Early Educator Spotlight Interview With Lori Davis, M.Ed. (Sr. Program Director, Tobin Children’s School and Asst. Executive Director, The Tobin Schools Natick)
Our latest spotlight interview is with Lori Davis, M.Ed. She is Sr. Program Director, Tobin Children’s School and Asst. Executive Director, The Tobin Schools Natick. You can see her thoughtful responses to a variety of questions below.
What experiences have you had working in early childhood education and care?
I’ve been in the field for nearly 23 years, making a career change after my son was born. I went back to school for Early Childhood Education, completing my Associates, then a Bachelors, and finally receiving a Masters of Education in Special Education. I’ve worked in a non-profit setting, a small for-profit center, a private school, and a large early childhood center.
I taught Toddlers and Preschool & PreK for many years before moving into an administrative role 11 years ago. I have definitely seen the field evolve and change over time. I changed careers from hotel and restaurant management all those years ago and I’ve never been sorry. This work is much more fulfilling and joyful than my previous career. Whenever I need a reminder of this, I need only visit a classroom for a chance to see the children and ‘charge my battery’.
I live and work in Natick, Massachusetts and my husband jokes that we can never go out in public without me being ‘recognized’. There are times when I feel like I know many of the children who live in and have grown up in this town. Students in my first few classes are now in college but I love to run into their parents. I joke that ‘we’ never age—just the children!
Were there any college courses, mentors, or professional development experiences that stood out as being helpful to your work?
I’m sort of a nerd and loved college so all of my coursework over the years has been incredibly valuable. I also love to keep on learning and love to have the opportunity to continue growing in my field with professional development and learning opportunities—and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have many! In particular I’ve had the privilege to attend several National Conferences of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a truly wonderful NAEYC Professional Learning Conference in Texas, and to be invited to attend a truly remarkable Admired Leaders Conference in Utahlast year. I was also lucky enough to attend the McCormick Center Leadership Connections National Conference several years ago and I’m very excited to be going again in May of this year. Attending these programs and meeting with like-minded early childhood educators and leaders always leaves me excited and renewed and eager to continue with the important work of early childhood education!
I’ve also been incredibly lucky to work for the Tobin Family of Schools for nearly 20 years. During this time, I have not only been blessed with many opportunities to grow and learn, but also the opportunity to meet and work with Mary Beth Claus Tobin, it’s Executive Director and Founder whohas served as a mentor to me. Her leadership, business skills, and commitment to children has always served as an example. I can only hope to impact the field as much as she has.
My current position also allows me to book and provide professional development to other educators through The Early Childhood Professional Association (TECPA). I have also been able to find a way to share my passion for helping children and families through our local Family Resources of Natick council and by working with a local nonprofit, SPARK Kindness. I’m truly very lucky!
If you could talk to politicians and policy makers about early childhood education and care, what would you tell them?
I’d have them all watch a wonderful documentary I was able to see in Texas last year called No Small Matter. It does a truly amazing job of making the case for the importance of early childhood education socially and economically, better than anything I have seen. It also paints a true picture of what it is like to be an early childhood educator today—struggling to earn enough money to take care of their own needs and those of their families. The entire audience was in tears by the end of the film as we watched a truly amazing early childhood educator leave the field because she couldn’t make a living wage. It’s an incredibly powerful film that should be required viewing by all our elected officials! I hope to be able to bring a showing of this film to our area in the next year. Check it out at https://www.nosmallmatter.com/
Do you think there are divides between different segments of the ECE community (example teachers, administrators, policy makers, academic researchers) and if so, how do you think we can possibly bridge some of those divides?
There are many divides in our industry and it is a challenge we must overcome if we want to truly professionalize our field and do the best work for children. One challenge is the diversity of program offerings and the lack of consistency of what ‘school readiness’ means. There are so many program options available: center-based or family childcare, Montessori or play based, nature preschools or Reggio, language immersion or academic. Each of these program types believe that they are the best preparation for the learning years ahead. But is there a one type of program that meets all the needs of all children? I don’t think so.
On top of this; early childhood educators, public school teachers, program administrators, and parents all seem to have their own definition of what ‘school readiness’ means. Howmuch early academic work should be included? Should we not include any at this tender age? Where do those incredibly important social emotional skills come into play? Since most children will move on to public education, how do we set them up for success? If there is no agreement on how best to prepare children for the learning to come, is it any wonder we are divided.
Finally, I see a divide between researchers, policy makers, licensing and accrediting organizations and those that work in the field on a day-to-day basis. Policy makers are quick to add higher educational standards for educators, stricter guidelines for programs to follow, and requirements for expensive prepackaged assessment and curriculum tools to meet their individual rules. But individual programs often must foot the bill for these programs in an environment where parents already feel stretched thin financially. And our industry is in a true hiring crisis at the moment as talented educators feel like they must leave the field to meet their own financial needs while new educators are not joining the industry to replace them. ALL of us who work in early childhood education want to do our best for each and every child but the requirements get more daunting each and every year.
How to resolve any and all of these issues? Only by bringing parties together to work on these issues. And, of course, we need policy makers to truly embrace the importance of our work and its potential future impact on society. Funding all of early childhood education with only family funding is not a long-term solution and it must be addressed.
What makes you optimistic about the future of ECE and what do you think are the biggest challenges to improving quality.
A few things keep me feeling optimistic about the future of ECE. One is the interest nationally in professionalizing our field. If we expect to be treated as the professionals we are, we need to work together as a profession to set the standards for what is required: educationally and ethically. Only by working together in these efforts (with the work of NAEYC, https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/initiatives/profession/overview, the McCormick Center in Illinois, and other invested parties) can we help create an industry that pays its teachers appropriate to their value and supports a way to assist all of us in increasing our professional qualifications.
Second, all it takes to make me feel optimistic is to talk to another truly committed early childhood professional. There are still so many amazing educators in our field doing tremendous work. And we are a sharing bunch—always willing to share our work and successes with others. Being in a classroom and seeing the amazing work that is going on in a wonderful program, makes it all seem possible!