Dr. Samantha Dolan—coordinator of Early Childhood Education (ECE) and faculty for the ECE class in Cognition, Math and Science at North Seattle College—says her students were really excited to learn that the video modules they are using in their study of children’s cognitive development are the work of Soleil Boyd—a North ECE graduate herself who went on to get her Ph.D. in the field at the University of Washington. “Dr. Boyd’s expertise and way of making information accessible to teachers has been a great benefit for our students,” says Dolan.
Now the director of coaching and professional development at the Childcare Quality and Early Learning Center for Research and Professional Development at the UW College of Education, Dr. Boyd’s story exemplifies both her dedication and the value of a community college education.
Boyd started study at North in 2004 while working at a nearby preschool. She already had a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies—not a very marketable skill, she explained. ECE was another really underpaid field but seemed to her a better pathway than the ministry. Taking one or two classes every quarter for four years, Boyd was surprised and inspired. She began to understand that child development and play are learning for life. “I got a sense of how important the impact of ECE had on long-term development. It was powerful to feel the influence a good teacher could have.”
Three very practical classes were particularly significant for her:
- Math and Design, connecting art and the visual world
- Conversations with Children, about how to be a good conversationalist with a child, addressing power dynamics in relation to children and how to be open, equal and inviting instead of the adult always being in charge
- Behavior management, about how to be a better support for behavior with children
While still finishing courses for her A.A. at North and working full time, Boyd started at the UW master’s degree program in Human Development. She discovered that skills learned at North prepared her well: “Being at North, courses focused on my documenting children’s learning and growth, taking pictures and video. All that tied easily at UW into qualitative research methods.” Boyd’s master’s research project focused on what happens for black children and their families in the early grade school math experience (a group with lower outcomes based on state testing).
Encouraged to get her PhD, Boyd found it a very different experience. Equipped with a background in research and work as an early learning coach at Child Care Resources of King County, she focused now on professional development of teachers around math—supporting teachers to feel good about their ability to teach math to young children, be good at it, and be equitable to all their charges. A product of that Ph.D. work was a course she taught at UW on early math and science (a colleague developed the science segments) that was in turn handed off to North, where Dr. Dolan has been using it.
“The curriculum is always in review,” explains Boyd. “We are always adding new research and new technology.” It is an online course with 10 weeks of course material. Each week includes some lecture (video clips of Boyd), reading and literature from the field, research articles, and special prompts so students can respond to what they are learning. Students create their own lesson plans, try them out and video tape themselves so they can get feedback from peers and instructors. That’s an important part of course activities. The course is designed for community colleges primarily, with working professionals in mind. Boyd says that a majority of those in the early childcare field get degrees while concurrently working.
What advice does Boyd offer to students in the ECE field? “I encourage people to finish, get their A.A., and be confident that they can do it —even hard courses, like math. It helps children to have teachers who are ready, who know the latest information and can apply it. Keep on learning. And find mentors who are doing what you want to do and will help you navigate where to go next. Find people you look up to and ask them for help.”
She also points out the need for more diverse representation in the ECE field, including people of color and bilingual teachers, coaches and professors. “The kids we serve are diverse; they benefit when they see teachers who represent them and are ready to engage with them and challenge them.”
For more information about training in early childhood education at North Seattle College, visit these pages.