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.

Ninth annual Leadership Forum on Early Education, Research, Policy, and Practice showcases inspiring and innovative Change Projects  


What did attendees of our ninth annual Leadership Forum on Early Education, Research, Policy, and Practice think of the event? 

They loved it! 

But don’t take our word for it. Take theirs. 

Below is a representative sample of feedback from attendees: 

  • “Hearing so many perspectives and new solutions for persistent challenges!”  
  • “The passion!”
  • “The opportunity to network.” 
  • “Learning from different perspectives and hearing how they can collaborate to continually improve our field.” 

“This is what we see year after year and it’s what makes this event so special,” said Lynne Mendes, Director of Leadership Programs for the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation. “At this event, early educators showcase their expertise and make connections they would not have had the chance to make otherwise.” 

The annual event anchors our Leadership Network and brings together leaders in early care and education (ECE) to share their ideas and innovations in the areas of quality improvement, business management and entrepreneurship, racial equity, systems change, and other areas of practice and policy, enabling us all to learn from—and be inspired by—one another. Our largest Leadership Forum to date, the May 14 event saw 234 participants from across the country participate to share and learn from their peers.

“There is so much expertise and talent among early educators and that is why the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation is so focused on providing a kind of leadership development for early educators that they can’t find anywhere else—entrepreneurial leadership training,” said Anne Douglass, PhD, a professor of early care and education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, in opening remarks at the conference. 

“This is not a management course. It’s about becoming an agent of change,” Douglass added, describing Leading for Change’s three objectives: to cultivate leadership mindsets, increase knowledge about how to make change and innovate, and equip educators to develop concrete solutions that improve quality and strengthen ECE programs and the field. 

Many Leadership Forum attendees were graduates of Leading for Change, our evidence- and research-based leadership development program, which is available to early educators in Massachusetts, Maryland, and California. 

In Leading for Change, participants learn how to lead for change to improve program quality, business quality, and promote equity in early care and education. They also identify a specific area they’d like to change and build a concrete plan to make that change a reality. “These are the Change Projects and they are the heart and soul of everything we do,” said Douglass. “With these projects, the expert knowledge of early educators gets unlocked and this is how we drive change from within the field.” 

Past Change Projects have resulted in new schools, including nature-based or bilingual preschools, Douglass explained. Other Change Projects have spurred advocacy with state and federal lawmakers or mobilized collective action for systems change. Still others have resulted in seemingly small but powerful changes in programs, in teaching and learning, and/or in more supportive work environments for staff that result in better education for children. 

The Leadership Forum’s first presenter, Vanessa Jones, the Interim Head Start State Collaboration Director for the Maryland State Department of Education, graduated from a recent Maryland cohort of Leading for Change offered through our partnership with the Maryland Early Childhood Leadership Program

Jones’ Change Project focused on how to create more meaningful partnerships between local agencies and Head Start programs to improve the delivery of ECE. Jones explained why Memorandums of Understanding between local education agencies and Head Start programs aren’t enough to effect positive change. Instead, each partnership needs to be approached with thoughtfulness at the outset about why a partnership is needed, what its goals should be, what resources are needed to make it work, and then implementing those resources. 

“This work will take committed leaders from all positions in the organization. Traditional, top-down leadership is rarely effective in developing positive and effective partnerships,” said Jones. “This change requires open communication, reciprocal relationships, effective discourse and innovative thinking and action. Adaptive leaders will disrupt the current structure and break from the status quo. Those are the leaders we need in early education.” 

Jones was followed by Michael Kim, a UMass Boston doctoral student in ECE and former early educator, who recently completed a Leading for Change cohort taught by Douglass. His project focused on solving federal education funding challenges with an education-based cryptocurrency, the value of which Kim said could be greatly enhanced should the country’s significant educator workforce adopt the currency and maintain its inflation rate. 

Under Kim’s plan, the federal government would disburse federal funding to the new cryptocurrency each year, which underfunded schools would access with a crypto credit card. All individual teachers would receive a dollar voucher and registration to the cryptocurrency “to maintain higher market capacity and its volume,” said Kim. 

“Since this is an education-based cryptocurrency, outsiders or large corporations can not intervene and disrupt the flow of the coin price,” said Kim. “As long as teachers are registered for the education cryptocurrency with their dollar voucher, and our federal government sends the federal funding directly to the cryptocurrency, we can not only maintain a strong inflation rate as well as increase our funding by at least five times more than what schools normally receive.” 

Breakout sessions at the forum also featured project presentations from Leading for Change graduates, enabling deeper conversation about the ideas that presenters put on the table. These facilitated sessions addressed a range of topics, among them early childhood systems, services and collaborations; advocacy, policy and finance; children’s learning, equity in ECE, workforce and staffing; professional and leadership development, small business leadership, play and creativity, and working with families as a child’s best resource. 

“There are so many ideas, so many good ideas, so many opportunities for innovations,” said Douglass, after the first session of presentations. “It’s incredibly inspiring to hear how early educators are putting these ideas to work in programs and communities.” 

Douglass wasn’t alone in finding inspiration from the presentations. 

“My cup was filled by the entire experience,” one attendee wrote on our post-conference survey. “I was most inspired by the breakout sessions. It was wonderful to hear seven change plans happening in programs in MA.” 

Said another participant, “I am grateful to all the presenters for offering more insight and resources that I can use to improve my knowledge of this field as well as empowering me to be able to advocate for early childhood.” 

Another added, “I found it inspiring to hear from educators who understand their worth and their ability to lead.” 

And yet another said, “I really enjoyed hearing everyone, makes me want to look into some of these ideas at our center. Learning about dramatic play and anxiety really touched me!” 

The forum concluded with an enlightening panel discussion of expert family child care (FCC) business owners and educators. Moderated by Douglass and Mendes, the panel focused on the integral role FCCs play in the early educator sector. Panel participants included Jerletha McDonald, Founder and President of the ADFW Family Child Care Network in Arlington, Texas, and host of the highly acclaimed podcast The Jerletha McDonald Show: Everything Childcare and Early Ed Leadership Institute program alums Dottie Williams, owner of Dottie’s Family Childcare in Dorchester, Jessica De Jesus Acevedo, owner of Little Star of Ours family child care in Cambridge, and Roxana Flores, owner of Roxana’s Day Care in San Jose, California. Read more about the FCC panel here

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