Heartwork and so much more...

Heartwork and so much more...

By Michelle Schurter

July 2022

As many are aware, the child care workforce in Ontario is in crisis. Since the pandemic, many communities have seen a dramatic exit of child care and early years educators, which has led many centres to cap their program numbers, or close programs due to lack of staff. This is occurring at a time when demand for child care spaces continues to increase. Employers seek to bring teams back to the office in full-time or hybrid models, highlighting again how affordable, accessible, and quality child care lies at the heart of economic recovery. Simultaneously, the Canada Wide Early Learning Child Care agreement has made headlines with a promise of $10/day child care. Child care can no longer remain the invisible infrastructure it was pre-pandemic.

In response to this crisis, the province announced federal support for communities to develop Child Care and Early Years (CCEY) Workforce Strategies in January 2022. Within the funding envelope, was the requirement of developing two professional development (PD) days. Communities were permitted to use the funds to close child care centres for a PD Day and allow educators the opportunity for paid adult learning. This was a new offering for child care educators who typically participate in PD after hours in unpaid settings.

Given the funding was to support workforce capacity, leaders at the Municipality of Chatham-Kent saw an opportunity for a new topic within PD. Rather than offer learning about working in our business as child care and early years educators (e.g., what happens inside the classroom), they focused on creating a day to explore working on our business (what do we know about our workforce, how can we elevate our profession, etc.).

The focus for PD would be on CELEBRATING the service provided to families and communities, particularly over the past two years with the pandemic, and digging deep into the value Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) bring to children, families, community, and the economy. The day aimed to answer, how might we better acknowledge and articulate our value to boost attraction and retention with the CCEY sector?

The vision and plans for Heartwork and so much more were shared with other communities, and the energy was contagious! On May 9, 2022, 12 communities partnered with Chatham-Kent and shared the cost of one virtual day of learning bringing together over 4,000 CCEY educators!

Highlights from the May 9, 2022 included:

  • Inspiring speakers including Dr. Jean Clinton, Jim Grieve, Armine Yalnizyan, Kerry McCuaig, Dr. Emis Akbari, Olympian Mandy Bujold, Dr. Hopi Martin and Dr. Rumeet Billan!
  • ECEs on panels WITH distinguished speakers!
  • A Canadian Mental Health Association developed ’Wellness Corner‘ within the virtual platform, for anyone in need.
  • A reflective tool developed by Conestoga College to guide participants through each session.
  • Heart-felt greetings integrated throughout the sessions from Wardens, Mayors, parents, children, doctors and grandparents - all celebrating the value of CCEY!
  • A social media explosion with photos and positive messages from participants across the province at #ECE_Heartwork.
  • Graphic illustrations provided by Emma Richard, to capture the energy and key messages!

What‘s next?

The momentum following our May 9th Heartwork and so much more day continues to beat strong!

  • More PD - A second event, Heartwork - Focusing on the 90%, with keynote, Darci Lang, has energized the CCEY community even further with a fresh perspective on how we live, work and play!
  • More Collaboration - Leaders from the Heartwork partner communities continue to meet and develop new partner projects within their workforce strategies to increase impact (data strategies, innovative college programs, recruitment campaigns, etc.)!
  • Knowledge Mobilization & Networking - Educators from across communities continue to meet virtually via ’Open Mic‘ sessions to share ideas for book clubs, knowledge mobilization and advocacy work!
  • Ongoing Promotion and Outreach on the value of the CCEY Sector - Plans are underway to present the link between child care as critical infrastructure for community development at upcoming Economic Development forums such as the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC) Annual PD Conference (Oct. 2022).
  • All Heartwork and so much more material and activity captured and open for public sharing on the website: https://www.letstalkchatham-kent.ca/heartwork-and-so-much-more.
Heartwork and so much more is a wonderful example of how community collaboration can leverage investment and propel impact! For more information on Heartwork and so much more, or to view recordings from May 9 or June 13, please visit https://www.letstalkchatham-kent.ca/heartwork-and-so-much-more.

Some messages heard from educators and partners on the activity through this movement include
"It was a wonderful day and it was so important to me that you recognized I was worth a day out of my regular duties to attend."
"What I enjoyed most about this event was viewing with my team and having the chance to debrief and share thoughts over breaks. It validated some of the great things we are prioritizing through our quality initiatives; goals including staff wellness and using a strength-based approach within our team to build connections and relationships. It was interesting to hear the "care economy" information and how essential the field of ELCC is to our economic well-being over time."
"Yesterday we had the opportunity to come together as a company. We laughed, we challenged our thinking, and we grew together as a team. We can‘t express our gratitude enough to all those who had a hand in bringing this day of learning together. We are strong, we are resilient, we are Child Care Workers."
"This (event) was exactly what our field needed. I could feel hope being restored."
"I could have listened to Darci talk all night. I have heard my place of employment has bought all four books and the first thing I said when I found out... "Can I read them!? I look forward to more work shops on this kind of topic."
"Today I‘m participating in the very first Professional Development Day for Early Childhood Educators. While I‘m not a registered and professionally educated ECE, my life experience and training that I‘ve pursued on my own, along with my heart, help me to provide quality childcare. My work is a labour of love but it is often frustrating to be seen as a babysitter and I often feel unseen, under-appreciated, and under-paid! As one of the participants said this morning, We don‘t sit on children! We shape their minds and hearts! More people are aging out of the workforce than are being born to replace them — making children our most precious resource. How we care for these children will literally shape our future economy. Providing quality and affordable childcare is essential - what is this worth to you?"
"We had our first ECE PD Day today! A step in the right direction for Child Care Educators to feel valued, heard and recognized as one of the most important fields of work."

About the Author

Michelle Schurter is CEO and Founder of Millennial Strategist, www.millennialstrategist.com. She‘s a leadership expert who provides practical, savvy advice to public sector and business leaders to help attract, lead, and grow their teams in a cross generational workforce. 

Her early career, counselling children and youth for 10 different organizations over 14 years, is what draws her to champion the future workforce today. Michelle's extensive organizational development background was refined in the public sector – 14 years working with some of Ontario‘s largest Ministries (Health, Agriculture, Children and Youth, and Education), Municipalities, and Universities in a split specialty of child and adult leadership development. 

As a Strategic Business Consultant, Michelle is currently supporting the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and partner organizations as they work together to enhance, sustain, attract, and grow the Child Care and Early Years Workforce.

She can be reached at michelle@millennialstrategist.com.

Blog categories: National Child Care, Child Care, Early Years, Professional Development, COVID-19