Wise Women Wednesday: Ashley Allen

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It's Wise Women Wednesday, each week I interview a woman that I believe is inspiring, living abundantly and following her passions.  These are all women who live a life of abundance and bring creativity into the world.

Q. Who are you? What is your background? 
A. I am Ashley Allen. I always ended up in creative activities growing up: theater, dance, playing the piano, writing and journalism, painting murals…if it involved the arts, I was there. I came to UNCG (many years ago) as an undergraduate who thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life and along the way discovered I was very, very wrong. My original plan of becoming a dance teacher veered into the realm of teaching in early childhood- I was blessed with a mentor and leader who inspired a passion within me to work with young children holistically. I was in for a reality check when I graduated, however.

I was offered my first job out of college teaching in an infant classroom for $8.00 per hour, and working in the restaurant industry during college, I could leave after four hours with about a hundred bucks…so this was an easy decision to make. My journey went down other roads, and I’ve done everything from managing, interior design, sales, insurance, cleaning houses…a jack of all trades. When my daughter was born in 2009, I experienced another perspective of child care, which is being a parent that needs it in order to work. I realized what I wanted for her I couldn’t afford, and what I could afford was not the right fit. I decided in that moment I was going to reach out to my mentor and friend and get back into the early childhood field, but this time in a position where I could potentially create change at a systems level. I went back for my M.Ed. – focusing on leadership and administration, and I’m just now starting my Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Cultural Foundations. Although teaching adults is my primary role, it is all the work on the “side” that puts me in places to influence change.  I stay involved in grant funded projects, community research, state level projects and more - that all relate to making quality child care more accessible but also to support staff with a livable wage. We often assume that because it costs so much that the staff must be paid well, but honestly at the end of the day the tuition isn’t enough to cover all that needs to be done…including paying a living wage.  

I get opportunities to be involved in early childhood “change” in so many ways, and I am grateful for that, but it is a roller coaster. I could be holding a training, teaching class, presenting at a conference, taking a reliability test for an assessment tool and writing a paper all in the same week- but in doing that I have made so many relationships with people who are changing the world, too. Getting to know who someone really is, not just going through the motions of superficial relationships, is the key to making the connections we need in order for us to start caring about what life is like for everyone, not just ourselves. 

I would say that I am passionate about issues of equity, fairness, and about the well-being of all families, not just those who can afford the resources they need.  I am a mother, a wife, a leadership coach, a teacher in higher education, a friend, a daughter and granddaughter; I am an advocate.  My purpose is to provide opportunities that will allow others to become empowered and in the process, hopefully find some levers that can be shifted to create the small victories that keep me going.

Q. What is your work?
A. I work at UNCG in the Human Development and Family Studies department, for a grant funded project through the Guilford County Partnership for Children. I work with child care center directors and family child care home providers on leadership skills and business practices in general, but with a strong focus on critical thinking and social emotional awareness.  Where many projects for early childhood programs look at the well-being of the children, I help support the well-being of the adults- we know that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of anyone else. The quality and stability of the work environment is a huge predictor of overall program quality, and it’s easy to take the adults for granted when we are providing services that we think of as being intended for children and families. I also teach the two main courses that are required in North Carolina for attaining one’s administrative credential, which all child care center directors must have for their work.

Regardless of “what” I am doing, I think I always have a hidden curriculum, however.  My primary goal is to get people thinking critically, become more aware of themselves, and more aware of others. Until we understand why we do what we do, we continue the same habits and repeat the same thinking patterns without ever actually moving forward.

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Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now?
A. I’m involved with a grant funded project through the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Guilford County Partnership for Children where we are bringing in local leaders in the community to create county level change.  The question we are planning to address is what it will take for us to attract and retain a high quality early childhood workforce, and our strategies are going to be based on things we can actually do in our county.  We have to address the larger pieces of the system that make it difficult, such as policies, funding, and regulations, but the focus of what we CAN do locally within those constraints is exciting. I’m hoping to bring in a really diverse group of people to think about this, and I have been so blessed to meet some incredible people along the way. I’m looking forward to see where this takes us next!  

Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it?  If not why not what's stopping you? 
A. My ultimate goal is to teach and continue working on projects at the grassroots level- which is what I am doing in my career at the moment although I can see where I would make changes in a perfect world.  As far as hobbies and time outside of work, I want to jump back into process art projects and playing the piano again. They are things that always allowed me to experience “flow” and time stands still, and I think we become so obsessed with the concept of time – efficiency, productivity, checklists…time has become a standard of measurement – that we forget the beauty of it being able to stand still. I am intentionally trying to be more aware of how I make choices with my time and look for opportunities that I know give me that experience again.

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Q. What would you tell your high school or college self?
A. Not to change a thing…other than getting a perm was not the best idea in the world and to slow down and enjoy it. All of it.

Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?
A. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

I think the bigger our world becomes the easier it is to be complacent and believe that we can’t make a difference, or that even if we share our opinion or vote, it was already decided before it began. The larger the system becomes it is harder and harder to hear everyone, I won’t deny, but that doesn’t mean that change can’t happen in one home, one classroom, one school or university…and if each one is a seed that spreads we can change communities. I sound Utopian but it’s better than an alternative opinion, which would mean no change at all.  

Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?
A. Family, both my husband and my daughter. She is the epitome of the word “creative,” and she won’t allow you to be lazy. I also want to show her that I am here to support her creativity and approach to life, so if she catches me sitting and wants to do something, I’m in – and the funny thing is, once you start a project you realize you should have done it sooner. She calls me on my “lazy” but I’m grateful for it. My husband keeps me going with his support and creativity, too- where my daughter is the creative motivation, he is the motivation to simply do it. He always has a rational approach when I start to feel overwhelmed. It’s grounding.

Q. What's your favorite yoga pose? 
A. One that I used to be able to do – crane pose. I might end up with a broken nose if I tried it now, but it gives me something to aspire to again. I think saying that helps keep yoga real for those of us that don’t practice as much as we might like. 

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Q. How do you live a life of abundance?
A. Intentionality and gratefulness. Everything we do serves a purpose, and we are presented with moments to make choices about our purpose every day – so it is important to think intentionally. What am I doing this for? Who am I doing this for? Would I want my daughter to copy what I just did? Granted, I do tend to over analyze situations, but I think it helps me be more aware of unintentional consequences. We can’t always make the right choices, and it’s important to offer ourselves forgiveness, as well. For that, I’m also grateful for my husband and daughter. We are a really close family, and she is an only child. Regardless of how crazy life can get, we play cards together or throw a Frisbee outside, we do something together almost every day that doesn’t have to achieve a “goal.” They both have been a huge support to me when I was going back to school and with my work, and they are forgiving. We are friends though, and for that I am grateful.