This guest blog is written by Caledonia/SEssex Building Bright Futures Council member, April Zajko, an early childhood educator and consultant, and owner of her own consulting business, April’s Learning Tree (http://www.aprilsteachingtree.com).
One of the best aspects of being an early childhood educator is the sense of community in our profession and the support that I have received throughout my career. When I moved to Vermont in 2006 the first connections that I made were through the Early Childhood Council and the local playgroup at the NEKCA Center. Since that time I have held a variety of positions in both private and public school programs and have gotten to know most of the child care providers and early childhood educators in my region.
At a recent meeting of the Building Bright Futures Regional Council in Caledonia County it occurred to me that the friendships and professional connections that I have made with others in the early childhood field have positively impacted my career.
I have had the privilege of leading professional development in my region and around the state of Vermont with many fellow early childhood educators. Gaining the confidence to get up in front of a group of providers and share my ideas began in 2011 when Kim Buxton (our then Resource Director for Kingdom Child Care Network) prodded and convinced me that my ideas were worth sharing. I committed to offering two science-based ECE trainings in the comfort of my little preschool classroom at the Balch Nature School of the Fairbanks Museum in St Johnsbury.. I told Kim that I wasn’t sure if it would be what people wanted to hear, asked her to keep the size to less than 20 folks, and that I needed her to stay and help me in case I froze up. Well, those two trainings were successful and somehow she and Jackie Sprague, an early childhood educator and consultant, convinced me to offer the same two trainings at the next Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children (VtAEYC) conference.
The first year I presented at the statewide conference I stood in front of seventy people and presented my “Every Day Science” workshop. It felt so rewarding to share my ideas with other child care providers and to know that these ideas would positively impact their programs and that many children would have more hands-on science woven into their daily programs.
Over the last nine years, I have presented to hundreds of child care providers and developed my presentation skills. The opportunity came to teach early childhood courses for the Community College of Vermont and I enjoyed the chance to share my knowledge with pre-service and seasoned early care providers. Re-examining the course content through the lens of my students, hearing their stories, pondering their questions, and diving deeper into the research has made the experience of being an instructor a rewarding experience.
By leading professional development, teaching community college courses, and being an active member of our regional BBF council, I have enriched my teaching repertoire with relevant stories, engaging anecdotes, and real-life practices. In 2019 I felt ready to take a step forward into a leadership role and enrolled in the Early Childhood Leadership Institute (ECLI) with the Snelling Center for Government. This program helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the systems and processes that we have in place in order to support children and families in Vermont. The camaraderie and support of the ECLI program felt like a way to gain deeper connections to a wide variety of folks in our state.
Over the last decade I have had the opportunity to learn and grow into a professional within the rewarding field of early childhood education. I have enormous gratitude to the many child care providers, child care centers and regional Starting Points Networks that have had me lead trainings over the last year. I truly appreciate the feedback and support that providers in the Northeast Kingdom have provided me over the last decade, and I know that it is these in-person trainings that foster the quality of programs that I am able to create online.
I believe that this is the beauty of our field …we know how to nurture and support not only children but each other as well. I especially thank Kim and Jackie for the nudge to begin since without that I doubt I would have had the confidence to get started in public speaking. Many thanks to all of early childhood educators and parents who have attended my workshops and courses, especially for the kind and gentle feedback to keep making my trainings relevant, engaging, and uplifting.