By Alex Harrover
What brought you to Gambier in the first place?
[Professor of Drama] Jon [Tazewell] and I moved here in the fall of 1997. He was in a one-year visiting position in the Department of Drama.
Do you miss wherever you were before?
No, we bounced around. We had been in North Carolina for three years, and before that in Los Angeles for three years while he was in grad school. I’m from Philadelphia originally. I miss Philadelphia, but I actually love living here most of the time.
Hobbies? Activities? Children?
Two children. Conor is 20, he’s a junior at Kenyon; Maya is nine, she’s in the third grade at Wiggin Street. I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies. I’m actually completing a masters in organizational leadership at Gonzaga University. When I have time, I read. I’m kind of a voracious reader.
What do you like to read?
I read everything. When I need reading candy, I read a lot of romance and mysteries, but I read a lot of online journals and news; you know, The New York Times and magazines. I’m a research geek when it comes to brain science, early childhood poverty, those issues.
What’s the most recent book you read and would you recommend it?
For my class, one of the last things, probably one of the exact last things that I’ve read but I keep going back to it, was a book called The Leadership Challenge, which is by [James] Kouzes and [Barry] Posner, and it was for one of my organizational leadership classes. It’s a very practical approach to leadership and it acknowledges the need for keeping an eye on your heart in your work, and that really resonated with me. It’s easy in programs that have to comply with a lot of bureaucratic regulation to lose that balance, to lose the heart, and you have to continually bring yourself back to the real reason why you do the work.
So what is the real reason why you do the work that you do?
Children and families in poverty have very few advocates in this world, and so we see ourselves, first and foremost, as advocates for them in our community, and in doing everything that we can to provide high-quality early education, services to provide high-quality family services, to let both children and parents know that we believe in them, and we believe we know that parents want what’s best for their children. We know that children want to succeed. We do everything that we can to put them on a path towards success.
You’ve spoken about the “Conscious Discipline” method. Could you elaborate on that school of thought and, more broadly, on how your Head Start background has influenced your parenting?
Conscious Discipline is just a social and emotional philosophy and curriculum that is based in brain science. At its foundation, it believes that adults must change their own behavior before they try to change children’s behavior. Put another way, adults cannot teach children skills that they themselves do not have.
I’m a tougher parent than many of my friends in Gambier. I come from a working class background. I have pretty high expectations. I think I probably communicate better with my youngest. For my oldest, I learned conscious discipline when he was a young teenager. It hopefully caused me to yell less. I think it did. I think it made me a better parent.
It’s funny how you, as a Head Start Educator, are invested in education at its earliest stages, whereas your husband, Professor Tazewell, works with education at one of its latest stages. Do you perceive a continuity that flows from your work to your husband’s?
I do. There are many places where our work intertwines. I get to engage sometimes with Kenyon students. In particular, the Psychology in Context class works with the Head Start program. I think what’s most fascinating is how much is similar. The way that you engage with children and with parents really, for the best teachers, is very similar. It’s basically having concern for the whole child, which becomes a little more complex at the college level when parents aren’t there. I think one of the things that makes Jon such a good teacher is his heart. He sacrifices over and over again to try to give students what they need and I think that’s the essence of a teacher at any level. We talk all the time about our work and it feels seamless.
In the face of the budget sequestration affecting Head Start, what keeps you going?
I think it’s the essence of Head Start, which is providing services to the whole child and the whole family and believing firmly that parents are children’s first and most important teachers. I manage to come back to that often enough to not lose my mind. I’m blessed with great people to work with and I have a peaceful family to come home to.
Do you have anything else to add?
I’m actually a graduate of Kenyon in the Class of 2003. I went to Kenyon as a grownup, after we moved here, and I miss it. I miss being in class with students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.