CAEYC LEADERSHIP DAY KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Q: Zoe, tell us a little bit about your Keynote Presentation. What would you like the conference attendees to walk away with?
I would love for the conference attendees to understand how critical it is for them to take care of themselves and their own well-being. It is essential because they are role models, and because they deserve it! The work they do is both so important and so demanding. Being an experiential educator myself, of course I want for them to walk away with concrete tools and practices that they can apply in their everyday personal and professional lives to support them in this effort. And I want us to have fun along the way, because that will both help us learn better and enjoy ourselves!
Q: What prompted you to write/speak on this particular topic?
A: A combination of factors prompted my deep interest in the topics of mindfulness, self-care and relaxation/stress reduction. First, I’ve needed to learn lots of skills and techniques to help with everyday stress as well as some large and traumatic experiences I have faced in my life, including being caught in a war in a foreign country as a young adult. And as a lifetime educator I am well aware of the pressures (as well as the joys) that we encounter in this field – in ourselves, in our colleagues and staff, and in the children and families. Seeing this need, it was an obvious link to bring the techniques that have helped me so much, to those I served and worked with.
When I first started teaching about mindfulness, relaxation and self-care, there was not the current level of widespread awareness, interest and research in these types of topics that there is now. The first keynote speech I did was after a student of mine in a three-day training, a Head Start teacher, became enamored with mindfulness and brought me in to speak about mindfulness at an Early Childhood Education conference in her state. From there, I began to get requests to speak at various events around the country. I love that when I speak to a group of leaders and teachers like yourselves, so many other professionals and children and families are impacted by what you learn and what you then pass on through your sharing and your example.
What is the most unique aspect of your work and/or what do you enjoy most?
A very unique aspect of my work is that not only do I get to travel a lot, but I often find myself in places and circumstances that I would not normally end up in. For example, I’ve spoken at five events in Indiana in the last year and have been to several cities and towns in the state that I had not heard of before. I’m going back to Indiana again in June to speak at a large transportation conference. This is happening because one of my Indiana Head Start conference attendees told the Executive Director of the Indiana School Transportation Association that she needed to bring me in to help staff at all levels of school transportation cope with stress. That will be a new type of audience for me!
I also really like to travel to and discover places in California that I might not normally go to (I live in Sonoma County). However, I am happy that the upcoming CAEYC conference will be in Pasadena, where I travel to frequently, since the rest of my family lives in the area.
What I most enjoy about my work are all the amazing and dedicated people I meet. I learn so much from my students of all ages!
As it relates to leadership, what do you feel is Early Childhood Education (or Education in general) challenge in the next year or two?
From working and speaking with a diversity of leaders and other professionals in Early Childhood Education, I can say that one of the major challenges now and in the next couple of years is the high level of burn-out from the leadership level all the way down, relating to and occurring during a time of much change and transition.
While the stress and pressure in this field is not new, there is an unprecedented amount of change in the ECE field right now, without a lot of extra resources. It is exciting to have so much attention on early learning quality and all the new research on how to improve outcomes, but it can be difficult to be proactive and to strategize in order to take advantage of this wave of opportunities if leaders are under constant stress just trying to keep their programs running while figuring out all the changes.
Leaders today are dealing with a complexity of challenges, way more than can be listed here. Just suffice it to say that when under constant strain, it can be quite overwhelming and limit even the best leader’s ability to innovate and be creative. This presents both challenge and opportunity. In order to take a positive leadership role during these times – in terms of running and sustaining programs, in terms of leading and role modeling and caring for staff while deciphering and navigating all the new developments, in terms of involvement in policy issues – it is essential that leaders take extra good care of themselves (and teachers and other ECE staff are leaders as well, in their particular domains, so this applies all around).
The good news is there is also an unprecedented amount of attention and research on the benefits and necessity for practices such as mindfulness and self-care, specifically as relates to education, along with the resources and information that can help us do so.
What do you want our readers to know about you?
I want the readers to know that I am far from perfect in my self-care, relaxation and mindfulness practices. Sometimes I’m much better at it than at other times, sometimes worse. I have to start over and over again, and I encourage you to be open to doing the same. This is why we call it a practice. And if we practice enough, we have a better chance of using and benefiting from the techniques when we most need them, and of helping others to learn and benefit from them. I hear from students and conference attendees frequently about how just practicing one simple mindfulness or relaxation technique has made an enormous difference in their lives. I love hearing these stories.
What are the top three things that you love to do you in your spare time?
That’s a challenging list to narrow down. The current top three (plus one more):
Spending time in nature, especially walking, hiking and bicycling along the Sonoma Coast
Writing songs and singing – a recently re-inspired passion
Tapping into moments of silence and stillness, whenever possible