As we've said many times on our podcast, stress often arises in our lives when we get so busy it becomes impossible to look up from what is right in front of us in order to try to have an idea of the bigger picture. We feel powerless to change the course we are set on.
Dr. Carol Brunson Day has been working in child care advocacy for over 50 years from the individual center level to the national policy level. She has worked as the CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, has been the CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute, and has also served as the President of NAEYC.
In our conversation, we talk about how simply agreeing with an idea is not enough. In order to facilitate change, we have to engage in collective activism and advocacy. She also talks about how connecting with like minded individuals is a great way to instill a sense of purpose and direction in your life that is outside of your day-to-day work.
This project is funded through a grant with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and Signal Centers, Inc.
Connecting with the Big Picture Through Advocacy
Wed, Nov 09, 2022 10:25AM • 42:54
advocacy, early childhood, educators, families, children, individual, education, young children, important, teachers, people, equity, work, addressing, community, childcare, early, engage, policies, talking
Carol Brunson Day, Alex Farrell, Wesley Mayes
Carol Brunson Day 00:00
It's very important to basically where the rubber meets the road to actually get out there and speak up and speak out on behalf of the decisions that are getting made that will influence schools for young children, services for children and families. And that requires more than just agreeing with something. Going into an arena where people are working to make change.
Alex Farrell 00:37
Hey everyone, this is Alex and Wes, from the Lean Into You podcast. And today we are super excited to talk to Dr. Carol Brunson, de if you've been in early childhood for very long, you know who Carol Brunson day is. Carol has spent the last 50 years working in early childhood. In advocacy work. She was the CEO and founding executive for the Council for professional recognition in Washington, DC, and then also the CEO for the National Black Child Development Institute. She was also the board president for the National Association for the Education of Young Children. So there are a few people in this industry that have seen as much change within the industry of early childhood as she has.
Wesley Mayes 01:11
And that was really something I appreciated about our conversation today. Not only was it just jam packed full of things that we can do to create and enact change in early childcare. But she also brought in some of that experience and referencing a lot of the amazing ways in which early childcare has changed. And for me, that connection is important. Because it reminds us that the actions that we take really matter.
Alex Farrell 01:35
Yeah, I really enjoyed hearing kind of her testimony of what she's the what she's the proudest of in her work over the last 50 years. And then it was quite sobering, actually, to hear what our biggest barriers are going forward. So we get a little bit into that as well.
Wesley Mayes 01:50
Absolutely. So we hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Carol Brunson day.
Alex Farrell 02:03
Hello, Carol, how are you?
Carol Brunson Day 02:04
I'm well, thank you, Alex, how are you?
Alex Farrell 02:06
Doing quite well, so excited to have you join us. You and I were introduced at the teaching wages conference in North Carolina. And I had heard about you, you know, since you know, if you've worked in early childhood, you know who Carol Brunson Day is. But we're super--
Carol Brunson Day 02:24
I've been around a long time.
Alex Farrell 02:28
When you've seen and that's a, you know, that's such an invaluable experience that you have, you've seen several phases of early childhood growth and development from a policy standpoint. And you've been at the center of that conversation for so long. So we're really honored to have you on perhaps to get started. If there is someone in this industry that doesn't know who you are. Can you just start by introducing yourself kind of your history in the field and then kind of what you're working on or what you're excited about today.
Carol Brunson Day 02:56
I'm happy to do that, Alex. Well, my name is Carol Bronson. De and I have been in early childhood education. for over 50 years. I am now retired and only doing occasional work like podcasts. I spent the first part of my career as a classroom teacher working in a headstart program that was based at a community college in Illinois. I'm from Chicago. So that's my home city. I then spent the next 15 years of my career involved in teacher training. I was on the faculty at a community college first and then an upper division School of Human Development Pacific Oaks College in California. Where I work involves training teachers to work with children, and families chose families with children, infancy through preschool. I then moved to Washington DC and spent the next 30 years working with national associations. I was the executive director of the Council for early childhood professional recognition, which is the home of the Child Development Associate credential, the CDA. That organization issues a national credential based on competency of for early childhood teachers working with children, infancy through age five. I also served as Executive Director of the National Black Child Development Institute, which is an advocacy organization based in Washington DC as well. And I am now retired. So that's the some of my career I've worked with young children, work training teachers and work in teacher certification.
Wesley Mayes 05:05
You mentioned that you worked in an advocacy group there at the end. And I know that's something that we wanted to sort of shift our conversation into. What does advocacy mean to you?
Carol Brunson Day 05:20
Well, I have done a lot of public speaking, and publications, particularly, I wanted to focus on my work around advocacy. Because I believe that advocacy means working to make change. And there's a spectrum, I think, in, in advocacy and early education, particularly between at one in simply giving a head nod to issues and policies and practices that one agrees with, all the way at the other extreme, to really becoming involved and taking an active role in supporting and working towards the change that you believe in. Right. I'm more on advocacy. And on the activist end of that,
Wesley Mayes 06:23
I think it's really easy to sort of watered down advocacy, I really liked that you you look at it through that lens of being active?
Carol Brunson Day 06:33
Yes, it is, it's very important to basically where the rubber meets the road to actually get out there. And speak up and speak out on behalf of the decisions that are getting made that will influence schools for young children, services for children and families. And that requires more than just agreeing with something going into an arena where people are working to make change, right.
Alex Farrell 07:09
So in your kind of in your history of being on more than the active side of the spectrum that you kind of laid out. When we talk about things like equity within the profession, and equity in general. What role do you because you said in our prep call that equity isn't just about being nice to someone, or being nice to children, which I thought really stood out to me, can you go into a little bit more of what you meant there? And then kind of where does app? Like is equity possible without advocacy? I think I know the answer to that.
Carol Brunson Day 07:42
But all right, that's a great, that's a great way to put it. No, social change is possible without group action. There's no precedents for social change in the actions of an individual. But we sometimes are led to believe that an individual was responsible for global social changes within a society. But that really is not the case. It takes a lot of citizen participation to make change, and particularly lasting change. Specific early education. I think that while my role has been as part of the leadership in early education, every individual does not necessarily have to be a part of the leadership to participate in change. So I think that let me talk about three ways of looking at advocacy, because each each has a different role in creating change. So, first of all, often in early childhood settings. And this is kind of historical, but it's still present today. People see equity, as the same as seeing children as individual human beings. And their view of advancing equity just it really means being good to children, treating all children the same in the classroom, in order to help them reach their full potential. That is important, but it simply is not enough, right? At a higher level, people see advocacy as the action, the activities, to see children not just as individuals, but as members of specific social, cultural and racial groups. And for them, advancing equity means being in elusive and being respectfully inclusive of children's families and community backgrounds so that they can achieve their full potential. In other words, it goes beyond, even though it's in the classroom, its activities in the classroom, it goes beyond just seeing them as individual human beings, but seeing them as part of a social context. For me, well, the third level, and this is this is what I consider, at this point in time, the deepest level of efficacy is a view that sees closing opportunity gaps, and dismantling systemic forms of bias in learning settings. That is important. The activity there, in order to advance equity, it means addressing structural policies, and practices within schools and within communities in order to ensure that children meet their human potential. So while we are addressing individual children, or addressing children within their social context, we're also addressing the systemic issues that affect these children's abilities and capacities and opportunities to reach their full potential.
Alex Farrell 11:32
In your work, specifically, you've outlined these three layers, kind of the individual, their immediate surroundings, and then the system, the systemic context with which those those surroundings exist. Have you seen in your work specifically? I mean, I know you've done a lot of work at the policy level. But do you? Do you see one as one level as being more or less important than another? Or have you tried to kind of target all three levels simultaneously in your work? How has your work within advocacy kind of parse to those levels out a little bit in your approach?
Carol Brunson Day 12:10
Right? Very good question. Thank you very much. My work has been all three levels. However, the most important at this point in time, is to help individual teachers, understand teachers, and administrators and childcare. Understand that impacting the future means addressing the history, the systemic issues. So I, I like to tell a story. And I've been telling this story for 50 years, that is a story of a woman walking beside a river, she's just out for a nice walk. And she hears cries from someone in the river, the person is drowning. And the person, the woman walking beside the river decides that she's going to help. So she jumps in, and she rescues the person pulls them out of the water, she continues her walk, and she hears another cry, and someone else is in the water drowning. And so she pulls that person out, she spends the entire day of walking beside the river, pulling drowning people out. And she never stops to think, to go back and see who's pushing them. Right. And I tell that story, because it means that rescuing people from situations is important. But what's critical to stop the flow of drowning people is to figure out what is pushing them into the river. So I believe that it is important for everyone at every level, individual teachers, directors of programs, as well as those in the advocacy and policy community to recognize that the work that we need to do to ensure that children reach their full potential by participating in early childhood programs is really the systemic work, right.
Wesley Mayes 14:22
And I like to these three levels, they they inform each other, right. So you can't, you can't say that, that systemic level. You can't fully address that without understanding the individual, and then also the community. So I think that while that while that third level, you know, of course is it's addressing the person who's pushing them in. But without an understanding of these two things, you can't fully address that.
Carol Brunson Day 14:52
That change includes not just the way in which early childhood programs work, not just As the high quality context of the program, but it includes change means the way that local policymakers, statewide policy makers, federal policy makers, make decisions about the policies and resources that affect the way individual programs are able to operate, which is the childcare system as a whole.
Alex Farrell 15:27
Sure, is interesting. We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago, probably a month ago now with I believe a colleague of yours, Shannon Rudisill. about advocacy. And she was talking about very similar to her plenary talking in North Carolina was, you know, if we had had frontline educators at the table in when policy decisions were being made, maybe a lot of the glaring issues within early childhood, we would not be facing if if those we had had that kind of representation, you know, 3040 5050 years ago. But given you know, given that, I think what an opportunity for educators, because if you think of those three levels, what what is the glue, connecting those three levels, it is the educator, the educator is the one that understands the child, the educators, the one that engages has to connect that individual child with their family situation. And then if we kind of take what Shannon is advocating for, which is, again, having the educator at the table for policy, connecting the experiences, the frontline experiences within particular communities, to organizations, advocacy groups, policymaking, you know, where rooms where policies are being handed down and developed, it is the educator that can that is the artery running through all three of those things, and what an opportunity, you know,
Carol Brunson Day 16:50
exactly. And since you bring this up about the educators, the advocacy work, when when online, frontline teachers are at a variety of policymaking tables, other issues come up, like salaries and benefits. One of the the most important elements in high quality, early education is continuity of the teachers and the center, about diversity of the teachers who are working at this at the center level, right, about the training, and the to the messages that people get in their teacher education, about their roles, not just in the classroom, but around the policies that get made. When when policymakers are at the table, they understand the impact of family subsidies and support for families in order to have high quality early education, the cost of high quality early education is huge. All right. And, and it is a cost that cannot be borne just by families paying tuition, and or family supporting, so that their voices around these things and all of that the resources that go into the early childhood system affect the family's ability to afford high quality care, it affects the salaries and benefits that the teachers make. And thus the the ability of individuals to have long term careers in early education. So all of that is, is important to this issue of equity. It's about equity, for everyone in the system. The teachers, the directors, everybody participates in delivering high quality care to young children. So one of the things that I have often said is advocacy is not a solo act. You know, it goes back to my my belief about individuals Wow, it is individual action that is required every single individual in the system. At the same time, it's a group effort is not a solo act. And it requires connecting with some thing larger than oneself and often something greater than even action at the center level. So it's important for early educators to understand that that their role is not just at the worksite at the place where they work, whether it is in the communities in which they live and work and it is organizations with in those communities that need their participation and active actions, to make the kind of change that is required to ensure children reach their highest potential, there are many resources and organizations out there that people can connect with, to engage in it varies from community to community, large urban communities have lots of the activities that are engendered really by organizations, early childhood associations, like the National Association for the Education of Young Children is one, the National Black Child Development Institute is another. And one that has just evolved in the, in the recent history of early education, I think in the last 10 years, is a group out of Arizona state called the children's equity project. And it has as its main focus, providing information and tools for communities to engage in this kind of advocacy around avid advocacy and activism. We're just gonna call it activism for for a moment, around early childhood issues. It's not a membership organization, that one can just go online to their website, they've published a lot of materials for individuals to engage and to organize groups to engage in activities that will help make a difference in their community. Na yc is has materials that are more geared to individual teachers. And one of the resources that I have recommended and has been around for probably 30 or 40 years, is the anti bias education curriculum, which helps classroom teachers be eight makes provides resources for classroom teachers to engage with children and families in their programs around these advocacy issues. So that because it's important at back to the individual level, that young children understand they can participate in change when something is unfair. It can be discussed in the classroom, and the children can participate in deciding how to write a wrong or how to make something that is unfair. Fair, so that at many levels, there are resources for teachers no matter where they are on equity spectrum to be engaged in this work.
Alex Farrell 23:05
Wesley Mayes 23:06
I love the idea of instilling that ethos into children, you know, that, that they are, they are also from a young age able to make make those choices of right and wrong, and all of that as well. And, and also, all of these different resources that you're discussing are, are fantastic ways for educators to get involved. As a self care podcast, what do you think the connection is for that internal work, like getting involved in the community connecting with collective action? How does that serve? I don't know, for lack of a better word, the soul like the the internal work, how does that connect back in your in your in your view?
Carol Brunson Day 23:52
Well, in my view, it's just a very rewarding experience. It's a very personally rewarding feeling, to work collectively, with my colleagues to make a difference for children that not just the children we're working with now. But the children and future generations. Sure, that feels very good. It is part of, I think, a sense of efficacy, that my actions are making a difference for someone else. And it just feels good. And I would think that it feels good to everybody, no matter really what your belief system is, right? Sometimes these issues are cast as partisan issues that you know, people on the left believe this and the people on the right believe that and you know, we don't like the way other people think well, just think the way you think. And if you want what's best for children Take some action to ensure that that can be achieved within your space within your workspace within your community space within your life space, and work together with other people because it feels good to work in a collective way to achieve something that you believe in.
Alex Farrell 25:23
Yeah, and kind of what I hear you saying is you said something, again, in our prep call, it was like content, connecting with something larger than yourself provides you with hope and meaning, often, and it reminds me, it reminds me quite a lot of previous conversation we had with Matt McClanahan, who's a doctor here in Chattanooga, and he was talking about fight or flight, and then the, the opposite reaction to that being Rest Digest repair. And that the, you know, the body is constantly fluctuating between Are we safe, or are we in danger. And one of the things that, that shuts off the fight or flight response is, in his words was meaning. Purpose and power. So if you feel like you're, you're heading towards, like, you've got meaning in your life, you've got a trajectory, you've got direction to some degree, it will tell your body's autonomic nervous system that we're safe. So when I hear like, it's what you're talking about is meaning, like defining meaning for your life. And in this particular Avenue, that's manifesting in the way of engaging with larger community to move the needle in a particular industry that you're so passionate about. When I
Carol Brunson Day 26:39
look back on my own experience, I find that very early in my career, I found colleagues who were like minded. And we just started meeting and saying, you know, there are some things about this place where we work that we would like to see change, we think we can do a better job right here in this school. To serve young black children was was the case, the case in my, in my career, the experience bonded us as colleagues, and made us feel very strong in terms of our own sense of building something that was going to last longer than our everyday presence within this institution, something that we could leave behind, and look back on and be proud of. And I think that's a human. That's a human need. I'm not a psychologist, but I know that people need to feel a sense of efficacy, right? If they're having an impact in some way that's going to last beyond their life. We I encourage teachers who are working in childcare, to teachers are working in family childcare, teachers are working with infants and toddlers, to people, we're working with parents to find someone find a colleague who thinks like you, and talk about the things you think could change, pick something you think you can do something about. And that's where you start.
Alex Farrell 28:40
I love that start. You know, we always talked about you know, start small, whether it's your something you're trying to work to change in yourself or an external thing that you want to be involved with, like you're saying, it always starts with start small.
Carol Brunson Day 28:53
And I can always come back to this theme of the the continued advocacy continuum. It's not enough just to give a head nod. Oh, yeah, that's, that's wrong, and I don't like it and somebody, somebody should do something about it. Right? That's not enough. Not to go to the activists level, the extra level of action. But as people engage I'm my experience is when you engage with people of like mind. You are able to build the momentum that it takes to have the courage really, to step out and say, we are going to go to the mat on this issue. Right. We are going to demonstrate we're going to let her right we're going to test it testified we're going to speak out at our school board meeting or our city council meeting or wherever And that we're going to not just talk about it with each other, but we're going to together devise a strategy that we are willing to put forth and stand behind publicly. Yeah, yeah.
Wesley Mayes 30:15
So important. I think that I think that's one of the small pitfalls in social media is it's easy to just give a head nod to something without actually going and doing that substantive action, which is, you know, calling your your local politicians writing letters, petitions on all of the things that you mentioned. And so I think that that's really important. And I'm glad that you brought that up.
Carol Brunson Day 30:41
Yeah. Well, I mean, it's not just in social media. I mean, it happens. It centers, teachers around the coffee, but it happens in the office, I'll just say in the office, around the coffee pot complained that they don't do anything. That's all they do. They complain about the stuff they don't like, they complain about the things that they weren't changed. I won't say they say we, we that's what we do. But together, we must move it towards action. And if we don't, then things don't change. Yeah.
Alex Farrell 31:12
Yeah. So as someone who has been on that side of, you know, strong activism work for, as you said, the last 50 years, you've seen this industry grow? Yeah, maybe more than anybody else. So I'm curious, like, what how have you seen early childhood change in your time working within this industry? And also what? What work? What's the most urgent thing that we have going to fix or? Or to address going forward?
Carol Brunson Day 31:50
Wow, the most urgent thing I think we need to fix going forward. I think that probably because I think the teaching workforce is the core of the industry. I think that we have to get public policy makers, many of whom are males, who are probably middle class, or middle income, certainly males, to really embrace a commitment to support families of young children. And that will have ripple effects around salaries because I think for the industry, salaries and compensation may be the most important issue at this point. Right, in the sense that we have not made the progress in that arena that we've made. In other arenas, quality education, we know all about it. It's we have lots of materials and support for programs to deliver high quality curriculum and high quality services to children and families. But the resources are not there. For these high quality programs to reach everybody. Why are the resources not there? Because families can't pay for the cost of delivering those resources. And it's going to require public dollars. Those public dollars will help to increase salaries will help to provide the facilities, the equipment, the services that support families of young children, families of young children are in their earliest and leanest, earning years. And so they can't afford to pay for high quality services. And the system is just so uneven. Now in terms of what is the level of services that are available to families who can't pay exorbitant amounts of tuition. It's just not fair. Other countries have managed to address the problem with public money, but our country still hasn't done it. So our policymakers are the ones who can make a difference. We have just gone through a pandemic where the federal government I don't know where the money came from, but money emerged to address that public health crisis right. I would like to see money emerge to provide high quality early education services for prenatal through through the whole educational lives of young children in this country.
Alex Farrell 35:08
And then when you look back as well, from where you started to where we are today, what are you most proud of?
Carol Brunson Day 35:16
I think I'm most proud of the leadership around early education, the thinking that has been generated and put to work on behalf of the types of programs, and that the everyday experiences that young children have in childcare. And one one I've chat when I started, childcare was considered a custodian. Responsibility. Yeah. And looked at, for example, regulations, regulations, were really about health and safety, making sure that the places where kids were kept in good care were germ free, and the water temperature wasn't hot enough to stall them. And that it was just basically basically health and safety. There was no, there was no emphasis on level of preparation that the personnel should have. We've come a long way. With regard to that. I've seen we've seen many states provide public Lee funded programs for four year olds. That wasn't the case. When I was started. When I started working. Kindergartens were where public funds were put for young children. And there were many states that didn't even have public kindergartens, nor compulsory public kindergarten. So we've seen real progress. But there's just so much more. That needs to happen. I think the District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction now that provides free education for threes and four year olds. Wow. I'd like to see support for those services for children from birth.
Wesley Mayes 37:21
Right. I think it's a good reminder, hearing all of those positive steps forward, that change can happen, right? That advocacy and activism and collective action can create change. And so I think it's I love hearing those things, because it's it, it's easy to not to lose sight of hope. And, and that's, that kills any action that you might have. You know, I've really, really enjoyed this conversation. Yeah, absolutely. I think it's just incredible and so important. If you wouldn't mind, we close out every one of our episodes with a word of encouragement to educators, and then also how you personally engage in self care.
Carol Brunson Day 38:08
Yeah, I want to, I guess, encourage educators to connect with each other, in the workplace, where you are fine, finding people who are of like mind, and who want to make a difference in children's lives in the lives of families, not just at the center, but in the communities where you work. And I think that had can happen first in your place of work everywhere. Connecting at the community level is the next place. Fine. The chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children has affiliates. All across the US find a an organization and join it, join it because they provide resources you'll connect with broadly educators across a broader spectrum than the workplace, connect with people outside of your community, people who may be different from you, but who share some vision for children and families in this country. And learn from them. Learn how to connect in this huge, diverse country of ours with someone who whose experiences not like yours and share that your experience with them. They'll share their experiences with you. I find that the work in this in this arena is exhausting. And at times you have to back away and Say, I can't do everything right now. And and I have to reorganize my priorities what I am willing to go to the mat about and what I have to put on the backburner, right? So you have to take, I have to take, you asked me about myself here, I take risks. I take breaks, I practice yoga, because I enjoy it. And it gives me a chance to rest my mind and really look inward at myself. And think about what makes me feel relaxed and peaceful. I enjoy my family. It's important to have a work, family balance in restoring, I guess the energy that it takes to do the work around the to do the advocacy and activist work. And I find opportunities to just have fun. I have fun in my life. I have some hobbies that I enjoy just me. Just me. And I just back away sometimes and do the things that I love to do. So it's it's life. It's life.
Alex Farrell 41:33
Dr. Carol Brunson day. This has been it's been an honor talking to you. It truly has your wealth of knowledge. And as my boss has said, it's very likely that many of us would not be where we are right now if it wasn't for your work in this field. So it truly has been an honor. And thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. We hope you have a fantastic week.
Carol Brunson Day 41:53
Thank you so much for the invitation, Alex and I look forward to meeting again someday.
Alex Farrell 41:58
Sounds good. Take care. Thank you for tuning into the podcast today. This podcast is funded through a grant with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and signal centers. Signal centers is a nonprofit in Chattanooga, Tennessee, whose mission is to strengthen children, adults and families through services focusing on disabilities early childhood education and self sufficiency.
Wesley Mayes 42:21
If you would like to leave a review a comment or have a suggestion for a future episode. Please do so on our Instagram account at lean into you pod. That's one word at lean into you pod. Follow us on Instagram for weekly self care tips clips from our episodes and graphic takeaways from many of the talking points from our conversations. Thanks again for listening to the lean into podcast and we hope you have a fantastic week.