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

April 11, 2022
by IEELI
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Harnessing creativity

Kelly Cavallini has been working in family child care for 29 years and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She briefly worked as a center director for a large chain but found that she missed the more intimate work with children and families that running a family childcare allowed her to do. 

But when Cavallini enrolled in Leading for Change, the 14-week professional development program offered through the Massachusetts StrongStart Professional Development Centers, she realized there was an important aspect missing from her work in family child care: co-workers. 

Because family child care owners often work on their own they “don’t have anyone validating” what they’re doing, said Cavallini, who works out of her home in Springfield. “You’re skipping around the house and your little ducklings are following you, and we are doing amazing work but on one sees it!” 

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April 11, 2022
by IEELI
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Building an anti-stress toolkit for families

After 39 years as an ECE provider, you’d think Marcia Gadson-Harris would have little desire—or need—for more professional development training. And yet, last October she completed Leading for Change, the 14-week professional development program offered through the Massachusetts StrongStart Professional Development Centers 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. 

The Vision Board Marcia Gadson-Harris created during Leading for Change.

For Gadson-Harris, the question of whether she would participate in the training was never in doubt. “I’m an avid learner,” she says. “I take lots and lots of training and there’s no such thing as too much training. You can never stop learning. That’s what life is all about.” 

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March 16, 2022
by IEELI
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From preschool teacher to PhD holder

Just as Becky DelVecchio launched her research project for her doctoral thesis, the world shut down due to COVID-19. 

She had originally planned to do an ethnographic study on the psychologically restorative benefits of nature play for children and families by embedding in a nature program to study the lived experiences of children, educators and families as they move through the program. That became impossible when COVID-19 health and safety restrictions forced the closure of ECE programs across the state. For months after reopening, most programs prohibited visitors to their centers and schools. 

She instead adapted her project to a mixed-methods study, which included a quantitative  online survey directed at caregivers of 3-4-year-olds in Greater Boston, followed by qualitative interviews with a sample of the respondents. 

DelVecchio was pleased to receive 173 completed surveys, given the pressures parents were under, especially in the early days of the pandemic. “I was really thankful and just continue to be thankful to all the families who contributed to my research,” she said. 

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February 16, 2022
by IEELI
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Advancing scholarship in early ed leadership: Amanda Wiehe Lopes

Dr. Amanda Lopes

For the Early Ed Leadership Institute’s Amanda Wiehe Lopes, earning a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and Care capped a personal, educational, and professional journey that began when she was a teenager ignoring advice from the adults in her life to become a teacher. 

“I thought of teachers as people who wore khakis and had a lot of rules,” recalls Wiehe Lopes, who successfully defended her dissertation in July, 2021. “That was my experience growing up and I just didn’t see myself in that role. I hated khakis, I hated rules —and still do.” 

Instead, Wiehe Lopes wanted to be an artist. So she studied drama and performance art and eventually taught theater to mostly pre-school age children at the Seattle Children’s Theatre Drama School. 

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November 8, 2021
by IEELI
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Teaching young children about post-pandemic social interaction

PMC graduate Emilee Johnson

As early care and education (ECE) programs fully re-opened after the pandemic-related suspension in 2020, educators and caregivers noticed that many children were anxious about doing things that have been—for nearly all of human history—considered normal: playing in large groups and being outside without having to wear a mask.

In response, Emilee Johnson, the educational coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital Child Care Center, wrote “Our New Normal: A Children’s Social Story for Post-Pandemic Lives.”

Published last June, the book provides guidance about how to address the concerns of children and parents about whether it was genuinely safe to loosen COVID-19-related restrictions (many of which have since been reinstated due to the Delta variant). Even during outside activities, says Johnson, children had so internalized the messages about health and safety that they were reluctant to remove their masks. Continue Reading →

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March 25, 2021
by IEELI
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With one-on-one coaching, help is just a phone call away

A rapidly expanding early education program is a nice problem to have—but it’s still a problem. Just ask Deanna Donnelly, the director of education for the Gurukul Learning Center in Chelmsford.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and not long after Donnelly began working at the center, she became overwhelmed by new demand for spots in her program. The phone was ringing off the hook with calls from prospective parents, and Donnelly was giving so many tours that she had a hard time keeping up with her other administrative duties. Over the span of just six months, Gurukul Learning Center’s enrollment ballooned from 22 to 68 children—necessitating an expansion from three classrooms to six and the hiring, training, and teambuilding of new staff. Continue Reading →

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March 18, 2021
by IEELI
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Learning from others

With three years of experience running the Learning Tree Experience, a family child care in Dorchester, Jasmine Cox knows a lot about what it takes to create a successful ECE business: building trusting relationships with families, the importance of structure and professionalism, transparency and good communication with parents, licensors and other colleagues.

Such practices, said Cox, “speak for your program. They show that your program is a place where children will not only be cared for, but they will learn.”

But at this early stage in her ECE career, Cox is also thankful for the chance to learn from more experienced peers in the Professional Learning Community (PLC) she joined shortly early last year, shortly before the pandemic hit. The PLC is facilitated by Cox’s regional StrongStart Professional Development Center (PDC), which covers the Metro Boston region. Continue Reading →

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March 11, 2021
by IEELI
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StrongStart Professional Development Centers Are There To Help

Graphic of Keira Durrett with quote It’s safe to say that Keira Durrett has earned the title of “expert.” She’s worked in early care and education for over 30 years, 21 of them as director of the Williston North Hampton Children’s Center in Easthampton. Even so, she credits the Western Mass StrongStart Professional Development Center (PDC) with providing her with much needed resources this past year.

Shortly before early care and education programs in Massachusetts were suspended from operating in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Durrett had joined a professional learning community (PLC) run by the Western Mass StrongStart PDC. Comprised of other directors of ECE programs in her region, the PLC was set up to provide structured support for directors working through typical problems of practice: improving curricula, supporting staff, strengthening relationships with families, and streamlining back-end operations.

But as programs prepared to reopen, directors had numerous questions about maintaining health and safety, understanding the reopening guidance issued by the state, and managing finances with dramatically reduced enrollment. (For example, at the start of the year, there were 53 children enrolled in Durrett’s center. Now there are just 35.) Continue Reading →

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October 13, 2020
by IEELI
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Small business moves that add up

“Every day, I look forward to starting my day with the children—teaching them new skills, social interaction, celebrating milestones like their first step or their first word; watching them try new foods and making new friends, and all that stuff,” said Joycelyn Browne, owner of Little Ones Child Care in Dorchester.

But Joyce also knows there’s more to operating a successful ECE program than the joy of helping children learn, grow, and thrive. That’s why she enrolled in our Small Business Innovation Center program, which Browne credits with teaching her “different ways of improving my business, marketing my business, different ways of teaching the kids, and creating curriculum.” Continue Reading →

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September 10, 2020
by IEELI
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Creating a culture of learning

Portrait photo of Alicia Jno-Baptiste

Wee Care JP owner Alicia Jno-Baptiste: “I feel more confident running my business and I think people look at me differently, too, because I have more expertise.”

You can’t be successful directing a small early child care program unless you’re an expert in early childhood development and the science of early brain development. But it also helps to understand accounting, marketing, human resources, facilities management, and bulk purchasing. Many owners of early care and education businesses pick up enough business skills to get by. But there’s a big difference between getting by and maximizing profits.

When Alicia Jno-Baptiste signed up for our Small Business Innovation Center program she relied on a bookkeeper to keep track of her business accounts. By her own admission, she “didn’t have a clue” about how to analyze the monthly reports. After going through the Small Business Innovation Center program with other entrepreneurs, Jno-Baptiste learned about cash flow and how to analyze the costs of care to ensure a profit along with other business needs like marketing, facilities management, and automating tasks.

Jno-Baptiste, who owns Wee Care JP, still employs a bookkeeper, but now when she gets the monthly reports, she can read the numbers. “I can see if we’ve reached our income goal, how much we’ve spent, where we’re down, and where we need to be,” Jno-Baptiste said. “I can head off financial trouble much sooner because I can see it coming and be proactive in dealing with it.” Continue Reading →

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