Early Educator Spotlight: Denise Galford-Koeppel and her organization Nurturing Connections
This will be a first of a series of profiles of people doing great work in the field of early childhood education and care (EEC). Denise Galford-Koeppel has had a wide array of experience working in the EEC field. I first met Denise because we both completed Umass Boston’s Post Master’s Certificate Program in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice. I was in the first cohort of the program and Denise the second. In the past five years, I’ve learned a lot from Denise while working with her as part of a consulting team, hearing her present at conferences, and following the organization she founded called Nurturing Connections on social media. (I highly recommend you click the link and “Like” the Nurturing Connections Facebook page) Below is a written interview with Denise about her career, her organization, and some of her thoughts about early education and care.
Question 1. Briefly describe how you have worked with young children and families in your career:
Denise: As an undergraduate student, I wandered across campus one day and to a child care program that was located on the campus of my college. I knew nothing about it. I asked if I could volunteer and, remarkably, they took me on. I was interested in children and psychology. It started a career.
There, I got to observe toddlers and learn about their ways, upfront and center. I enjoyed it so much that I focused my studies on developmental psychology. There was no program as such at my school, so I took courses across disciplines and at other colleges (linguistics, cognitive science).
After graduation, I stayed on as a classroom teacher for infants and toddlers. I decided to focus again on learning and while teaching I finished a masters in infant/toddler behavior and development. In order to finish the master’s program, I joined a research project.
I got to be the “Stranger “ in the Strange Situation (https://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html) as well as many other roles for a national study of early child care that was later published as the Early Childhood Research network. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/seccyd/overview
When I met children who could not participate in the standardized testing of the study, I became interested in developmental differences and then trained and worked as an early intervention provider, supporting the families of young children birth to three who were at risk for developmental delays. I learned to write service plans, to lead teams of service providers, and to facilitate children’s’ participation in community play groups for more than 20 years.
Feeling I was not skilled enough to really support caregivers in their own process of supporting children, I returned to school. I first completed a Post Master’s in Early Childhood Research Policy and Practice (https://www.umb.edu/academics/cehd/curriculum/grad/certificate_program_in_early_education_research_policy_and_practice).
My goal was to work towards letting policy makers know about the importance of promoting social emotional skills in very young children. I also returned to school again to learn more about adult and child development and completed a Master’s in Clinician Mental Health Counseling so that I can attain independent licensure as mental health clinician, focusing on early childhood development.
Today, I consult to child care programs and I work directly with children, families, and teachers in order to provide play therapy and family therapy. I also teach undergraduate students in the areas of social and emotional development in children and working with families in early intervention. I have the pleasure of supporting student teachers in their classrooms.
Question 2: What inspired you to start Nurturing Connections?
Denise: In order to achieve the goal of high quality early education for all children in the US, professionals who know young children need to unify to a coordinated message
I decided to create my business, Nurturing Connections, as a way to connect a range of important topics in early childhood and spread the word.Learning begins at the beginning. As I have seen the impact of early intervention and support on remediating developmental challenges, I am passionate about spreading the word about investing in families and young children, supporting social and emotional development, and investing in the development of early childhood educators who will prepare our future citizens for life.
Question 3. What is Nurturing Connections Mission?
Denise: To support parents, caregivers, and educators,
Nurturing Connections provides consultation and training to early childhood educators and families of young children.
Questions 4. What is something related to early education and care you wish the general public had a better understanding of?
Denise: Somehow, young children are still seen as “not ready for much” by the general public. Caregivers who take care of children not yet old enough for public education are not valued for their important role in supporting brain development. I wish that the general public would understand that the foundations for healthy brains, that can learn and become productive citizens, begin from the very beginning. This means we need to nurture families who are expecting a child and then continue to provide guidance as that child is born and begins learning in their home and community.Investment in the early years has a huge return on investment as noted by Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman (https://heckmanequation.org)
Question 5: What makes you optimistic and or pessimistic about the future of early education and care?
Denise: I am optimistic about the future of early education in Massachusetts. When I studied at Wheelock College with Gwen Morgan, the leader who brought forth the child care “trilemma” (https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/remembering-gwen-morgan), she told me that you have to be in for the long run and that change takes time. I feel that I am beginning to see more of the change and most importantly research and focus on addressing the needs of young children of all abilities. If I do a search regarding early education or toddler development, I find articles and more importantly organizations that are pushing to change the conversation to how can we support early educators and very young children to elicit optimal outcomes.
Question 6. What is the best thing about working with young children and families?
Denise: The best thing about working with families of young children is the optimism and hope. When I meet a mother in early recovery from substance use who has been reunified with her infant, I can talk with her about her hard work to be the best mom she can be and the possibility of success she is holding in her arms. When a child gains the skills to talk and the adults say, “Oh my gosh, this child never stops talking now!” I can celebrate with them what we worked towards. When a child with autism can graduate from early intervention with hardly any limiting symptoms, I relish in the difficulty of finding things to keep addressing. Children and their educators have potential and being part of that is simply energizing.