Role of Play in Pandemic, and More From Enid Hopkins, MS ECE ’20

By: Anna Akers-Pecht MS ECE ‘20, Manager of Annual Fund and Alumni Relations

Anna Akers-Pecht is an Erikson alumna and member of the Institutional Advancement team. This article is part of a series of interviews she’s conducted over the past few weeks with Erikson alumni exploring how COVID-19 has impacted their work. Read her previous interviews here and here.

Enid Hopkins, MS Early Childhood Education ’20 with a Leadership and Advocacy concentration, would have been our class of 2020 speaker at the commencement ceremony. Enid is the Early Childhood Recruitment Specialist for Chicago Public Schools. She is also a developmental therapist for Early Intervention and policy fellow at Teach Plus. I talked with her about her experience in quarantine.

Akers-Pecht: What has it been like for your job under quarantine?

Hopkins: Now that teachers are starting to receive and accept offers—which is an exciting time—we think, how do we onboard people in a virtual setting? My team is probably averaging about 150-200 emails a day.

I am the Early Childhood Recruitment Specialist. One of my major priorities is recruiting, interviewing, and making available teacher candidates for the Universal Preschool Expansion project. We are still on track to open many new classrooms across the city this year, and we’re making sure we have great teachers available to staff those classrooms in the fall. When things were slowed down, my work sped up a little bit. Like most people working from home, I spend the greater part of my day making sure my google calendar is in order, setting up digital meetings and becoming very acquainted with my technology tools. I’ve learned many new skills to get the work done and that will make the work easier as I move forward. Our CPS budget was issued, so our principals have the allocations to go forward and hire for these positions. We’re engaging our Early Offer candidates and making sure we’re connecting them with principals in a purposeful way.

I’m creating Teacher Ambassador office hours, so that current early childhood educators in the district will have the opportunity to engage with incoming early childhood teachers. I’ve also done resume workshops and one-on-one work with candidates—new and rising teachers who have never taught before—helping them speak about their valuable experiences in a language that our administrators can understand who may not have an early childhood background.

Lots of teachers are feeling nervous, asking, “Will we even be able to be in-person in the fall?” We’re hoping that the rest of our larger community continues to social distance so that can happen for our students.

“It is so rewarding when I talk with a teacher candidate who’s just met their new teaching team on Google Hangouts, and they’re excited the have a job—that there’s certainty on this other side of uncertainty.”

Behind the scenes, we’re figuring out, how do you onboard, interview, and engage in a virtual setting. We’re helping principals to understand they need to bring in other teaching staff to these interviews. We encourage principals to upload videos, bring families when possible into the interviews, so that teachers have realistic expectations of the cohort they’re becoming a part of. I hear: “The principal didn’t show up—she has a lot of trust in this team,” “I interviewed with a 30-year teacher—she’s been at the same school for 30 years!”

As much as I am in my tiny space with my daughter alone, I feel like I’m engaging with at least 200 people a week, there so are many Zoom and Google Hangouts and lots of interaction happening on my side! I appreciate it. I appreciate hearing how teachers are making it through—hearing student teachers talking about ways they can engage their kids and this whole other part of their field experience. [Student teachers] know how to make a game and engage children physically, but they’re now becoming a conduit—how do you engage a preschool or kindergartener via electronic learning? That looks like engaging the family and teaching the family how to facilitate an activity in their home. As much as it feels like a setback, I feel that it is phenomenal. We have parents more engaged than ever before, physically present with the children in front of the teacher, facilitating these activities. I hope that we can take this into how we can teach moving forward. The level of parent engagement is exceptional.

There’s always been a conversation about tech time for young kids: not giving technology to children as a way of babysitting them, or the negative connotations related to too much screen time. Now there’s this new use of screen time where children get to engage with their classmates and realize that it is a tool, and when used properly, it is an exceptional thing to do. I think people are learning exactly what great use of technology looks like when used with young children. Children are able to see the people they were once physically present with are on the other side of their technology. They are developing an understanding that there is a world of real people they can connect with when using their tools, a particular way. Imagine if you will, how this might become an early seed to global connections and citizenship.

Akers-Pecht: What have you been doing to support your employees/team?

Hopkins: Last week, my team needed to support me—literally and figuratively, I was in a dark place. I was without electricity for five days. There were contractors in our building, and they melted the transformers. ComEd eventually stepped in. It was a new existence. Being at home is one thing, but being at home with no hot water, no refrigerator, no stove, is a whole different living.
I think digital learning crosses boundaries in ways we don’t traditionally cross in our work roles. I am a team of four, which is part of a bigger team of 30. We meet weekly as a four-unit team, then we have individual one-hour meetings with each other every week, touching base on how we’re doing personally as well as how things are doing with the work. Turning the camera on, being physically present even when I don’t want to be and allowing the boundary into my home to be crossed is important. I think we’ve become closer because of it.

We had a team retreat, where as a team we played; we played with memes we could find on the internet, things we have in home offices that we don’t have in work offices, like our pets, music, toddlers hanging off our elbows. Playing games together as a team is softening this space. Stepping into spaces that need to be filled, being flexible, being patient with each other, realizing a person may be living without electricity, a person may have just lost a parent. Going into conversations with people being very respectful of their existence is definitely how we’re living as a team right now.

We are supporting our rising teachers in a few ways. We are offering resume workshops to help student teachers be reflective about what they have experienced and how to communicate it to a principal. We are offering digital teacher ambassador office hours where both raising teachers and teachers new to the district can ask questions of and talk with teachers who are working in our district. This provides an opportunity for them to get to know more about our schools, the inner workings and what they can expect in this digital period. We are also providing guidance to support rising teachers as they navigate digital interviewing. The hope is that these activities will not only prepare them for dynamic interviews where many will earn their first jobs out of college but also ease anxieties and keep them connected and engaged.

Akers-Pecht: What gives you hope?

“I’m taking the same approach as we show with children—showing up as my whole self and being respectful of how others show up.”

Hopkins: I’m taking the same approach as we show with children—showing up as my whole self and being respectful of how others show up. My hope is that we take this back into work—I don’t ever want to walk past another member of my team with that dry office “Good morning.” Knowing my colleagues’ names, their children, which family members have been ill, ways they’ve had to cope. I know them as people and not colleagues anymore. A lot of the teacher candidates I’ve been working with, I know them as people in a whole different way than I probably ever would have known before. They’re not just an endorsement and a resume. I hope we hold onto that.

I’m also a developmental therapist for Early Intervention, and I’ve moved into tele-therapy. I’m seeing parents teaching school-age children how to cook. Science becomes how to cook dinner. Social emotional skills become doing a circle time with the family and checking in with each other or picking their family’s favorite song and making a TikTok video. I’m appreciative that children are so engaged with their families, and they’re not left to do it by themselves. I think it’s important for us to be present and check in—I do worry about those vulnerable families.

Akers-Pecht: Has anything from your Erikson education prepared you or supported you during this time?

Hopkins: Coming out of my program, I have this whole new kind of courage around being the change that I needed to see. It was a matter of figuring out how to listen to people, how to collaborate with people, realizing and understanding that we all probably want the same thing, for the most part. How do we collaborate to make a common goal come to fruition? That was the biggest lesson that I learned—I needed to be the leadership. I’m stepping into conversations where my voice is valued. Just being a part of the collective voice has also been something that I’ve come to value. I’m an introvert. I tend to go to the back of the room.

“I’m realizing that there is so much inside of me that doesn’t get expressed—I take away from the community when I shy back that way. Stepping into conversations has definitely been a gift from my Erikson leadership program.”

Everything that I learned in Cognitive Development! I could probably take that class every year for 10 years and then find something more. Remembering that I’ve learned not only more of the science and research behind how children develop, but also how to communicate that in a culturally and developmentally appropriate way to someone in a language that they understand, whether I’m talking to parents, teachers, or leaders. Being able to say the same thing in a different way so that people understand me is something I’ve taken away from Erikson.

Akers-Pecht: What are you doing for yourself? Your family?

Hopkins: I am the sole parent to a beautiful young lady who is graduating from Francis W. Parker this year. As we both are ending our time with phenomenal educational institutions, we are finding ways to culminate this chapter in our life, socially distant from our peers. Her work is different from mine because she has spent her entire childhood with friends and peers and the last part of senior year is typically filled with traditions, rites of passage, and reflective opportunities with those peers who will all part ways now. I am helping her to acknowledge and honor the loss of the connections and traditions and finding creative ways to try to be connected and redesign some of the traditions. We have also moved into discovering what her college experience will unfold. I’ve also planned a three-hour digital celebration with just under 200 extended family members across nine states, to celebrate our accomplishments, play games, and just hang out.

I also support the care of my matriarch who is five years shy of 100. Grocery and pharmacy runs are more regular than before as we are limiting the number of people who go in and out of her home. Setting her up with FaceTime to see family members who aren’t physically visiting right now helps me keep her connected. She is always so delighted at the small things I can take for granted, like the ability to video chat. I think it will be amazing to have her participate in a digital party where she can see all of her children, grand-, and great-grandchildren in the coming weeks. She has reintroduced me to the timeless classic of planting her vegetables in her backyard.

When I am alone and taking care of me, I try to do a few things. I try to be fully present because there is a sort of healing that happens for me in that space. I work to be reflective. I believe that this pandemic is providing a unique opportunity for a different level of self-reflection. I am reading some books that have been on a reading list for a while and some oldies that I enjoy. I’ve read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower twice in the last few weeks. It is an outstanding science fiction piece written by a Black creative almost 50 years ago that mirrors some of what we are experiencing today. It offers me solutions, strategies, and hope. I am also playing. I am playing checkers with nieces and nephews afar through my cellphone. I am playing words with friends with family and friends across the country. I am having game nights and lady dates with my friends via Zoom. I am playing a variety of games with my daughter. Two of my favorites are Monopoly in the evening and dance competitions using the Nintendo Wii and Just Dance-Michael Jackson.

“Play brings me laughter, connection, creativity and a lowering of inhibitions that creates space for love. I think play is also a reminder that there are rules and expectations and we should respect those things. This pandemic has brought lots of anxiety and uncertainty. Play has a way of balancing the scale. I’m finding the silver lining to this cloud and playing my way through it.”

Akers-Pecht: What can others do for their communities?

Hopkins: Being respectful of the whole person—engaging with each person carefully, remembering that they have a story that is unique to them. Being thoughtful about other humans and being respectful about these stories and the narrative you’re getting ready to play with them. I think of my adult relationships the same way I think of children’s relationships—everyone plays a role, and there have to be agreements on narrative and roles being played. We’re living a narrative—we need to be thoughtful about the role we play and the roles other people are playing with us in addition to the rest of their world.

We can be gentle with each other. What we need more than now is kindness. Change is constant—and what can ease the anxiety is kindness. If we show up with kindness, we can heal the thing we think is so scary.

 

“If we show up with kindness, we can heal the thing we think is so scary.”