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Ready or Not

Are You Ready? Or Not?

By Lisa Murphy

Commentary on the book: Ready or Not: Leadership Choices in Early Care and Education, By Stacie Goffin and Valora Washington, ©2007 and published by Teachers College Press.



I read this book before the buzz.  I point this out for no reason other than to add to this commentary the fact that I had the opportunity to read it prior to the articles, workshops and “special guest dinners” at which Washington and/or Goffin were speakers.  Why do I point this out?  I was able to get one reading of it in before there was professional pressure to do so.  My first read through was impartial and not influenced by any pressure to “read this!”


That being said, the first read through was in some places a bit difficult as I felt (at times) that the authors were airing our profession’s dirty laundry for all to see.  They were giving voice to some of our profession’s biggest not-so-positive issues.  And the truth can be hard to swallow. My second and more recent third read through were both more thorough.  The shock factor had subsided.  I was ready to take a more proactive, so-what-do-we-do-about-it kind of stance.


Paraphrased from the forward:  By asking questions no one wants asked, people will generate pushback. Resistance can be both active and passive.  The strongest form of resistance will be attempts at ignoring the questions asked and challenges made because many of us have fallen prey to accommodating the status quo and have made it work for us.  Entertaining the challenges made by Washington and Goffin will be risky business to anyone who has an over investment in “the way things are.”  If the identified performance and credibility gaps (identified on page 12) are seriously addressed, many will have “lots to lose.”


Much of our core essence as an industry will be preserved.  A slight percentage of our field’s DNA is expendable and must be left behind for us to collectively move forward and thrive in a new reality.


From the Introduction:   It is time to call the question: What defines and bounds early care and education as a field?


And to kick off the discussion, here is question #1 (from Lisa mind you, not the book, Washington or Goffin)


What do the letters E.C.E. stand for?

E.C.E =

A) Early care and education

B) Early education and care

C) Early childhood education

D) Depends on who you ask

E) Depends on the political climate

F) Depends on where you were trained

G) All of the above



Confusion reigns.


The authors point out that there is a gap between promised made and promises realized and that leads to anxiety among those in the field.  Additionally, our field suffers from lack of clarity about our purpose, identity and responsibility.  As an industry we have been largely unable or unwilling to develop a cohesive definition of what we do.  Including what we call ourselves.  And the age group of whom we serve.  As a field we suffer from embarrassingly high turnover rates and have minimal training requirements for those entering the field.  Many of the people providing direct service to children don’t have the knowledge base or (I would add) the disposition required to be effective with young children.


Additionally, people outside our industry who look to those inside for input and guidance come face to face with our lack of clarity and absence of cohesion about who we are and what we do.  This lack of clarity often produces confusion and frustration, and as a result they move their agendas without us. (Emphasis mine)


The book (their words) “seeks to address the disparity between the field’s convictions and its behavior.  Addressing the disparity is essential if our field is to have integrity.  And integrity, as defined by S.L. Carter ‘is the courage of our convictions and the willingness to speak and act in behalf of what we know is right.’”


The authors acknowledge they take various risks by “calling the question,” however they also point out that it has been called before.  Additionally they identify many of the previously “called out” issues and point out that we are still dealing with many of them today, two of which include academic vs. play based and preschool vs. child care.  I pause to reflect on a previous question called out by Valora Washington in a different book, of what will you be embarrassed if it is still a problem in 2010?   It can feel like we are spinning our wheels and navigating the same waters year after year.


I was especially intrigued by their challenge of taking responsibility.  Outside parties cannot “fix” our issues for us because (their words) “it is the field’s existing habits, attitudes and behaviors that contribute to the issues that must be confronted.”  Yet (from page 22) “as a field we are unprepared to contribute in an organized way to the conversations underway about the outcomes for which we will be held accountable.  And we lack the structural, organizational and management capacity to deliver on the promises being made on our behalf.”  (ouch)


In chapter 1 the authors pose what they call “6 field-defining questions.”  Three issues organize them: Purpose, Identity and Responsibility.


In chapter 4 they continue by addressing the state of “purpose” in the field and the consequences of ambiguity about purpose.  This is followed by discussion of the state of “identity” in the field and the consequences of role confusion; which include lack of collective competence, issues of dependability, and the appearance of being a “fractured” field.  Finally they go on to address the state of “responsibility” in the field, and as in the previous sections, present the consequences of avoiding responsibility: missed opportunities for children and postponed accountability.


They boldly announce that technical answers to the questions they call do not exist.  But they offer the model of adaptive leadership as scaffolding for those of us ready to do the work required to answer them.


Appendix B lists characterizations of the field by its leaders in the following areas: the field’s persona, status, leadership, effectiveness as a change agent and its future. Some of the comments were heartbreaking, some tiring, some challenging and some sad.


Appendix C offers a survey of sorts.  Under the heading of “Making Choices” I think the questions they ask would be appropriate conversation starters in many venues, including college and teacher training classes, conference presentations, panel discussions, staff meetings and even self study.


Like the authors I am energized by the work and task ahead.



© Lisa Murphy

October 2010

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