Touchpoint: It’s Back To School
Happy August Head Start. It is time for another Touchpoint.
Of course, before we jump into content, we have to start with our Love Note. This one is a little more complex, so I’m going to have to read some of it because I want to send a love note to the six folks, groups of folks, who supported the Early Head Start Rising Summer Learning Series that we finished up in July.
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So first, we have doctors Stephen Patrick and Miska Terplan. They came on in our very first session and talked about prenatal neuroscience, pregnant women, and touched on substance misuse, and the way that they are really supporting mothers and bonding even when substance misuse is present. And finding ways of really supporting families through that process, and looking at the neuroscience behind all of that. And then we had Dr. Evon Lee, who shared insights about the early identification of learning disabilities. She specializes in autism. We have connected since, and I think The Academy is going to have a few classes based on some of the work that they’re doing there at Vanderbilt, which is super exciting.
We want to shout out to Erin Ramsey and Dan Torres. Our very own, of course from Mind in the Making, who came to session three and shared all about executive function in the early years and how to work on those skills. We had Dr. Lori Foran, who’s a first here at Head Start, who talked about language development related to gesturing and how gesturing is how we first learn language, which I found fascinating.
That was new information for me. Dr. Neal Shah stopped by at session five and shared his research and expertise about maternal and infant mortality. Which, in the US, these stats are worse than you might think. And so how Early Head Start folks can really play a part in supporting vulnerable communities, pregnant moms, Early Head Start, that that’s our job.
And then we finished off with the fantastic Dr. Kimarie Bugg who shared her wealth of knowledge about breastfeeding. She has spent her entire career as a pediatric nurse focusing on supporting marginalized communities and encouraging breastfeeding. And she’s seen the rate increase to the mid 80%s where it used to hover around 20%, so really exciting stuff.
And she had a lot of really good information. So if you want to check out any of those videos, I encourage you to do so, they all were wonderful, super people. One of the greatest things about working in this field is the people that you get to meet. And so I just want to send a huge Love Note to all of those folks who came out and supported the Early Head Start Rising Summer Learning Series.
I hope it’s not the last time we see them because they have lots to offer.
All right, on to the content: It’s August, it’s back to season…
It’s back to school. It’s back to work. It’s back to in-person maybe, it is back to normal? I don’t know if that’s ever really going to be something, but it is back to season.
So after a long year-plus of ups and downs, and here we are in our back to school mode, back to program mode, what are you doing about this? And I wouldn’t say we’re back to smooth sailing, because it’s still some unknowns out there, but we do want to start the program year, this school year off positively, energetically.
It’s such a great opportunity to re-energize, that’s what I loved the most about that first day back to school and with both staff and then with, with kiddos. And so I want to talk about that a little bit. I have a few things.
The first is the reality of COVID has to remain front and center. We can’t think we’re just finished and we just move along.
We have to keep in mind, you might have staff who still have fears and concerns. Everyone’s experience has been a little bit different through this, and experience is what’s going to drive that. So if you’ve had a tough experience, you’re more likely to have more fear, and more concern. We have to address them.
We can’t ignore them. But we also want to assure staff that you’re ready for them, that you’ve created a safe environment. You want to highlight those safety protocols so that they’re confident. And they should be part of that thinking, and part of that planning, they’re the ones in the middle of it.
And they need to know that that you’ve taken action to take care of them and that they matter. That they are front and center for you. So keeping that piece front and center is going to be very important, probably, through the whole year. It probably will be a transition to something different, but I think, it is just the reality that we have in front of us.
The second thing I want to talk about that would be true, no matter what, in my opinion, and that is that culture comes first. Before we dig into content, before we talk about rules, protocol, regulations: establish the culture.
We actually are pretty good at this at Head Start, I would say. I think it kind of is part of our nature. It’s why we hug instead of shaking hands at conferences. But remind your teachers that setting that tone in the classroom, that taking the time to create relationships with children, with parents, with each other, should take precedent over curriculum. The curriculum will come, the content will come. But you have to remember that too.
So as you get started, how do you create culture first and really establish that feel and tone to your program, to your building, to your system that gets people energized and positive about their work? Pre-service isn’t just about training. It’s about connecting or reconnecting. Creating relations and setting the tone with your staff is something that lasts all year long and it’s something that’s very difficult to do midstream.
So that beginning of the year is that real opportunity for that. One of the things we did here at NHSA, which I’m super excited about as a former principal and having gone through a lot of pre-service, we created self-paced, pre-service courses for our programs that cover a big chunk of just that basic stuff you have to do.
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And my hope is that by creating self-paced classes, that you can sign your staff up for, and they have, say 30 days to complete it, you can put that aside and take that pre-service time and do two things. First, spend time connecting, do some creative things to get connected to your staff. And second, give your staff some time, some freedom, some space. Nothing better, for a teacher, than time in that classroom.
That’s your space. And you want to have time to set it up and feel really, really good about it. So I hope that’s supported you. It’ll be interesting to see it’s a first for us, but we’re really excited about it. So we have Head Start Basics, which based on my very high-level analysis probably covers about 70% of that content that every staff member needs to have.
And then we have Bias Buster Basics, which if you put them together, probably bumps you up to about 80% because that takes care of all of that diversity, the equity piece, the inclusivity. And so you put those two together, and you probably don’t have that much specific content to cover with all staff.
You’ve got things to do with the particular staff, but that’s a little bit different and we do have courses for those as well. But, hoping to support you in that way. And as you think about this, remember that creating relationships takes time. So allowing staff time to connect. Sharing the excitements about a new year, sharing the anxieties about the new year, sharing excitement about summer, sharing some of the anxieties about summer, about having that time, what did folks go through? That space really gives folks an opportunity to connect, to become real with each other.
Some people are returning, and they’re excited to see someone maybe they hadn’t seen for a while. Others are brand new, they need to feel welcome and connected to the community. And that does take time. And remember, we say teachers a lot, we don’t just mean classroom teachers. All staff members are part of your staff. That’s your teachers, your IAs, your cooks, your bus drivers, your custodian, your front office staff, your volunteer coordinator. All of those people, everybody who does anything for your organization, you want to feel like a connected group.
So here are just some fun ideas. I just was thinking, what did I used to do? Some of the things I used to do that I thought were fun were, we did a scavenger hunt. And I would use the scavenger hunt as a way of acclimating new people to the building, to the community, sometimes we did it where you actually went out into the community,
Because I wanted them to know not just our space, where we came to work, but I wanted them to know the local social services office or the doctor or where most people eat and whatever, just like the community to get to know where their people live in and what that looks like.
Because a lot of times the people who were working for me didn’t live right there. So it was important to me. So a scavenger hunt give them clues, they go out and teams and maybe they take pictures or something. You can have a lot of fun with that. Sending handwritten notes to your staff before they actually show up.
Now, I don’t know if you’re going to see this video in time for that, but a handwritten note goes a long way. So if you didn’t get this in time, it’s not too late, you can still write them at hand-written note, drop it in the mail. It’s really nice to receive something like that. I also thought about, just a block party where you have some music in a barbecue and I’m sure you all do some of these things.
And when you, when you take the time to get, do those, get-togethers, include family. So you get to know your staff’s families and what their lives are like, and then you get to know them a little bit better and have some fun. We talked at LEADS I did a session and we talked about the ARFF factor, which some of you won’t know about if you weren’t in my session, but a big part of ARFF is fun.
Fun, fun, fun. You have to build fun into your day, into your week, into your year. It doesn’t mean you’re not working hard, because achievement is another part of that. So it isn’t just about fun, but we have to remember sometimes that we can do some things, just to do them. They don’t have to have an objective.
They don’t have to have an evaluation. There’s no reflection process or we’re figuring out if it went well. It’s just, you do it to be together. So I encourage you to, to look at ways of exploring how to connect. And of course, the internet is a great resource for fun ideas, but you all are pretty fun.
So I know you can come up with some great ideas. I hope that’s helpful to you. I hope you’re excited about the back-to-season. I know I am, it really is such a great time of the year. You can kind of start over, reinvent your, yourself and your program and think of new ways to invigorate things.
In Case You Didn’t Know
A lot of fun. All right. So that’s a lot, but we have some “In Case You Didn’t Know”s. And I actually have kind of a list here for that too. So, in case you didn’t know, we have a signup for advocates for Head Start. I’m going to give you the link here. So check it out. We want to make sure that you subscribe for future alerts.
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We can always promote this in our communities. So check this out. This is a big, big movement for NHSA. Also, Fall Leadership Institute is coming and guess what? It’s in person. We get to hug. Yay! So sign up for Fall Leadership here in DC. I will be there, NHSA will be there, we are so excited to welcome you.
I actually went to my first in-person meeting yesterday and it, it was weird. I’ll be honest. It was weird. I went in and it was as if no time passed, and yet it felt like I hadn’t seen people in so long. So I can’t really explain it. I think all of us are gonna have an interesting, sort of personal experience as we do this. But I hope to see you there. Very excited about that. And I will provide the link here for registration.
September is, I want to remind you of this, it’s Baby Safety Month. So EHS folks, get out there, promote Baby Safety Month. What a great time to talk about baby safety and you know, one of the components of our Head Start Basics is health and safety. And we talk about infant safety in that module. So, there’s some good stuff you can share with parents and with teachers. It’s also Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. So what a great opportunity to educate your parents about healthy eating? You know, Doctor Yum is one of our new sponsors.
I encourage you to check their website out. They have a ton of free resources: menus, and ways of creating meals and things like that, to promote healthy eating. So you might take advantage of September and push some really good ideas out to your families. Then, more Academy news. I do want to end by just letting you know that Head Start Basics is out there.
I talked about that. Bias Busters Basics out there. Now we’re going to start releasing our big classes. We’ve got credentials, both the Director’s Credential, which we offered last year, but we souped it up a little bit. I’m pretty excited about the changes. It’s really geared more toward new directors to about seven years of experience.
So those first years where you’re getting to know that job. If you’ve got more than seven years of experience as a director, I encourage you to join the Experienced Directors Cohort (coming soon!). That’s a project-based learning process so that we’re looking at taking your experienced people to the next level.
So those are two different opportunities. We’ve got the Site Leaders Credential, which is brand new. You guys know that I am just a big proponent of that person who’s in charge in the building, like the principal, we’re calling them site leaders. You can call it whatever you want. I know there are lots of different names for it.
It doesn’t matter what it’s called. The key is this, is your leadership at the local level, at the building level. When you can build that leadership up, you can do anything. That is where all the real impact happens. So come join us for the Site Leaders Credential, which again, is geared toward beginning to about seven years experience.
And then if you’re an experienced site leader, we’re going to do an Experienced Site Leader Cohort (coming soon!), which is again, project-based learning. So that’s where we take experience and we really put it to work. We’ve got a lot of other cohorts, and a lot of other credentials, read up on them. I’m going to give you the link here. And then we’re coming up with a lot of classes. We’ve got a lot of courses. We’re going to launch them throughout the year. So excited about our Academy. And I do want to say, as we close up, one of the things I’ve noticed over the last year with technology being so available: online learning is not unique.
You can do it anywhere. Right? Everyone’s got classes, everyone’s got some kind of instruction that they’re pushing out. We really wanted to avoid the, what I’m calling “churn, burn, and learn method.” Which is where, I just create a bunch of asynchronous classes and I push them out there, and then you take them and you get a certificate.
Anybody can do that. And as an educator, and as a learner, I’m going to argue that that’s not ideal. Maybe it can do a few things, but to really dig in deep and learn, we need to have the human connection. So we are making a commitment here at The Academy that our priority, although we want things to be convenient and available online, no question about it, we are going to put a human component into just about every single thing we do. Some of those will be really intense. Some might not be as intense. But you are going to have human interaction every time you engage in a class with us. That’s my commitment. Because, this should be more than just about checking a box or getting a certificate.
It should be about real learning and professional growth. So hopefully you’re going to have that experience. And we want to hear from you so we constantly make improvements. Good luck with the launch of your new school year, and let us know how it goes. Take pictures, tweet them out, we want to see it.
And just remember, Head Start is access to the American Dream. Go make dreams happen.
Dr. Deborah Bergeron has spent over thirty years working to support the growth and development of children. She led the Office of Head Start and the Office of Early Childhood Development at the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services from 2018–2020. As the Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Innovation at the National Head Start Association, she aims to bring the Head Start and Early Head Start community together, provide the necessary support to ensure high-quality programming, and be a constant reminder to the folks on the ground that they are the backbone of Head Start and Early Head Start.