I don’t think I will ever forget the day I graduated from DIT with my certificate in Early Childhood Care and Education. After 2 years I had achieved a third level education and was ready to start my career working with children. This was also the day that I insisted on having every possible graduation photograph taken (obviously I wasn’t footing the bill) much to my mother’s objections. As she said I would probably go on and do more; “what’s next Fiona? It probably won’t end here”…… what’s next? go on and do more? – what an insult! Was this not enough? Was my qualification not good enough?
All I can say is that 20 years and 3 graduations later as I study for my ‘MA in Leadership and Advocacy in the early years’ with IT Sligo – mothers are always right!
Why am I now currently studying and working and trying to juggle both? Well the answer is simple – I want to be the best that I can be in the career that I chose for myself all those years ago. I had the good secure pensionable job (as my mother called it) with the civil service but I wasn’t happy or passionate about it. It just wasn’t for me. So I left and returned to a life of working with children in a large full day care setting and my passion was reignited. I was happy going to work, I loved being with the children, other staff members and the parents – it all just felt right. Even though the money was poor and the sector as a whole is undervalued, it was intrinsic motivation that made me return. All my friends and family could see a light shining out of me as I relayed stories of what the children said and did – something new every day!
So people ask me now, how did I get my current job? Again, I saw first hand the challenges facing the sector and I wanted to help in any way that I could. I wanted to try and make some difference. I consistently worked on any quality programmes I could when I was in the sector, to always keep myself ‘ahead of the game’ if you want. I put our setting forward for any pilot programmes or research opportunities that was available. But most importantly, I always ensured that I went to every conference, national and local, that I could go to. It may have meant giving up my Saturday but it was important for me to hear what was happening in the sector and to network with others in the field.
For me it was attending these events and meeting these people that definitely inspired me and also guided me on my career path options. There is yet a conference, meeting or workshop that I have gone to that I did not get something from – be it make a contact or acquire new knowledge, expand my skillset or hear some ‘fresh off the press’ news relevant to the sector.
Now here I am working for an organisation who delivers these conferences and workshops. I have a seat at the table with the people that I admired from the audience down through the years. I have a voice in how they are planned and I always do my best to wear my ‘early years practitioner hat’ when I am there having my say. I witness firsthand the amazing work that goes into planning this national event and the thought, care and attention that is given to ensure its success – what a privilege that is!
So if you want to have your voice heard, if you are thinking of taking up a seat at a table that may influence change or you would like to gain some valuable knowledge which may inspire your practice, come to Early Childhood Ireland’s conference. It is planned for you.
And hopefully I will complete my MA and graduate in November. I will take all the photos I want as I will be footing the bill and I will raise a glass to my mother who continually asked me the question – what next?
The Early Childhood Ireland Annual Conference and AGM is being held next weekend, Friday 13th and Saturday 14th April. For more information and to book your place, please click here.
Fiona Kelleher works with Early Childhood Ireland as an Early Childhood Specialist and Siolta Mentor. She has a BA (Hons) degree in early childhood care and education and is currently undertaking her MA in Leadership and Advocacy in the Early years with IT Sligo. Fiona has worked with NCNA/ECI for 13 years. She works with full and part services in delivering the Siolta Quality Assurance programme in the west of Ireland while also delivering training and mentoring across all areas of Early Years Practice. Fiona has recently completed her Marte Meo Colleague Training as this is a particular area of interest for her.