The Images of Learning Project: Finding Our Voice Through Leadership
By Kim Atkinson

ECEs from each of the communities involved in ECEBC’s 2009/2010 Leadership Initiative presented at this year’s conference. They shared how the Leadership Initative had inspired them to raise the profile of the work of ECEs in their communities. In this article, Kim Atkinson, one of the Leadership Initiative participants from Victoria, shares her experience of developing the Images of Learning Project.

Danielle and I couldn’t stop reading it. The words themselves fascinated us: Communities of Innovation, Constructing a Culture of ECE Leadership, Building Capacity. Words like this didn’t pop up much in our ECE world, and we were hooked.

When the ECEBC Leadership Initiative call for proposals landed on our virtual desks, Danielle Davis and I read it over and over: ECEs were to develop and implement local leadership projects to strengthen professional identity and build leadership culture. It was big, it was bold, and we knew we needed to be involved.

But what project to propose? We threw around vague ideas, settling on nothing. Then these words from an insightful colleague: Use pedagogical narrative as a tool for political activism. Well that sure sounded good, but what did it look like? We threw around more vague ideas. And then there it was—the perfect idea crystallized: A travelling exhibit that would make visible the competencies of children and the specialized knowledge of ECEs. The Images of Learning Project was conceived.

Fast forward a few months, months that were filled with hundreds of e-mails, notebooks full of scribbled ideas, dozens of meetings, and many late nights conceptualizing, composing, and editing.

Here are some of the things we learned during those months:

Danielle and I work best with very good coffee, and even better with very good wine. Cheese is also important. We learned that sending two dozen e-mails a day works for us. We learned that we worked together well because we are both ECE nerds who think that spending 14 hours writing two pages of text is a good time.

And we learned three really big things. First, that the ECE community understood our vision and wanted to do whatever it took to help us out. ECEs, administrators, academics, business people, and design and media folks from around the province encouraged us. We applied for more funding and received it because of this overwhelming support.

Second, we learned to trust ourselves. With that overwhelming support came ideas, input, suggestions, and recommendations. All were heartfelt and generously given and some we incorporated into the project. But we also heeded the advice of one supporter to “keep coming back to the promise of the title” and to trust that our vision and our instincts were strong.

Fast forward again to the ECEBC conference. Our exhibit is complete, but we haven’t seen it yet. It is to be delivered to the conference venue at 3 pm. We sleep fitfully the night before, and on delivery day we attend our last Leadership Institute, but we are only half there. By noon we are fidgety, by 2:30 we are sweating. Will the exhibit actually show up as promised? Will it look anything like what we have been visualizing? We feel like we are delivering an enormous baby that has been gestating for 22 months.

The exhibit delivery guy arrives. He begins pulling the panels out of their cases. By now we are literally jumping up and down (Danielle is seven months pregnant and jumping!). The exhibit is exactly as we envisioned, only better. We laugh, we cry, we hug. We have done it.

Now people begin to wander into the room. What will they think? Will they get it? We know the message we are trying to convey, but will anyone else see it? We nervously watch.

Pretty soon two ECEs are crying as they look. Others wander with thoughtful expressions, reading every word. They congratulate us. Best of all, they tell us what it means to them. Amazingly, astonishingly, what they tell us is exactly the message we hoped to convey.

By the end of the conference, Danielle and I have been approached by communities, by conference organizers, by colleges and institutes, and public spaces that would like to host our display. We are asked to write about it and to get professional photos of it. We are asked about the cost of shipping it, of what the contract would look like, and of insurance possibilities. Will it be available in July to go to Edmonton? How about early October and mid-November? We are told the exhibit has generated a buzz.

We pack up the exhibit and manage to stuff it into our vehicle. As we drive to the ferry to get home we cannot stop talking about the offers, the enthusiastic response. We are overwhelmed.

As for the third thing we learned: The response shouldn’t have come as a surprise. We in the ECE community are ready to tell the world about the specialized knowledge we have, and the vital importance of our work. We, as an ECE community, are looking for those who will give us voice. And when a voice comes along, we are ready to embrace it.

The Images of Learning Project is one new voice. But we are not the only one. The ECEBC Leadership Initiative is on to something. Constructing a culture of leadership, developing capacity and innovation is big and bold; we can start expecting those words to pop up in our ECE world. We are ready to embrace them.

Kim Atkinson is an early childhood educator in Victoria.

Images of Learning
Kim Atkinson (l) and Danielle Davis in front of their Images of Learning exhibit.