by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

Another year has begun and the excitement of students returning to campus has been refreshing and hopeful. There is nothing like a break away from our daily routines to engage in purposeful reflection resulting in a rejuvenated spirit. This renewed attitude makes me wonder about the places we will go!

One topic I reflected upon this summer involved the MEN in Education Student Organization here on campus. It is hard to believe that five years ago the organization was formed! At that time, the founders (one young man in early childhood education and myself) envisioned the organization as a support group for men in the early childhood program. The intent was to utilize the group to retain men in the early childhood program and to recruit more males into early education.

Throughout these years we, as leaders of the organization, have learned three valuable lessons:
1) not to exclude women;
2) offer membership to men in other majors with a predominant female population such as Family and Consumer Science, Human Development, and Science Education, and;
3) to be flexible and open to change.

As a female advisor, overseeing a men’s organization, I secretly hoped for a male colleague who could assist with the MEN in Education group because I saw the need for male students to work with someone who could be more of a role model to them. I am pleased to welcome this fall, a former male early childhood graduate, who has taken a job at the university. Todd is eager to support the male students in the organization and his enthusiasm has shown me that flexibility to change in one’s original vision can be a win-win situation for all. The male students have responded to Todd’s male perspective and are appreciative of the camaraderie he offers them.

Membership into this organization was extended to female students last year. Currently there are five females who belong to this organizations on campus. The women bring a different dynamic to the group including a “let’s do this” attitude and a willingness to volunteer for events and committees.

The Men’s Organization met for the first time on September 9th to discuss goals for the year. We were pleased to also welcome six new members including three women in Early Childhood Education and three men from the Technology Education program.

The goals of the organization were discussed and a vision and outcome for the year was determined. As an organization, yearly goals are aligned to outreach in the community. As an organization, we have participated in the Mitten Tree and Thursday’s Table. Each December the men have collected gently new and used mittens for the children of the community. It has been an event that has allowed for the men to work together to collect mittens and distribute them weekly to the Mitten Tree. The members also assist with Thursday’s Table; an affiliation with a local community church, that offers meals to community members. Testimonies from those that have previously volunteered for these events have shared that they enjoy getting to know community people outside of the university and especially like the connection to families and children!

Last year, as part of my research involving men in early education, I visited early childhood classrooms being taught by male teachers. Dylan, our Men’s Organization president accompanied me on those visits to learn about classroom techniques and strategies the male teachers used. Dylan described to the group at our meeting that this experience was valuable to him in so many ways. And he added that he has begun to implement some of the ideas in his own work with children. Dylan’s testimony to the group prompted members to ask if they too could visit these rooms. Thus, I will contact these same male teachers and ask if they would be willing to mentor these members. There has been success with mentoring types of program and the members felt this would be beneficial to their careers.

The discussion during the meeting led me to wonder if it were feasible to Adopt a School, preferably a K-12 site, not too far from campus. I envisioned this school partnership as a win-win situation in that the school would provide students opportunities to visit classrooms partnered with teachers who would serve as mentors and we would be assisting the teacher and school in what they may need. The ‘Adopt a School’ idea ignited enthusiasm among everyone and a consensus that this become the MEN in Education, overarching goal for the year.

Andrew, one of the board members of the organization suggested his home town and provided the contact information for the K-12 principal. When I called Principal Mike, he was more than thrilled with the idea of the group “Adopting a School” (his school). He is currently discussing this idea with the teachers in the building in hopes that they too would view the partnership as a win/win situation between the school, the teachers and the students and the Men in Education organization.

The goal to ‘Adopt a School’ has renewed my spirit in the collaborative efforts needed to recruit and retain teachers, especially male teachers in early education. Principal Mike did comment that currently he does not have a lot of male teachers in his building. However, he is hopeful that this partnership may change that for him as he would be eager to hire more qualified, male teachers.

Partnerships and collaboration are key to the success of any organization. It never ceases to amaze me how we can impact one another. I believe that partnerships create an excitement and wonder of “ the places we will go…”

Here’s to a new year of wonder and adventure.