Lessons in Early Learning from Austin, TX to Pittsburgh, PA

Shimira Williams shares reflections on her participating in SXSW EDU 2018 and how insights and questions from the event are shaping her work in early learning back home in Pittsburgh.

When I was invited to participate in Remake Learning SXSW EDU Delegation with support from my employer WQED Education, I was ecstatic. This conference had been on my professional development radar since 2013. I was eager to capitalize on the opportunity and started thinking about my networks and who I could potentially connect with while at the conference. Before leaving, I had scoped out the early learning, equity, and business tracks to outline a schedule. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the sessions attended, I want to offer five ways Pennsylvania’s early learning ecosystem can apply social innovation and entrepreneurship to build sustainable communities.

On my first day, I stopped in to the PBS Teaching Learning Lab, just after KQED announced their new PBS Media Literacy Educator Certification and met Annelise Wunderlich, Executive Producer, Education at KQED. She noticed my WQED name tag, sparked a conversation and encouraged me to pursue the certification. It’s designed to demonstrate educators expertise in teaching students to produce media that matters and think critically about their role as media consumers and creators. I immediately started to ponder the possibility of Pennsylvania creating a similar initiative based on existing nine professional development modules facilitated for Digital Media Literacy & Technology Tools for Early Learning Train the Trainer. How might WQED create a state-approved media literacy certification for their Family Learning Connection initiative?

Once I returned to Pittsburgh, the office was buzzing about the upcoming EdCamp with Hopewell School District and Trying Together. I shared information from the session “Growing an Engaged Education Innovation Community” at SXSW EDU. A few weeks later the Grove City College pre-service teachers hosted an EdCamp. The EdCamp was a success, and the staff at WQED has begun to explore how might we leverage this model for professional development opportunities to connect early educators, librarians, and museum staff to create a “Connected Community.” In the past, the group of early childhood media literacy and digital tools educators presented how we worked together as a connected community to share digital resources to create access. Who can support WQED in building an EdCamp ecosystem for early learning educators, providers, community stakeholders, and caregivers?

If you haven’t heard, Pittsburgh is an edtech hotbed trailblazing in policy, people, products and places to access. While at SXSW EDU, I caught up with a Pittsburgh colleague over coffee and started discussing the status of local edtech companies. My wheels were turning, about how might we create synergies to build a statewide initiative that informs edtech developers about the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards, National Association of Education Young Children: Technology and Interactive Media position statement. Would it be possible to connect edtech developers to early learning providers for beta testing opportunities?

Now we’re talking B-to-B solutions; innovation happens here. Yes, childcare services are community-based businesses, which are primarily women-owned. During SXSW EDU, I attended Lady Boss: Female Leaders in Ed Entrepreneurship, where the panelists had launched edtech companies or schools, and I kept thinking about how Women Small Business Development Centers could be the missing team player that providers needed to develop sustainable businesses. What if the state’s community and economic development create initiatives to support business development for child care providers?

Let’s be realistic; early childhood needs investment from large corporations to raise the floor and sustain the new level of quality. We need to tell a story that investing in early childhood is a win-win because when their employees with children:

  • Don’t have to worry about the care of their children they are more productive.
  • Have access to high-quality childcare they can depend on reliable childcare service.
  • Long-term the company is investing in the next generation of employee and leaders.

It’s a smart move filled with goodwill. How might large corporations work with local advocacy groups to support their employee child care needs?

Pennsylvania is in the position to emerge as a leader in social innovation and entrepreneurship to build sustainable communities. Recently we implemented new performance standards for Keystone STARS our new quality rating improvement system that is designed to allow providers to be innovative about their program design. The goal is to allow providers to meet quality standards while implementing a program that meets their communities needs and wants.Coupled with the Governor’s mission for government to find innovative ways to increase efficiencies and streamline management. Reflected in OCDEL’s recent creation and updates to the multiple online tools for providers and early learning stakeholders.

Published June 25, 2018

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