Making Choices in an Early Childhood Community

Working with children is a complex practice with decisions that need to be made every day. Many of the decisions we make in our practice are based on the structure of the learning community we are a part of. All learning communities are guided by one or more pedagogical philosophies, the guiding light of a program director, the children, and the educators in the classroom.

Within the learning community choices are made for the immediate, short term, and the long-term success of the community. How can educators make decisions and know these decisions are growing the learning community? Do we as educators need to know all the answers before making decisions in our practice?

There are many options in our field about how to engage effectively with children. Different philosophies focus on different areas of interest with their pedagogical framework. Many educators have their own children and were raised a certain way. How does this influence affect our decisions? Most of the decisions we make are not life altering, but all educators want to provide an excellent framework for children to thrive as they grow in our care.

What is an effective process for making choices? After reading some literature on decision-making and choice I found a few key ideas to share. Not all of the ideas I researched apply to our practice as they are based on making grand life decisions, but many of the key elements will help educators be more confident and secure in our ability to make choices.

To make good choices it is better to be educated in the arena where the choice is being made. In our practice we are usually comfortable making choices each day on the routine tasks we perform as educators. The more we become familiar with the structure of our practice the quicker we make decisions. Higher education comes into play here as one of the benefits of professional development is becoming familiar with topics that affect our practice and knowing more about the subject before having to act on it.

Observation is another tool for making effective choices. Apart from the routine of our practice we as educators find ourselves required to make choices that are not part of the typical day. Often observation is a good tool to use in trying to understand a situation that needs some nurturing but does not need to be changed immediately. Learning by observing is effective in helping educators see what is hidden right in front of or eyes as we move quickly though our busy day.

One of the challenges of making a choice is staying in the moment and keeping an open mindset with our choices. We can make an observation and a choice for a course of action but as we evaluate our decision the changes we had hoped for do not happen quickly or as we expected so we may start to second-guess our choice. Experts say that going with our instinct and sticking with our choice more often than not proves to be the best decision offering the best outcomes. Effective choices are created by combining knowledge, initial impressions, and our gut feelings about a situation and using this information to make a decision without looking back. Thinking too much muddies the waters of making choices while taking us out of the present moment. Next comes the effort that follows a choice.

The ultimate factor in making a choice successful is not the decision itself but the effort that is put into the decision. Dr. Baba Shiv a professor in the Stanford School of Business said, “successful decisions are those in which the decision maker remains committed to the choice.” Once we make a choice we as educators need to put in the work to make that choice a reality. It will be tempting in the initial stages of working with a choice to go back to the beginning where the work was easier and less challenging. For new choices to be effective the work needs to be equal to or greater than the effort of making the choice itself.

Making a choice that impacts other people is the emotional labor that all educators face in our practice. It is the work that makes us tired at night and drained of energy at the end of the school year. Making choices is a large part of our day and a skill that is always being tested by new situations that arise in our work. As educators we can embrace this challenge and continue to work at making choices that benefit our practice and the well being of the learning community we serve.

What is your process for making choices in your program?

How does the emotional labor of making choices impact your life as an educator?