“I was in the basement in rubber boots so my team could keep doing the really important work with the children.”
Early in her career, Kristine Parsons RECE had to deal with a basement flood at the centre in which she had recently been promoted to Supervisor. At the time Kristine didn’t know anything about plumbing and floods but she knew there were children inside the centre and that she needed to act quickly. Thinking on her feet and fully engaged in problem-solving mode, she threw on a raincoat and galoshes and began siphoning the dirty water away from the building by herself until help arrived. She says, “The educators were with the children doing the really important stuff.”
That’s her idea of leadership.
“It’s never asking someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.”
The College’s new Council Chair joins us on Zoom from her office. She’s wearing an orange T-shirt that reads: Believe in yourself. “Success. Love. Friendship. Dreams. Believe in what makes you more confident, but most importantly, believe in yourself.”
As the Director of RisingOaks Early Learning Ontario, Kristine has two main roles.
She is an RECE with extensive human resource management training and experience. In Kristine‘s day-to-day work, she spends a significant amount of time coaching and mentoring a team of 19, who she makes a point of chatting with every day. She makes high-level decisions and devotes time to developing her staff. This is her human resource role.
Her second role is a pedagogical leader. Kristine connects purposefully with supervisors and educators, and gets energized listening to their conversations with children. Kristine’s approach is less about correction and direction, and more about engaging conversation and encouraging connection and children’s sense of wonder. If a child says, “I think the beanstalk will grow to six feet tall,” Kristine would respond, “Well, what makes you think so?”
When Kristine talks to the RECEs she mentors who are interested in a career in management, she reminds them that respect is earned. “It’s not a right. It’s a privilege to have people respect you, and you are granted that privilege when you walk the talk, and you get down on the floor and hang out with the kids, and you see what life is like from an educator’s point of view.”
The College’s new Council Chair doesn’t interview RECEs applying to work at RisingOaks herself, but she oversees the hiring process. She looks for RECEs who remember what they learned from their education and understand the philosophical differences between RisingOaks and other child care organizations. Soft skills that Kristine looks for include creative problem-solving, initiative and the ability to compromise. Communication skills are also important as RECEs must be able to navigate difficult conversations with colleagues, parents and children.
Kristine was elected to Council (District 6 – Central West Region) in 2017. She’s served in many Council roles, including as a member of the College’s Executive Committee since June 2019 and as Chair of the Discipline Committee from 2018–21.
She stood for election as the College’s Council Chair because she’s motivated to do more and committed to serving her profession. She would prefer to be seen as a resource than an expert, and enjoys leveraging her human resource training and leadership experience to share stories and anecdotes that help her peers. She knows that her own story – parents divorced when she was six, raised by a single mother but spending time in two loving households, built a successful career in child care – can inspire.
“In order to know that I can be it, or that I can do it, I need to see it … In order to be a strong woman, I need to see other strong women. So, I want to be that role model, or that strong woman that others look to,” she says.
Kristine talks about the importance of representation, and mentions the case studies and scenarios produced by the College. “Individuals see themselves in those stories. Individuals see their workplace in those scenarios.”
Kristine learns wherever she goes – during, before and after work hours. She says she “never takes her RECE hat off.”
On a recent holiday, she visited a friend at work. While speaking with another staff member there, she learned that this staff member had recently transitioned from woman to man, and that this staff member’s wife is a RECE and that they have a son together. They engaged in thoughtful conversation at lunch.
Kristine says, “He told me, ‘You might have individuals who have no idea that they’re even transitioning, or that they are gay, because people are at all different levels with their transition … You just always have to be respectful of the things that you don’t know. Be mindful. No criticism, no judgment.’ It was a learning moment for me.”
Always supporting educators, she advises RECEs to use the child’s first name if the educators are still learning and developing comfort with new language. She conducts research to support her educators so that they too continue to learn.
Lately, Kristine’s been thinking a lot about new educators and compassion, and reading more about different aspects of leadership. “No one wakes up and intends to make mistakes,” she says.
She believes rules and regulations must be followed, but when assessing educators’ behaviour, ownership must be assumed by both the employers and the educators. She believes compassion must be woven into the work, and that the profession should focus on applying that principle to the employer-educator relationship as well.
“A family’s biggest expectation is that we treat their children with compassion and kindness, and our educators deserve that type of relationship with us as well. We’re hiring these individuals, and it can feel like trial by fire. because RECEs tend to join the organization at the busiest time of the year. The onus is on us as leaders to teach that CDC ratio – the connection versus correction and direction – and in order to teach those things, I think we have to have compassion to do those things.
“Children know when you’re not being authentic with them. And in leadership, employees know when you’re not being authentic with them … It’s about finding that honesty without hurting someone’s feelings.”
Kristine’s most important questions after an educator’s mistake: ‘Should they have known better? Can they recover from this?’
“We have to train our future leaders, and coach and mentor them to be the people that you’d want to leave this profession to. I don’t want to leave this profession to people who are just coming through the door and doing a job. This is shaping minds.”
When thinking about recent RECE graduates whose education was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristine knows that they may need additional support from the profession, particularly if they acquired less practical, in-person experience. But she also recognizes the value of their life experience. “Like children’s learning, it’s not a trajectory.”
She remembers her early days as an RECE. She says she always followed along and never questioned anything. If a child didn’t eat their lunch, Kristine would wrap it in plastic, refrigerate it, heat it in a microwave and return it to back to the child for a snack.
Recently at a local fitness centre, a man recognized Kristine and approached her. She had supervised him when he was a child, three decades ago. The first thing he mentioned was ‘Fish Day,’ when he had to eat fish sticks. He hates fish now.
“That hurt … He’s in his 30s now. That shouldn’t be the memory he has of child care.”
She’s learned a lot since. Now, her most important advice to new RECEs: “Focus on your number one role, which is child supervision. Children must be safe. Children must be supervised at all times. And then let the relationships grow and the fun stuff develop naturally. Make this big part of a child’s day – they spend the biggest part of their day with us – a positive part of their day.”
And so, if you find yourself alone in a flooded basement, remember that the College’s new Council Chair can relate. She’s been there, done that. If she were physically there with you, she wouldn’t hesitate to wade in and help. Because in her view, leadership is never asking someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.