Early Education Leaders, an Institute at UMass Boston

provides the leadership development opportunities and infrastructure that early educators need to support thriving children and families.

With one-on-one coaching, help is just a phone call away


A rapidly expanding early education program is a nice problem to have—but it’s still a problem. Just ask Deanna Donnelly, the director of education for the Gurukul Learning Center in Chelmsford.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and not long after Donnelly began working at the center, she became overwhelmed by new demand for spots in her program. The phone was ringing off the hook with calls from prospective parents, and Donnelly was giving so many tours that she had a hard time keeping up with her other administrative duties. Over the span of just six months, Gurukul Learning Center’s enrollment ballooned from 22 to 68 children—necessitating an expansion from three classrooms to six and the hiring, training, and teambuilding of new staff.

“It was overwhelming to me as all of this was transpiring over a short period of time,” said Donnelly. “It just became crazy.”

For help, Donnelly turned to the StrongStart Northeast Professional Development Center for one-on-one consultation and mentoring. Donnelly credited her coach with not just helping her put policies and procedures in place that enabled her keep up with the center’s growth, but with reigniting her passion for the ECE profession.

“It honestly made me feel rejuvenated. After being in a field for 30 years, you can kind of get stuck in the way you think about things,” Donnelly said. The coaching helped her to “think outside the box” and generate new ideas for solving some of the administrative and managerial challenges she faced.

Finding a coach who could empathize, encourage and above all, offer practical solutions “was just exhilarating for me” said Donnelly. No problem was too small or too large for them to provide support and assistance.

Among the most important things Donnelly’s coach helped with was updating her center’s policies to reflect its growth—and implementing them. The coach reviewed old policies to ensure they were consistent with newer rules and regulations Donnelly had put in place and recommended additional policies to further ensure safety and efficiency.

Donnelly’s coach also supported her in on-boarding and training her new staff members, thereby ensuring program continuity and quality. They also helped her find ways to communicate more efficiently with families so they would get a consistent flow of information about how their children were doing every day.

Given Donnelly’s busy schedule, her coach’s accessibility also helped Donnelly get the center’s operations under control more quickly than she could have on her own.

“They responded very quickly,” said Donnelly. “If something arose, I was able to reach out to them or email them and they got right back to me and they sat with me and listened to me and they just helped come up with different plans.”

Donnelly would recommend the service to every director. “I don’t understand why every director doesn’t take advantage of this,” she said. “It’s really taken some of the burden off of me because now policies are written the way that they should be, staff has been trained the way that they should be and I know that help is just a phone call away if I have any questions or want more mentoring.”

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