Professional Development

My Personal Journey

Balancing family, work, and school is a juggling act, but can lead to incredible opportunities and achievements. Prospective students and persons responsible for staff development will find the author’s personal history interesting and encouraging as she re-tells the story of the path she took from AA degree, to mother and nursery school/day care center owner, to part-time undergraduate and graduate student, and eventually Head Start Director. Her account provides insight into how one person pursued educational and professional goals before distance learning was widespread and supported by Head Start programs.

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

This author applauds distance education and Head Start program support for staff

by JoAn Knight Herren

At the time I got an AA Degree in education from a small Catholic junior college in Iowa, I could teach elementary school…and I did. But not for long—I got married and had four children. It wasn’t until my husband decided to go to school that we moved to Iowa City and connected with the University of Iowa. That move changed our lives and goals.

First, I worked full time putting my husband through school. I didn’t want to go back to public school teaching so I opened a nursery school/day care center to keep my children with me during the work day. We operated from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Though I had some experience running a nursery school, I found I had many questions about appropriate activities for young children, training for staff, and interactions with parents. I began taking one course a semester at the Institute for Child Behavior at the University of Iowa. I studied while the children were napping. By the time my husband got his Bachelor’s I was about ready to get mine. He went on to get a Master’s and I continued carrying one course a semester toward my Master’s Degree.

As I think back, I wonder how we did it! I became a Head Start Education Coordinator and then the Head Start director in a town 40 miles away from home. I continued to carry at least one course per semester—sometimes two.

I finished my MA one August and began a new job at Iowa State University in September. Although difficult, my family and I have all benefited because I pursued and completed that degree.

Now I have become familiar with distance education and how Head Start staff can benefit from this educational experience. When I hear that people can take coursework online and participate actively in an online cohort, and when I learn that some students form groups at work and take courses together, I’m in awe!

I enjoy imagining what a gift it is to join an online class, not having to leave your children to attend, or to juggle the lives of every family member to get to a library. It warms my heart when I see Head Start programs across the country offering Head Start staff members support in a myriad of ways—tuition assistance, child care, paying for books, providing transportation, allowing time off for study, providing mentors, and helping students who are coping with challenges.

Many programs buy additional computers, laptops, hardware, and software, and create a safe haven for student staff members interested in distance education. I happily imagine that students with this level of assistance can learn without the fear of jeopardizing their families’ routines or the risk of health problems due to stress.

I believe that everyone in our field wants to know how to get better and better at doing this work—the most important work in the world! And I know that having the opportunity to learn and grow academically with others who are striving to reach this goal is priceless.

JoAn Knight Herren was the Chief of the Training and Technical Assistance Branch for the Office of Head Start.