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Job Shadowing: Bring an Influencer Into Your Center!

Dramatic play is serious business for a child. Working as an early childhood educator, though, is not child's play—it is serious work! Job Shadowing is a powerful way of showing influential leaders the complex workday reality of early childhood staff. Early childhood educators deserve a worthy wage for their worthy work.

When you invite a public personality to "work" for a few hours as an early childhood educator, you open the door to deeper understanding of early childhood education issues-and also perhaps to some great publicity. More importantly, you may gain a new ally in our fight for worthy wages.

Job Shadowing invites respected members of the community to shadow, or work along side, early childhood professionals as they carry out their regular job responsibilities. It demonstrates for visitors the working environment in an early childhood center or family child care home, allowing them hands-on experience of daily life as it really is. The procedures for Job Shadowing are summarized below.

1. Invite Your "Shadower"
Consider the community leaders who have an effect of decision-making in your area. Suggestions include:

  • elected officials
  • prominent educators
  • business leaders, and 
  • media personalities.

Feel free to adapt the draft letter below to invite your "job shadower." Or make a phone call if you have an ally in mind.

2. Make Advance Preparations
Decide with the guest how long that person will take part in shadowing (at least an hour, but the longer the involvement, the more accurate the impression will be). Brief the "shadower" on what will be occurring during that time period, and what his or her role will be. Try to get the shadower to arrive early enough to meet parents. Provide information in advance on what quality early education entails, and the role of the educator in promoting development. Prepare a packet to be given to the job shadower that includes information about your center or home. Include information on compensation issues. Finally, alert the media to this event to bring more attention to the issues.

3. The Job Shadow Day
As the shadower carries out his or her responsibilities, provide explanations about the ways in which children's needs are being met. Encourage the job shadower to participate as fully as possible, particularly in interactions with the children. Take pictures of the job shadower acting in the role of assistant to a teacher or provider. At the end of the work period, present the job shadower with a ceremonial "check" for the amount earned for that length of time. (Great photo opportunity, and a definite high point of the visit!)

4. Follow up
Send a note of appreciation to which you might add children's thank yous.

What do job shadowers learn from assuming a social role that is outside the realm of their own personal experience? They gain firsthand knowledge of what is involved in carrying out that role in the real world - from meeting children's basic needs to accommodating families. They come to understand how early education nurtures the seeds for lifelong learning and productive citizenship - a far greater mission than merely "baby-sitting."

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of this role-play experience is the realization that early childhood professionals are compensated so minimally for the jobs they do in real life.

Adapted from an article by Judy Milavetz, QCA Chair, North Dakota AEYC

Sample Job Shadow Invitation Letter
(Personalize this letter to fit your needs.)

Dear ______________,

We represent a group of local citizens who care deeply about the quality of care and education for young children in our [county/city/town]. High quality programs are a building block in the health of children and families. Just as important, good early childhood education is essential to the prosperity and well-being of our entire community.

So why is our early childhood education system plagued by low wages and chronic turnover? We, as part of a national movement to advocate for high-quality programs and a living wage for teachers and providers, are looking for answers.

Would you like to help us by participating in our "job shadow" program? You would spend a few hours working alongside a skilled teacher or caregiver in our center. Afterwards, we will invite the local press to attend a ceremony in which you will be presented with a "check" for the amount you would earn as a qualified early childhood teacher or provider in our community.

May 1st is Worthy Wage Day. We hope you will make a commitment to join in our "Worthy Wage Job Shadow" and receive an award from us on that day. We will be calling you soon to discuss your participation, or feel free to call us.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to talking with you.


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