Linda Reddish: Serving the Workforce Behind the Workforce

April 26, 2023

Linda builds structures to assist Nebraska’s children and the teachers who support them. As an educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she coordinates Nebraska Extension’s Co-Parenting for Successful Kids program to help families deal with stresses like divorce, death and natural disasters. She’s also the state and national liaison for Nebraska’s Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™ Professional Development Specialist initiative to provide candidates with access to the PD Specialists they need. And Nebraska’s working parents need more access, in turn, to qualified teachers like those who earn a CDA®. But there’s a large gap between supply and demand, especially in rural parts of the state. So, Linda’s goal, she explains, is to “serve the workforce behind the workforce.”

She mainly looks at the “big picture” in ECE as she partners with the Council and Nebraska Department of Education to provide PD Specialists in all 93 counties of the state. She’s also part of a couple of early childhood state roundtables, including one that focuses on the CDA. “We mapped out a plan for the areas where PD Specialists are especially scarce,” she says. “Then we engaged in recruitment based on data that showed the barriers to getting more PD Specialists on board. We also held recruitment seminars and sent out mailings to teachers, steps that have helped increase the number of PD Specialists who conduct visits in Nebraska. Some of them are members of the extension team who live in different parts of the state. And I also go out and do visits because I want to stay grounded in the day-to-day reality of our educators’ lives.”

Serving as a PD Specialist reminds Linda of where she came from and the roadblocks that she faced to reach this point in her career. Many of the candidates she serves work double shifts while trying to earn their CDA, and Linda knows how hard this is because she had a very busy schedule at the start of her career. Her family didn’t have much money, so she took a part-time job at a child care center during high school. While she was doing that, she completed a teaching certificate that allowed her to earn a little bit more. Then she continued her education after becoming an infant teacher. And that was especially grueling, as she still grimly recalls.

“I’ll never forget what I went through while earning my associate degree and working full time. I did my practicum hours from 6:00 to 9:00 in the morning. Then I worked all day at the center from 9:30 to 6:00. When I got off work, I would be at my community college classes from 7:00 to 9:30 at night. Then I did homework from about 10:00 to midnight, got up and did it all over again every semester. But my story isn’t unique. There are early childhood teachers and providers who are doing that today.”

Most of them don’t follow the traditional path as they pursue an education, Linda explains. “I’ve worked with candidates who have been teaching for 30 years, then feel a spark to get more education so they think earning a CDA would be a good idea. Others are in high school and are going to follow the career and technical education path. And some already have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to early childhood education and want to gain more knowledge of how children develop so they can switch careers.”

Linda keeps the candidates’ stories in the front of her mind when she joins in different roundtable discussions on ways to help more people earn their CDA. “I think the CDA provides educators with a strong foundation to understand why specific teacher child interactions matter and how to make them,” she explains. “For instance, think about how you’re teaching children self-control when you have them play with blocks. I was fascinated the first time I watched a toddler realize he had to stack one block on top of another to get the next one to stay in place. It was like watching a light bulb go off to witness him making that connection.”

And Linda considered it a privilege to watch young children make these breakthroughs during the 12 years she spent in the classroom and working as an early childhood master coach. “Then I transitioned into the position of director of professional development for several Head Start programs in Nebraska,” she recalls. “I was responsible for coordinating the development, organization, implementation, and delivery of professional development, and it felt like a 24/7 job. I don’t think there was a week when I worked under 60 hours because we were opening new programs and I was assuming interim roles, something I was happy to do at the time.”

Still, Linda felt she needed to make a switch after her son Mar was born. “I took my current position,” she recalls, “so I could have a better work-life balance, letting me be present for my own child.” And that’s a challenge for many folks in the early childhood field, she points out, since they don’t have the support structures that are available in other fields. “The workload is pretty significant, and the benefits aren’t there, so it’s hard to pay enough attention to self-care, especially when you have a child.”

Becoming a mom also made Linda more aware of how complex it is to be a parent. “I have probably grown the most as an early childhood professional since Mar was born,” she says. “Being a mom was a reality check that showed me what it means to put into practice all the things I thought I knew. It also led to my current work in family engagement since I was now more concerned with how we support families.”

This was an area in the early childhood field that Linda had not yet tackled. “Of course, I had many discussions with families when I was a teacher,” she says. “But those casual chats at drop- off and pick-up time were more about a child’s daily routine and what parents could do at home to help their child advance. What I do now is different because I focus on a crucial point in a parent’s life when they’re going through a rough transition or facing a stressful situation. These aren’t issues everyone can deal with, but I can. And that’s why I decided to take on my current role.”

As an extension educator, she gives parenting classes and holds family engagement events, where she appears with her sheepadoodle, Gertie. “She’s a certified therapy dog,” Linda says, “and recently came with me to an event at local school where she sat patiently as the children read books to her while I talked with the parents.”

And that’s just one of the many events and programs that have allowed Linda’s team to reach over 2,000 families and children. The Early Childhood Extension team partnered with We Care for Kids at a recent state fair to provide resources to families about the value and availability of quality early learning. Some parents even earn their CDA through the Learning Community of South Omaha, a program that supports both monolingual and bilingual early childhood teachers. “It provides parents with child care while they take ESL classes and attend the CDA courses needed to earn the credential,” as Linda explains. “My role in this collaboration is to serve as a PD Specialist for the parents because I know how important it is for them to get their assessment. Without enough PD Specialists, we are setting them up to fail.”

And many families did face failure during COVID, a recent disaster that hit us all hard. The crisis left many families without child care. So, Linda is especially fond of one family child care provider who rose to the challenge in a trying time. “When other providers were closing their doors in 2020, Carime Ruvalcaba continued to keep her program running,” Linda recalls. “Most of the parents she served were frontline workers, so she had to go to work every single day. Yet she didn’t burn out. She went on to earn her CDA after I did her verification visit. And she took more training with Nebraska Extension while completing a six-week program called CHIME that focuses on mindfulness practices for teachers. And Carime still stands out in my mind as someone truly exceptional who kept serving families at a time when that wasn’t easy to do.”

And people like Carime inspire Linda to keep on striving to provide her state with qualified, credentialed teachers. “I want to make sure that every CDA in Nebraska has access to a PD Specialist to complete their visit,” she says. And her ambitions run even higher as she looks ahead. “We’ve made progress in expanding the number of PD Specialists in Nebraska and other states have asked how we’ve achieved this. So, we’ve put together a presentation that maps out our model,” Linda explains. She knows we need a nationwide approach to help more rising CDAs succeed. They’re an important part of the early childhood workforce that our working families need.


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