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Social innovation lab helps connect early childcare educators

Author: Kathleen McLaughlin

Posted on Jun 21, 2023

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

Atlantic Canada Early Childhood Education Lab members at the 2023 Early Childhood Development Association of P.E.I Spring Conference. Left to right: Madeleine Whalen, Amanda Hachey, Dan Ritchie, Linn Vizard and Molly Balcom Raleigh.

Over the next four weeks, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) will shine a light on innovation and entrepreneurship at UNB through stories that inspire, transform, provoke, and drive society toward a brighter, healthier tomorrow. This is the first story in the series.

New Brunswick is the only province that lacks a professional association for directors and owner/operators of childcare centres, which means owners often feel overwhelmed, unsupported and disconnected from their peers.

NouLab, a social innovation lab operating under the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), has been facilitating the Atlantic Canada Early Childhood Education Lab (ECE).

This innovative initiative aims to assess the current state of the workforce for the early childhood education sector in Atlantic Canada and, through testing, create and enhance sustainable supports for the early childhood education workforce.

The lab developed four prototypes in partnership with three Atlantic provinces, including New Brunswick Anglophone, New Brunswick Francophone, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. These prototypes will be tested to learn how to best support the workforce.

“Through our interviews and a literature review, we found that the role of the leadership at the centres had a big impact on whether educators stayed in the field or not, and if they went back to school or integrated what they're learning into their daily practice,” said Amanda Hachey, systems convener of All In Research and Innovaction Inc. and former director of NouLab. “So, we decided to focus on operators and that's what we’re working on now with these prototypes.”

Sharlene Jackson and Shawnee McConchie, sisters and co-owners of Wonderland Child Care in Norton, are thrilled to be part of the test cohort representing owner/operators of early childhood centres in the Anglophone South School District in New Brunswick. The opportunity enables them to have their voices heard and needs recognized, ideally helping shape support for those working in the sector.

“It feels really great to be part of this group and connect with other owner/operators,” said McConchie. “No one truly understands our line of work better than we do. Having other people who are living the same experience as us every day and know what kind of responsibilities we have is incredibly helpful.”

In the fall of 2001, Jackson and McConchie opened Wonderland Child Care and since have had little communication with people in their field other than inspectors. As a rural early learning centre, they have felt isolated, disconnected and found making lasting connections with other centres difficult to maintain.

Once a month for the next six months, Jackson and McConchie, are attending peer group meetings, facilitated by a coach, with other owner/operators in the Anglophone South School District.

“So far there has only been one meeting, but it was really nice to get together and connect with other owners who experience the same day-to-day challenges that we do,” said Jackson. “We had an experience similar to this in the past called Director to Director (D2D), but sadly the program came to an end, so we are excited for this new beginning.”

“I’m really looking forward to the rest of the sessions,” she added. “We need a support group like this more than ever and we feel very honoured to be part of a prototype that will help all owners across the Maritimes.”

The ECE lab is in partnership with All In Research and Innovation and funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.

Learn more about the ECE lab.