If you’re an ECE pro who’s looked for support to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, you’ve probably heard of Cori Berg.
Her Facebook page ECE From the Heart has gained over 2.5K global followers since she set it up in April, with some of her live streams gathering over 15K views.
For a page that’s less than a year old, that’s pretty impressive. 👌
For Cori, it’s all about keeping it real. She just hits record and talks about everything she’s learned during this trying time—the good, the bad, and the downright messy.
And Cori knows a thing or two about the situation at hand—as Executive Director of Hope Day School in Dallas, Cori has had to keep her center open throughout the pandemic while living and working in a COVID-19 hotspot.
We caught up with Cori to find out more about her journey, what it’s like to run an open child care center in the middle of a pandemic, and what she knows about fear, joy and everything in between.
Like most things in 2020, Cori’s journey was unexpected.
Back in March, she found herself with a challenge on her hands when she realized she had just one week to prepare to host keyworkers’ children during lockdown.
“We knew we needed to stay open because my school is right near the medical district in Dallas. I spent the week when we were closed just trying to figure out what this coronavirus was and what we needed to do. And I found absolute silence and I was shocked. I felt literally abandoned. And I just thought, ‘Why isn't anyone talking about it?’”
That was the moment Cori knew she had to speak up.
She spent weeks gathering advice and information from other ECE pros online, asking questions about what 2020 might bring, and what opening your school during a pandemic might look like. Cori’s friends were in awe of her heartfelt work and they encouraged her to set up a professional Facebook profile—and thus, ECE From the Heart was born.
“We [reopened around the end of March] and I still kept putting a call out to people. I literally was sending personal Facebook messages to absolute strangers to try to get some help… [Eventually] I said, ‘Well if nobody's going to talk about it then I'm going to put myself out there’, which was very scary because I didn't know what kind of liability would come back on me. My main thing was I didn't want any other director or teacher to feel alone,” explains Cori.
Her approach was simple—just speak from the heart.
“If something happened in my school that week, I would talk about it and say, ‘Okay, this is what I'm seeing here, here's how kids and masks work,’ or ‘Here's where you, as a director, might be starting to burn out,’ or ‘You may be having some staff conflict over this,’ and just started sharing my story as the thoroughly imperfect director that I am.”
For Cori, the start of the pandemic marked the beginning of her own social emotional journey. After years of teaching SEL to children, she realized it was time to turn the learning on herself.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, one of the big things I realized was, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to handle my own fear and the fear of everybody else.’”
“I did a big study on fear and that led me to a section on self-care,” Cori explains. “And that took me to my new study on joy and that’s leading me into new things, like what blocks joy, anger, and fear—it's all connected. And it's just so interesting that I'm on this social emotional journey as an educator doing exactly the work that we want our children to do each day.”
Cori’s studies have led her to three key realizations about how to care for yourself and others during the pandemic and beyond:
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted humans’ ability to adapt but Cori believes we still have a lot to learn—and children may be the answer.
“Children have defied our expectations. Because I’ve been in a hotspot area, masks are required. It's non-negotiable here. But there has been the question of child development and children seeing adults and masks. How are the babies going to respond? Is it going to affect language development? What happens when children can't see a smile? All I can say is it hasn't. They can respond to a lot more than we ever thought, and they can make emotional connections even with the masks on. I am amazed how well these children have done and coped—and so much more easily than a lot of adults have.”
And it’s not just the way children have adapted to PPE that Cori has noticed. Working with children has made her realize how easily they can adapt to challenging situations—and how much adults need to remember about themselves as children.
“Children will find their play, no matter what the limitation is on the space… There was a time that I was in a very poor school district and one of the schools I worked in had just an asphalt yard with a chain link fence. These kids would walk outside—they had almost no toys—and they had so much fun. Now clearly, I would love to have a much more natural space for kids—we wouldn't want children to be in an asphalt yard with a chain link fence—but children expand to the spaces that they’re given and find ways,” says Cori.
“They have natural coping mechanisms that we don't, even though they're so raw and young and still have some fine-tuning of their own. There's something so pure that we can learn from the things we've forgotten as we've gotten older.”
Since the start of the pandemic, nearly half of Americans say their mental health has been negatively affected.
When Cori began struggling to cope with the stress, she decided to find a solution.
“I saw myself getting too raw on the edges and realized I couldn’t do my job well until I figure out myself. But I didn't want to just do this on a surface level, it was much deeper than that. Basically, what you need to do is to try to calm your nervous system down. When I had thought about stress, I just didn't quite understand it in terms of my own immune system and my own nervous system.”
Here’s what she found out:
Leading a community through the highs and lows of 2020 is not an easy task—but for Cori, it’s about finding the little things that light up each day.
“There are joys every single day, and there are joys that we would not have seen if we weren’t in this. It's kind of like when you have one of those sensory bottles and there's oil in the water and the color and the glitter—you shake it up and you see something that you didn't see when it was all settled down.”
There’s no denying this is a tough time for ECE, which is why Cori believes it’s important to recognize the hard work and dedication of all early childhood education professionals.
“My hope is that our ECE community is very proud of the work that we're doing. Most people have no idea how hard this is on the inside. They don't know how hard it is to keep the right number of employees with the right number of children and make sure that we are covered every single day. Just the basic stuff can be so hard, and then trying to keep your patience in the midst of all this. We need to pat ourselves on the back, that we have had the courage to keep acting. We've had the courage to go out and be open and try to figure out what these protocols are and create safety and be constantly mindful.”
Because for Cori, ECE really does come from the heart.
“I know there isn't a single person who does this job who doesn't do it out of heart. You just don't. This whole experience can help us remember that really deeply in our hearts. We need to be proud that we are part of such a great community and a great vocation.”