Bite-size advocacy

“Because my first role is advocate for children…”

I hastily scribbled those words in my notes a few years ago, while listening to Sherry Cleary lead a professional development segment. She was recalling a conversation with a staff member and shared some excellent strategies for delivering feedback and facilitating difficult conversations. Although advocacy was not the topic of the event, that simple phrase is what resonated with me: “My first role is advocate for children.”

I’ve worn many hats in early childhood, comfortably describing myself first as a teacher and later as director, administrator, and consultant. I was equally comfortable embracing the roles and responsibilities associated with each of those titles, knowing that my “job description” often required me to serve as the nurse, the therapist, the accountant, the coach, or the parent.

That said, I was decidedly uncomfortable adding “advocate” to my list. Advocacy wasn’t quite a four-letter word, but it always seemed intimidating to me. I’m not sure if it seemed too complex, or too unfamiliar, or too political, but I was sure that advocacy was not my cup of tea.

I have never been so happy to realize I was wrong. I was so intimidated by the “public policy” aspect of advocacy that I was neglecting the advocacy role that I already held (and lived) every day: whether I’m wearing the teacher hat, the director hat, or the consultant hat, my first role is advocate for children.While the public policy component of early childhood advocacy is essential and invigorating (seriously, attend the NAEYC Public Policy Forum once and you’ll be forever changed!), our daily capacity for everyday advocacy is equally powerful. Those “bite-size” opportunities for advocacy can have a tremendous impact on children and their families and for early childhood professionals alike.

Bite-size advocacy opportunities include:

  • Providing developmentally appropriate learning experiences for children, rich with warm interactions and nurturing relationships, and proudly promoting these practices when sharing information with others: “I prioritize play as the vehicle for learning, because my first role is advocate for children.”
  • Utilizing evidence-based professional resources for program-level decision making: “I rely on the NYS Core Body of Knowledge for guidance when making decisions about professional development, about hiring, and about program-planning, because my first role is advocate for children.”
  • Participating in local early childhood events, both for networking and professional development purposes: “I am proud to attend local AEYC events and to network with other professionals, because my first role is advocate for children.”
  • Collaborating with other professional agencies, in an effort to assure that early childhood has its place in the continuum of education: “I collaborate with our local school district to host UPK at my child care center, because my first role is advocate for children.”
  • Having difficult conversations with staff, families, or anyone who has inappropriate expectations for children or an inaccurate understanding of our profession: “I understand that there is pressure to focus on academics as school readiness, but I can assure you that playful, joyful learning is ideal right now, because my first role is advocate for children.”
  • Having a clear, concise message about your profession and sharing it with others in the community: “I am an early childhood educator who works primarily with infants and toddlers, because my first role is advocate for children.”

There are countless situational examples of bite-size advocacy; opportunities to speak up, to make good decisions, and to collaborate, will arise daily in classrooms, in professional development settings, when networking, and at community events. While the details of our personal opportunities will vary based on the hats we wear, one fact remains constant – by choosing early childhood education as a career, your first role is advocate for children.

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