Affirming Early Childhood Educators to Level Up Our Collective Impact

At the foundation, our partnerships and investments are dedicated to a society where all children thrive. Competent, supported, and compensated early childhood educators play a critical role in the lives of young children and families. That’s why, we were excited to kick off the Month of the Young Child with our fourth annual DC Early Educator Experience — a professional development conference powered by the foundation and hosted by four practitioner-led organizations, the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children, the District of Columbia Head Start Association, the D.C. Family Child Care Association, and the Multicultural Spanish Speaking Providers Association.

By and for educators, DC Early EdX 2024 brought together more than 700 early childhood educators and professionals from across the District on Friday, April 5, for a full day of in-person connections — networking, hearing, and learning from one another, honing their advocacy skills, and celebrating the important role they play in the D.C. community.

The day can be summarized into This was kicked off by keynote speaker, DJ Pryor, who opened the event with messages of gratitude and affirmations for this critical, yet under-supported, profession:

“There is an extreme need for constant affirmation in this work [and] today I am here to affirm you. You chose, singlehandedly, the most challenging profession of them all… It is okay to need affirmation and a sense of belonging in your purpose. It is okay to affirm the person next to you. I see you. You doin’ it. Every day, you figure it out.”

Pryor attributed his success to an early childhood educator who made a lifelong impact on his life by giving him 10 minutes at the end of the day to practice his early comedic skills in return for staying focused in class. “Susan Brown: I can still see her face, smell her scent. What this woman did for me, she literally saved my life … If she didn’t affirm [my] gift, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Following the opening session, the morning breakout sessions provided an opportunity for participants to level up their craft by examining their practice and deepening their understanding of a broad repertoire of developmentally appropriate and evidence-based teaching approaches.

For example, Sarah LeMoine, who led a session for the Birth to Age 3 learning track, shared: “Our nonverbal actions convey a powerful message, especially to infants and toddlers who rely on these nonverbal cues as a base for trusting relationships. Showing caring responses attuned to individual children’s emotional state through these nonverbal messages is an important aspect of creating a positive connection”. In addition to content experts from national organizations, government agencies, and higher education, practicing early childhood educators like Gildy Mendez from CentroNia and Muluwork Kenea from Amen Family Child Care also served as experts by sharing their effective strategies and reflecting on their practice.

The afternoon sessions focused on helping participants examine their own identity and mental well-being, and how this impacts the young children they support. Participants were also able to deepen their understanding of a broad repertoire of mental well-being practices.

For example, in her session with Administrators, Dr. Cynthia Greer discussed the various kinds of trauma (e.g., collective trauma, vicarious trauma, etc.), examined some of the reasons for lack of self-care (e.g., guilt, self-sacrifice for “the good of the mission,” superwoman complex), and urged administrators to prioritize the well-being of their staffs. Among her suggestions: set a good example, remind staff of available support, ensure equitable workloads and reasonable work hours, and give permission for simple things like time off for lunch.

The foundation and the DC Early EdX team know how much time, energy, and care early childhood educators give to the District’s children and families. As shared by attendee and speaker, Dr. Ghislaine Toussaint-Green, “It’s not easy work; it’s not babysitting. A lot of people think it’s babysitting, but it’s preparing future leaders. The more you support early childhood education the better outcomes there will be for children. How they grow up in life starts with early childhood education.” As a funder committed to advancing equitable systems for young children, their families, and educators, we could not agree more. That’s why we are committed to supporting events like this, advocating for early childhood educator compensation, and making the case for reimagining child care in America. Young children, and the adults who support their development, deserve — and need — nothing less.