Dr. Lynne Noble, contributing faculty in the MS in Early Childhood Studies program in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University, will present at the 2015 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo this November in Orlando, Florida. Below, she shares tips from her presentation about how early childhood educators (and others) can take on the challenge of advocacy to make changes in their community or organization.

I often tell my students that early childhood professionals are the most important people in the world. Whether they are working directly with children in childcare centers or schools, or in advocacy roles on behalf of parents, the community, agencies or organizations, they are laying the foundation for preparing the younger generation to reach adulthood and be ready for college, a career, and active citizenship. Where would we be without a well-educated future generation that can think critically and solve problems?

I also tell my students that it is an important part of their job—no matter their role—to advocate for parent education, family support, the arts, better playgrounds, health insurance, services for children with special needs and English language learners, and any other issue that impedes the development of children.

This vital advocacy information and training is reinforced through Walden’s Early Childhood Public Policy and Advocacy specialization in the MS in Early Childhood Studies program. As a former preschool teacher and, now, as a Walden faculty member, I often pose questions to my students, encouraging them to consider the positive impact a situation could have on their community. For example:

  • Have you ever looked at an unkempt empty lot and thought about what could be there?
  • Have you ever taken a child to an extracurricular event and wondered about the children who don’t have the opportunity to attend such activities?
  • Have you read statistics about how few children are reading on grade level by age 8 and worried about that generation?
  • Have you ever asked yourself, “What could I possibly do?”

So many amazing initiatives can start by mentioning your observations to someone else who, in turn, mentions them to someone else (and so on). Many times, it begins with a kitchen table conversation that centers on asking, “What can we do?” It’s not easy or quick, but it’s doable. The point is not to get discouraged anticipating the unknown. To avoid this, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Craft a vision and mission. If this little part of the world were perfect, what would it look like? That’s your vision. How can we start moving down that path? That’s your mission. These seem like small steps, but they are the most important and help keep you focused.
  • Lay out your plan. WHAT will you do? With WHOM? WHEN? WHERE? HOW? Create a realistic timeline for implementation. Evaluation your idea and think about how you will prove your project will be successful. Develop a budget and look for funding. Create a staffing plan.
  • Gather the troops. You can’t do it alone. Will you need more early childhood professionals? Other educators? Attorneys? Healthcare professionals? The media? The local business community? Community safety workers?
  • Go for it! And celebrate your achievements, one step at a time.

Here’s an example of how this all works from my own experience. Remember that empty lot? Young children walked by each day, with older youths and young adults hanging out—smoking, looking intimidating, etc. We inquired about the owner of the lot and then got in touch with him. He was willing to work with a small group of people to transform the lot into something new. Some community members were recruited, and a few teachers and administrators from the nearby school joined as well. We even approached some of the younger people and recruited two of them to join us!

We crafted a vision and a mission and decided to turn the lot into a community garden. Many meetings, connections, donations, and hard work later, a garden appeared. The community took on the maintenance of the lot and while it has changed into more of a green space than garden, it is clean, inviting, and a source of pride for the community.

As educators, we inherently want to help children succeed. As early childhood professionals, we have a responsibility to be a voice for those who have yet to find theirs. By partnering with our communities in concert with the proper skills, knowledge and tools, we have the power to make a difference and help ensure there are continued opportunities to develop and nurture our children—our future.

If you are attending the 2015 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo, visit booth 326 to learn more about Walden’s competency-based MS in Early Childhood Studies, offered through Tempo Learning™, a self-paced educational experience for students who want to earn their degree on their terms.

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