This commentary was submitted by volunteer contributor Eliana Elias, Quality Connections Coach, First 5 San Francisco, and Barbra Blender, Quality Connections Coach, First 5 San Francisco.
How do we measure the contributions of professionals that care for our youngest children? In “normal” times, we have turned to tools that aim to quantify classroom interaction, such as Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and the Desired Results Development Program (DRDP). But rating and assessment tools have critical measuring gaps, including an inability to measure commitment, deep relationships, and adaptability—factors that we know play a significant role in future success. The current crisis has pronounced the value of assessing early education sites through classroom factors that build relationships with children and their families.
We hope that by sharing some examples of what has been happening in San Francisco’s early education sites, we shed light on the crucial role our early educators play in building healthier communities, while also bringing to light the system-level inefficiencies that have left our early education workforce vulnerable, underpaid, and uncertain, with insufficient funding and unreasonable requirements.
From the moment the shelter-in-place ordinance was issued, we have been in regular contact with educators who have risen to engage with children and their families. They have been adapting their interactions to the tools that are most comfortable for families. Some are having regular “playtime” with children through WhatsApp, and others are turning to Youtube to share videos with stories and follow up activities. One educator shared that she first recorded herself reading the book Who Uses This? by Margaret Miller (in English and Spanish) and then encouraged the children to go on a treasure hunt in their own homes to find some of the items mentioned in the book. She proceeded to ask families to send videos and pictures back to her through WhatsApp, sharing the children’s findings. In the videos, triumphant children wave their mothers’ makeup brushes, show drawings of footballs, and gesture how they use a pretend baton to conduct a pretend orchestra. She explains: “This activity was about expanding the children’s vocabulary and world view, but also about providing families something fun to do with the children. Sharing these stories gives us all an opportunity to build resiliency and to know that all that we need to keep learning is right at our fingertips. We don’t need expensive toys!”
Many are also expanding their learning and seeking out new tools. Those who have access to wifi and computers are learning to use Zoom. “For me,” one educator shared, “the objective of a Zoom circle time has little to do with academic goals. During this time of social isolation, I want the children to see each other, to share a song, smiles, and the hope that we will all be together again soon.”
As trusted partners to their families, early educators are researching and sharing essential community resources and spreading the word regarding what is available to our families during these difficult times. Armed with lists of food banks, diaper distribution centers, and other needed supplies, they have been able to connect families to essential resources.
Another source of inspiration is their willingness to serve the children and families of essential workers. In one of our Tenderloin sites, educators are commuting three days a week to distribute meals directly to families. Putting the well-being of children and families and the strength of their community above their fears is, once again, a characteristic that is quite common amongst early childhood educators.
The pandemic has stripped bare the effects of a system that has always undervalued the early education workforce. In parallel to stories of resilience, we hear heartbreaking stories coming directly from those struggling both financially and emotionally. Many have shared the stress of trying to work from home when they don’t have access to a computer or wifi. Some have expressed the challenges of taking care of their children and trying to access resources for themselves. Others share the anxiety of having their small programs close and their jobs threatened by the impact of this pandemic in a system that was already vulnerable.
We know how valuable early education was before the pandemic, and that its value has only grown. We must ensure that early educators help rebuild a system injected with innovation, renewed respect for children, and appropriate tools and training to address the inherent inequities.
As coaches, we have hope and optimism that the opportunity for change and renewal does not overlook the early education workforce and that we do not get lost in a rush to return to normal.
Barbra Blender and Eliana Elias
Eliana and Barbra are San Francisco Quality Connection Coaches working for many years in the field of early care and education. We have a particular passion for striving towards equity so that all children, families, and Early Childhood Educators get the opportunities they justly deserve.