In her welcoming remarks for the Institute for Early Education and Leadership Innovation’s sixth annual Leadership Forum on Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice, Anne Douglass, PhD emphasized the need for practitioners of early care and education (ECE) to lead for change in the field.
“If we talk today and fail to take action tomorrow, it won’t just have been a waste of time. It will have been a lost opportunity that we can’t afford to lose,” said Douglass. “Our work and our leadership is about the future—making sure that every child can reach their full potential.”
Douglass’s remarks addressed the growing sense of urgency from those in the field as well as leaders in business, higher education, and elsewhere that solutions are needed now to the crises of compensation, affordability and access to high-quality early care and education.
Citing progress that’s already been made by graduates of the Leadership Institute such as having reached more 5000 children and families with improved modes of practice, influenced public policy, conducted research to advance the field, and launched new model ECE programs and technology, Douglass said it was up to ECE practitioners to lead the change needed now.
“We are the ones that know what does and doesn’t work,” she said.
More than 150 emerging and established early care and education leaders attended the Leadership Forum, which was held at the Campus Center on Saturday, May 18. The day celebrated graduates of the Leadership Institute’s early education entrepreneurial leadership programs and provided a platform for ECE practitioners to discuss and reflect on the work they and others are doing to advance leadership pathways in ECE.
Dean Joseph Berger of the College of Education and Human Development also welcomed Forum-goers by praising the foundational work that ECE educators do on the education continuum. UMass Boston is deeply embedded in the community, said Berger, and the College of Education and Human Development is the face of its community presence. As such, the university has a responsibility to “transform education” and ECE professionals, given what we know about the development of children’s brains, are essential to any desired change.
“Early educators make everything else possible,” said Berger.
Seven roundtable presentations and discussions followed the welcome, and leadership program graduates presented on topics such as trauma and resilience in ECE, improving early childhood systems and policies, and entrepreneurial leadership for ECE small businesses.
A session called “Leadership, Innovation, and Educator Voices,” featured four student presentations on ECE projects in various stages of creation. Among them was “Humans of ECE: Rebranding Early Education,” an initiative by UMB ECE undergrads Joel Diaz, Joelle Houlder, Shenchieh Li and Samraggi Rana that aims to alter the public perception that ECE educators are little more than babysitters by featuring the stories of ECE educators on Instagram.
The need for public education around the skills and qualifications required of ECE teachers was made clear to Joel Diaz on the job. Recalling how he once contacted a child’s parents to discuss the child’s behavioral issues in the classroom, Diaz said the parent dismissed his concerns on the basis of Diaz’s youth, and the fact that he is neither a parent or medical professional. “I had to educate the parent about what I do,” said Diaz.
Houlder said her group wants to “market the field in new ways,” by focusing on ECE’s high return on investment. For example, children from vulnerable communities who receive quality ECE are less likely as adults to be criminally involved and more likely to graduate college. It is far more cost effective, Houlder said, to fund ECE for children than it is to pay for criminal justice interventions later on. The students also want Humans of ECE to be a tool to recruit a younger, more diverse pool of early educators and ECE leaders.
The afternoon presentation hearkened back to Douglass’s morning call to action by focusing on the ways in which early educators can use their voices individually and collectively to drive the change that is needed to create new ECE systems change existing ones to meet the field’s responsibility to children, families, and the public.
Teddy Kokoros, a post-master’s certificate program alum and Boston pre-K teacher; and Amy O’Leary, NAEYC board president and director of Strategies for Children’s advocacy campaign Early Education for All, led the session “Early Educators in Action: The Voice of Change,” a presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of ECE advocacy, with an emphasis on outreach to law and policy makers.
Kokoros noted that ECE has historically been the “calm, quiet child” when it comes to politics and advocacy, thus the field has too long been overlooked by legislators. Early educators can change that dynamic, he said.
In Washington, D.C. especially, elected officials are “older, they’re usually white, and they’re usually male,” said Kokoros. “They’re in their sixties and seventies, throughout history. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. …But their day to day life is not thinking about children and childcare.”
It’s up to ECE professionals, said Kokoros, to ensure that these lawmakers hear their stories and experiences in the field to better understand ECE.
O’Leary said educators must how to pivot in any conversation to educate others about the importance of ECE, be it during cocktail party chat or when meeting a candidate on the campaign trail. She led session participants in developing a 30 second ECE “elevator pitch” to use when those occasion arise, instructing them to choose one ECE issue they’re concerned about and outline its significance with one research finding, one policy example, and one personal example.
“If you see a candidate, if you see someone running for office, they are looking for information and for votes,” said O’Leary.
Echoing Kokoros, O’Leary reminded ECE practitioners that policymakers do not wake up in the morning relishing the possibility of making a lot of bad decisions. But they do go about their days listening to those “who are telling them something.”
So to improve public policy, O’Leary said, “We have to be the people that are telling them something.”