Early Ed Leadership & Innovation

We train frontline early educators and child care business owners in entrepreneurial leadership, and research ways to support them at scale

StrongStart Professional Development Centers Are There To Help

| 0 comments

Graphic of Keira Durrett with quote It’s safe to say that Keira Durrett has earned the title of “expert.” She’s worked in early care and education for over 30 years, 21 of them as director of the Williston North Hampton Children’s Center in Easthampton. Even so, she credits the Western Mass StrongStart Professional Development Center (PDC) with providing her with much needed resources this past year.

Shortly before early care and education programs in Massachusetts were suspended from operating in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Durrett had joined a professional learning community (PLC) run by the Western Mass StrongStart PDC. Comprised of other directors of ECE programs in her region, the PLC was set up to provide structured support for directors working through typical problems of practice: improving curricula, supporting staff, strengthening relationships with families, and streamlining back-end operations.

But as programs prepared to reopen, directors had numerous questions about maintaining health and safety, understanding the reopening guidance issued by the state, and managing finances with dramatically reduced enrollment. (For example, at the start of the year, there were 53 children enrolled in Durrett’s center. Now there are just 35.)

As directors confronted these problems, the PLC became essential—“so valuable and so important,” Durrett says —in finding solutions.

“When the pandemic hit, we already had a foundation of support with this PLC,” says Durrett. “So I knew who had a similar sized program with a similar philosophy or a similar funding stream that I could call with my questions. I knew who was really good at figuring out regulations. We knew who the really vocal people are [and] who likes advocacy so we could go to them and say, ‘We need you to let EEC know that this is a problem’ and that person would go and do that.”

Key to the PLC’s effectiveness, Durrett says, is the facilitation offered by the Western Mass PDC.

“Many years ago, a group of directors got together and we would just casually meet once a month and we would trade off meeting at each other’s centers—very informal—just whoever we were friends with we kind of just got together and drank a cup of coffee and talked shop,” she says.

Now, Durrett says, the group is much more “formalized.”

The Western Mass StrongStart PDC’s lead coach, Liz Charland-Tait, runs the PLC and “has been to all of our centers … so she knows our particular programs,” Durrett says. “And she questions us and asks us, “What do you want to talk about? What do you need to know? What are your challenges? How can we help?”

“It’s amazing to see where we were a couple of years ago in this informal group of directors to where we’re now full on collaborating with each other,” Durrett adds. “Putting that into practical terms, [we’re] advocating for what we want, not just complaining about what’s here but advocating for what’s best practice … because we are the professionals on the ground.”

Today, Durrett has become something of a StrongStart PDC evangelist. When she encounters fellow directors who aren’t yet connected with the Western Mass PDC or involved with a PLC, she urges them to join.

Continuous learning needs to be built into every educator’s practice, Durrett says, noting that her PLC has been vital to her professional growth in 2020.

“This is how we solve problems—we talk them through. I give so much credit to this particular PLC model,” Durrett says. “Individually, we all know what we’re doing. … If you take an educator who has been working for five or six years that amounts to having taught hundreds of children. Someone who’s been in the field for 32 years, I think, you know that relates to thousands of children.”

But having support from the Western Mass PDC, which approaches its work with early educators from a strengths-based point of view, has proved invaluable.

“We know that the PDC is there to help,” Durrett says. “When we need mental health support, we know we can call the folks at our PDC and say, ‘Hey, this is a problem we’re seeing everywhere. Can you help us get some resources?’ And they help find it. … They have worked so hard to learn each individual center and who they are and make contact with them that it’s not hard to reach out to them and say: ‘We need this.’ And they help us figure it out.”

It’s safe to say that Keira Durrett has earned the title of “expert.” She’s worked in early care and education for over 30 years, 21 of them as director of the Williston North Hampton Children’s Center in Easthampton. Even so, she credits the Western Mass StrongStart Professional Development Center (PDC) with providing her with much needed resources this past year.

Shortly before early care and education programs in Massachusetts were suspended from operating in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Durrett had joined a professional learning community (PLC) run by the Western Mass StrongStart PDC. Comprised of other directors of ECE programs in her region, the PLC was set up to provide structured support for directors working through typical problems of practice: improving curricula, supporting staff, strengthening relationships with families, and streamlining back-end operations.

But as programs prepared to reopen, directors had numerous questions about maintaining health and safety, understanding the reopening guidance issued by the state, and managing finances with dramatically reduced enrollment. (For example, at the start of the year, there were 53 children enrolled in Durrett’s center. Now there are just 35.)

As directors confronted these problems, the PLC became essential—“so valuable and so important,” Durrett says —in finding solutions.

“When the pandemic hit, we already had a foundation of support with this PLC,” says Durrett. “So I knew who had a similar sized program with a similar philosophy or a similar funding stream that I could call with my questions. I knew who was really good at figuring out regulations. We knew who the really vocal people are [and] who likes advocacy so we could go to them and say, ‘We need you to let EEC know that this is a problem’ and that person would go and do that.”

Key to the PLC’s effectiveness, Durrett says, is the facilitation offered by the Western Mass PDC.

“Many years ago, a group of directors got together and we would just casually meet once a month and we would trade off meeting at each other’s centers—very informal—just whoever we were friends with we kind of just got together and drank a cup of coffee and talked shop,” she says.

Now, Durrett says, the group is much more “formalized.”

The Western Mass StrongStart PDC’s lead coach, Liz Charland-Tait, runs the PLC and “has been to all of our centers … so she knows our particular programs,” Durrett says. “And she questions us and asks us, “What do you want to talk about? What do you need to know? What are your challenges? How can we help?”

“It’s amazing to see where we were a couple of years ago in this informal group of directors to where we’re now full on collaborating with each other,” Durrett adds. “Putting that into practical terms, [we’re] advocating for what we want, not just complaining about what’s here but advocating for what’s best practice … because we are the professionals on the ground.”

Today, Durrett has become something of a StrongStart PDC evangelist. When she encounters fellow directors who aren’t yet connected with the Western Mass PDC or involved with a PLC, she urges them to join.

Continuous learning needs to be built into every educator’s practice, Durrett says, noting that her PLC has been vital to her professional growth in 2020.

“This is how we solve problems—we talk them through. I give so much credit to this particular PLC model,” Durrett says. “Individually, we all know what we’re doing. … If you take an educator who has been working for five or six years that amounts to having taught hundreds of children. Someone who’s been in the field for 32 years, I think, you know that relates to thousands of children.”

But having support from the Western Mass PDC, which approaches its work with early educators from a strengths-based point of view, has proved invaluable.

“We know that the PDC is there to help,” Durrett says. “When we need mental health support, we know we can call the folks at our PDC and say, ‘Hey, this is a problem we’re seeing everywhere. Can you help us get some resources?’ And they help find it. … They have worked so hard to learn each individual center and who they are and make contact with them that it’s not hard to reach out to them and say: ‘We need this.’ And they help us figure it out.”

Watch a video of Keira Durrett talking about her experiences with the Western Mass StrongStart Professional Development Center.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Bookmark and Share

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.


Skip to toolbar