02 July 2016

Child Development Flashbacks - Exploring my Academic and Philosophical Roots

It was a silly misstep. You are supposed to include every document requested by a potential employer and focus resume information toward the specific position being sought. I did neither.

In this age of electronic application submission, it is too easy to fall into traps of convenience.  One generic resume can be used for a whole swath of positions, at times even at multiple organizations with one click of a mouse button. The inclusion of a cover letter is often optional to submission, but probably should not be. Harried HR departments in some larger organizations must filter through thousands of applications daily and choose to mechanize the process based on a handful of answers to questions or scanned keywords. In this case, I treated a smallish university steeped in more traditional ways in the same fashion that I would approach a highly outsourced HR process at a multinational government contractor. I knew better than to do that and I will likely be discarded out of hand for not following instructions.  The sad part is that, unlike those who send hundreds of applications into the wind, I really wanted to be seriously considered for this specific job.

The Child Development Center (CDC) at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) is advertising the position of Director, long held by one of my most influential mentors, Francine Stuckey. I worked as a student caregiver at the CDC from 1988 to 1993, created and ran two centers during that time, was a trainer at a military child care center after graduation and trained myriad others as a program specialist at the ENMU Child Care Training and Technical Assistance Program, and served for a number of years as a subject matter expert and consultant/trainer in child care management, parenting, and public health, concurrent with other employment. In other words, I have been around this block several times and in several capacities. I could also include the fact that my wife and I raised our six children along the way. I last worked directly in the field of child development in 2004 and my earlier undergraduate work focused on this, so I haven't had big and specific child development thoughts for a bit over ten years. Saying that, the ideals I have promoted over time, like family sovereignty, are being dredged back up just as I seem to need them as I present myself as a candidate for post of ENMU CDC Director.

Let me present some thoughts that have come to mind over the last day or two in regards to directing a place like the CDC and leading a community dedicated to child and human development.

I am a home economist at heart and by training - I am practical and I prefer “hands-on” demonstration to other forms of knowledge transfer. I have never been much of a formal "teacher" though I was employed in the role a few times. I have always skewed toward home and family over the school ethos - smaller, more intimate, less institutional, more personal. I relate more toward and better serve people than abstractions like the schooling institution.

My leadership style has always been along the lines of the servant-leader. I run an "input and consensus" shop, knowing that I don't have all the answers, I often miss important elements in a situation, and have learned that the best answers and solutions often come from unexpected people and places. I am much more a leader than a manager with an understanding that the center director is most responsible for crafting the "feel" of the organization, making things work from a regulatory, accreditation, and "get'r done jack-of-all-trades" standpoint. These tasks assigned, caregivers (master and student) can concentrate their time and thought on facilitating children’s development and serving families. To put a "Harry Potter" twist on things - the center director is a "Dumbledore"-type figure who directs and services community rather than formally “teaches” children.

A university Child Development Center is essentially three things - Laboratory, Community, and Environment.

The "Laboratory" - This is our academic purpose (why we are on campus). To be a good lab, we don't just cater to one type of child or family, which other child care settings can better accomplish ("best Hispano-Catholic care anywhere!”). The better child development lab must be more accommodating of different families and attitudes so university students can observe interaction, gain a wider breadth of experience with children of different families and cultures, and test out new theories of fostering development among divergent people. Students do this with children in our care - Instructors (director/master caregivers/mentors) do this with students through coursework and “on-the-job training”.

The "Community" - This is the voluntary collection of families that are served in a communitarian way. We serve families directly and through their children in our care. In this way, the center bears little resemblance to the compulsory catchment and attendance “school” where parents have little choice in associations and little influence in the institutional function. The center director spends as much time opening up possibilities for parents as they do working with the children - the family is the most important unit of society and the Community must honor and service this.  In the case of child development, parents choose a Community (center) that works best for them and best “fits” their family and their culture.

The "Environment" - 'You call this a "pre-school" and I will instruct you differently (hopefully without violence).' We have no “teachers”, a role which implies the centrality of lessons and methods where children are passive consumers or followers. Here, caregivers create and foster an environment where children lead the way, patterned more after a safe, orderly home rather than a "school" (within our obvious physical constraints). We also don't set up “simulated” environments, we make it as authentic as we can - "play" living rooms and kitchens give way to "working" versions with real equipment for instance. Parents should be able to see this as a place to observe "professional" (well, often student) "child developers" in action and find encouragement, insight, and empowerment toward fostering and leading the development of their own children, often to other settings that may bear little resemblance to this center.

Priority for the hiring of workers is given to CDC is CD/ECE students. After this, we encourage a breadth of background, knowledge, and experience put in service to the Community.

Guiding Principles and "Promises" that Hold Sway in a Nemrow-led Shop:
  • We put other people’s needs ahead of our own.
  • We owe it our Family and our Community to be our better selves.
  • We work to create a safe place for growth.
  • We discover and honor contributions (efforts that improve your Family and your Community).
  • We help others realize their potential and build toward it.
  • We make decisions to be helpful and not hurtful.
  • We explore the balance between roots (safety, order, heritage) and wings (unbridled expression/action, "pioneering", taking risks).
  • We honor and foster individuality and each family culture within our Community.
  • We present alternatives. Maybe this situation and Community isn't for you and your family, and this fact is okay.  
  • We leave it better than we found it (and not just our personal definition of "better").