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.

Adopting the Essential Leadership Model: Little Voices Early Education and Care 

Initially, neither Maureen Myers nor Katie Shanley was enthusiastic about joining UMass Boston’s Early Childhood Support Organization (ECSO), a multi-year program for center-based ECE teams looking to build their capacity to provide the highest-quality learning experiences for the children and families they serve. 

Myers, the founder and program administrator for Little Voices Early Education and Care, Inc. in Hyde Park, has always sought out ways to boost program quality and form productive partnerships with other organizations, but she didn’t love the idea of introducing the new systems and protocols that are foundational to our ECSO into her 16-year-old nonprofit program. 

“I thought, ‘No—we have so many rules and so many protocols, we don’t need more,’ ” Myers confessed. 

Staff from ECE centers enroll in our ECSO in groups. In 2021, Myers asked Shanley, Little Voices’ director, to do the program with her. Shanley, who was relatively new to ECE leadership after spending much of her career as a lead teacher, found it overwhelming at first. 

“It was extremely intimidating at the beginning,” said Shanley, referring to the volume of material participants receive at the start of the program. “I was like, oh my gosh, this is not for me. I don’t know if I can keep up.” 

But course instructors encouraged Shanley to “trust the process” and stick with the program. She’s glad she did. 

“Honestly, it has enhanced my leadership skills so much,” said Shanley. She credited the ECSO with giving her tools to more effectively lead staff meetings and professional learning communities (PLCs)—such as the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) method of implementing and evaluating program changes, and Data Dialogues, which help groups make shared meaning of program-related data. Shanley added that she appreciated the opportunity the ECSO provided to collaborate with professional colleagues from around the state who understand the challenges ECE providers routinely face, such as staffing shortages. 

“It was nice to have that validation that maybe our leadership skills aren’t always the problem, rather it’s just the nature of the field,” she said. 

For Myers, the need for support as she sought to re-open Little Voices amid the COVID-19 pandemic outweighed her distaste for additional protocols. She said the opportunity to enroll in our ECSO was well-timed, as she and her team were struggling with how best to serve children and families while keeping them—and her staff—from getting sick. 

“I remember the beginning meetings were all about COVID and staffing issues and how to deal with the feeling of you’re putting these people’s health on the line,” she said. 

In the ECSO , program leaders build their capacity to cultivate high-quality teaching and learning; create new routines to support educators’ learning and practice and create a culture of continuous quality improvement; learn how to use data to inform program improvement; deepen engagement with families to support cohesive home, school, and community connections; increase CLASS scores and child attendance; and focus on curriculum and practices that positively impact child outcomes. 

Just as Shanley feels more empowered as a leader because of our ECSO, Myers said that her staff meetings have a “more meaningful focus” because of what she learned in the ECSO. Where Myers once did most of the talking, communicating out what she thought staff members needed to know, the meetings are now more collaborative and substantive. 

“We focus on, what do you guys want to see? What problem can we solve? What small, sustainable change can we make that will improve this?” said Myers. Such work, she added, is driven by data collected from surveys of staff and parents, which helps frame how they make changes in the program. 

Myers has enjoyed seeing her staff’s leadership blossom with a more collaborative approach. “Their leadership has shined, which was really good for me to see,” she said. “Some strong leaders have emerged through this.” 

Among several small, sustainable changes Little Voices has implemented according to our ECSO protocols is a more holistic way of team lesson planning between two toddler classrooms. 

“This really helped the teachers refocus on the best outcomes for toddlers,” said Shanley. “We had one educator who has been a toddler teacher for about 20 years and the new method helped her, and all of us, actually, stay current by integrating new brain development information into the curriculum for the benefit of the kids.” 

Both Shanley and Myers said they’d recommend our ECSO to colleagues. 

Shanley has done so with co-workers from other Little Voices sites in Greater Boston, who have gone on to join subsequent UMass Boston ECSO cohorts. On top of that, she’s now assisting with facilitating Cohort 4. 

“It’s really exciting to be on the other end of it, because I can tell participants it’s not as scary as it sounds—I made it,” she said, laughing. 

Myers was pleasantly surprised at how the ECSO enhanced her leadership skills, considering her already long and successful career. “I recommend it 100 percent. It’s invaluable,” she said. 

She said she’s even learned to appreciate the protocols that she initially dreaded: “Now I feel like protocols make your life easier,” she laughed.

UMass Boston’s ECSO is organized around the Essential Leadership Model, an evidence-based approach for continuous quality improvement. It is one of three ECSOs offered to early education programs in Massachusetts through a partnership between the Commonwealth’s Department of Early Education and Care and New Profit, a venture philanthropy firm that backs social entrepreneurs who are advancing equity and opportunity. The others are administered by the Children’s Literacy Initiative and the Flamingo Early Learning at the Lastinger Center.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.

Skip to toolbar