Deo Agustin’s career in early care and education (ECE) began during the Great Recession, when she was laid off from her job as a program manager at a tech company. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in math before immigrating to the U.S. from the Philippines with her family in 1993, Deo had worked her way up from the motherboard assembly line to worldwide materials management to program management.
She credited her professional success to hard work, intelligence, and an interest in understanding how systems work—qualities that came in handy when her mother, who ran a family childcare in Adelanto, CA, suggested they weather the recession by going into business together. For Deo, opening a family childcare business was motivated by practicality rather than passion. She needed to work, but she had never felt called to care for children. After trading in her corporate uniform of blazers and heels for child-friendly casual wear, Deo wondered what she had gotten herself into.
“I was crying,” she recalled. “I’m like, ‘Oh Lord, is this really for me? I’m changing diapers!’”
Fourteen years later, Deo feels very differently about what she and her mother created.
“The children taught me a lot of life lessons. This is where I realized that I like touching people’s lives and hearts and minds, especially the young ones,” said Deo. “Now, it’s not just a business. It’s a movement. I filled a desire for our community’s families, especially children.”
Yet family childcare owners, who usually run their businesses alone, often feel isolated from their professional peers and Deo was no exception. That led her to enroll in our California pilot program of Leading for Change, our professional development program that trains program administrators, educators, and family child care providers on how to lead for change and quality improvement in their practice, program, or in the field. Leading for Change is taught in the style of a professional learning community, making it a highly interactive learning environment where participants work with peers over a period of weeks to develop their leadership skills. The opportunity to network with and learn from her peers is just what Deo was seeking.
“Just being with people who have the same desire as I do to educate children, it was wonderful, because we’re talking the same language,” said Deo.
She also found it empowering to learn how much she shared in common with educators and administrators from larger ECE programs and centers, as Deo believes that people working in the family child care space “are being neglected in so many ways.”
“We’re struggling in the same ways,” she said. “And so I’m not alone, and that empowers me. It gives me more desire to lead change movements, to do something about it, to move forward.”
Indeed, since completing the first part of Leading for Change, Deo said she has stepped up her advocacy for increasing government subsidies to make ECE accessible for more families and increasing wages for early educators.
“I feel bolder than before, because I know that I have all these wonderful people with me,” said Deo. “Now, I grab more opportunities to do it—like speaking to a city council member, I just did that yesterday. And I’m going to do it again today. … Now I prioritize advocacy more because the message is very powerful and it doesn’t only impact me, it impacts the whole community.”
Leading for Change was developed by the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at UMass Boston and adapted from the entrepreneurial leadership curriculum that anchors all of the Early Education Leadership Institute’s programs. Participants learn how to lead for change to improve program quality and promote equity in early care and education. Leading for Change is currently offered to early educators in Massachusetts in partnership with the MA Department of Early Education and Care through its statewide network of StrongStart Professional Development Centers. Leading for Change is also offered to early educators in Maryland through the Maryland Early Childhood Leadership Education Program at the Sherman Center for Early Childhood Learning in Urban Communities at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. All Leading for Change training is offered for free to early educators.