity I have to discuss my field, though, and I do not want the questions to stop – it’s likely what the sector needs to move forward. Childcare can be a hidden and unanticipated cost for families that is very burdensome, and this strengthens the notion that accessible, universal childcare is essential in Canada: for the children’s, families’s, and educators’ sake. This season I have been fortunate to have been able to reflect on these questions and formulate some adequate responses. I can’t wait to hear what my responses will be in a year from now as well.

Personal Philosophy Statement

As an aspiring ECE, and a student planning on pursuing graduate work in the helping profession that is related to child development, I put a lot of thought into creating a personal philosophy statement regarding working with families. Although this particular statement is heavily related to educating, I believe it applies to working with young children across various capacities. I am sharing it here to indicate to my audience a transparent presentation of my values.

Personal Philosophy Statement

My personal philosophy for working with children and families considers the notion that all individuals are competent, curious, capable, and curious life-long learners who are entitled to access to life-long and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities within the context of, and in collaboration with, their community and family (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). I employ a relationships-based approach while working with children and families and believe that we can all learn from and grow with each other best through our relationships. Further, I highly consider the neurocognitive processes and right-brain to right-brain synchronicity when building these relationships. My personal approach to teaching focuses on the social-emotional readiness for learning and facilitating emergent and responsive key experiences that consider familial and cultural contexts to help children actively engage in their learning in meaningful ways (HighScope inspired). Thus, I believe good teaching employs a wide variety of observational, facilitative, and assessment strategies in order to offer unique opportunities to each specific group of learners to allow them to explore their interests independently.

More specifically, I believe that high-quality teaching practices requires an ebb and flow between: minimal direct instruction (Montessori-inspired); scaffolding for extending learning (constructivist approach); behaviour guidance in collaboration with the learners (HighScope inspired); preparation of the environment to not only act as the “third teacher” (Reggio Emilia inspired) but also to help offer a calm learning environment (Shanker, 2016); monitoring and modifying for facilitating belonging, engagement, wellbeing, and expression (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014); facilitating active engagement with, and investigation of, the learning materials (constructivist approaches); assessing and considering stages of development in program planning (Piaget’s stages and Best Start Panel on Early Learning, 2014); and hands-off supervision during times of exploration, experimentation, and opportunities for logical consequences to unfold (Montessori approach).

Moreover, I execute the Self Reg steps when children are upset (Shanker, 2016) in order to relieve their stress and prepare them for learning. This approach works well, but sometimes requires collaboration others to truly uncover and resolve conflicts. I use the HighScope conflict resolution approach wherever possible (The Active Learner, 2018), which is extremely effective in revolving immediate conflict, but requires substantiable follow-up for resolving on-going tension between individuals. However, both of these incidents and interventions would cause me to reflect on the environmental influences, including the influence of routines and expectations, on the learning space and consider whether there are changes I could make to further facilitate safe, nurturing, supportive, engaging, and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. Additionally, when considering various developmental and interests of the children in my care, I incorporate physical objects as well as books and pictures that are responsive to (and that sometimes combine) these factors. This process is very trial-and-error based and often requires in-the-moment modifications to ensure appropriate engagement. We may remain on these topics until the children indicate they are satisfied and no longer curious about the topic.

Emergent interests and abilities, play, and inquiry are at the heart of my pedagogical practice and made possible through program plans that are developed based on observation, documentation, and reflections. A circular, rather than linear, view could be used when considering my approach (Stacey, 2009). Further, although ideal programming is child-centered and open-ended, my teaching practice also includes my personal strengths and natural talents, so that I can capitalize on my shared interests with the children, am a present and active co-learner, and form authentic relationships. More specifically, nature-based play, music, expression through movement are some of modes I prefer to use while teaching.

Initial Reactions to Party Politics and ECEC

The Liberals and NDP have announced their stance on addressing the unnecessary, inconsistent, and unequal access to high-quality ECEC, should they be re-elected as our federal government. As a non-political citizen who has recently become passionate about access to childcare (not a parent, nor a RECE – yet, but a critical undergraduate researcher nonetheless), I’ll share my opinion for anyone willing to hear it – and for the record I am not incentivized in any way, I am merely exploring this mode of advocacy for the field. The breakdown of their stance is actually a decent summary of – and, in theory, an ideal solution to – many of the multifaceted issues regarding the current state of affairs for this sector (spared an actual review of the numbers because this is yet to be an area of my expertise).

Documentation released by the Liberals highlight several issues regarding: lack of available spaces in early learning and child care programs, high and varying costs to access these spaces, the rigidity of these spaces that restricts access for families who work outside of the structured 9-5 range, and acknowledges that it is typically women that are coping with the responsibility of providing or finding childcare. Lowering the cost of fees to access childcare and opening up spots is necessary – but this monetary decision must also consider the cost of paying the additional educators necessary to maintain age-specific ratios (and their benefits), full fee collection, the materials required to support those new spots, as well as physical spaces of current childcare centres and maximum group size. Some programs may have a delicate financial balance due to our lack of national support, and changes to current programs may need to be gradual. An additional element to consider is that lowering cost to families in order to increase access to childcare means reducing the initial cost of fees, rather than reimbursing through tax-credits. In addition, I do appreciate the investment in after-school programs for children under the age of 10, but I am not sure if I completely agree with this specific method of offering childcare, mostly because I am unfamiliar with these options due to their common exemption from the CCEYA.

To be honest, I do love what I see about providing professional development opportunities for educators, but I do not love the idea of lowering the cost of tuition for this specific degree program. To my knowledge, we actually have more of an issue with knowledgable, passionate educators leaving the sector, due to inadequate working conditions and compensation, rather than a need to recruit more educators. What I would prefer to see would be a subsidizing tuition cost for educators who currently hold their ECE registration to advance their practice and be able to move into leadership roles through obtaining undergraduate or graduate degrees. There should be more early years educators who are supported in receiving graduate level education so that they can bring their expertise to administrative and policy-level roles. I do love what I see regarding a national secretariat establishing the ground work for a national child-care system working closely with the Expert Panel on Early Learning and Care – but I remain skeptical that this will ensure we actually receive a national system.
Source: https://www.liberal.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2019/09/Backgrounder_Before-and-After-School-Care.pdf

The NDP have so far released a vague but accurate statement regarding how they would support the ECEC sector, including the total amount of money they would dedicate to the field, but without specifics of where this money would be going. What they are saying sounds cool, but I really have no idea about who will be getting the money and how it will help children and families access childcare specifically, or how it will support educators.
Source: https://www.ndp.ca/affordabilityfocus=13934112&nothing=nothing

So far the parties have failed to address how these decisions will affect the variations in auspice (for-profit or non-profit centres), regulation of programs (unregulated/regulated, licensing, and accreditation), the representation of wider diversity amongst families seeking childcare including cultural, linguistic, and inclusion supports, and consolidation of services such that education and childcare are both considered national priorities while still retaining the early years’ nurturing, empowering, family-oriented, relationships-based pedagogy.

In summary, the Liberals’ promises and ideals are very good in terms of moving Canada towards an evidence-based approach to childcare that is more in-line with our industrialization and progress. Even amidst my criticism I am very pleased to be reading about a more socialist approach to an issue that is at the core of our inequality and imbalance of family-oriented policies. It is time to do better.

Unpacking “Choice” for Families in Early Childhood Care and Education

In our first class I was given the stark reminder of how poorly Canada is doing in terms of investing in children’s early development. Canada is the fourth richest country in the world, and yet we have scored disgracefully low on public spending, indicators of quality, and number of available spots within childcare – and haven’t recovered well. This is shameful to me. Our patchwork approach allows for inconsistent and unreliable options and a large range in financial burden required in order to access care and learning opportunities. This makes me cringe thinking of all of the children I personally know affected by factors such as poverty, parents living with mental illness, and parental job demands that further influence access to quality care. The notion that families should have a “choice” in early learning and care is irrelevant when this access is limited or non-existent. Children deserve investment for their own right, but there are also several compelling evidence-based rationales for investing in the early years, and yet it is not our country’s lack of capacity to invest, but our willingness to do so that is the problem. I do not understand how people are not more concerned about children affected by the lack of childcare and educational opportunities. Treating ECEC as a market commodity and kindergarten as a public good represents Canada’s unjustified and arbitrary division of value of children’s development above and below (roughly) 4 years of age. The lack of funding/financial support for the ECEC sector and the poor public recognition for early years educators needs to change for the sake of children, their families, equality, society, and the Country’s economy.

This issue left me ruminating about my stance and what Canada’s next steps should be. Everyone I have talked to about this issue brings up the socialist approaches used in the Nordic countries. But alas, Canada is built on capitalism and trade, so where is our intersection of public spending and individualistic “choice”?! I feel that the decision to have various funded school systems is extremely precarious and irresponsible for excluding the early years. Considering that by 4 years of age the variation in care and education that children across the country have received is enormous, and that these variations are not due to “choice”, but rather necessity, I draw the line at promoting “choice” at the expense of young children. This is unethical, inequitable, and unnecessary. I have decided that continued advocacy and professionalization of, for, and, from the field is required to gain public attention to change the political climate towards childcare. Learning from Canada’s historical shifts and swings in childcare investment, we require more than hope and promises during this next election.

This journal entry prompted me to start an advocacy blog from which I can share my reflections and insights regarding early learning and care. This blog will be my dedication to advocacy for the field throughout the semester, and a method I plan to use to educate my network and social circles on the importance of considering investments in childcare in the upcoming election. By comparing the investments in children’s early years to children’s school-aged years, including the differences in pay for the educators, I hope to draw attention to the unwarranted and outdated approach to childcare in Canada. If our government truly believes in offering choice to families, we must first invest in a funded, universal, accessible, equitable, and reliable system to be able to conceive viable options for all families (like our provincial school systems). Only then can additional options allow for true “choice” to families. I have started (and will continue) to collect noteworthy articles and follow childcare advocates on Twitter because I believe continuing knowledge dissemination and generating public discourse regarding the discrepancies in our current childcare infrastructure is necessary to achieve this goal. Through this reflection I was able to assess and criticize some of Canada’s historical and political attitudes towards childcare, compare some general international differences, and have begun to develop an advocacy agenda for the upcoming election to address my initial conclusions.