Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) is running a series about leadership on its Preschool Matters blog. Here’s a roundup of some of those blog entries and their take on developing strong early education and care leaders.

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“Early Childhood Education and leadership in schools,” by Eleanor J. Shirley, Nebraska Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood

Shirley echoes questions that are being asked in the field about leadership. She points to Lea Austin — of the University of California’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment and also the closing plenary speaker at the BUILD, National QRIS Conference in Baltimore — who asks: Do we have the right leaders in place? Do they represent the diverse perspectives of the populations we serve? Do we have data related to current and potential leadership? What does this imply about our workforce? 

“I would nudge us to hone in on the human agenda when we consider leadership development. My observations are that we, intentionally, or not, use words that are militaristic, competitive, and industrial in tone. We talk about getting people in the pipeline, levers of change, drilling into the data, strategizing and strategic planning, and calibrating, and recalibrating as if it is the only way to facilitate change in adults, children, and families!”

“Maybe the essentials of leadership in schools to support early care and education are those of relationship-building, reflective practice, and demonstrated respect for the diverse needs of children and families in our communities. Together we can get our voices out of the echo chamber and back into strong and sustainable early childhood leadership, literally ‘leading’ to better programs and best possible outcomes for children.”

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“P-12 Alignment: Collaboration and Communication in Louisiana” an interview with Jenna Conway, Assistant Superintendent, Early Childhood Education, Louisiana Department of Education

“We are part of a multi-year effort to unify early childhood programs in Louisiana–Head Start, pre K, child care, public and nonpublic schools–from how do we keep kids safe, all the way to: How do we identify what instruction we want to see happening in every early childhood classroom in Louisiana? How do we work together to achieve that?

“This effort is unprecedented in the level and speed of change in Louisiana. It comes with a host of leadership challenges.”

Among those challenges is getting leaders to collaborate and “consider how to focus on kids” and to “look at standards, professional development, enrollment, what the data tells us about kids being kindergarten-ready. The most dynamic leadership teams are taking it back to teachers and parents to make sure they’re part of the change movement.”

Asked about advice she would give to other states, Conway pointed to three things:

– “Empower and honor local leadership from the beginning; fund them to pilot the change; make it their choice rather than a mandate; and learn from them.”

– “Consider all the pieces of the system when you make policy: how you think about funding impacts teachers you can hire; which impacts what happens in the classroom; which impacts quality; and impacts what programs parents choose. If you do things in isolation it creates major gaps and unintended negative consequences for providers, families, and kids.”

– “Be intentional and proactive in engaging everybody who is touched by the work. We are making sure they feel heard, that we respond to every email, that we talk to people in programs.”

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“Unifying, Defining, and Owning the Profession” by Jacqueline Jones, president and CEO of The Foundation for Child Development

Jones served on the Institute of Medicine committee that drafted a report released earlier this year called, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation.”

In her NIEER blog post, Jones writes, “This is a watershed moment because, at present, the requirements for lead teachers in early learning and development settings vary widely from state to state (and program-to-program within states), ranging from a high school diploma to a BA with a specified certification. At the heart of this variability is the fact that there is no nationally agreed upon set of competencies that define what early care and education professionals should know and be able to do. But who should make this determination? What body should define the professional field?”

“This is not a task for local, state, or federal government.”

“Rather, this is a unique moment when the field has the opportunity to make a significant leap forward by using the IOM report’s synthesis of the current science and the proposed recommendations to finally define itself, demand appropriate compensation, and outline the critical elements for professional monitoring and accountability systems. If the profession will not own these elements, each reigning political perspective will continue to frame its own notions of early care and education–rather than having the science of child development serve as the consistent core of the field and as its unifying factor.”

“The fight for resources to improve the quality of and access to effective programs has resulted in a somewhat fractious community that is often divided by elements such as setting, age ranges, and domain of learning and development. The hard work of defining the profession requires leadership that can promote a united coalition of the major early care and education professional and membership organizations.”

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“On leadership and listening,” by Susan R. Andersen who is “an early childhood advisor, formally with the Iowa Department of Education. She has served on the Board of Directors of NAEYC, NAECS-SDE, Council for Professional Recognition and as a National Head Start Fellow.”

In her blog entry, Anderson says: “Carl R. Rogers wrote that we are all ‘becoming human’. Every day and every experience influences our growth toward ‘becoming a person’ and finding our sense of self. This also reflects the conscience of our profession: to ensure that every child has the most supportive environment in which to ‘become’ a loving, informed, healthy and decent human being… And Ernest Boyer suggests that we should always be listening.”

“Leaders never stop learning. In fact, leadership is often a continuum of questions. Finding answers and expanding your own understanding requires intentionality. Failure to expand your awareness only limits possibilities and partnerships. This means learning from everyone who chooses to talk to you. Each person brings a personal point of reference and it may not be in your own field of view, but you can listen to how things seem to others, the emotions that they hold, and then take time to reflect on what you have heard. You never know when a previous listening experience will surface as a piece of a solution to a current challenge. Listening to understand leads to learning.

“Leaders with purpose constantly listen and learn. They listen to children, parents, teachers, those who challenge and those who encourage. Hopefully, they listen with their own ear of experience, but they also pause to listen to the unfamiliar. This requires listening with full awareness, respect, curiosity, and listening to understand the concerns behind the concerns.”

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To read more of these blogs, go to to NIEER’s Preschool Matters website.