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.

An inspiring day at the 11th annual Leadership Forum

Gathering in person for the first time in four years, the energy and excitement was palpable at our 11th annual Leadership Forum on Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice May 4. We had record attendance as nearly 250 early education professionals joined us from New York, Maryland, and all across Massachusetts.

Early educators connecting at the Leadership Forum.

“I am so excited to be here!,” said Tiffani Peguese, a Black Student Achievement Program Liaison in the Howard County (Maryland) Public School System. “This is my first year here. It was really, really wonderful being in community with other early childhood educators and I learned quite a bit that I’m going to process, take on home, and put it into action when I go.”

The theme of this year’s Leadership Forum was “Celebration of Early Educator Leadership,” in recognition of the central role early educators have played in shaping new initiatives to improve early care and education (ECE) affordability and accessibility as well as support for the workforce.

Early Education Leaders Founder and Executive Director Anne Douglass.

The event was also a perfect opportunity to announce some big news: a new name for our institute! We’re now called Early Education Leaders, an Institute at UMass Boston. In announcing the change during her opening remarks, Founder and Executive Director Anne Douglass explained that our new name better reflects the work we do to support ECE leaders and build leadership development ecosystems, create community partnerships with other stakeholders locally and in states around the country, and contribute new knowledge to the field through original research.

“‘Early Education Leaders’ is a powerful affirmation of the role that so many of you in this room here play as transformative leaders for children and families in our communities,” Douglass said. “Early educators have always brought new knowledge, expertise, and loving care. They nurture the next generation to advance racial equity and social justice. Early educators are pivotal leaders in our communities and when we were working on choosing our name, we wanted it to fully reflect that work.”

Douglass added that the new name makes “a bold statement” because not everyone associates leadership with early educators.

Guest speaker Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies for Children, told attendees to continue demonstrating that early educators are not to be underestimated or undervalued. She urged them to stay current with local, state, and national ECE policy along with opportunities to support early learning in our own communities. The energy, enthusiasm, solutions, and innovative spirit of early educators are what make high quality early childhood experiences possible, O’Leary said.

“We need you to be bold, effective and thoughtful leaders. Today, make connections, introduce yourself to five people you don’t know. Listen as others share their dreams and visions and reflect on what you want to do next, be present and feel the love and collective power in this room,” said O’Leary. “And then after today, follow up with the five people that you connected with. Think about something that you want to try, or that you want to learn and practice. … Whatever it is, I want you to say it out loud today. Tell at least one other person, make a plan, and make it happen.”

The Leadership Forum featured 60 presentations that showcased early educators’ innovations and ideas to improve ECE quality and business management, and to promote entrepreneurship, racial equity, systems change, and other reforms. All of the presenters were alumni of Early Education Leaders’ leadership programs, which now count more than 1000 graduates.

Among them was Sherell Hamilton, a quality coach with Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), and a graduate of our Leading for Change Facilitator Training Program. Hamilton talked about the importance of both giving and receiving mentoring and coaching to grow professionally as early educators.

She shared how early in her ECE career, a mentor at the Boys and Girls Club program where she worked nudged Hamilton out of a preschool classroom into a supervisory job, even though Hamilton didn’t think she was ready for the increased responsibility. She was later promoted to unit director.

In these leadership roles, Hamilton discovered her ability “to turn obstacles into opportunities” and an affinity for helping colleagues unlock their professional potential.

“The one thing that really brought me joy was being able to have a positive impact on the teachers, on the staff members that worked in my unit. I grew into a person I didn’t recognize,” she said. “I am eternally grateful for [my mentor’s] ability to see in me what I couldn’t see.”

Tanika Jones, proprietor of It Takes a Village 24-Hour Childcare Center in Syracuse, NY, and a graduate of our Leading for Change program, emphasized the importance of professionalization and business skills in growing her family childcare into a center-based business that now serves more than 200 children in three locations. For her “change project,” which Leading for Change participants create to address an unmet need or problem of practice in ECE, Jones launched the Childcare Boss Movement, which aims to empower family childcare owners to see themselves educators, entrepreneurs, changemakers, CEOs, and “bosses, not babysitters.”

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve invested time and resources into learning how to operate a successful business,” Jones said. “I expanded from a group family childcare setup to a full-fledged childcare center, navigating business plans, taxes, marketing, and labor laws along the way. I’ve also been actively involved in advocating for recognition of family childcare owners as CEOs and valuable contributors in the ECE space.”

Iyanna Nelson, a Leading for Change alum from the program we offer in partnership with the Maryland Early Childhood Leadership Program (MECLP), based at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a student support teacher for the Howard County Public School System, shared a spoken-word poem she wrote as part of Leading for Change’s leadership development self-portrait (LDSP), an experience that helps educators to see their greatest strengths, unique assets, and talents and how they might use them to be more effective in driving change.

Nelson’s piece focused in part on the importance of planning, organizing, collective action, and caring for self and others to move through challenges and conflict:

“I accept there will be challenges, I will not be still. I will be a driver of change—mistakes and all.

I believe in the ripple effect of improvement: when educators are learning and well, so are their students.

“I will build care into my life and contribute to healing myself and others. Self preservation is an act of resistance.

“So today I will network, find my people, rest. For tomorrow, until we all get what we need, I will persist on.”

Following lunch, teaching artist Valerie Branch, a Leading for Change graduate of our program offered with MECLP, led a 45-minute interactive workshop that guided participants in learning how movement can be used as a vehicle to foster meaningful social-emotional connections and joyful early learning.

Valerie Branch leads an interactive workshop.

Branch is the education director of early childhood at Arts for Learning Maryland and a Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts master teaching artist. She tours internationally as a performing artist and dance educator, bringing dance to schools throughout the United States, South Africa, India, Singapore, Denmark, and St. George’s, Grenada.

The exercise left participants inspired to support, advocate for and replicate these movement strategies to create joyful early childhood settings for children, educators, parents and caregivers!

Attendees of the Leadership Forum expressed appreciation for the opportunity to hear and learn from their professional peers about how they were confronting and solving problems of practice, expanding their professional horizons, managing their businesses, advocating for the profession, and more.

Julie Smith, a West Bridgewater family childcare owner and graduate of our post-master’s leadership certificate (PMC) program, was excited to be attending the Leadership Forum in person for the first time.

“I am loving all of the connections. It was really incredibly impactful,” said Smith. “It was also great to see some of my other PMC cohort members. … It’s really been a very worthwhile, fun-filled energy building day.”

Click here to see photos from the day!

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