Johanna Richardson | Christian Life Academy | Bensalem, PA
HiMama is improving learning outcomes for children zero to five. We support early childhood education because the sector is the most challenging teaching environment. Low wages, lack of professional development and long days; HiMama’s aim is to ease childcare management and support early childhood professionals.
The HiMama team firmly believes that early childhood professionals deserve to be celebrated and that recognition is important. Our Educator Spotlight is one way we are shining a light on the important and undervalued work of childcare professionals.
Johanna has been a dedicated early childhood professional for many years – her career passion can be traced all the way back to babysitting as a young adult. “My University had an excellent ECE program and I was lucky enough to have a really phenomenal teacher who opened my eyes to the magic of children. She helped me to understand that small children are “little sponges”… it was that realization that lit a fire in me. I graduated and got a job right away in a private school and spent some time teaching middle school grades; while rewarding, it was different work – I missed working with the little hearts!”
After having two children, Johanna realized she wanted to work with young children full-time. “When I went back to school after having my children, I learned that so much has changed in early education – and that is it often changing! The work gets more difficult in new ways, even today.” Johanna was recognized by her colleagues as one of HiMama’s top ten finalists of the 2017 Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award.
CHALLENGES IN EARLY EDUCATION
The challenges Johanna describes are familiar to many early childhood professionals. She reflected on two challenges that increase the daily difficulties present in early learning environments:
The degree of need
“I’m a big advocate for children’s access to services and ensuring that parents know the types of programs that are available to them and their children. I’ve certainly noticed that the amount of children who have individualized needs increases each year. The ratio in our school – 2 teachers to 20 children – can be really challenging for addressing individualized needs. Teachers like me sometimes feel like a jack of all trades when we should be guiding parents on what’s best for their children. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to provide unique and specialized care for toddlers and preschoolers when there are so many moving parts. An early learning classroom is complex and the needs of the children are constantly shifting – I’m often surprised by how great the need for individualized support is each year”.
The opioid epidemic has noticeable effects in the classroom
“We see parents who are struggling with addiction and the impact of that struggle on children. While our school strives to create a classroom where all children are supported, we know that when parents are struggling, the children struggle emotionally, spiritually and academically. We see some children who need extra social emotional support and that’s support can be difficult to provide with only two teachers in the classroom”.
HOW TO IMPROVE EARLY EDUCATION TODAY?
“I would like to improve the way others talk about our work – especially those who don’t understand the impact of working in childcare. Sometimes I hear ‘oh, you work in a daycare – you play with kids all day!’. No! We help them develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, and academically. This is not a place to just drop your kids off, it is a place where children learn and grow and develop. The reality is that you’re pouring your heart and soul into this job and you can’t be in it for the money. You have to be in this career because you love what you do and you love helping children succeed. I’m lucky that we found a way to make this career work for my family, because as a sector the salaries don’t match up with how important this work is. The low wages are a very real challenge for many ECEs”.
“If you don’t have parents on board, you don’t have anything”. Johanna notes that she’s had parents who have been told their child needs an individualized education plan (IEP) and that conversation can be a difficult one to have, especially with a new parent. IEPs should be framed as free resource to families and not as a lifelong diagnosis. “I want parents to know that I am a mother too – I am a professional who wants to help you. I don’t want to be the bad guy, I want to help your child be the best they can be. I find it’s always helpful to communicate openly with parents and to say ‘I’m here for you. I’m here for your child and want your child thrive here.”
Teachers can benefit greatly from exploring each parent’s concerns, experiences and background, which in turn enriches the classroom experience for their child and for future children of the center. Are parent communication platforms (messaging, websites, apps) useful to Johanna as an early childhood educator? “I send frequent messages not because the photos are cute or because I want to show off my work but because parents are so appreciative when they receive a message. One mother recently said to me, ‘you give me a glimpse into my child’s day and you have no idea how important that is to me”. I mean, what’s better than that? We are spending a good majority of that child’s day with them, without their parents. It’s our job to communicate how that child is doing and help the parent feel involved when they are at work”.
ECE resources and professional development aren’t easy to come by in every childcare center or classroom. Johanna suggests that specialized training for how to respond to a child’s unique needs are critical to providing a holistic teaching experience in early education. Rather than “cute” training on how to read a book in an animated way, Johanna recommends owners and directors bring in an outside professional to describe what tools can be used for individualized support.
Social stories are an excellent tool that combines play and support. A social story is when a teacher makes up a story narrative with a child and then shares that story with the class. The sharing allows children who don’t know how to react to an involved, focused narrative to approach sharing and social situations in a new way. A practical toolbox for all the complex needs in the classroom is essential for how Johanna completes her work today, and highly recommends other childcare center consider similar, tactical approaches.
On her colleagues, Johanna notes her admiration and joy for her workplace. Her enthusiasm for the work truly shines through: “What makes me truly proud to be a teacher here is that it’s such a professional school. Where I work isn’t regarded as child minding, but instead a prestigious place of learning and one where all team members feel the love. I love my school and I love coworkers!”
Do you have an educator you think should be in our Educator Spotlight? Contact us today and let us know!