Professional Development

How Elders Shape Their Legacy

The field of early childhood care and education has always honored its elders. Elders share knowledge and mentor the next generation, but elders also provide and receive ongoing support for lifelong learning. Mentors and prospective students will benefit from this insight on elders who have reached a point in their careers where they want to mentor and give back while continuing to grow and learn themselves. This bulletin article also provides a question checklist to help individuals focus on their role and legacy.

The following is an expert from the Head Start Bulletin: Professional Development.

Live a life of purpose and gain wisdom to pass to the next generation

by Ruth Ann Ball and Cheryl Foster

Transition is an ending to what was familiar and movement into a neutral zone where we go through a process of repatterning our lives and repositioning ourselves for what is to become a new beginning (Bridges 2001). Have you reflected on when you knew a change needed to occur? What occurred at each transition to a new life stage?

One way to continue to discover and grow with purpose is to seek out sources of wisdom. Wisdom is gained from people (your mentors) or readings. Leider and Shapiro (2004) remind us to live our life with purpose. "When we claim our place at the fire, we enter into the circle of vital elders who have been the source of wisdom in society since time immemorial. We do this by courageously reexamining and rediscovering who we are, where we belong, what we care about and what our life's purpose is."

The field of early care and education always has honored elders. As two who are becoming elders in this field, we are considering our legacy and how to continue making a difference. We are eager to share wisdom learned from our personal and professional experiences and anxious to mentor a new generation of leaders and to encourage lifelong learning.

At a recent conference presentation, early childhood professionals of all ages expressed an interest in "soaking up the collective wisdom" and gaining perspective related to life changes. The term "melder" emerged as a description for those who have reached the place in life where they want to mentor and give back, yet continue growing and learning themselves.

As melders in the field of early childhood for many years, our "bags of wisdom" have come by observing others who are older and wiser, both men and women, reading challenging books, and listening and reflecting on the words we have heard and how those words pertain to us. We have been willing to take risks and have addressed our own fears—heights, water, new situations such as returning to school as an older adult, traveling to another country, physical activity—and have learned and gained confidence, which made us better equipped to mentor those younger than ourselves.

Learning with a mind open to new ways of teaching, supervising, and relating to individuals around us who come from different cultures or parts of our state or country has helped us to become positively engaged individuals with heart. We have observed that others are drawn to positive and engaging people and to their energy, excitement, and productivity.

To add to your toolbox of personal knowledge, consider asking the following questions:

  • What am I doing to build my "bags of wisdom?"
  • What legacy will I leave for future generations?
  • What are my obligations/responsibilities towards other generations?
  • What types of activities do I engage in that would indicate that I have chosen a life of purpose and wholeness?


Bridges, W. 2001. The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Leider, R. J. & D. A. Shapiro. 2004. Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of your Life on Purpose. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Ruth Ann Ball was the Project Director for the Early Reading First Grant for Oklahoma P.R.I.D.E. and the ELOA contract with Choctaw Nation, called Project Light on Early Literacy at University of Oklahoma's Center for Early Childhood Professional Development. E: raball at ou dot edu

Cheryl Foster was an Early Childhood/Leadership Consultant. E: clfosterus at yahoo dot com