Early Childhood Educator Spotlight Interview With Lisa Plotkin, M.Ed
Here is our latest spotlight interview with Lisa Plotkin, M.Ed.
Question 1: What experiences have you had working in early childhood education and care?
Lisa Plotkin: Between high school and college in 1998, I worked as a morning summer camp counselor with preschool children at the Jewish Community Center in Richmond, Virginia. Exhausted every afternoon, I told myself that working with children definitely wouldn’t be a career for me. Fast forward to 2005, I fell back into the field of early childhood education as a substitute at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center Preschool, and I found that watching young children grow and being part of that process was too amazing to ignore. I then stepped up to a full-time teaching role, and in 2007, realized I wanted to pursue early childhood as a profession. I earned my Master of Education in Early Childhood from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and continued teaching full time at a secular preschool in Boston and the Jewish Community Center in Newton, MA. Still thirsty for professional development, I continued my education in early childhood through University of Massachusetts in Boston and then shifted to an administrative role with a synagogue preschool. Attending the Paradigm Project Conference in 2016 (a grassroots initiative to multiply and nurture the seeds of excellence in Jewish Early Childhood Education) offered me a series of workshops about coaching educators, and I was able to articulate what I sought as my next career move. Currently I am the Curriculum and Professional Development Director at the Weinstein JCC Preschool in Richmond, Virginia where I attended preschool myself.
Question 2: Were there any college courses, mentors, or professional development experiences that stood out as being helpful to your work?
Lisa Plotkin: Many mentors who have shaped my practice I met during my 10 years in Boston, MA. Through Jewish and secular early childhood education groups, I developed a strong network of supportive, like-minded thinkers also seeking dialogue and reflection. I consider my first true mentor in the field to be Kathy Pomer whom I met when I worked with the Greater Boston Jewish Community Center in Newton, MA. From the first moment, I knew her charisma, passion, and positive strength was meant to guide me on my journey. Many of my Boston colleagues have inspired me; there are too many to list! Since then, I’ve taken every opportunity to attend workshops and courses and find other professional development resources to offer reflective experiences.
Another impactful experience was the first cohort of UMass Boston’s Post Master’s Certification in Early Childhood Practice, Policy, and Research. It was during those PhD level courses that I realized how much I love being a student. Currently, my career guides are through the Jewish Community Center Association (JCCA)’s Sheva Center faculty (the early childhood division of the JCCA); it is an extreme honor to be part of the current fellowship cohort, the Sheva Center Leadership Institute (SCLI), with 29 other fellows across the country. These amazing people serve as my current national network of absolutely inspiring, progressive, and passionate early childhood professionals.
Question 3: If you could talk to politicians and policy makers about early childhood education and care, what would you tell them?
Lisa Plotkin: I want politicians and policymakers to know that the people who choose a career of caring for children and ensuring that they have access to developmentally appropriate practices and enriching experiences to help them learn about their world are absolutely professional and impactful members of the community. They deserve the same, if not more, levels of appreciation and admiration from the general community. In addition, they need higher quality programs and coaching to build and guide their practice. As Timothy Bartik (2012) explained in a TEDxTalk, investing in preschool creates a monumental, lasting impact on our community and economy of the future. I believe that one way to do this is through investing in the educators as they are assets for any early childhood care program. Investment in our training and professional development will directly impact our understanding and work with children every single day. Dedicated time and space within school structures reserved for out-of-classroom dialogue and reflection must also be increased in order to treat educators as the professionals that they are and give them what they need to succeed and grow.
Question 4: What makes you optimistic about the future of ECE and what do you think are the biggest challenges to improving quality?
Lisa Plotkin: The movement toward a coaching model for early childhood educators is a strong choice in a progressive and foundational direction to improve the quality and impact for the early childhood profession.
One of the biggest challenges to improving quality is the general public’s view of our field. Early childhood educators are often seen as having a cute, all-fun, easy job or one that is not as serious compared to law or medical practice or other “real” jobs. In reality, early childhood educators are working together with families during a child’s most formative years of life. A child’s first five years form the foundation for the rest of their lives, and because a child is not separate from their family or community, early childhood educators offer tremendous positive impact if they are supported successfully and have access to ongoing, quality professional development. That’s neither cute nor easy! Rather, being part of a child’s first five years as an early childhood educator is absolutely amazing, honorable, and deserving of the highest respect from the general public.