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Reflections on Community Conversations

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For this year’s annual Peacocktail Party on October 6th, Peacock Family Services tried a different approach. Rather than having a single speaker, we brought together a community of voices in support of early childhood development and education.

That night, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art auditorium was packed with a web of community support in the room. In attendance were parents, teachers, practitioners, service providers, and community members, all exploring next steps toward a collective impact on one of the most important issues for our families and community.

(L to R) Matt Eldridge (Helpline House) with Roger Coulter (Peacock Family Services)

(L to R) Matt Eldridge (Helpline House) with Roger Coulter (Peacock Family Services)

As in the years past, we gathered for an hour of cocktails and conversations in the museum bistro. Then we transitioned into the auditorium for a chance to discuss our community’s common goals, along with current challenges and opportunities, in our work with the littlest of our learners. As one participant reflected, “Friday evening was great fun and it ignited many wonderful conversations.”

In addition to those present that evening, Peacock took some time in the weeks preceding the event to visit and talk with partners near and far, gathering their insights for our Community Voices video. The film was a wonderful beginning of to evening’s collective work, an effective catalyst for the in-house conversations. The event participants were then guided through a series of conversational prompts, the first of which focused on “What is important in our work in early childhood development and education?

After time to pull their thoughts together with one-on-one conversations, the room turned toward a group sharing. The children, the first shout-out was met with applause. Comments popped around the auditorium, each focused on what is important in our work – routines, respect, trust – the list and elaborations continued. Soon the group was noting – socialization, outreach, and the need for greater communication.

Don’t rush, a voice from the back of the auditorium created a pause. When ask to say more, she continued with a statement that could have come from any of us in the room. This is an important, special time. So much is happening and developing in a child. To rush through this time would be a missed opportunity for the child, their parents, and the caregivers in their lives.

The commonalities of opinions continued – this is a foundational time for children, a time to connect them with nature, to instill a love of learning. The group overwhelmingly agreed on the importance of parental involvement. This is the time period when children begin to develop core values and skills, a time when we can help children grow a healthy sense of self, something that will support them through challenges later in life.

We then prompted the participants to discuss the challenges in working in the field of early childhood education. ABF4A159-3B3A-43B7-B3F8-CF5A1C7489D6The room buzzed with conversation. Time, money, access to childcare (affordability and availability), stability, knowledge, sustainability, our priorities, all met with nods of agreement. Comments central to our community – recognizing the effects of affluence, the challenges for working parents, and the invention of the smart phone, each drew the focus of the room to the importance of open communication.

With the variety of approaches and opinions in the room came diverse topic choices, for example, recognizing the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACES), along with identifying the opportunities for understanding diversity and inclusiveness. The time of group sharing was punctuated with the comment; we do not have all of the answers.

Each of us, both as individuals and organizations, can easily become siloed in our work. This can be another challenge. We each have our missions, along with a focused vision of what we what to create for the families in our community. If we hold that pattern of working and aspiring individually, we lose the opportunity to have a more collective impact.

(L to R) Cezanne Allen (Bainbridge Youth Services), Karolynn Flynn (Raising Resilience), Joanne Maher (Healthy Youth Alliance), and Kathy Haskin (Peacock Family Services)

(L to R) Cezanne Allen (Bainbridge Youth Services), Karolynn Flynn (Raising Resilience), Joanne Maher (Healthy Youth Alliance), and Kathy Haskin (Peacock Family Services)

However, if we hold those aspirations mutually for what we want to create as a community, while recognizing the current opportunities and challenges, there is a dynamic tension present for all of us. *

That tension will encourage our next steps. We can start something new, perhaps with a partnering organization. Or we can stop doing something that is no longer working, or alter something with the benefit of a fresh perspective. Each new next step we chose will either bring us closer to or clearer about our desired outcomes.

So what’s next for early childhood development and education in our community? Let’s figure that out. Let’s keep talking, having those conversations that count, continuing to be in the room.

The Peacocktail Party conversations continued into the evening that night, straight through dessert. Some of the conversations focused with a larger lens on topics such as access to resources for families and children with special needs, responsiveness to gender identities, socio-economic barriers, and cultural biases. Two educational leaders reflected on the great need for collaboration and synchronized efforts between the schools and grades. And an outdoor educator spent time talking with medical practitioners about the benefits of exposing children to outdoor experiential education.

Clearly, this different approach produced an evening that was time well spent. I hope that these conversations will continue throughout the community, through emails, over coffee, in classrooms and meeting rooms. After all, as renowned educator John Dewey once said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.”

Looking forward to talking with you soon,

Kathy Haskin, Executive Director

* The term Dynamic Tension is from the work of David Emerald and Donna Zajonc, TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)™, a tool for both individuals and organizations who want to create more effective communication and relationships. Powerofted.com

 

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