Tiffany Jones, the owner of Precious Moments Family Childcare in Rockville, MD, has always seen herself as a leader. “Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt like the underdog, and underdogs are natural grassroots leaders who kind of know how to get things done,” Jones said.
“As providers, we’re the boots on the ground actually doing the work and following all these rules and regulations and policies that other people make. And sometimes those policies don’t make sense.”
That’s certainly how Jones ended up owning her own business in early care and education. As a young wife and mother who was contemplating med school, Jones could not find an affordable childcare provider with whom she felt comfortable leaving her son, so she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. But Jones also knew she had to contribute financially to her family.
“So I decided, well I’m just going to start my own business,” she said. Jones opened Precious Moments, “and it just kind of blossomed from there.” She also returned to school to earn an Associate’s degree in ECE and special education from Montgomery College and a Bachelor’s in ECE and teaching from Washington Adventist University.
Jones is a believer in grassroots leadership, with its emphasis empowering individuals to share in the responsibility of making change rather than relying on top-down hierarchical decision-making. This stems from her time serving on the Montgomery County Community Action Board, which advocates for low income residents. There, Jones represented the Montgomery County Head Start Parent Policy Council in her capacity as the council’s chairperson.
“The board had a model that you need to hear from the people that you’re serving in order to best serve them,” said Jones. “That makes the people you are serving the leaders.”
During Jones’ tenure, she led a successful effort to brainstorm ideas to expand Montgomery County’s Head Start program from its exclusive home in the public schools to a mixed delivery system that allows family childcare and center-based providers to also deliver Head Start services. The work involved educating her fellow board members about the family child care model of ECE as well as the mixed delivery model. The fruit of this work can be seen in the upcoming pilot program.
Jones graduated in the inaugural cohort of the Maryland Early Childhood Leadership Education Program of the Sherman Center for Early Childhood Learning in Urban Communities at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. MECLP partners with the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation to deliver our Leading for Change course, which is taught by Anne Douglass, PhD, founder and executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, and Amanda Lopes, PhD, Learning & Quality Improvement Manager for the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation.
The course affirmed Jones’ belief that leadership is most effective when it is cultivated from the ground up. “It was really important to hear that having the title ‘supervisor’ doesn’t make you a leader—doing the work actually makes you a leader,” she said. “So there was a lot of confirmation for thoughts that I already had swirling in my mind. It felt good to be able to have real research to back that up.”
As a family child care advocate—aside from local work, she is also the Maryland state representative for the National Association for Family Child Care—Jones found value in learning about the theory of change and how to apply it to make her advocacy more effective. Learning that change happens over time on a continuum of communication with stakeholders made her aware that she needed to think more strategically about creating policy change.
“It’s not just a one-shot deal, where I tell the people in power something, they take it in, and now things are different. It’s about lots of conversations and meetings,” Jones said. “I think more family child care providers would be less frustrated if they understood the theory of change, and how there are some steps that you need to take, or that an organization can take, in order to bring about change.”
Despite the success of her business, her advocacy work and her self-perception as a leader, Jones said she was at first intimidated by the idea of enrolling in MECLP when her mentor, who is the Montgomery County Head Start program manager, encouraged her to apply. While she’s a passionate family child care advocate, she was uncomfortable with a learning environment dominated by ECE administrators and bureaucrats who were creating the policies—not all of which she finds productive—that governed her business. Jones was the only family childcare provider and one of just two providers—the other being a center director—in her cohort.
“I felt a bit overwhelmed by the task ahead,” said Jones. “Even though I can do it, do I really want to do it? Do I want to speak truth to power? Because as providers, we’re the boots on the ground actually doing the work and following all these rules and regulations and policies that other people make. And sometimes those policies don’t make sense.”
Additionally, after years in the field Jones perceived that family child care providers are “at the very bottom” of an education hierarchy in which K-12 is at the top in terms of respect and resources. Jones feared that, in a roomful of ECE officials her education, credentials, and professional experience would be overlooked due to the stereotype of family child care providers as glorified babysitters.
In the first meeting of their cohort, Jones and the center director voiced their concerns about being minority voices in the group as the only ECE providers. Her classmates, Jones said, seemed to understand their point of view. Throughout the course, they would routinely seek Jones’ and the center director’s opinions on how certain policies affect their work, how to do outreach to family childcares, and other aspects of their work as providers. “It was helpful for the people in my cohort to even open the door to say, what do you think? Because most people assume they know what we think or what we want or what we value,” said Jones.
For her Change Project, an essential part of the Leading for Change curriculum that sees students digging deep into a specific area of ECE they’d like to improve or create and build a concrete plan to make that change a reality, Jones created an educational / advocacy campaign aimed at enhancing the reputation and stature of family childcare within the profession. The goal of her Change Project is to ensure that family childcare providers have a seat at the table in efforts to advance the field and to raise and solve issues such as pay equity and access to health insurance coverage. As part of the project, Jones hosted a webinar in which a panel of family childcare providers and other experts discussed how to advance their field, as well as how enhancements like shared services can help family childcares access benefits they can’t otherwise afford.
Her effort on this project led to Jones’ involvement as a Board member with the Children’s Opportunity Alliance (Montgomery County’s Early Childhood Coordinating Entity), which is tasked with assessing the County’s entire ECE system to see how they can leverage public and private resources to best serve children and better align with the K-12 system.
While Jones entered Leading for Change as an experienced grassroots leader, the curriculum ultimately gave her the tools to be far more effective in her advocacy for family childcare providers.
“Today, I’m advocating to support family childcare, and have it really be a part of the system, and I’m doing it from the field and as a voice within the system,” Jones said. “That’s powerful.”