This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #46 “Supporting Men in Childcare”
Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early childhood education.”
INTRO: On episode 46 of the show, we talk about the importance of supporting men in childcare with Soren Gall, Infant/Toddler specialist at Denver’s Early Childhood Council. Soren is one of the founders of the Men in Childcare Colorado Digital Story Project where he spent 6 months interviewing and documenting the experiences of men in the field around the world. In our conversation, we talk about the experience of being a male early childhood educator and the struggles that come along with it. Soren emphasizes that it is important to support and build the confidence of men who are already in the field. His way of doing that is to foster a community where men in the profession can come together to have productive conversations about their experiences.
If you are an educator who believes that we need to support our male educators in the field then stay tuned to this episode of the preschool podcast.
Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Soren, welcome to the Preschool Podcast. Great to have you on the show.
Soren GALL: Yeah, happy to be here.
SPREEUWENBERG: So, Soren, why don’t we start off by you giving us a little bit of background on how you ended up working in the field of early-childhood education?
GALL: Yeah, definitely. I was in high school and I was participating in National Honor Society. So I had to get volunteer hours to show my commitment for that particular program I was participating in it, and I was able to volunteer at my church’s early-learning center. And I found that right off the bat it was something that really intrigued me. Kids were really responsive to me and it was just a lot of fun. And I ended up actually working there over the summer within a classroom setting, and that was my first real experience at it. And then in college I was just thinking about elementary education just for the idea of having summer off and having that time with older kids.
But I realized quickly that the younger age was really where the most impact could be. So I ended up getting a minor in ECE [early-childhood education], and shortly after I started my career and in the field, in the classroom setting.
SPREEUWENBERG: Very cool, and a very common sort of story where you just got that exposure to working with the kids directly. And I think that is quite impactful for anybody who’s early in their early-childhood education career to see the impact that you can have in those early days.
Now part of your work recently, and personally, is you’ve done quite a bit of advocation for men in early-education. And I was looking at some of the stats that you had reported from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 2.8 percent of teachers that work in preschool and kindergarten are males. Obviously that’s a very, very low percentage. And you are advocating for supporting males who work in early-childhood education. Why is that important to you?
GALL: Well, I don’t work in a classroom setting any more. But in seeing the experiences that I had when I was a teacher I realized that it was really important. It’s important to have men in the early-childhood setting for various reasons. And I realized that there wasn’t necessarily specific advocacy for men in a larger scale, and I felt that it was really needed because it can be very isolating, I guess you would say, when you are the only male employee and there’s 30 women at the school. Because you are experiencing different interactions with children, with parents, and it it’s kind of tough to relate in that regard. So I thought that was really needed to bring this out, you know? Because the statistics say it really hasn’t increased over many years. So in my mind it was more, “How do we keep the men that are working in this field and make them stronger and feel more confident, rather than trying to get more men to come into it?” So that’s really where it came out.
SPREEUWENBERG: And so you’re in Colorado. Do you think there has been a positive trend with that, recently?
GALL:Yeah. There’s stuff through NAEYC that I’ve participated in. I’ve spoke at their conference and at the Head Start conferences, just about the idea of how we support men in ECE. And I think it’s becoming more of a trend in the sense that, in Colorado and obviously on a national level, there’s this notion of the suspension and expulsion in preschool for kids. And it’s often the young boys that are getting expelled, often as African-American children. So I think for me it is becoming more of a trend to say that boys are going to need more of that male support. Males are going to be able to relate to the boys better. So I think that’s been part of the trend as well. I definitely think there’s aspects that are making it trend a little more.
SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah, that’s a fair point. And I know we had discussed this topic on a previous podcast episode with David Wright – he’s over in the UK. And he sort of had a similar point, which is, looking at it from the perspective of the children, they kind of deserve the opportunity to have both female and male influence on them at the younger age. And there is some importance in having that as well.
One of the things you mention is, one of the big challenges is that it can be quite isolating. And so presumably it would be helpful as a male in working in childcare and early-childhood education to have other males in the field to speak to. Is there any type of community offline, or online or otherwise, where you can do that?
GALL: Yeah. There’s definitely stuff on Facebook that I participate in. There’s one called Men In Childcare. Then there’s the NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children]. But what I’m trying to do in Colorado, and I started this a few years ago and it’s kind of coming back with my advocacy, of actually just getting people to meet together, not in the sense of “Let’s all complain about how bad it is that we’re men and ECE”. But really talking about getting a camaraderie and that advocacy and that support to say, “Hey, I’m not alone, and these are other men who are successful in enjoying their jobs.”
But from a national standpoint there’s not as much as I’d like, and that’s really why I am doing, myself and a couple of other guys, we did the story. We interviewed all these individuals to really get the word out of, “This is a network. This is an opportunity for you to hear about other successful men in the field.”
SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah. Can you tell us just a little bit more about that digital storytelling project you did?
GALL: Yes, definitely. I was participating in the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program. It’s a fellowship program here in Colorado that focuses on developing leadership skills within the ECE field. And part of it is – because it’s at a graduate level – you have to do the capstone. And I really focused my capstone on what support men needed. Because, and I mentioned this a little bit earlier, in the past I tried to get men… unfortunately within Colorado it had to just be the Denver area, because of the geographics of it. And I found that it was… I thought it may be more like, “Hey, we drink a beer and we hang around,” and that aspect of it. But at the peak of it there’s about six or seven people, and then it ended up just being myself and a good friend of mine that also teaches in ECE. So I really thought, “What do men want?” Because apparently they don’t want to hang out. And I thought, “Well, I don’t want to waste my time and energy.”
So in that research I found that all the men that I talked to were really looking for advocacy and mentoring. And I really reflected on it because the mentoring part is really hard, because most people, it seems, they get the most benefit from having that informal mentor of someone who doesn’t know you’re really looking up to them. And if you try to do these structured ones, that doesn’t really benefit. So then I kind of got on this advocacy kick to say, “Well, how do you advocate?” Because everyone really seems to want more men, but what’s a good way to advocate? So myself on a friend of mine came up with this idea of, “Well, let’s get stories because there’s a story here and there about men in ECE and the benefits.” But I really thought it was beneficial to get a bunch, and get a variety of stories.
So we came up with the idea and we did a GoFundMe account to say, “We’re gonna give this a go.” And we ended up – with my previous experience and just networking and talking about this – the word got out, and we ended up interviewing about 50 people. So this was very interesting. And we were able to create this master clip that, because it’s around 10 hours of recording and obviously people don’t have the attention span. So we created this master clip. And the next step we’re going to be looking at is really writing an article about it for publication.
SPREEUWENBERG: Very cool. What is one of the main learnings that you got out of that experience?
GALL: Oh, man… I would think the main one it is really that the men are in this for the right reason. They are in it because they love being with kids. They love seeing the development, that spark. And they’re very passionate. It’s obviously not about money, because that’s a gender issue regardless – men and females don’t make any money. But just the passion that all these people have and the experiences. We had people who are just starting in undergraduate, and there was one man who worked in ECE for 50 years. So it was just great to hear all those passions and that interest and that drive to just improve the field.
SPREEUWENBERG: And based on this project as well as your own experiences in the classroom, what would your top tip or tips be to men in childcare, in terms of dealing with some of the challenges of being in that position?
GALL:I think honestly the biggest tip is, just be yourself, and not necessarily worry about what others are going to think about you, what other people are going to say, or how people might respond to you. Because often you are going to get a very different response from young children, and it’s normal, it’s what it is. And it’s why we need to have more men in this field. So as I was saying earlier in the podcast it’s important to have males and females and get the different interactions.
SPREEUWENBERG: And just based on statistics alone there’s a good chance that 95% or more of our listeners are actually women. And so, what would any tips be for women out there in early-childhood education about what they can do to help support men in childcare generally, or maybe even specifically in their own centers or organizations?
GALL:I think the biggest one that I’ve experience – and it’s not necessarily terrible – but I think it would be more important to recognize males in the early-childhood field really for their accomplishments, or something that they’ve done as a professional, and not necessarily making the point that “You’re a male,” because it’s obviously very obvious. I’ve been in trainings and I’ve talked to local men where you’re the only person and you might say, “And we’re going to give a prize because he’s the only guy here.” It doesn’t necessarily make you feel comfortable, because within the stories and the talking I’ve done about this, men don’t want that. They want to be acknowledged for who they are in the professional [field] and what they are able to do. So I think that would be the biggest tip.
SPREEUWENBERG: Good tip. And now let’s just focus in quickly on what you’re up to now. So you’re working at Denver’s Early Childhood Council [as an] infant, toddler and family specialist. Can you give us a quick update on what you’re doing there?
GALL: Yeah. So within Colorado there’s a council for every county, and currently I am the Infant, Toddler [and] Family Specialist, as you said. And I manage our ITQA, which is Infant/Toddler Quality Availability, and it focuses on getting more slots for infants and toddlers within Denver, specifically lower income families. And then I also focus on our family involvement or engagement – we’re still trying to figure out the best word for that – but how we can help parents with child development for their young kids and really finding the best care that fits their needs in the highest quality.
SPREEUWENBERG: Obviously a subject that we’re super passionate about at HiMama. And where would people go to find out more about you, the Denver’s Early Childhood Council, or perhaps even to get in touch with you?
GALL: Sure. For Denver Early Childhood Council, it’s www.DenverEarlyChildhood.org. And you can see what we do within Denver, and they’ll be a link for the staff and you can read a little bit more about me there. And as far as the work that I’m doing with men in early-childhood, we do just have a Facebook page – it’s just “Men In Early Childhood-Colorado”, if you search on Facebook. We’re an open page, currently, so everyone is welcome to join who’s interested. And then if someone wants to contact me regarding the work for Men In ECE Colorado, the email is MECColorado@gmail.com.
SPREEUWENBERG: Wonderful. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Soren. It’s been really engaged in conversation, a very important one. I think the whole subject of men in early-childhood is a very interesting topic because I do think it is important for ultimately improving children’s outcomes, having more men involved in the field. So thank you for all your work and look forward to staying in touch.
GALL: All right, thanks so much.