A Sprint is a dynamic, energetic process. It's 5 days long and it's very productive but there's a reason they call it a Sprint...it's intense. By the end of the week you feel pretty rung out – of ideas and of energy.
So for most ELAWR Sprint attendees by Friday afternoon we are eager to wrap it up and head home. On the last day of our last Sprint a rapidly developing snow storm (observed by the diminishing view from the tenth floor windows) should have left us chomping at the bit to be released, but a scheduled late afternoon conference call kept us all in our seats!
6 ELAWR members, 2 Overlappers, & 1 cel phone (for an ELAWR team member who couldn't be there in person due to the storm) gathered around a conference call unit centered in the middle of the table in a hot, post-it note filled room.
The opportunity to have a personal audience with child psychiatrist and children's advocate Dr. Jean Clinton to share ELAWR's work, including our Prescription for Literacy Project, and ask for her input was one we couldn't pass up, tired or not, snow storm or not. Dr. Clinton agreed to speak to us from her home in Hamilton because she believes passionately in the foundational importance of early literacy.
Our call began with Jean making connections for us to some of the other early literacy programs she believes have wisdom to share – the Canadian Pediatric Societies 'Read Speak Sing' campaign, the US based 'Reach Out & Read', and more locally Hamilton's 'Read to Your Baby' and Niagara Region's 'Primary Care Book Club' (I have subsequently set up meetings with both). She highlighted the fact that there are good evidenced based programs already functioning and we should be careful not to 'reinvent the wheel' believing that there are elements and aspects of all of them that we could co-opt for Waterloo. Then she pointed out potential pitfalls, for example although the CPS product is great, without sustained funding it has not had the impact they had hoped for. She agreed that 96% of all kids get their care through Family Doctors and so they must be a component of our project but that saturating the larger health community (speech & language, prenatal services, midwifery, etc) with our messages could be the key and our differentiator.
She recommended that we find a 'lever' for Family Doctors. Their focus is always to improve their patients outcomes and if we can connect to that then they will let us in. Dr. Clinton believes that messages like 'when you encourage a parent to read just once a week with their infant it can neutralize the effects of poverty' will have impact. In her words, 'that's pretty fricken powerful stuff!'.
Dr. Clinton addressed some of the lessons she has learned in working with the Ontario Governments 18 Month Well Baby visit initiative. The initiative found that 'just in time learning' was the key to successful messaging for Docs. To be specific 'find a place where they collect and get in front of them' while providing the resources to make the task straightforward, easy and perhaps one that they could assign to support staff in their practice rather than take on themselves.
We then gave Dr. Clinton a brief overview of the ideas behind our developing work on 'Convening Spaces'. Her response was very enthusiastic, “sounds fantastic” & “love the interactivity”. She felt the idea 'thought outside the box' in concept and content. She elaborated “we all know we don't have to convince the usual suspects of the importance of early literacy but rather those outside our regular circle”. Dr. Clinton believes that we all have a role to play in moving the needle on early literacy and we need to reach out and start a dialogue outside of our comfort zone so that others are inspired to join this movement for change because everyone has a part to play. She added that she believes our concept/idea addresses an issue that others have missed.
Dr. Clinton concluded our conversation with advice that we keep heart, mind & hands at the forefront of our initiatives. At the end of day we need to 'move them emotionally, intellectually and physically'. Everyone should leave the event inspired with what they are going to do now that they know. Dr. Clinton herself was so inspired by ELAWR and our developing projects that she has offered to become involved and participate in our upcoming events.
True to form Jean left us with the challenge of creating a collaborative initiative within a much larger early literacy inspired movement that asks and answers questions we should all ask ourselves:
"Why do I belong in this?" & "How can I help?"