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July 01, 2010

5 Qs with Fran Simon


I recently published a post about the value of Twitter to the pre-k community. I wanted to follow up with a post about one of the great people out there in the early childhood Twitterverse. Fran Simon is a social media marketing guru with a passion for all things pre-k. She has become a hub for pre-k communication around policy, practice, and the profession. If @FSSimon retweets you, everyone knows what you have posted. I asked Fran to talk with us about her passion for pre-k and the intersection between social media and advocacy. Here is what she said:

1. I see that your company ESbyFS (Engagement Strategies by Fran Simon) is a social media marketing company, but most of your twitter posts are about pre-k. Whats the connection between early childhood and social media for you?

Even though my career has evolved away from the day-to-day practice of early childhood programs, it is still my passion. The intersection of early childhood education, business, nonprofit administration, and technology is very important to me.  Throughout my career, I discovered that because the typical early childhood education administrator or non-profit leader is so focused on delivering high-quality programs, and has minimal business, leadership, or technology training, there is a bit of a gap in applying best practice to program administration.  Due to several great experiences working in outstanding organizations throughout my career, I came to understand that good business practice is equally as important as good classroom practice when it comes to delivering great early childhood programs.  I believe it is my responsibility to pass that on to other early childhood educators.

I know from experience that “marketing” is a dirty word for most early childhood education administrators. After all, our programs are great, so they should sell themselves, right? We don’t see ourselves as people who sell anything. We are educators! Wrong. We forget that we sell our programs when we recruit staff, enroll families, and engage board members, community leaders, constituents, funders, donors, and facilities managers. Administrators with thriving programs and non-profit organization managers must know how to engage, and in the 21st century, engagement means adding social media to the communications tool box.

Our field is falling behind when it comes to technology adoption. I see a lot of people working hard to find out how to apply technology in the ECE classroom, but far fewer focused on the implications of social media in the front office. I’ll leave the classroom work to others. My focus is on helping program administrators and early learning-related nonprofit organizations leverage social media as an additional tool for marketing, outreach, fundraising, advocacy, and activism.

2. What made you such a passionate supporter of high quality pre-k and what do you think parents should know about it?

I think there is an important place for the millions of educators who advocate in their daily work by delivering great programs and educating parents and others about their work.  I have enormous respect for what advocacy practitioners do every day. For me, my inner advocate was dying to get out and make a lot of noise, but that only makes my passion more evident than the average teacher or director. My passion is no more or no less important than the passion of the preschool teacher who goes to sleep every night dreaming of what to do the next day and rises with worries about the children in his/her class. I just happen to make a lot more noise.

I’d like parents to realize that pre-k isn’t just about getting children “ready” for kindergarten. It’s about meeting children where they are developmentally and helping them develop the passion and skills they need to be lifelong learners. I’d also like all parents to know they have the power to not only influence their children, but their children’s teachers and schools,  their communities, states, and the nation. Their power is often unrealized on all levels. I’d like to see that change.

3. What has changed about technology in the past five years that you see affecting preschool positively?

I see this through two lenses. From a classroom technology perspective, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the iPhone and iPad and the new interest in application development. However, for me, the jury is still out. Developers have yet to produce meaningful and age appropriate applications that can be used in the classroom to add value to and not distract from  the important hands-on learning in which young children need to engage. There’s promise there, but I am not very optimistic that we will see good practice win out over profits.

Beyond the classroom ... we now have the tools to easily connect the disparate dots between legislation, curriculum development, funding streams, and classroom practice. We can learn more and do more faster and with more impact than ever before. It is an unprecedented time in the evolution of communication. Far too few early childhood educators have begun to realize the impact social media can have on our ability to continue to learn about and engage on behalf of children and families. All I can say is: “Come on in! The water is fine!” What is certain to me is that we can’t continue to do business as usual. We must use the tools that are literally right at our fingertips or be left mute.

4. If you could change anything about our national or state pre-k policy what would it be?

The aspect that troubles me most is the lack of an integrated and cohesive national policy for ALL funding streams  that brings together Head Start, pre-k, and child care to deliver a real system of programming that meets the needs of ALL children (birth through age eight) and ALL families. Sometimes I believe the early care and education community is its own worst enemy because we continue to allow our voices to be distorted by the fragmented nature of the various organizations at play. I’d like to see us come together. There have been many attempts to bring one voice to the table for policy makers, but to date, there are always outliers on every issue. It’s pretty frustrating to watch. I don’t know the answer. I wish I did.

5. Are there engagement strategies that pre-k advocates could be using to further the national debate on public pre-k that you have found to be especially effective?

The only thing that is more powerful than grassroots advocacy is adding online tools to the mix. I think the 2008 election proved how successful organizations can be at getting the message out when you combine good, old-fashioned grassroots strategy with powerful online advocacy software, mobile messaging, email, and social networking sites. In the past couple of years since the campaign, these tools have only become stronger and more effective, and the public has become more receptive. There are incredible resources available to learn more about how to integrate all of these tactics with traditional advocacy practices, but advocates have to be open to the possibilities, and organizations need to build in the time and resources needed to do them right. There are a number of organizations in our space doing a great job with social media and advocacy integration. My favorite example is The Children’s Defense Fund, but I also admire the social-advocacy work of MomsRising, NAEYC, NACCRRA, and of course, Pre-K Now. There are also many state and local organizations doing a great job.


I personally know Fran and she's absolutely a terrific cheerleader and advocate for early childhood. We can certainly learn a lot from her expertise in using social media and technology.

I also love her empowerment of families and parents. We're on the same channel!

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