Perspectives on Leadership in Early Education: Conclusion

Insights about supporting organizational and individual wellness and navigating change are essential to guide leaders’ work and decisions
Blog Post
April 21, 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.

A few months ago – just days into a new decade – we launched this blog series to start a conversation about leadership in early childhood education. Through a series of interviews, we heard from experts from different disciplines – including psychology, business, and leadership development – to gain fresh perspectives on topics that are not often focused on in early education. We discussed concepts like psychological safety and listening across difference, and we learned more about how leadership theory and research can apply to the field of early education.

After several insightful conversations, we’ve reached the end of our blog series. It’s important to acknowledge that in the three short months since we launched the series, the world has changed. A virus is causing us to adapt to a new normal; many early education settings and schools are closed, hospitals are at capacity, and most of us are “socially-distanced” and adjusting our daily lives and routines. This rapid shift has demanded leadership from all of us as we navigate uncertainty and face difficult decisions.

Those leading and teaching in early education settings are encountering particularly significant leadership dilemmas. Whether risking their own health to provide care for children of essential workers or grappling with financial and professional uncertainty after closing their program, many early education leaders are facing serious pressures and making consequential decisions each and every day. Throughout this crisis, they have faced this uncertainty with resilience as it has become clear to a broader audience what many of us have long known: that early education is essential to our society and economy. We depend on early education leaders, providers, and caregivers—and we need to equip them to skillfully navigate challenges and change.

This crisis has certainly caused me to reflect on my own leadership. As an academic dean and co-director of the Zaentz Initiative, I grappled with our campus closure and the pivot to remote instruction; now, my team and I are engaged in complex contingency planning for the months to come. And like some of you, I’ve got young children at home who need support to understand what’s happening while I’m still trying to make sense of it all myself. These last few weeks haven’t been easy, but they have, for so many of us, highlighted the importance of honoring emotion, modeling empathy, and intentionally cultivating relationships and social connection, in our professional and personal lives.

Now, more than ever, insights about supporting organizational and individual wellness and navigating change are essential to guide leaders’ work and decisions—and perspectives from this blog series provide key insights and support. As you face challenges in the weeks and months ahead, I invite you to reflect on the ideas from the series that might inform your leadership during this period of uncertainty. Could Junlei Li’s thoughts on a “human-centered approach” or Ron Heifetz’s insights on “frontiers of competence” and “raw, elemental caring” offer a new perspective or encourage a different approach? Could Amy Edmondson’s perspectives on psychological safety help you think about fostering a culture of teaching and learning within your team? How might Carol Dweck’s insights about joyful, collaborative learning and Lisa Lahey’s thoughts on the impacts of assumptions on behavior help inform your choices and interactions – now and in the months to come?

Above all else, this time of uncertainty and challenge has highlighted the importance of connection, community, and mutual support. When reflecting on your own leadership and the questions that surfaced from this blog series, it can be helpful to connect with peers and unpack how leadership theory applies to daily challenges – especially during this crisis. The Zaentz Initiative’s Certificate in Early Education Leadership, an online executive education program for early education leaders that includes the content from this blog series, has proven to be a community for many during this crisis; it is a platform to find connection and equip yourself with tools to navigate challenges and times of change. We invite you to join us for a three-week-long module to continue the conversations we began here. As always, stay well, and we hope to see you there!

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