In January of 2023, the Manatee County School District’s Early Learning Department began the daunting task of revisioning its work and support for families.
The multifaceted team includes professionals who offer developmental screenings, multi-disciplinary evaluations, and consultation services for young children suspected of having delays or disabilities, Voluntary PreK (VPK) professionals who provide free educational programs that prepare 4-year-olds for success in kindergarten, and early learning professionals that align academic, assessment, behavioral and community resource support for classrooms, families, and community initiatives.
The challenge we embraced in January was to create a holistic team that, in addition to functioning effectively, would provide impactful customer support for the families. Every member had a difficult decision to make. Moving forward, their work would look different, and their interactions with families and staff would change. Each person had to decide if they were committed to this work and if it aligned with their philosophy.
As the new team took shape and systems were implemented, we still had the challenge of solidifying the feeling of belonging. The book circle, When You Wonder, You’re Learning, sponsored by The Patterson Foundation, provided an opportunity for each member of the leadership team to participate.
For four weeks, the team, no matter what their role, committed to meeting to discuss the book. This offered a framework to get to know each other on a deeper level. The book resonated with all and the roles we play: employee, spouse, parent, daughter, activist, mentor, etc. The discussions provided time for reflection and allowed us to leverage existing knowledge to create new bonds, align work, and affirm our vision. In addition, it provided a safe environment to talk about challenges and opportunities for growth.
During the book circle, a participant took the initiative to voice her curiosity, “How can our team provide connectivity to families once they receive our services?” Once the idea was shared, team members began thinking creatively, communicating, and aligning their work. We researched options to bring the idea to fruition, and a new system of support was created. Now, families that visit the Early Learning and Family Support Center receive a bag of support that contains literacy materials, community resource information, and a children’s book.
The book circle was a powerful tool that allowed us to connect, and individually, we were able to revisit the tenants of Mister Rogers. This was such a positive investment of time and talent that each member has committed to participate in another book circle next semester. We are excited to continue our wonderings.