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

Leading, learning, and networking at the tenth annual Leadership Forum on Early Education, Research, Policy, and Practice 

“The Leadership Forum is one of a kind. Our event celebrates and elevates the ideas, innovations, and expertise of early educators,” said Lynne Mendes, Director of Leadership Programs at the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation. 

As morning speaker Stephanie Geddie, a 2020 graduate of the Leading for Change course taught by faculty from the Leadership Institute through one of the Leadership Institute’s partners, the Maryland Early Childhood Leadership Program (MECLP) at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, put it: “We are the experts in this work! That’s why it’s our responsibility to elevate our ideas and advocate for the resources we need, and our programs need.” 

Over 400 early educators from across the country registered to attend this year’s Leadership Forum on Early Education, Research, Policy, and Practice. More than 50 early educators presented on ideas and innovations ranging from creating paths for equitable funding to strategies for staff retention to creating culturally responsive and equitable learning environments to using ChatGPT to automate tasks to expanding nature-based play in family childcare settings to cultivating joy and happiness for Black educators and so much more! 

All of the presenters at the Leadership Forum are graduates of our leadership programs, in which participants learn how to lead for change to improve early childhood education quality, business quality, and promote equity in early care and education. This learning occurs through highly reflective exercises in which students identify their strengths and come to see the ways in which they have already been leading in their work and their communities. Then they identify a specific area they’d like to change and build a concrete plan to make that change a reality. 

“These Change Projects are the heart and soul of everything we do,” said Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation Director of Programs Marcelo Juica. “With these projects, the expert knowledge of early educators gets unlocked.” 

The Leadership Forum’s first presenter, Christina Lopez, is a program coordinator of the Judy Center Early Learning Hub in the Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and a 2020 graduate of the Leadership Institute’s Leading for Change course offered through MECLP. Lopez described how her Change Project consisted of a plan to restructure Maryland’s Department of Education to create more developmentally appropriate educational curricula and communication among educators of children from birth through grade 3.

The project is rooted in her firm belief that systemic change is needed in Maryland’s current alignment of early care and education.   

“A program for my classroom or my neighborhood would not fix the systemic barriers that have existed since the public education system was founded,” said Lopez, noting that she worked in a majority Black district where 90 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced meals and had become “very frustrated” with not being able to “create the type of learning environment that” she saw in place in more affluent areas of the district. 

When Lopez was accepted into MECLP, she told Douglass, who was her professor, “I’ve got this idea, but it’s going to take an act of the governor to implement it.” 

Douglass told her to just begin at the beginning. After planning her project and advocating for it, Maryland’s Department of Education eventually asked Lopez to create a pilot program. Working with a group of mentors and other early educators, she developed a pilot using the P-3 Framework developed by the National P-3 Center at the University of Colorado School of Education and Human Development, which works to improve the education continuum children experience from birth through third grade. She secured funding for 30 educators to complete the P3 Leadership Program at the University of Denver. 

They then set to work advocating for state funding for the first year of the project, which was to include a symposium for Maryland school superintendents to educate them on the realignment plan, identifying the pilot district, and contracting with the National P-3 Center to implement the alignment under the leadership of the Maryland Association for the Education of Young Children. Lopez met with the Assistant State Superintendent for the Division of Early Childhood Development at the Maryland State Department of Education to work out final details. 

“I was so excited to begin this work. But then guess what? New leadership came in with new rules about how we fund grant programs in Maryland and my project kind of faded,” Lopez said. 

But she knew it was only a matter of time before she would find another opportunity to advance her project. 

“As you lead for change, look for other people who are connected to the strong belief you have for change,” Lopez advised. “Not everyone will agree with you. Find your people. Find your space and encourage each other to continue.” 

Just days after the Leadership Forum concluded, Lopez learned that she had received a grant from Johns Hopkins to continue with her project. 

“I’m always looking for opportunities to talk about the issues and sometimes we make people uncomfortable,” Lopez said. “But we have to be able to do that to lead for change.” 

Lopez’s stories of connecting with others to advance her work illustrated a point made by 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. 

“The very nature of working with very young children means that early educators can feel isolated from professional peers who can offer feedback, advice, or encouragement on a regular basis. But connection is so valuable,” Douglass said. “When you have a bold idea that can improve the quality of your program or practice, you have to connect with other people to make it happen. Members of your network can contribute to your idea by offering suggestions for how to bring it to fruition. Working in isolation, on the other hand, limits our ideas and undermines innovation.” 

Other speakers included Jocelyn Bowne, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s Deputy Commissioner for Workforce, Program Supports and Innovation, who spoke about EEC’s strong partnership with the Leadership Institute; UMass Boston Provost Joseph Berger, who spoke about UMass Boston’s strong commitment to early childhood education; and Tara Parker, PhD, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development who spoke about the power of early educators to lead for change. 

The Leadership Forum ended with a panel discussion about health, wellness, and Black joy by early educators. Participants included:

  • Dottie Williams, the owner of Dottie’s Family Childcare in Dorchester and current student in UMass Boston’s PhD program in early education. Williams is also a graduate of the Leadership Institute’s Small Business Innovation program training and Post Master’s Certificate in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice.
  • Emilee Johnson, educational coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital Child Care Center and a  graduate of our Post Master’s Certificate in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice.
  • Ara Reyes, PhD, a 2023 graduate of UMass Boston’s PhD program in early education who first came to the Leadership Institute as an infant/toddler teacher and student in our post master’s leadership certificate program.
  • Nicole Johnson, an artist and early educator and a current student in our early childhood education PhD program. 

The panel was moderated by Cristina Mendes, the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation’s Director of Outreach, Recruitment & Retention for our Early Childhood Support Organization. Learn more here

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