Jan. 7, 2020
New America's Early & Elementary Education Policy team is partnering with the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on the blog series: Perspectives on Leadership in Early Education. We interviewed experts on leadership, management, and organizations for a cross-disciplinary conversation about cultivating great leaders in early childhood education.
Just days into a new decade, a fresh year invites us to imagine the possibilities ahead. For many, a new year brings new intentions and even renewed commitment to existing goals; January is often a time to evaluate our own priorities and look to improvements.
As we imagine the possibilities for early childhood education in the next decade, it is similarly an opportune time to step back—to think about what’s working and where there are opportunities and imperatives for growth. Taking stock today, we know that high-quality early childhood education has the potential to change the trajectory of children’s lives for the better and to strengthen families. Given the individual and societal benefits, coupled with today’s families’ needs, federal and state investments in early education are on the rise. The field therefore has much to be proud of—decades of work have demonstrated the promise of early education, and the model (and rhetoric) has shifted from the decades-old focus on child care to an enterprise aimed at giving the next generation a strong start, promoting their early learning, guided by science, as a pathway to equalize opportunity for all. Rates of access and expansion in states, cities, school districts, and towns signal positive momentum and commitment.
At the same time, of the six in 10 children in the United States who participate in some kind of formal early education experience, only two in 10 are in what is considered a high-quality setting. For a transformative next decade and to make good on today’s investments and potential for impact, we can and should drastically improve quality of the overall system. And we should do so by prioritizing the adults in the system—the leaders and educators on the ground. That is, the success of early education programs and settings rests on their quality, and quality itself rests on the adults who are on the ground. It is the adults in the system who play a transformational role in raising and educating the next generation; they are often the linchpin for our most vulnerable young children.
Yet early education leaders and educators’ investment in children dramatically outpaces our investment in their professional lives, their training, and their wages. As we look to a new decade, workforce development strategies and innovations will be key levers for change—and this begins by equipping leaders with the knowledge and skills to build positive organizational cultures and manage the complex tasks and professional relationships that ultimately drive quality. From program directors faced with new standards and regulations and staff turnover to policymakers who must shift gears and perhaps strategy after any given state election, leaders at all levels must effectively and regularly navigate change and uncertainty. Add to their plates other common strategic issues, such as fluctuating funding, and a press for quality improvement, and it’s clear that early education leaders need a toolkit of skills and competencies that match the complexity of the work, and ultimately support the conditions for people to succeed.
For a new era, today’s leaders need opportunities to focus on their own leadership development—and these opportunities are rare. In response to this need, the Zaentz Initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education created the Certificate in Early Education Leadership, an online executive education program for early education leaders. Organized around the science of adult learning, leadership, and early development, the 18-month certificate program fosters the leader’s core knowledge and strategic thinking that are needed to drive quality improvement in early education. This job-embedded program addresses critical topics ranging from stress and adversity to effective teams and provides action-oriented tools that equip leaders to apply their learning. Drawing on expertise from scholars in leadership, management, and organizational development, the certificate translates concepts and theories into usable knowledge.
Building on the certificate program, and to kick off a new decade for early education, we have created a blog series, Perspectives on Leadership in Early Education. The blog posts that follow are based on interviews I conducted with experts on leadership, management, and learning organizations. These conversations offer a different lens and angle on some of the timely and pressing issues and challenges facing today’s leaders. Please join us over the next several weeks for an exciting cross-disciplinary conversation as we imagine the possibilities that lie ahead for the field of early education.
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