I wasn’t that person who grew up knowing I wanted to become a teacher. In fact, I was the opposite – I had no interest in the education field until I was halfway through college. It was then that I became drawn in by the stories I was hearing from friends and relatives about teaching. Looking back, I’m so grateful for that nudge! I changed my major from business to education and went on to enjoy several years as a preschool and kindergarten teacher after college, followed by rewarding opportunities in curriculum and instructional coaching. From there, I moved into school administration, and it was in my last role as a public-school early childhood coordinator that I was introduced to LENA’s technology and programs.
Any experienced early childhood educator will tell you that children come to school with a wide range of background experiences that impact their school success. As a young teacher, I was amazed at the difference these experiences made in what we call school readiness, which refers to many interconnected aspects of a child’s life. Of course, being a new teacher, I thought I could just “fix” any gaps in experiences or learning during ten months with my students. (Go ahead and laugh, it’s okay.) In the years since, I’ve learned a lot about the achievement gap, and worked alongside many gifted educators on programs to help young learners overcome it, but nothing ever felt effective until two and a half years ago when I learned about LENA while working with the local Talk to Me partnership.
As a community, we had come to realize the educational and economic importance of eliminating the talk gap. The data was obvious — our youngest students were starting school with language and literacy scores that were well below average — and we needed a plan. We had all the right ingredients: families who loved and wanted the best for their children, support from community partners, and, of course, LENA! We started with LENA Home, serving 30 families through home visits the first year, then added LENA Start to provide services for families in a group setting. Adopting both programs allowed us to match families to the program that best fit their needs. We also focused on infusing early language strategies into professional development programs for teachers. I was living my best “early childhood nerd” life, so why would I ever leave?
Throughout my work with our LENA Home and LENA Start program implementations, my favorite moments were listening to our parents. I quickly learned that getting their LENA reports really excited them. As a parent, how many times do you really know you’re doing it right? It’s rare…unless you get a LENA report and see your progress! Our families celebrated every star they earned and every increase in words and conversational turns because they understood the importance of interactive talk and they knew their hard work made those increases happen. Then there were the things parents would say to me: “I’ve learned that even though my son has a small body he has a big mind!” and “I want the best for my child, and I know it’s got to start right now!” It was these comments that strengthened our team and reminded us we were on the right track.
The parent comment that hit me the hardest, though, was a mom who said, “I wish I’d have known this sooner. It really would have helped my first child – why didn’t anyone tell me this stuff before?” I know she was excited about what she’d learned (me, too) but I couldn’t help but ask myself the same question. Every recent early childhood educational text will tell you about the importance of early interactive talk. The research is clear. So how can we know what we know and yet collectively do such a poor job of sharing it with parents in an effective way? The question really felt like a finger pointing at me saying, “You’re the educator, why aren’t parents hearing more about this, and what are you waiting for?”
I used to think that the only way to ensure someone’s future success was an excellent education. Now I know that even the best education can fall short without the most important ingredient; the real “secret sauce” is in strengthening families.
I am thankful for the learning opportunities I had throughout my 25-year career in public education. I worked in a district that supported early childhood education and I enjoyed being part of a talented, dedicated team. My choice to leave that role and work for LENA boiled down to the level of excitement and engagement I felt from the families. I finally felt like I was making the impact I had wanted to make during that first year of teaching.
In working with LENA, my goal is to spread this level of impact throughout more communities – for families as well as classroom teachers by “Building brains through early talk.”
This is important to every family, school, and community. So what are you waiting for? Let’s schedule a time to meet!