By Megan Carolan
Earlier this month, I attended the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcome’s (CEELO) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) annual roundtable. This year’s theme, “Leading for excellence: Building key competencies to lead high performing early learning initiatives,” offered an opportunity not only to learn about how state education agencies are leading the charge on early learning but also a chance to reflect on our leadership capacities as individuals.
The presenters included a range of early childhood researchers as well as those working within states and districts to administer high-quality early childhood programs that meet local needs. Each presenter brought a different perspective on a particular issue, but University of Chicago professor Steven Tozer set the tone for the meeting in his plenary session, Varied Views on Leadership, when he highlighted five essential supports for improving schools:
- School leadership
- Parent community school ties
- Professional capacity
- Student centered learning climate; and
- Instructional guidance
These supports came up repeatedly throughout the meeting and truly shaped the conversation on what it means to be a leader in the world of early childhood in the 21st century, from debates about what it means to “professionalize” the field to assessing the state of pre-K for the nation’s children.
Tracy Benson of the Waters Foundation also ran a whole-group session on systems-thinking and systems-leadership. The interactive presentation encouraged those of us in early childhood to challenge our assumptions and perspectives about what works and what “should” happen, noting that developing a better understanding of the early childhood development system at deeper level can lead to greater impacts at leverage points. Her presentation aligned closely with the goals of the Future of Early Childhood Development retreat hosted by ICS in May. The Waters Foundation also offers resources specifically geared towards K-12 students who can use these habits of a systems-thinker to navigate their daily life.
I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on Next Generation Leadership in the field alongside colleagues from CEELO and the National Institute for Early Education Research. While the conversation started from the viewpoint of engaging millennials in the field, it developed into a wide-ranging conversation on the importance of mentorship, creating an environment where staff can brainstorm together, and embracing flexibility and work/life balance for all employees. We also thought beyond the capacities we think current leaders in the field now to those children who are in early childhood classrooms now – the future leaders of this field!