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BLOG: Inspiring career with Jamel C Campbell

Jamel C Campbell is an early years educator, consultant, radio/ tv host, storyteller and best-selling author. PACEY spoke to him about his interesting career path so far, how he has dealt with setbacks and what inspires him to keep going.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Where you’re based, your family and background?

I've been in the early years and education industry for over 20 years. Early years is my speciality although I have taught and supported children 0 to 19 years. I am one of the UK’s Men in the Early Years champions/ ambassadors and often been featured in the media due to extensive experience and knowledge of the early years and quirky effective practice. I’m from South London, Lewisham to be precise born and bred. My heritage is half Trinidad and Tobagonian and half Jamaican. I’m really proud of my background. I am the oldest of 4 siblings.

Did you always want to work in childcare? If not, want did you originally want to do and what set you down the path of early Years? 

I actually started off volunteering with my friend Keldon Alleyne at Connections in Lewisham and a youth Cafe in Woolwich called “The place” in 2000. Then I worked in my uncles (Simon Minott) youth club and pupil referral unit called CIP, Community Inclusion Project. Simon told me to get my qualifications, so I enrolled on a health and social care course. The course required me to go on four work placements. A nursing home, school, youth club and a nursery. When I worked at the nursery, I enjoyed it so much I continued working at CIP and worked at the Rushey Green Sure Start nursery were I did my placement voluntarily for a term in 2002.

Tell us about your career and roles? How you got into childcare and your time as a practitioner at LEYF and the change to roles at Swiss cottage school and CIP?

When I worked at CIP, I started off as a youth worker and after eight or nine years of service I became youth work manager running the youth clubs in Deptford and in Charlton. Then I worked at Rushey Green Sure Start nursery as a volunteer practitioner. I worked in a few schools giving support to children with behavioural issues and those that have been expelled from school in-conjunction with CIP. While doing this, I worked at an after-school club breakfast club called Giggles. While working at CIP and Giggles I went to Bromley College, to study a preschool practice level two course. I was then identified for a nursery nurse role for a company called Casterbridge (later to be taken over by Bright Horizons) and whilst working there I studied for my level 3 Working with Children and Young People qualification. In 2013 I started to work at London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). Whilst there I was sent on an inspiring leaders course setup by LEYF. I completed the course and after 3 years became leader of the preschool room.

At LEYF, I joined the Men In The Early Years (MITEY) group becoming the deputy chair which involved several meetings, panel discussions with big organisations, advising and advocating not only for the early years but for men working in education. I also received the House of Commons Nursery the gold award for the HEY Project (Healthy Early Years).

I then left LEYF to embark on a career in supporting children with special needs and becoming more involved in community projects. I soon began working at the amazing Swiss Cottage School and Research Centre as an LSA/ TA. They gave me further training, working closely with occupational therapists and speech and language therapist. These collaborations really helped me to hone my craft and I genuinely loved it there. Unfortunately, Covid struck, and I had to leave. I spent a few years advising and taking part in early years research and decided that, based on my years of experience and knowledge, I would start my own consultancy, alongside which I would work on the ground to help keep my knowledge up to date but to use my daily practice as a living, breathing reference.

Amongst all those roles, how did becoming a children’s author come about? And what work do you do now as an early years educator and consultant?

I’ve always told stories and I’ve always enjoyed children’s literacy. I used to have a book surgery where I would fix all the ripped-up books and taking books home that settings and even libraries would throw away. I’m very creative and I come from a creative background, writing poems, and making music, so telling stories comes naturally to me. In 2015 I decided that I wanted to write my own children’s book and I purchased the book 'Children’s Writers and Artist Yearbook' and emailed all of the publishers that would take on unsolicited manuscripts. This was a painful process, and it was unsuccessful. While working at House of Commons nursery, sadly there was a terrorist attack and the situation made me reflect and motivated me to keep writing. That is when I created the story 'Olu’s Teacher' but this too was unsuccessful.

I nearly stopped creating manuscripts when I was contacted by Routledge to write a book that could be used by practitioners and settings. During this time, I had written several articles and had built up reputation in and around the education and early years sector. So, I said yes and co-wrote the book with the amazing Sonia Mainstone. During that time, I was contacted by a publisher to write a children’s book and thankfully they loved 'Olu's Teacher'. With the help of the amazing team at Walker I revised and edited my manuscript five times to create this amazing story.

What has been a really difficult moment in your career? 

Being a black man in a female dominated sector, where in some settings you’re mistaken for the delivery man, the maintenance man or one of the dads.

What has been a highlight of your career so far?  

Being able to talk about the early years in rooms or spaces where it is considered as an afterthought. Being able to share good practice from the sector and being an advocate for men in the sector.

What would be your advice to someone who is just coming out of education or wanting to make a move into early years who is not sure where to start or which direction to go down? 

The early years isn’t the easiest sector to navigate in terms of progression but with persistence and consistence you can climb. This is not a sector that you will get rich from, but you will definitely change the life or lives of so many children helping to build the community of the future.

Jamel will be speaking at the twilight session of the Cwlwm DARPL conference in Llandudno in June. PACEY members in Wales can find out more about this in our Spotlight page on an anti-racist Wales

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