Advocacy Matters! (Guest blogger: Joyce Weiner)

Most of us have been advocates at some point in our lives. We may not have called it that but many of us have spoken up on behalf of a specific cause or issue that we believed in or we have acted on behalf of others that we felt needed protection or support. Early childhood advocates work to inform and influence the opinions and actions of policymakers who make decisions that impact the lives of young children and their families.

State and local elected officials compose laws, work with state agencies to draft rules that define state policies, and authorize funding for education, health and public safety programs that impact children. They want to know how specific decisions and funding choices will impact their districts and constituents. Early childhood teachers, program leaders and families in their districts are the experts who can educate them about local needs and concerns both in Springfield and in Washington, DC. Teachers are impactful messengers and recognized for their role in developing our future labor force and civic, business and educational leaders.

As Michael G. Fullan highlights in Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents (1993) teachers and those who work to prepare our future teachers are, by definition, social change agents. People who feel compelled to make a societal contribution in their careers are often drawn to teaching. Teachers frequently see themselves as career-long learners and, in turn, inspire their students to be continuous learners.

To me, the role of a teacher preparation faculty member is an overwhelming yet remarkable undertaking. In addition to the expected tasks that faculty are responsible for conveying pedagogy, supervising field experiences, promoting culturally and linguistically responsive instructional practices, responding to institutional and accreditation requirements, there is a unique opportunity to empower our future teachers to be change agents. Providing the next generation of teachers with opportunities for understanding and experiencing the connections between advocacy, political decision-making, and the impact those decisions have on local resources, program eligibility for families and educational funding can encourage life-long social involvement both in and out of the classroom.

One strategy for giving your students the opportunity to directly experience being an advocate is to participate in an organized early childhood advocacy day in Springfield. This year, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Early Childhood Advocacy Day will be on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Every year, advocates from around the state meet in Springfield to speak up for children and urge legislators to support high-quality early childhood programs and services. In this uncertain budget climate, advocacy efforts are more important than ever as children and families experience harm due to the budget impasse.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, early childhood champions will return to the capitol to press lawmakers to continue funding programs for Illinois’ youngest learners and their families. On Advocacy Day, your students will have the opportunity to:

  • Advocate for early childhood programs and funding at the state capitol
  • Speak directly with their legislators about the importance of ensuring that all children have access to the high-quality early experiences they need to thrive
  • Learn about current legislative and budget issues involving Preschool for All, home visiting, child care and Early Intervention.

This year, the Ounce will also offer an advocacy webinar in late April. Webinar details will be posted on the Advocacy Day page once a date is selected. A save the date flyer can be downloaded from the Advocacy Day page, and registration will open on that same page in mid-March.

In addition to participating in Advocacy Day, the ideas below offer more opportunities for incorporating early childhood policy into teacher preparation curricula:

  1. Have students identify their state/federal legislators and research whether those officials serve on educational committees and what legislation is being introduced. Committee assignments are on legislator websites or for state officials go to ilga.gov.
  2. Identify and track a piece of legislation throughout the legislative session.
  3. Research a legislator’s voting record in an area of interest.
  4. Sign up for the Ounce Action Alerts at theOunce.org .
  5. Have students prepare a draft letter to the editor or opinion-piece outlining the importance of early learning programs.
  6. Rehearse planning for a legislative visit to a program where students are working. What information would they emphasize for visitors? Which aspects of the quality learning environment should be pointed out and explained to policymakers?
  7. Have students plan for an early learning coalition that can influence decision-makers. What is the goal of the coalition? Who can contribute important perspectives and should be invited to participate? What organizations are currently working on these issues?
  8. Encourage students to attend a legislative Town Hall meeting.

Thank you for all you do to help build this next generation of change agents!

Joyce Weiner is a Policy Manager working on both the Illinois and National Policy Consultation Teams at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She has worked in educational, medical, and legal settings as a program developer, training director, and advocate on issues impacting the lives of young children and their families. Her work at the Ounce includes planning and partnering to implement educational and professional development systems that result in diverse, well-prepared teachers and administrators for the birth to eight workforce. Joyce holds a Master

Standards, Benchmarks, and Competencies…Oh My! (Guest Bloggers Nancy Latham and Johnna Darragh Ernst)

If you have been participating in any state ECE meetings over the last two years you have no doubt seen us on our road show talking about the work that has gone into and the process involved in developing the new Gateways ECE Competencies. We are seriously considering setting our presentation to rap and adding choreography. We really can visualize a “Hamiltonesque” potential to it! For those of you that know us well…you can picture this, if you don’t…please don’t be afraid!

The Gateways ECE Benchmarks have, for more than 15 years, uniquely positioned Illinois to be a national leader in the preparation of early childhood professionals. As we looked ahead to the next 15 years and beyond, early childhood leaders in the state came together to move toward a competency based system that could sustain and enhance that high quality preparation as well as connect ECE professional evaluation and professional development to the same competency expectations. We are so fortunate in this state to have so many dedicated ECE leaders who were willing to give their expertise, time, and influence to this process.

The Gateways ECE Competencies…drum roll please!

The 347 benchmarks that make up ECE Credentials Levels 2-5 were analyzed over an 18-month period by teams of ECE experts. This analysis included examining each benchmark and matching it to the professional level where it became vital in terms of knowledge and performance, sorting them by content areas and lastly, looking at them in terms of knowledge level, application level, and leadership level expectations. At each stage of this analysis, groups of ECE professionals vetted and provided feedback to inform the process. The result was a re-packaging of the original 347 Benchmarks into 56 competencies. All of the original Benchmarks are aligned with the 56 competencies and can be used to provide deeper understanding of each competency.

Where are we now?

This work has resulted in 56 measurable competencies that can be used to both assist programs as they design programs to prepare ECE professional as well as assessing how programs are meeting these competencies. The competency structure has also been designed to enhance and promote course articulation between two-year and four-year programs and create a system that removed some hindrances to articulation. Currently, tools and supports have been created (available through the Gateways website) to help institutions and professionals in using the competencies and aligning to them. These tools include:

  • Institutional Crosswalks. Institutional crosswalks have been developed for each entitled institution providing them an analysis of their alignment grid to the original Benchmarks to the new ECE competencies. These crosswalks provide a springboard for institutions as they work to align to the new ECE competencies.
  • Entitlement Application and Reporting Documents and Supports. Documents to assist institutions in application and reporting processes will soon be made available through Gateways. In addition, webcasts guiding institutions through better understanding the competencies and providing support in aligning and using the competencies are available on the Gateways website.
  • Assessment Toolbox. Lastly, a toolbox of sample assessments along with master rubrics has been developed for your use and adaptation as you align and utilize the competencies in deeper ways in your individual programs as well as between your articulation partnerships. Our hope is that this toolbox will continue to be added to.

What’s Next?

Next steps in the competency movement in ECE in Illinois is reflected in current work underway, duplicating the process described above and applying it to the Infant Toddler Benchmarks, the Illinois Director Credential Benchmarks, the Family Child Care Benchmarks, the School and Youth Age Benchmarks, the Technical Assistance Benchmarks and the Family Specialist Credential Benchmarks. Again, countless ECE professionals and leaders are contributing to and driving this work, and it is intended that contributions and examples from ECE professionals across the state will continue to build the toolboxes, resources and supports.

So, hopefully you will feel so inclined to contribute your examples and tools to this process as well as your feedback and expertise…and if you are so inclined, set it to music, choreograph it and join us in the touring company!!!!!

Dr. Nancy Latham joined the faculty at Illinois State University in August of 2004 in the School of Teaching & Learning and is currently a full professor in the Early Childhood Program. Dr. Latham has served in many leadership positions within the institution including Associate Director of Research, Associate Department Director and Assessment and Accreditation Coordinator. Her external leadership has included serving as President of IAECTE as well as serving as lead consultant on state-wide early childhood employment pathway efforts. Her research interests focus on teacher employment pathways and trends, teacher persistence in the field, and the impacts of teacher preparation models and practices on teacher retention and attrition.

Johnna Darragh Ernst, Ph.D., is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at Heartland Community College. She is the author of several articles and two books focused on inclusion, engagement, and collaboration. Johnna is involved in workforce development public policy work in Illinois, and serves on several state and national committees. Her work focuses extensively on workforce development, inclusion, family engagement, cultural competence, and competency development